Monday, September 17, 2012

Homemade Cleaners + Cost Breakdown + Science!

It is with excitement that I finally have a chance to share with you this post!  I have been slaving hard testing recipes and analyzing costs and effectiveness before I release my results to the world.  Okay, so that's a tad over dramatic, but it's true.  I really worked hard to make this meaningful and accurate.

First, let's get into some science.  In order to make your own homemade cleaners effective, it's a really good idea to figure out what all the ingredients do (courtesy of Wikipedia!):

Borax, available as Twenty Mule Team Borax at the store, is also known to the science world as sodium tetraborate decahydrate.  It looks like a white powder, has no real scent, and is not flammable.  In very large doses, it can be toxic to humans (so don't eat it, but it's fine to use for cleaning).  Borax is a common detergent ingredient, and it is found in cosmetics, as a buffer solution, and as a fire retardant among other nifty things.

Washing Soda, also known as soda ash or sodium carbonate, is a basic (high pH) white powder.  When not being all awesome as an ingredient in glass, it can be used as an electrolyte in chemistry labs, for lyeing (a browning agent in food), removing flesh from bones in taxidermy, or to clean silver.  For the household, washing soda functions primarily as a water softener.  It is a degreaser and descaler, and it can help to remove oil and wine stains.

Baking Soda, that kitchen stalwart often confused with baking powder, goes by sodium bicarbonate in the lab.  When combined in doughs and batters, it works its magic as a leavening agent by releasing carbon dioxide causing expansion.  You know when you're making pancakes and the bubbles start forming before you flip the pancake?  That's baking soda doing it's thing.  Baking soda can also be used as a fairly effective toothpaste, deodorant, to control fungus, to extinguish a grease fire (on the stove, not a deep fryer), to absorb odors, and even as a heartburn remedy (in small amounts).  When cleaning, baking soda is frequently used as an abrasive material.

Dish soap is a detergent.  It works by making water stick to things like grease and dirt. That's why soaking a baked-on dish in soapy water makes it easier to clean. The water "sticks" to the stuck-on stuff better with dish soap added than without it.  To see an example of how dish soap works to reduce surface tension, watch this.  Another cool example of dish soap breaking the surface tension involves milk and food coloring.

Vinegar--the white variety--is a liquid consisting mainly of acetic acid and water.  Vinegars, the several dozen varieties available, are primarily used for cooking.  When not being used in the jungle to detect cervical cancer (really!), this wonder is a highly effective cleaning agent.  It can help dissolve to mineral deposits, to clean windows, and to polish metal.  According to Good Housekeeping's microbiologist, vinegar is about 90% effective against mold and 99.9% effective against bacteria.

Lemon juice is the liquid squeezed from a lemon.  It is an acid and is edible, although it is quite sour.  It can be used as a degreaser or added to help polish metal (though it must be diluted lest it corrode the metal).

Essential oils are called "essential" because they contain the "essence" of the plant from which they are extracted.  They are extracted using distillation (heat, evaporation, and condensation), expression (squeezing), or by solvent extraction (chemicals).  While many claims are made to the efficacy of various essential oils curing cancer, treating illnesses, or igniting world peace, the only 100% proven thing these oils do is smell.  And some of them don't smell that great.  When purchasing essential oils, strive to get the purest oils possible.  They should not be eaten (but aren't exactly toxic either), and should never be applied directly to the skin.

Olive oil is the fat obtained from olives using mechanical or chemical processes.  This oil is widely used in cooking, cosmetics, soaps, and as fuel for lamps.  In addition to being excellent on or in food, olive oil can be used for everything from shaving (instead of foam), as a moisturizer, or as an ear wax softener.  In the household, olive oil can be used to polish furniture or floors.

Second, let's look at the math.  For the ease of comparison, I selected name brand and widely available products and used Amazon's prices.  Many of these items can regularly be found on sale or you may even already have them at home (yay you!).  I did not figure a cost for water as the cost of water in these recipes is insignificant.  I used this formula to calculate percentage savings.

Borax at $6.49 for one 72 ounce box or $0.09 per ounce.
Washing Soda at $8.20 for one 55 ounce box or $0.15 per ounce.
Baking Soda at $0.97 for one 16 ounce box or about $0.06 per ounce.
Dish soap at $3.75 for one 25 ounce bottle or $0.13 per ounce.
Vinegar at $6.25 for one 128 ounce bottle or $0.04 per ounce.
Lemon juice at $9.99 for one 32 ounce bottle or $0.32 per ounce
Essential oil - costs vary widely depending on the oil, but $5 for 10ml or 0.33 ounces should be a good average.  One drop of oil is approximately 0.05ml or 0.0017oz, so there are approximately 200 drops in one 10ml bottle of essential oil.
Olive oil - $15.84 for one 68 ounce bottle or $0.23 per ounce
Water - free

And third, the recipes!

All-Purpose Cleaner
1 t. Borax ($0.05)
1 t. Washing Soda ($0.08)
1/2 c Vinegar ($0.16)
2 c hot (tap, not boiling) water (free)
25 drops essential oil (about $1.00)
Mix Borax, Washing Soda, and Vinegar in a squirt bottle.  Add hot water.  Cool.  Add essential oil.  Mix well by shaking.  You can also add a 1/2 t. of dish soap if you want a sudsy mix.
$1.29 per bottle or about $0.065 per ounce. Compare to Clorox cleaner at $7.79 per bottle or $0.24 per ounce.  Save 73%.

Shower Cleaner
1c Dawn ($1.04)
1 c Vinegar - hot (tap, not boiling) ($0.32)
Mix in a spray bottle, shake gently before using.  This stuff really works!
At 8 ounces each to make a 16 ounce bottle, that's $1.36 per bottle or $0.085 per ounce.  Compare to Scrubbing Bubbles at $11.56 for two bottles ($5.78 for one) or $0.18 per ounce. Save 53%.

Floor Cleaner
1/4 c Dawn ($0.26)
3 c Vinegar ($0.96)
1 c Lemon juice ($2.56)
4 c hot (tap, not boiling) water (free)
Mix in a half-gallon-ish container.  (Note: I've considered mixing this without water and then adding half as much solution to my water when I use it.  This will make the concentrate more expensive, but it will still be cheaper than Pine-Sol.)
$3.78 for 66 ounces or under $0.06 per ounce. Compare to Pine-Sol at $4.73 for 24 ounces or $0.20 per ounce.  Save 70%.

Grout Cleaner
1/2 c Baking soda ($0.24)
1/4 c Dawn ($0.26)
Mix well into a paste.  Apply using a toothbrush and scrub into grout adding water as needed.  Rinse well.  (Note: My mother loves her brand-name cleaners and swears by 409, Pine-Sol, and other staple cleaners used this when she helped me clean my new house.  She was amazed at how well this mix works on icky grout.  It was cheap and worked very, very well.  Just be sure to rinse well.)
$0.50 for 6 ounces or $0.08 per ounce of very concentrated cleaner.  Compare to Soft Scrub with Baking Soda at $0.16 per ounce.  Save 50% or more.

And for when you're all done cleaning the house, how about a treat for yourself! Lemon Sugar Scrub
1/2 c Sugar
1 T Olive oil
2 T Lemon juice
Mix and scrub away gently.  Rinse well.

I am working on a post entirely dedicated to my laundry detergent next.  I will link to it here when I get it posted.  Seriously, you do not want to miss what's coming up next!

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