13 Essential Green Cleaning Ingredients

Essential green cleaning ingredients, including vinegar, lemon, and baking soda.

Are you new to green cleaning or deeply immersed? This list of 13 essential green cleaning ingredients will clean your house and all its many surfaces and scenarios.

Let’s start with a little cleaning primer. There are three main ways things get clean:

  • Thermally: Using heat (or less commonly cold)
  • Mechanically: Using physical force (wiping, scrubbing, agitating)
  • Chemically: Using the properties of atoms and molecules & how they interact

Combining two or more of these methods get things cleaner in safer ways. For example, washing towels involves laundry soap (chemical), hot water (thermal), and agitation (mechanical). Washing dishes uses soap (chemical), scrubbing (mechanical), and hot water (thermal). Although the word “chemical” often carries a negative connotation, even green cleaners like Castile soap, alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide work via the magic of chemistry and therefore are chemical cleaners.

Problems arise when we try to rely on one of these methods alone. Then, we have to use a more extreme form. For example, in pursuit of convenience, we have a plethora of products advertised to clean with no wiping or other input from us. This is cleaning by chemicals alone, which necessitates a more intense chemical, posing more hazard to your health. We have exchanged safety for convenience.

Furthermore, in an ill-advised effort to rid our homes of every germ possible, we have travelled too far down a toxic chemical pathway. Not only is the goal of complete germ eradication impossible, the attempt exposes us to harmful residues and vapors and may contribute to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Soap and water is the recommended surface cleaner by major health groups – such as the CDC and WHO – and has been confirmed as effective in study after study after study

What makes an ingredient green?

My definition of green harkens back to my mom’s advice: Leave the place better than you found it. The places we’re leaving are our earth, our homes, and ourselves. So, a green cleaner must do the following for each:

  • My Earth: Be sustainably sourced & biodegradable
  • My House: Be effective
  • My Body (& bodies around me): Be harmless

You’ll notice some ingredients missing from my list, even though they often hang around other green conversations. For example, I am not a fan of borax because although it is sustainable, biodegradable, and an effective cleaner, it is toxic to people as both a skin and lung irritant. Baking soda works perfectly fine for me in all the same ways – gentle abrasive for scouring, laundry booster for whitening and deodorizing – with no harm to me or mine. If you notice anything else missing that you’re curious about, feel free to ask.

GIY (green-it-yourself) ingredients

1. & 2. Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap and Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner – I thought about just saying “Soap” here, but there’s too much wiggle room in the use of that word, so I’ll be specific. Soap is such an old substance, with evidence of it dating back millennia, and yet is still the recommended cleaner of today. Both the Pure-Castile Soap and the Sal Suds are surfactants, which means they are surface active agents, and work by latching on to germs, grime, and dirt, forming encapsulating spheres around them called micelles, and then whisking them away. This is their magic, and no other substance does this. Other types of cleaners may kill or whiten or deodorize, but they do not remove. Therefore, whatever has been killed, whitened, or deodorized is still there. With soap, or surfactants, they’re gone, which is why these ingredients are essential to the green cleaning arsenal. Although often interchangeable, there are some distinct uses for Castile Soap and for Sal Suds, which I go over here.

A drawing a micelle, or soap molecules surrounding an oil molecule - essential green cleaning ingredients

3. Baking Soda – If you haven’t already, you’ll have to move your stash of baking soda from your pantry to your cleaning cabinet. Or better yet, buy a big bag for your cleaning cabinet. Baking soda – aka sodium bicarbonate – is a deodorizer and whitener, as well as a gentle abrasive. This makes it useful as a laundry booster (1/2 c. per load), for scouring bathroom & kitchen surfaces (sprinkle on & spray with All-Purpose Spray), freshening carpets & upholstery (sprinkle in, vacuum out), making scrubbing pastes (mix with water), and deodorizing the air in fridges (just a cup). Poultices made from water and baking soda lift stains from countertops, stainless steel pots, and glassware.

4. Vinegar – Vinegar is an acid that uses the power of pH to clean. Its chemical name is acetic acid, with a pH around 2. It lifts greasy fingerprints, dissolves hard water minerals that cause water spots and stiff clothing, and penetrates soap scum on sinks and tubs. It is useful in cleaning glass windows or mirrors as well as bringing shine to bathroom fixtures (1:1 with water). It is great as a rinse aid for laundry (1 cup/load) and dishes. It is useful in reacting with the alkaline baking soda to create foam for Karen Logan’s excellent GIY soft scrub or clearing out drain grime (though it will not dissolve blockages).

