I frequently use my homemade all-purpose spray around the house, but it’s nice to have something a little stronger for the bathroom. Bathrooms are prone to mildew, bacteria, and viruses that aren’t so nice to have hanging around (especially when you have boys whose aim isn’t always the best!). This natural DIY bathroom cleaner is tough on grime, soap scum, and germs… and smells amazing too!
DIY Homemade Bathroom Cleaner
I’m not that big on killing bacteria. I let my children put healthy, organic dirt in their mouths, we use biome-friendly skin products whenever possible, and we regularly consume fermented foods to feed good gut bacteria.
It’s true our world is over-sanitized, but sometimes life calls for a potent natural cleaner. The bathroom is one of those places. Mold and mildew grow more readily due to steamy showers. Toilet seats can have fecal residue, and little boys (and big boys) can sometimes miss. Then there’s the issue of rust and lime build-up from hard water.
Then there’s kids + flu season… need I say more?
Tough on Grime and Germs
This DIY bathroom cleaner can tackle most of the bathroom cleaning to-do list. The washing soda is more alkaline than baking soda, with a pH of 11. It’s useful for softening hard water and cutting through limescale and grease. (Note: Washing soda is not the same as baking soda.)
Borax is a little controversial, but I’ve come to the conclusion it’s a safe cleaner. I just avoid using it around areas where there’s food. Since this is a natural bathroom cleaner, you shouldn’t have any problems there! Omit the borax if desired, though the spray may not clean as effectively.
A lot of natural bathroom cleaners rely on castile soap, but in this case, I use Sal Suds. It’s a natural, yet potent detergent derived from coconut. Some DIY bathroom cleaner recipes call for Dawn dish soap, but Sal Suds is a more natural version.
Germ-Busting Essential Oils
Essential oils provide the antibacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties in this natural bathroom cleaner. They add a nice scent plus cleaning benefits. I frequently use them in small amounts in homemade natural cleaners.
Since this is a stronger all-purpose spray for the bathroom, the concentration of essential oils is a little higher. Concentrations around 1% are effective on stronger pathogens commonly found in bathrooms, like E. coli, staphylococcus, and salmonella.
At the same time the essential oils are diluted enough in this recipe that if some accidentally get on the skin, it shouldn’t cause any irritation. I cover the ins and outs of using essential oils safely here.
An interesting tip: Older citrus oils may have oxidized and aren’t recommended for use on the skin. But they still work great for cleaning. Use them up in this recipe instead of throwing them out!
This bathroom spray uses a blend of lemon, orange, cinnamon, and clove essential oil. Or you can use a pre-made Germ Fighter essential oil blend instead. Eucalyptus or tea tree essential oil would also work well if you wanted to substitute those.
DIY Bathroom Cleaner
- 2 tsp borax
- 1 tsp washing soda
- 1 cup very hot water
- 1 TBSP Sal Suds
- 1 cup room temperature water
- ¼ tsp lemon essential oil
- ½ tsp orange essential oil
- 10 drops cinnamon essential oil
- ¼ tsp clove essential oil
- 1 tsp Germ Fighter essential oil blend (optional, use INSTEAD of the above essential oils)
- Pour the washing soda and borax into the spray bottle, then the hot water. Cap the bottle and shake well until the powder dissolves.
- Remove the cap and add the Sal Suds and essential oils. Add room temperature water until the bottle is almost full, making sure to leave room for the sprayer lid.
- Gently shake the cleaning solution to combine.
How to Use the DIY Bathroom Cleaner
- Spray on all surfaces in the bathroom, including sinks, toilets, tile, floors, and fiberglass. Test a small area first if there’s any concern the spray may damage a material or surface.
- For disinfection, spray and wait a few minutes before wiping off. This gives the essential oils time to kill pathogens on the surface.
- For tougher spots, leave the spray on for 10 minutes before scrubbing it off.
This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
What are your favorite ways to clean up those grimy spots around the house? Leave a comment and let me know!
- Campana, R., et al. (2017). Activity of essential oil-based microemulsions against Staphylococcus aureus biofilms developed on stainless steel surface in different culture media and growth conditions. International journal of food microbiology, 241, 132–140.
- Prabuseenivasan, S. et al. (2006). In vitro antibacterial activity of some plant essential oils. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 6, 39.
Discussion (42 Comments)
The links to the washing soda and Borax take me to the same item. I saw this question asked but not previously answered, so forgive me for asking if I missed your response. Is this cleaner anti-bacterial by itself or do the essential oils make it anti-bacterial?
Borax has a slight antibacterial property, but it would be the essential oils responsible for the major antimicrobial effects of this mixture — IF their activity holds up at high pH.
Robert – What would be a good ph for the microbial effects of the essential oils to work best? With what ingredients and what measurements?
I don’t know what pH they’d EACH work BEST at, and it’s not likely anyone’s got enough data on each to answer that question, but they might’ve tried a couple of pHs on a few. In general, the lower the better. Frequently the dose-response curve would have a sloping “shelf”, such that at a high pH there’d be little activity, then there’d be a range over which the activity increases with decreasing pH, then it maxes out. Sometimes that can be accounted for by the antimicrobial’s being protonated, sometimes accounted for by a pH-dependent reaction like Schiff’s base formation with aldehydes, but other times you just can’t figure. And there are a few whose activity is nearly independent of pH, but don’t ask me now to recall which ones — I just know there are. Well, ethyl alcohol’s one — but it’s of low potency, meaning it requires a lot.
