Natural Surface Cleaning Spray

Last month the Consumer published an article about Multi-Purpose and Kitchen Cleaners in which they tested various commonly available cleaning sprays. It was an interesting article to see how they compared, and it made me wonder if I could make a cleaning spray that was actually good at cleaning, unlike the many DIY vinegar/water mixtures that you find on the internet. So I had a look at the ingredients of their top cleaners.

The first thing I found out is that all of them had some kind of surfactant in them, which actually makes sense. Stubborn grime and dirt doesn’t come away with just a bit of water, because this kind of dirt is oily, sticky. You need something that dissolves (technically bonds to) oils, like a surfactant, to remove it. That’s why soaps work so well and why vinegar doesn’t.

Vinegar/water sprays are not very effective at removing dirt and grime because vinegar does not dissolve oils. Just think of salad dressing: when you mix oil and vinegar together, and no matter how much you shake, they will just separate out again into two distinct layers of vinegar and oil.

That’s our first important ingredient we will need to add. Remembering my surfactant tests from last week, I decided to go for the capric/caprylic glucoside as my surfactant for this cleaning spray, which, as I recall, was the one that foamed the best. A little more digging into its properties, I found out that it was also the most effective cleaning agent of all of the poly-glucoside surfactants. Moreover, these are natural surfactants derived from oil and starch. Just make sure the one you use is palm-free. I used the one from Pure Nature, which is made from coconut oil and corn sugar (starch).

Scum build up on a shower head.

The next thing I noticed when I looked at the ingredients of the cleaning sprays is that many had a chelating agent in it. Chelating agents are compounds that bind to mineral ions, which cause scum build up. Ground water from aquifers (water reservoirs within the rocks), have a high mineral content due to the minerals dissolving into the water from the surrounding rocks. We call this hard water, as opposed to soft water, such as rain water, which has a very low mineral content. By removing these mineral ions, you soften the water and help remove and reduce scum build up. I’ve gone with sodium citrate as the main chelating agent, which is made from natural citric acid, found in citrus fruits, such as lemons.

The other chelating agent I’ve added is sodium carbonate, also called washing soda. It is a natural raw material found in mineral deposits and softens the water, just like sodium citrate. However it is also a weak base, but much milder than sodium hydroxide, and is often added as a pH regulator and cleaning aid. It is one of the most common cleaning agents used in many cleaning products, including laundry powders and cleaning sprays.

The essential oils I’m using in this formulation are lemon, pine and eucalyptus. I chose these for their excellent cleaning abilities. Lemon essential oil is high in d-limonene, a solvent and degumming agent. Pine contains alpha-pinene, another solvent with antimicrobial activity. And eucalyptus is high in 1,8-cineole, also a potent antimicrobial cleanser, and contains some d-limonene as well. If you don’t like the scent of these, other options include orange, grapefruit, lime, peppermint, tea tree, spike lavender, litsea cubeba, or thyme (a very strong antimicrobial).

And lastly, many of the cleaning sprays I looked at contained some kind of solvent, usually an alcohol. Alcohol is very effective at cleaning and even kills off bacteria and viruses when used in a high enough percentage. This cleaning spray doesn’t contain that much alcohol, and it is only added here for its oil-dissolving action. I’m using ethanol here, but I’m sure you can use isopropyl alcohol, if you prefer. I haven’t looked into alcohols yet, so I don’t really know much about substituting one for the other, but I saw both alcohols listed in the ingredients of different cleaning sprays.


Because I was keen to get the most cleaning power into this cleanser, I also added citric acid initially. Do not do that! The citric acid reacted with the sodium carbonate (bath bombs anyone?) and it started fizzing like mad. I seriously can’t believe I didn’t think of that when was putting the formulation together. It goes to show that you can’t go past testing, no matter how skilled you think you are as a formulator! Big fail! 🙈


So the cleaning spray formulation I’ve created here contains a surfactant, chelating agents, an alcohol, and essential oils, and is completely natural. It’s a concentrate, which means you can dilute it depending on what you use it for.

For heavy duty cleaning use undiluted or mix it with equal amount of water (1:1).

For bathroom and kitchen cleaning
use at a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio (one part concentrate and three to four parts water).

For general spray and wipe,
use at a 1:9 ratio (one part concentrate and nine parts water).

Always test surface material before using!


Formulation

Makes 500 g (less than 500 ml). You will also need a bottle for the concentration and a trigger spray bottle for the cleaning spray.

StageIngredientCategoryPercentagegrams
ADistilled waterFoundation48225
ASodium citrateChelating agent525
ASodium carbonateChelating agent525
BCapric/caprylic glucosideSurfactant1050
BLemon essential oilAromaceutical15
BPine essential oilAromaceutical0.52.5
BEucalyptus essential oilAromaceutical0.52.5
CEthanolFoundation30150

Instructions

  1. Heat the water lightly in the microwave or stove top. Add the remaining ingredients of stage A and stir until completely dissolved. Leave to cool down.
  2. Mix the ingredients of stage B together and stir. Add to stage A.
  3. Add the ethanol and stir well.
  4. Pour into a bottle and use as specified above.

I’ve used the new trigger spray bottle (shown in picture) from Pure Nature, which holds 500 ml, and is the ideal size for a cleaning spray in my opinion!


If you enjoyed this article, please consider donating a coffee, or a flat white as we call it here in New Zealand! This website is only possible due to my coffee consumption and early morning starts.

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