While vinegar is a GIY cabinet essential, it does not do everything. When it comes to disinfecting, vinegar does not kill a broad enough range of pathogens to be relied upon. Also, the acidity can damage quite a few surfaces from soft stones such as marble and limestone to rubber, cast iron, smart screens, wood finishes, and car wax. This is why it is not the best option for washing car windows (use club soda instead), and why soft stone counters should be washed with Castile Soap or Sal Suds. Furthermore, vinegar does not have soap’s strength to carry particles away.

All that to say, use vinegar wisely and well.

5. Lemons – If you have an abundant lemon tree, you have a great cleaning ingredient right there. The juice freezes well for use all year. Lemon juice is an acid with a slightly lower pH than vinegar. However, because it contains more sugars, it is not shelf stable. If not refrigerated, a bottle of lemon juice will ferment, outgas, and explode. Ask me how I know.

Fresh lemons and fresh lemon juice have various uses. Fresh lemon juice should be strained well to remove all pulp – a coffee filter works great. Like vinegar, use lemon juice to dissolve water spots, cut soap scum, and degrease. You can create a scented vinegar by soaking lemon rinds in a mason jar of vinegar for a few days. Running sliced lemons through the garbage disposal cleans and deodorizes. Microwaving a quartered lemon for 2 minutes – and then letting it sit closed for 5 – will loosen the most stubborn microwave grime.

6. Alcohol (Isopropyl/Rubbing or Ethanol) – Alcohol at a strong enough concentration is a disinfectant, and has been registered as a disinfectant with the EPA longer than my lifetime. While the concentration of drinking alcohols is not high enough (sorry, you can’t clean your house effectively with vodka), you can find 70% or 90% easily in the pharmaceutical aisle. 100% is not recommended because it evaporates too quickly to be effective. CDC recommends washing surfaces with soap and then spraying with a disinfectant. Do not skip that first step, but if indeed you have washed with soap, spray the surface with the alcohol and let it airdry.

7. Hydrogen Peroxide – That humble little brown bottle that hides in the pharmacy’s First Aid aisle has some household uses, too, as a disinfectant and a bleaching agent. Allow me to indulge my etymological nerdiness and point out that the molecular structure of hydrogen peroxide can be found in its name: a hydrogen atom per oxygen atom, grouped as a foursome: H2O2. This is a highly unstable molecule that is eager to kick out that extra oxygen atom to become good ol’ water. (Thus the dark brown bottle – light destabilizes the molecule leaving you with nothing but water.) That free-floating oxygen readily attaches to organic, or protein based, stains and pulls them off whatever they’re on. If it doesn’t find a stain, it just bubbles off into the air. Because of its ability to bleach, you want to exercise care in using hydrogen peroxide freely. Spot test each surface before use.

Combining it with baking soda makes a powerful stain lifter. This works on grout: sprinkle on the baking soda and then spray with hydrogen peroxide – scrub and let sit 10 minutes before mopping off. The baking soda poultice mentioned above becomes even more powerful if you make it with hydrogen peroxide instead of water. Use this on stained pots, glassware, and light marble.

Hydrogen peroxide has long been recognized by the EPA as an effective antimicrobial in many and diverse applications. For household use, generally it needs to sit on surfaces for 1 minute, or whatever the packaging says, before wiping. (Test colorfastness first!) Normal pharmacy grade Hydrogen Peroxide is 3% concentration but can be diluted down to .5% for a disinfecting spray (that’s 1 part H2O2 to 5 parts water). Hydrogen peroxide is available in higher amounts, so be sure to take note and dilute accordingly.

8. Essential Oils – Essential oils can boost a cleaner’s efficacy and make housecleaning more fun by letting you personalize your scents. Who doesn’t want to make housecleaning more fun? I am not going to do an oil-by-oil rundown because that could fill a book, but know that essential oils are extremely varied in their use and hazard level. The one I most use is Tea Tree oil, which is an antimicrobial booster, which I add to All-Purpose Sprays, mopping, housecleaning wipes, and laundry at a rate of about ¼ tsp per ¼ cup of soap. Other essential oils I often use for fun include lemon, sweet orange, peppermint, lavender, and eucalyptus. Just a few drops will scent your solution; more will distract the soap from attaching to surface grime.  

