By Sarah Mahoney
It took a bout of unemployment to jolt Joyce Wilden of Melbourne, Fla., out of the cleaning products aisle. "We were out of window cleaner and looking for every possible way to save money," she says. So she went online, searched for a recipe for a homemade version and has never looked back. "I discovered it works exactly the same!" she says.
Skeptical that homemade formulas actually work? Most people are. "When I teach workshops, I have everyone clean the bottom of an old copper pan with just lemon juice and sea salt," says Leslie Reichert, a green cleaning coach and author of The Joy of Green Cleaning (CI Publishing 2008). "People can't believe something homemade works so well." Reichert says the biggest money waster is falling for the idea that you need a different product for every surface. People spend on average approximately $140 per year buying cleaning products, whereas making your own will average around $30 a year.
An easy place to start is using what you already have. "Soap is soap," says Marla Cilley, author of Sink Reflections (Bantam 2002) and creator of FlyLady, a housekeeping Web site. You don't need to buy special toilet cleaners. "I use old shampoos and bodywashes -- the things you bought and didn't like, for whatever reason -- in an old vase by the toilet, with a brush in it. Swish the toilet daily -- if you keep up with it, you don't need stronger cleaners."
Other ways to save:
Make Your Own All-purpose Counter Cleaner
Mix equal parts vinegar and water. Vinegar is a mild acid that kills most germs, mold and bacteria. Hate the smell? Buy a small bottle of essential oils in a fragrance you like and sprinkle a few drops directly into your container of undiluted vinegar before mixing with water.
Savings: A $3 gallon bottle of vinegar and a $5 bottle of essential oils yields 2 gallons, or 255 ounces; spray-on cleaners cost $4 for 32 ounces.
Use Baking Soda for Scouring
When not fully dissolved, baking soda acts as a mild abrasive and is safe for scouring anything. Plus, it won't hurt your eyes and will prevent kids from getting near chemicals. Use it straight out of the box or mix with other products, like borax or sea salt, for extra scrubbing power.
Savings: Buy 4 pounds for $3, versus $1.49 for 14 ounces of a leading scouring powder.
Make Your Own Dishwasher Soap
"I mix equal parts borax with baking soda and use two tablespoons of it in my dishwasher," says Rene Christensen, a blogger at BudgetSavingMom. "It's environmentally friendlier, and I think it works better than store brands."
Savings: A 76-ounce box of borax costs $3.59 and contains roughly 10 cups. Add another $3 for the baking soda, and you'll create 152 ounces or so for $6.59, versus spending $3.35 for 20 ounces of a leading brand.
Get Streak-free Windows
Mix equal parts rubbing alcohol with water for a great glass cleaner. And because it kills germs and leaves behind a nice shine, it's great for many grimy places, including appliances (even stainless steel) and granite countertops.
Savings: A $2.06 bottle of rubbing alcohol will make 64 ounces of cleaner, versus $4.50 for a 32-ounce bottle of a leading brand.
Sarah Mahoney is a contributing editor at Parents and Prevention magazines. Her work also appears regularly in Family Circle and Good Housekeeping.