Nana had it right!

        Healthy and Inexpensive Cleaning                                         Solutions

My Nanna had the right idea. Raising two children during the Great Depression and then World War II, she and her peers had to figure out how to stretch their resources. Economic disaster, crop failures, food rationing, clothing shortages, the men going off to war, and the women going off to work  – you name it, her generation had to weather years of a perfect storm. Without the technology of dishwashers, microwaves, washing machines and dryers, Nanna always had a perfectly clean home. Without the glut of mass-produced fabrics we have access to today, her children were always dressed warmly and tidily. Without the unlimited choice of grocery items and fast food that we have access to, her family was well fed with healthy, nutritious meals.

Looking back at her lifestyle, I have learned to embrace many of her tricks, particularly when it comes to cleaning. In an era when we are deluged with news about chemical toxicity, let’s think about going back to using 4 cleaning heroes commonly found in Nanna’s kitchen. Not only are they economical; they are environmentally green!

Baking soda (aka sodium bicarbonate). Approximately $1.20 per one lb box.

  • A cup of baking soda in the fridge will keep odors away.
  • Fill a mason jar with baking soda and cover it with a piece of cloth or paper to create a non-toxic air freshener. Add aromatic herbs like dried lavender or mint, or a few drops of essential oil if you like scent.
  • Half a cup of baking soda in your wash cycle will whiten your laundry. It also helps soften your water, which enables you to use less detergent.
  • Mix baking soda with a bit of lemon juice or vinegar, make a paste and use it to clean stained cups, tiles, bathtubs, sinks, counter-tops, etc.
  • To freshen up a stinky carpet or pet bed, sprinkle baking soda on it and leave it for an hour or so before vacuuming.
  • Got black spot or fungus on your roses? Want sweeter tomatoes? Is an army of ants or slugs invading your garden? Try sprinkling a light dusting of baking soda on your soil. Be careful though, as too much can harm your plants.
  • If you want to whiten your teeth without spending a fortune on commercial teeth whiteners, brush with baking soda. (Note that this will not add fluoride to your regimen).

White Vinegar. Approximately $3.75 per gallon

  • To remove bacteria, rinse your greens with a mixture of ½ cup vinegar and 2 cups water.
  • Unplug your drains by pouring equal parts baking soda and vinegar down the drain. This will bubble and fizz. After a half hour or so, follow up by pouring boiling water down the drain.
  • Bothered by mosquito? Spray a mixture of 2 parts water to one part vinegar on your skin to chase those pests away.
  • On a dry, warm day, spray weeds with vinegar, and watch them dry up and die.
  • Ants hate vinegar too, so spray them with equal parts water and vinegar.
  • Sticky knives or scissors? Try wiping them (carefully!) with vinegar.
  • Need to shine up your dull hair? After you’ve washed your hair, rinse with a mixture of 2 tablespoons of vinegar (apple cider vinegar works great here too) and a cup of water. Work into your roots and thoroughly rinse. Since vinegar is acidic, don’t do this every time you shampoo; maybe try once a week.
  • Avoid toxic cleaners. Use a scrub made of vinegar and baking soda to clean your oven.
  • Microwaving a small bowl of vinegar will loosen debris before you scrub.
  • Run vinegar through your coffee machine to rid it of film and scale. Don’t forget to rinse well with water. No one likes vinegar flavored coffee!
  • Clean your dishwasher by running a cup of vinegar through the rinse cycle.
  • Use vinegar to clean shower doors, windows and mirrors. Mix two tablespoons of white vinegar and two cups of water in a spray bottle.
  • Be kind to the ocean life downstream. Instead of chemicals, brush your toilet bowl with ½ cup of vinegar.


  • Never mix vinegar with hydrogen peroxide or chlorine bleach. This can create a toxic gas.
  • Do not use vinegar on marble, granite, quartz, wood, cast iron, rubber or stainless steel. Over time, it can cause corrosion.

Lemon. Approximately $2.25 per pound.

  • Microwave a bowl of water and lemon juice or rinds until boiling to loosen the microwave’s grime.
  • Sprinkle salt on your wooden cutting board and rub it in with the cut side of a lemon. Rinse and enjoy your clean board.
  • Run lemon rinds through your garbage disposal and enjoy the fresh scent in your kitchen.
  • Try rubbing lemon on stubborn stains on kitchen containers. Let sit for several minutes prior to rinsing.
  • Rub a lemon on your grater before cleaning it. This will remove stubborn, caked on gunk.
  • Add a cup of lemon juice to your dishwasher before you run the load.
  • Lemon juice will dissolve hard water buildup on your faucets. Be sure to rinse after 10 minutes or so.
  • Boil a pot of lemon rinds to freshen the air in your home.


After juicing a lemon, don’t throw away the rind. Keep it in the freezer to use later for one of the above hacks.

Castile Soap. Approximately $4.50 per bar

  • One part castile soap and 10 parts water makes an effective liquid dish soap. Simply dissolve a bar in a glass jar. Fun hack: Nanna used to have a glass jar waiting by the kitchen sink. Whenever she had leftover scraps of soap bars, in they went to the dish soap jar. I never saw a bottle of store-bought dish soap in her home.
  • A tablespoon of castile soap and a cup of water makes a lovely, gentle shampoo. You can also wash your hair with the bar itself and then rinse well.
  • Face, body, hand soap, shaving lather, foot bath – castile is perfect for the whole body.
  • Castile soap dissolved in your bath makes for real luxury.
  • One cup of castile and 4 cups of water make an eco-friendly toilet cleaner.
  • A small amount of castile makes a great pet shampoo. Use a non-scented version for your furry friends, though.
  • One tablespoon of castile in a quart of water makes a good bug spray.


  • Castile soap is a natural, inexpensive, non-toxic, vegetable-based soap that can be found in liquid or bar form and in a range of scents.
  • Don’t mix castile with vinegar or lemon. The alkaline character of the soap reacts with the acids.

Nanna’s soap scrap jar beside a bar of castile soap.

I hope these ideas help you keep your home clean and toxin-free. Love, Nanna!

This informative post was written by Anne Green.  Thank you, Anne, for sharing what you know and contributing to the Compass FAH mission; to provide education and resources that navigate and enrich lives. Knowledge is power!