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When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemonade… and Household Cleaners

The expression “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade” has become very familiar in our house as of late. In December 2012, I was terminated from my dream job, yes the job that I had hoped to retire from in about five years. With an unemployment rate of nearly 10 per cent in the London area, there are not that many jobs available for someone who is approaching retirement. Nevertheless we still have to live and eat and do the essentials necessary for survival. The challenge is lack of income!

A couple of months after my work termination my chiropractor, Dr. Scott Staellart, put forth a 30-day health challenge. The challenge wasn’t just to eat healthy and get fit, but to be conscious of the types of containers we use to store our food, and to try to eliminate chemicals from our cleaning chores. Since I love to research and find the “better mouse trap,” this was just what I needed to occupy my mind; also I thought that I might save a few pennies.

Food Supplies – The first focus was our grocery staples. I have always liked the bulk food stores, but decided to frequent them more often. As a result, I am saving money by buying in quantities that we need and I am buying it minus the expensive and cumbersome packaging. As for the recycle bin, the number of tin cans it contains has been reduced dramatically as has the amount of cardboard.

My grocery shopping now involves a trip to the Farmer’s Market where I can get the portions that we need and a better organic selection, a stop at the bulk food store, health food store, and my favourite ethnic shops, with the odd trip to a or larger grocery store for a few staple items.

Clothing and Knick Knacks – I have always liked thrift shops and second-hand stores as I feel they play a strong role in the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle). They are not only important now for the occasional item of clothing, but I have also found some interesting glass containers to store all of my creations in.

Floor Cleaners – The next step was the household cleaning products. I started off with floor cleaner, making my own with vinegar and water, combined with a few drops of essential oils. For the kitchen, living room, and bathrooms I use oil of lemon balm; for the bedrooms, the floor cleaner oil of choice is lavender. I had read in an issue of Vitality of the dangers of pets ingesting floor cleaner and had been concerned about Baby, our rescue cat. With all chemical floor cleaners removed from our home, that problem is now solved.

Countertops, Sinks, Appliances, Dishes – I was so happy with the floors that I branched out and made my own cleaner for countertops and other flat surfaces. The windows get their regular cleaning with vinegar and water, and for a powdery scrub the sinks get cleaned with baking soda.

I was so excited about the success of the first couple of steps that I thought I would try making my own soap for the dishwasher and also liquid dish soap. Another victory! I have even gone as far as to make the dishwasher tabs. For the rinse aid, it is now vinegar.

Laundry Detergents – Laundry day is no exception! I love my homemade laundry soap and am ecstatic that a load of laundry costs me about five cents. Once again, good old vinegar has come to the rescue for the fabric softener. The reward of hanging clothes outside to dry is not only the cost savings, but the fresh air smell is a bonus in itself. When winter approaches, and I have to use the dryer, I will be making fabric softener sheets out of pieces of old t-shirts, soaked in vinegar and sprinkled with a drop or two of essential oils.

Personal Care – Growing up with parents who had survived the Great Depression, one did not spend money on anything frivolous. Hair conditioner was a want, not a need. I remembered rinsing my hair with vinegar, so a bit more research and I found a recipe for conditioner using Apple Cider Vinegar; I also found a recipe for a herbal tea shampoo. The cost is very small and my hair is healthier. I am also making my own hand soap, toothpaste, and skincare.

Gardening – With the onset of spring and the urge to get the garden planted, I thought about the cost of buying bedding plants. Every year I like to add some more perennials, thus more expense. After a few phone calls and conversation with other gardeners, we decided to do an exchange. It was fun, a “garden party” so to speak. We traded herbs and perennials, and a couple of people offered some of the tomato plants and peppers that they had started earlier. One neighbour offered me all of her rhubarb in exchange for me helping clean up her flower beds.

In Conclusion

I feel as if I have come full circle; that I am going back to the way things were when I was a child. Sure there is a bit of work involved. It’s not a matter of going to the grocery store, putting the store-bought items away when I get home and then just opening a box or bottle, but I’ve turned this into a hobby and I’m constantly looking now for more alternatives and money savers.

This taste of ‘lemonade’ that I experienced is probably something that everyone could use as a wakeup call. I have always been fairly frugal, but suddenly I had to tighten the belt even more. As a result of taking a negative situation and trying to make it more positive, I am not only saving money, but we are eating healthier and cleaning healthier!

Our city has a rule: within an eight-day cycle, each household is entitled to a maximum of four garbage bags placed curbside. Our maximum garbage bag output these days is one, so the “big save” is helping the environment as well.


Floor Cleaner

  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 2 gallons hot water
  • Few drops of Essential Oil (I like lemon for kitchen, living room and dining room, and lavender for the bedrooms)

For a greasy floor, add 1 Tbsp of dish soap and ¼ cup of washing soda. It will be a bit fizzy with the vinegar and soda, but also sudsy. Mix in a bucket and mop your floors. This cleaner is safe for pets too.