9. Salt – Salt comes in handy for its ability to scour while not reacting. In the kitchen, scrub stubborn pot stains with a little salt, especially cast iron where soap would damage the seasoning of the surface. Salt on fresh oven spills helps them lift easily when cool, and I am currently learning more about the uses of salt on various fabric stains. Salt is very abrasive, though, so I do not recommend it on etchable surfaces such as tile, stone, or acrylic.

Under recognized but important green cleaners

10. Heat – Heat has an important role in effective green cleaning. Hot water helps loosens the hold grime can have on surfaces, be it dishes, floors, or fabrics. While only extreme heat can kill microbes (think autoclave), hot-to-the-hand water (around 130 F/55 C) can help loosen grime and boosts the cleaning ability and speed of a soap or surfactant. The extreme heat is also the active cleaning agent of self-cleaning ovens. Useful ways to include heat include using rags dipped in hot water to wipe counters, mopping with hot water, using steam mops on tile floors, or boiling baby bottles. Washing laundry hot can loosen more grime from fabrics and hot dryers can deactivate microbes as well as mites. Keep in mind, though, that heat may degrade fabric faster. Boiling water poured from a kettle can also kill small weeds in your driveway. Do take care though with using heat and steam so as not to burn yourself.

11. Time – When it comes to cleaning, time is your friend. With all three cleaning methods – chemical, thermal, and mechanical – the longer the method is employed, the more cleaning it will accomplish. This is most important on surfaces that perhaps are ickier: meaty cutting boards, toilets. Spray a cleaner on them, scrub, and let sit for 10 minutes. Time also helps with surfaces that are hard to clean. Most microbes on inanimate surfaces die within a day or two. So if you can’t clean the surface, for whatever reason, isolate it and eventually the germs will die. While time alone cannot remove dirt, grime, or dead germs, it can still be part of a successful cleaning regimen.

12. Sunlight – The UV rays of the sun aid both disinfecting and bleaching. While not enough alone to clean thoroughly, sunlight gives an extra boost of clean to an object like a wooden cutting board or even the air itself, and is a great tool for whitening whites. Sunlight is a low-energy way to dry your laundry. So let the sun shine in!

13. Fresh Air – I cannot overstate the importance of fresh air for a clean home. We focus so much of our energy on cleaning surfaces, when it is the air itself with which we come into much greater and more constant contact. In the name of efficiency, our building methods have become so successful in sealing our homes. The downside has been that our indoor air pollution levels have increased, making our indoor air more polluted than outdoor air. We did the job too well. Indoor air can contain viruses, bacteria, molds, mildews, animal dander, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mite particles, smoke residues, cleaning and cosmetic product residues, and pesticide residues. Fortunately, the solution to all this is simple: bring as much fresh air into your home as possible.

Opening windows to flush out the air is best, but when that is not possible, use air purifiers, exhaust fans, and HVAC fans set on “On” instead of “Auto” that circulate the air through filters even when the heat or cool is not on.

Some green ingredients don’t mix well

Just because these ingredients make it on my GIY ingredient list does not mean they play well together. Some do, others don’t. Here are some that really don’t mix well:

  • Soap & vinegar (or lemon juice) – The acid unsaponifies the soap and forms a gloppy useless mess.
  • Vinegar & hydrogen peroxide – Forms paracetic acid, a highly corrosive acid which can cause irreversible damage to the skin, eyes, and lungs.
  • Sal Suds & vinegar – Vinegar does not react with Sal Suds, however, when we tested a mixture of these two, we found that Sal Suds mixed with vinegar is less effective at cleaning than Sal Suds alone.

For a more complete list of whether things mix with Castile Soap, check out this post.

Green ingredients can’t make non-green ingredients green

Another thing I’ve heard through the years is people trying to “greenify” non-green cleaners by adding green ingredients. I’m talking about sodium hypochlorite, aka chlorine bleach. It doesn’t work that way. Bleach is highly reactive and nothing makes it safer. Some serious chemistry happens when you mix chlorine bleach with soap (forms a caustic, highly irritating soap), vinegar (forms chlorine gas), or alcohol (forms chloroform). Don’t mix anything into bleach. (Also good to mention specifically not to mix bleach with ammonia, neither of which are green and together form mustard gas.) 

And That’s It

To me this is a pretty simple list, but then I’m used to it. I’ve been green cleaning for a while. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Yeah, I already knew all that.” Perhaps your mind has been blown. Let me know if you have any questions!

