Getting to Know Your Ingredients, A-C

Before you rush to throw out all of your old cleaners (in a responsible way, of course!), you need to get to know the ingredients that will be mentioned in this section. Some of them will already be present in your pantry… others you may have to buy. Below is a list of what you will need to make the cleaning solutions I will include, and what some of their normal uses are.


Alum is a naturally occurring compound mineral salt that is often used in pickling produce, dyeing fabrics, and many other processes. It is also an ingredient that is commonly used in baking powder. Alum is known to have many uses; although it is not frequently used in housekeeping solutions, it does make an excellent cleanser for tiles with stubborn grime, when paired with plain white vinegar.


Ammonia is an effective, natural, alkaline cleaner. This means it has a pH level of greater than 7 (water normally has a pH around 7, for comparison). It is a strong cleaner, with an often equally strong smell, and is mainly used for tough jobs. You will normally find non-sudsing Ammonia on the stores’ shelves; however, it also comes in a sudsing variety, and you can sometimes find odourless ammonia. Either of these are equally good for household cleaning, but you will need to rinse a lot more after using the sudsing variety, to avoid being left with streaky residue. Ammonia can usually be found in the housekeeping section of any good supermarket or hardware store.

NOTE: Since ammonia often has a harsh smell, and can irritate the lungs and skin, it’s a good idea to wear gloves and a mask. If you do not have a breathing mask, at least make sure the area you are working in has proper ventilation. Make sure you keep it away from kids, and NEVER mix ammonia products with any products containing chlorine bleach (as in regular bleach).

Baking Soda:

Besides being used as a leavening agent in many baked goods, baking soda has a variety of other household purposes. It can be used as a mild, safe alternative to scouring powders, as well as acting as a deodorizer and a natural water softener.

Beeswax (Liquid):

Beeswax is the natural wax produced by bees. You can sometimes buy it in hardware stores, where you may find it in liquid form next to the furniture polishes. Often, you can find it in craft supply stores, where it may be in with the candle-making or wood-working supplies. Liquid or melted beeswax can be used either as a polish for your wood furniture by itself, or as an ingredient in a polishing or wood conditioning solution.


Borax is a natural mineral salt compound that has been used for centuries in everything from food preservation, personal care items, healthcare, non-smoking candles, and various arts and crafts, to every kind of household cleaning- even pest control! You can usually find Borax in the laundry or cleaning section of your grocery or hardware store.

NOTE: Although the grade typically sold on the shelves is gentle enough to use in baby’s laundry, it will make you sick if ingested; it’s best to keep it away from kids and pets as well. Also, it is necessary to wear gloves while working with Borax, as the pure form may irritate the skin.


Bran is a grain that is more often used in cereals and baked goods. Bran, which can be found in the baking or breakfast section of any grocery store, may be used (slightly dampened) as a way to hold down dust and lint while you are sweeping your hard floors, making the act of sweeping easier.

Bread (White):

Plain white bread, when it is mashed and rolled up into a little ball, can act as a sort of eraser that can be used to get scuff marks off your floors and walls. The bread does not need to be expensive or special- a cheap store bought loaf will do.


Real, unsalted dairy butter can come in handy when you have stubborn water rings on your wood furniture. The fat content of the butter helps to dissipate and even out the discoloured water ring. The butter you buy does not need to be in any way special or expensive- the cheaper version will do, as long as it is in fact genuine dairy butter.

Cedar Chips:

Cedar chips are often used as a form of mulch for landscaping. You can also use these (or cedar shavings or sawdust), tied up in a sachet, as a deodoriser for closets, drawers, or any other closed space. Because the wood is naturally aromatic, you don’t really need to add anything else to it!



You can often find powdered chalk at your local crafting or art supply store. Sometimes, it’s available at hardware stores and outdoor sporting goods stores (think rock climbing) as well. Powdered chalk can be used, instead of clay kitty litter or charcoal, as a way of absorbing extra moisture from the air in your home to prevent the growth of mould and mildew.


White stick chalk, which can usually be found in the school supply section of any department store, may be used to cover up marks on white suede garments. You can also use it to get rid of ring around the collar and other oil-based marks on clothing and upholstery.



Activated charcoal is effective in absorbing strong odours, such as cigarette smoke, when it is placed near where the smell is the strongest. You can find this in the aquarium section of any pet store (since many aquarium filters use activated charcoal), or in a health store.


Charcoal briquettes can be used in a similar way activated charcoal, but they tend to be used more for absorbing extra moisture in the air. This way, they can help prevent the growth of mould and mildew in the damp areas of your home.


Cold Black:

Cold black coffee can be used as an in-a-pinch means of covering up a mark on a black suede garment. The coffee you use for this purpose does not need to be expensive, as long as it is not instant or flavoured.


Fresh coffee grounds, because they are naturally absorbent and strongly scented, are often used as an odour-absorber in the kitchen, when poured into a dish and placed where the smell is the strongest.


Cornmeal is most often used in cooking and baking. Nevertheless, it still has a couple of household cleaning uses. It can be used to help get fresh engine or bike chain grease off of polyester blend clothing, or as a dry rub to clean window shades that can’t be allowed to get wet. It can also be a convenient way of absorbing extra moisture from the air in damp areas of the house, to prevent mould and mildew from growing.


Cornstarch is commonly used as a thickening agent in cooking. It can also be a staple ingredient in many window cleaning recipes, carpet and rug deodorizers, and furniture polishes.

Cream of Tartar:

Cream of Tartar is the common name for potassium hydrogen tartrate, which is found in the leftover sediment produced in the process of making wine. Aside from its many uses as a stabilizer in cooking and baking, it can be used in a number of cleaning solutions, from scouring powder to metal polish. You can usually find Cream of Tartar in the spices and baking section of any good grocery store.