The 8 Best (and Worst) DIY Cleaning Solutions, According to a Chemist

published Oct 21, 2023
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Making your own cleaning solutions with your pantry (or medicine cabinet) ingredients can be a simple, cost-effective way to clean your home without harsh chemicals. But if you’ve ever wondered if these solutions actually work — or if it’s chemically safe to mix certain ingredients with each other — you’ve come to the right place. These important questions need to be answered before we dive into making our own sprays and polishes.

I figured there’d be no better person to ask about the effectiveness of the most popular DIY cleaning solutions than a chemist, so I reached out to Jamie Mitri, chemical and environmental engineer and founder and CEO of MossPure to learn more. “The first thing to know about making your own cleaning solution is you always have to make sure the percentages of your products are adjusted,” Mitri says. “Too much or not enough of something in a mixture can decrease its effectiveness, damage certain surfaces, and more.” 

If you’re experimenting with DIY cleaning solutions, Mitri suggests doing plenty of research so you don’t accidentally mix two ingredients that can form toxic gasses; acids and bases, for example, like baking soda and vinegar shouldn’t be combined and the same goes for lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide. It’s also crucial to know what ingredients and products are safe to use on certain surfaces to avoid irreparable damage: “Just as you would check the washing instructions on a new shirt, you should do your best to check the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations on maintenance and care for certain surfaces,” she says.

She even reviewed eight of the most popular DIY cleaning solutions to share which ones are safe and effective and which ones could actually be putting your family at risk. So before you get out your bucket, let’s take a look.

1. Furniture Polish: Olive Oil + Vinegar + Lemon Juice 

  • Rating: 2/10

Most furniture polishes are made with harsh chemicals that can cause irritation to skin, so making your own with natural ingredients seems like a safe idea. Right? While this furniture polish is made with natural and household ingredients, Mitri warns against using this solution on certain surfaces, including wood and metal. “Olive oil is quite slippery and greasy on wood, which can be inconvenient when used indoors, and it can also corrode metal,” she says. “A couple drops of castile soap mixed with water is more effective and more versatile.”

2. Fabric Softener: White Vinegar + Water + Vegetable Glycerin + Essential Oils 

  • Rating: 3/10

If you prefer a liquid fabric softener, you might have used this combination on laundry day. For Mitri, however, it’s a no-go. “While I probably would not use this myself, it could have some effect and ultimately depends on preference,” she says. “Warm water, castile soap, and essential oils is a better alternative.” 

3. Window Cleaner: Vinegar + Water + Rubbing Alcohol 

  • Rating: 4/10

Although we love this DIY window cleaner, Mitri was hesitant when she heard the list of ingredients. While this recipe calls for just three tablespoons of white vinegar (plus one cup of distilled water, and ¼ cup of rubbing alcohol), she recommends using an even smaller amount of vinegar to start because it can make windows foggy.

4. All-Purpose Cleaner: Citrus Peels + Vinegar + Water + Castile Soap 

  • Rating: 5/10

This homemade cleaning spray uses half a cup of citrus peel-infused distilled white vinegar, one cup of water, and a teaspoon of castile soap. According to Mitri, this solution’s effectiveness comes mostly from the cleaning power of the suds in the soap. It can be useful on some surfaces, like kitchen or bathroom counters, but she advises double checking the manufacturer’s instructions, particularly wood surfaces with a protective coating, because vinegar and citrus can be too abrasive, causing damage.

5. Shower Cleaner: Hydrogen Peroxide + Rubbing Alcohol + Dish Soap + Water

  • Rating: 6/10

Although Mitri teetered back and forth on the effectiveness of this daily shower cleaner, she ultimately recommended using it on occasion and not for deep-cleaning because of its harsh chemical properties. “Shower and bathroom cleaners should definitely include some type of antibacterial agent, such as hydrogen peroxide,” she says.

6. Carpet and Mattress Freshener: Baking Soda + Essential Oils 

  • Rating: 9/10

I use baking soda just about everywhere throughout my home, including the sink, living room rug, and mattress. Mitri raves about this combination but only with natural essential oils (synthetic ones can stain carpets and rugs). She also recommends trying this solution as a natural fabric softener and deodorizer. 

7. Dishwasher Cleaner Bombs: Baking Soda + Essential Oils + Hydrogen Peroxide

  • Rating: 9/10

Your dishwasher needs regular care and maintenance, so if you’re looking for a natural dishwasher cleaner that’s also simple to make, Mitri says YES to this DIY solution. To make these bombs, mix two cups of baking soda, three tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide, and 10 to 20 drops of your favorite essential oil (although Mitri says it’s okay to leave this out if you have sensitivities) together to form a damp sand. Scoop it onto a sheet of parchment paper and let dry overnight. The next day, your dishwasher bombs are ready to use — just throw one or two into your next load and watch the magic happen.

8. Garbage Disposal Bombs: Baking Soda + Salt + Lemon + Dish Soap

  • Rating: 10/10

If there was one DIY cleaning solution Mitri was most excited about, it was these garbage disposal bombs and the many ways you can customize them. Lemon, she says, leaves behind a pleasant scent while the baking soda and dish soap get rid of grime and odors. “This is a great option for cleaning out your garbage disposal, and you could even just use cold water or ice and lemon slices,” she says. “Cold water running down the drain works better than hot water because the heat lifts bad odors and lets them linger.”

This post originally appeared on The Kitchn. See it here: The 8 Best (and Worst) DIY Cleaning Solutions Ranked by a Chemist