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The idea of making more of my own cleaning supplies and personal care products is appealing. It sounds healthier for me, my wallet, and the planet. But I’ve had sporadic success with following through on many of the DIY projects I’ve read about, blaming my procrastination on these lingering doubts:

1. Do they work as well as the ones I buy at the store?

2. Will I really save money? and

3. Can I make them quickly and easily?

Matt Jabs, who along with his wife Betsy wrote the book DIY Natural Household Cleaners, says the answer to all three of these questions is a resounding “yes.” He recently joined me on Talk Credit Radio to share recipes for several DIY cleaning and personal care products for those of us who want to get started.

After talking with Matt, I went to my local grocery store and stocked up on the ingredients in the recipes here: big boxes of washing soda and borax; a gallon jug of vinegar; and a bar of Fels Naptha soap. The total cost was $15.61. The visit to the liquor store (more about that in a minute) set me back $11.99 plus tax. I had plenty of salt, so I didn’t purchase more, and I happened to have some citric acid on hand so I didn’t buy it either, but it runs 20 – 80 cents per ounce, depending on the source.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Jabs says this is a great first project, “because the recipe that we have for homemade laundry detergent is just 3 simple ingredients. It’s soap — just a bar soap — grated, and mixed with a cup of borax and a cup of washing soda…You just use 2 tablespoons per load. So it’s that simple and it saves so much money.” Matt says most families can save hundreds of dollars a year with this recipe alone.

I asked him how long it would take to make and he said that grating the soap is probably the most difficult part of this project:

Some people will grate the bar soap and put it in the microwave because it makes it chalkier and easier to grate and then it will grate into a powder. Some people just grate the bar soap and certain soaps are harder to grate than others. But I mean, really just as soon as you can grate a bar of soap and dump it into a bowl, dump the other ingredients in and then stir them up; or some people put them in a food processor to combine them better into a powder. I would say (it takes) 5 minutes.

Start to finish, it took me less than 10 minutes to make my first batch of laundry soap, using my food processor to do the grating. My husband gets rashes from some commercial laundry detergents so, at the last minute, I decided to substitute a bar of Dr. Bronner’s soap I had on hand for the Fels Naptha I had purchased.

I put the bar of soap in the microwave for a minute to soften it so I could chop it, and almost burned my hand by touching it while it was still hot. But after it cooled for a minute, I was able to chop it into large chunks. I fed it into my food processor with the grating blade attached. It clumped a little at the top between the lid and the blade, but all I had to do was put those clumps into the work bowl, add a little washing soap and grind it into a fine powder that I then mixed with the rest of the washing powder and borax. It was so easy I decided to make a triple batch.

A tip: If you have younger kids, pick up a big bottle of Elmer’s glue to mix it with some of the Borax you’ll have left over to make a homemade “slime”. They can make their recipe while you make yours.

Make Your Own Automatic Dishwasher Detergent

Another recipe that is similar and also simple to make is dishwasher detergent. It is also made with washing soda plus borax, salt and citric acid. The complete recipe for automatic dishwasher detergent from DIYNatural.com is as follows:

  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1/2 cup citric acid
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt (for scrubbing action)

Mix the ingredients together and then use 1 tablespoon per load. He says the cost is approximately 5 cents per load, compared to 14 cents/load for one of the popular commercial detergents. Jabs also recommends adding vinegar to the “rinse aid” compartment of your dishwasher instead of using pricier rinse agents.

Since the food processor was already in service, it took me maybe five minutes to mix up the rest of the ingredients. Citric acid clumps, and can also make this detergent mixture clump, so for simplicity’s sake, I just followed the Jab’s advice to add a half of a teaspoon to the soap mixture when I fill the detergent dispenser.

I still can’t believe I made my own laundry and dishwasher detergent. I’m on a roll!

A Simple All Purpose Cleaner

This was the first recipe I tried after my interview with Matt. It uses one ingredient I already had around the house: vinegar. In our interview he explained:

So everybody wants a good all-purpose cleaner. We just use straight white vinegar. Some people dilute it with half water, half vinegar or they’ll put like some rubbing alcohol in with some white vinegar and some water. When you first start using it, it smells a little bit, it smells like vinegar when you spray it but that smell disappears after a minute or two. And we just found that with vinegar, the more we use it, the more we just can’t believe how great it works and how simple it really is.

