Homemade Cleaning Supplies That Are Safe for You — and Your Dog With Cancer
Updated: April 28th, 2021
Homemade cleaning supplies are easy to make and way safer for your dog with cancer than commercial products. And they work great!
Dealing with dog cancer is, let’s face it, totally overwhelming.
There are so many things to keep track of and learn about: supplements, diet, medical interventions, lifestyle changes.
The last thing you probably want to do is learn about making homemade cleaning supplies.
And yet, you’ll be glad you did. Here’s why:
- Reducing the toxin burden in your home from cleaning supply chemicals will reduce the toxic burden in your dog.
- Reducing the toxin burden in your home will reduce the toxic burden in YOU.
- Making homemade cleaning supplies is surprisingly easy, dead simple, and kind of fun.
- For all but the most extreme cleaning jobs, homemade cleaning supplies do everything you need and smell great.
Why You Want to Reduce the Use of Commercial Cleaning Products
As Dr. Dressler points out in chapter 8 of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, there are many carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) in the air, water, soil, and food supply.
Avoiding all toxins is pointless because even if we lived in a bubble … the bubble would probably be made of plastic … and therefore likely carcinogenic. 😉
Most likely, you just can’t “move away” from toxins.
So instead of trying to avoid ALL carcinogens, the wise dog lover tries to REDUCE the number of toxins.
Why? Because a dog dealing with cancer is already dealing with too much.
Their liver is working hard to remove toxins.
Their immune system is working hard fighting cancer and repairing normal wear and tear.
More toxins just overworks these organs.
It causes undue stress.
It hinderes your dog’s ability to heal.
Extra carcinogens may also make cancer even worse than it already is.
Commercial Cleaning Products May Be Carcinogenic
But aren’t cleaning products, well, CLEAN?
Argh. No, sadly.
We’re not yet very good at assessing the long-term effects of using chemical cleaning agents … but we definitely know that long-term use can be damaging.
Cleaning products are not regulated the way food and body care products are.
Cleaning products aren’t used directly on the body … so the government allows companies to use carcinogens in their formulas!
There are ingredients in cleaning products you would never want on or in your body.
Dogs Have Extra Exposure to Cleaning Products
If your dog is like mine, she sniffs and licks just about everything.
She is exposed to chemicals in the cleaning products I use. Probably even more than I am.
We know from the Environmental Protection Agency’s work on Indoor Air Quality that getting rid of toxins in the home is vital for all of us.
Even those who aren’t actively dealing with side effects from home chemicals.
That’s why I’ve been making my own cleaning supplies, for the most part, for years now.
I feel better physically. Cleaning is never a hold-your-nose job. My hands don’t itch or get rashy afterward. And while some jobs still require chemicals, it’s pretty rare I call on them.
I don’t claim to be a Homemade Cleaning Supplies Expert, but I know enough to get you started. So let’s take a look.
Basic Ingredients You Need for Homemade Cleaning Supplies
Most ingredients you can use are inexpensive, easy to find, and easy to store.
Most recipes in this article and other articles you’ll find online feature a combination of the following items:
Baking soda is, quite simply, awesome. It can be used as a mild abrasive and cuts through grease and grime like a dream.
It cleans, deodorizes, and was even used by old-school doctors to fight cold and flu viruses.
Vinegar is an acid, making it invaluable for cleaning.
If you only have vinegar on hand, you can clean just about anything, from your grill to your laundry.
Vinegar cuts through grease, soap scum, and grime. Great in the laundry, too.
It is a fantastic deodorizer and helps with mold.
You might have a brown bottle of this stuff for disinfecting cuts … and it can do the same for your drains, grout, toilet bowls, and moldy areas.
Hint: brown bottle is for external use, white bottle is food-grade. Don’t mix the two up!
Yes, the oil you have for cooking can also clean and polish!
This style of soap is made from 100% plant oils, which makes it super-safe for home use. It’s in liquid form, so it’s easy to mix with other ingredients.
I love Dr. Bronner’s*, personally. I buy it in all the different scented formulas so that my homemade cleaning supplies smell delicious.
Essential oils certainly make your homemade cleaning supplies smell good, but their use can go beyond aromatherapy. Some have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.
My favorites to include in cleaning supplies are lemon, peppermint, and lavender.
Any citrus blend is lovely, too, as long as you are not using them on stone surfaces.
Choose scents that make you feel happy. Just a couple of drops in a recipe will do it.
NOTE: I am not advocating using essential oils directly on your dog, because I’m not a vet, and I don’t know how to advise you about that.
