Fragrance-free & eco-friendly cleaning products that actually work
December 30, 2014 8:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm new to cleaning for myself and need recommendations for house cleaning products that are really effective but don't contain heavy/chemicalized perfumes (these give me terrible headaches). Environmentally-friendly options are even better!

One of the main reasons I never really learned how to clean my own house and always hired a cleaning lady is because cleaning products have historically made me feel like crap. However, I now really want to figure out how to keep my house clean without professional help.

I hate and am made unwell by scents/perfumes, and sometimes products labeled as unscented or fragrance free really aren't -- or they don't really clean. To give you an idea of what I can tolerate, I know Mrs. Meyers brand is a nightmare for me scent-wise. They just smell so strong. I can't even be in the same room with an open bottle of their products. I've tried Method brand products as well -- their orange-scented all-purpose cleaner doesn't sit well, and neither does the eucalyptus bathroom cleaner, but the peppermint flavor glass & surface cleaner is ok smell-wise (kinda streaky though for cleaning mirrors, I've found). Seventh Generation makes a lot of actually unscented products, but I've found they're not terribly effective at cleaning. Very light scents (like the Method peppermint one) may be okay, but no scent would be better. I'm open to trying more conventional brands, but I find that they're almost never really unscented (even if they're labeled as such), and I would prefer gentler cleaners that are healthier for me and for the planet.

I know it's possible to make your own cleaning stuff too, and I'm open to that as long as it's both SUPER easy and VERY effective. It's a challenge for me to attempt this cleaning for myself business, so I'm trying to remove as many obstacles as possible!

AskMeFi seems to have a lot of good info in the archives about *how* to clean, but if you have a hot tip in that department, I would welcome that in this thread, too. Ditto for cleaning equipment recommendations. But I haven't been able to turn up good threads about products with my particular set of requirements, so that's my main question here. Thanks in advance for your help, hive mind!
posted by pupstocks to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I've been happy with Grab Green products' cleaning strength. They're comparable in smell to Method's unscented products.
posted by culfinglin at 9:05 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just use castile soap, baking soda, bleach and water for most cleaning. Rinse with a clean towel. Windex for windows and the occasional speciality product for things like grout. That stinks but it's a couple times a year at most to do a full clean and reseal and at least it's not perfumed.
posted by fshgrl at 9:06 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can do a lot with white vinegar and baking soda. I personally dislike the smell of white vinegar so I make citrus vinegar. Basically you buy a gallon jug of white vinegar, shove in some citrus peels, and let it sit for a month or so. Then it smells like lemons or limes or oranges instead of salad dressing.

I personally like Seventh Generation dish soap (and The Sweet Home likes it too). I also use All Free Clear or Tide Unscented laundry soap, FWIW.

You might also want to try wearing a face mask when you clean so you're not inhaling the vapors.
posted by radioamy at 9:07 PM on December 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

You may be surprised how few specialty cleaners you really need. I now mostly use 1/2 vinegar 1/2 water in a spray bottle (laminated floors, tiles, refrigerator); some mixture of alcohol and water in another spray bottle (faucets, mirrors, counter tops, toilet seat); unscented dish soap with scrub brush (sink, tub, toilet [obviously the toilet has its own brush!]). Occasional diluted bleach for things that actually need to be disinfected. Works for me, and as long as I properly dilute the vinegar and alcohol, any odors dissipate within 20 minutes or so.

One warning about vinegar: if you fail to dilute it properly, it can actually eat through grout and other materials.
posted by girl flaneur at 9:26 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

The thing to remember is that this is your home. You are not living in a hospital or elementary school- there is no need to disinfect everything all the time. Harsh chemicals in a regular home do more harm than good. I'm chemically sensitive and cannot even be in some people's homes for hours after they have cleaned.

Vinegar cuts through grease. Rubbing alcohol is a streak free clean for just about everything. Clorox makes an any-surface spritz that is great for the kitchen and bathroom areas. I mop with water and nothing else. We don't wear shoes in the house or have indoor pets so it works for us. I'm not at all allergic to comit so I use that for the bathroom scrubbing and I use it to scrub out my kitchen sink daily. Basic soap and water works great for cleaning as well.
posted by myselfasme at 9:28 PM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

Try powdered oxygen bleach in place of chlorine bleach or vinegar. Very effective for grime in tubs, sinks, and floors. I haven't noticed any odor, but I know it still makes vapor, so still use caution.
posted by oxisos at 9:53 PM on December 30, 2014

I find microfiber cleaning cloths I have to be more effective for streak-free wiping clean than other cloths or paper products are.

There's this stuff called "Dawn Power Dissolver" or something like that which I've found is useful for cleaning dishes that are dripping with grease (e.g. stuff used for deep frying); it almost seems like it causes the grease to gel into a form which is easier to wash away. But I'm eager to try vinegar for grease next time as suggested above, which would be considerably cheaper if it works.
posted by XMLicious at 10:04 PM on December 30, 2014

I really like Biokleen. No perfume stink or caustic chemicals. Really strong when it comes to cleaning power too.
posted by stubbehtail at 10:09 PM on December 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

