Category: Cleaning

How we Clean the Scrap House Without Chemicals for Under $10 a Month

Feeding your family great food on a budget isn’t just about what you plate up and take to the table. It isn’t just about the produce you buy or your cooking techniques, it’s a reflection of your entire cooking environment. How you organise your space, prep your food and even how you launder you tea towels, will affect the quality of your final product. Here in the Scrap House we try our best within our budget to eat healthy nutritious food and avoid ingesting any unnecessary chemicals. One of the best ways to do this (besides buying pesticide free produce etc) is to eliminate the chemical cleaners.

I’ve posted a few times recently with recipes for homemade cleaning products, but I get so many emails and messages about them all I thought it would be nice to have them all in one place (ie.this post).

I also get asked about how much it costs to switch over, how much time it takes to organise it all and what extras I needed to buy to switch over.

The short answer is, it costs next to nothing and no special equipment needed. You probably already have everything you need in your house already.

The long answer is, it might cost you a few dollars to get going (I’m talking maybe $20 or $30 if you don’t have things already but if you divide it by 12 it works out to between $1.20 and $2.50 a month, although if you don’t have things like a mop and a broom it may cost a little more).

What you need

Not a lot. You probably have most of these things already. One of the great things about cleaning this way is that you can buy a few things in bulk and by just mixing them in different ways you can make lots of different “products”. 

For the purposes of this post I’m going to assume that your cleaning cupboard already contains cleaning cloths, a mop, scrub brush, broom, buckets and so forth. If you need to purchase any of these things it’s obviously going to cost a little (or a lot) more than $10 for the month.

White Vinegar we use approximately 2 litres per month ($1.20 for 2 litres in a recyclable plastic bottle or we use homemade Apple Scrap Vinegar but its not quite as strong. I have seen a few places online that sell bulk but they also come in plastic bottles and work out  more expensive at around $2 per litre so until we find a place that has bulk on tap we’re sticking to the cheap supermarket brand). 

Bicarbonate of Soda (500 gram homebrand at Woolworths is $1.59 but it comes in a plastic bag, the McKenzies brand (in cardboard box ) is $2.49 at most supermarkets, we buy in bulk 5kg lots for $20.50 through a soap maker and go through about two lots per year and reuse the buckets for various things before they go into recycling).

Washing Soda is currently $3.85 a kilogram at Woolworths in town. This is the cheapest I can find it locally. There was cheaper online but by time I added postage it worked out closer to $5 a kilogram (if you can’t find it in the supermarket you can make your own from Bicarbonate of Soda if you scroll to the bottom of my previous post about dishwasher tablets you’ll find the instructions I shared with readers to make it in the comments). We use about 10 kilograms a year.

Bars of Soap (about $1 a bar. We average about one a month for household cleaning purposes (more if you count the ones we use for personal hygiene). We hunt around for palm oil free varieties when possible, if you wanted to you could make your own so you know exactly whats in it or if you’re not fussed you can get boxes of plain laundry soap in boxes of 5 or so from the supermarket laundry isle for under $3).

Essential Oils (Not strictly necessary but a nice addition. I like Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Lavender and Lemon for their anti-fungus properties, smell, they generally cost a little less per ml than most others and at a pinch are available from your local supermarket in decent sized bottles. You can currently get 200 ml of Eucalyptus oil for $10 at Woolworths ).

Citrus peels & Juice (orange, lemon, lime etc. If you don’t have enough peels save them in the freezer until you do). We don’t buy lemons as lots of people we know have trees and are only too glad to offload a few during fruit season. They freeze just fine whole so I always just throw a few in the bottom of the freezer for when we’ve got none fresh. You can also pre-squeeze them and freeze the juice for later but I’m a bit lazy, so I usually just throw in the whole fruit.

Total cost for all this is approximately: $12 soap + $41 bicarbonate of soda+$30 essential oils + $30.85= $113.85. If you divide this by 12 you get $9.48 (ie. less than $10 per month).

