In theory, making your own cleaning products is a great way to save money without sacrificing effectiveness. In practice, many “natural” DIY cleaners work just as well as normal water. If you want to avoid messy, potentially expensive mistakes, stick to it Baking soda, vinegar, and borax (also known as sodium tetraborate). They are cheap and will never let you down.

To understand why some “natural” detergents suck so poorly, it is helpful to know why baking soda, vinegar, and borax don’t. First, they all easily dissolve in water, which sounds obvious but is actually very important. (You can’t clean anything without water!) They are acidic or basic enough to break down dirt, but too weak to damage fabric, most surfaces or human skin. We know exactly what active ingredients they contain – and how much – because this is stated on the label. And most importantly, they’re safe and inexpensive to use in concentrations that actually make a difference.

This combination of features is rarer than it seems, which is why most DIY cleaners can’t keep up. Lemon juice is a great example because it comes so close. While it is both acidic and water soluble, there is no telling how much citric acid it contains and how much you should dilute it. Given that citric acid attacks natural stone surfaces, you should probably do this before spraying it on your granite countertops – but how much water should you add? It is impossible to tell. (Plus, it will go rancid at room temperature.)

Essential oils are often added to DIY recipes for their purported antibacterial properties – which some are actually at full strength. But a few drops of tea tree oil doesn’t magically turn water into a broad spectrum disinfectant, and wiping your counters with the bare material is just silly, let alone a great way to irritate your skin. Liquid Castilian soap like Dr. Bronner is the rare DIY ingredient that actually works as intended, as long as you don’t water it down too much and remember to scrub it. Soap cannot kill germs or dissolve gunkel on its own. it takes a little bit of friction.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you clean your home with, as long as it does the job and nobody is allergic to it. All cleaning products are made up of chemicals – including what are known as “natural” ones – so you might as well use chemicals that work.

G / O Media can receive a commission