How To Clean Without Chemicals (Using Just Three Common Items)

People with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) know that a clean home is vital for good health. The problem is most household cleaning products are made with chemicals that trigger MCS symptoms. Thankfully there are simple, non-toxic ways to get a sparkling home. Here’s how to clean without chemicals using just three common items you may already have on hand.

Why Be Concerned?

Looking at the bottles of household cleaning products on store shelves, you might think they are safer than ever. After all, they use words like:

  • Biodegradable
  • Green
  • Organic
  • Non-Toxic
  • Natural
  • Fresh
  • Safe

Manufacturers use these generic, unregulated terms to make us think a product is less toxic than it is. This type of labeling is known as greenwashing.

Limited Regulations

The disturbing truth is that the makers of cleaning products are allowed to keep most of their chemical ingredients a secret.

Since cleaning products are not meant to be ingested, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t look too closely at them.

Cleaning product manufacturers only have two rules to follow when creating their labels. They must list:

  1. active disinfectants
  2. any chemicals already proven to be harmful
woman checking product labels

This means a lot of the chemicals used don’t have to be listed at all.

Unknown chemicals can cause serious problems for anyone, but they are especially worrisome for people with MCS.

Thankfully, it’s simpler than you might think to clean your home without chemicals. 

Basic Supplies For Cleaning Without Chemicals

The following budget-friendly items will make cleaning your home without chemicals a breeze:

Protective Gloves

Even non-toxic cleaning substances can irritate the skin with direct contact. Everyone should wear waterproof gloves when cleaning, but they are vital safety gear for anyone with MCS.

Microfiber Cloths

Reusable cleaning cloths are the most budget- and eco-friendly way to clean your home without chemicals. Their microscopic fibers grab dust and dirt off surfaces rather than just push it around.

microfiber cloths help clean without chemicals

There are two kinds of microfiber cloths readily available, each with their pros and cons:

Plastic Microfiber Cloths

Microfiber cloths made from a plastic-based polyester-nylon blend are durable, clean well using only water, and hold up to many washings.

The problem? They leech microplastic particles into the water supply each time they are laundered. This creates hazards for humans and marine animals alike.

Plus, since these cloths are not biodegradable or recyclable, they add to our planet’s toxic plastic waste problem.

Bamboo Microfiber Cloths

Microfiber cloths made from bamboo offer a natural alternative. Bamboo itself is a highly-sustainable plant. However, the process that turns the plant fibers into cleaning cloths uses harsh chemicals and is not good for the environment.

Bamboo microfiber cloths are not as durable as plastic-fiber cloths either. Plus they tend to need a cleaning agent (instead of just water) to work best. Finally, bamboo microfiber cloths shrink when washed so need to be replaced often.

Still, bamboo microfiber cloths biodegrade naturally and do not add microplastic particles to the environment.

You’ll have to decide for yourself which microfiber cloth you consider the better option.

Scrubbing Brushes

Scrubbing brushes aren’t just for toilet bowls. The right scrubbing brush can make it easier to clean dishes, cookware, bathroom tile, patio furniture, and much more. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes with bristles ranging from soft to firm, and all are relatively inexpensive.

gloved hand holding scrubbing brushes

Spray Bottles

With a spray bottle, you can mix and apply your natural cleaning solution with one container. Glass spray bottles are durable and eco-friendly. Plastic bottles are cheaper and easier to find. Either type will work just fine.

Three Non-Toxic Items For Cleaning Your Home Without Chemicals

Yes, it really is possible to clean your entire home using just three common household items. In fact, you may already have them on hand. They are:

  • White Vinegar
  • Baking Soda
  • Liquid Castile Soap

These budget-friendly items are easy to find in grocery stores, drug stores, big-box retailers, and online. Best of all, not one of them is toxic, fragranced, or includes unlisted but potentially-hazardous chemicals.

Added Bonus

In addition to replacing chemical-laden cleaning products, these three items can also replace many personal-care cosmetic items. We will cover those uses soon in another post.

How To Clean Without Chemicals

As we dive into the specifics of how to clean your home without chemicals using the three listed items, please keep this in mind:

Even non-toxic cleaning solutions can cause damage if used improperly or on surfaces for which they are not suited.