Since using citrus oils do you need a glass bottle? Or is it ok to use plastic
It’s ideal to use a glass bottle.
WHAT IS SAL SUDS?????
Katie - Wellness Mama
It’s a type of cleaner: https://www.amazon.com/Dr-Bronners-Organic-Liquid-Cleaner/dp/B00016QTYO/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=ll1&tag=wellnessmama-20&linkId=a02f3d1798cc335a57da000240cc3eab&language=en_US
It says the second ingredient in Sals Suds is SLS. I’ve heard that is a chemical that I want to cit out of my home. Is it okay because it is being used in this application to clean the bathroom, not bodies? I did also read that it is a respiratory irritant. Thanks.
Katie - Wellness Mama
There can be problems with SLS, but there are also a couple different sources of it, and I feel safe personally using this one in the bathroom. This article explains more https://www.lisabronner.com/there-is-no-cancer-risk-from-sls-sodium-lauryl-sulfate/
As I wrote upthread, it’d Dr. Bronner’s brand of liquid light duty high sudsing soapless detergent. Its formula is similar to those of many other liquids sold as hair shampoo, hand dishwashing detergent, bubble bath, rug shampoo, or non-wax car wash concentrate. Therefore I think it likely you could get the same results by substituting (adjusting for concentration) any of many other brands. Actually I think you’d probably get about the same results with actual liquid soap, whether Bronner’s or someone else’s.
As to where its name comes from, “sal” means “salt” and “suds” are foam. I believe it’s in imitation of Caribbean slang, wherein “sweet soap” is for washing skin and “salt soap” is for washing other things, so it seems Bronner’s wanted to emphasize a distinction between this product and their bar and liquid soaps.
How long will the mixture stay good for? Do I have to make it fresh every time I want to use it?
It will last a few days to a week. I make it in small batches for this purpose (although we go through it fast with six kiddos!).
Is this for one time use or will it keep and can be used more than once as long as stored in a cool dark place?
It can be stored in a cool dry place.
I’m a little confused the washing soda and the borax appear to be same. Is this incorrect?
That is incorrect. They’re both alkali, they have practically the same effect in applications like this, but they’re distinct chemicals.
Nice! Thank you. Where do you get your spray bottles from?
I’m in Australia and never seen anything like the one pictured, especially the top
I get mine here.
I was wondering how long this will keep in the bottle ( expiration date) before having to toss?
Little boys aren’t the only ones who “miss” lol
Ask me how I know 🙂
Indeed I’ve gotten worse with age. Not only that, but sitting on the toilet sometimes results in an even greater “spill”.
Can the Castile soap be a substitute for Sals Suds in the bathroom cleaner recipe or or other recipes?
This is interesting, but I wonder whether the borax & washing soda in there will inhibit the antimicrobial activity of the essential oils. The 2nd reference (only one whose full text I had quick access to) details their assay on agar culture plates, and those would be at a near neutral pH. Borax and/or washing soda would make your solution alkaline, and antimicrobial activities are usually pH-dependent, sometimes strongly so, with activity tending to be lost as alkalinity increases. Maybe the idea of uising Sal Suds instead of soap was to keep the pH down, but then someone along the way combined it with the alkali. I had the experience in a medical device company of someone’s transmitting a procedure and making an “obvious equivalent” substitution that turned out give bad results after passing thru some more hands as in a game of “telephone”.
I see a lot of cleaning recipes that call for both washing soda and borax, and I wonder why, since they accomplish about the same thing, although one may be better than the other. I don’t recall ever seeing BOTH sodium carbonate and borate as ingredients in a formula for a commercial cleaner.
I’m not sure about the borax and washing soda (I’m actually not familiar with what washing soda is) though I remember reading somewhere a while back that SalSudz is a special kind of soap as in it can be directly mixed with white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar I would imagine) without losing its sudsy ability. (Sorry I don’t know the scientific terms). I like to make cleaning solutions with SalSudz / white vinegar / essential oils , diluted accordingly in water…. not sure if the oils emulsify appropriately in this concoction so am sure to shake up the spritz bottle or stir up the bucket, etc. often when cleaning with it.
Yes, Sal Suds can be mixed with acids (such as vinegar) with little change in how the Sal Suds surfactants work. Soap (actual soap soap) can’t be mixed with acids likewise. However, washing soda (hydrated sodium carbonate, soda crystals) and borax are the opposite of acids, so they won’t cancel the cleaning ability of soap — but they might diminish the antimicrobial effect of some of the essential oils in the present recipe.
Sal Suds is a liquid from Dr. Bronner’s that’s a fairly common type of formula as found in hand dish detergents, hair shampoos, bubble baths, etc. — an alkyl sulfate and a betaine surfactant IIRC. The only thing “special” about it is it’s not soap solution like other Bronner liquid products.