Government of New Brunswick

As we clean our homes and try to control indoor pests, we may introduce chemicals that do more harm than the 'household germs' and 'dirt' we're trying to get rid of. Generations of people have lived well without harsh chemical cleaners, however, and we have that choice, too. Regular cleaning is the answer, not new and ever-stronger chemical cleaners.

Try some of the alternatives suggested below; then buy the ingredients and mix up the homemade cleaners that are 'customized' to suit your needs.

Air Freshener

Remove sources of odours, and open the windows to bring in fresh air. Many common houseplants are believed to help clean the air of harmful chemicals: the more growing plants, the better. To add a special scent to a room, set out bowls of potpourri or bouquets of flowers, or simmer sweet herbs in water.

  • For cooking odours, set out small bowls of white vinegar; or simmer equal parts of vinegar and water with a few whole cloves, bay leaves, or citrus peels.
  • In small spaces, like cupboards and refrigerators, an open container of baking soda will absorb odours. Sprinkle a little baking soda into the kitchen garbage pail.
  • In closets and drawers, tuck sachets of potpourri in among the clothing; or wrap your favourite mix of dried herbs in scraps of cloth.


All-Purpose Cleaner

You can make up large batches of these low cost cleaners and store them in clean, reusabe containers.  Remember to always label containers,  Keep some in a spray bottle for quick clean-up jobs on all types of hard surfaces.

  • For everyday cleaning:  1/4 cup white vinegar or baking soda in 1 L water.
  • For tough jobs:  1 tsp washing soda dissolved in 1 L very warm water.
  • A heavy-duty grease cleaner for special jobs, like barbeque grills:  dissolve 3 Tbsp washing soda and 1 tsp liquid soap in a 1L very warm water.


Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner

Keep your carpet fresh and extend its useful life with regular vacuum cleaning, especially in high-traffic areas. Regular vacuuming of upholstery will keep it looking new longer, and remove the dirt that wears out the fabric fibres.

Note: Always test cleaning products or stain-removal treatments in a hidden area first, and have valuable antique or wool rugs and upholstery cleaned professionally.

To clean, deodorize, and brighten carpets and upholstery made of synthetics, rub with a cloth or brush dampened in 1/4 cup white vinegar to a litre of hot water.

Stains should be treated before they have a chance to set. Most stains should be gently sponged with cool water (or equal amounts of white vinegar and water), then pressed with clean cloths or towels to soak up the moisture. Always start at the edge of a stain and work toward the centre, so it won't spread.

  • When candle wax drips on a carpet or upholstered furniture, allow it to cool and harden, then gently scrape off as much as you can. Cover the area with paper towels, napkins or brown bags and press it gently with a warm iron, turning or folding the paper to expose a fresh surface as it absorbs the wax.
  • For red wine and fruit juice spills, blot up as much as possible and sponge with club soda.
  • When food spills, scrape it off and sprinkle lightly with cornstarch or baking soda to absorb liquid and grease. Let it dry, then vacuum or brush off. Finally, sponge the stain with cool water, club soda, vinegar and water (half-and-half), or 1 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1 cup water.



Water-heating appliances build up mineral deposits that keep them from working efficiently. Many manufacturers of kettles, steam irons, and coffee makers now recommend heating white vinegar and water in the appliance to clean it (check the instructions).

Taps, faucets and showerheads can collect ugly grey hard-water deposits. Apply pure vinegar to dissolve the worst build-up, repeating several times over a one-hour period. Scrub with baking soda on an old toothbrush to remove any traces that remain in tight corners.



Dishwashing Liquid

Automatic dishwashers use extremely caustic detergents. Look for brands that are phosphate-free, chlorine-free, and biodegradable. Run the dishwasher only with a full load to save water and energy.

For hand-washing, choose biodegradable and phosphate-free dish detergents, or use liquid soap with a splash of white vinegar to cut grease. Reduce packaging waste: buy large sizes to refill a sink-side squeeze bottle. Dilute dish-washing liquid with water: we often use more than is needed. Fill a basin or sink with rinse water, rather than running the tap.

