Mary Hunt is the award-winning and best-selling author of 23 books. She writes the Everyday Cheapskate column that appears in The Daily Journal.

Two women, different locations, same accident. Both were using an ordinary commercial toilet bowl cleaner containing ammonia and were not satisfied with the way it was removing stains. Each added household chlorine bleach to that commercial product and stirred with a brush. One died quickly; the other spent a long time in the hospital.

Here’s the problem: Whenever chlorine bleach comes into contact with acid or an acid-producing substance such as toilet bowl cleaner or vinegar, there is a nearly immediate release of chlorine gas. This is not a good thing. A similar result occurs when chlorine bleach is mixed with ammonia, lye or other such substances. Chlorine gas is lethal.

Let me assure you: If you understand the problem, you have nothing to fear by making your own cleaning products. But you might be wondering why you even should consider making these things yourself rather than just buying the commercial brand. The cost, for starters.

Lesson to be learned: Know your cleaning products. This will remove all fear of unintended consequences.


Club soda. For a light-duty glass cleaner, just pour club soda (less than 2 cents per ounce) into a spray bottle. Now, you have a very effective, nontoxic glass cleaner. How simple and cheap is that?

Vinegar and water. Mix 1/2 cup white vinegar and 1/2 cup water in a spray bottle. If the glass is particularly dirty, wash with warm, soapy water first.

Ammonia and rubbing alcohol. To make a heavy-duty formula for cleaning glass, mix household ammonia and rubbing alcohol together in equal proportions in a spray bottle. Label and keep out of reach of children. This is powerful stuff.


Pour 1/2 cup ammonia, 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda into 1 gallon of warm water. Mix well.


This is a terrific homemade copycat version of Soft Scrub. Make sure you measure the ingredients exactly: In a small bowl, mix together 1 2/3 cups baking soda with 1/2 cup of liquid soap such as Blue Dawn (but not detergent). Dilute with 1/2 cup water and add 2 tablespoons white vinegar. Stir with a fork until smooth and all the lumps are gone. Pour into a 16-ounce squeeze container with a squirt flip-top cap (such as a ketchup bottle or similar). Shake well before each use. Keep tightly capped between uses. Hint: Rinse the flip-top cap after each use so it doesn’t get clogged.


Soap. Regular cleaning with plain soap and hot water will kill some bacteria.

Borax. Borax (20 Mule Team is one brand of borax) has excellent disinfectant and deodorizing properties. Mix 1/2 cup borax (available in the supermarket laundry aisle) into 1 gallon hot water, and mix thoroughly.

Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. This is an excellent disinfectant. Sponge on, and allow to dry. It must dry to do its job. Use in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves.


Baking soda and vinegar. Sprinkle baking soda into the bowl, then drizzle with vinegar, and scour with a toilet brush. This combination both cleans and deodorizes.

Borax and lemon juice. For removing a stubborn stain or ring, mix enough borax and lemon juice to form a paste. Apply the paste to the ring, allow to sit for two hours, and scrub thoroughly.

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