Go green and spring clean on a budget


Vinegar, salt and toothpaste are a few examples of common household items that can be used for spring cleaning purposes.

By Bridget Hynes

As spring break approaches, there is no better time to plan a spring cleaning session than before leaving for break. Natural, homemade cleaning supplies can be an environmentally friendly option for students on a college budget.

Heidi Wilcox, field specialist at the University of Massachusetts’ Lowell Toxics Use Reduction Institute, said the TURI Cleaning Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts offers an online database of homemade green-cleaning recipes.

Here are some ways to minimize exposure to chemicals by using common household items for spring-cleaning purposes:

All-purpose cleaner

Use variations of vinegar, lemon juice, water and baking soda for an all-purpose cleaner. Acids in the lemon juice and vinegar will work together, and the baking soda gives makes the scrub abrasive, according to Wilcox.

“It may take some elbow grease, but there will be less chemicals in your life,” she said.

To use as a scrubbing agent for bathtubs and sinks, add more baking soda. To use in a spray bottle, add more vinegar and water.

Microwave cleaner

Microwave a bowl of water on high for five minutes. The steam will loosen the food stuck to the sides of the microwave and make it easier to clean.

Oven cleaner

Combine water, salt and vegetable oil based liquid soap. Spread a thin layer of this mixture on the bottom of the inside of an oven. Add baking soda and allow to sit over night. Wipe off and rinse with soap and water.

Drain cleaner

Use a combination of baking soda and vinegar to break up drain scum.

“The reaction between the acid and the base can break up any buildup that you have in your pipes,” said Joy Scrogum, emerging technologies resource specialist at the ISTC.

Hand soap substitute

Mix small pieces of old soap bars with water, and put this mixture into an empty hand soap dispenser.

Glass Cleaner

Put vinegar and water in a spray bottle and use as a window or mirror cleaner, Scrogum said.


A small bowl of vinegar or a box of baking soda will eliminate odors when placed in an area that needs freshening.

Scrubbing Agent

Use salt on a damp sponge to scour a surface. Laura Barnes, sustainability information curator at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) said that people often use Kosher salt for this purpose because of its thickness.

Silver cleaner

Apply toothpaste to a toothbrush and use to scrub silver faucets or other types of silver.

Paper towel substitutes

In place of paper towels, use old t-shirts that aren’t in good shape to be donated, or cut up old towels and sheets, according to Scrogum.

Grill Grate Cleaner

Use aluminum foil to clean residue from grill grates.

Sweat Stain Remover

Make a paste from baking soda and water or salt and water to remove perspiration stains from clothes.

Disposable mop substitute

Instead of using mops with disposable heads, use mops with reusable heads that can be washed. Scrogum said she cringes when she sees people buying mops with disposable heads.

“We’re such a disposable society, I hate to see folks buy one more thing to throw away,” she said.

Floor Cleaner

Use a pencil eraser to eliminate heel marks. Use an olive oil-based soap, baking soda and water to scrub or mop a floor.

* Recipes courtesy of the University of Massachusetts Lowell Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI)

Bridget can be reached at [email protected]