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How to Clean Green -- And Cut Costs

Eco-friendly cleaning products that won't break the bank.

Consumer Reports

Photo: Antonis Achilleos

Great news for those trying to make spring cleaning more eco-friendly: According to Consumer Reports, not only are homemade cleaning products more environmentally friendly and less toxic, they'll also help you save bigtime! Here are seven do-it-yourself ways to clean up at home with products that might be in your kitchen right now.

Freshen up. Make your own air freshener using 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon vinegar (or lemon juice), and 2 cups hot water. Pour the mix into a spray bottle and spritz away to remove odors. Note that while white vinegar has a slight scent while wet, when it dries, it leaves no odor.

Boost detergent. To reduce the amount of laundry detergent you need to use (especially if you have hard water) add baking soda or washing soda. These minerals soften the water, which increases the detergent’s power. For liquid detergent, add 1/2 cup of soda at the beginning of the wash. For powdered detergent, add 1/2 cup of soda during the rinse cycle.

Get squeaky clean. Just use a mixture of 3 tablespoons vinegar per 1 quart water in a spray bottle and you've got a safe, eco-friendly window cleaner. Some recommend using half vinegar and half water. For extra-dirty windows try this: 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap, 3 tablespoons vinegar, and 2 cups of water. Shake well. The best way to get streak-free windows? Use newspaper instead of paper towels to wipe them.

Lift stains and spots. Cream of tartar lifts stains from sinks and tubs and removes spots from aluminum pans. This common baking ingredient is a mild alternative to chlorine bleach and can be used for stain removal and mild bleaching and germ killing. It's available in drug stores and supermarkets.

Cut grime and grease. Use baking soda to clean up in the kitchen. For a "soft-scrub" for countertops, mix baking soda and liquid soap until you get a consistency you like. (The amounts don’t have to be perfect, but make only as much as you need, as it dries up quickly.) To clean an extra-greasy oven, mix together 1 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup of washing soda, then add enough water to make a paste; apply the paste to oven surfaces and let sit overnight. The next morning, lift off soda mixture and grime; rinse surfaces well (gloves are recommended as washing soda may irritate skin).

Try borax in the bathroom. Sold in most grocery stores, borax is a water softener and sanitizer. For a good all-purpose bathroom sanitizer, mix 2 teaspoons of borax, 4 tablespoons of vinegar, and 3 to 4 cups of hot water in a spray bottle. For extra cleaning power, add 1/4 teaspoon liquid soap to the mixture. To clean your toilet bowl, pour 1 cup of borax into the toilet before going to bed. In the morning, scrub and flush. For an extra-strength cleaner, add 1/4 cup vinegar to the borax.

Play it safe. Whether you’re using commercial or homemade cleaners, it’s important to follow safety precautions. Avoid splashing household cleaners on your skin or in your face, and check labels to see if respiratory masks, rubber gloves, goggles, or other protective measures are recommended. People with heart or lung disease and pregnant women should try to avoid products that contain chemical solvents. And since contact lenses can absorb vapors and hold them against the eye, causing irritation or eye damage, anyone who normally wears contacts should remove them and put on eyeglasses before handling such products. If you find that the cleaners you’re using irritate your nose, eyes, and/or lungs, follow your instincts and stop using them. Finally, be sure to clearly label containers of homemade cleaners, and keep all cleaners out of reach of children and pets.

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