To hear from a veterinarian who uses essential oils, listen to this episode of Dog Cancer Answers.
Careful About Certain Oils!
With the rise in diffusing essential oils, veterinarians have also seen a rise in poisonings.
Remember that even diffusing certain oils into the air can be troublesome for our dogs and cats.
Just because something is natural does NOT mean it is totally safe. As Dr. D says in his book, arsenic is natural!
Definite nos for dogs are tea tree oil, wintergreen, and pine oils.
Especially on the Floor!
If you use essential oils in products you use on your floor … for example, if you use a scrubbing paste to scrub your tile … skip the essential oils altogether.
Or, use lavender. That’s a really gentle oil we know is safe for dogs.
Where to Buy Essential Oils
There are many companies that now make essential oils, so I’m not going to play favorites.
I have used oils from all of the following companies:
- Good brands for housecleaning that you can get at your local health food store include NOW, Aura Cacia, Healing Solutions, and Edens Garden, among others.
- Young Living and doTERRA both make good quality oils, but they are multi-level marketing companies (also called network marketing) so you need to find a rep to buy from them.
- Mountain Rose Herbs* and Rocky Mountain Oils* are both excellent oil manufacturers that sell directly to consumers online.
Must-Have Tools for Cleaning
There are just a few things you’ll need to use with homemade cleaning supplies.
You will need something to store your homemade cleaning supplies … and these plastic spray bottles are some of the best*. They last a looooong time before the sprayer starts to go. I also like that they are smaller-sized, which makes them easy to fit in my caddy.
Note: some folks think you should only use glass bottles for cleaning supplies to avoid plastics. That’s probably right. But I haven’t found a glass spray bottle that feels safe enough to me. They get slippery, and I drop them, and after one shattered, I was done. The slight risk of plastic leaching into my cleaning supplies isn’t worth the risk of my butterfinger acting up again. Instead, I just make smaller batches of cleaning fluids!
I like little covered glass dishes* or even canning jars* for scrubbing pastes. (I don’t pick these up as much as spray bottles, so I feel safe using glass.)
I use small containers, usually 4 ounces. That way I can have a little jar near every sink in the house.
This is just a general tip: use a carrying caddy* for your supplies. It will really help you to keep organized.
I was raised to dust with old t-shirt rags, and it was hard to get me to try a microfiber towel* instead.
But man, I’m glad I did. It holds so much more dust, especially if you use it damp.
It is easy to clean, and lasts forever. Totally worth the cost!
I now have a whole wardrobe of cleaning towels, for stainless steel*, mirrors/glass*, and more.
Just using these towels alone can often do MOST of the cleaning job — with nothing more than water.
Wash these towels on gentle, cold water, and dry without dry cleaning sheets and they last for years.
Another tool I poo-pooed at first. But it’s now possible for me to remove 80% of the dust from my home within half an hour … just because I keep these cleaning wands* on hand.
They grab the dust and don’t let it go. I can reach to clean the back of the TV, the slatted blinds, and the corners.
The microfiber can be washed in the gentle cycle (air dry) and when it’s really gone, replaced.
Pre-Cautions About Homemade Cleaning Supplies
Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is totally safe. Here are some things to keep in mind as you make and use your supplies:
- Not all ingredients “get along.” For example, vinegar is used all over the place, but when mixed with other common ingredients, the result can be less than useful.
- Vinegar plus baking soda basically cancel each other out. Vinegar is an acid, and baking soda is a base, so when they meet they fizz up as they combine to make, essentially, salty water. The fizzing can help unclog a drain (see below) and clean a toilet bowl, but they don’t make a super cleaner when combined. They are both separately great cleansers, though, so using them back to back can be really helpful (see the grout cleaner recipe).
- Vinegar plus castile soap is also sort of a useless combo. When you combine the acid (vinegar) and base (soap) you get … soap. But not the nice, luxuriously silky soap you started with. Instead you get a kind of oily, curdled cottage cheese-like soap. Gross, and no longer useful for cleaning.
- Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide is dangerous. Combining these two powerful disinfectants creates a type of acid that is pretty irritating to the skin and eyes, and personally gives me an asthma attack within a minute or two. No good in combination. But used back to back (see grout) they can really whiten up the place!
- Clean your tools. When you finish a bottle of homemade cleaner, don’t just refill it — sanitize it first. Bacteria introduced into homemade cleaning supplies is not guaranteed to die a good death.
