It’s the pillar of the green cleaning cabinet. The Green-It-Yourself (GIY) solution to rule them all. The only answer to, “If you could only have one solution to use for everything, what would it be?” The mixture that began my journey.
The All-Purpose Housecleaning Spray
This spray was my first foray into the realm of green cleaning. I made it right after the life-altering moment of finding that my two-year old son had snuck up behind me while I was cleaning (and I thought he was napping) and had planted the nozzle of 409 firmly in his mouth.
If that moment had not happened, reading that once weekly use of disinfectants increased incidence of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) by 32% would have been the clincher. I was struck by the irony that we clean in order to be healthier, but some of the ways we clean might actually be making us sick.
Happily, I had on hand Karen Logan’s excellent book Clean House, Clean Planet, my first green cleaning guide. Although my grandfather taught me much about the many purposes of diluted Castile Soap, it was Karen who first clued me in to the wonders of putting it in a spray bottle.
This All-Purpose Spray cleans as well as any ready-made, store-bought solution. It is a streak-free cleaner for every surface, takes the place of many other cleaners thereby reducing clutter in my cabinet, and because it dilutes a concentrated cleaner with water, it’s a whole lot cheaper.
What you don’t get with the All-Purpose Cleaning Spray
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) with their harmful fumes
- Problematic residues on surfaces
- Fragrances shown to increase incidence of asthma and migraines
- Carcinogenic formaldehyde (Yes, really. It’s common. Read the link.)
All this GIY spray does is clean.
Housecleaning: All-Purpose Cleaning Spray with Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap or Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner
- 1 qt. (1 L) water*
- ¼ c. (60 mL) Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap (any scent)
- 1 Tbsp. (15 mL) Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner
- 20 drops tea tree essential oil (optional)**
Fill the spray bottle with the water. Add the Castile Soap or Sal Suds and the tea tree essential oil, if desired. Swirl gently to mix. Spray surfaces and wipe with a damp cloth. Alternately, spray a damp cloth and wipe surfaces.
*What Kind of Water: Tap water works fine. However, if your tap water is hard – which means it has a high mineral content, usually calcium and magnesium – the Castile Soap will cause a cloudy precipitate to settle on the bottom of the spray bottle. This is perfectly fine and does not mean the solution is contaminated or won’t work. But if this bothers you, use distilled or Reverse Osmosis purified water. Sal Suds, as detergent, rather than a true soap, does not react with hard water.
**Which to use: Castile and Sal Suds are very interchangeable, but to see the few times I make sure to use one over the other, check out my post Sal Suds or Castile Soap – Which to Use.
***Why Tea Tree Essential Oil: Tea tree essential oil has antimicrobial properties and gives this solution an extra antimicrobial punch. Most times, I don’t add it because I am very confident in the cleaning power of soap and detergent (see below). However, especially if you are having trouble letting go of a conventional cleaner, go ahead and add it for reassurance.
What it cleans
This spray cleans nearly everything I regularly clean. To specify, this means kitchen counters (quartzite and granite), bathroom counters & shower surround (tile), all manner of stone, toilets, painted surfaces, wood tables and cabinets, stainless steel appliances & sink, nickel doorknobs & faucets, ceramic sinks & tubs, carpet (spot cleaning), glass on the microwave & oven doors, leather (not suede) furniture, microsuede, fiberglass, plastic acrylic, outdoor furniture, upholstery, car interiors, pet bowls, baby gear. Even the plastic of the pinball machine in my foyer.
But it’s not just good for cleaning surfaces. There are other key uses for this spray.
When made with the Castile Soap, this spray also eliminates ants and other insects, and removes their scent trails so their compatriots can’t follow. A more diluted version of this spray (1 Tbsp. of Castile Soap) makes a good pest spray for plants, as well. The lesser dilution ensures the soap does not burn the leaves (though spot testing is always wise). With either concentration, it only works when it contacts the pests wet. Its residue is not effective.
Spray a surface and then sprinkle on some baking soda and you have an excellent scouring combination. This makes a stainless steel sink shine and cuts through soap scum.
The further beauty here is in all the options. We are very drawn to scents, and often the biggest hurdle to adopting green cleaning methods is the change in scents. It just doesn’t smell the same. This is true, and often it is in these very smells that we find the most widespread health hazards. But all is not lost. You can add your favorite essential oils to this spray to make it fit your preference, whether it’s your mood, the season, or your dinner. Start with 10 drops and increase as desired.
Whole room top-to-bottom
Picture the contrast: Person A cleans their bathroom with five products and then their kitchen with five different products. Person B uses just one for everything. Think of the elegance, the simplicity of one bottle in hand. No juggling bottles and digging through cabinets and swapping products. Just one cleaner the whole way around.
It’s so carefree, is it really a chore? Ok, so I exaggerate – I’d still rather read than clean, but you get my drift. Finding and using just one bottle makes it a whole lot easier and less hasselsome.
Why this works
The more I’ve studied soap and come to understand how it works, the more I rely on it, and the less I bother with the additional 20 drops of tea tree essential oil because I’m convinced of the power of soap alone. I was further confirmed in this stance by the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendations, during the height of the Covid pandemic, that:
Cleaning with a household cleaner that contains soap or detergent reduces the amount of germs on surfaces and decreases risk of infection from surfaces. In most situations, cleaning alone removes most virus particles on surfaces. Disinfection to reduce transmission of COVID-19 at home is likely not needed unless someone in your home is sick or if someone who is positive for COVID-19 has been in your home within the last 24 hours.
Soap and detergent – which are part of a category called surfactants – work by removing material from surfaces. They are more like street sweepers, bouncers, erasers. They make things go away. They do not kill as their primary mode of efficacy. Surfactants work by enclosing each bit of debris within a sphere of molecules. This sphere is called a micelle. Once the contaminants are enclosed inside these spheres, water can whisk them away. This whole micellar formation process is the justification for all the soap use instructions you’ve heard:
- 20 seconds (to give the soap molecules time to arrange themselves)
- Vigorous scrubbing (to help the soap molecules wiggle into position)
- Rinse thoroughly (so that water carries away the micelles)
This micelle action means that neither soap nor detergents are primarily antibacterial or disinfectants.
Why then is there such confidence in soaps and detergents? Wouldn’t it be safer just to use disinfectants to ensure germs are gone?
The reverse is actually true. We use soaps and detergents because they are safer. First off, soaps impact everything. Disinfectants are targeted, and may work against some or even many microbes, but not all. Secondly, soaps and detergents remove germs as well as dirt, grease, and grime. Disinfectants, so far as they work, only kill germs but do not remove the dead germs or anything else. Lastly, the harmful side effects of disinfectants outweigh their benefits in daily household usage. Disinfectants proclaim their own danger on their labels via their warning labels that tell you to use gloves, good ventilation, and inform of all manner of harmful effects in case of skin contact or ingestion – everything from subdermal burns to the fatality of the unborn. The risk of misuse of disinfectants, resulting in poisoning, is far far higher than any chance of harm with soap. They are not necessary in daily household use.
I recently discovered to my joy that an empty Dr. Bronner’s quart bottle fits most sprayer attachments. If that’s not handy, purchase a sturdy spray bottle at a home improvement store. Mix up your first batch of All-Purpose Cleaning Spray. Your surfaces, your wallet, and your health will thank you.