That Windex Costs HOW Much?

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Do you really need that shiny blue bottle of sweet-smelling Windex to get your windows clean, or will a homemade recipe get the job done just as well?

One of the areas that often taxes a household budget quite a bit is that of cleaning supplies. In our house, we choose to go as “clean” as possible on cleaning supplies, meaning we buy all of the scent-free, chemical free stuff we can get our hands on (meaning no Windex for us!).

But the costs of those “special” cleaning supplies (like Windex or other name brand cleaning supplies) is often even higher than the price of the regular stuff.  So how’s a person to manage and minimize all of these costs, especially if you’re on a strict budget?

Progress, Our Friend and Our Foe


Most of the cleaning products that line our shelves today weren’t around 100 years ago. When you had to clean your windows, you didn’t reach for a bottle of Windex. You grabbed something natural, like linseed oil. Many Depression-Era families used kerosene (yes, kerosene!) to clean their (cold, of course) stoves and vinegar to scrub things down.

Somewhere along the way, though, society decided that things had to smell better and look more appealing.  Enter, the modern day cleaners. Scientists and marketing execs worked together to create household cleaners that contained the appropriate blend of chemicals to make things clean, along with a pretty enough color and a sweet enough scent to make the products attractive to consumers, both inside and outside of the package.

Hence, Windex, Pledge and Swiffer were born. However, along with these sparkly new cleaning products came, in my humble opinion, outrageously high prices.

The particular detergent we use, Arm & Hammer Ultra Free Detergent, is great. No dyes or perfumes, and it cleans well. However, it costs us about $6 a month to clean clothes for our family of six, and we even use less detergent than the recommended amount.

Our dishwashing detergent is another example. We use the Melaleuca brand, which we get from a friend.  I love the stuff! No bleach, no phosphates, yet it cleans like a champ. That’s another $6 a month.

Add in the toilet cleaner, the window cleaner, the surface cleaners, the gentle cleaners for kid-friendly surfaces and the You-Have-to-Wear-Full-HAZMAT-Gear-With-This-Stuff cleaners, for the really tough jobs, and you’re talking a serious dent in your bank account. Not to mention the ill effects many of these products have on our environment and our health.

Necessity, the Mother of Invention


One of the reasons I’m really grateful for the struggle with debt we’re going through right now is that it forces us to find untraditional ways to live. We are often forced to find a different route, because spending the money on the “normal” product or service is simply not an option.

Cleaning supplies is an area we work hard to do this in because it’s not a necessity the way food is. I’ve read about many penny-pinchers in the PF blogging world who simply wash their clothes without detergent or their dishes with hot water and no soap (which is how many commercial restaurants wash, I might add), in order to save a few bucks.

If they can go soap free for their clothes and Windex-free for their windows I figured, we can certainly find a way to cut our costs.

We got the perfect chance to exercise those creative juices last week. We hosted a family reunion here last weekend, and my wonderful mother-in-law came up to help us spiff up the farm. I’d asked her to clean some windows, but we were out of the traditional window cleaner, and I wasn’t driving 15 miles each way to pick up a bottle of Windex for five bucks.

So I hopped on to the trusty Internet. After searching for about 15 minutes and reading several reviews, here’s the recipe we decided on:

3 cups water

3 cups rubbing alcohol

1 T. Vinegar

My Mother-in-law grabbed a squeegee and the spray bottle with our new concoction and voila! Sparkly, shiny, streak-less windows that looked fantastic, and all of that for about 50 cents! Quite a bit less than we would have paid for a bottle of Windex.

When we were out of dishwashing detergent for a spell, we substituted vinegar and a few drops of bleach, and it worked out almost as well as our commercial dishwasher stuff, again, at a fraction of the price.


Homemade detergent is another great example. You can make a homemade laundry detergent for less than $5 that will make enough to fill up a 5-gallon bucket and last you for several months.

We’ve not made that switch yet, simply because I haven’t wanted to take the time, but the $6 or so that’s leaving our bank account each month is really starting the hurt my psyche, so I suspect we’ll be making the switch by fall.

There truly is a lot of money to be saved by bucking traditional store-bought cleaning products and leaving the Windex (and other brand name cleansers on the shelf) in favor of homemade substitutes.

What are your favorite “out of the norm” cleaning concoctions?



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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.

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  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    Making my own cleaning supplies is one thing that i haven’t done to save money. I never pay full price for cleaning supplies, though, as we usually have a coupon and/or get it when it’s discounted. Good for you for finding a way to save so much by creating your own!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      That’s great, DC, that you guys are committed to never paying full price. Every bit saved adds up. πŸ™‚

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    I mop all of my tile floors with just a steam mop. The super hot steam gets the floors spotless without using any chemicals at all.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

    I’ve been looking into those, Holly. They look like they work really well!

