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Homemade healthy cleaners and snacks

You can make yogurt, bread, even laundry detergent and cat litter. And you'll have a greener lifestyle and save money in the process.

By Donna_Freedman May 16, 2012 5:03AM

Image: Cleaning products (© Burke/Triolo Productions/Brand X/Corbis)Frugal bloggers often write about making certain household essentials themselves, to cut grocery costs. The decision may be about health and/or the environment as well as dollars.

For example, vinegar is a healthful alternative to commercial cleaning sprays, especially if someone in your house is chemically sensitive. Homemade yogurt is much cheaper than the commercial kind -- and it sends fewer small containers to garbage dumps. (It's also delicious. I haven't bought ice cream since I started making yogurt at home.)

An hour or two a week can save you some decent cash. For example, it's cost me as little as 50 cents to make a quart and a half of yogurt. (Hint: Watch for close-dated milk.) A loaf of bread that costs 40 to 70 cents to bake can turn leftover soup into a satisfying meal.

Here are a few ideas to get you going.

Edibles: Yogurt, granola, bread

As noted, making yogurt cured my ice-cream habit. It really is that good, mixed with fruit or a little homemade jam. You don't need a special yogurt maker, incidentally. A site called gives step-by-step instructions.


Mix some of that yogurt with a simple, frugal granola recipe from Or try one from Frugal Families; it contains chunky peanut butter, wheat germ and flax meal.


Ever made your own bread? The Frugal Girl discusses process as well as cost in "Is homemade bread cheaper than store-bought?" A loaf of basic white costs half the commercial kind, she says, and doesn't take nearly as much work as you might think.

Bonus: It makes your home smell marvelous, and a loaf of fresh bread turns leftover beef stew into an occasion.

Pressed for time? Try the "no knead" loaf, which according to the Steamy Kitchen blog is so easy that even a 4-year-old can make it.


More edibles: Cooking fat, soup stock
Home-rendered chicken fat beats vegetable oil for cooking, according to Penny at Penniless Parenting. She gets free chicken scraps and skin from a butcher, then renders them slowly in a pan or simmers them in a pot of water, which produces soup stock as well as cooking fat.

A reader who commented on Penny's post cooks ground beef in water, which she drains and chills. After the fat is removed she has "Burger broth," a good base for soup or chili.

I keep two containers in the freezer: one for chicken bones and pan juices and the other for vegetable cooking water and vegetable scraps. When the containers are full they go into the slow cooker to simmer slowly for hours.

Or go the veggie route. Scrappy Vegetable Stock, a recipe found on Poor Girl Eats Well, is just what it sounds like: broth made of potato peelings, green-bean ends, onion skins, etc.

Meaty or meatless, you wind up with free soup makings.

Home front: Laundry soap, all-purpose cleaner, cat litter

Most laundry soap recipes require grating and cooking a bar of Fels-Naptha soap. Here's the how-to, courtesy of The Hillbilly Housewife.

Not gonna happen? One Good Thing By Jillee has a recipe called "No-grate homemade laundry soap." It uses borax, washing soda and Dawn dish detergent.

Tired of paying for cat litter and of carrying it home? The Greenists published a homemade cat litter that calls for shredded newspaper, baking soda and biodegradable dish soap. The author reports it takes 30 to 45 minutes to make enough faux litter for two to three weeks, and that "it's kind of fun, in an elementary school art project way."

Vinegar makes a good all-purpose cleaner, either straight or cut with water. The smell does go away. Or avoid the odor altogether with a recipe from "5 easy green cleaning tips that use vinegar" on Organic Authority. The "Green Goodness" formula incorporates essential oils to leave your job site smelling sweet.

What household essentials do you make from scratch? Do you do this for economic or environmental reasons?

More on MSN Money:

May 17, 2012 4:45PM
Homemade bug spray. Dishsoap and water. Works really good on wasp nest & such; I wouldn't chase houseflies with it. Works on any insect.
Aug 23, 2012 5:58PM
I've been using my home-made  laundry detergent for several months now...although I only made the second batch last month, that's how long it lasts me! With a family of six, that's pretty good! For one bar of Fels-Naptha I use about 3 gallons water total, so I use an old 5-gal. paint bucket to store and refill a detergent bottle (makes measuring easier). It costs less than $5 for the three gallons of detergent, and the clothes come clean at least as well as with anything store-bought. (I learned the hard way that if the detergent gets lumps of plain soap when it cools, re-heat and add extra water!) And it only takes about an hour of actual work, plus letting it sit overnight. How many hours do you work to pay for three gallons of good detergent?
    I haven't studied the environmental aspect of the homemade detergent, but by not purchasing new containers each month it's automatically less waste--my ingredients all come in cardboard boxes or paper wrappers, and I think it'll be about a year before I need any more ingredients besides the basic soap.
     I've also made mayo, which is more about not wanting additives (and forgetting it on grocery day--it's 8 miles to the store), but the kids all liked the taste. My next attempt is going to be mustard and ketchup.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.