Make your own herbal household cleaners
Last updated 05:00, May 23 2015
Many herbs and essential oils have antibacterial qualities and make effective cleaners.
Want a home detox plan? Start by tossing out those harsh chemical cleaners and use herbs instead.
Herbs and essential oils are highly effective household cleaners, and many of them have antibacterial properties.
Lemongrass, lemon myrtle, tea tree, eucalyptus, sage, oregano and lavender, as well as many others, contain powerful antimicrobial properties that rival many of the commercial cleaners you can buy at the supermarket.
Fresh herbs make natural cleaners. Simply place the herbs in a jar with white vinegar for six weeks.
Herbal housekeeping is not hard. With a few simple ingredients, you can easily make your own effective, non-toxic home cleaners.
Step one is to look at your base ingredients. Typical pantry staples that can be used to make homemade cleaners include baking soda (it deodorises and dissolves grease and dirt), cider or white vinegar (a weak form of acetic acid, which is antibacterial), Castile soap (a surfactant made from olive oil that loosens and washes away dirt) and lemon juice (which has antibacterial properties).
Step two: choose your herbs, either fresh or dried, or in the form of essential oils. Herbalist Donna Lee of Cottage Hill Herbs has devised an effective all-purpose natural cleaner. "With cleaning products, I would usually use only pure essential oils as these are the strongest and most active form of a herb," she says.
Her favourites are oregano and lemongrass oils, and she uses the latter in her Basic All Purpose Cleaning Gloop (see recipe opposite).
HOW IT WORKS
"The reason I use lemongrass pure essential oil," says Lee, "is that it smells great for starters, and that it's effective."
Some years ago one of her students, then a nurse at Masterton Hospital, conducted a series of experiments in the hospital lab using a variety of pure essential oils. Lemongrass came out ahead of all the others for killing the most bugs across a broad spectrum, and Lee says she has successfully used it ever since for that purpose.
"We didn't test oregano essential oil at the time, as it was not available then, but it is now showing itself to be a powerful killer of many micro-organisms, including yeasts and moulds."
Research backs that up. A 2013 study at the Alexander Technological Educational Institute of Thessaloniki in Greece showed that oregano essential oil (at 0.5 per cent strength) is effective as an antimicrobial agent in detergent solutions for hand washing and surface cleaning.
"Soap with oregano essential oil (O.E.O.) was as effective as the commercial antimicrobial soap at reducing aerobic plate count on the hands, and more effective than plain soap with no additives. Cloths wetted with soap containing O.E.O. were used to clean three different surfaces contaminated with four bacterial pathogens.
"For three of the four pathogens, the addition of 0.5 per cent v/v O.E.O. to the soap solution enhanced its cleaning performance and also reduced bacterial survival on the cloth after cleaning."
Studies have also shown that essential oils can halt airborne microbes, which are easily spread by coughing, sneezing, even talking or turning the pages of books.
A trial at Wythenshawe Hospital Burns Unit in the UK found that using a vaporiser to diffuse a blend of oils (clove, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus and rosemary) into the air combated certain bacteria, including MRSA, a contagious and antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria. In the nine-month study, in-air bacteria diminished by more than 90 per cent.
Another study looked at geranium and lemongrass oils and their antibacterial activities against MRSA, VRE and other superbugs.
The oils were diffused in an office and after 15 hours of use these germs had been reduced by 89 per cent.
You can use diffusers at home, of course, but don't confuse a diffuser with an oil burner. An oil burner heats the oil, which can damage or alter the oil's properties. A diffuser is a special pump designed to dispense essential oils into the air without harming their properties.
CHOOSE YOUR HERBS
You can use fresh or dried herbs in making natural cleaners. I prefer fresh herbs, as does Donna Lee, but dried herbs can be used if fresh are not available.
"I put my herbs into vinegar, mainly white vinegar, and make a tincture first and then use that for germ killing," says Donna. For example, she might add fresh thyme leaves to vinegar, leaving it to steep for six to eight weeks.
"I like to use leftover citrus peels too, as these contain a large amount of bioflavonoids and limonene, which have strong antibacterial properties. The citrus is left in the vinegar tincture for three weeks or more, and the resulting liquid may be diluted or strained depending on what I am using it on.
"For things like shower doors or the toilet, I use it straight. It's the best glass and surface cleaner ever. On more reactive surfaces it is best to dilute it with water. I find that it is a great fly repellent on kitchen surfaces too."
To make a herb tincture, fill a jar with fresh herb leaves, then fill to the top with white vinegar. Secure lid tightly (make sure it's a non-metal lid), label the jar, and place in a warm room out of direct sunlight for at least six weeks. Turn and gently shake the jar once a day.
After six weeks, strain, then store in a cool, dark place. This can be used straight on grubby surfaces such as showers, glass or the toilet, but for any woodwork, paint finishes and the like, dilute with water up to 50 per cent.
The choice of herbs is yours, and you can use one herb or more. If you like the smell of lavender, use that; if you like citrus scents, try lemon myrtle, lemon thyme or lemongrass. Or use a mix of, say, thyme leaves and lavender flowers with a few drops of rose geranium essential oil for a powerful, nicely scented solution. You can add essential oils to any of your herbal tinctures as well, if you wish.
HERBAL CLEANER RECIPES
Jane's carpet deodoriser
This makes a natural, pleasant-smelling deodoriser for your carpet. You could add cinnamon sticks, but this may stain a light-coloured carpet. Baking soda absorbs odours and borax is a disinfectant, mould-inhibitor and natural deodoriser.
Ingredients • 2 cups lavender (flowers and leaves) • 1 cup rosemary leaves (minus stalks) • 6 bay leaves
• 2 teaspoons ground cloves (optional – may stain light carpets) • 2 cups baking soda • 4 tablespoons borax
Place herbs in a food processor to grind coarsely. Tip herb mixture into
a bowl, add cloves, baking soda and borax and mix together. Sprinkle onto carpet and leave for a couple of hours, or overnight, before vacuuming.
Donna Lee's Basic All-Purpose Cleaning Gloop
This cost-effective mix can be used for dishwashing, clothes laundering, basic cleaning, or as a fabric softener. The essential oils may be altered to taste.
Ingredients • 3 cups water • ½ cup finely grated soap • 1 cup pure cider vinegar • 1 teaspoon lemongrass or other pure essential oil
Boil water, add soap and stir till dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar and essential oil. Place in a glass container.
For shampoo: You may substitute rosemary, lavender or chamomile tea (strained) for the 3 cups of water.
For scouring bath, stove, or hard-to-clean surfaces: Add 6 tablespoons caster sugar and 2 teaspoons pumice powder to the gloop. This works well for cleaning the stove and other areas needing a good scrub. Be careful with delicate surfaces, as it may scratch.
Lemongrass • lemon myrtle • eucalyptus • tee tree • lavender are all powerful antibacterial, antiseptic and antimicrobial oils.
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- NZ Gardener