Homemade all purpose cleaner is one of the most used items in the cleaning cabinet. It can be used to clean counter-tops, degrease stoves, shine refrigerators, remove crumbs from tabletops, and even wipe up spills on floors. Learn how to make this easy and effective multi-purpose cleaner today!
My husband and kids are the after-dinner cleaning crew at my house. The kids remove dishes from the table while my husband scours the pots and loads the dishwasher. I tend to dart around finding all the mystery spills left on countertops while cooking, wiping the crumbs from the kitchen table, and blotting up any drips that hit the floor.
My favorite clean up tools: a bottle homemade all-purpose cleaner and a soft rag.
Natural All Purpose Cleaner
I’ve always loved keeping a spray bottle of all-purpose cleaner under the kitchen sink for small messes and spills.
It’s easy to grab, spray and wipe away the grime.
What’s not to love????
Well… I don’t love ALL the ingredients found in many store-bought multi-purpose cleaners. Many cleaning products contain unsafe substances that have been linked to cancer and indoor air pollution.
What’s a green cleaning nerd to do? Research, research, research, analyze the research, and then develop a simple recipe for DIY all-purpose cleaner.
Searching for an Effective Cleaner Recipe
I started my quest for an effective, homemade all-purpose cleaner online and found dozens of interesting suggestions and ideas.
Then came the real task…
Separating the good ideas from the bad!
It sounds crazy, but some of the most popular all-purpose cleaner recipes include ingredients that do not work well on multiple surfaces or use ingredient combinations that neutralize one another.
When to Use Homemade Cleaners
When developing a natural, homemade cleaner recipe I have 3 requirements:
- It must be effective. (It must work as well as my favorite store-bought cleaner.)
- In the case of multi-purpose cleaner it must be safe to use on multiple household surfaces (counter-tops, tables, kitchen cabinets, hard floors, stainless steel, tile, etc.) and leave no residue without rinsing.
- The cleaner must rate an A on the EWG Healthy Cleaning scale.
- In the case of multi-purpose cleaner I want to be able spray, wipe, and be done cleaning. No rinsing required!
- The cleaner must be affordable.
Popular All-Purpose Cleaner Ingredients
To make an effective cleaner it’s important to understand what they contain, when the ingredients should be used, and when they should be avoided. These 11 ingredients are found in many of the most popular DIY multi-purpose cleaner recipes. Let's learn a bit more about them:
- Baking Soda – Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a wonderful green cleaning ingredient because it is inexpensive, breaks down acidic soils found in the home, neutralizes odors, and can be used to scour surfaces. However, baking soda can leave a gritty residue unless it is rinsed clean.
- Borax – Borax (sodium tetraborate or sodium borate) is a popular cleaning ingredient because it is a powerful base that can cut through grim, soften water, and deodorize. However, borax should not come into direct contact with the skin and should not be ingested. Cleaners containing borax should be thoroughly rinsed or they can leave a white residue. Use caution when using borax on food preparation surfaces (i.e tables and counter tops).
- Castile Soap – Castile soap (vegetable fat-based soap) is a great all-natural cleaning ingredient. It contains surfactants that attract dirt and oils and suspend them in water so they can be washed away. Castile soap cleans gently without stripping oils from the skin. However, since Castile soap is a true soap (not a detergent) it can leave residue on household surfaces unless it is rinsed and dried to maximize shine. It can also react poorly with hard water.
- Essential Oils – Essential oils are a popular ingredient that can be used to scent homemade cleaners and boost their cleaning power. Essential oils are made by distilling natural plant materials into a concentrated spirit that contains the properties of the source plants ( i.e antimicrobial, anti-fungal, and/or antibacterial agents that protect plants against organisms that threaten their survival ). However, essential oils can cause allergic reaction and can be toxic (especially in young children, pregnant women, people with breathing issues, and pets). Use with caution in everyday cleaners.
- Hydrogen Peroxide – Hydrogen peroxide is an environmentally friendly alternative to chlorine-based bleaches for cleaning stains and disinfecting. It is a weak acid that quickly breaks down into water and oxygen. However, hydrogen peroxide can bleach fabrics, corrode metal, and damage wood finishes or natural stone with overuse.
- Lemon Juice – Lemon juice is an amazing addition to natural cleaners. It contains citric acid which reacts with basic soils found in the home to break them down resulting in cleaner, deodorized surfaces. Lemon juice can also be antibacterial and adds a pleasant scent to homemade cleaners, However, since it is a natural fruit juice, lemon juice can go rancid if not refrigerated. And, as an acid, it should be rinsed thoroughly from surfaces and should not be used on finished wood surfaces or natural stone to prevent etching.
- Natural Dish-washing Liquid – Natural hand-washing detergents (made with plant-based surfactants and without any synthetic dyes, fragrances or preservatives) are a green cleaning powerhouse. Their surfactants attract dirt and grease and suspends them in water so they can be washed away. Detergents are effective in hot or cold water, work well in hard water, breakdown stains more effectively than soap, and do not need to be rinsed clean when properly diluted.