Further reading

Sal Suds cleaner shows >60% biodegradation after 28 days per ISO 14593

This tip and many more are in my book, Soap & Soul: A Practical Guide to Minding Your Home, Your Body, and Your Spirit with Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, available now in hardback on or at your favorite bookseller, and as an eBook and audiobook (read by me!) from wherever you download or listen.

Download Now!

Castile Soap Cheat Sheet

Dilute! Dilute! OK! But how much? Print this guide!


Download Now!

Sal Suds Cheat Sheet

Sal Suds, Sal Suds, How do I love thee?


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Marta says:

Hi Lisa! I love all your articles! thank you for al the information you bring to us!
I have been using Dr. Bronners for my laundry and recently came across a mix that someone recommends for a non-toxic laundry detergent:

– 2 cups of epsom salt
– 3 cups of baking soda
– 3 cups of washing soda
– 1/2 cup sea salt
– 2 bars of Dr Bronners Castile Soap (grated)

They recommend half a cup of the mix per load.
Are there any benefits to adding these ingredients to my Dr. Bronners?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Marta – Thanks! I’m glad my site has been helpful. I haven’t mixed this combo before but I see two things that give me pause. First, there likely will be an acid/base reaction between the epsom salt (which creates an acidic solution when dissolved in water) and the baking soda and castile soap, which are both alkaline. Second, there are a lot of intense scouring agents that might wear down the fabrics quickly. Baking soda, washing soda, and salt are all laundry boosters. I’d pick one (baking soda is the mildest, so start there). Up it to washing soda for particularly soiled loads. I don’t find much use for salt in the laundry. If you have hard water, add 1/2 c. of vinegar to the rinse cycle (put it in the fabric softener compartment).

Here’s more of an overview to laundry care:

Amy Diederich says:

Hi Lisa,
When I clean my humidifier, there are specks of mold in the holding container below. I clean it about every 2 weeks. What is an effective formula for cleaning out mold?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Amy – Several common low-tox things work against mold: vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and rubbing alcohol. Only use one of these at a time. The easiest is probably the vinegar. Combine 1 cup with 2 cups water and fill the holding container. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and then scrub it with a clean brush and rinse thoroughly. You’ll want to repeat the treatment with any part of the humidifier that water touches. Even if you can’t see the mold, it may be there. To prevent mold, use distilled water and consider cleaning the machine more often, at least weekly. (There are many reasons I don’t recommend bleach – the fumes are extremely harmful not to mention any accidental direct contact – but also bleach degrades plastic and may shorten the life of your machine.

Wu Yanni says:

Thank you for the tips at the back about what to not mix stuff with! They are highly useful,and I’ll take note not to do all that (I shudder to think of what would happen, especially if I mixed something with bleach).

Rebecca says:

I have Pine Essential Oil and am wondering if that would be ok in the all purpose spray etc for household use? Any tips on how much?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Rebecca- Usually about 20 drops of essential oils is about right. If this EO is particularly potent, start with less and add more to your preference.

Clean Like a Pro with Organic Ingredients – Regina Ryerson says:

[…] Pure castile soap is a plant-based, petrochemical-free soap that cleans almost everything. About the basic science, check out Lisa Bronner’s Thirteen Essential Green Cleaning Ingredients. […]

Tre says:

I notice A difference when my hvac is on “on” and not on Auto and in my electricity bill as well, therefore I cannot keep it on as desired. Any other suggestions?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Tre- Other ways to clear the air are to open windows, use air purifiers or exhaust fans.

Brigitte says:

Is washing soda (sodium carbonate) ok to use with castile soap?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Brigitte- There is no reaction between the two. Know that washing soda is more powerful than baking soda, and as such is a little harsher on clothes and may wear them down more quickly. It’s best reserved for really grubby clothes or towels rather than your nicer clothes. Baking soda is cheaper, available in larger bulk, and a little gentler.