Countertop Cleaner

  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp baking soda
  • 4 cups hot water
  • ½ lemon

In a small bucket or 4-cup Pyrex measuring cup, combine vinegar, baking soda and hot water. Squeeze in the lemon juice then drop the rind in as well to infuse the cleaner. Stir well to dissolve the baking soda and allow to cool. Remove the lemon rind. Transfer into a spray bottle or squeeze bottle. (Lemon juice has a bleach/disinfectant effect so this is great for countertops and vanities).

Window / Mirror Cleaner

  • Fill a spray bottle with equal parts of water, rubbing alcohol and vinegar.
  • Add a few drops of essential oil. Spray windows and mirrors and wipe down (I use old newspaper to wipe them down).

Toilet Bowl Cleaner

  • Sprinkle the inside of the bowl with baking soda (its abrasive cleaning power will give a good scrub).
  • Add 10 drops of tea tree oil (for its antibacterial properties). Add 1 cup white vinegar (this will fizz, doing most of the cleaning for you). Swish with the toilet brush, and flush.

Sink and Tub Cleaner

  • ½ cup baking soda
  • ½ cup washing soda
  • ½ cup liquid castile soap
  • 25 drops tea tree oil (disinfectant)
  • Few drops lemon oil
  • Few drops peppermint essential oil
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar

Mix baking soda, washing soda, and liquid soap in a medium-sized container until it’s pasty and mushy. Add oils and mix thoroughly. Add the vinegar (the soda will make it fizz a little). When you’re ready to use it, just scoop a little out with your sponge and scrub away

Air Freshener

  • Fill a spray bottle with water.
  • Add several drops of the essential oil of your choice.
  • For a stronger deodorizer, mix 1 tsp of baking soda, 1 tsp of lemon juice, and several drops of any essential oil, along with hot water (this will tackle stronger odours, and it is safe for people and pets).

Dish Soap

  • 1¾ cups boiling water
  • 1 Tbsp Borax
  • 1 Tbsp grated bar soap (castile or Ivory)
  • Few drops essential oil

Heat water to boiling. Combine borax and grated bar soap in a bowl. Pour hot water over the mixture. Whisk until the grated soap is completely melted.
Allow mixture to cool on countertop for 6 – 8 hours, stirring occasionally (dish soap will gel upon standing). Transfer to a squirt bottle, add essential oils. Shake well to combine.

Dishwasher Soap

  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • ½ cup citric acid
  • ½ cup epsom salts

Mix together and store in an airtight container. Use 1 Tbsp per dish load.

Dishwasher Tablets

  • 2 cups washing soda or baking soda
  • 2 cups Borax
  • ½ cup epsom salts
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • Few drops of Lemon essential oil

Mix all ingredients together with a wooden spoon (the vinegar will cause a little fizzing). Once the ingredients are well combined, you will notice it will start clumping all by itself. Transfer the mixture into two ice cube trays and press down until each ice cube compartment is hard packed with detergent (they need to DRY hard before you use them).

Put them in a dry, sunny spot and let them sit for at least 24 hours. When they’re good and hard and dry, remove from the trays and store in airtight container. Add 1 tablet to your dishwasher detergent compartment.

Dishwasher Rinse Agent
Add ½ cup of vinegar to each load of dishes.

Fabric Softener Sheets

  • Soak a piece of an old t-shirt, sponge, or facecloth in vinegar.
  • Add a few drops of essential oil.
  • Wring it out and throw it in the dryer with your load of laundry.

Herbal Tea Shampoo

  • 1 cup distilled water
  • 1 Tbsp peppermint
  • 1 Tbsp lavender
  • 1 Tbsp rosemary

Boil distilled water and use a combination of the dried herbs to make a tea. Once tea has steeped and cooled, add the following ingredients:

  • ¼ cup liquid castile soap or vegetable glycerin
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp witch hazel or aloe gel
  • 5 – 10 drops essential oils such as lavender

Stir and store in squeeze bottle. It will last a few weeks in the fridge.

ACV Hair Conditioner

  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 16 cups water

Combine ingredients. Wash hair, add rinse, leave in for a few minutes. Then rinse your hair with cool water. This will keep for up to 6 months.

Homemade Toothpaste

  • ⅔ cup baking soda
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp peppermint extract, or your favorite flavour
  • Filtered water (add to desired consistency)

Mix together and store in a small mason jar.

Healthy Cleaning Supplies Shopping List

I have learned in my six months of unemployment that there really are many ways to cut costs, be healthier, and protect the environment. My cleaning supplies now include the following items:

1. Baking Soda – Cleans and deodorizes
2. Soap – Unscented in bar form (natural soap such as Castile)
3. Lemon – Effective in killing bacteria
4. Borax – Cleans, deodorizes, disinfects
5. White Vinegar – Cuts through grease, removes mildew and odours
6. Washing Soda – Cuts grease, removes stains
7. Rubbing Alcohol – A great disinfectant
8. Essential Oils – to add a bit of fragrance
9. Apple Cider Vinegar – for hair conditioner
10. Herbal Teas – for shampoos, as well as to drink


Nancy Loucks-McSloy is a published writer who loves to cook and create healthy yet fun meals, adapting recipes for a healthier lifestyle.

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