Updated on 03.06.07

Spring Cleaning Time? Here Are Some Tips For Cleaning Supplies On The Cheap

Trent Hamm

As spring approaches and the weather slowly begins to turn warmer in the northern hemisphere, many people get an itch to clean up their homes after the long winter slumber. I know we have that itch; we’ve spent two weekends recently cleaning like crazy.

The problem is that if you visit a department store and look for cleaning supplies, you’re often inundated with a huge array of options, many of which are ridiculously expensive. Instead of buying $30 worth of cleaning supplies, spend substantially less instead. Here’s your shopping list:

Baking soda (get a big box)
Washing soda (look in the laundry section, near the laundry detergents)
White vinegar (distilled is better)
Liquid dishwashing soap (get your preferred kind – we usually get a big container of Dawn or a generic equivalent)
Tea tree oil (we find this in various places; try asking in a pharmacy)
2 glass jars (only if you want to make a batch and store it)
6 spray bottles (again, only if you want to store it, though it’s good to have a couple for applying window spray and such)
Some rags and sponges

That’s all you’ll need to make any kind of cleaner you can imagine to clean your house. The only thing that’s even remotely expensive is the tea tree oil, and a jar of it will be enough for a very long time. The best part? These things are all nontoxic, so if my kid were to dip his hand in something, it wouldn’t harm him. Here are some recipes for specific cleaning situations:

Soft Scrub: Put a bit of baking soda in a bowl (try 1/8 of a cup for starters), then just enough liquid detergent so that it’s like frosting when you mix it. Then, cover a sponge with it and use it to wash the surface. This is really good for washing bathtubs and any tile you might have. It also works as an oven cleaner, though I would recommend wetting it down a bit with water first, rubbing a layer of the mixture all over the inside of the oven, then letting it sit overnight before you scrub it all off.

Windex: Take one of those spray bottles and in it mix half a teaspoon of the liquid soap, three tablespoons of vinegar, and two cups of water. Shake it up, then spray it on your windows and wipe it off.

Pledge: Mix half a teaspoon of the tea tree oil and a quarter of a cup of vinegar together – this will make any furniture you may want to polish actually gleam!

Glade: You won’t need Glade any more if you regularly spray odor producing spots (like the kitchen sink, the cutting board, and the trash) with a mist of vinegar just before bed.

Tilex: Mix two teaspoons of tea tree oil and two cups of water in a spray bottle, shake it up, and spray it on anything that has mold or mildew on it. Don’t rinse it, just leave it. It will smell strongly at first, but the smell will dissipate, as will the mold and mildew.

Spray Cleaner: Take a spray bottle and in it put half of a teaspoon of washing soda, a squirt of the liquid detergent, and two cups of hot water. This will work great as a general cleaner (the walls, doorknobs, and so forth). I used to use Windex as a general spray cleaner, but this works far better.

With these tools at your disposal, you don’t need to drop any Hamiltons on cleaning supplies; just get the basic ingredients themselves. I especially recommend going this route if you have a toddler who will want to “help” out with the cleaning, as these are all non-toxic – but they all clean quite well.

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  1. RazzBari says:

    Be careful with the tea tree oil around cats (or other pets):


    Otherwise, great ideas!

  2. Tim says:

    spring cleaning should also include reviewing things that you haven’t used in the past 6months or longer, collect them, and get rid of them by sale or donation.

  3. !wanda says:

    Well, yes, it’s probably a lot better than Windex, but it’s a possible endocrine disruptor, so I wouldn’t let your kid bathe in it:

    From the NYTimes a while back:
    “Clifford Bloch of the University of Colorado School of Medicine presented several cases of young men who had developed marked breast enlargement from using shampoos containing lavender and tea tree oils, which are widely used essential oil additives that present no problem for adults. …
    Dr. Bloch collaborated with scientists at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina to test the oils on human breast cells grown in test tubes. Lavender and tea tree oil had the same effect on the cells as estrogen. ”

    Full link: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/17/science/17puberty.html?ei=5088&en=ed072921988bcaee&ex=1318737600&adxnnl=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&adxnnlx=1161097392-xgmX5WtxhJGHqEuhUfnq8g

  4. MVP says:

    We buy a giant bottle of Simple Green (available at most home improvement and discount retail chains)and use it for practically everything, from cleaning kitchen counters to showers. We also use inexpensive Borax for many household tasks.