- Trust your eyes and nose. If that batch of homemade scrubbing paste or bottle of cleanser has a weird color or smell, it’s done. Don’t use it — throw it away, and make a new batch. That goes for commercial products, too, of course. Cleaning supplies can and will get slimy or smelly if left unused!
- Label everything. Today, you’ll remember which bottle holds straight hydrogen peroxide and which holds vinegar cleanser. But next week? Not a chance. Everything we make at home is basically colored white or clear — so label your bottles. I also add the date I made the batch to the label, so I don’t wonder how old it is later.
- Use safe water. For anything you’re putting in a bottle and using over time, using distilled water will ensure it’s not contaminated. If you’re just rinsing your tile, using clean tap water is fine — but if you’re making a cleaner you’ll be using over time, do yourself a favor and use distilled water from the store. Or, if you’re out, boil tap water for 15 minutes to disinfect it, and then cool before combining with other ingredients.
- Spot test. Even though these recipes are generally gentle, that doesn’t mean they are safe to use on every surface. Delicate surfaces like wood, floors, carpets and countertops might not react well to even the gentlest of cleaning supplies. So spot test in a small, inconspicuous area before you use any solution for the first time.
- Wear gloves when cleaning up after your dog on chemotherapy. As Dr. Ettinger reminds us in this article, your dog on chemo is definitely shedding some chemo drugs in their urine and feces in the days following chemotherapy. She says at least three days, but for some drugs, it can be even longer. Please follow her precautions at home, and if your dog has an accident in the house, make sure you are wearing gloves — and maybe even a face mask — when you clean it up. A mild cleanser like the ones I describe below should be used to clean, but you should probably wash carpets, floors, and countertops three times, just to make sure you remove the problem. I would use paper towels for jobs like this, and dispose of them in a tightly sealed bag immediately. If you use a microfiber cloth, I would throw it out rather than try to reuse it later.
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Homemade Cleaning Supplies: Recipes
Here’s a secret I learned from a house cleaner: most things can be cleaned with an all-purpose cleaner.
Here are two “all-purpose” cleaners that can be used for everything from mirrors to wiping down toilets.
These cleansers cut grime, disinfect, and smell good. I would not use them on wood, stone, or floors, though.
H2O2 All-Purpose Cleaner
- 2 cups water (distilled if you live in a hard water area)
- 1 cup hydrogen peroxide (brown bottle)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
Mix in a spray bottle and use everywhere you need a gentle cleanser. Hydrogen peroxide is great in the shower to fight mold, too!
Vinegar All-Purpose Cleaner
- 1 part white vinegar
- 1 part water
- essential oils for nice smell OR lemon rind, or rosemary sprig
Mix in a spray bottle use. If you are using lemon rind or rosemary, you will need to let it sit and infuse for a week to get a really lovely smell out of it. This is a great general cleaner you can use on everything from tile to spot cleaning carpets. Vinegar fights mold, so I use this in the shower, too.
The acidic all-purpose cleaners above will work not work for delicate stones like granite, marble, or slate.
For stone surfaces, use a couple drops (maybe a teaspoon) of dishwashing liquid (non-citrus!) and 2 cups of warm water, mixed in a bowl.
Sponge on to gently clean the stone, and buff dry with a microfiber cleaning cloth. Make sure to completely remove the soap residue, or your stone will suffer!
In terms of polishing, the only way to keep the stone really safe is to reseal it every year, better every six months.
Sealers are generally not DIY material. But regularly cleaning with gentle cleansers like this can keep your stone clean, so when you do reseal it, it’s still beautiful.
Mirror and Glass Cleaner
For daily cleaning, I usually just use isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol in a spray bottle and a microfiber mirror cloth to clean both mirrors and glass.
That stuff cuts through everything and does NOT leave streaks. But it can also really dry out my hands if I am doing a lot of glass work.
So when I clean windows, I usually make myself a glass cleaner. Here’s a good recipe:
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 cup isopropyl alcohol
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 cups water
- 8-10 drops of your favorite essential oils (optional)
Mix everything in a spray bottle and shake well before you spray. If you don’t shake well, the cornstarch won’t be integrated, and that’s what reduces streaking the most.
I’m a sucker for beautiful wood, so I like to polish mine. Here’s an easy recipe to use at home.
This is a small batch because you won’t need much in any given day, and olive oil goes rancid over time.
If I have any left over, I use it as a base for that night’s salad dressing.
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon water
Mix in a small jelly jar, put the lid on the jar, and shake it until it’s all emulsified. Dip your microfiber cleaning cloth into the polish and use sparingly, buffing the wood with a separate clean, dry microfiber cloth.