Please always test new cleaning solutions and methods first in a small, inconspicuous area to be sure they do not cause damage to the item or surface you want to clean.

White Vinegar

White vinegar is a slightly (5%) acidic liquid with a large number of uses. It cuts through grease, polishes fixtures and glass, and removes soap scum. Vinegar deodorizes, descales, and even deters ants. 

Diluted Vinegar Uses:

bottle of white vinegar to clean without chemicals

Make a general-purpose cleaner by mixing one part white vinegar with one part water in a spray bottle. To use, spray the desired surface then wipe clean with a microfiber cloth.

Vinegar spray is safe for many surfaces including sinks, tile, laminate counters, enameled appliance surfaces, and windows. 

WARNING: DO NOT use vinegar on marble, granite, or wood counters and surfaces as it will damage these finishes.

Blot diluted vinegar on pet and toddler accidents to remove stains and neutralize odors in carpets and upholstery (NOTE: be sure to test for color-fastness in a hidden spot first). 

To deter ants, spray along window sills and doorways without wiping away. Reapply as needed.

Undiluted Vinegar Uses:

  • Pour a cup of vinegar into the toilet, then let it sit overnight. In the morning, scrub and flush for a fresher bathroom.
  • Spray undiluted vinegar on tough soap scum, let stand 15 minutes, then rinse. Repeat a few times to tackle tough build-up.
  • Run a cup of vinegar through dishwashers and drip coffee makers (followed by a water-only cycle to rinse out the vinegar) to descale and sanitize.
  • Pour half a cup of vinegar into every rinse cycle to naturally deodorize, brighten, and soften laundry.
  • Unclog a pipe by pouring a cup of baking soda then a cup of vinegar down the drain. Wait ten minutes, then pour in a pot of boiling water.

Many people do not like the odor of vinegar, but it is not harmful and usually clears quickly. However, if you can tolerate pure essential oils, add 12-24 drops to your spray bottle solution to mask the vinegar smell.

Baking Soda

Baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, is a natural powder derived from the mineral natron. It cuts through grease, scours, whitens, and deodorizes.

jar of baking soda to use in cleaning without chemicals

Cleaning

To use as a cleaning agent, apply baking soda straight from the box. Sprinkle it in sinks, on counters, stove tops, and into pots and pans, then scrub clean with a wet microfiber cloth or soft scrubbing brush. Rinse cookware thoroughly and wipe surfaces with a clean, wet cloth to remove any baking soda residue.

To boost scouring power, add some salt to the baking soda before scrubbing toilet, sinks, or bathtub.

Deodorizing

To deodorize carpets and rugs, sprinkle baking soda liberally throughout. Let sit for an hour or two, then vacuum thoroughly.

Deodorize laundry by adding a cup of baking soda to the washer as it fills.

For extra-smelly laundry, turn off the washing machine once the items are immersed and allow to soak for a few hours or overnight before running the normal cycle.

Use a cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle to boost the deodorizing effects of the baking soda.

Put an open box of baking soda in your refrigerator to absorb food odors. For best results, replace the box every month.

Laundry and Stain Removal

Add a half cup of baking soda to every load to whiten, brighten, and soften laundry.

Use baking soda to remove clothing and carpet stains. First, mix baking soda with water or white vinegar to make a thick paste. Next, apply the paste to the stain and let it stand for 15 minutes. Finally, remove the paste by laundering (clothing) or blotting with a wet towel (carpeting).

NOTE: ALWAYS test the paste first in an inconspicuous place to ensure color-fastness and DO NOT use baking soda on dry-clean only garments.

Liquid Castile Soap

Castile soap began as an olive oil-based soap in the Castile region of Spain. Today a variety of plant oils are used to make liquid castile soap. Some include nut oils (as shown in the image below), so check the ingredients list if nut allergies are a concern. 

dr bronners castile soap for non toxic cleaning
Image: Ashley Pomeroy via Wiki Commons

Liquid castile soap is chemical- and fragrance-free, vegan, and biodegradable. Plus it’s highly concentrated, so a little goes a long way.

Although it won’t make suds like traditional cleaners, liquid castile soap cuts grease, lifts dirt, and can be used to clean almost anything.