Marjorie says:

I use cotton cloth napkins daily and find it hard to remove oil spots when I launder them. I could treat each spot individually (time!) but is there something I could use to remove the oil spots and residue from the whole load of napkins?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Marjorie- Cloth napkins are an excellent way to reduce paper waste! Add 1/2 cup baking soda (1/4 cup in an HE machine) to your wash cycle for extra scouring. A soak time is also very helpful. I have started using the pre-soak feature on my washer, but even just having the napkins sit in a bowl of soapy water before laundering would help loosen oils.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Shelly- Sal Suds is my go-to for carpet cleaning. My carpet cleaner has three compartments: one for the solution, one for the clean water, one for the dirty water that comes out of the carpet. The solution and the clean water are mixed as they are applied to the carpet. For this model, fill the solution chamber with hot water and add 1 drop of Sal Suds. If yours only has one compartment into which you put both the solution and the water, then use the 1 drop there. For spot cleaning and spills, wet the area with a wet cloth (if dry), then spray with the Sal Suds All-Purpose spray of 1 Tbsp. Sal Suds in a quart of water – enough to get it wet, but don’t saturate the spot. Scrub the carpet with the wet cloth. Use a second wet cloth and scrub the carpet some more to remove all the Sal Suds. Here’s a link to my carpet cleaning blog post,

Vince says:

Heeeey Lisa! 🙂 Vince from Chicago here… I want to use Sal Suds in my pressure washer system, I am looking for foam much like the Bronner’s foam parties, well maybe not that much 😉 the “foamer” ideally would be almost the same as your hand foamer, just a tad more concentrated… because the sprayer adds water as you use, versus the hand pump has water. What “recipe” would you recommend? Thanks..

– Soapy in Chicago

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi there, Vince- That sounds like fun! I’ve not done this, but I think using 1 or 1/2 tsp will give you the sudsing effect you’re after. Let me know how it goes!

Jane says:

Hello Lisa, I have been cleaning green for a bit now, but I have a pesky problem … grout mildew and window mildew. What do you suggest I try to get the black out when it forms. I hate to have to use bleach. Thank you ☺️

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Jane- If the grout and window seals are white, try using hydrogen peroxide. On the grout, even first sprinkle some baking soda, and then spray with hydrogen peroxide. Scrub with a stiff brush. On your window seals, they may be too soft for the baking soda, so try the hydrogen peroxide alone. Let the peroxide sit for 10 minutes, and then rinse off with a wet cloth. Because hydrogen peroxide can bleach, spot test this first on an inconspicuous area.

Aari says:

Hey great article and a great reminder of what NOT to mix! What are your thoughts on a 10% bleach to 90% water mix with the addition of 5 drops of tea tree or lavender essential oil as a disinfectant for a massage table in particular; but also as a surface spray? Thanks!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Aari – I do not use bleach in any context. The risks are far too great and there are safer cleaners that are plenty effective. However, if you are required to use it, please use plenty of ventilation to protect yourself – users of bleach show an greatly increased risk of asthma from the fumes. If you can smell the bleach, you are inhaling bleach into your lungs, with well-documented adverse effects. The dilution you mention is very strong and only ever recommended for blood or bodily fluids, usually in medical care settings. The WHO recommendation for regular disinfecting would be 1 part bleach to 36 parts water, so four times more diluted than what you mentioned. The essential oils are not needed. Bleach is plenty antibacterial on its own. My issue with bleach is not that it is ineffective. It is that it is harmful to the user, and any accidental exposures to it are extremely damaging if not fatal. If you absolutely must use it, dilute it a whole lot more than you mentioned, take extensive steps not to breathe the fumes, and keep the bleach in a very safe location.

Kristin says:

Thanks, Lisa. I’m specifically interested in the Force of Nature water electrolyzer. I’ve seen a couple of positive reviews on a local news segment and it seems like it works pretty thoroughly. I would be mainly interested in it for my kitchen and bathrooms as I don’t try to have a germ free home. I like that it only uses three ingredients that I know what they are but I’ve read the FAQ section on there website and don’t necessarily understand the science of it.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Kristin – I think it’s quite likely that this is effective at cleaning so long as manufacturer’s recommendations are followed. The science of getting sodium hydroxide from salt water seems right to me, too, because electrolyzing water is precisely how we obtain the sodium hydroxide that we use in making our bar soaps. My concern is not its effectiveness, but its safety for the user, and long term safety on household surfaces. The idea of cleaning with lye just doesn’t sound right. It has a pH as high as 13 and is extremely caustic. I, too, would like to see more info about this.

Angie says:

I have a new HE top load machine that doesn’t have a fabric softener dispenser like my old HE front loading washer did where I used to load my vinegar. I picked up a Downy ball, but am wondering if anyone has experience/advice with this transition. I’m worried that 1 cup of vinegar will be a bit much for the Downy ball to handle (?) and I always miss the fabric softener cycle (I can’t hear it).

