The Naturally Clean Home, 3rd Edition

150 Nontoxic Recipes for Cleaning and Disinfecting with Essential Oils


By Karyn Siegel-Maier

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In this updated edition of her best-selling book, The Naturally Clean Home, Karyn Siegel-Maier brings together the formulas for home cleaning solutions that readers have trusted for years with new information and ingredients updated to today’s green standards. A new introduction shines a light on the antiseptic properties of essential oils, addressing different grades of oil and their effectiveness against bacteria and viruses, as well as updated safety precautions and cost. Updated recipes eliminate Borax (banned as a food additive in the US and from cosmetic and cleaning products in the EU) from ingredient lists, replacing it with safe substitutes that include citric acid powder, hydrogen peroxide, diatomaceous earth, cornstarch, washing soda, and baking soda. New recipes show readers how to make easy, nontoxic, environmentally friendly substitutes for popular cleaning products, including molded laundry and dishwasher tablets. Packaging updates emphasize the use of glass containers for homemade cleaning products, to diminish environmental impact of plastic waste.




1 The Science of Clean

2 The Kitchen

3 The Bath

4 The Laundry

5 Wood Care

6 Cleaning Metals

7 Walls & Carpeting

8 Clearing the Air

9 The Garge & Basement

10 The Garden & Landscape

11 The Home Office


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This book is dedicated to you, the reader, whose commitment to better living is my inspiration and reward for writing it.


Warm thanks to my family, friends, and online community members for all the inspiration, feedback, and support over the years. Your encouragement is the driving force that motivates me every day.

I'd also like to express my appreciation for the honor of being a member of Storey's family of authors. In particular, special thanks to Deborah Balmuth, Hannah Fries, and Paula Brisco for helping to give new life to these pages to reach a new generation of readers.

Chapter 1The Science of Clean

Cleaning with some form of soap and water has been around nearly as long as dirt. Early humans quickly realized that wading into a lake, river, or stream was an effective way to cool off and loosen the mud from their feet. Archaeological evidence suggests that the ancient Babylonians were the first to bring water, animal fat, and ash together to make soap sometime around 2200 BCE.

Since then, our soap and cleaning agents have evolved a great deal, but our desire to ever improve them eventually made them toxic to us and the planet. The goal of this book is to help you reduce your exposure to potentially hazardous chemicals, make more environmentally sustainable choices, and harness the power of nature to clean more safely and effectively with pure, simple ingredients, including essential oils.

Coming Clean about Soap

Water alone cannot clean surfaces because it has a property called surface tension. In other words, it can't reach the surface where the crud resides because it just beads up and stubbornly refuses to spread out. The trick to getting water to behave as we want it to on countertops and fabrics is to introduce a surfactant to reduce water tension. This is where soap comes in.

Soap is a surfactant that makes water molecules more slippery and better able to get down to the business of lifting dirt and grease. The earliest liquid soaps were made from olive and palm oils and saponins, chemical compounds found in certain plants (for example, soapwort) that foam when mixed with water. For thousands of years, bar soap was made using animal fats until a supply shortage during World War I inspired German scientists to develop a synthetic surfactant, creating the first detergent. Since then, detergents have been "improved" with the addition of phosphate compounds and other chemicals. These chemicals are abundant in many types of household cleaners and even personal-care products like hand soap and shampoo. They have also found their way into the ecosystem, where they adversely impact marine life and inhibit the breakdown of other toxic substances in the environment.

These chemicals affect human health as well. For example, SDBS (sodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate) is a widely used surfactant that is absorbed through the skin and is known to be carcinogenic and damaging to the liver. The formulas in this book ask you to use castile soap, a vegetable-based soap made from olive, hemp, or coconut oil that is free of synthetic surfactants or detergents.

The Dangers of Bleach

Bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, is a combination of chlorine and sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) and is perhaps one of the most difficult of commercial cleaning products to relinquish. Technically speaking, household bleach is not considered corrosive or toxic, even if ingested. It is, however, classified as a skin and eye irritant. It can burn human tissue, internally or externally, especially in small children. In fact, the accidental swallowing of bleach is the most frequently received call at poison control centers involving children under the age of six. But young, tender hands and lips can also suffer serious burns.

