Cleaning with Food-grade Cleaning Ingredients

Natural Cleaning

When we’re doing our spring cleaning there’s no need to use all those nasty chemicals to clean effectively. You’d be surprised at just how little you need to clean your house effectively, and how most of what you need is probably already in your kitchen cupboards. After years of trials and tests here’s a run down on what we use to clean what in our home.

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What we use to clean our home naturally

  • dusting – damp cloth
  • windows / glass – wash with a mixture of hot water, washing up liquid, lemon juice / vinegar and then dry vigorously with a dry cloth
  • floors – hot water, washing up liquid, lemon juice / vinegar
  • uncoated wooden surfaces / objects- a blend of olive oil / coconut oil and vinegar applied with kitchen paper
  • fridge – hot water, lemon juice / vinegar
  • microwave – microwave a bowl of water with lemons / vinegar for 2 minutes and wipe with a damp cloth
  • wooden chopping boards – scrub with half a lemon dipped in salt
  • pots & bakeware – we clean our stainless steel pots and aluminium baking sheets with steel wool, washing up liquid and warm water. If you’d like to try gentler methods here is a tutorial on how to naturally clean stained aluminium
  • metal cooker hood filter – I’ve tried a few methods for cleaning this item, including using a steam cleaner and this homemade non-scrub cleaner for a cooker hood filter. Both partially worked but not 100% so I’ve now resorted to washing metal cooker filters in the dishwasher.
  • stainless steel kitchen surfaces – whatever you do believe the online hacks and don’t use oil to polish stainless steel. It works in the short term but eventually forms a film on the metal, which gets sticky and is a huge job to remove.  Now I polish clean stainless steel by wiping with a damp microfibre cloth* and then polishing with a dry one to buff it. If the surface has grease on it I scrub it with dry bicarbonate of soda first, which I follow with a small bit of washing up liquid on a damp cloth, then vinegar on a damp cloth, then finally the surface with polished with a damp microfibre cloth and buffed with a dry one.
  • oven – warm water, washing up liquid, steel wool, a hob scraper or Stanley blade and elbow grease
  • bath / washbasin – sprinkle bicarbonate of soda into the basin, scrub to remove residue, rinse with water and polish with a dry cloth
  • toilet bowl – Lily’s Eco toilet cleaner, a designated recycled plastic scouring pads and elbow grease
  • grout – mix bicarbonate of soda and water into a paste, apply with an old toothbrush, scrub, rinse with clean water
  • drains – pour salt into the drain and follow with a kettle of boiling hot

Why we use Food-Grade Ingredients to Clean?

One of the main reasons we use food-grade ingredients to clean to is to limit my family’s exposure to toxins. A study published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine stated that the use of cleaning products was equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day in health terms. You can read an extract of that study here.

And if you’ve children you many be interested to hear about a study that found there is almost a 30% increased risk of mothers having children with asthma or eczema if they used disinfectants 1-6 times a week

Another reason is there impact on the planet. The legislation pertaining to cleaning products is very weak and wishy-washy, so I avoid proprietary cleaning products as much as possible.

If you’d like to read more on this, my article Sustainable Ethical Cleaning drills down into the environmental impact of propriety cleaning products and given an overview on the eco cleaning brands on the Irish market.

Do Food-Grade Cleaning Ingredients Work?

I use mostly food-grade cleaning ingredients in our home, because they are cheaper, they’re less toxic than shop-bought version, and they work.

In trials looking at the germ killing skill of vinegar was found to be just as effective as commercial cleaning products.

If you’re not a fan of the smell of vinegar you could swap vinegar for citric acid. It is a non-smelling acid that works just the same as vinegar. The website Moral Fibres has a good article on how to use citric acid to clean.

Making Homemade Cleaning Products

You may have noticed that I don’t make up homemade cleaning products. I used to but found this step was unnecessary so now I just use them as is and then wash off with water or vinegar.

If you’d prefer to have pre-mixed household cleaners in your home you can find a ton of recipes for homemade cleaning products online. I like those by the American blogger Bren Did. She doesn’t just trot out the same old recipes I see on most blogs. She tests out a range of recipes before making a recommendation, which I like. The same blogger also has an excellent article on Green Cleaning Ingredients you should never mix. Not only does she lists the mixtures that would be dangerous, she also lists the ones that are ineffective and why, like mixing bicarbonate of soda with vinegar.

Another great spot for zero waste cleaning tips is the Irish vlogger Fairyland Cottage. She makes video all about low-waste and zero waste living, and although I don’t have a use for bleach in our house here’s a recipe for natural bleach that I came across in case you do. I haven’t tried it myself.

Adding Essential Oils to Homemade Cleaning Products

A lot of people interested in natural cleaning use essential oils to fragrance their homemade cleaning products, particularly citrus, but it’s worth noting that limonene which is naturally present in citrus fragrances converts to formaldehyde, a know carcinogen, when used indoors.

If you do use essential oils. Make sure you source your essential oil from a country of origin that doesn’t support animal testing. If you’re debating whether to invest in organic essential oils over non-organic just be aware that most ‘organic’ products aren’t 100% organic and may only need to a small percentage of organic ingredients in them to be allowed use the term on their label. So although I’m completely pro-organic, check the label to make sure you’re not being hoodwinked.

You’ll find a list of Irish and UK suppliers of essential oils in my article on toxin-free home fragrances

Additional Info

Here are some more articles on Sustainable Cleaning


Ps – *To date I’ve been using microfibre cloths to clean stainless steel and glass but having heard that fibres from microfibre cloths are polluting our oceans I’m on the hunt for a less polluting option. I’ll update this blog when I find it.

Published by Elaine Butler

I am a circular design consultant helping manfacturers prepare for the circular economy

6 thoughts on “Cleaning with Food-grade Cleaning Ingredients

  1. Great post, thanks Elaine! I especially love your oven tip – it really works! Like you, I want fewer ingredients – makes cleaning simpler and I feel happy when I open my cleaning cupboard to see mostly empty space. Once I’ve used up my current batch of homemade cleaner, I’m going to experiment with using only water for jobs that aren’t very dirty. I’m currently using diluted washing up liquid to clean my toilets and it seems to work fine (I have soft water). I’m reusing an old washing up liquid bottle which I fill about about halfway with wash up liquid and then top up with water, squirt it around the bowl/under the rim and scrub with a brush.


    1. Yes, it’s amazing how few chemicals we need to clean. I think we’ve all been bamboozled by ads convincing us that we need a list of scientific ingredients to keep our houses clean and healthy. We’ve been cleaning without chemicals for nearly 10 years now and we haven’t been killed off by bacteria yet!


  2. Hi Elaine, love this post! was just wondering, you know when dust accumulates in grooves in wood like cupboards, how do you get that out? like its too dense just to get out by dusting?


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