  • To remove tea or coffee stains from china, wet with vinegar and rub with salt; or soda
  • For burned-on food in pots and baking pans, first gently scrape off as much as possible. Then spread a layer of baking soda over the area, add 1/4-inch of hot water, and let it soak for an hour before washing. Scrub with salt. Note: remember that baking soda can discolour aluminum pots and pans.
  • As non-stick pans get older, a build-up of grease can start to make foods stick and burn. To extend the life of the pan, add 2 Tbsp. of baking soda to each cup of hot water needed to fill it. Boil, let cool for 15 minutes, then wash as usual. Remember to "season" the pan with a light coat of vegetable oil before using it next.



The sanitizing effects of household disinfectants last for only a few minutes, before those 'household germs' always present in the air settle back onto the cleaned surface.

If a medical problem requires special hygienic precautions, your doctor will be able to give you instructions. Otherwise, faithful use of soap and water or an All-Purpose Cleaner will keep the home safely clean.



Drain Opener

Prevent drain problems! Catch hair and food scraps with a screen or drain trap, and never pour grease down the drain. Deodorize and maintain drains with a weekly treatment of 1/2 cup baking soda, rinsed with a kettle of boiling water. Or pour in 1/4 cup vinegar and do not rinse.

  • If drains to start to run slowly, remove as much as you can of the material blocking the pipe.  Pour 1/2 cup baking soda straight into the drain, then 1/2 cup vinegar.  This will start fizzing:  cover the opening and let it work for at least 15 minutes before rinsing with lots of boiling water.  Repeat if necessary.
  • For very stubborn logs, use washing soda instead of baking soda.
  • When water stands in a clogged sink or tub, try to shift the blockage with a plumber's "snake" or a plunger.



Dusting Aid

Instead of using an aerosol or spray product, which may be inhaled by accident, just moisten your dusting cloth with a few drops of olive oil mixed into 2 Tbsp lemon juice. This picks up dust, smells good and leaves a rich shine, particularly on wood.



Floor Cleaner & Polish

A good cleaner for linoleum, tiles, and no-wax flooring is a mixture of 1 Tbsp. soap and 1/4 cup lemon juice or vinegar in a pail of warm water. Or use one of the previously suggested homemade All-Purpose Cleaners.

Do not use washing soda on no-wax floors, as it may dull the finish.

  • Polish clean floors with a paste of cornstarch and water, rubbed on and buffed with a soft cloth to a shine.
  • Wax stripper:  spread a thin paste of washing soda and a very hot water over the floor and let it dry completely before scrubbing off.  Add a splash of vinegar to the final rinse water.
  • Wood floors often need special care depending on the finish and the type of wood used, so follow an installers instructions.  Too much water will raise the grain on any wood that is not protected with a waterproof sealant.


Furniture Polish

Finished wooden furniture can be cleaned and polished beautifully with 2 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp vinegar shaken up in 1 L of warm water. This cleaner works best when it's warm; if necessary, reheat it as you would a baby's bottle, by setting the container in a pan of warm water.

For a heavier polish, mix equal amounts of olive oil and vinegar --or lemon juice, if you like a lemon scent. Whichever polish you choose, buff it dry with a clean soft cloth.

  • Prevent water marks (those white rings left on furniture) by using coasters under cups and glasses and wiping up spills immediately. If wine or alcohol has spilled, rub the spot immediately with a little olive oil to limit the damage.
  • Water marks can sometimes be removed, if the finish has not been badly damaged: rub olive oil into the spot. Or try a very mild abrasive like white toothpaste or a paste of salt and vegetable oil.
  • Minor scratches can sometimes be disguised if you break a walnut (which has been shelled) or other nut in half and rub the scratch with the fresh edge of the nut.
  • For light scorch marks on wood, apply mayonnaise and let it stand up to 24 hours, then wash and re-wax or polish.
  • To remove decals or paper stuck to a table, soak it with olive oil or vegetable oil and leave it overnight, then rub with a soft cloth.