My favorite! Commercial silver cleaners are GROSS. Here’s how to clean silver totally naturally with CHEMISTRY!
- boiling water
- baking soda
- tin foil
Place a sheet of tinfoil in a wide shallow pan — I use a 9×12 baking dish — so that the tin foil covers the bottom.
Set your silver in the pan, and don’t crowd it, because in order for this to work there needs to be open water around each piece.
Pour the boiling water into the pan, submerging the silver completely.
Sprinkle baking soda slowly over the silver. It will fizz and bubble, as the baking soda interacts with the tin foil and the tarnish. Keep sprinkling baking soda until all fizzing stops.
Remove the silver from the pan with tongs (it’s hot!) and wash with dishwashing liquid and warm water to remove all the baking soda. Super clean, sparkly silver!
And look at that tin foil — it’s now covered with tarnish! So cool.
If you have more pieces to do, simply repeat the process, making sure to use new foil and new boiling water.
Some folks use the aluminum pans instead to save time, but I have a lot of silver …
This book is a must-read, whether your dog has cancer or not. Cancer is the #1 killer of dogs. One out of three dogs get cancer, and 1 out of 2 dogs over the age of ten do. If you have a dog, you are going to face it eventually. Be prepared!
Favorite!! >> Scrubbing Paste for Sinks, Stovetops, Tubs, and Tile
Here’s an all-natural replacement for your “soft scrub” cleaner. I love using this anywhere I need a little extra degreasing and a little extra abrasive power. Sinks, stovetops, tile floors, glass shower doors all come clean after being treated with this scrub. I have a little jar of this paste in my kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry room.
- 1/3 cup baking soda
- castile soap (I like peppermint for this)
- essential oils (optional)
- jelly jar or storage jar with lid
Put baking soda in your storage container, and add castile soap to it and mix until you get a smooth, thick paste.
Dip your sponge or brush into the container and use everywhere you would any commercial paste cleaner.
Rinse with warm water.
This paste will keep for a long time with a lid.
This won’t necessarily clear big clogs (Zep* will) but it’s useful for freshening garbage disposals and opening drains all over the house.
- 1/4 cup baking soda
- 1/4 cup vinegar
Sprinkle baking soda down the drain, and pour vinegar in after it. The fizzing will be phenomenal, but that combo will eat through lots of issues!
Let it sit for an hour, and then pour boiling water down the drain to rinse it. If you do this regularly, the likelihood of a big clog will definitely go down.
Keep in mind that the effectiveness of this cleaner is likely the REACTION of fizzing you get when you combine the acid vinegar with the base baking soda.
Before vacuuming, sprinkle baking soda all over your carpet. Let sit for half an hour, and vacuum.
If you like a fresh scent, I get dried lavender flowers from the bulk section of my local health food store and mix them into the baking soda before sprinkling. It really works!
Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Honestly, I get squeamish around toilet bowls, so I sometimes use a bleach commercial cleaner to make sure I’m really keeping it clean in there. Especially if it’s been a while.
But for general cleaning, I have no problem with using this combination:
- 1/4 cup baking soda
- essential oils (optional, but tea tree oil is great for this)
- 1 cup vinegar
Mix baking powder with essential oils (about a teaspoon) in a glass bowl.
Put about a tablespoon of the baking soda mix (or just plain baking soda, if you aren’t using oils) into the water in the bowl.
Sprinkle the rest of the powder around the bowl itself and use your toilet brush to spread the powder and scrub your bowl.
Pour vinegar into the toilet and let the mix fizz.
Use the brush to clean the bowl again, and then let it sit for 15 minutes or more, if necessary.
Flush, and you’ve got a sparkly, disinfected toilet bowl!
If not, just scrub out your bowl with the scrubbing paste above. It will take care of everything.
I hate dirty grout. To clean it, I use a grout cleaner brush* that holds the exact right angle so I don’t give myself a shoulder injury, and the following method:
- Sponge straight vinegar onto the grout, let sit for five minutes
- Take some of my scrubbing paste (above) and dip my brush into it.
- Scrub the grout, allowing the baking soda in the paste to fizz with the vinegar on the grout and work it in.
- Rinse with warm water.
- If necessary, follow up with a squirt or two of hydrogen peroxide, let it sit, scrub again (make sure to clean the brush first so the soda and vinegar are gone), and rinse with warm water.
This could not be easier!
