The Art of Natural Cleaning

Author Photo
By Rebecca Sullivan With Photos Nassima Rothacker

Cleaning can be a bore, no doubt about it. Growing up, my mum kept an immaculate house, and still does. As a kid, it was irritating being constantly nagged to pick up after ourselves by the “clean queen,” as my brothers and I called her (behind her back, of course). Nowadays, though, my house is clean — not sterile, but clean. 

A clean home is great, but a sterile home can actually be unhealthy. Most people don’t realize that having a “sterile” home means killing the good bacteria along with the bad bacteria. Making your own cleaning supplies helps you keep your home clean, but also spares healthy bacteria.

So, it’s time to detox from chemical cleaning products and stock up on a few healthier essentials. I suggest making the following recipes in small batches as you need them, because they’re best used fresh, since they don’t contain any nonnatural preservatives.

Oven Cleaner

There’s nothing worse than the smell of chemical oven spray. It literally makes you cough, so you can only imagine what’s in it. Sure, it’s quick and easy, but with a tiny bit of elbow grease and patience, you can have a chemical-free, clean oven.

Yields enough for a single use.

Tools & Materials

  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • Small bowl
  • Cold water
  • Spoon or spatula
  • Rubber gloves
  • Clean cloth
  • Paper towels
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • Spray bottle
  • Coarse salt


  1. Place baking soda in a small bowl. Add cold water, a little at a time, mixing with a spoon or spatula until a paste forms.
  2. Wearing rubber gloves, dip a cloth in the paste, and rub it over the entire surface of your cold oven. (Larger ovens will require more paste.) Close the oven door, and leave for 12 hours.
  3. Wipe all surfaces of the oven with paper towels, and then discard the paper towels.
  4. Pour the vinegar into a spray bottle, and spritz all surfaces of your oven. Use salt as a scourer for any stubborn stains by sprinkling it directly onto the cloth, scrubbing, and then rinsing. Use the cloth and some warm water to continue to remove all residue.
  5. Give all surfaces a final wipe down with a clean cloth and clean warm water, and leave to dry. 

Repellent Moth Balls

There’s nothing more irritating than pulling out your favorite sweater at the beginning of winter to discover that it’s been munched on by moths. Store-bought moth repellents typically include harsh ingredients, and smell awful. These homemade repelling moth balls are made with natural ingredients, and will make your clothes smell delightful.

Yields 2 sachets.

Tools & Materials

  • Scissors
  • Pair of stockings or tights, or some thin muslin
  • Small bowl
  • Spoon or spatula
  • Dried herb or fruit peel and spice mixture (choose one only):

            ?1/2 handful rosemary and 1/2 handful peppermint or garden mint

            ?1/2 handful lavender and 1/2 handful rosemary

            ?1/3 handful dried citrus peel, 1/3 handful broken-up cinnamon stick, and 1/4 handful lavender

  • Dried rose petals, optional
  • Essential oil that matches the scent of your chosen herb/spice mixture
  • Cotton balls (2)
  • Ribbon or twine


  1. With scissors, cut off the legs of the stockings; you’ll only need the foot portion.
  2. In a small bowl, use a spoon to mix your chosen herbs and spices together. Add some dried rose petals for added scent, if desired.
  3. Add a few drops of essential oil to the cotton balls.
  4. Fill each stocking foot with a cotton ball and half of the herb/spice mixture. Tie a knot in the top of each stocking, and then wrap with a piece of ribbon or twine.
  5. Give each sachet a scrunch, and then place in your drawer, closet, or clothes bin.

NOTE: Scrunch the sachet about once a month to release the oils, which will keep moths at bay. Replace every couple of months with a fresh sachet.

Toilet Bombs

I prefer to make these without a mold, but you can use one if you like. If you’re not using a mold, you may find that your mixture is too dry, so just add a few drops of water until you can shape the mixture into balls. Leave them to dry properly before storing. Don’t worry if they break, as they’ll still do their job.

Be sure to wear rubber gloves and a face mask when making these, because the citric acid is strong.

Yields 10 to 12 bombs.

Tools & Materials

  • Glass bowl
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Scant 1/3 cup citric acid
  • Spoon or spatula
  • Cold water, in a spray bottle
  • Food coloring, optional
  • Dried flower petals, slightly crushed, optional
  • 10 drops rose essential oil
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil
  • 5 drops lemon essential oil
  • Ice cube trays or jelly molds, optional
  • Tray
  • Glass jar or other airtight container


  1. In a glass bowl, mix the baking soda and citric acid together with a spoon. Gradually spray cold water into the mixture, stirring as you go. You’ll want to add just enough water to make the ingredients stick together.
  2. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and dried flower petals. Add the essential oils, and mix well to combine.
  3. Form the mixture into single-use sizes by shaping into walnut-sized balls using your hands. Or, if preferred, you can use ice cube trays or jelly molds to shape the mixture.
  4. Place the bombs on a tray, and let dry overnight.
  5. Carefully transfer the bombs to a glass jar. These will keep for up to 3 months.

TO USE: Drop 1 bomb into the toilet bowl, leave it to dissolve, and then flush. Use no more than one bomb per day.

Coffee Candles

To me, coffee is by far one of the greatest smells in the world. It’s comforting, invigorating, and makes me salivate just a little. It’s also fantastic for removing odors. It should be noted that whole coffee beans used in candles tend to crackle and pop as they heat up, so if you don’t want to hear that, simply omit using them.

Yields 1 to 2 candles (depending on the size of your molds).

Tools & Materials

  • Double boiler or saucepan and heatproof bowl
  • 1-1/10 pounds (500 grams) chopped or grated soy wax or paraffin wax (a little more than 2-1/3 cups)
  • Spoon or spatula
  • Thermometer
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons ground coffee
  • 1 teaspoon whole coffee beans, plus extra to decorate the top, optional
  • Wicks
  • Candle molds (small glass jars, tins, pots, etc.)
  • Pencils
  • Hair dryer


  1. Set up the double boiler, and boil water in the lower pot. If you don’t have one, boil some water in a large saucepan, then turn the heat down so the water is barely simmering, and set a heatproof bowl on top of the saucepan, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water beneath.
  2. Add the wax to the top of the double boiler, or to the bowl, and let it melt completely, stirring every so often. Use a thermometer to ensure the temperature of the wax doesn’t exceed 194 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Add the ground coffee and whole coffee beans, if using, and stir until everything is evenly distributed. Remove from heat, and set aside.
  4. Insert a wick into the bottom of your mold by tying the wick to a pencil, and setting it horizontally on top of the mold so the wick hangs vertically.
  5. Carefully pour in the wax to about 3⁄4 inch from the top, then leave it to cool and set. The wax sometimes shrinks in the center as it cools, so once it’s set, you can add a little more melted wax if needed.
  6. Use a hair dryer to dispel any air bubbles or divots, and to smooth the top. Sprinkle a few whole coffee beans over the top, if desired. Trim the wick, and let it set for at least 24 hours before lighting.

Rebecca Sullivan is an entrepreneur and home cook who’s passionate about passing on a wealth of “granny skills” to future generations. This article is excerpted from her book The Art of Natural Cleaning (Kyle Books, © 2018).