- Rubbing Alcohol – Rubbing alcohol or surgical spirits are common names for isopropyl alcohol. It is a great disinfectant and shine enhancer in homemade cleaners (look for a version that does not have added color or scent). However, rubbing alcohol will damage wood surfaces and wood finishes (for example: kitchen tables and cabinets).
- Washing soda – Washing soda (Sodium Carbonate) is a powerful all-natural cleaner that cleans acid soils and deodorizes. However, it is caustic (a strong base) so gloves should be worn when cleaning with washing soda and it will leave a white residue if not rinsed thoroughly.
- Water –Water is a simple but powerful solvent that can remove most of the dirt found on soiled household surfaces. In fact, water is often called the “universal solvent” because it dissolves more substances than any other liquid. (Solvents are used to dissolve, soften, and remove other compounds.) It works on both acids and bases, is readily available, and leaves no residue.
- White Vinegar – Vinegar is an amazing cleaner because it is inexpensive, breaks down basic soils such as hard water stains, neutralizes odors, and leaves no harmful toxins behind. Vinegar contains acetic acid which works well on stainless steel and laminate, but it should not be used to clean grout, natural stone, cast iron, or aluminum.
The 9 Most Popular Homemade All Purpose Cleaners
These are the 9 most popular recipes found online for multi-purpose cleaner. Learn which of the cleaners work well, which are bad for multiple surface, and which are just plain ineffective.
Vinegar and Baking Soda All Purpose Cleaner
- Ingredients: Vinegar, baking soda, essential oils
- Assessment: This cleaner contains an ineffective combination of reactive ingredients (vinegar/acid + baking soda/base) that cancel each other out leaving a spray bottle full of water with a teeny tiny bit of sodium acetate and essential oils. Skip this cleaner.
- Recipe: the Seasoned Mom
Baking Soda All Purpose Cleaner
- Ingredients: Baking soda, water
- Assessment: Baking soda is a wonderful green cleaning ingredient because it is inexpensive, breaks down acidic soils found in the home, neutralizes odors, and is gently enough to scour surfaces. However, since baking is an abrasive powder it will leave behind a filmy grit unless rinsed thoroughly plus the cleaning recipe does not contain a surfactant to remove dirt or grease. Skip this cleaner.
- Recipe: Good Housekeeping
Vinegar All Purpose Cleaner
- Ingredients: Vinegar, water, essential oils
- Assessment: This powerful cleaner has an acidic pH level that works great on basic grim found in home (i.e. hard water stains and toothpaste). However, since vinegar contains acetic acid it should not be used on multiple household surfaces including natural stone, tile grout, and wood. Save this cleaner for surface that will not be damaged by vinegar (stainless steel appliances, the inside of the refrigerator, and laminate/linoleum flooring).
- Recipes: Root and Revel, The Homemade Experiment and Mom 4 Real
Vinegar and Detergent All Purpose Cleaner
- Ingredients: Vinegar, water, natural detergent, essential oils
- Assessment: Combining vinegar and detergent in a surface cleaner gives it a one-two punch that is tough on dirt and grease. (I love using the combo in no-scrub shower cleaner.) However, vinegar contains acetic acid so it should not be used on many household surfaces including natural stone and tile grout. Save this cleaner for bathroom surfaces or exceptionally dirty laminate/linoleum flooring.
- Recipe: Living the Nourished Life
Lemon All Purpose Cleaner
- Ingredients: Lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar, water
- Assessment: This acidic cleaner works great on basic grim found in home (i.e. hard water deposits and toilet rings). However, since it contains both citric acid and acetic acid it should not be used on multiple household surfaces including natural stone, tile grout, and wood. Save this cleaner for hard water stains or deodorizing the inside of the microwave.
- Recipe: The Spruce
Borax All Purpose Cleaner
- Ingredients: Borax, washing soda, Castile soap, water, essential oils
- Assessment: This powerful cleaner has a basic pH level that works great on acidic grim found in homes (i.e. urine and sweat). However, surfaces need a thorough rinse, or the washing soda and borax can leave a white residue. Save this spray for bathroom cleaning where dirt tends to be acidic and surfaces are easy to rinse.
- Recipe: Wellness Mama
Rubbing Alcohol All Purpose Cleaner
- Ingredients: Rubbing alcohol, water, dish washing liquid
- Assessment: Rubbing alcohol is an excellent disinfectant and the detergent helps remove dirt and grease. However, rubbing alcohol can do serious damage to wood. Save this spray for toilet and sink disinfecting when someone is sick.
- Recipe: Real Simple
Hydrogen Peroxide All Purpose Cleaner
- Ingredients: Hydrogen peroxide, essential oils
- Assessment: Hydrogen peroxide is a great disinfectant and works great to lighten stains. However, the 3% solution commonly sold in stores is mildly acidic so it should not be used frequently on wood. In addition, hydrogen peroxide is commonly used on marble and granite countertops for stain removal but is not recommended for daily cleaning. Skip the essential oils and save the hydrogen peroxide spray for disinfecting when necessary.
