Baking soda and vinegar! There are few things that they can't clean either together or on their own. They are super cheap and environmentally friendly as well!
Here are just some of the great things I've used vinegar for:
* Degreasing the oven and vents of the oven hood: Just wipe down with a half and half mixture of vinegar and water.
* Erasing crayon from carpet. Dip a toothbrush in the vinegar and scrub. I did notice though, that if the carpet gets too saturated with vinegar, it loses effectiveness. If this happens, like with a really deep solidly colored purple crayon mark, take a break, let it dry, and then start again.
* Get rid of mineral deposits around sink faucets: Apply undiluted vinegar to the deposit and let sit at least 15 minutes, then scrub away with a toothbrush.
* Disinfect countertops and cutting boards: Wipe down countertops at least once a day and cutting boards after each use with undiluted vinegar to kill any nasties that might be trying to set up housekeeping.
* Destickify wood: Whether it be a breadbox or a chair, wiping it down with vinegar can freshen up the surface.
* Prevent mildew in the shower: Who needs one of those fancy (toxic) automatic shower cleaners? Just keep a spray bottle of vinegar in the shower and do a quick spritz around when you get out of the shower.
* Wash windows and mirrors: Some people swear by vinegar on newspaper, but I never have newspapers around, so I have to use a cloth rag, but I still get that streak free shine (at least until the kids start doodling on steamy mirrors again!).
* Dissolving old glue: Whether the kids glued something they shouldn’t or I’m trying to take something apart to fix it, letting some vinegar soak into it can make the job easier.
* Fabric softener: I don’t do this one often (because I don’t pay enough attention to what cycle it is on), but adding ½ cup to the last rinse cycle will soften clothes.
* Weed killer: Kill weeds in the cracks of sidewalks and driveways with a mixture of 1 quart boiling water, 2 tbsp salt, and 5 tbsp vinegar. Pour directly on the weeds while the mixture is still hot.
* Cleaning out icky coolers: I know I’ve forgotten to empty out coolers in a timely fashion after a family outing on more than one occasion. To get rid of the mold or mildew that tends to spring up, wipe down with vinegar.
* Change the pH of something for canning: To make sure my tomatoes and tomato sauce are acidic enough to can safely without a pressure canner, I add some vinegar.
* Demold cheese: If cheese becomes moldy, wipe the mold off with some vinegar on a paper towel. This should also help inhibit future mold growth.
* Stripping cloth diapers: If diapers still smell after washing, there may be a detergent buildup in them. To get rid of this, wash again without any detergent and check for suds in the rinse. If there are still suds, rinse again. Repeat as needed to get rid of any residual detergent buildup. To make sure the smell is really gone, add a cup of vinegar to the final rinse.
Here are some of my favorite uses for baking soda (yes, I know there is some overlap):
1. Scrubbing crayon off the walls. With very creative small children in the house, this is big around here. Simply make a paste of baking soda and water, dab a rag in the paste, apply to crayon marks and scrub away. I've found this to be easier on wallpapered walls, but it does work on painted walls as well. Someday soon, when I get the chance, I'll be finding out if it works on textured ceilings as well. *sigh* This frequently works for mystery smudges on walls that sometimes appear around kids as well.
2. As a substitute for washing soda in my laundry detergent recipe. If you haven't found a source for washing soda yet, but have borax and the Dr. Bronner's soap for making the laundry detergent I posted, and want to get started making your own, or if you run out of washing soda and haven't got around to going to the store for more yet, you can substitute in baking soda. Just use twice as much baking soda as you would washing soda and be very careful when you pour it into your storage jug because it will foam a lot more.
3. As an alternative to commercial fabric softeners. Add about a 1/2 cup in the rinse cycle.
4. To eliminate clogs from drains. Jam as much baking soda as you can into a clogged or sluggish drain, add vinegar, and cover the drain until it stops making fizzing noises. Rinse with warm water afterwords.
5. Extending dishwasher detergent powder. For a lot of the same reasons I have to make my own laundry detergent, I'm very limited on what dishwasher detergents I can stand. I basically have to use ones from brands like Seventh Generation. I find the prices of that to be (quite a bit) higher than I like, so I make a mixture of 1/3 commercial dishwasher detergent, 1/3 borax, and 1/3 baking soda. I store some premixed in a small container so I can just pour it in when I do my dishes. The same blend should work of liquid dishwasher detergent too, but you'd have to add it separately each time.
6. To clean the oven. Sprinkle the bottom of the oven with about 2-4 cups baking soda and moisten thoroughly with a spray bottle of water. Keep it moist by spraying more water every few hours. Leave overnight and scoop out, along with the grime, in the morning. Rinse well.
7. Getting the kids to clean the toilet...or, in a pinch, do it yourself. The kids love a good harmless chemical reaction, so show them some science and get them to clean the toilet at the same time. Sprinkle some baking soda into the toilet bowl and let it sit for a half hour or so. Then, add a squirt of Dr. Bronner's liquid soap and some vinegar. The kids will have a blast scrubbing with those fun bubbles (at least my kids do, when I let them).
8. Shower/tub scrub. Make a paste of baking soda and liquid soap and scrub away. Rinse with warm water. If you need a little extra scrubbing bubbles or enjoy a nice lemon scent to your bathroom, add some lemon juice to the mix, but you'll probably want to wear gloves to clean if you're going to do that. Tough mildew stains may require a thicker paste with more baking soda.
9. Removing mineral buildup from showerheads. Mix together 1 part baking soda to 2 parts vinegar in a plastic bag (a grocery bag should work okay for this as long as it doesn't have any holes). Submerge the showerhead in the bag and secure the bag to the showerhead with a rubber band. Let it soak for at least an hour then rinse the showerhead by running very hot water through it for a few minutes (don't want any of the vinegar getting in your eyes next shower. OUCH!).
10. Deodorizing trash cans and diaper pails. Sprinkle some baking soda in the trash can or diaper pail for disposable diapers after each time you empty it. For a cloth diaper pail, you can sprinkle some in the pail itself, but if you use a cloth bag for a liner (and throw the whole thing in the wash with the diapers), you can also sprinkle some in the cloth bag to give the laundry extra oomph as well as deodorizing the diaper pail in between washes.
11. To make urine smells disappear from the carpet or upholstered furniture. Whether it be from a kid or a cat, I've had a lot of luck sprinkling some baking soda on tinkled on areas (if it is still wet, dry up as much as you can with a towel first), let it sit for at least fifteen minutes, then vacuum up. If it is in an out of the way place, like behind a couch, the baking soda can just be left there until your next regularly scheduled vacuuming.
12. Fill in nail holes in the wall. A super cheap way to save on your security deposit if you rent is to fill all those nail and tack holes with a paste of baking soda and white glue and let dry.
13. To remove black scuff marks on shoes. Make a paste and scrub away. You can follow up with some polish after you wipe off the paste if you desire.