Roundup: Natural Cleaning in the Kitchen

May 17, 2019 tim mcguire

 ‘Tis the season for spring cleaning: throwing open the windows for some fresh air, deep cleaning the rugs, and weeding out all the belongings that don’t spark joy. And for an extra-fresh start in the kitchen, why not shake up your cleaning routine by switching out harsh chemicals for natural cleaning products? If you’re not already on the natural cleaning bandwagon, you may wonder why you should bother taking the time to make your own cleaning products.

Person cleaning a surface with rubber gloves and disenfectant

The truth is, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that typical household cleaners are harmful to people, pets and the environment. The Cleveland Clinic compiled many of these products and their risks here. Heavy-duty products, including oven and drain cleaners, are caustic or abrasive, making them bad for skin as well as for surface materials such as granite or marble. According to the American Lung Association, inhalation of cleaning products’ strong chemicals and added fragrances can irritate the eyes or throat, as well as cause health issues like headaches, chronic respiratory problems, and even cancer.

If all this makes you want to give up cleaning altogether, don’t worry! You can get the same cleaning power—or better—from much gentler products that you probably already have in your kitchen. The basic natural cleaning arsenal includes white vinegar, baking soda, lemons or lemon juice, and table salt. You can combine these items with each other, water, or mild dish soap to whip up quick and simple cleaning sprays, pastes and scrubs. And if you’re picky about or sensitive to fragrance, a bonus to making your own cleaners is being able to control the amount of scent—if any—by adding essential oils that appeal to you and customizing the amount that goes in. Whether you’re new to natural cleaning or a veteran, you’re sure to find some life-saving (or at least routine-changing) tips on this list!

1: Use the correct product for your countertop material

Bright clean kitchen

With all the different types of kitchen surfaces, it’s no surprise that there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all counter cleaner. Substances that work great on butcher block could be disastrous for marble or granite. So be sure to do your research before you pour vinegar all over your work surface! Start with this great comprehensive resource from Foodal, which will help you figure out the best solution for your kitchen surfaces.

2: Mix up an all-purpose cleaner with vinegar and essential oils

Bottle with clear liquid and flowers

The internet is full of recipes for DIY cleaners, and you can go as simple as mixing equal parts water and vinegar in a spray bottle. But this version from The Pioneer Woman includes a list of essential oils that naturally kill bacteria while masking that vinegar smell. You’ll also learn variations on the recipe tailored to cleaning hardwood floors, glass, and grout.

3: Reach for a lemon instead of a sponge

Sliced lemon against an off-white background

Tired of shredding your sponge (and your fingers) every time you clean your grater? The Kitchn advises scrubbing your grater with half a lemon instead. The lemon will help cut grease while getting into all those hard to clean holes, rinsing away (along with lingering bits of cheese) with a little water. An already-squeezed lemon works just fine for this, so don’t worry about wasting any citrusy goodness! You can also use a squeezed lemon and coarse salt to scrub your wood cutting boards, pulse a lemon with some dish soap and water in your blender to remove hard water buildup, and find even more of the Kitchn’s tips for cleaning with a lemon here.

4: Clean your dishwasher with vinegar

Person loading a plate into a dishwasher

A dishwasher is a blessing for cleaning all those dirty dishes, but did you know that your dishwasher needs to be cleaned, too? Without periodic cleaning you may find your dishwasher develops a funky smell or runs less efficiently thanks to soap buildup. Katie at Wellness Mama has an easy fix (plus tons of other natural cleaning tips): just fill a bowl or two with white vinegar, place on the top rack, and run the (otherwise empty) dishwasher as usual!

5: Baking Soda is your friend

Jar of baking soda with contents spread across a brown background

Most of us are familiar with the concept of keeping a box of baking soda in the fridge to eliminate odors. But you can use it for so much more! How Stuff Works keeps a huge list of baking soda’s myriad cleaning uses. Just a few of these include removing dirt, wax and pesticide residue from produce; degreasing roasting pans; getting burned-on food off of cookie sheets; and removing stains on everything from wooden utensils to teapots and coffee mugs. And Mind Body Green recommends mixing equal parts dish soap and baking soda to create a degreasing scrub; just let it sit on surfaces for at least five minutes before scrubbing.

6: Clean stainless steel with coconut oil

Jar of coconut oil with wood scoop containing a dollop against an off-white background

Stainless steel appliances always look great in magazines, but once you’ve lived with them for a while it’s maddeningly impossible to keep them free of fingerprints and smudges. Well, here’s a great tip from Jen of Simple Green Smoothies: all you need is a tablespoon of coconut oil and a microfiber cloth to get that fridge looking like new! After using the coconut oil to wipe off prints and dirt, simply buff to shine.

7: Ordinary table salt is actually extraordinary

Pinch of table salt on a brown table background with bunch of purple grapes and stems.

In addition to teaching us that the world’s supply of salt is inexhaustible, this article at Care2 is packed with unexpected uses for salt around the home. In fact, its absorbent and gently abrasive properties will make salt a powerhouse in your cleaning toolkit. You can mix it with a little baking soda and dish soap for an alternative to harsh abrasive products, or pour it on a wine-soaked tablecloth (after blotting) to absorb any remaining liquid and prevent staining. Salt even comes to the rescue when your pie bubbles over while baking: a handful of salt on the bottom of the oven will prevent the spill from smoking and bake into a crust that cleans up easily once its cooled.

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