The Jabs use vinegar to clean just about everything:

We use it as a countertop cleaner like in the kitchen. After I cook bacon, if the grease splashes all over the stove, I just grab my bottle of white vinegar and spray it all over it, let it set for a minute and then wipe it all up. We clean our counters with it, we clean everything with it. Your toilet, all kinds of stuff.

I tried straight vinegar in my bathroom on the sink and countertops, and on my kitchen sink. Like Jabs, I found plain vinegar worked much better than I expected and I liked the fact that it didn’t make me cough like some bathroom cleaners do. Even the “pickle” smell dissipated in a few minutes.

But my off-white enamel kitchen sink didn’t look quite as sparkling clean as when I used my bleach-based scrubbing cleanser. So I then tried sprinkling the sink with baking soda, spraying on vinegar, and letting it sit a minute. This combination fizzes, which means it can be a great way to get your kids to help you clean if they are still young enough to think that’s cool. But the results still aren’t quite what I want.

I’ll still use vinegar or the vinegar/baking soda combo for most of my general cleaning. But I am going to keep looking for another recipe for my kitchen sink. Jabs says, “We have several recipes for all-purpose cleaner and glass cleaners and things like that on the website for free. And then in the book there’s 63 for all these kind of stuff. From cleaning your granite to oven cleaners to everything — toilet, shower.” So as long as I stay on my DIY kick I should find one that works without having to resort to bleach.

Homemade Natural Deodorant

Betsy Jabs is working on her next book about homemade personal care products, so Matt shared this easy recipe for making your own deodorant. Super simple, it only requires one ingredient: grain ethyl alcohol, such as Everclear. (Yes, the the high octane stuff often used in Jello shots.) The Jabs used to recommend rubbing alcohol but don’t anymore as repeated use can cause skin problems for some individuals.

Just put the alcohol in a small spritz bottle and spritz your pits. That’s it! If you like, you can add a couple of drops of tea tree oil which has antimicrobial properties.

Matt says he’s been using this recipe for homemade deodorant for four years now. It’s not an antiperspirant, though, so don’t expect it to stop you from sweating. I have only tried this a few times, so I’ll withhold my judgment on this recipe until I’ve used it longer and tried it out in Florida heat.

Make Your Own Toothpaste

Julia Roberts reportedly just uses plain old baking soda to brush her teeth, a trick she learned from her grandfather. Matt says that it’s one of the easiest and cheapest alternatives to toothpaste. Heard that it’s too abrasive? He points to a report that shows baking soda is less abrasive than most common toothpastes.

I tried plain baking soda, and even though I am used to brushing with Tooth Soap (which tastes a lot like, well, soap), I wasn’t crazy about it. So I turned to Matt’s website, where I found a slightly more involved recipe for toothpaste that took me all of five minutes to make:

  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 4 tsp fine sea salt (optional — I used regular Celtic sea salt since I had it on hand)
  • 1 – 2 tsp peppermint extract, or 10-15 drops peppermint essential oil (or add your favorite flavor — spearmint, orange, etc.)
  • water (add to desired consistency)

Mix together and either keep in a container in which you can dip your toothbrush, or put into a plastic bag and cut the tip off so you can squeeze some onto your toothbrush. I preferred this recipe over plain baking soda, and can see myself using it everyday.

These simple recipes gave me the confidence to try more. And that’s usually what happens Jabs says:

A lot of people just can’t believe that it’s going to work…because we’ve been conditioned through the excellent advertising agencies and commercials they make that (commercial products are) great. But really, it does work. So just start with one project and then go from there. It’s very exciting.

Listen to the entire interview with Matt Jabs. Download it here; listen online here; or listen/download from iTunes here.

Image by Gerri Detweiler

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  • traci

    For the enamel sink just wash it with a paste of baking soda with a smidge of water. This is what I use on my white enamel sink and it is gleaming white afterwards. The baking soda works like a micro abrasive that won’t scratch. It’s good on pots and pans too. Once the baking soda paste has cleaned off the gunk, I spray the sink with vinegar/water to disinfect (just spray it and walk away, letting it air dry).

    • http://www.Credit.com Gerri

      Thanks Traci – I tried baking soda and vinegar and it doesn’t quite have the same effect as bleach but thinking about it, I don’t know why I am making a big deal about it. I am not a perfect housekeeper by any means and as long as the dishes aren’t piled up in the sink I am not going to obsess!