- Put one or two cups of water in a measuring cup or ceramic bowl, and add 1 tablespoon of vinegar.
- Microwave until about half the water has evaporated.
- Wait 10 minutes, so the vinegar-steam can work on the crusted surface of the oven.
- Open door and carefully remove the bowl (it will likely still be hot).
- Wipe the walls with a damp sponge, and if you have baked on stains that don’t come off easily, sprinkle the sponge with a little baking soda, and they’ll come off pretty quickly.
- Wipe down the walls again with a clean damp sponge to remove all traces of soda or vinegar.
Disinfect Cutting Boards
Put hydrogen peroxide (food grade — white bottle) in a sprayer and spray on cutting boards to kill germs and bacteria. Let sit to penetrate. I do this before I oil my boards.
You can also use a half a lemon to do the exact same thing — just cut the lemon in half and rub the cut surface over the cutting board to disinfect it. Let sit for a few minutes, and then oil the boards.
Save Time, Money, and Angst with Homemade Cleaning Supplies
Making your own cleaning supplies reduces the toxins in your home, saves time and money.
And my dogs hang out with me now while I clean — whereas they used to go hide when I brought out the cleaning caddy.
Enjoy your home, and your dog, and know you are doing what’s best for both of you.
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Molly Jacobson is a writer and also the editor of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, published by Maui Media. A lifelong dog lover and self-professed dog health nerd, she is all too familiar with dog cancer. She has been supporting readers of this blog since the beginning. Molly earned a BA from Tufts University, and after a career in bookselling and book publishing attended The Swedish Institute to become a licensed massage therapist in New York State, licensed by the medical board. Her fascination with health is both personal and global, and she is most proud of how this site and the associated publications have revolutionized not only our approach to dog health, but our own health.
Love this Molly! What do you recommend for dog bowls with cancer? Stainless steel?
Thanks Karen! I like stainless steel because it’s non-reactive and can be thoroughly cleaned. But honestly, I use glass bowls for water bowls (pyrex in fact), and little ceramic plates for food. I don’t even bother to buy “dog bowls” anymore. I just use what I use for us humans, and then throw it all in the dishwasher for disinfecting.
Great article! Thank you so much!
Great article, Molly, thank you!
Always happy to be of service to you, Laurie!
Excellent article!! I’ve been using homemade cleaning solutions for a few years now and learned so much from your article! Anxious to try your innovative recipes.
Glad to hear it, Paula! I am something of a neat freak, but chores are still chore-ish. I like making my own supplies to make it feel more … virtuous? Whatever — I’m glad you found this helpful.
Great article. Just wanted to share another source for essential oils. They are Organic, reasonably priced and they have several that are ingestible.
LOVE this information Molly, thank you! I need to print it out and keep it in my kitchen. It’s timely too. I just learned about how dogs and cats become “nose blind” around strong cleaning product scents, which throws off their ability to “feel” their world and makes them out-of-sorts. The least we can do as pet parents is clean our homes with products that won’t interfere with their amazing ability to smell their way through the world! Thanks for the great post.
Thanks Rene! It’s true, when I have to use something very strong, like when a mold infestation broke out — or even when I diffuse essential oils too much — I notice both Kanga and Roo seem out of sorts. Their sense of smell is so acute!
Isopropyl alcohol is toxic, rather you can use grain alcohol in its place. (Vodka, Everclear) . What you might use in making tinsures And essential oils..
Thanks, Jana! I suppose you could use vodka or grain alcohol in the glass/mirror cleaner, instead of isopropyl alcohol. I don’t think of those surfaces as ones that dogs have ready access to, though. I personally wouldn’t use any type of alcohol in a cleanser that touches the floor. I only use it to clean glass/mirrors. But if your dog licks a window, I suppose that would be an issue there, too? So, sure, if you feel more comfortable cleaning your windows/mirrors with vodka, try it. I don’t know if it would be as streak-free, though.
Aren’t there essential oils that should not be used around dogs? Just because something is plant based does not make it safe for anyone. Just ask Socrates about hemlock. Many chemotherapy drugs are plant based (vincristine).
Hi! You are absolutely correct, that ALL pharmaceuticals are based on plant compounds — so there’s no guarantee that anything “natural” is automatically safe. As Molly states above, if you’re not sure the oil is safe (because a veterinarian told you so), don’t use it topically. Using lavender oil for aromatherapy or cleaning purposes is generally considered safe, however. Lavender is exceptionally gentle.
There are indigestible lavender oils. Not sure if those would be better to use?