There’s other things you could add like citric acid, methylated spirit, borax, extra oils etc which can be handy for stubborn stains etc but you don’t really need them. A few recipes use salt and sugar (dishwasher tablets and vinegar for example) but they use very little and most of us already have these things in our pantry cupboard anyway. I try and avoid borax even though it can be great for stain removal and give extra omph to some homemade cleaning  products as I found when we used it the Uni Students eczema flared up, it might be coincidence but if we can do without it why take the chance.

I’ve previously shared a few of the recipes we use regularly in earlier posts (you might have to do some scrolling to find them….

Apple Scrap Vinegar

Dishwasher Tablets

Cream/Paste Cleaner

Glass Cleaner

I’ve shared some details about our Laundry Powder before which I make by mixing 1 bar of grated soap to 1 kilogram each of Bicarbonate of soda and Washing Soda. We add approximately 2 tablespoons worth to each full load in our 7kg top-loading machine. We don’t use fabric softeners at all, just 1/4 cup of vinegar in the rinse dispenser. If we want to add smelly stuff we drop in a few drops of essential oil or I make up lavender or rose water when the plants are in flower.

Lavender Water 

4 teaspoons of lavender flowers fresh or dried (if you have or know someone with a plant grab some flowers and dry them by tying a bunch and hanging them upside down somewhere dry and airy. Pop a paper bag over the flower heads while they’re hanging to catch any that fall off, when they’re dry you can just leave them in the bag in a drawer somewhere until you need them).

2 cups (500ml) Boiling Water 

Steep the lavender in the water like you’re making tea. When it cools strain it into a container  and add a little to your washing machine either in the fabric softener dispenser or during the final rinse cycle. To make it a moth repellent use 4 teaspoons of lavender and 2 teaspoons of rosemary (if you don’t have a rosemary plant handy the dried stuff from the supermarket will do).

Laundry Gel

50 grams of pure soap (any kind you like). Grated. I just use the finest side of an old fashioned metal box grater and do half a dozen bars at a time. I store the grated soap in an old Tupperware container for whenever I need it.

60 grams (1/4 cup) either Washing Soda OR Bicarbonate of Soda

4 Litres (16 cups) of water

A Big Pot  I use my 20 litre stock pot but if you don’t have a big enough pot just divide up the ingredients into smaller batches.

Add a few cups of the water and the soap to the pot and stir until boiling. Turn it down to a simmer and whisk, stir,mash until all the soap is dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the washing or bicarbonate of soda, stirring well. Pour into a large container (this is where our bulk buy buckets come in handy) and stir in the remaining water until its well blended. When its cooled it sets to a soft jelly. We use two cups of jelly per full load if the clothes are really grubby, or one cup for smaller loads or things that don’t require heavy cleaning like cotton sheets.

Hint to prevent yellowing of clothes

I’ve had lots of people tell me their clothes either don’t come clean or their lights go yellow when they switch to homemade variety powders and gels. In our experience this isn’t the homemade product, its actually the residue from the old detergents stopping the cleaning process.

To prevent your clothes from yellowing and make them actually come clean when you switch to the laundry gel or homemade laundry powder put your clothes through a cycle using washing soda only. You only need to do this once,the first time you wash using your homemade products. Make up a bucket containing  2 cups of washing soda dissolved in 2 1/2 litres of water (about 9 cups). When you’re ready to wash just add 2 cups to a full load and run it through without adding anything else, then wash your clothes again using your homemade powder or gel. just do it as each batch of washing needs to be done. The clothes  already put through the washing soda only process just hold aside until the others have gone through,then throw them in and wash the whole load as normal.

For a good all purpose cleaner we use citrus vinegar. There’s heaps of articles on the interweb about it and I’m unsure where the recipe originally came from but I was told about it years ago (before we had internet – yes I’m that old, I can remember what it was like in the olden days without mobile phones or computers in every house) so hopefully I’m not plagiarising anyone here.

Citrus Cleaner

You’ll need.

A jar or jars (we usually have a few  batches brewing in the cupboard ready for when we need more).

