We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavours and furniture polish is made from real lemons.
Sing it, Alfred Newman. No truer words have been spoken. Well, maybe “dugongs look like floaty sea potatos” but let’s not get finicky.
One of the first eco-experiments I tried when I first went plastic-free was making an all purpose citrus peel cleaning spray and I've never turned back. In fact it’s my favourite form of bait if I’m trying to lure someone into giving plastic-free living a go because it’s quick, simple and basically free (being made of waste n’ all).
Why I avoid conventional cleaners
Autoimmune diseases have risen exponentially in the last few decades and considering us humans don’t evolve that quickly the blame is falling on “environmental causes”.
As Dr. Douglas Kerr (M.D., Ph.D. Professor) said in the foreword of his report;
There is no doubt that autoimmune diseases are on the rise and our increasing environmental exposure to toxins and chemicals is fuelling the risk. The research is sound. The conclusions, unassailable.
Common chemicals found in our homes have also been linked to other decidedly not-awesome health concerns as hormone disruption, fertility issues and have been known to trigger asthma. You’ll of course be able to find articles/reports that try to play down the risk of the devil in our dishwashing liquid, but my thinking on the matter is that if I can avoid using chemicals that could potentially cause an issue then I will.
Phosphates are commonly used in cleaners and have been known to deoxygenate water which is not great for the aquatic environments at the end of your drain. They also come in plastic bottles which aren’t doing our marine ecosystems any favours either - or any other ecosystems, for that matter.
Food Waste + Farty Smells
I’m all about extending the life of the products and produce we use. Organic matter, like lemon peels, being sent to landfill is not just a food waste issue, but also strongly linked to climate change. When organic matter is buried in landfill it decomposes and creates methane - yes, the same gas as cow fart. Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. By reusing and repurposing our scraps we not only extend the life of our ‘waste’ but we can then compost afterwards, giving it back to the ground. Just like Mother Earth intended.
This citrus cleaner is seriously cool because...
The only two ingredients are white vinegar and lemon peels that were probably headed for landfill anyway. The cleaner comes in at about 20 cents per bottle (store bought can be $3 - $9).
It’s non-toxic. I will add to what I’ve already said on this that it’s comforting to know that if my toddler manages to ever get into the cleaning cupboard he won’t be tempted by a bounty of candy-coloured cleaners. If he did spill it on himself or even drink it (kids are so weird) he would be fine.
It’s easy. Two ingredients, two steps. That’s it. Basically, it’s handier than an octopus with gloves on.
Does it really work?
Yes, remarkably well. It boggles my mind that we have got to a place in society where we spray toxic chemicals around our kitchens and call it clean. Back in the days before we had superbugs and plastic islands in our oceans, this was how we used to clean. Here’s why it works so well...
Citrus - Notice how most conventional cleaners claim to come strengthened by “THE NATURAL POWER OF CITRUS!!!” - well, why not cut out the toxic middle men? The citric acid is a fab disinfectant and natural stain remover. The citric oil found in the peel of lemons also contains D-limolene which is a great solvent for cutting through grime.
Vinegar - White vinegar is a bloody excellent all-purpose cleaner and a natural disinfectant. The acidity makes it great for removing icky, sticky build ups of muck like grime, soap scum to glue residue on glass jars. It’s also great for windows. And don’t worry about your house smelling like a fish and chip shop, the smell goes away once it dries (plus, the citrus masks the smell!). So with out any further ado, here it is.
DIY Citrus Peel Cleaning Spray
Any citrus peels (you can mix them)
Spray bottle - try to reuse one or find glass
Large glass jar - again, try to reuse
Get your citrus peels and place into your glass jar.
Fill the jar with vinegar making sure to cover the peels (any peel that sticks out will oxidise and go mouldy. If this happens just fish it out and discard - it won’t affect the rest).
Put lid on and store in a cool place for 2 weeks. If you remember, shake it twice a week - but it’s fine if you don’t remember.
After 2 weeks strain peels out to leave the citrus vinegar solution.
Mix 1 part vinegar mix with 1 part water. If you want to add 10 - 20 drops of essential oils here you can (see below for a small guide).
Pour into your spray bottle and discard the leftover lemon into your compost.
If you want to get fancy you can of course add in some essential oils. Here are some ideas:
Tea tree - fights germs, bacteria and viruses
Rosemary - antibacterial, antiseptic
Eucalyptus - natural germicide
Peppermint - antibacterial
Cinnamon - antibacterial, antiseptic
Thyme - most powerful oil for germs
Don’t worry, the vinegar smell dissipates not long after use.
Use this on most surfaces but avoid marble (it will cloud).
You can use Apple Cider Vinegar but note that it will stain brown - this is fine for dark wood but nothing lighter.
Take note that cleaners made from orange peel are the strongest.
I have just used old spray bottles from my conventional cleaning days. If you don’t have any and you find glass spray bottles it will preserve the potency of any essential oils you use. It will also look prettier.
I often have a jar that I just add to throughout the week. It’s filled with vinegar and I add any peels as I go. Leaving it longer than 2 weeks is fine - the solution just becomes stronger.