If household bleach can do such damage, and is so predominantly a factor in the accidental poisoning of young children, why keep it around the house? There are many natural and nontoxic solutions for removing stains and keeping whites white. If you feel you must have access to a bottle of bleach, at least use one that is free of chlorine to reduce the risks. One of the best that I have used is made by Seventh Generation, whose products can often be found in health food stores and in some supermarkets. Treat this bleach as you would any other: Store it in a locked cabinet or out of reach of pets and children.

Getting Back to "Natural"

It's fair to say that "natural cleaning" isn't a new concept. If you're old enough to reminisce about Woodstock, then you're aware that the movement to stem the flow of toxins in our lives and in our environment has shifted from the outer fringe to the mainstream. By the mid-1990s, "green" products had hit the market in a big way. Unfortunately, a lack of regulation has led to "greenwashing," meaning that some companies are using misleading language to describe their products as "all-natural" when they actually are not.

No regulatory definitions exist for words like all-natural and nontoxic, making them meaningless on a product label unless a certification seal of a recognized, independent third party, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), backs up such claims. So, until these manufacturers clean up their act (and, to be fair, many are finally responding to consumer demand for safer products), we all need to be expert label readers and ingredient detectives. The ultimate solution? Make it yourself, and keep more green in your wallet!

A Botanical Boost

The most potent weapons against germs and grime in your natural cleaning products are essential oils. Combined with baking soda, vinegar, and other natural agents that reduce the surface tension of water, botanical essential oils increase the power of a homemade cleanser considerably. We'll get to how in a moment, but first, let's talk about what an essential oil is. Also known as a volatile oil because it has a fairly fast evaporation rate, an essential oil is a concentration of aromatic chemical compounds extracted from the root, leaf, wood, bark, fruit, flower, or seed of a plant, usually by steam distillation. The oil is called "essential" because it contains the essence of the fragrance profile of the plant from which it is obtained.

You may be new to using essential oils for cleaning your house, but I guarantee there are scores of them in your home at any given time. Essential oils are used to enhance flavor and extend the shelf life of many foods and beverages; they lend fragrance to perfumes; they are used in cosmetics to benefit skin and hair; and they are widely used in the pharmaceutical industry. You can't open a pantry door or medicine cabinet without coming face-to-face with a variety of essential oils.

Flower Power

Here comes the "how" part. An essential oil may contain well over 300 compounds, but each belongs to one of two groups: hydrocarbons, which are largely terpenes (sesquiterpenes, diterpenes, and monoterpenes), and terpenoid compounds that contain oxygen in their chemical structure (alcohols, esters, aldehydes, ketones, phenols, and oxides). Collectively, these phytochemicals are responsible for the medicinal properties of many plants. They also serve as germ-fighting soldiers in the battle against not only dirt and grime but also bacteria and viruses.

For example, sesquiterpenes, such as carvacrol and linalool, are highly antiseptic and antimicrobial and are found in many common herbs. A recent study published in the journal Pathogens showed that the essential oils of oregano, thyme, lemon, and lavender are effective against a number of common pathogens, including Staphylococcus strains and E. coli. A group of scientists from Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences in Poland have identified a dozen essential oils with high antimicrobial activity, most notably lavender, thyme, peppermint, cajuput, cinnamon, eucalyptus, clove, sage, and tea tree. Citrus essential oils — lime, lemon, and sweet orange — are the workhorses of many kitchen and bath cleaners due to their content of limonene, a natural solvent and antibacterial agent found in the peel of these fruits. This list is by no means complete, but these are the essential oils most used in the formulas throughout this book.

Aren't Essential Oils Expensive?

Some are, yes. Sandalwood, bergamot, and patchouli oils, for example, may provide antimicrobial properties, but they are cost prohibitive for most of our cleaning purposes. Save those oils for your homemade perfumes, special skin-care formulas, and the like. Note, however, that you may want to consider adding a few drops of these highly aromatic oils to a product designed to fragrance your home, such as aroma sprays, linen sachets, herbal dream pillows, and potpourri. Some of the recipes in this book for herbal mists and potpourri blends contain ginger, vetiver, bergamot, and other fragrant essential oils. If you already have these oils among your herbal supplies, you're one step ahead. But feel free to experiment and to make substitutions when necessary.