My housemate is like you about the Mrs. Meyers scents. It's not unscented, but it's never bothered his super-particular self: Simple Green. I swear we use the stuff on basically everything. I always have two bottles in the house, one undiluted, and when that gets a bit less than half full I top it back up with water and use that for general surface cleaning and get a new bottle for spot jobs.
posted by Mizu at 11:05 PM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I LOVE LOVE LOVE my Bissel hand held steam cleaner!!!! The brushes that come with it are crap, but that's easily remedied. I bought a big bag of microfiber cloths at Costco to use with the steamer. I cleans everything- toaster oven, counters, toilets, mirrors, windows, door handles, ALL THE THINGS. I cannot recommend a steamer hard enough.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 4:34 AM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find that Borax is amazing. It doesn't smell like anything, it is a mineral salt, it doesn't seem to burn off layers of skin when you use it. It's gritty enough to really scrub into things and seems to leach stains from surfaces nicely. I use it pretty much everywhere except for brushing my teeth.
posted by zedgoat at 4:53 AM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Baking soda, vinegar, borax, castile soap, occasional bleach, and HOT HOT HOT water are really the only things you need to clean everything.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:53 AM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am sensitive to scents, though not to the extent you are. I am on the same page as you on the Mrs. Meyers products, which are way too strongly scented, and also have been disappointed with the Seventh Generation products on the whole, both scent wise and cleaning wise. I do like Method products so if you find a scent that you can tolerate with their products, then they would not be a bad choice.

Seconding the Tide Free and Gentle laundry detergent, and also the Borax. For cleanser, we use Bon Ami, which is calcium carbonate and so hypoallergenic, with no chlorine, perfume or dye. It can be a little dusty (like all cleansers) if you don't sprinkle it carefully.

I like Arm and Hammer Clean Shower, which I find to have a very mild and not too chemical scent. You should check it as you might be able to handle it, and it works pretty well.

I have found the Trader Joe brand Mandarin Orange dish soap to be ok, and not overwhelmingly scented for me, but again YMMV.

I personally like the Comet bathroom cleaner spray that has Citric acid as the active ingredient, and find it works pretty well. It does have a distinct scent though so you should check it to see if it might bother you.

(Also, if you buy and try any of the products recommended here and they don't work out, memail me and I will happily buy them off you and will also pay for shipping them to me.)
posted by gudrun at 8:29 AM on December 31, 2014

I'm fairly sensitive to fragrances and have been pretty happy with the products from The Clean Team. They also have books and videos for how to quickly and efficiently clean your space so you don't spend any more time cleaning than is necessary.
posted by Lexica at 9:30 AM on December 31, 2014

Bona for wood floors works very well and it does not have a scent to it.
posted by jadepearl at 9:50 AM on December 31, 2014

You might want to try Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds. It does have pine oil in it, but it's more of a faint Christmas tree scent rather than a full-on pine cleaner assault. I find it much less fragrant than the Method cleaners, even at full strength in the bottle. Since the recommended concentration for cleaning is only 1.5 tablespoons per gallon of water, I find the fragrance hardly noticeable when I use it. It works very well, and does a better job on wood floors than Murphy's oil soap. You do have to rinse with clean water after using it, though. It can also be diluted in a spray bottle (I also like to add about 1oz each vinegar and rubbing alcohol) for a very good counter and surface cleaner.

I agree with zedgoat that borax is wonderful. (I wear gloves when I use it, though.) You can sprinkle it on a damp sponge to clean sinks, counters, and tile. You can also make a scrubbing paste with borax and castile soap that is great for cleaning tile and grout, especially in the shower.

Washing soda is another all-natural cleanser that is very effective. It is very alkaline, so wear gloves when you use it. It can be dissolved into hot water as a degreaser or applied as a scrub with a sponge. It does require a fair amount of rinsing, though. (It may also remove the finish on some things, so test first.)

Baking soda is also a good gentle scrub. A paste of it with water on a sponge does a very good job of cleaning a stainless steel kitchen sink.

Also, I want to add that you will occasionally come across home cleaning recipes that call for mixing vinegar with castile soap, baking soda, borax or washing soda. Vinegar is an acid, and it neutralizes the alkaline compounds in the soap, borax and baking/washing soda, rendering them less effective. You can mix vinegar with Sal Suds, though, since it is a plant-derived detergent.

As for cleaning equipment you probably already have most of the things you need. I prefer plain cotton rags made from old t-shirts for dusting and wet cleaning surfaces, since their texture helps with grabbing dust and scrubbing ick, and they can just be thrown into the wash when you are done. An old toothbrush is good for cleaning grout and getting into all kinds of odd little crevices. A plastic paint scraper from the hardware store is also a handy thing to have for getting up wads of stuck-on cruft.
posted by Lycaste at 9:51 AM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah PorcineWithMe reminded me how awesome a steam cleaner is. It gets a lot of crud off so that you hardly have to use any cleaning product.
posted by radioamy at 10:06 AM on December 31, 2014

I also use Bon Ami for cleaning my sink. Works great, along with a little bleach occasionally for the bad stains in the drain area.
posted by leahwrenn at 10:54 AM on December 31, 2014

Both Planet and Seventh Generation dish soap are very effective. I use a little of either in water to clean floors, remove marks from woodwork, wipe counters, and of course clean dishes and pans.

Microfiber towels clean really well, often with plain water. They also are great at picking up and holding onto dust. I use one with a sponge mop to clean floors -- as shown here. The mop is just used to push the towel around. When the towel gets dirty, place the mop head on a different area of the cloth and continue. It's much easier to rinse a microfiber cloth than a sponge mop.

I used to use Bona liquid floor cleaner once a week, but after a couple of years a cloudy residue built up. I had to remove it with ammonia -- not eco-friendly!
posted by wryly at 5:37 PM on December 31, 2014

I second Lexica's recommendation of products from The Clean Team. The "red juice" in particular is super useful for all kinds of cleaning and smells like nothing at all.
posted by redfoxtail at 6:46 PM on December 31, 2014

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