Super Fantastic Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner

by | May 15, 2009 | housekeeping | 17 comments

Sometimes, in marriage, you have the same argument over and over about a stupid little thing, and generally agree that you’re at an impasse. And then, suddenly, the problem is solved! That’s what happened here.

For ten years Dave and I have been arguing about all-purpose cleaner. He likes to use ones like Formula 409, that work very well but are made of toxic chemicals. I like to use ones by Seventh Generation that are all natural, but don’t work as well, plus cost a lot more. Really, we were both right (aren’t I diplomatic?); hence, the impasse.

Enter, Craft magazine! Issue #10 (their last printed issue, sadly), featured a story on The Purple Fig Cleaning Company, a company which helps you host your own all-natural cleaning products party. There’s a recipe for all-purpose cleaner in the article, and I was surprised to realize that I had all of the ingredients in the house (every single ingredient was in a completely different part of the house, and it never would have occurred to me to mix all these things together in a spray bottle).

I am here to tell you that this cleaner is better than any I’ve used, toxic or not, and smells fabulous and costs pennies and now we can check Marital Debate #12: Cleaner off of our list. Hurray!

All-Purpose Cleaner

1. Mix 1 Tbsp borax and 1 tsp baking soda in 2 cups warm water.
2. Add 1/2-3/4 tsp (3 ml) tea tree oil.
3. Add 1/2-3/4 tsp (3 ml) liquid Castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s).
4. Pour this mixture into a spray bottle.



  1. liz

    where do you get borax? i know i’ve bought it in the past (for some kid-related science experiment, no doubt), but i can’t remember if they have it in the “arcane, old fashioned stuff” section of the grocery store or what. i wanna make some cleaner! (also, vinegar is stinky but magical…and i discovered recently that baking soda works just like bleach on yer bathtub or stained tea mug or whatever).

  2. Julie

    Borax is in the laundry aisle. I’d never bought until a few months ago, when I started contemplating making my own cleanser. I bought it but never opened it until I made the Craft cleanser. I did make a window cleaner with vinegar, which yes, works great, but does make my house smell like salad dressing.

  3. Clog

    These are all cleaners that my mother and grandmother used. Nana’s mother used to make her own laundry soap with lye….she didn’t have any skin on her hands, but boy her laundry coruscated and it was the height of pride if your white sheets were the first ones flapping on the line on a Monday morning. How times have changed!

  4. sutswana

    Forget the cleanser. The highlight of this post is my relief that you’re not hosting a make-your-own party and are merely touting this great recipe.

  5. Julie

    Didn’t Nana use borax as some kind of ant trap, also? I would love to make my own laundry detergent, but I’m not so crazy as to break out lye. Our neighbors hang out their laundry and I sort of wish we did too, but I can’t think of where we could put a line where the clothes wouldn’t get covered in sand and dirt by the end of the day.

    Sutswana, you hereby have my solemn pledge that I will never ever host any kind of work-at-home-scheme party. I can’t deal with that kind of pressure. You have enough trouble living across the street from an Avon lady.

  6. SereneBabe

    just need to get some borax… (heard borax is good for getting ants away, not that we have them, but, more than one use is always good)

  7. Anne

    “Make own cleaner” has been on my to-do list for a while. If this works as well as you say, then I’ll definitely give it a shot!

    sutswana made me laugh aloud with her response, re: relief at not having to go to some sort of Party(TM).

  8. Elizabeth

    What exactly is Borax, anyway? We have an ant problem at the moment, so maybe I can solve two problems with good ol’ Borax (whatever it may be)!

  9. Christina

    this is great- thanks for sharing this. Does it need to be mixed up each time or would it keep in the bottle for a bit do you think?

  10. Julie

    Christina, it doesn’t need to be mixed up each time. I made a batch and it lasted weeks and weeks, with no remixing required.

    Mom, am I right about Nana making a Borax recipe as an ant trap? Elizabeth, I think it had something to do with borax, sugar, and water.

    And no, I don’t know what it is.

  11. Lisa van Oosterum

    HAHAH>>.Sutswana, I am glad I wasn’t drinking any beverage when I read your comment. I currently have baking soda and water from that list. Hmmm. I love love love the smell of tea tree oil though.

  12. Clog

    Ok, are you ready for this. Grayling would chow this down in one minute.
    Bug Ball – 12 oz of Borax, 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 chopped onion, 1/2 cup shortening. Mix together and add enough water to make small balls that you place around where ants, etc. are visible. I would really not do this with kids in the house

  13. Dae Lightening

    What is tea tree oil?
    Can you suggest any brands?
    Are there substitutes for tea tree oil?

  14. Dae Lightening

    What is tea tree oil?
    Can anybody recommend a brand?
    Are there substitutes for tea tree oil in this recipe?

  15. Julie

    Tea tree oil is this fairly amazing stuff…oh, and now that I’ve started this, I realize I have no idea what it is exactly. From the tea? tree? Anyway, it’s got antibacterial qualities. Smells great, like eucalyptus. If you put it on a cut, it helps heal it. You can get it at the health food store, or from online places. I use Desert Essence brand, but not because it’s particularly wonderful (though it is good) but because it comes in larger bottles, so I don’t go through it so quickly.

    I don’t think there are any substitutes. It’s really worth getting it.

  16. emily

    although, I have to say this terrible thing about tea tree oil, sorry to be a downer– when you call poison control because your first son has dumped the contents of your spraybottle that you foolishly left out onto his 11-month-old brother’s head because little brother “needed a haircut”, they get really nervous about the tea tree oil. He’s fine, didn’t ingest any, but they really want to know that, becuase, evidently, ingested in quite small portions (like two teaspoons) it causes coma. I don’t know why it causes coma, we didn’t dig, just listened to them go on and on about it, and washed the baby many times.

    we still use the cleaner which is indeed AWESOME! but I’m going for peppermint oil next time, which goes with the dr. bronners.

  17. Julie

    Ack! Who knew? COMA?! Yikes. I do, um, really love it though. It smells so good. I’ll have to lock it up or something.

    3-year-old Henry once dumped an entire canister of baby powder onto baby Eli’s head. “Look! He is white!”


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