Insect Pest Treatments

The presence of insect pests in and around your home is to be expected. To manage them, consider implementing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices. IPM involves the use of various control measures to reduce pest populations. This includes managing the pest problem with a variety of physical, biological, and cultural practices, and if necessary, by use of a pesticide. By using one or more of these measures, control can be achieved with minimal impact on human safety and the environment. Here are just a few IPM practices you could try:

Discourage insects by keeping food in sealed containers, screening windows, and blocking any cracks or crevices where insects enter the home. Vacuum regularly, with particular attention to corners, baseboards, heating vents, and other dark warm hiding places.


  • Wash pet bedding in hot soapy water, and treat your pet for fleas, too.


  • A ceiling fan, besides making the room more pleasant in summer, will create air currents that flies don't like.
  • Invest in an old-fashioned fly-swatter, or use a rolled-up newspaper.  A fly can produce hundreds of offspring, so killing them one by one is more productive than it might seem!
  • Fly-paper is another old-fashioned remedy, most effective when hung near the ceiling.  If you can't find some, make your own by coating a strip of yellow paper with stick honey (or one of the sticky pest control substances sold at garden centres).
  • Fly traps using bottles or screens are available commercially, by mail order or at some garden centres: and you can use simple baits like stale beer, molasses and yeast, or buttermilk.


  • Moth eggs and larvae can't survive a week or more of extreme heat or cold.  Store winter clothing and extra blankets in a hot attick for the summer; and store summer clothing in an unheated space for the winter.
  • When clothing must be stored for more than one season, take it out once in a while and hang it in the sun.  Shake it out to dislodge any insects and eggs hidden in the folds and seams, and vacuum the storage space before replacing the clothing.


  • Prevention is always the best defence against roaches: keep your home clean, and as dry as possible. Store food in closed containers and wash dishes promptly. Fix leaking pipes, faucets, or toilets, and wrap any pipes that collect condensation. Check for moisture under refrigerators and other appliances. Use a garbage container with a tight lid. Don't store large stacks of newspapers or piles of old clothing. Pile firewood some distance away from the house. Seal whatever small cracks and crevices you can, and repair loose wallpaper.
  • Among commercial products, the sticky traps ('roach motels') are safer than sprays. If you plan to call in a professional exterminator, ensure that they are properly certified.


  • Vacuum their warm hiding places, like heating vents and linen closets.



Laundry Products

Look for phosphate-free, unscented laundry detergent; or, better yet, switch to soap. Soap flAkes you can buy in a supermarket still tend to be scented; but unscented laundry soap is becoming more readily available at health food stores, bulk food outlets, and pharmacies carrying "green" product lines.

With either soap or detergent, you can often get a good clean wash by using as little as half the amount of the product suggested by the manufacturers' instructions. Experiment to see how much you really need. (For best results, put the soap or detergent into the washer first, then start running the water before you add the clothing.)

Fabric Softener

Washing with soap automatically leaves laundry softer to the touch -- which is why many people use soap for baby's clothes and bedding.

With soap, you can skip the fabric softener completely, saving money and reducing waste by one more plastic jug or box. With detergents, just add 1/3 cup baking soda to the wash.


  • Brighten yellowed clothes by hanging them to dry in bright sunshine whenever possible.
  • Spot-treat stains, rather than adding bleach to the entire laundry load.
  • Use chlorine bleach as little as possible.  Very corrosive, it weakens fabric fibres so your clothes won't last as long.  Start with milder alternatives, like vinegar-and-water, lemon juice or undiluted vinegar.  Move up to hydrogen peroxide for really tough stains, but always check fabric care instructions before using any form of bleaching agent.

Static Control

  • Vinegar - 1/4 to 1/2 cup int he final rinse water -- will fight "static cling."  Hang clothing to dry when possible, remove it fron the dryer whenit is still slightly damp, or toss a small wet towel into the dryer during the last five minutes of the cycle.


  • For an inexpensive alternative to laundry starch, mix 2 tsp cornstarch and 1 cup water in a spray bottle.  Use more cornstarch for stiffer fabric.  Shake the solution well before spraying.


How to Remove Detergent Residue

To make the switch to soap, first just wash each laundry load with plain water to which 125 ml (1/2 cup) washing soda has been added. This removes any detergent residues which, left in the fibres, might react with soap to yellow the clothing.

Test for Water Hardness

You can get fine results with soap even if your water supply contains a lot of dissolved minerals. Just add 60-125 ml (1/4 to 1/2 cup) of washing soda to the soap.