Otherwise, the essential oils recommended in this book are quite economical. Consider for a moment that the purchase of a store-bought cleaner can average $3 or more, depending on the specific product and brand. In fact, the average American household spends nearly $200 annually for one-time-use laundry and cleaning products. Depending on the type and brand, a half ounce of the essential oils recommended in this book will average anywhere from $6 to $12, and each contains approximately 300 drops. Since each formula in this book uses anywhere from just a few drops up to 25 or 30, that little bottle will go a very long way indeed. As an added bonus, you won't be spending money on single-use packaging.

Quality and Purity

I personally make it a point to buy only certified organic essential oils, which adds to the price, but that's just me. In my home office, I have an apothecary cabinet that houses a large collection of jars filled with dried herbs, roots, barks, berries, and infused oils for making salves, along with a shelf of about 30 bottles of essential oils (in alphabetical order) and other liquid substances — rosemary extract, benzoin, vitamin E, glycerin, etc. I don't separate materials used for making medicines or cosmetics from those used for other herbal crafts, such as making natural cleaners. It's entirely up to you, but be prepared to pay a bit more for organic essential oils if you decide to follow this route.

Purity, on the other hand, does matter. Be sure to purchase oils from a reputable company, and consider those that embrace fair-trade practices that promote sustainable economies in the regions from which the oils are sourced. The bottle should be labeled "100% pure essential oil." (The label may also state that the oil is "therapeutic grade" or "clinical grade," meaning it is suitable for aromatherapy applications, although there is no regulatory definition for these terms.) If the bottle does not say it is 100 percent pure essential oil, you may be purchasing a fragrance oil. Such oils are fine for scenting candles, but they contain synthetic agents and are void of antimicrobial properties.

A Word about Safety

Although the ingredients you will be using to make cleaning formulas are of organic origin, that doesn't mean they are without consequences if ingested.

Essential oils are highly concentrated forms of the volatile oils found in plants and should never be used internally. Just a few drops are equivalent to approximately 30 or 40 cups of herbal tea. Take special care with food-related oils; citrus oil, for example, could offer a temptation to a young child who may mistake a finished product as something delicious to eat or drink. Also, some essential oils, and other materials recommended in this book, can be irritating to the skin.

Please exercise the same caution with these herbal cleaning formulas as you would with any commercial cleaner, and keep them away from pets and children.

Getting Started

Now, you may be wondering what you need to get started making and using all-natural cleaning products. The following must-have items will create a large variety of cleaners for all sorts of different surfaces and jobs.

Supplies at a Glance

The basic supplies required for making your own cleaners are generally inexpensive and easy to find. To make the widest array of products for the home, the following are the items to have on hand.

Baking soda. Otherwise known as bicarbonate of soda, you can find this ingredient very inexpensively at any supermarket or grocery store, usually in the baking supplies aisle.

Beeswax. This solid substance, usually in chunk or brick form, is available at art and craft stores, candle supply shops, and sometimes from local beekeepers.

Carnauba wax. The hardest natural wax known, made from a Brazilian palm tree, this item is sold by furniture stores and mail-order companies. Look for it in flaked form.

Castile soap. An important ingredient, castile soap is sold at health food stores, in some supermarkets, and via mail order.

Citrus seed extract. Usually made from grapefruit seed, this natural preservative is a powerful antimicrobial agent. It is typically sold in capsule form as grapefruit seed extract, also known as ParaMicrocidin, and is available online and at some health food stores.

Cream of tartar. A popular culinary ingredient, this powdered mixture is sold in a box in the herb and spice or baking aisle of any supermarket.

Diatomaceous earth. This powder, made from the skeletons of fossilized algae, is available at garden supply and hardware stores, as well as through mail-order companies. Note, however, that this type of food-grade diatomaceous earth is not the same substance that you can buy from pool supply centers.

Essential oils. These concentrated volatile oils of plants can be found at health food stores and specialty shops and via mail order.

Glycerin. Glycerin is a useful liquid for cleaners, medicines, and even some craft projects. You'll find it at art and craft stores, some pharmacies, and natural food stores.

Lanolin. Lanolin, an oily substance derived from sheep's wool, can be purchased from mail-order companies.