White Vinegar

Citrus Peels. You’ll need to make sure there’s no flesh on them, you just want the peels. 

Fill your jar with citrus peels. Pour in the vinegar until peels are completely submerged. Put the lid on and put it in the cupboard or leave on the bench for at least 2 weeks  so the citrus oils out of the peels infuse with the vinegar. Give it a shake when you think of it to speed the process up. 

To use: Simply pour some into a spray bottle and dilute 1:1 with water. Give it a shake and use like any other spray on, wipe off cleaner. If you’re worried about it affecting your bench tops or anything, make sure you try a little in an inconspicuous spot first (the rim under your counter works well).

Note: You can leave this in the jar pretty much indefThe peels need to be fully submerged or you might find the bits that stick out go mouldy if you’re like me and shove the jar in the back of the cupboard and forget to shake it.

Homemade Paste Cleaner

Back in 1995 we discovered that the Uni Student, at the time a gorgeous little bundle of gurgling joy, was allergic to stuff. Things like washing powder, scented soap, perfume and other household cleaners caused pretty violent skin reactions. So we went on the hunt for alternatives.

In our search we found lots of “eco”, “natural” and “green’ products. Most of them overpriced and many containing just as many irritating ingredients as .their chemical counterparts. Big lesson here was that just because something is “natural” doesn’t automatically qualify it as “safe” or “good”.

Then my mother found a book and posted it to me for my birthday (we were living in Adelaide at the time and she was on the farm at Burraja in rural New South Wales). It was called It’s so Natural by a fellow called Alan Hayes. It’s still available I think. Give it a search through DR Google and see if you can find it. And that was how I started making most of our household cleaners and many of our personal care  products.

I did hang onto a few of my favourite commercially made products though and one of them is Gumption.


For those of you who’ve never come across it before, Gumption is a white paste sold in a tub that you rub onto dirty surfaces with a cloth. Its great for enamel stove tops, baths and basins, stainless steel pots and pans, dirty bathroom tiles and so many other things. It’s pretty low irritant too and all the safety and environmental information I can find on it says it’s completely safe to use.

So I kept using it, until recently that is. I went to our little local supermarket the other day to find that the price has jumped significantly. On “special” it was almost $6 AU a tub. Granted I hadn’t brought any for a while, I tend to stock up on these sorts of things when I find them at bargain prices and only replace them once they’ve run out, but that seems a little steep for a simple tub of goo.

Surely it could be made at home. While there are no ingredients at all listed on the tub, the information I can find on the interwebs informs us that it’s a mild abrasive with a surficant (soap) and a little peroxide or bleach (I think). I asked over on the Kitchenscraps Face-lurk page and a few of our followers provided links to either similar commercial products and a couple of recipes used by other bloggers. Armed with this info I did a quick rummage through the pantry and laundry cupboards, set to work experimenting with a few different mixes and finally came up with this one. It works a treat.

Homemade Cleaning Paste

1 cup bicarb soda (baking soda)

1/2 cup washing soda (the powdery kind, not the big crystals)

1/3 cup hot water

2 Tablespoons grated soap

1/4 Teaspoon essential oil

1 Tablespoon fine grained salt.(optional – great for tiles but probably not so great on delicate surfaces).

In a bowl mix together all the dry ingredients except the soap. In a separate bowl or jug dissolve the soap in the hot water. Mix the soapy water into the dry ingredients, adding the essential oil. Put into a  wide mouth jar or container (I used an old plastic honey tub) and when needed scoop a small amount out with a rag and gently rub onto surface in a circular motion. Wipe off with a damp cloth.

Note: It should be a thick smooth paste. If it’s dry and crumbly, add more water. If it’s really runny, add more bicarb soda, a little at a time. A 1/4 teaspoon of essential oil is about 20 drops, I used 10 drops each of tea tree and eucalyptus. You can use any oil you like or you could easily leave this out and it would probably work just as well, it just wouldn’t smell as nice.

