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Eco Echo

Ideas from the past for a green clean

When it comes to consumable products, cleaning items included; our grandparents and great grandparents didn’t have the sometimes overwhelming choice we have today. They led an overall simpler life, often harnessing the resources available readily from within their own home and their surrounding community. To get a home that is truly clean, rather than covered in toxic chemicals we have some great, kind, eco-friendly products that work (I’m stocking some!), but we can also make our own non-toxic cleaners at home by looking to the tried and tested ways of our ancestors… It can be surprisingly easy, very economical and even fun (did I really say that in relation to cleaning?!)

Basic ingredients found in your kitchen can be used to make non-toxic cleaners for your different cleaning needs…


Soap is non toxic and biodegrades safely and completely. It is readily available in supermarkets (usually in the laundry isle) and chemists; sold as liquid, flakes, powder or bars. Soap bars can be grated to dissolve easier in hot water. Try and look for soap without synthetic scents, colours or other additives.

Bicarbonate of soda

Bicarbonate of soda cleans and deodorises. It softens water and can act as a good scouring powder. You’ll find Bicarbonate Soda in your supermarket, often in the baking isle.


Borax cleans and deodorises, works well as a disinfectant and softens water. It’s available at chemists and supermarkets.

Washing Soda

Washing soda cuts grease, removes stains, disinfects and softens water. It’s available in the laundry section of supermarkets.

Vinegar &/or Lemons

Vinegar &/or Lemons cuts grease and freshens your home.

In the kitchen


Commercial dishwashing liquids are designed to create unnecessary suds. You will find that many of the better eco-friendly produced brands won’t bubble very much, if at all… this is not necessarily a bad thing, they just don’t include the sometimes harmful ingredients used to create the bubbles in the first place. Dissolve pure soap flakes in hot water and use in place of your regular commercial detergent.

Add vinegar for really tough, baked-on grease.

Burnt pots and pans?

Coat the area with a thick paste of bicarbonate of soda and water and leave for several hours before washing.


Try equal parts white vinegar and water for both inside and out fridges. A small container full of bicarbonate of soda placed in the fridge will help absorb odours.

All purpose metal cleaner

Mix a tablespoon of ordinary cooking salt and flour (self or plain) with a little white vinegar to make a paste. Work the paste around the surface to be cleaned and then rinse with warm water.

Cutting Boards

Undiluted white vinegar can be effective against harmful bugs such as E.Cioli, Salmonella and Staphylococcus. Give wooden and plastic cutting boards & butcher blocks a quick wipe over with undiluted white vinegar before and after use.


Try this recipe…mix 4 litres hot water, 1/4 cup cloudy ammonia and 1 tablespoon bicarbonate of soda. For a stronger mixture, double all the ingredients except water.

In the bathroom


Wipe or spray vinegar onto the mould, leave overnight and scrub in the morning.

General bathroom cleaning

Use a firm bristled brush with bicarbonate soda and hot water.


Try a strong solution of vinegar. Apply a thick paste of borax and lemon juice to stubborn areas. Leave for several hours.

Use 3 tablespoons of vinegar in 1 litre of warm water. To dry surfaces, use a lint free cloth or crumpled newspaper. This works for windows also.

In the laundry

Before you make the switch from regular detergents to soap…

Wash items once with washing soda. This should eliminate detergent residues that might otherwise react with soap, possibly causing fabric to yellow.

Laundry soap

Add 1/3 cup washing soda to water before adding clothes and substitute soap flakes or powder for detergent. Flakes may need to be dissolved in a little hot water before adding to the machine.


Soak heavily soiled items in warm water with 1/2 cup washing soda for about half an hour. Rub soiled areas with liquid soap. White vinegar can also be useful for stain removal…a quick spray of any garments with stains or underarm perspiration stains before going into machine can really help.

Kill bacteria

Because of the acetic acid content, white vinegar has anti-bacterial properties and so about 120ml (1/2 cup) white vinegar added to the washers rinse cycle should kill off any bacteria present, especially if it contains terry diapers (or sweaty socks!) White vinegar will also naturally break down uric acid from baby and children’s clothes.

Fabrics softener

Add 1/2 cup vinegar or 1/4 cup bicarbonate of soda during final rinse.


To clean and deodorise carpets try mixing 2 parts corn meal (polenta) with 1 part borax. Sprinkle liberally; leave one hour and then vacuum. For a quick freshen up sprinkle with bicarbonate of soda and then vacuum.


As an animal lover with a much loved family dog, Lottie… I had to include this one…Wash blankets as normal but add 1 cup white vinegar to cycle to deodorise and kill bacteria. Vinegar will remove any soap from bedding to which they may be sensitive.

Further Cleaning Recipes

Multi-purpose cleaner

2 tablespoons borax 1 teaspoon soap 1 litre water. This can be stored in a spray bottle.


Try 1/4 cup borax dissolved in 2 litres hot water. Keeping surfaces clean and dry reduces the need for disinfectants.

A friend recently lent me the following books which I can recommend for further reading if you are seeking inspiration to have a go at cleaning using recipes made from regular ingredients in your pantry…also some great all round tips to keep your house clean with minimal effort and fuss…leaving you more time to play and enjoy spending time with your children, family and friends! I love the “10 Minute Clean” in Spotless, Speed Cleaning as I invariably leave my tidying until the last moments before visitors arrive!

Further Reading

Vinegar by Maria Costantino & Gina Steer

Published by Star Fire, 2008

Spotless, Speed Cleaning by Shannon Lush & Jennifer Fleming

Published by ABC Books, 2006

A Poem…

Following… you’ll find an old poem called Cleanliness by Charles and Mary Lamb from around 1874. It’s a much shortened version of the original but seemed to fit the old fashioned cleaning theme…

Cleanliness by Charles & Mary Lamb

All-endearing cleanliness,
Virtue next to godliness,
Easiest, cheapest, needfull’st duty,
To the body health and beauty;
Who that’s human would refuse it,
When a little water does it?

References used for above article… I adapted quite a few of their ideas for the above article and encourage you to take a look and read further – they have large amounts of information available on running a green home…lots of good eco tips and ideas worth considering…

Old CWA Books & Women’s Weekly Magazines seem to have some great old fashioned cleaning recipes in them also…they pop up in collectible shops reasonably regularly and there is probably a copy or two taking pride of place in an older family member’s library so perhaps it’s worth asking!