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August 1, 2017 > Harness the magic of herbs for homemade cleaners

Harness the magic of herbs for homemade cleaners

By Lalitha Visveswaran

Floors, windows, kitchen counters, tubs, sinks, and toilet bowls are just a few in the list that need to be polished, waxed, disinfected, wiped, and scrubbed. More than any other chore, I spend most of my time cleaning and grooming all the various surfaces in my home. The cleaning products available in the market have disclaimers and unpronounceable ingredients. But it is possible to reasonably create your own homemade cleaners with safe ingredients from your pantry. Note that I said ÒreasonablyÓ because sometimes you need the magic of chemistry and unpronounceable ingredients to get rid of virulent infections or infestations of mold or mildew.

However, it is possible to reduce continual and long exposure to chemicals and possibly toxic ingredients by utilizing the herbal genie in your garden and pantry. Yes, I am talking about my beloved multi-tasking herbs. For food, flavoring, aromatherapy, medicine, and cleaning products, herbs are here again to your rescue!

First, let's open the pantry. Here are a few things that will come in handy:

Ð White vinegar
Available everywhere, white vinegar is an excellent degreaser. ItÕs somewhat unpleasant smelling but is also an excellent deodorizer and useful for removing soap scum. VinegarÕs reputation as a disinfectant is suspect in my books; that's why we need the next ingredient.

One must remember to never use vinegar on stone, marble, ceramic tile, metal, or hardwood floors, as it will eat away the finish of these surfaces. While infusing and storing vinegar with herbs, remember to use only plastic lids and never metallic lids.

Ð Hydrogen peroxide
Used for wounds and scrapes, hydrogen peroxide can also be used as a disinfecting agent in casual cleaning products.

Ð Baking soda
When used with vinegar, its cleaning twin, a chemical reaction makes it foam. It is made of really tiny super microscopic particles and hence is a good scouring agent.

Ð Borax
It cleans, disinfects, and deodorizes. The jury is still out about its safety around children who like to ingest everything they can get their hands on, but as long as you don't ingest it, borax is even better than baking soda.

Ð Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol)
Like borax, this is a chemical that must not be ingested. It can be absorbed via the skin. It is great for cleaning, degreasing, and removing stains.

Ð Substitutions
Often, I use homemade cleaners in situations that arenÕt right after a major illness or require heavy duty clean up. For weekly maintaining chores, you can substitute plain kosher salt as a scouring agent if you don't have baking soda or borax at hand. I donÕt like to use isopropyl rubbing alcohol and would rather use regular plain vodka instead.

Ð Unusual ingredient
I like to keep a bottle of Dr. BronnerÕs multipurpose Castile Liquid Soap. All soaps use lye and Dr. BronnerÕs is no exception. But it's gentle and as natural as it can get with the added benefit of light foam and not heavy lather. It's available in most grocers and at health food stores.

Ð Essential oils
I am often asked if we can substitute essential oils instead of herbs. Yes, you can, but do remember that they are super concentrated. The ratio is approximately 1 drop per 2 Ð 4 ounces of liquid, which is too much math! Also, why resort to expensive oils when you can rely on our herb allies!


Ð Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Sprinkle 1/2 cup baking soda inside the toilet bowl. Pour 1/2 cup white vinegar. The bowl will fizz and bubble. Let it rest for 10 minutes; scrub with a brush. If there are stubborn stains on the rim, use 1/2 teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide and wipe it clean.

Ð Window and Mirror Cleaner
Soak 1 cup fresh sweet-smelling roses in 1.5 cups white wine vinegar for 1 Ð 2 weeks. You will end up with a rose-colored and infused vinegar. Dilute 1/4 cup of vinegar with 1/4 cup of water in a spray bottle. Add a pinch of cornstarch powder to prevent streaking. Shake and spray. Wipe with cloth after drenching glass surface.

Ð Thyme Kitchen Counter Cleaner
Infuse 1 cup of fresh thyme in 3 cups of rubbing alcohol for about a day. Strain. Discard herb. Add 1 cup of water to dilute. Add 2 teaspoons of Castile Liquid Soap. Shake. Use to clean counters. (I substitute clear vodka for the isopropyl rubbing alcohol. You can also use rosemary instead of thyme.)

Ð Ceramic Tile Floor Cleaner
In a glass jar, pour 1.5 cups of white vinegar. This is great if you have a pine tree nearby. Add 1/2 cup of pine needles to vinegar and any saved citrus peels like orange, grapefruit, or lemon. Cover with a non-metallic lid. Let it sit for 1 Ð 2 weeks. Strain. Dilute 1/2 cup of pine-citrus vinegar in about a gallon of hot water. Mop as usual for citrus and pine-scented squeaky-clean tile floors. Not for use on hardwood floor. Avoid grout.

Ð Minty Wall Wash
Pick 1 cup of fresh mint from the garden. Make a strong mint tea with 1.5 cups of hot water. After about 20 minutes, strain and dilute with one cup of cold water. Add 1 tablespoon of Dr. BronnerÕs Castile soap. Dip a rag in the washing liquid and clean walls.

Lalitha Visveswaran is a full-time farmer at Jellicles Farm in the Sunol AgPark where she grows vegetables, herbs, flowers, and lavender.,,

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