Low-cost, natural household cleaning products from a permaculture perspective

Ross and Jenny Mars
Friday, 25th January 2013

Ross and Jenny explain their low-cost 'earth care' approach to personal hygiene and household cleaning products

Great news! You can clean almost all of your house, including some of those stubborn stains, with the use of a few natural substances that are cheap to buy and easy to obtain.

From A Permaculture Perspective

One of the most important aspects of permaculture is its ethics. One of these ethics was ‘Care of the Earth’. Many of the sprays, deodorants, laundry cleaning agents and body care products that you may have used in the past and that many others are still using, are slowly poisoning our own families and the environment.

There is an extremely fine line between human desires and ecological disaster. We are slowly destroying the balance that exists between the organisms, which live in our environment. Our production of expensive, chemically-based cleaners, insecticides and herbicides intensifies these problems.

It is only when humans reflect on the use of such substances, or investigate and realise the long-term effects of their actions, that we moderate or abandon the kinds of things, which ultimately threaten our own survival.

Earthcare is the first permaculture ethic, which itself is all encompassing, as all other ethics arise from and are included in it. We have a responsibility to care for all living and non-living things. This includes all plants and animals, the soil and the environment. The earthcare ethic implies the ethical use of resources, active conservation and the rehabilitation of our fragile Earth. Humans need to plan for sustainability and to moderate their actions.

In permaculture systems we should be minimising our impact on the environment by using renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and water energies, using native species wherever possible in the system, cultivating the least amount of land by growing food in intensive systems, developing community responsibility and then assisting others to become self-reliant.

What you need

Vinegar (white).

Vinegar is a dilute solution of acetic acid. Vinegar is used as a bleach, disinfectant, deodorant, and anti-mould cleaner 

Bicarbonate of soda, baking soda (sodium hydrogen carbonate).

Bicarbonate of soda is an excellent general purpose cleaner which can be used as a powder or as a solution.

Borax (sodium borate).

Borax is poisonous so handle it with care. It is used as a fabric and water softener, stain remover, bleach and disinfectant.

Tea tree or eucalyptus oil.

Tea tree oil comes from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a native plant to eastern Australia. It is one of nature’s most remarkable antiseptics and disinfectants. Eucalyptus oil comes from the leaves of eucalyptus trees. Like tea tree oil, it is a strong antiseptic whichwill kill many organisms. The oil of gum leaves is also used in the treatment of colds and influenza and as an additive to your clothes washing to remove greasy or oily stains.

Cloudy ammonia (ammonium hydroxide solution).

Although cloudy ammonia can irritate the eyes and smells obnoxious, it quickly breaks down in the environment. It is a powerful bleach and cleaning agent.

Lemon juice (fresh).

Lemon juice is a weak solution of citric acid and is a mild bleach, deodorant and cleaning agent.

Pure soap.

Pure soap is a sodium salt of an organic acid (a carboxylate). Soap is a surfactant or wetting agent which allows water to combine with greasy substances so that they can be removed from dishes and clothing. Use the soap which you have made in one of the previous activities. Pure soap is totally biodegradable. Commercial brands include Velvet and Preservene.

Steel wool.

Very effective abrasive for stubborn dirt and stains. 

The Kitchen 

Dishes: Grated soap flakes, vigorously stirred to form a lather. You can buy old-fashioned soap shakers at some hardware and camping stores.

Ovens, hotplates: Use cloudy ammonia, or scrub with damp bicarb soda (used in this book to mean bicarbonate of soda).

Burnt saucepans: Cover the base with vinegar or damp bicarb soda and leave overnight. Use steel wool and a little water the next day. For stubborn marks boil some vinegar in the pan for five minutes.

Benchtops and sinks: Sponge with damp bicarb soda or borax.

Tiles: Wipe with vinegar on a sponge.

The Laundry

Floors: Use cloudy ammonia or vinegar.

Washing machine or troughs. Sponge with damp bicarbonate of soda or borax.

Clothes: Grated soap flakc made into a solution. Add quarter of a cup of borax and 5ml of eucalyptus oil for greasy clothes. To whiten clothes add a small amount of borax, lemon juice or cloudy ammoma.

Tiles: Wipe with vinegar and steel wool or bicarb soda on a sponge.

Stains on clothes: Wipe a small amount of tea tree oil or eucalyptus oil on the stain before washing. Some stains can be removed by using borax, vinegar, lemon juice or cloudy ammonia. 

The Bathroom

Mirrors: Cloudy ammonia, vinegar or borax solution.

Plastic shower curtains: Scrub with vinegar and hang in the sun.

Baths and basins: Steel wool with damp bicarb soda or borax.

Moulds on tiles: Vinegar, cloudy ammonia or bicarb soda.

Toilet bowl and cistern: Wipe with vinegar or leave half a cup of vinegar in the bowl overnight.

Personal Hygiene and Toiletries

Deodorant: Use bicarb soda, either in powder form or as a spray-on solution.

Hair rinse: Use diluted vinegar or lemon juice. 

Toothpaste: Use bicarb soda, mixed with a little salt.

Shine to jewellery: Soak gold in cloudy ammonia for ten minutes, dip copper in weak vinegar or rub with a paste of bicarb soda and lemon juice, and clean silver by dipping it in a hot solution of bicarb soda which contains a small piece of aluminium foil. Aluminium and stainless steel are simply cleaned by using warm soapy water and a little bicarb soda.

Shampoo: Use bicarb soda for a dry shampoo and brush out or lemon juice and a beaten egg and then rinse.

Excerpt from Getting Started in Permaculture - Over 50 DIY Projects for House & Garden Using Recycled Materials by Ross and Jenny Mars.

Getting Started in Permaculture is available from Green Shopping at the special price of £7.45 or you can download the eBook version for just £7.95. 

batesdebra |
Mon, 11/02/2013 - 09:23

Some natural products are very restrictive for the marbles. Eg: Lemon juice gives bad effect on marble tiles.

christie123 |
Thu, 23/07/2015 - 15:31

Cutting through hard water deposits is easy with lemon juice. Simply cut a lemon in half and rub it over your glass shower doors to remove gunk and build-up. If you prefer, you can also squeeze lemon juice directly on a sponge and then scrub the tough spots. Adding a bit of Borax to the sponge or surface of the cut lemon helps scrub away those really stubborn, hard water stains. Rinse with warm water and your doors will shine and smell wonderful!
Best Regards!

nycmovetoday |
Wed, 25/01/2017 - 00:26

Hi Ross and Jenny, great article hear. We are big fans of ethical ways of house cleaning and this post hit the spot! We're glad there are people sharing these green methods that can just do wonders. Really enjoyed this post and keep it up!