I tested it out on our grubby stove top and one of my old cast iron enameled pots that had burnt custard stuck on the bottom. 


This cost next to nix to make, does a great job and gets bonus points because it eliminates one more piece of disposable plastic packaging from our household.
 

Sunday Scraps – In the Scrap House this week & dishwasher tablets

This Week in the Scrap House

We’ve had a busy week. Mr Scraps spent the week sorting through the shed and packing up all our unwanted bits and pieces to sell at a friend’s garage sale. The Teens had the usual school week with football and netball training thrown in (the youngest Teen’s team won their game by a massive margin this week). The Uni Student popped in a few times and is off interstate for a few days with the Eldest who graced us with his presence for dinner Friday night. We also made the trek over to Grandma & Grandad Scraps for an afternoon tea on Saturday which turned into dinner.

I’m now getting to the pointy end of my Archaeology Honours Project (the bit where you have to actually do something with all the data you’ve collected and historic documents you’ve unearthed, scanned and photographed). As a result there’s been a fair amount of thinking, hair-twisting and pacing up and down in front of a blank computer screen. In between, Miss T and I managed to do some experimenting with bread recipes, planted out our celery and leek butts that have been sprouting on the kitchen bench, tried our hands at sauerkraut with some red cabbage (much easier than I imagined) and spent Saturday morning knitting at the local library for World Wide Knit in Public Day. She made and installed her first ever “Yarn Bomb”. and as a result the librarian has given us permission to decorate all the trees.I don’t know who was more excited, the Threenager or my friend who had neglected her own knitting project to help her craft her installation piece. She also proudly modeled a new prototype vintage fabric skirt from Vintage Bubs . She was allowed to keep it and we had to pries it off her to pop it in the wash after an afternoon in the park.

There was also a lot of experimenting with homemade cleaning products. We already have a few “go to” cleaners we make ourselves, but a couple of them have ingredients that are either a little expensive or difficult to get without ridiculous amounts of plastic packaging or trips into the nearest large town. I shared a post about experimenting with dishwasher tablets over on the Facebook page this week and a lot of people asked 1) How they went and 2) If I could please share the recipe.

Why I wanted to make our own dishwasher tablets

Dishwasher tablets are very convenient, but usually expensive (hard to pay less than 18-20 cents per wash) and although they come in a box they’re usually individually wrapped in little plastic packets inside it. The powder is better package wise with most brands only packed in a cardboard box, but still not all that cheap. Both contain chemically stuff or things I’m not happy to ingest, like borax.

Now while borax isn’t thought to be particularly dangerous, there is some evidence that it has the potential to cause skin irritation, stomach upset and may be a hormone disrupter. There’s lots of recipes for homemade dishwasher powders and tablets out there on the web, but most of them contain the stuff, so I’ve been on a bit of a mission to find a way to make my own without borax. This week I think we’ve done it. After two full dishwasher loads (I only turn our dishwasher on when it’s really full, about every second or third day) and both have come out clean as a whistle without any residue left on the glassware.

Lemon Dishwasher Tablet Recipe

Ingredients

1 Cup Washing Soda

1 Cup Bicarbonate of Soda (Baking Soda)

1 Cup Salt

3/4 Cup Lemon Juice.

2 Ice Cube Trays (or similar)

Mix all your dry ingredients then pour in lemon juice (make sure you use a fairly large bowl because it fizzes quite a lot for a few moments). Mix it really well and divide mix between the ice cube trays packing down really firmly. Leave to dry at least a few hours before popping them out and leaving overnight to dry completely. Keep in an airtight container and use like any commercial dishwasher tablet.

Notes:

This recipe makes 24 tablets (or more if you use a smaller mold). I used two 12 hole plastic ice cube trays because that’s what I had. They came out quite easily, but silicone might be even easier. Just make sure that your tablets will fit in your dispenser. To check just fill your container with water and freeze, take one of the ice cubes, pop it in the detergent dispenser and make sure it closes properly.

