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The kids are back at school, and you can almost see the dust settling as the whirlwind of summer activities is replaced by peace and quiet.
You can also see the fingerprints, the smudges, the stains in the carpet.
Rather than filling your house with the smell of chemical detergents - and paying a fortune for them - why not try some all-natural alternatives that have withstood the test of time?
Mary Miller, of the Town of Tonawanda, first started using natural home cleaners out of concern for her 19-month-old daughter, Claudia.
"It snowballed from making soap blends to use on my daughter at bath time to making the majority of household items in my own kitchen," Miller said.
Using ingredients like raw local honey, washing soda and essential oils, she makes everything from toothpaste, deodorant and diaper wipes to bathroom scrub and all-purpose household cleaner. She likes them because she thinks they work better, aren't full of harmful chemicals and aren't tested on animals.
Perhaps best of all, they save her a ton of cash.
"We cloth diaper, so we do a lot of laundry in my house. After four months, I barely put a dent into the 15 or so pounds of detergent I made," Miller said. "I imagine $20 worth of soap will last me at least a full year, if not longer."
Think natural cleaners don't have the same muscle as commercial ones?
Think again.
Amanda Kardasovski of Lakeview has her own commercial cleaning business and uses natural cleaners to power through just about everything. She soaks stove-top grates in a little bit of ammonia to wipe them clean easily, buffs stainless steel appliances with olive oil to remove scratches and smudges and to make them sparkle, and says two parts hydrogen peroxide to one part Dawn dish soap can get rid of almost any stain.
"It saves up to 75 percent," Kardasovski said. "Why would I pay more for a name? You're paying for advertising, plain and simple."
MoneySmart pulled together a list of everything you need to get the house sparkling. You can buy everything on the list for less than $17 and, since most uses call for just a little bit of one ingredient diluted with water, it will stretch exponentially farther than anything you can buy in the store.
. Baking soda, 75 cents per pound. Use it to scour sinks and tubs, sprinkle it on carpets as a deodorizer and add it to dishwater to make scrubbing easier.
You can pour it down a clogged drain, followed by a blast of water to get things moving again. You can also clean and deodorize your toilet by letting a cup of it sit in the toilet bowl water for an hour before flushing.
. Borax, or sodium borate, $3.39 for 76 ounces. Dissolve two teaspoons of borax into a spray bottle with two cups of hot water, shake it up and you have an all-purpose cleaner that will clean, deodorize and disinfect floors, baseboards, walls and just about any household surface. You can also put some on a sponge to scrub out rust stains in sinks and toilets.
. Cornstarch, $2.45 for 16 ounces. Use it to polish your silverware: Make a paste with water, smear it all over your silver, then buff it with a soft cloth to make it sparkle. Dissolve one tablespoon of cornstarch into two cups of water in a spray bottle and use it when ironing for crisp shirts and sheets. Sprinkle it on leather and fabric to remove grease stains, or on the carpet to clean and deodorize.
. Lemon juice, $2.39 for 32 ounces. With its high acidity, lemon juice has great anti-bacterial properties and naturally smells great.
You can use it to scrub out rust stains in the kitchen and bath, to get rid of stains on laminate counters and cutting boards, and to remove lime scale on faucets.
You can bleach cotton and polyester clothing by soaking it in a mix of a half cup of lemon juice and a gallon of hot water. Lemon juice mixed with baking soda can also get stains out of Tupperware.
. Salt, 79 cents for 26 ounces. Clean dusty artificial plants and flowers by shaking them in a paper bag with some salt. Use it to scour pots and pans and sprinkle it on a carpet to blot up excess spilled wine before treating a stain. You can also scrub white wicker furniture with saltwater and a stiff brush to keep it from turning yellow.
. Washing soda, or sodium carbonate decahydrate, $2.89 for 55 ounces. A half cup of washing soda with a gallon of warm water is a powerful way to clean smoke and soot from fireplace doors. You can also use it as a stain treater, degreaser, drain de-clogger, water softener and all-purpose cleaner.
It's strong enough to peel paint and strip wax floors, though, so use it only on surfaces like unpainted wood, glass and stone.
. White vinegar, $2.99 per gallon. Why pay $4.39 for 8.45 little ounces of Jet-Dry dishwasher rinsing agent when you can use a cup of vinegar in the rinse cycle for about 18 cents per load? Use it to clean and shine your tile and stainless steel, to get rid of lime scale on irons and faucets, and run it through your coffee maker to keep your coffee tasting fresh. Let it sit on grout at full strength to make scrubbing out mildew stains easy.
email: schristmann@buffnews.com