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GIY All-Purpose Cleaning Spray

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 Spray: 

All this GIY spray does is clean. 

All-Purpose Housecleaning Spray with Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap or Sal Suds Biodegradable Cleaner 

  • 1 qt. (1 L) water* 

OR** 

  • 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. 

Ant 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. 

Scouring  

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

Customization 

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. 

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Natalie says:

Hi Lisa,

I am very curious about your all cleaning spray recipe, especially now that I am pregnant and need to avoid toxic cleaners. How does this recipe fair against surfaces that may have been exposed to salmonella or other heavy duty germs ?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Natalie – Congratulations! I also remember how pregnancy was such a motivator to look more deeply into everything around me. Soap is an excellent eliminator of all manner of germs and grime. It does not kill as would a pesticide/antibacterial product, but rather it bonds to everything and carries it away. The Castile leaves no residues and produces no harmful fumes. For a deeper dive into soap, check out my recent article on “How Soap Works.”

Arnold says:

Is it still worth adding tea tree essential oil to the all purpose cleaner if you already have tea tree fragranced soap? Or is the amount of tea tree for fragrance a lot less than 20 drops?

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Arnold – Unless I feel a mess is incredibly icky, I don’t add the extra Tea Tree essential oil, especially if I’m already using the Tea Tree Castile Soap. The soap itself is doing the cleaning, and I am very confident in it. There is a 2% concentration of Tea Tree essential oil in the Tea Tree Castile Soap, which equals about 1.2 mL in the recommended 1/4 cup of Soap/quart. This is more than 20 drops.

Donna says:

Question- Can i use this on my floor? Its that lvp type fake wood flooring made from vinyl and its plank. I want to have some kind of shine and not a dull look and I don’t want to ruin the flooring.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Donna- Absolutely! Sal Suds and Castile Soap both work well on your type of flooring. Add either 1/2 Tbsp. Sal Suds or 1/2 cup Castile Soap to approximately 3 gallons of hot water. On wood and laminate, avoid pooling water and mop up wet areas.

Laurie says:

I have that same book and use the recipe “Alice’s Wonder Spray” which includes Sal Suds, but also requires Borax dissolved in vinegar and hot water. I’m not understanding how this recipe can leave that out, since doing so might leave a residue problem.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Laurie- Then you know what an excellent resource Clean House, Clean Planet is! This All-Purpose Spray is based off the author’s “Merlin’s Magic” recipe. I choose not to use Borax because it irritates the skin and lungs and is toxic if ingested. (It’s not like drain cleaner or anything, but since soap and Sal Suds work and are not toxic at all, I don’t bother with Borax at all.) There is no residue from Sal Suds if properly diluted and wiped with a damp cloth.

Shelley says:

The download link for the Sals Sud Cheat Sheet PDF is linking to the Castile Soap Cheat Sheet. Could you please fix this? I would like to print both sheets. Thank you!

Mike says:

Lisa, I’m looking for a product that I can spray on a micro fiber cloth and use for dusting. Do either Sal Suds or Castile Soap (when diluted) make a good all-purpose dusting solution? Are there any surfaces that should be avoided? If so, what would the best dilution ratios be for dusting? Thanks!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Mike- Yes, the All-Purpose Spray made with either Castile Soap or Sal Suds will do the job. The spray works on any surface that can get wet, including painted and sealed surfaces. If you’re unsure, spot test in an inconspicuous area first.

Suzie says:

Love these products. Do the sprays require a follow up rinse after using? Thanks!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Suzie- To use, just spray and wipe with a damp cloth. No extra rinsing needed.

Shara says:

Hi! I love the soaps and have been using them for years! However, this is the first time I’ve ever gone onto your website (I don’t know why!), and am loving all the information I’m learning from it! That’s when found out about hard water and its reaction to the soaps and what to do about it (use a vinegar rinse).

My question is, would adding vinegar to the all-purpose spray alter its effectiveness?

Thank you again, for the awesome products!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Shara- Vinegar is great to have in your green cleaning arsenal. But adding it to the All-Purpose Spray will not improve the cleaning efficacy of the Sal Suds. Rather vinegar, as an acid, will impact the pH of the Sal Suds, which is an alkaline, and reduce it’s cleaning power.

Steven says:

All one god faith! The old man was a delight and a treasure. I miss his rhetoric on the label. It was better than church! Thanks for keeping me clean. Steve

Donna says:

Thank you for giving us better options. I have studied the effects of “fragrance” on hormones, etc. and am convinced that we would all be so much better off to eliminate the use of commercial cleaners that contain so many chemicals. The women in my family have history of “hormone imbalance” and migraines caused by this. I am excited to learn more about essential oil combinations and uses for castile soap. I have even been using castile soap as body wash and shampoo. My hair is so much healthier and my skin is more balanced. Also, I am definitely also a huge fan of baking soda as a natural cleanser. Again, thank you.

Linds says:

Great article for information and thanks for book recommendation and recipe

Ellie says:

Hi Lisa, Thanks for your excellent Green Cleaning tips! I noticed towards the end of your article it mentioned ***Rinse thoroughly (so that water carries away the micelles) *** . Does that mean every time I wipe down the counters, microwave etc. with a Sal Suds solution I should also rinse them off with clean water? The reason I ask is that we have very hard water, so I was planning to use distilled water in the Sal Suds solution. I think I’d also make a second spray bottle of plain distilled water to rinse and wipe dry. P.S. Lemongrass Essential Oil is a wonderful choice to add to a general all-purpose cleaning solution — it has a fresh & lovely scent — all you need is 5-6 drops. 🙂

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Ellie- Oh, I do love the scent of Lemongrass! At this dilution, rinsing off the All-Purpose Spray is as simple as wiping surfaces with a damp cloth. No need for an extra rinse.

Patti says:

Thank you for this article!
Promptly made a bottle of the sal suds all purpose spray. I loved the hack about the spray bottle top fitting the sal suds container. Very happy to have one cleaner to replace the many, especially for cleaning the baby stuff, found that super useful. Many thanks!

Amy says:

Hello! I love your Sal Suds product, but I’ve just discovered it and was wanting to know about all the ways of using it. When I tried to download the dilutions page, what appeared on my screen was the dilution info for the castille soap. Where can I find the dilution page for Sal Suds?

Lynn says:

Funny, my daughter and I were just talking about liquid fabric softener ( we no longer use and swapped out dryer sheets for wool balls) and how it created a thick waxy build up in our last washer and I mentioned that I started to have a extra hard time trying to breathe when fabric softener was in use and I do have COPD. I would rather use vinegar and natural ingredients when it comes to cleaning for many reasons. I will have to add this “recipe” to my cleaning supplies. Thank you for your many insights!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Lynn- I’m so glad to hear you found this post helpful!

Leanah says:

Awesome idea! I don’t have a quart bottle but I do have a 16 oz bottle on hand, so I did some math and now I have a working bottle of magic cleaner. I have some peppermint castile soap, so I added lavender essential oils because I love that combination. I’ve pretty much sprayed every surface in the past 20 minutes!

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Leanah- Ha! That’s excellent! Great to know this post was helpful to you.

Alex says:

I suggest that you call the oil soluble “tail” of the long soap molecule “lipophilic” because it is in fact and explains why it adheres to oil and lipid membrane of micro-organisms.

Lisa Bronner says:

Hi Alex – You are absolutely right. Lipophilic is another way to describe the tail, literally meaning “fat loving.” The tail is both hydrophobic and lipophilic. I love all the Greek!

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