How do you know if you have hard water?
Here's a simple test: Mix 5 ml (1 tsp.) soap flakes with 500 ml (2 cups) water in a covered container, and shake to work up suds. If you get lots of bubbles, and they last a good few minutes, you won't need to add a water softener for laundry soap to be its most effective.

How to Keep Dyes from Running


Depending on the quality of the fabric dye used, you can sometimes stop colours from running in the wash by soaking the article in cold salt water (about 60 ml or 1/4 cup salt to a sinkful of water) for an hour or two. Rinse, then launder according to the manufacturer's care label, washing the article alone the first time to check its colourfastness.


Metal Cleaners


  • Wash by hand in soapy water.  To remove stains, soak in equal parts of vinegar and just-boiled water; or boil vinegar and water inside discoloured aluminum pots to restore them.  Note baking soda or washing soda can discolour aluminum.

Brass & Copper

  • Polish with ordinary white toothpaste, or with a homemade paste of equal parts of salt and lemon juice or white vinegar, rinse with very warm water, and buff to a shine.

Gold & Jewellery

  • Gold and most jewellery - except pearls! - can be cleaned with mild soap and lukewarm water, or 1 tsp baking soda in 1/4 cup water.  Do not soak for more than a minute, and never use hot water.  Rub with a soft cloth, rinse, and  buff dry.


  • Dust regularly. Wash with mild soapy water and rinse well before drying. Do not polish pewter, unless otherwise directed by the manufacturer. If you want a little bit of shine, rub the piece with wet cabbage leaves and buff dry.


  • To slow the tarnishing process, store silver out of the light, wrapped in a soft cloth or clear plastic.  Use a few drops of olive oil to polish the silver pieces you want to display.
  • Clean silver with a paste of baking soda and water, or with white toothpaste, rinse well with hot water, and buff dry.
  • Chains or pieces with an intricate detail can be soaked for an hour or two in equal parts of milk and vinegar, or overnight in whole milk.  Then, wash with hot soapy water and polish dry.

Stainless Steel

  • Clean with baking soda on a damp cloth, or with warm soapy water.  Polish up a shine with a cloth dampened in club soda or vinegar.
  • If something rusty has marked a stainless steel sink, cover the spot with a cloth soaked in vinegar and let it stand for one half-hour.  Scrub with a gritty paste of salt and vinegar, or with ordinary white toothpaste.
Electrolytic Silver

Place pieces of aluminum foil in bottom of plastic tub or sink with 4 Litres (about 3 1/2 quarts) hot water, add 60 ml (1/4 cup) baking soda or washing soda. Set the silver into the tub, making sure that the water covers all the parts to be cleaned. Rinse with hot water, and polish dry.

Caution: soak for no more than 10 minutes with baking soda, 5 minutes with washing soda. Do not use this method for cleaning valuable antiques, flatware with cemented handles, or artifically “aged” silver.


Mold & Mildew Treatments
  • Fresh air and controlled humidity - use exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens, open windows in fine weather - will help keep the ugly black spots of mould and mildew from forming.  Natural sunlight is also a great mildew-fighter.
  • Soak new fabric shower curtains in salted water before hanging them.
  • Sponge mildewed surfaces, like shower curtains and window frames, with full-strength vinegar.  Let it evaporate without rinsing.  Repeat this treatment from time to time to discourage mildew from returning.


Oven Cleaner

Prevention is the key to avoiding this least popular of cleaning chores! Put a cookie sheet under pies or other dishes that may bubble over when baking, and wipe out the oven with a damp cloth after use, waiting until the oven has cooled, but is not cold. Clean regularly with one of the previously mentioned All-Purpose Cleaners.


Pet Products

Cat Boxes

  • Scrub cat boxes regularly with baking soda and water, which will deoderize as it cleans safely.  Never use chlorine bleach, which can combine with the ammonia in urine to make very harmful fumes.  Besides, the smell of ammonia-based cleaners may discourage cats from using the box.