Janet says:

Try skipping the Downy ball altogether. I stopped using fabric softeners about 20 years ago, because they all tended to leave what looked like grease spots on colored clothing. I switched to adding 1 cup white vinegar [for a large load] and haven’t looked back. Vinegar cuts soap scum, softens & reduce static significantly. Bonus – MUCH cheaper than fabric softeners & useful for so many other things as well. Don’t be concerned about the scent either – vinegar only has a smell when it’s wet. Once your laundry’s dry, you won’t know it’s there. Good luck!

Sara says:

I’ve never measured how much my Downy ball holds. I think it’s only not opened once or twice in years. Fill it with water, then dump into a measuring cup. Fill it with vinegar and see if it opens and empties. I’m sure you can use more than one to get the amount of vinegar you want you to use per load.

Kelly S says:

The downy ball has different lines on it to indicate how much you should add based on your load size. Don’t worry so much about the 1 cup, just follow the amount indicated on the downy ball.

I’ve used the downy ball with vinegar for way over 10 years. I jokingly say it’s the only Downy product I’ll buy. Their fabric softener is chemical and awful, but the down ball is a godsend for anyone that doesn’t have a fabric softener dispenser to put vinegar in.

Cherie says:

I have a similar question to Carolyn about washing soda. I read that using hydrogen peroxide in combo with washing soda would give a laundry boost similar to the active ingredient in non-chlorine bleach products, sodium percarbonate.

Does that sound correct? And if so, would baking soda work as well?

Thank you so much for all your great green cleaning advice!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Cherie – Nonchlorine bleach (such as Oxyclean) is often sodium percarbonate which does disassociate in water to sodium carbonate (washing soda) and hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide then does its oxidizing magic against stains and the washing soda works as a brightener and whitener. In principle, it seems that you could recreate this with the two ingredients separately. However, (warning – I am going to put this in all caps so that no one gets the wrong idea) I HAVE NEVER DONE THIS. I don’t know what concentration of hydrogen peroxide is needed to fight stains but not remove color. (I can never forget my brother’s experiment with bleaching his hair with hydrogen peroxide in middle school. And my locker was right next to his…) Anyhow, there must be a concentration at which hydrogen peroxide moves from removing stains from clothes to removing the dye from clothes. I just don’t know what that point is. I’m sure there is a lot of info online about doing this. If you’re DIY-ing this in order to save money, make sure that’s actually happening. Washing soda can be pricey, and nonchlorine bleach powder may be cheaper anyways. Make sure the cost savings is worth the possible risk of getting the H2O2 concentration wrong and discoloring your clothes. If you figure it out, let us all know here!

Diane says:

When you said more than a few drops of essential oil will distract the soap does that mean it won’t work as well, and how much is too much? I put essential oils in my diluted unscented Castile soap hand soap and found some give a scent to the soap with 3 drops and some need 10, would that make the soap less effective?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Diane – Soap’s job, in part, is to bond to oils. Soap does not differentiate between essential oils or any other. It’s just oil, and soap forms micelles around the oils to carry them away. That’s what I mean about too much essential oil will distract the soap. It will tie it up with the essential oils and not leave any left for chasing down the grime on hands or surfaces. That being said, 3 drops or 10 drops compared to maybe 1/4 cup of soap is not going to tie up the soap. You’re in good shape there.

Kristin says:

I’ve been seeing a lot of electrolyzed water cleaners lately. These use salt, vinegar, and water and you make them at home. I’ve read reviews of a couple that are EPA registered. Are these safe in your opinion?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Kristin – This may be the “next big thing” in green cleaning, but the jury is still out. For home use, the only information readily available is from manufacturers themselves, which is not what I look for. Among independent research, the studies focused on use in industrial food production like poultry processing and dairy operations. What I am looking for is whether electrolyzed water is safe for the home user, who wouldn’t be covered in PPE as an industrial worker would be.

As you likely have read, electrolyzed water is produced by running electricity through salt water. This produces sodium hydroxide and hypochlorous acid. These substances are well-documented as a degreaser and a disinfectant, respectively, so I don’t question whether this is effective against grime and germs. The question is toxicity to the user. Red flags immediately went up for me when manufacturers mentioned that sodium hydroxide is a common ingredient in detergents and soaps. This is seriously misleading. Sodium hydroxide, better known as lye, is used to make soaps – including Dr. Bronner’s Bar Castile – and some detergents but it is entirely consumed during the saponification (or soapmaking) reaction. There is no sodium hydroxide left in the soap – or there shouldn’t be if it the soap is well made. Any sodium hydroxide left would be extremely irritating to the skin. That is why I don’t like the implication that the sodium hydroxide in electrolyzed water is safe because it’s part of soapmaking. However, there could be some component in this electrolyzed water that renders it safe. I am not finding the independent commentary on it that I am looking for.

