No Chaos No Order

September 26, 2013

Experiment: all purpose cleaner

Filed under: health, home — fairyguts @ 1:15 am

In my research and experimenting with home made laundry detergent, I decided I needed to test my all-purpose cleaner.  As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been using home made household cleaners for several years now to avoid lung irritation and had been using combinations of baking soda, vinegar, castile soap, and/or borax.  “All Natural Non-Toxic cleaner” recipes have similar ingredients and inflated claims of efficiency, but some ingredients are not compatible, resulting – most visibly – in precipitate solids.  What part of these cleaning recipes are actually useful?

I made a lot of decisions which significantly narrowed the scope of this experiment.

  • Freshness.  I had read on some blogs that you had to make your cleaner fresh each time you used it.  I considered using two spray bottles per cleaner: one would be made up and used for the the full duration of the experiment (over several weeks), while the other bottle would have a fresh batch made up each time.  I discarded this option primarily for logistics: I didn’t have another 6 spray bottles.
  • Specialization.  I thought about testing a variety of both all-purpose AND glass cleaners.  On reflection, I decided what was different about these two types of cleaners was that one had to leave no residue.  I decided I would prefer all of my cleaners to leave no residue, so I would only test one type of cleaner and make residues a condition of cleaning determination.
  • Vinegars. In my reading, there were claims that orange peels soaked in vinegar increased its cleaning effectiveness and improved the smell.  I made some and used it as one of my cleaners to test this claim.
  • Situations.  I created a list of situations I would like to test the cleaners on including: greasy walls, dust build up, food drips on cupboards, finger prints, bug smeared windows, mildew, and soap scum. For the experiment, I needed to be able to recreate these situations in equal amounts and, although I thought of ways to test most, logistics were prohibitive. I felt testing oil and dried food would be sufficient at this time.
  • Measurements.  I looked up ways people measured cleanliness and, in manufacturing settings, there are some high-tech light refraction methods, but they often use black light and white glove visual inspection with “pass/no pass” identification.  I decided I would just use visual inspection, as I would in my daily cleaning routine.
  • Wiping cloths. Since these experiments inform how I clean my own house, and I am a microfiber devote (although, perhaps I should do a third experiment!?!) I elected to use the same ones I have been using for years.  I had enough new cloths to have one specifically for each cleaner. I debated about washing the cloths between each soiling type and elected not to, since this would most closely reflect how I would use it.

Hypothesis:  Home-made all-purpose cleaner made with water and vinegar cleans better than cleaner made with borax or castile soap.

Prediction: Home made cleaners made with a combination of vinegar and baking soda or vinegar and borax are problematic because of the neutralizing effect the ingredients have on each other (depending on concentrations).  Additionally, cleaners made with borax and castile soap create precipitates which damage the spray bottles and leave particulates on the surface being cleaned.  I predict a cleaner with only vinegar and water will clean better than a cleaner made with castile soap or borax.

Independent Variable: All-Purpose Cleaners

Dependent Variable: Two soiling types (olive oil and dried food on glass).


  • (6) Home made all-purpose cleaners

2013-09-19 17.05.26
2 c water and 1 T borax
2 c water
1 c water and 1 c vinegar
1 c water and 1 c orange vinegar
1.5 c water and 2 t castile soap
1.5 c water and .5 c vinegar and 1 T borax


  • (5) Glass tiles
  • (6) New microfiber cloths.
  • Soiling types (olive oil and food (cake batter, mustard, raw egg))


  1. Soil each tile with equal amounts of soiling (olive oil or dried food).
  2. Spray the devoted microfiber cloth three times with the cleaner.
  3. Wipe.
  4. Evaluate (pass/no pass)
  5. Repeat 2, 3, and 4 until pass.


Olive Oil –

DSC00103  DSC00104

  1. N N P
  2. P
  3. P
  4. N N N N N
  5. N N N N N P
  6. P

Dried Food –


  1. N N N N N N N N N N * N N N N N N N N N N % N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N+
  2. N N N N N N N N N N * N N N N N N N N N N % N N N N N N
  3. N N N N N N N N N N * N N N N N N N N N N % N N N N N N N N
  4. N N N N N N N N N N * N N N N N N N N N N % N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N+
  5. N N N N N N N N N N * N N N N N N N N N N % N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N+
  6. N N N N N N N N N N * N N N N N N N N N N % N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N N+


* At this point, cleaner #2 has cleaned the best, but not completely. I changed the method by squirting the glass directly and letting sit for 1 minute before resuming the spray-and-wipe method.


% Again, #2 is the best so far with #3 a close second.  I squirt each glass with cleaner and let sit for 3 minutes.  All but cleaner #2 and #3 needed more than 20 more wipes to finally pass.


The orange oil vinegar cleaner itself left an oily residue on glass, so no matter how much I cleaned with it, it left a smear. Here you can see particulates, too.


Conclusion: Plain water was the most successful all-purpose cleaner.  Further tests need to be conducted to determine if other detergent recipes with a variety of ingredients and their ratios are more or less effective than plain water.

Discussion:  This experiment has prompted me to reduce my cleaning supplies even further. Even though pure water was the best cleaner in this case, I will continue to add vinegar to my cleaning solution.  I like the smell, supposed mineral-dissolving-properties (not tested here),  and the reported bacteria, mold, and mildew killing properties.  Paired with my baking soda pastes, I believe this is all I’ll need for my home!


1 Comment »

  1. […] Long ago I started an experiment around cleaning solutions. While I was looking for cleaner recipes to try out, I noticed a rash of Pinterest pins exclaiming “How to Turn a Mason Jar into a Squirt Bottle!” showcasing their finished projects. And, while I laud their accomplishments, I could not see the benefit in that. I couldn’t imagine my hand fitting between the trigger and the mason lid – I’d have to hold my smallest two fingers out. And then, because of the broad lid, I’d have to hold my hand cocked awkwardly perpendicular. But, finally, I was confused … I can understand the interest in using glass over plastic, but why not use the screw-lid glass water or juice bottles already available at most grocery stores? And, since I was using plastic bottles with squirting tops that were so crummy they only worked 60% of the time, I decided to do so.  In the experiment you can see the bottles with juice labels still on them, but following are the snazzed up versions for my snazzed up laundry cupboards. […]

    Pingback by Laundry Room: cleaning supplies | No Chaos No Order — October 27, 2014 @ 10:52 am

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