  • Thomas | Your Daily Finance says:

    Those cleaners to get expensive. I never thought much about making my own cleaning supplies though. Baby food yes but not cleaning supplies. Since I use to own a cleaning company I go directly to the warehouses and get the highly concentrated not scent stuff that you have to mix yourself. If runny how much you save just by having to add water and pour things yourself.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      We get the concentrated stuff too at times, Thomas. Yes, it’s amazing how much they mark things up for the difficult task of having to add water to the bottle. πŸ™‚

  • Rita P says:

    Those are really good tips for saving on those cleaning supplies. I use vinegar a lot when it comes to cleaning and the trick of adding alcohol will be a must try for me next time

  • Joshua Rodriguez says:

    Hey Laurie, great post! I’ve always saved money on cleaning supplies with coupons but, I’ve never thought to save by making my own supplies. I’m going to email the recipe and of course this article to my fiance and see what she thinks. Thanks for the great read!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      It’s worked out really well for us, Joshua, and the money savings are tremendous! I’ll update everyone once I try the homemade laundry detergent.

  • No Waste says:

    Big Cleaning Corp, Inc. won’t be happy with you!

    We’ve been using home brew cleaning for years, for all the reasons you mention.

    I’ve noticed a shift in their product lines at the store now, they’re clearly aware of this movement and are trying to react.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      LOL, yeah, I would imagine us homemade cleaning peeps are ruffling some feathers. πŸ™‚ The only problem with the “natural” store stuff is that it’s awfully expensive!

  • Romona (@monasez) says:

    I’ll have to try making my own cleaning supplies. That’s smart thinking. Great Idea.

  • anna says:

    Thanks for the recipe, Laurie, I’ll try it out! I like how the ingredients don’t have that weird blue color either (since really, is it necessary?).

  • Anthony @ Thrifty Dad says:

    We still use Windex for windows and Pledge for wood furniture, but we don’t spend all that much on cleaners. We’ve been cleaning with just vinegar and water for years – just adding a few drops of tea tree oil. Works great. The tea tree oil also helps to mask some of the vinegar smell. We use it for all surfaces and floors as well – find it works better than the Pledge hardwood floor cleaner we got. Haven’t tried it on windows though. Haven’t tried alcohol though. Wouldn’t that leave a harsh smell?

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Tea tree oil is another super cleaner – we use it too! There is a bit of a smell with the rubbing alcohol but it dissipates pretty quickly, and we always make sure to have the windows open when we use it. .

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup says:

    Well, I guess I am going to have to try making my own window cleaner. That looks awesome. Thanks for the recipe Laurie!

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    We all like clean homes but sometimes I worry we do need hazmat suits to use the cleaners, which really doesn’t feel right! When my windex runs out, I’ll have to give your homemade version a try.

  • Jake @ Common Cents Wealth says:

    That’s an awesome idea, Laurie. We don’t go through cleaning products very fast, so I haven’t even thought about making my own. It seems easy (and cheap) enough.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I’m all for saving money wherever you can. You’ll start going through those cleaning supplies more when the kids come, Jake, so you might as well be prepared. πŸ™‚

  • WalletEngineers says:

    I will have to tell my wife about this. She has recently gotten hooked on my frugal movement and would love to try a new way to save some money! She is also ramping up our cleaning schedule with our first baby on the way in 5 months!!!!!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Yea! So glad your wife is on board – that will totally accelerate your financial goals. And congrats on the new baby – parenthood is awesome – you’ll love it!

  • The Norwegian Girl says:

    IΒ΄ve never made my own cleaning products, but I never bother buying the brand names, itΒ΄s all about the generic brand products! The grocery store where we shop offer their own cleaning products til the fraction of what the brand products costs, and theyΒ΄re just as good, if not better!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I’m with you there, NG. We find in almost every instance that the generic stuff is just as good quality-wise as the name brand.

  • Nick @ says:

    My wife just figured out a good trick for cleaning the carpet in your car. If you take your car to a self service car wash you can actually use the spray soap to clean the carpet. When it is done it looks like your car has been detailed, but at a fraction of the cost!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Wow, that’s a great tip, Nick! My husband does something similar here at home. Love the new gravatar by the way – it’s great!

  • Leslie Beslie says:

    I buy the generic allergy-free laundry detergent; can usually find it at target or walgreens.

