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Dec 04, 2009 02:36PM

Scrubbing bubbles: Give yourself the gift of a natural clean

By Darcy Maulsby
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You can make your own laundry soap with just a few inexpensive ingredients. Shown here is laundry soap made by Prairieland Herbs of Woodward, Iowa.

From bathtubs and bedding to carpets and cabinetry, you easily can go green with your cleaning routine by using effective, nontoxic products made from kitchen staples. Best of all, these recipes are much less expensive than commercial cleaners since they usually can be made for mere pennies per application.

"While I really love having a clean house, I can't think of any force in the universe that could make me actually enjoy housecleaning," says Maggie Howe, co-owner of Prairieland Herbs near Woodward, Iowa, which provides locally produced, environmentally friendly herbal products ranging from hair-care products to body scrubs. "I know this sounds like a cliché, but it's true -- using natural, handmade household cleansers actually does make housecleaning more enjoyable."

Once you purchase your natural house-cleaning basics at a grocery store or health food market, you'll have enough materials to make your own household cleaners for months to come, says Howe, who opened Prairieland Herbs in 1998 with her mother, Donna Julseth.

Save a few empty spray bottles and lidded plastic containers, and you can refill them again and again with your own handmade herbal cleansers, adds Howe, who teaches adult education classes in the Des Moines area with her mother and offers additional classes at Prairieland Herbs, where the mother-daughter duo grow a wide variety of perennial and annual herbs and flowers.

What you need

Basic ingredients to have on hand:

Spray bottles

Plastic buckets or containers with lids
(Recycled sour cream or yogurt containers work great.)

White vinegar


Washing soda

Baking soda

Liquid castile soap

Bar castile soap

Lemon juice


Rubbing alcohol

Essential oils (Lemon, orange, lavender, and tea tree are some of Howe's favorites.)

Homemade Herbal Laundry Detergent

This laundry detergent works well, even on the toughest stains. It even can be used safely in front-loading, low-water washing machines — just use very small quantities (approximately 1 tablespoon per load). Howe makes up a big batch once every few months and stores it in a recycled ice cream bucket. The soap is especially good for people who have sensitive skin, she notes, since it contains no artificial fragrances or colorants.

1 bar (approximately 4-6 ounces) soap, grated or shredded (See note.)

2 cups borax

2 cups washing soda

1 cup baking soda

Essential oils (optional)

Combine all ingredients; mix thoroughly. Add essential oils, if desired, until you like the scent. Keep in a tightly covered container. Use 1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup per load of laundry.

Note: Howe prefers handmade soaps for this recipe, but you could use a commercial soap such as Fels Naptha or Kirk's Castile. Stay away from any "superfatted" or extra-rich soaps containing a lot of shea butter, cocoa butter or other rich moisturizers.

Tub Scrub

The baking soda and salt provide a very lightly abrasive to help remove oils and soap scum. Tangerine oil is a degreaser, and lavender oil is antibacterial. Together they smell fabulous.

1 cup baking soda

1/4 cup salt

10 drops tangerine essential oil

5 drops lavender essential oil

Combine ingredients; mix well. If you like, double or triple this recipe and store it in an airtight container. To use, sprinkle a small handful into the tub. Use a wet washcloth and scrub the tub. Then rinse thoroughly.

All Purpose Cleaning Spray

This multipurpose cleansing spray works well on countertops, stovetops, the microwave or grill, spills and pet accidents—even the dashboard and interior of your car.

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon liquid castile soap

1 tablespoon borax

1 cup distilled water

Essential oils (optional)

Mix all ingredients; put in recycled spray bottle. Use as you would any other cleaning spray. You can add essential oils if you desire – citrus oils are especially good for cleaning greasy cooking surfaces or appliances. Tea tree, lavender, thyme and oregano essential oils are excellent antibacterial agents.

Super Duper Citrus Degreaser

Behold the power of citrus! This is the stuff to reach for when your enchiladas have exploded in the microwave or your apple pie has bubbled over onto your stove, Howe says.

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup baking soda

10 drops lemon essential oil

Mix ingredients together to form a paste. Apply to surfaces and use a wet cloth to wipe off. Repeat as necessary.

Carpet Deodorizer

Howe, a pet owner, applies this deodorizing carpet treatment once a month before vacuuming.

1 cup borax

1 cup baking soda

5 drops lemongrass essential oil

5 drops lavender essential oil

Combine ingredients. Sprinkle over carpet; let sit 20 minutes. Vacuum as usual.

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