But what alternatives are there to your typical products that get the job done and don't rob your pocketbook? Here are some solutions that I've found.
Laundry Supplies I've started making my own laundry liquid with borax, washing soda, pure castile bar soap, and water. It averages to be about 2 cents per load. Yes 2 cents. It works super well, and sometimes my mom and I will add tea tree oil to the extra sweaty athletic laundry loads from teenage boys for a little extra clean.
Here is the recipe: Grate half a bar of soap into a pot and add 6 c warm water. Stir on low heat until melted completely. Add 1/2 c washing soda (not baking soda) and 1/2 c borax. Pour 4 c hot water into a 2 gallon bucket. Add soap mixture and stir well. Add another gallon plus six cups water. Stir. Rest 24 hours. (I make it in a 2-gallon bucket and it fits just perfectly) Use about 1/2 cup per XL family sized load.
Use 1/4 cup of straight white vinegar (about $3 a gallon) as a fabric softener and it won't leave a smell. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil if you like. I don't really get the point of fabric softener but my mom likes it so she tends to buy the conventional brand. I'm trying to sell her on using the vinegar but we're not quite there yet. :)
I find I don't need a stain remover with the laundry liquid I make, but I do use some conventional type stain remover for extra difficult stains on occasion. I've tried straight hydrogen peroxide and wasn't super happy with it and also baking soda paste but that didn't do the job either.
I would really like to use homemade dish soap made from castile soap which averages about $1.50 per 16oz container but haven't gotten the time to try it yet. I'd also like to experiment with dishwasher detergent with borax, washing soda, and citric acid (like you use in canning) that costs only about 3c per load but haven't tried that either. 2013 goals. :D I have had good success with white vinegar put in the dishwasher rinse aid compartment (where you're supposed to put the blue Jet Dry stuff) which is much more frugal and chemical free. Think about it, you're eating off of these dishes that you just washed with chemicals that say harmful if ingested...
I don't like the smell of vinegar. I just don't. A great all-purpose cleaner is vinegar diluted in water and costs only about 50c per large spray bottle you make. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil and it almost masks the vinegar scent. (which will disappear once it dries... no worries, your bathroom won't smell like a salad all week) Right now we are using Biokleen all-purpose cleaner which we buy in concentrate and dilute with water for about 15c per bathroom or kitchen cleaning. Not bad as organic cleaning supplies can be $5-8 per 32oz bottle.
Sticky spills and stains on floors/counters clean up really well with some baking soda and water to form a paste.
I usually just use all-purpose cleaner for the counters, sink, and toilet and that seems to work fine. I think straight baking soda or borax (about 1 TBSP- costs you pennies) makes a great toilet bowl cleaner but my mom disagrees so she buys conventional toilet bowl cleaner and likes for me to use that instead.
For the tub I use 1/2 c of baking soda (15c ish) and about a tsp of castile soap (pennies) and then use it as a scrub. I think it works pretty well and you don't almost pass out from the harsh smell of tub cleaner either so that's a plus. For shining up the shower handle/spigot, use a few teaspoons of lemon juice.
Glass cleaner I use vinegar diluted in water (pennies) and with paper towels it wipes streak free.
For some simple, natural air freshener, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to a spray bottle of water with a little baking soda.
To mop, we use a conventional floor cleaner since mopping only happens once or twice a month. I've had success with borax and also used all-purpose cleaner or vinegar that has worked fine. I don't think I am planning to buy more mopping cleaner once this stuff is gone and will probably just start using the vinegar cleaner unless someone notices and complains. :)
Most of these things you probably already have in your kitchen cabinet. You can purchase washing soda and borax at Walmart or online, and can usually find castile soap in a health foods store or online. For a year's worth of cleaning and laundry supplies, $25-30 is a very doable amount for a family. We spent more than that this year since we're still buying some conventional products and dishwasher soap (which is pricey...) but my goal is to move into more natural cleaners through 2013 which can save money too!
What are your favorite cleaning supplies?