Be fairly gentle when you pop them out of the trays. They do harden up a bit more as they dry. There were a few crumbly bits (which is why they put the commercial tablets in plastic wrap). I just scrapped them up and will pop them in the dispenser like powder.

If you prefer powder, just omit the lemon juice and instead use 1 Cup of Citric Acid, mix together and keep in an airtight container. To use place 1 tablespoon per load in the dispenser.

Tip:

For sparkly glassware, pop white vinegar in the rinse aide dispenser.

If you find you have some residue on your dishes after the dishwasher cycle finishes, try making sure the water going through your machine is nice and hot. Pop a pot or bucket in your sink, turn on your hot tap and let the water run a moment until it’s flowing hot before switching your machine on (this can also help with store-brought dishwasher tablets or powder). I empty the water in the pot into my washing machine or use it to water plants or wash the floors so it doesn’t go to waste (it’s usually less than a litre but in winter when the pipes are really cold its more).

Apple Scrap Vinegar

How to make Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) from your Apple Scraps.

Don’t throw out your apple cores. I know some people eat the whole apple, core and all, but most of us don’t. Our youngest daughter eats at least one apple per day, that’s seven apple cores a week either going to the immortal chicken (I’ll tell you that story another day) or to compost each week. We also use a lot of ACV. I use it as a hair rinse, in cooking, as a salad dressing and in household cleaning products among other things and if you’ve been to your local wholefood store, health shop or even just your local supermarket lately, you’ll know that stuff can be expensive.Especially if you like to buy the certified organic brands.

Originally I went looking for a place that retailed ACV in bulk and at least a little cheaper than I could buy it in glass bottles from my local supermarket. Imagine my delight when I found you could make your own and all you needed was already right there in my kitchen.

What you need:

Apple cores (about half a dozen and skins if you have them)

Sugar

Chlorine Free water (if your tap water is chlorinated leave it sit out in the open air for a while for the chlorine to evaporate or if you can get it use rainwater).

A wide mouth glass jar that will hold about 1.5  litres of liquid ( you can use larger or smaller just adjust your quantities).

A piece of cotton cloth (a bit of old sheet, a hanky or napkin will do)

An elastic band or piece of string.

The Makings

Put your apple cores into your wide mouth jar.

Mix water and sugar at ratio of 1 teaspoon sugar for every 1 cup of water. Make enough to fill the jar. I like to use warm water and mix until the sugar is dissolved, but its probably not a necessity.

Pour the water sugar mix into the jar all the way to the top.Make sure all your apple bits are submerged (or they’ll go mouldy).

Cover the mouth of the jar with your piece of cotton and secure with an elastic band or string.

Stick it in the back of your cupboard for about 3 weeks to ferment. You’ll know its ready when it begins to smell acidic and well, like vinegar. You can use it as is or leave it another week or two and it’ll have a stronger flavour.

Strain into a bottle, put the lid on and set aside for a few days to settle. You might want to open the lid every day or so for the next week to “burp” the bottle, just in case it hasn’t quite done fermenting. A vinegar explosion in your cupboard might not be pretty.

Notes:

You can give it a stir every few days if you like, but I usually forget.

You’ll know its ready when it smells really acidic,if it really smells like rotten apples, chuck it and start again.

Surprisingly, you’ll probably have to put your nose fairly close to the cloth “lid” to smell it. The first time I made a batch I was worried it’d stink out the cupboard because you need to leave the jar open (the little microbes in the water and apples need to react with oxygen- thats why you don’t use chlorinated water, it kills all the little microbes that make the vinegar), covering it with the cloth stops dirt, bugs or rodents getting in the jar.

If you get a white gungy looking thing floating about in the jar before you strain it, hang onto it. It’s called the “mother” and will help speed up the process if you add it to the next batch you make. You can either pop it in with your strained ACV or put it in a separate little jar of its own. I usually start the new batch fermenting as soon as I strain of the ACV, so just transfer it into that one.

Keep your apple cores in the fridge or freezer until you have enough. I keep an old bread bag in the freezer that I throw the cores into as soon as I’ve cut up the apple.