As you’ve likely seen, electrolyzed water is very unstable and disassociates into plain water pretty quickly. Therefore, it must be made and used quickly. You can’t bottle it and store it, or sell it. If you find some marketed version of pre-made electrolyzed water on the store shelf, there’s something fishy. What we are seeing for sale are devices that make electrolyzed water at point of use, i.e. your home. You buy little capsules of pre-measured salt water and vinegar (I’m not sure of vinegar’s role here) to put in the device with water. Certainly the input is sustainable and the output is biodegradable. It’s the middle part – the impact on the user – that I’m not so sure about.

If any other readers have some knowledge about this, please weigh in! There’s a lot more to be known here.

Laura says:

Fabulous Article.

With so much light-weight material out there trying to capture our reading attention, it is wonderful to come upon this well-written, informative blog.

Thank you…and thank your whole family for continuing to “Bring Bronner!”

Arlene says:

One caveat for people who like to combine natural cleaners:

NEVER mix peroxide and vinegar.

The combination of these two nontoxic ingredients will create a caustic compound called peracetic acid, which is corrosive and could harm your skin, eyes and lungs. (It has been used in industrial cleaners for hospital settings because of its efficacy, but requires appropriate protective gear.)

Beth says:

Great article! While I knew a number of the tips, I did
find some that were fresh to me. Thanks much for sending!

Tedi says:

I don’t see just plain water on this list?
It’s my favorite of all..
Water, a stainless steel wool, hot water and soaking, many times will clean without anything else..

Linda says:

Lisa — I love all of the information you have in creating green cleaners and use them often so thank you! I have a comment on the HVAC being placed on “fan”. We did this in our home at the advice of an HVAC technician who was working on the other system and replacing all of the ductwork in the old system in the home, which took quite a while to complete. He wanted it to circulate the cooled air throughout the house. Having the other HVAC on “fan”created high humidity within the home which created a mold issue within the other ductwork that was not being replaced. We then had a huge, costly mold issue. Each HVAC person we’ve spoken with since state that a homeowner should never place their system to “fan” as it creates high humidity levels. Just wanted to let you know and you don’t have to post this but please let your readers know. Thank you.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Linda – I very much appreciate your comment. Living in an exceedingly dry area where humidity is not an issue, except in the lack of it, I was not aware of this possibility. (Today’s humidity is 16%.) I’ve now read up on this, and here’s the summary, which it sounds like you know but I’ll post here for other readers:

When your HVAC system is heating or cooling the air, it is also dehumidifying and filtering. If only the fan is on, with no heating or cooling, then the it is not dehumidifying, only filtering. If your thermostat is set to both “On” and Cooling, that means the air conditioner will come on as temperature dictates but when it cycles off, the fan will still run. In high humidity areas, what happens here is that during the cooling, the condenser pulls the moisture out of the air, but during the Fan stage, the air passing over the condenser recaptures the moisture, rehumidifying the air. This is why humidity will be higher in the home.

Remedies in this case are to reduce indoor air pollution by other means – such as opening windows and bringing in fresh air, which is always the best option for reducing indoor air pollution, though I totally get that in extreme weather this is not really an option. Another option is to use air purifiers, which the EPA has a lot of advice about. Thirdly, an HVAC system still gives us some options: if you are regularly using it throughout the day to heat or cool your house, then your air is being filtered during those times already. Be sure you have clean filters on your air intakes, and ones with the highest MERV rating your system can accommodate. The EPA suggests that might be 13, read their advice on using your HVAC for filtration here. There’s a lot of switch off between filtration and efficiency. For best advice for your area and situation, consult a local HVAC professional.

