These Common Pantry Items Make Incredible Natural Cleaners — And You Probably Already Have Them

<span class="copyright">LordHenriVoton via Getty Images</span>
LordHenriVoton via Getty Images

Could cleaning our homes make us sick?

A recent study of 30 common cleaning products found they contained hundreds of hazardous volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which have been “investigated as the cause for respiratory harms and have been associated with other chemical hazards including cancer, neurotoxicity, and reproductive toxicity.”

Using “green” products can be a safer choice, but what else can we do to lessen our exposure to VOCs — and look out for our planet — while still waging our domestic battles against dirt and dust?

That’s what we — Raj Punjabi and Noah Michelson, hosts of HuffPost’s “Am I Doing It Wrong?” podcast — discussed with Patric Richardson, the “Laundry Evangelist” and author of “House Love: A Joyful Guide to Cleaning, Organizing, and Loving the Home You’re In.”

“We can do things naturally,” Richardson said. “We need to take care of the Earth because ... I don’t want [kids having to wear] gas masks to school.”

That means Richardson stocks his cleaning kits — which he keeps in several different parts of his house, so they’re always handy — with homemade products.

“I like to use vinegar as an all-purpose cleaner,” he told us. That’s because acetic acid, the active component in vinegar, is an excellent disinfectant. His recipe: One part vinegar, one part water, and about five squirts of dish soap.

Richardson uses it in his homemade glass cleaner, too, which he makes with one cup vinegar, one cup rubbing alcohol and two tablespoons of cornstarch, mixed together in a spray bottle.

“I use that for stubborn glass, like the shower door, the windows outside ... and things that get fingerprint-y, like the oven door. The rubbing alcohol causes it to dry fast, the vinegar cleans, and the cornstarch gives you just a little bit of an abrasive.”

Vinegar is also the star of Richardson’s favorite microwave cleaning trick.

“You take a coffee cup and you fill it with vinegar,” he said. “You put it in the microwave and you run it for like four minutes and it creates vinegar steam. Then, as soon as you open the microwave door, you stick on the oven glove and grab your towel and just go in there and wipe everything down. The vinegar creates this vinegar steam and it permeates all of that oil and then it will just literally wipe off.”

Vodka is another unexpected item the HGTV host frequently employs. It’s odorless and colorless, it dries quickly, and it generally won’t damage finishes.

“This is college vodka — this is not drinking vodka,” he said laughing. “This is like $8-a-gallon vodka. The good vodka is on the bar, and I highly recommend [drinking] that when you’re cleaning.”

He uses the spirit to clean his stone countertops, which he noted can be damaged by vinegar, and to freshen other parts of the house.

“If your sofa smells like the dog, or you were cooking some sort of aromatic food, ... you just spray the furniture with vodka and it removes the odor.”

“The thing about Febreze [is that when you use it], your sofa smells like dirty feet, the dog ... and roses,” he added. “When you use a neutral odor remover [like vodka], then you can pick what you want [your home to smell like]. If you wanted to use a scented room freshener, you could just put essential oils in vodka and it’s wildly effective.”

Richardson also told gave us the lowdown on his brilliant 10-minute cleaning method, the three “splurge-worthy” tools that will instantly make cleaning exponentially easier and much more.

Listen to the full episode above or wherever you get your podcasts.

Make sure to subscribe to “Am I Doing It Wrong?” so you don’t miss a single episode, including our investigations of the ins and outs of tipping, how to apologize or vanquish your credit card debt, how to find love online or overcome anxiety, tips for online shoppingtaking care of your teeth and pooping like a prosecrets to booking and staying in a hotel, how to deal with an angry personcooking pointers from celebrity chef Jet Tila, shocking laundry secrets, the tips and tricks for cleaner dishes, getting your best workout, surprising showering mistakes, the secrets of understanding your cat and more.

For more from Patric Richardson, visit his website and get his new book, “House Love.”

Need some help with something you’ve been doing wrong? Email us at, and we might investigate the topic in a future episode.