Safe cleaning products

Eco cleaning

Avoid hazardous household products by looking for these words on the container or label:

  • Non-toxic
  • Non-petroleum based
  • Free of ammonia, phosphates and dyes
  • Biodegradable
  • Ozone-friendly
  • Reusable and recyclable
  • Enzyme-active
  • Organic

Most household cleaning can be done with a half-and-half mixture of vinegar and water, or liquid soap and baking soda. Here are some essential, safe cleaning products for your next shopping list:

  • Bicarb (sodium bicarbonate also known as baking soda) neutralises acids and cleans shiny surfaces without scratching. It cleans and polishes aluminium, chrome, jewellery, silver, stainless steel and tin. It is also a good fabric softener, stain remover and softens hard water. It deodorises refrigerators, smelly carpets, upholstery and even drains. It can also extinguish grease fires.
  • Borax, a naturally occurring mineral that is soluble in water, deodorises, removes stains, discourages mildew and mould and boosts the cleaning power of soap or detergent.
  • Lemon juice deodorises, cleans glass, removes stains from aluminium and is an effective, mild bleach for wool. Interestingly, it is more effective when used with sunlight.
  • Salt is a great abrasive for cleaning or scouring certain metals and plastics, but can scratch some surfaces.
  • Vinegar neutralises bases such as alkaline soaps to lower the pH level. It cuts grease on surfaces and is an excellent deodoriser. Avoid using vinegar on a marble surface as it may pit the surface. White vinegar is safe for use on all colour-fast fabrics other than cotton and linen.
  • Washing soda (sodium carbonate decahydrate) is a mineral that cuts stubborn grease, at on grills, pans and ovens. It can be used with bicarbonate of soda instead of laundry detergent and is available from pharmacies and chemical supply stores.

Get practical: some natural recipes

These great household recipes were developed by Muna Lakhani for Earthlife Africa’s Toxics Group, as well as the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Waste Management Directorate.

Air fresheners

  • Baking soda or vinegar on a saucer.
  • Aromatherapy oil.
  • Pour vanilla extract onto a cotton ball in a saucer and place in the home, car or fridge.
  • Cover the bottom of your cat’s litter box with baking soda before adding litter. This will remove the smells for days.

All-purpose household cleaners

  • Vinegar and salt
  • Liquid soap and baking soda
  • Baking soda (1 part) and warm water (2 parts)
  • Add 1 teaspoon (5 ml) liquid soap, 1 teaspoon (5 ml) borax and ¼ cup (62 ml) undiluted white vinegar to a litre of warm water. Mix and store in a spray bottle to use for cleaning countertops, foors, walls and carpets

Bath and shower cleaner

Wipe with vinegar, then rub with baking soda, using a damp sponge.


Use distilled white vinegar for lime scale in kettles and toilets. Lemon juice is a fragrant alternative for treating teapot stains.


½ cup (125 ml) borax in a solution of 4½ litres hot water will act as a detergent. Hydrogen peroxide (3% solution) can also be used.


  • Use vinegar or lemon to cut grease
  • A degreasing solution can be made by mixing together ½ teaspoon (2,5 ml) washing soda (sodium carbonate or soda ash), 2 tablespoons (30 ml) white vinegar, ¼ teaspoon (1 ml)
  • liquid soap and 2 cups (500 ml) water

Dishwasher detergent

A mix of equal amounts of borax and baking soda (15 ml borax and 15 ml baking soda) can be used as dishwasher detergent. However, to be on the safe side, contact the manufacturer of your machine regarding the effects of using these products in your machine.

Drain cleaner

Regular drain cleaning and pouring boiling water down the drain on a weekly basis will prevent grime build-up and blocked drains. Use the following procedure to clean your drain effectively:

  1. Pour ½ cup (125 ml) baking soda followed by ½ cup (125 ml) white vinegar down your drain.
  2. Cover and leave for 2 hours.
  3. Rinse with boiling water.

If the drain needs to be unblocked, use hydrogen peroxide (available from a chemist) and a plunger. Do not use this after using a commercial drain cleaner.

Floor cleaner and polish

  • Vinyl or linoleum: a capful (5 ml) baby oil and water
  • Wooden floors: apply thin coat of equal amounts of vegetable oil and white vinegar. Rub in well
  • Painted wooden floors: 1 teaspoon (5 ml) washing soda diluted in 4 litres hot water
  • Brick and stone tiles: 1 cup (250 ml) white vinegar diluted in 4½ litres of water
  • Rinse with clean water after all procedures

Metal cleaners and polishers

  • Aluminium: use a paste made from cream of tartar and water
  • Brass: lemon juice and baking soda paste OR a vinegar and salt solution.
  • Chrome: baby oil and vinegar OR aluminium foil with the shiny side facing outwards
  • Copper: boil objects in a mixture of salt (1 tablespoon/15 ml) white vinegar (1cup/250 ml) and hot water
  • Silver: line a pan or pot with aluminium foil and then boil objects in water with a teaspoon of baking soda and a teaspoon of salt
  • Stainless steel : use undiluted white vinegar to clean

Mildew remover

Scrub mildew spots with ½ cup (125 ml) borax and 4 litres of water using a nylon scouring pad. To prevent mildew from forming again, do not rinse off the borax. A scrubbing paste of vinegar and salt will also work.

Oven cleaner

Make a thick paste with water and baking soda to clean your dirty oven. Leave for three minutes. Scrub with a nylon scrubbing pad. If particularly greasy, add a small amount of liquid soap to the mixture. A water and borax solution (2 teaspoons borax in a litre of water) sprayed onto the oven surface will also work well. To remove spots, use very fine steel wool.

Sprinkle salt onto spills while the oven is still warm to ease their removal once cool.

Fabric stain remover

Mix 1 part glycerine and 1 part liquid dishwashing detergent to 8 parts water and apply to stain as soon as possible. Leave for 20 minutes (longer for more stubborn stains) and wash as normal with other garments. Store in a squeezy container.

Toilet cleaning products

Try any of the following:

  • Straight bleach (that is not chlorine-based) with no other cleaning substances.
  • Baking soda and vinegar
  • ¼ cup (62 ml) borax in toilet bowl and leave for a few hours or overnight, then scrub and flush

Lemon juice can also be added for fragrance.

Window and glass cleaner

Use warm water with lemon juice (2 tablespoons/30 ml) or vinegar (¼ cup/62 ml). Mix and store in a spray bottle.

source: SMART Living Handbook

Where to find

organic or eco-friendly cleaning products

Other waste topics

Reduce, reuse, recycle
What you can, and can't, recycle
Hazardous waste (chemicals, batteries & CFLs)
Start a compost heap or worm bin
Dealing with creepy crawlies naturally

Go green home