Uncluttered cleaning supplies

In the comment section of my post “10 suggestions for where to begin uncluttering” reader Anna asked the following question:

I’m in the process of decluttering and streamlining my utility closets and cabinets. I’ve searched the web high and low for a minimalist list of cleaning supplies to use as a loose guideline. I’ve used the search function on this blog to find old articles but I’m coming up empty. I’d appreciate a link if an article comes to mind. Thanks!

Another reader chimed in with a helpful response, but I wanted to chime in with my thoughts in a broader sense. Especially as Toxic Free Future says: “There are hundreds of cleaning products vying for your dollar. However, you don’t always need a special purpose cleaner for every dirty dilemma.” Since many of us have a number of such special purpose cleaners, there are certainly some uncluttering possibilities.

As with almost any uncluttering situation, there’s no one right answer — no single list of products we should all have. But I’ll present some strategies to consider, with pointers to additional resources.

Strategy 1: Eliminate toxins

The ingredients used in many cleaning products have potential risks; some people will want to avoid products with these ingredients. The Environmental Working Group has extensive information about such toxins and their possible dangers, and it rates a large number of commercially available products on a scale of A to F.

Another list of potentially hazardous chemicals in our household products, in an easy-to-read format, comes from the David Suzuki Foundation. Anna mentioned in another comment that she makes her own, so this first strategy is more for the big-picture perspective.

Strategy 2: Make your own

Many online sources — and a number of books — explain how you can use a limited number of common products to make your own cleaning solutions. As Martha Stewart says: “Many people are conditioned to believe a house is not clean unless it smells of chemicals. In fact, the opposite is true. You can make your house sparkle with just a few simple supplies, many of which are already in your cupboards.”

Clean: the humble art of zen-cleansing says you really only need five ingredients: baking soda, borax, lemon, salt, and white vinegar. And the website Wabi Sabi Baby has recipes with only six ingredients — and since one of those is water, it’s really only five.

Many sites include essential oils, such as lavender oil and tea tree oil, in their recipes for homemade cleaners. However, the Environmental Working Group points out that these have some potential risks, too — so you’ll need to consider whether or not you feel OK about using them.

With make-your-own cleaners, you don’t have to make a lot at once. With a little practice you can simply make up what you need for one cleaning and then store the un-mixed ingredients.

Strategy 3: Consider whether you really need antibacterial cleaners

An article in Scientific American challenges the need for antibacterial products in most households, while noting that people with weakened immune systems may have good reason for “targeted use” of such cleaners.

The Environmental Working Group and Toxic Free Future also argue that such cleaners are usually unnecessary.

Strategy 4: Start with a list from Martha Stewart or Real Simple

With some searching, I’ve found some decent lists of minimum products that you can then customize to your own circumstances and preferences.

Martha Stewart says: “For routine cleaning, less is more. You actually need very few products to clean any given room.” She then provides a universal cleaning list with only six items — but this excludes items such as brooms.

And Real Simple has a house-cleaning kit checklist with only 20 items. It includes white vinegar, baking soda, and an all-purpose cleaner — but also microfiber cloths, a toilet brush, a dust mop, and other such items.

14 Comments for “Uncluttered cleaning supplies”

  1. posted by Andie on

    I am a complete advocate of the baking soda and vinegar school. I feel like i can do 99% of our cleaning with that.

    My husband, however, loves to give the bathroom a good cleaning with diluted bleach about twice a year, but we only ever buy the smallest bottles we can find, and currently we don’t have any and i won’t be the one to buy it.

    i do also keep magic erasers on hand and murphy’s oil soap (we have a lot of wood!)

  2. posted by Frederique on

    Unf*ck Your Habitat has a great list (and is a wonderfully helpful tumblr, btw) : go read the “welcome packet”, you’ll have a description of the website, and the link to the cleaning supplies list, as suggested by the owner :


    The “UFYH supplies maste list” is available here :

    (Not affiliated with this Tumblr, but I have to admit that I *LOVE* the before/after pictures, highly inspiring!)

  3. posted by Helena Alkhas on

    Great tips Jeri. I have to try some DIY cleaning products and replace the bad fumes from commercial ones. My face gets all red when I’m cleaning the bathrooms. So bad!

  4. posted by Tasha on

    I agree with Andie. I have also added 50/50 mix of isopropyl alcohol and water to my cleaning supplies. It eradicate pests from house plants, cleans white boards, lifts felt pen stains, and cleans computer screens not to mention stubborn bathroom messes.

  5. posted by Sheila P. on

    I just started reading your blog. I find that baking soda and vinegar clean just about ANYTHING for me. I’m in the middle of packing, cleaning, and moving, so this time period has been a great opportunity for me to declutter and further my path towards minimalism. I even started blogging about this process myself. I look forward to your future posts!

