Better known for their beautiful fragrances, essential oils can work just as well as chemically derived commercial cleaners around the home - but they're much better for your health and kinder on the Earth.
Essential oils are the highly concentrated essence of plants and flowers. They're not really oils but simply the liquid distilled (usually by steam or water) from the flower, bark, leaves or stems of plants. Many common essential oils are available at your local pharmacy and you can find others at health food shops. Use them alone or with water, baking soda or white vinegar to harness their cleaning power.
Because they're concentrated, they can also be highly toxic if used neat. Pregnant women especially should seek advice before handling these oils and they should be kept away from children.
So which ones should be stocking your cleaning cupboards? Lavender and teatree top the list for their antiseptic and all-round cleaning powers. Among its many strengths, lavender is also good for deodorising and promotes relaxation and inner calm - a welcome side effect while you're scrubbing!
Lavender: When smelly shoes get up your nose, add about 15 drops of lavender essential oil to a cup of baking soda and leave in a lidded jar for a couple of hours. Sprinkle liberally in smelly shoes and leave for at least eight hours.
Orange: Orange and lemon essential oils also make an effective disinfectant. For a spray-and-wipe cleaner that always smells fresh, combine 150ml of white vinegar, 350ml boiled water, one teaspoon of borax or baking soda, a good squirt of dishwashing liquid and 15 drops of orange oil. Pour into a spray bottle and enjoy. For a simpler version, add a few drops of orange or lemon oil to a damp cloth and wipe surfaces.
Lemon: For clean and shiny windows add 10 drops of lemon oil to a vinegar and hot water mix. Spray and wipe off.
Clove: To remove and deter mould on surfaces mix a few drops of clove oil in white vinegar and hot water. For grouting and hard-to-reach places make a paste with baking soda, clove oil and water. Scrub with an old toothbrush.
Teatree: Add a few drops to the nappy bucket or into the washing machine when washing cloth nappies for a fresh fragrance and natural disinfectant. Alternatively, use it when washing floors. In a bucket of warm water, add 150ml of white vinegar, a squirt of detergent and 15 drops of teatree essential oil. To clean around the toilet use a cloth with a few drops of teatree oil on it.
Eucalyptus: Add 30 drops of eucalyptus oil and 20 drops of teatree oil to half a litre of boiled water, plus a large tablespoon of vodka. Pour into a spray bottle and spray a room to help kill bacteria and viruses.
Air freshener: To make living rooms, bathrooms and toilets smell fresh, mix into a cup of boiled water four drops of rosemary, four drops of eucalyptus, six drops of lemon and 10 drops of lavender essential oils. Pour into a spray bottle. This combination also makes a great general disinfectant.