  • Animals are much more likely to suffer from sores and insect bites when their skin is dry and flaky. Avoid harsh detergents and soaps with deodorants or perfumes: instead, wash your pet with an inexpensive baby shampoo or a pure soap.
  • Brush baking soda through the pet's fur for a deodorizing 'dry shampoo' in winter



Scouring Powder
  • Baking soda is a safe scouring powder that won't scratch, removes many stains, and deodorizes while it cleans. Buy baking soda in bulk; keep it handy and properly labeled in a large shaker. (Do not use baking soda on aluminum, as it may discolour it.)
  • For stronger scouring, use washing soda on a damp cloth. Cleaning is made easier with an old toothbrush, a nailbrush, or a non-scratching scrub-pad made by rolling up old pantyhose.


Shoe Cleaner & Polish

Stale beer or skim milk will clean smooth leather. Shine it with a little olive oil or nut oil on a clean cloth.

Clean suede and other napped leathers by rubbing gently with the heel of a loaf of stale bread.

  • Smooth, human-made materials can be sponged with soapy water or one of the safe All-Purpose Cleaners previously noted.
  • Remove salt stains from winter boots by sponging with white vinegar.
  • For greasy stains on smooth leather, rub with an egg white, beaten stiff.


Toilet Bowl Cleaner

Wash toilets regularly with an All-Purpose Cleaner. Spray into the bowl, particularly up under the rim where hard-water deposits can discolour it, and let stand 5 minutes before scrubbing clean with a toilet brush.

Note: If you have used a slow-release type of cleaner in the toilet tank, check that the chlorine has gone before you use any other type of cleaner. Flush, then put a few drops of food colouring into the bowl as it fills with water. If the colour remains after 15 or 20 minutes, the water is probably free of chlorine and it is safe to clean the bowl.

  • Dissolve hard-water deposits by covering them with a cloth or paper towels soaked in undiluted vinegar.  Leave it for an hour or two, then remove the cloth and scour the area with baking soda.


Tub & Tile Cleaners

For general bathroom cleaning, add 1/4 cup white vinegar and 2 tsp baking soda to a pail of warm water and wipe down surfaces. Or use any of the All-Purpose Cleaners you may have mixed up for other cleaning jobs.

  • Scour tubs, sinks, fixtures and tiles and tub enclosures with baking soda.
  • This tub-and-tile spray cleaner really cuts through soap scum: In a clean spray bottle, mix 1/2 tsp. washing soda, 1/2 tsp. liquid soap, 3 Tbsp. white vinegar and 2 cups very hot water, shaking to mix and dissolve. Just spray and wipe!
  • Clean grout with baking soda or washing soda on a damp toothbrush.


Walls and Wallpaper Cleaners

Choose dirt-resistant and washable surfaces for walls in high-traffic areas, and dust regularly, especially in the corners that collect cobwebs.

Wash walls with one of the gentle All-Purpose Cleaners previously noted, starting at the bottom and working up the wall to catch any drips. Always test cleaners in a hidden corner, first.

  • Rub smudges with a slice of stale bread or an art gum eraser.
  • For grease spots, apply a paste of cornstarch or baking soda and water, let it dry in place, then gently brush off. Repeat if necessary.
  • Rub crayon marks with baking soda sprinkled on a damp cloth.


Window and Glass Cleaner

Plain water will clean all but the dirtiest of windows. For tougher jobs, wash with 1 tsp soap flakes dissolved in a pail of warm water. Or mix 1 Tbsp of vinegar with enough water to fill a clean spray bottle.

  • Newspapers polish windows without leaving lint. Use the oldest papers in the house, so fresh newsprint won't come off on your hands and window frames.
  • To keep bathroom mirrors from fogging up after a steamy shower, try rubbing them with just a dab of glycerin.



On painted woodwork, use one of the previously mentioned homemade All-Purpose Cleaners, listed in this guide. Remove greasy fingerprints by rubbing with a soft cloth soaked in equal parts vinegar and water.

  • Clean finished, unpainted woodwork regularly to prevent built-up dirt and fingerprints from causing permanent stains: use equal amounts of olive oil and lemon juice on a soft cloth.
  • Unfinished woodwork can be cleaned carefully with a mixture of 2 parts olive oil to 1 part rubbing alcohol.