  5. Ursula says:

    Great tips — I can see myself using the SoftScrub and Windex substitutes.

    BTW, Trent, I just ran across your site this weekend and I really like it. You certainly put a lot of time into this, and it shows. Can’t say I agree with all your opinions, but most of them are pretty right on. I’ve bookmarked you and sent some links to friends!

    And to RazzBari: Thanks for the link to the vet article. I have kitties so I really appreciate the info on the tea tree oil.

  6. Todd says:

    Second on the Simple Green. That stuff does everything.

  7. Julie says:

    Great info as usual! Thanks!

  8. George says:

    Be care with tea tree oil since it is a powerful natural drug. Limit your handling of the oil. It can especially have an impact on young boys. Read http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/jan2007/niehs-31.htm

  9. Carrie says:

    Thanks for the list. This should keep me busy. It’s normally not my work to shop and to clean. But since I’ve run across this post, I might as well try doing it for a change. I can even do it for a cheap price.

  10. Eric B says:

    Where do you find your tea tree oil inexpensively? I’m seeing the cheapest online as 2oz for 11.50, and many are twice that.

  11. HardwareGuy says:

    I’ve had luck with Simple Green for general cleaning but lately my wife and I have been using OxyClean. the big tub of it is just under 10 bucks and lasts a long time. We used it to save a bundle by mixing our own solution last time we rented a steam cleaner.

  12. Cherie says:

    I use a spray bottle of half water and half vinegar. After it dries it absorbs odors as well so I don’t get that “dog” smell in my house anymore or baby diaper smell. I also spray it on the plexiglass after every shower so that I don’t have to use harsh chemicals to get rid of soapscum. I also have a bottle with a little soap in it as well for tougher stains like hairspray buildup on the counter. I think any essential oil will do fine. The point is to mask the vinegar smell.

  13. cg says:

    Thanks for the tips. There is one more product that I love! It’s called “Awesome.” You can find it at your local 99 cents store. It works on everything! I include about 1/2 cup or less with my laundry. Especially good on grass stains, punch and ice-crem stains, carpet, ovens, etc.
    The greatest product ever. Says it contains no chemicals or bleaches. You have to try it.

  14. trish says:

    this sounds great but do your products sanitize and disinfect?

  15. Leah says:

    I know this is a late comment, but this is for trish (#14) — if you truly want to disinfect, even commercial cleaners aren’t the way to go. Killing 99.9% of something is not the same as 100%, especially when you’re talking about something that comes in the millions or more and multiples rapidly.

    In most areas, you don’t need to sanitize; our immune systems can handle having “germs” on basic surfaces. You do want to disinfect the kitchen counter, the toilet, and places like that. The best disinfectant, bar none, is bleach. Not super environmentally friendly, but it will work really well. put one part bleach to 10 parts water into a bucket or spray bottle, and it will work just fine. FYI, bleach does break down over time, so you need to mix this every time you want to disinfect. I usually just put a capful of bleach into a little bucket with some water.

  16. Victoria says:

    Pet Urine & Stain Remover: In a small bucket mix the following ingredients:
    *4 cups of water
    *2 TBS white distilled vinegar
    *1 TSP dishwashing soap

    Depending on the fabric, use this mix with a clean washcloth, sponge or brush; wipe or brush the affected area. Let it dry. Smell and stain should be gone.

    I used this mix on both new and old pet urine stains and it worked. We had one room that still had a strong urine odor even after I had previously used an expensive store brand. After using this mix, the smell is now gone!

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