- Recipe: DIY Natural and The Yummy Life
Castile Soap All Purpose Cleaner
- Ingredients: Water, Castile soap, essential oils
- Assessment: Soap and water is a classic cleaning combination that contains surfactants to attract dirt and oils. It is safe to use on all household surfaces and does not leave behind toxic residue. Unfortunately, Castile soap can react with minerals naturally found in water resulting in a whitish film you may notice on shiny surface unless they are rinse and buffed dry. Try this all-purpose cleaner at home bit skip the unnecessary essential oils.
- Recipe: Mommypotamus
The Best All-Purpose Cleaner
After reviewing the most popular natural all-purpose cleaner recipes I was a bit disappointed.
Only one cleaner (Castile Soap All Purpose Cleaner) was safe for use on multiple surface and did not need rinsing… but even it performs better when buffed dry.
And this lady ain’t got no time for drying and buffing!!!
Luckily, it’s easy to make an effective homemade all-purpose cleaner with just two simple ingredients from the kitchen.
Detergent and water.
How To Make Homemade All Purpose Cleaner
Combine 1 teaspoon of natural dish detergent (the kind used for hand washing dishes) with 16 ounces of water in a spray bottle. Swirl gently to combine.
Bing, Bang, BOOM!
Water, a squirt of soap, and done.
How to Use Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner
Spray surface lightly and wipe dry with a clean cloth. Repeat as needed.
Homemade all-purpose cleaner is safe on granite, marble, wood, cabinets, stainless steel, glass, laminate, solid surface counter tops, sinks, floors, walls, and more!
Homemade All Purpose Cleaner Tips
These tips can help you get the most out of your all-purpose cleaner.
- Start with less natural detergent than you think you need and add more a little at a time until you reach the desired level of concentration. Too much detergent will leave residue behind, but your might want to occasionally use more detergent for especially greasy messes or tough stains.
- Rub the surface you are cleaning well. Friction is an important component of cleaning. It helps the all-purpose cleaner remove dirt, grease, germs, and bacteria. Microfiber cloths add to the grime removing power.
- Don’t over saturate surfaces. Water is an excellent cleaning agent but too much can cause damage to household surface. Start with a little cleaning solution and add more if needed.
- Skip the glass. Multi-purpose and all-purpose cleaners are often marketed as miracle solutions that can get anything clean. However, I do not use all-purpose cleaner on highly reflective surfaces such as windows or mirrors. For glass I stick to my homemade glass cleaner or use plain vinegar and water (neither will streak).
Should All Purpose Cleaner Include a Natural Disinfectant?
Disinfecting sounds like an important part of daily cleaning, right? Germs and bacteria make people sick → Remove them and be healthy.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple!
Detergent or soap-based cleaners contain surfactants (a compound found in detergent and soap) that remove 99% of germs and bacteria along with dirt and grease. That’s right… plain old soap and water can get most of the nasties out your house!
Antibacterial products contain ingredients that can kill some of the germs and bacteria but do not remove them from surfaces. That’s right… they kill some nasties but still need the surfactants found in soap or detergent to truly clean!
Why not clean and disinfect?
Daily household cleaners that contain both surfactants to remove germs AND antibacterial ingredients are unnecessary!
The FDA says, “If you use these [antibacterial] products because you think they protect you more than soap and water, that’s not correct.”
And, the over use of antibacterial products can lead to the creation of dangerous “antibiotic-resistant superbugs.”
What if I have a sick family member/pet accident/food spill?
I get it! At one time or another we have all been disgusted by a round of the stomach flu, a household pet having an accident, or a slimy chicken sliding across the kitchen counter.
In that moment I clean the effected toilet, floor, or counter top with all-purpose cleaner then use hydrogen peroxide disinfect the critical area.
There is no need to use a disinfect EVERY SINGLE TIME I wipe up a spill, rid the table of crumbs, or dust off the counter tops!
All-Purpose Cleaner FAQ
These are the most common questions I am asked about making all-purpose cleaner and their answers:
- Is all-purpose cleaner safe for granite counter tops? Yes. Most marble and granite manufacturers recommend cleaning granite with soapy water.
- Is all-purpose cleaner safe for wood counter tops? Yes. Wood and butcher counter tops can be cleaned with soapy water. Do not over-saturate wooden surfaces.
- Can I add essential oils to all-purpose cleaner? Yes. You may add essential oils, but they are unnecessary. Essential oils are a better choice than artificial fragrance if you like your cleaners to have a pleasant smell. (Be sure to chose an oil that is safe for the pets and people in your home.)
- I need an all-purpose scrub, can I add baking soda? Skip the scrub in this cleaner and make all-purpose scrub cleanser. It uses baking soda and Castile soap (or dish detergent) to clean and buff. Get the recipe here.
- Is detergent and water all it takes to clean? When it comes to cleaning ourselves and our homes, basic soap and water (or detergent and water) are the most effective for truly removing dirt, grime, and bacteria from surfaces.
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