  6. posted by adora on

    Green products are more biodegradable, but not necessary harmless to human. You often need to use more, and thus expose to even more toxins.

    If green is important, I’d suggest Method. They are more effective than other brands. You only really need 3 things: multipurpose spray, glass cleaner, & bathroom cleaner. Actually, most dirt come off with diluted dishwashing detergent.

    If you don’t mind conventional cleaning product, Pledge Multi-surface is a great unclutterer’s product.

    I know many people prefer the baking soda vinegar mixture, but I find it to be troublesome and would often put off cleaning.

  7. posted by Pat on

    Wisk detergent, then I use baking soda in all wash loads with greasy clothes (my son is a mechanic). Just use the soak cycle and you can even use cold water (which is more economical).

    Vinegar instead of fabric softener will get out sweat stains, smells, and keep your darks darker-again with cold water. Plus your laundry is soft and your towels dry better.
    Just don’t use baking soda & vinegar together.

  8. posted by Anna on

    Awesome, thanks for the info! I’m about to re-read your article and follow all the links you supplied. I had seen the more detailed lists of Martha’s, I’m so glad you found the minimal one. That is just what I was looking for.

    In my search I came across this list: http://www.wecandoit.coop/pdfs/supplylist.pdf

    I thought it was fairly minimalist, and there are products I can take off of their list because I don’t have pets, carpets, (the rugs I take to the carwash every couple of years) or a few other of the specialty needs.

    Thanks again for the work you put into this article.

  9. posted by CanadianKate on

    Anna: I have to ask – how do you take your rugs through the car wash?

    Oh, wait, I got it! You mean the do-it-yourself ones not the automatic! (I honestly was trying to figure out how you attached the carpet to the roof of the car so it didn’t come off as your car went along the conveyor belt… that makes quite the visual!)

    Never thought of using a car wash to clean big items; must file that away because we are moving to an apartment and I won’t have an outside hose in the future.

  10. posted by Marrena on

    I have found the KEY thing is excellent tools. Not all microfiber cloths are created equal. Using the amazing e-cloths


    for most jobs I only need water! These things are truly miraculous. The one I really can’t get over is the stove cleaner. I am an avid, sloppy cook and my stove usually looks like some sort of awful explosion has taken place. I never dreamed I could clean my stove with just water.

    The glass cleaner cloths are also terrific. The only product that I was disappointed with was the dishwashing sponges, they just get too grotty.

    Likewise, for laundry I bought this gizmo


    and it works as advertised. I don’t go completely detergent-free, but for a triple load I only add a tablespoon of detergent.

  11. posted by Marrena on

    Also, here’s an article on a popular antibacterial ingredient, triclosan:


  12. posted by Sarah on

    I want to add one more item to this list: hydrogen peroxide (the 3% kind you buy at the drugstore).

    Make a paste by mixing baking soda and peroxide in a GLASS container or bowl(NOT A METAL ONE), and use it to clean your sink and bathtub. Apply, leave on a minute or two, rinse off. Rub with a sponge or paper towel if needed.

    Amazing results: it got grunge & stains off an old, very worn bathtub, and shined up the chrome fixtures beautifully.

    I’m told it also gets off the cooked-on stuff you can’t get off your cookie sheets & pie pans, but I haven’t tried that yet.

    NOTE: Because baking soda + peroxide does create a chemical reaction, you have to mix this fresh each time you use it; it CANNOT be made ahead & stored.

  13. posted by Anna on


    *giggle* Yeah, the carwash you use yourself. Most of them have big clips for car floor mats that you can use to hang your rug. Cotton rugs to fine, but don’t come as clean as wool or indoor outdoor rugs. (This from the wife of a cotton farmer, so don’t tell him I said that.)

    I soap mine down really good, rinse, turn them over, soap and rinse again, then turn it over for a final rinse. (My rugs are all reversible.) Then I let dry in the sun. In my mind the sun zaps the bacteria.

    @Marrena: Thanks for the suggestions, I will check them out.

    @Sarah: I do keep peroxide on hand, I even screwed on a used spray top to one of them. I’ve wondered about buying the stronger peroxide you can get at pool supply stores so I can play with the strength. Even the peroxide concentration used for whitening teeth is much stronger than the 3%. Regardless, it looks like peroxide might be what I end up using to keep my shower’s marble tile clean. I’m glad to hear about the chrome fixtures, I have always used vinegar for this, but have read that vinegar is very bad for marble, so thanks for the tip!

  14. posted by Sarah on

    @Anna: I haven’t tried the baking soda + peroxide combination on marble, so proceed with caution!

    And I don’t know what higher concentrations of peroxide would do to the mix, because I haven’t tried that either. But I really was astonished at the results I got on that old bathtub; previously I’d used so many other products on it and was convinced it would never really be stain-free again, but now it is!

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