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Spring cleaning safely with cheap, safe cleaners (Released: 4/29/96)

by Renu Sehgal, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Spring cleaning can be inexpensive and safe for the environment if you make your own household cleaners, according to Mary Ellen Welch, a consumer expert at the University of Connecticut.

Welch, an extension educator with the Cooperative Extension Center in Haddam, has instructions for making air fresheners, all-purpose cleaners, and cleaners specifically for aluminum, bathrooms, chrome, drains, brass and copper, furniture, marble, ovens, refrigerators, silver, toilet bowls, windows, paint brushes and painted surfaces.

''It is an environmentally and economically sound practice to prepare your own household cleaners in the amounts you anticipate using,'' Welch said.

By making your own cleaning products, she said, you not only save money and cabinet space, but you also reduce trash and promote a healthy environment.

Some of the solutions require chlorine bleach compounds, which are toxic to aquatic organisms in very low concentrations. But chlorine is less toxic than some other cleaning products found on the market. Consider using chlorine as a cleaning agent only when necessary for heavy cleaning jobs, she said.

Be sure to follow these safety tips when making and using your own cleaners:

  • Open windows and ventilate the area
  • Wear gloves, protective clothing and shoes
  • Avoid contact with skin and eyes
  • Store cleaners in labeled, non-food containers
  • Lock cleaners in a cabinet out of the reach of children
  • Do not mix different products
  • Keep products away from heat, cigarettes and flammable sources
  • Keep the telephone number of the nearest poison control center handy
  • Dispose of empty containers by following recycling instructions in your community

Welch's recipes for non/low toxic household cleaners:


  • Open windows
  • Circulate air with a fan or air conditioner
  • Place cut lemons or baking soda in a dish
  • Boil cinnamon and cloves in water


  • Mix 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 quart warm water. Wipe surface with sponge then dry.
  • Soap jelly can be made by adding 1 cup of soap flakes to 1 quart boiling water. Stir until dissolved. Pour into jar and let cool. Mix with water as needed.


  • Soak in a solution of 1/4 cup white vinegar to 1 quart water; boil if necessary.
  • Soak in a solution of 2 teaspoons cream of tartar to 1 quart water; boil if necessary.


  • Mix 1/2 cup chlorine bleach and 1 cup water. Spray on tile to remove mildew. Let stand for 10 minutes. Rinse with water.
  • Mix 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 quart water. Wash with sponge, wipe dry.


  • Mix 1/4 cup baking soda with enough water to make a paste. Rub on, rinse with water, dry.


  • Use drain taps
  • Pour boiling water down the drain
  • Use a plunger or a plumber's snake


  • Mix 2 tablespoons salt, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Rub with sponge and let dry. Rinse with hot water, then dry with soft cloth.


  • Mix 1 teaspoon lemon oil and 1 pint mineral oil. Spray on furniture, wipe clean with soft cloth.
  • Mix 1/4 cup linseed oil, 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup lemon juice. Rub into wood with soft cloth.


  • Mix 1 tablespoon baking soda and 1 quart water. Wash with sponge, wipe dry.


  • Make a paste of equal parts salt, baking soda and water. Apply to walls of oven. Let stand for five minutes, then wipe clean with a damp cloth. Use a brush on heavy spills. Do not allow baking soda to touch heating elements or wiring.


  • Mix 1/2 cup bleach and 1 gallon water. Wash refrigerator interior, wipe dry.


  • Line an aluminum pan with a piece of aluminum foil
  • Mix 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 quart hot water. Add silver and boil for three minutes. Remove silver, wash with detergent, rinse and dry. Do not use on silver jewelry.


  • Add 1/2 cup bleach to toilet. Let stand for a half hour. Scrub bowl with brush and flush.


  • Add 2 tablespoons vinegar to 1 quart warm water. Spray on windows and wipe dry.


  • Place hardened paint brushes in a bowl of hot vinegar for 10 minutes.
  • Rinse thoroughly.


  • Dust and vacuum surface before applying liquid solutions. Use a cloth dipped in the cleaning solution. Starting from baseboard, work upward toward the ceiling to prevent streaking. Clean small areas at a time.
  • Rinse with water, then dry.
  • Mix 1/4 cup soap jelly and 1 gallon hot water. Wash walls with cloth dipped in this mixture.
  • Heavily soiled areas can be cleaned by mixing four parts whiting to 1 part soap jelly. Rub carefully on soiled areas. Rinse with water and let dry.
  • Whiting is available at hardware and paint stores.

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