Can cleaning without chemicals save cash?

Can you really clean a kitchen with a lemon? Wash your windows with white vinegar? Scour an oven using salt? More importantly, does doing so save you cash?

234I've always been a big believer in expensive cleaning chemicals. This isn't because I want a fanatically sterile home, but more because I hate cleaning and these products all promise to save me time.

That means that I've spent a lot of money over the years on expensive, bleach-filled concoctions. If it's not dangerous to inhale, then you won't find it in my cleaning cupboard.

But the internet is full of suggestions for cleaning your home using cheap products that you already have around the house.

I've been testing out a few chemical-free cleaning methods to see if they work - and if they work out cheaper.

Salt and vinegar

This week I cleaned my house using just lemons, vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, salt, old newspaper and soda crystals.

Instead of washing my bath with lemon-scented, bleach-filled bathroom spray, I wiped it with half a real lemon then used a cloth soaked in lemon juice to clean the taps.

White vinegar was liberally sloshed around the toilet bowl and I poured soda crystals down the clogged-up shower plug hole, followed by boiling water 20 minutes later.

There is, apparently, nothing white vinegar won't clean and it's dirt cheap. I used it to wash the lime scaled shower doors and mixed it with water to wash down the floor. To clean my bathroom tiles, I sprinkled baking soda on a damp sponge and wiped them down.

Next, I cleaned the inside of my windows and a grubby glass table using vinegar, before polishing them with newspaper. I cleaned my oven with a mix of baking soda, salt and water, which I left for several hours before wiping off.

In the kitchen, I used bicarbonate of soda on a damp cloth to wipe down the work surfaces, followed by a whisk round with half a lemon. I ran the washing machine with a handful of soda crystals to give it a clean.

Did it work?

Without a doubt, these natural cleaning products worked. My home was clean and it didn't smell of vinegar once everything had dried (I had been worried it would smell like a chip shop).

But, while the end result was just as good, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it was harder. The other all-natural ingredient was elbow grease — I had to scrub and polish for longer than I would with my usual arsenal of chemicals.

How much did I save?

So how much did my natural cleaning kit cost? Here's a run down:

Product Cost
White vinegar (568ml) 44p
Bicarbonate of soda (200g) 83p
Soda crystals (1kg) 90p
5 lemons 70p
Salt (750g) 27p
Total £3.14

Compare that to the current contents of my cleaning cupboard:

Product Cost
Cif Power Cream Kitchen (750ml) £2.98
Mr Muscle Oven Cleaner (300ml) £3.00
Mr Muscle Sink and Plug Drain Gel (500ml) £3.70
Cif Power Cream Bathroom (750ml) £2.98
Tile Brite Gel (300ml) £2.00
Harpic Powerplus Disinfectant Toilet Cleaner (750ml) £2.00
Total £16.66

That means that my cache of chemicals has cost me more than five times what my natural cleaning kit did. That's an astonishing 530% more.

Am I a convert?

This experiment has really shown me that you don't have to have bucket loads of branded chemicals in order to have a clean home, but I'm not going to switch over entirely.

Although I'm definitely going to use some tips in the future, others just took too much time. For example, I liked using lemon juice in the bathroom as it meant that I didn't have to worry about my baby's skin coming into contact with leftover bleach.

I'm also completely converted to soda crystals instead of expensive drain unblocker as it worked just as well.

But some of the natural cleaning methods were just too hard; in particular cleaning the oven. I definitely want dangerous, abrasive chemicals to do the hard work for me when it comes to scouring off the charred remains of melted cheese and god-knows-what. While white vinegar did clean the limescale off my shower, I was scrubbing for quite a while to get that sparkling finish.

What this has made me question is whether or not I need expensive big brands. After all, if you can clean an oven with baking soda, salt and water then it isn't exactly rocket science. Next time, I plan to buy the supermarket's own cleaner, at a fraction of the price.

Felicity is Yahoo! Finance's new money-saving columnist. If you have a money-saving scheme you'd like to see tried out then let us know in the comment box below.