Murphy's Oil Soap. A very popular liquid soap for wood, Murphy's is sold at just about any supermarket. Check the cleaning products aisle.

Soap flakes. Order online or buy pure castile soap at the health food store and grate it yourself.

Washing soda. Washing soda's generic name is sodium carbonate, and it's also known as soda ash. Some supermarkets stock Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda in the laundry products aisle. If yours doesn't, you can purchase it online.

White vinegar. Used in many cuisines, white vinegar is found in the oil aisle of any supermarket.

Suggested Equipment

Many of these implements may already be on hand. Wash and rinse the containers from your old products and they're ready to service you again in your nontoxic cleaning chores. Be sure to label your product with a list of ingredients; any type of label from an office supply, stationery, or grocery store will do. While you're at it, be creative and give your formula a catchy name! Since labels can get wet, they are best covered with clear shipping tape or laminating sheets cut to size. Plan to keep the following around:

Spray bottles. Get both small and large sizes.

Containers with shaker tops. Spice containers are great.

Misters (glass pump spray bottles).

Coffee cans with lids. These are great for storing waxes and pastes.

Glass jars. Preferably get widemouthed jars with screw-top lids.

Cotton cloths. When possible, use cloths instead of paper towels.

Rags. T-shirts, scrap cotton cloth, and old towels are examples of good rags for cleaning.

Cellulose sponge cloth. Made of natural cellulose, these are absorbent, nonscratching, washable, and durable.

Gallon buckets. For large jobs.

Mops. Use a cotton-head mop for floors and a sponge-head mop for carpets and walls.

Making a Starter Kit

The following essential oils are inexpensive, readily available, and the most effective in cleaning formulas and are recommended throughout this book. You are not held hostage to this list or any particular essential oil on it. In fact, you're encouraged to experiment and make substitutions when necessary. But keep in mind that certain cleaning formulas may recommend using tea tree over sweet orange, for example, because the former contains specific properties. See the chart for guidance.

  • Lavender
  • Peppermint
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Sweet orange
  • Tea tree
  • Thyme

Essential Oils and Their Properties

A great number of plants contain volatile compounds with antibacterial, antifungal, and/or antiviral properties. The list on the next page is by no means complete, but it represents some of the more commonly available essential oils that are effective and that won't break the bank.

Essential Oil







antibiotic, antiviral




antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial




antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial


antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial




antibiotic, antibacterial





Sweet orange



antibiotic, antiviral


antibiotic, antibacterial




antifungal, antibacterial



Tea tree

antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial


antibiotic, antifungal, antiviral


antibacterial (take extra care when handling)

Chapter 2The Kitchen

To me, the kitchen is the hub and heart of a home. This room is more than a storage receptacle for culinary sundries; it's where we gather with cherished family and friends for mealtime celebrations. Unfortunately, it's also the room where the garbage is usually kept, where a bare floor endures the patter of muddy feet, and where the odor of grease and last night's fish stubbornly linger. In other words, it's a haven for germs. Save for the loo, the kitchen is probably the most frequented room in the house and is most in need of daily cleaning.

It's a pity that most of us grew up to think a clean kitchen is only evidenced by the overwhelming and pungent smell of a pine solvent. And little did we realize that our nervous systems were being treated to an assault of toxins. But you can create your own cost-effective, healthy alternatives to all the kitchen cleaners you're accustomed to using.

Washing the Dishes


On Sale
Mar 30, 2021
Page Count
224 pages

Karyn Siegel-Maier

Karyn Siegel-Maier

About the Author

Karyn Siegel-Maier is the best-selling author of The Naturally Clean Home and a writer who specializes in herbal medicine, natural health and wellness, and green living. Her work has appeared in numerous consumer and industry publications, including Mother Earth Living, Mother Earth News, Let’s Live, Natural Living Today, Real Woman, The Herb Quarterly, Delicious!, Better Nutrition, Natural Pharmacy, and Energy Times. A life-long student of herbal wisdom, guided by the seasons, she spends her time writing, foraging, gardening, cooking, and practicing the botanical arts, from tincturing to blending teas and making natural products for the home and body. She lives in the Catskill Mountains of New York and can be found online at

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