When my daughter Maia turned seven we decided it was time to redistribute the household chores. I believe kids should work—not too hard and not everyday, but I think they need to be part of running a household. Maia has always had little tasks—cleaning up when she makes a mess, setting the table for dinner, sorting recycling, that sort of thing. But she’s never had a weekly chore to call her own.

So we set out the options—laundry was out (would you trust your delicates to a seven-year-old?), the vacuum frightened her, and the dishwasher didn’t seem, well, “fun enough.” In the end, she chose the bathroom. "Fun" is in the eye of the beholder.

Like every good eco-home, my cleaning closet contains a variety of earth-friendly products that claim not to harm the environment. Most of them also seem to require a fair amount of elbow grease to get them to work—something my seven-year-old gives the impression she’s incapable of. So we headed to the store—I started reading labels and Maia started sniffing contents. Method’s Pink Grapefruit All Surface Cleaner struck us as the best candidate to put the shine back in our loo.

Maia loved her cleaner and, indeed, the bathroom took on a fragrant sparkle. Until week three, when she informed me she’d run out. We bought a second bottle and I explained that no matter how fun it is to squirt, she needed to show restraint. We got four weeks out of that bottle. And I realized at our current rate, it was going to cost upward of $50 a year to have my kid clean our very small bathroom.

When I was a university student, I used to make all my own cleaning products. Various combinations of borax, vinegar, soap and water replaced everything from bathroom scrub to floor cleaner. I wasn’t sure why I had abandoned them—other than perceived convenience. Shopping can seem so much easier than mixing. So Maia and I did some homework and made our own cleaning products.

The only downfall turned out to be she didn’t like the smell, as I discovered when she decided to bypass the vinegar solution and wash the mirror with toothpaste. She said she preferred a minty aroma—and explained that because toothpaste polishes teeth nicely she assumed it would do the same for the mirror.

I can’t always anticipate what will happen inside the mind of a seven-year-old. But I can share what we discovered about making affordable cleaners. If you know how to make them smell nice, please clue me in.

Pretty much every recipe I found was a combination of two or more of these basic ingredients:
 

Baking Soda


As the package says, it cleans and deodorizes. It also works well as a scrub.

Borax


This is a standard in many homemade products and works by converting water molecules to hydrogen peroxide. I ended up skipping this one when I discovered it can be toxic in higher concentrations.

Soap


Pure soap comes in bars, liquid or flakes. I had a bottle of Dr Bonner’s baby soap kicking around that I’ve had since Maia was, well, a baby.

Washing Soda / Sodium Carbonate


This is different from baking soda. It cuts grease, removes stains and gets rid of mold. We don’t use it for everyday cleaning.

White Vinegar


Cuts grease, cleans and freshens (and the smell fades pretty quickly).

 

Recipe: Basic All-Purpose Cleaner


In a spray bottle, combine 75 ml vinegar, 25 ml baking soda and 15 ml of soap with one litre of water.

Mirror cleaner:
In a spray bottle mix equal parts water and vinegar.

Floor cleaner:
Add 75 ml of vinegar to a bucket of warm water.