George Kiefl says:

If soap and vinegar do not mix well (which they don’t), why are you promoting Karen Logan’s soft scrub? This soft scrub recipe includes soap and vinegar?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi George – Super question! And it gives me a chance to dive into chemistry, which I love. In the case of the soft scrub, the baking soda acts as a buffer between the vinegar and the castile. Baking soda is a faster reactant with the vinegar, distracting it in a sense before the vinegar can impact the soap. This is why the proportions in Karen’s recipe are key. If you have excess vinegar, then there will be enough to react with both the baking soda and the soap. The baking soda/vinegar reaction gives this solution its structure and ability to cling to vertical and slippery surfaces. In this instance, you are not getting any chemical cleaning from either the vinegar or baking soda, but they are acting more as mechanical cleaners. The soap is doing the work.

TS says:

To the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Dr. Bronner,
I own & operate a cleaning business in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina since 2006.
My success is in part to your elder, Dr. Bronner. The testament is in each and everyone of the clients continuing to use my services, loving how their house smells, looks & the joy it brings them when family, friends & guest are so complimentary (& alittle jealous 🌞) to the feel of their home.
I have cleaned vacation rentals as long too. ALL reviews are always the same, wonderful! Ask the client, of 14 years.
So, I feel I have the experience to say, Sal Suds & the family of products are great. Give them a try, read the blogs for how to use & enjoy the good life.

Tina S.
Mop and More

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Tina – Thank you so much for sharing your kind words and testimonial about our products! I’m so glad they have been a help to you and your business over the years. The mountains of NC are among my favorite places. I remember that my grandfather sold soaps to the Nantahala Outdoor Center starting probably in the 70’s, so we’ve been in those mountains for decades! Best wishes to you and yours!

Kristen says:

Hi, what would you recommend to get rid of little mold build up in grout and in a shower? And to also clean soap scum in the shower? What about around sinks? Disinfecting the granite counter?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Kristen – For grout, depending on severity, you may be able to use the All Purpose Spray made with 1 Tbsp. Sal Suds in a quart of water. Spray and scrub with a stiff grout brush. If you need a little more umph, sprinkle the sprayed grout with baking soda, and then scrub. For serious build up and for mold, you’ll need hydrogen peroxide. Test this first because if you have dark grout, the H2O2 may lighten it. But if you’re good to go, either just spray with hydrogen peroxide and scrub, or sprinkle with baking soda then spray with hydrogen peroxide and scrub. If we’re talking super serious build up, make a paste with hydrogen peroxide and baking soda and spread that on. Let it sit for ten minutes then scrub and rinse. Lots of options there. Let me know which works best for you!

Kim says:

This is an excellent article! I’m curious about Covid-19. Are the cleaners and methods you mentioned successful in getting rid of Covid-19 germs? Thank you!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Kim – We have not specifically tested our products on the COVID-19 virus. However, we know that Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps and Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner are effective cleaners, and work by attaching to dirt, germs, and grime and rinsing them away, leaving clean surfaces behind. This agrees with the CDC’s recommendation to wash surfaces with soap and water. Both hydrogen peroxide and ethanol at high enough concentrations are the active ingredients in many products on the EPA’s List N of disinfectants for Coronavirus.

Carolyn M says:

What’s your take on washing soda? I currently use a tablespoon in the laundry with Sal Suds and borax (Once I’ve finished the borax and washing soda boxes, I’ll move to baking soda).
Thanks Lisa!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Carolyn – Washing soda is sodium carbonate, so very similar molecularly to baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Washing soda is more powerful than baking soda, but as such is a little harsher on clothes and may wear them down more quickly, best reserved for really grubby clothes or towels rather than your nicer clothes. Baking soda is cheaper, available in larger bulk, and a little gentler. I’m curious though what you observe in switching, whether there’s a difference in how your clothes look. Let me know either way what you think.

Carolyn M says:

Thanks for your response. We are currently in an RV traveling this winter. It has a small on board HE washer. I’m using 1T baking soda and >1/2 T Sal Suds. We aren’t washing clothes frequently due to water conservation concerns so our clothes are kind of grubby. Very pleased with the cleaning power of the baking soda/Sal Suds. Seems to be rinsing clean. I’m all about simplicity and love reducing cleaning products to a very few versatile standbys. Dr. Bronner’s is always on my shelf. When I get home, I’ll take another look at the washing soda/borax (with vinegar rinse) — we have super hard water. I really enjoy and learn from your posts. Thank you!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Carolyn – Great to hear! I’m glad the Sal Suds is doing its job in your RV HE washer. Thank you for your kind words!

About Lisa Bronner

My grandfather was Dr. Bronner, my family makes soap, and I share ways to use it plus tips on greener living.

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Sal Suds, Sal Suds, How do I love thee?