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Local experts: Handle these homemade cleaning solutions with care

With proper precautions, homemade cleaning solutions can save money and help reuse household materials.
With proper precautions, homemade cleaning solutions can save money and help reuse household materials.

All jazzed to use those fun, thrifty and eco-friendly DIY concoctions for spring cleaning?

Go for it—but make sure you take precautions to stay safe and protect your household surfaces, appliances and other items.

It's great to be able to simply open the liquor cabinet for cheap vodka to use as a shower spray, or break out some baking soda for non-toxic tub scrubbing, but even the most common pantry items should be handled with care. "While homemade cleaning solutions are not going to cause super dangerous reactions or kill you, they do have the potential to cause damage," says Ines Beltran, Gwinnet County agent and food science expert for the University of Georgia extension service.

The precautions fall into two categories: those that will help keep family members healthy and those that will protect household items and surfaces from damage.

To keep people and pets safe:

• Make sure you mix new solutions in perfectly clean containers and don't use a repurposed container unless you change or cover the label. Otherwise, you risk someone ingesting it or using it to, say, spray plants or even for its original purpose.

• Just like you would with any cleaning solution, clearly label and date any DIY cleaning solution, says Beltran, and keep it in a cabinet that kids or pets can't access.

• You may know that the sodium hypochlorite in bleach reacts poorly with ammonia, drain cleaners and other acids. What you may not realize is that vinegar is one of those acids, so avoid, for example, dumping both bleach and vinegar into a floor cleaner or laundry load, says the Washington State health department. This can cause chlorine gas to be emitted and result in coughing and breathing problems, burning and watery eyes, a runny nose or more extensive symptoms with longer exposure.

• Baking soda giant Arm and Hammer warns against keeping a bottle of mixed vinegar and baking soda around, or letting kids make these "bottle bombs," saying "when this mixture is combined inside an enclosed container such as a plastic water bottle ... it creates a potentially unsafe condition that could result in injury."

• To avoid skin abrasion, always use rubber gloves to add products like Super Washing Soda to homemade solutions or pastes, says Arm and Hammer. When mixing homemade ingredients, avoid combining hydrogen peroxide and vinegar. The mixture can create peracetic acid, which can cause burns.

To protect your stuff:

• Alkaline ingredients, including baking soda, can scratch marble or granite, says the UGA extension, so be careful where you apply it.

• Some homemade cleaners can strip wax from hardwood floors.

• Even non-toxic washing soda can destroy a garment if it's not colorfast, says Arm and Hammer, so make sure to test a non-visible part of the garment first before washing.

• Vinegar is good for cleaning stainless steel. You can boil a bit in a pot to take care of stubborn stains, for example. But keep it away from aluminum or cast iron since those are reactive surfaces.

• Baking soda makes a nice scouring powder or laundry booster, but Arm and Hammer warns not to use it on fiberglass sinks, tubs or tile, or on any aluminum surfaces or aluminum cookware because it causes a reaction that can discolor and mar such surfaces.

With proper precautions, though, homemade cleaning solutions can save money and help reuse household materials.

If you want to jump on the bandwagon but have somehow missed the slew of homemade cleaning solution ideas on Pinterest and mom blogs, here are a few reputable DIY cleaning recipes from the University of Georgia extension service to get you started, along with instructions from Arm and Hammer for using washing soda:

(From "Green Cleaning Recipes for a Happy Home" by Sharon M. S. Gibson and Pamela R. Turner:)

Garbage disposal cleaner:

1 cup ice

Used lemon or orange rind

To eliminate garbage disposal odors and clean and sharpen blades, grind ice and rinds until pulverized.

Oven cleaner:

2 Tbs vegetable-oil based liquid soap (common name, Castile soap, available at health and natural food stores)

2 Tbs borax

Mix the soap and borax in a spray bottle. Fill the bottle with hot water and shake well. Spray on oven and leave for 20 minutes. Scrub off.

No-streak glass cleaner:

1/4 cup white vinegar

1 Tbs cornstarch

1 quart warm water

Mix the ingredients and apply with a sponge or pour into spray bottle and spray on. For lint-free results, wipe dry with crumpled newspaper, buff to a shine.

From Arm and Hammer:

To pre-treat laundry with washing soda:

Make a paste of four tablespoons Super Washing Soda and 1/4 cup warm water. Using rubber gloves, gently rub paste into dampened stain and wash as usual.

Read more homemade cleaning recipes in English and Spanish from the University of Georgia.