  • Sue Stoudemire


    • http://www.Credit.com Gerri

      Sue – That’s music to a writer’s ears. :) Thank you. Be sure to check out Matt and Betsy’s newsletter too. Good stuff.

  • Marc Caldwell

    For the homemade laundry detergent what is the amount of grated bar soap that is to be added to the cup of borax and washing powder?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      My understanding is you just use 1 bar. I used a bar of Dr. Bronner’s which is a bathroom size bar. The Fels Naptha bar is a little larger, and I bought that in the laundry isle of my grocery store.

  • Michelle Higgs

    Re: Laundry Detergent with HE washing machines

    Can the laundry detergent be used with HE washing machines and if so, what quantity? Too much soap can damage these washers by disabling their sensors during the rinse/spin cycle.

  • Tom

    I have found a mixture for an excellent all-purpose kitchen cleaner that is safe enough to use on dishes as well as spills and stains. It’s very antimicrobial and will cut through biofilms and makes quick work dried-on or cooked-on food. I find it MORE satisfactory in the kitchen than anything else I have ever used:
    2 parts cheap generic listerine
    2 parts ammonia (sudsy or not)

    • Tom

      1 part isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
      A few drops dish detergent
      Mix ingredients in a spray bottle and use.

      It cuts through anything you might find dirtying the kitchen. While I don’t recommend soaking in it, it’s easier on your hands than I expected; really no worse than Windex. No ingredient in it is toxic in any real sense. Everything but the ammonia is normally used on the body or in the mouth except ammonia, and your body handles small amounts of ammonia all day long in normal metabolism.

  • Tom

    I have developed a mixture for an excellent all-purpose kitchen cleaner that is safe enough to use on Pots and pans as well as spills and stains. It’s very antimicrobial and will cut through biofilms and makes quick work dried-on or cooked-on food. I find it MORE satisfactory in the kitchen than anything else I have ever used, maufactured or home-brewed:

    2 parts cheap generic listerine
    2 parts ammonia (sudsy or not)
    1 part isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
    A few drops dish detergent
    Mix ingredients in a spray bottle and use.

    It cuts through anything you might find dirtying the kitchen. While I don’t recommend soaking in it, it’s easier on your hands than I expected; really no worse than Windex. No ingredient in it is toxic in any real sense. Everything but the ammonia is normally used on the body or in the mouth except ammonia, and your body handles small amounts of ammonia all day long in normal metabolism.

  • Bryan

    Better deodorant: dab a fingertip of aloe with (aluminum-free) baking soda.

    Mix and rub in your pits.

    No harmful alcohols, no stink. Cheap as hell.

  • the humble mumbler

    erh, shouldn’t the mixing of baking soda (alcaline) and vinegar (acidic) neutralise both substances’ effects?
    Do one after the other but not both at the same time. Like Traci’s suggestion.

  • Daniel

    I’m confused. I’ve seen this and other sites discuss a cleaner made by combining, in one form or another, baking soda and vinegar. They believe that because it’s foaming, it somehow creates “cleaning action.”

    In fact, baking soda is able to remove stains (particularly tannic ones) because the Sodium Carbonate mixes with the tannic acid to create sodium tannate, which is a salt, and Carbon Dioxide. It basically “breaks down” the chemicals causing the stain, then, as some have indicated, is an abrasive agent that eases in removing them from the surface.

    Vinegar is a good solvent, but unlike water it can dissolve lime and calcium stains for a similar reason (it’s acidic, so it works on basic things).

    Combining them doesn’t create any magic – it creates sodium acetate and carbon dioxide – the reason it foams. Then you have this salt (sodium acetate) and foam. It won’t be breaking down any chemicals. In fact, you’ve just neutralized your two cleaning agents, so it’s not going to do anything for you.

    I just don’t get it. Is there some actual logic behind this idea that I’m missing? Is there a chemical reason that creating this reaction would help? Because I suspect that people saw the foaminess and said “oh, that must mean it’s cleaning” but it was total speculation based on poorly understood science.

    In the future, try the baking soda paste method. Make a paste with some water, and let it sit for 5-10 minutes, then scrub it away with a sponge (without ANY added liquid), then wash the paste down the sink. You’ll find it MUCH more effective than using vinegar with the baking soda, unless what you’re aiming for is a kid’s science experiment.

    • http://www.credit.com Gerri

      Daniel – Thank you! I just learned something helpful. I appreciate the science lesson too! :)

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