  • E.M. says:

    Cleaning supplies are really expensive!! I learned that when I got my own apartment and figured I should stock up on the basics. I think in the future, whenever we use these bottles up, I will be making my own. It’s a great way to be more self-sufficient, and honestly, I hate the smell of most cleaners. That chemical smell just burns my throat. Yuck!

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      I’m right there with you about the scent – it’s terrible. It was just normal for me as a kid, but now that we’ve been scent free for so long, I can’t even walk down the detergent aisle at the store – it’s too intense!

  • Mrs. 1500 says:

    For cleaning windows, I use straight vinegar in a spray bottle, and wipe it away with newspaper instead of rags or paper towels. No lint, and I haven’t really found anything that cleans better. I read somewhere that you should wipe side to side on the outside of the window and up and down on the inside so if you have a streak, you know what side it is on. Thanks for the recipes.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Great tip about the newspaper – thanks! My anal husband uses a squeegee. The detail-orientedness of this drives me a bit batty, but the windows do look great. πŸ™‚

  • Alicia @ Financial Diffraction says:

    I really hate the cost of cleaners, especially when my partner has a heavy hand with cleaning supplies. I swear a bottle of dish soap lasts for maybe four sinks of dishes.

    We are in the process of saving up for steamer because I my allergies make using a lot of those super smelly cleaners/fresheners really hard on my breathing. I can’t wait to just clean with water, especially since we have pets.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      LOL, yeah, that doesn’t help the pocketbook, does it? Holly had mentioned the steamer too – it sounds really great! Thanks for stopping by, Alicia. πŸ™‚

  • Alexa says:

    I always buy the $1 generic brand of almost all of the normal household cleaners. I don’t care if I have the brand names or not. The $1 bottles usually last me for at least a couple of months. I’d rather spend that little bit of money than taking the time to make my own. I do understand your need to make your own since you use green products.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      That’s great that you get such low prices, Alexa! Huge money saver there. We’ll have to check out the dollar store stuff.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    When my daughter was a baby, she had lots of skin conditions that we thought were related to allergies, so I got a book at the library about non-toxic cleaning products, and have been using mostly vinegar, soap and water since then. For a while, we even used a combination of baking soda, borax, and essential oils to wash clothes and used vinegar for fabric softener. Since she has outgrown most of her skin issues, I’ve gone back to regular washing detergent and fabric softener, mainly because I like the smell, but it can be cheap and solve other problems to stay away from the chemical stuff.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      That seems to be so common, Kim, about the allergies in babies. Glad it has cleared up for her now. Our youngest has some food allergies that seem to be clearing up with age too. The soda/borax/essential oils sounds like a great route for laundry detergent too. Thanks for sharing. πŸ™‚

  • Pauline says:

    Depression era? Just yesterday I went to buy my gallon of kerosene to clean my house lol. The maid uses a ton of clorine and other chemicals and it makes me nauseous. Kerosene also takes care of the wood, we mix 2/3 kerosene with 1/3 oil and feed the wooden floors, tables, etc, no insect wants to leave there and it remains shiny even if it rains over it. Vinegar is also a staple, as well as baking soda. At $5 a gallon kerosene isn’t cheap but we use little.

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      LOL, funny. πŸ™‚ Sounds like you guys are cleaning the right way, even if the maid isn’t. Vinegar and baking soda are fabulous cleaners! Apparently kerosene is too, but I don’t think we’ll be going there anytime soon. πŸ™‚

  • Michael | The Student Loan Sherpa says:

    I tend to clean with a heavy dose of procrastination. It really helps the grim build up, but I am a happy customer πŸ˜‰

    • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

      Funny. πŸ™‚ We have our fair share of that around here too. A good family or friend gathering at the farm always motivates us to get our dirt together, though. πŸ™‚

  • Valerie says:

    I am very anti-chemical and make all my own cleaners and beauty products. However, I would not agree that homemade “detergent” is really detergent….it is shredded bar soap and washing soda with other laundry boosters, borax, baking soda. i don’t think it works well at all. Homemade cleaners really do get the job done though!

  • KK@Student Debt Survivor says:

    Baking soda and vinegar seperately and/or together can clean just about anything. I’m a big fan of making my own cleaning products. It’s healthier, cheaper and safer than buying all those chemically products.

  • crazyliblady says:

    For an all purpose cleaner, I file a 16 oz bottle half way with white vinegar. Then, I add a squirt of dish soap and fill it up the rest of the way with water.

    For crusty, greasy pans and stovetops, I sprinkle baking soda, dish soap, and white vinegar. Let it sit for a bit to work, but unless it is really bad, it should come sparkling clean.

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