All-Purpose Cleaning

To make an all-purpose cleaner, mix ¼ cup of liquid castile soap with 1 quart of water in a spray bottle. Use this mixture to clean sinks, tubs, tile, and non-stone counters. Note: castile soap can be used sparingly on stone counters but may remove the sealant with repeated use.

To dust furniture, spray lightly and immediately wipe dry with a microfiber cloth.

Scouring

To make an all-purpose scouring paste, combine 1 ⅔ cups baking soda with ¼ cup each liquid castile soap and water in a bowl. Stir well to mix thoroughly. Use immediately with a microfiber cloth or scrubbing brush on sinks, tubs, and tile to combat mold and mildew. Rinse well after applying. Store unused mixture in an air-tight container.

More Uses for Liquid Castile Soap

  • Dishes: Mix ahead 1 part castile soap to 10 parts water, or add a few drops to a sink of hot water and wash dishes and cookware as usual.
  • Laundry: Use ⅓ cup liquid castile soap per normal load, then add ½ cup vinegar to the rinse cycle (the vinegar rinse is important to fully rinse the soap from clothing fibers).
  • Floors and Vehicles: Add a generous squirt of liquid castile soap to a bucket of water and wash as usual.
  • Dog Bath: Wet the dog’s fur, then rub a few drops of soap through the coat and rinse thoroughly.
dog in wash tub use castile soap how to clean without chemicals

Two Investments For Cleaning Without Chemicals

By now it should be clear that cleaning without chemicals is as good for the budget as it is for your health.

However, two larger investments will help make your home as clean and free of dust and mold as possible,

Vacuum Cleaner With HEPA FILTER

Scientific research shows that the dust in our homes is often full of chemical toxins. While this may not be a problem for most people, it can be debilitating for those with MCS.

The best way to rid the home of dust is by using a good-quality vacuum equipped with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) Filter.

vacuum on brown carpet

Instead of pushing the dust around the way a feather duster or broom will, a vacuum will trap and contain dust particles from floors, furniture, and fabrics.

The HEPA filter will trap the smallest particles possible and keep them from re-entering your home and respiratory system.

Steam Cleaner

Steam cleaners are just what their name indicates: appliances that use hot water to create steam. The steam is directed through brushes or other attachments to clean both hard and soft surfaces around the home. 

steam cleaner sanitizes without chemicals

Steam cleaners are ideal for sanitizing. The heat of the steam kills mold and mildew, eliminates dust mites, and removes odors. When used properly, steam cleaners kill up to 99.9% of household bacteria, germs, and viruses.

And it’s all done with just water.

Some More Ways To Clean Without Chemicals

We’ve focused on white vinegar, baking soda, and liquid castile soap. These three items will degrease, deodorize, and sanitize nearly everything in your home safely, easily, and inexpensively.

There are, however, a few other common products that allow you to clean without chemicals:

  • LEMON JUICE:  Brightens white clothing, removes stains, deodorizes, and removes mold and mildew
  • BORAX: Scours sinks and tubs, removes tough laundry stains
  • SALT: Boosts scouring power of baking soda or borax; removes coffee and tea stains when mixed with vinegar
  • HYDROGEN PEROXIDE: Disinfects surfaces, whitens whites in the laundry
  • MELAMINE SPONGES: Removes scuffs, stains, sticky residue, and deep-set dirt from many surfaces (Note: always test first on new surfaces as these soft-to-the-touch “magic erasers” are deceptively abrasive)
  • PUMICE STONE: Removes calcium deposits, hard water stains, mineral build-up, and rust stains
  • ISOPROPYL ALCOHOL: Cleans and disinfects mini-blinds, digital screens, touchpads, keyboards, and cell phones; disinfects and polishes metal knobs and fixtures; kills fruit flies

Everyone Benefits From Non-Toxic Cleaning

It may take some experimentation to find your favorite ways to clean without chemicals, but the benefits will be worth it.

Cleaning without chemicals may be a necessity for people with MCS, but it actually improves the health of everyone in the home, including pets. 

It’s also easier on the budget and better for the environment.

Cleaning without chemicals is the best way to let your house – and your health – shine.

What are your best tips for how to clean without chemicals? Please let us know in the comment section below. We’d love to hear from you!