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Homemade cleaning products

Whether you’re looking to save a little money or need a cleaner in a pinch, these DIY concoctions can do the trick

Last reviewed: January 2009

Do homemade cleaning products perform as well as store-bought versions? Most made-at-home brews often are effective, though they don't perform as well as the products you'll find in stores. Still, our tests show that our glass-and-window cleaner rivals any commercial product. The mixture cleans glass well and leaves few or no streaks.

Before you start mixing, keep the following in mind:

Do not mix chlorine bleach with toilet-bowl cleaner or ammonia. When combined, the solution could produce dangerous noxious fumes. As with any caustic material, handle those products with care and store them safely. Also avoid mixing bleach with vinegar. This combination increases the potency of the bleach, which could then damage certain materials, such as textiles.

Always add the water to the bucket or spray bottle first, and then carefully pour in the detergent, ammonia, bleach, or other item. This way, in the event of any splash back, there's less chance that the caustic material will fly out. Also, always wear gloves and eye protection when blending cleaners.

Glass-and-window cleaner

  • About 7 pints cold water (108 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup soapy ammonia
  • 1 pint rubbing alcohol

 Fill a 1- or 2-gallon bucket with the water. Carefully add the ammonia and rubbing alcohol.
 Mix well and pour into spray bottles.
 To distinguish this clear liquid from other cleaners, tint it with a drop or two of blue food coloring.

Illustration of window being cleaned.

Window-cleaning tips

The frequency of your window-cleaning depends on where you live, but the inside surface of the panes usually needs cleaning twice a year. Wash windows on a cloudy day or when the windows are in shade because direct sunlight will cause streaking. If you live in a home with many windows, divide the job into segments rather than attempting to do them all in one day. You'll need two buckets, a sponge, a good-quality rubber squeegee, a clean, lint-free cloth or paper towels, a chamois cloth, and cleaner, either the one above or a store-bought product.

Loop curtains over a hanger, and hang them out of the way. Clean windows from the top down. Use a slightly dampened sponge to apply the cleaning solution. Wipe across the window with the dampened blade of the squeegee, then wipe the blade. Follow with a rinse of clean water applied with the chamois. Polish off any remaining moisture with the dry cloth. While cleaning, check for putty that needs replacing, paint repair you might need to do, or cracks in the glass.

Remove new paint spatters with a cloth dipped in turpentine (for oil-based paint) or water or glass cleaner (for latex paint). For old paint, scrape it with a single-edged razor, holding the razor at an angle to avoid scratching the glass. Leave 1/16 inch of paint on the edge of the glass to protect the frame from condensation inside and rain outside. Note that glass cleaner can soften water-based paint. If you spray cleaner onto a painted surface, blot, don't rub; the paint will harden once dry. Wipe away putty marks with ammonia.

Clean small or stained-glass windows with a damp sponge first, then wipe with a clean, damp chamois. Polish with a clean cloth. Treat delicate stained glass with care. Clean painted glass gently with a damp chamois.

If you have high windows or skylights, you can clean them with special extension tools. But it might be more practical to hire a professional window cleaner.

Wood-furniture cleaner

  • 6 teaspoons light olive oil
  • 3 cups distilled white vinegar

 Pour the oil and vinegar into a 1-quart spray bottle. Blend well.
 Spray the cleaner onto wood, wipe over with a damp cloth, and finish drying with a clean, lint-free cloth.

(Note: Use this cleaner only on sealed wood.)

Silver cleaner

  • 1 piece aluminum foil (big enough to cover the bottom of the cleaning container)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons baking soda
  • 2 quarts very hot water

 Lay the aluminum foil along the bottom of a plastic or glass container.
 Place the tarnished silver on top.
 Sprinkle the silver with baking soda, and cover it with very hot water.
 Soak until bubbles stop, then rinse and polish the silver with a soft cloth.

In the chemical reaction, the silver sulfide (tarnish) breaks down and transfers to the aluminum foil, which you can then throw out. The result: shiny silver.

(Note: This technique removes tarnish uniformly, so don't use it with antique or intricately patterned silver.)

All-purpose cleaner

Soapy ammonia is a versatile cleaning agent. You can use it in place of a commercial all-purpose cleaner for everyday kitchen and bathroom cleaning. Dilute according to the instructions on the container.

Wall cleaner

  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 quart chlorine bleach
  • 1/8 cup TSP (trisodium phosphate)

 Fill a 2-gallon bucket with the water.
 Carefully add the bleach and TSP. Mix well.
 Apply the cleaner with a sponge or soft brush, working from the bottom up—it's easier to clean streaks off of a clean surface.
 Rinse the surface with a cloth dampened with clean, warm water.

(Note: To avoid damaging paint or wallpaper with this or any other cleaner, test it on an inconspicuous spot.)

Floor-wax stripper

  • 1 gallon cold water
  • 1/2 cup powdered floor cleaner
  • 2 cups ammonia

 Fill a 2-gallon bucket with the water.
 Carefully add the floor cleaner and ammonia. Mix well.
 Apply the stripper with fine steel wool and a lot of elbow grease.