Over the years I have discovered that if you want to keep your supermarket bills low, avoid the cleaning aisle. I am not suggesting that you avoid cleaning altogether – far from it – but once you find out how much money you can save by making products from scratch, it's difficult to go back. These days, the only items I buy are sponges, rubber gloves and washing-up liquid. So how do I keep my house spick and span? Let me count the ways.
I do a double-take when I see the price of laundry detergent. I use soap nuts. Yes, nuts! Actually, they are not nuts at all but dried fruits. They grow on sapindus trees in India and parts of China, are sticky with a natural surfactant called saponin and do a wonderful job at cleaning clothes. Pop three or four in an old sock and put in the washing machine drum with your clothes.
A sock of soap nuts will clean up to four loads of laundry. A 500g bag costs £8.49, and I buy one bag annually. Per wash, they are cheaper than budget-range laundry powder.
As for fabric conditioner, try white vinegar (£4.99 for five litres). I know what you're thinking: won't vinegar make your clothes smell like a fish-and-chip shop? It doesn't.;
I make surface cleaner in an empty spray bottle, with a good glug of white vinegar, a teaspoon of borax (£3.09 for 1kg) and a smidge of washing-up liquid, topped up with warm water. I use this cleaner in the bathroom, too.
Some of my favourite kitchen hacks use bicarbonate of soda (£4.19 for 2kg). 'Ruined' saucepans can be restored by adding bicarb and water to the pan, heating to a rolling boil and stirring occasionally. The grottiest oven can be transformed by applying a thin paste of bicarb and water, leaving for at least 30 minutes, then scrubbing to a shine. I also keep a pot of bicarb in the fridge to absorb odours.
I make my own toilet cleaner and floor cleaner. Add the following to your mop bucket: a slosh of white vinegar, a squirt of washing-up liquid and a quarter of a cup of borax, then fill with warm water. The toilet cleaner couldn't be simpler: a cup of vinegar and a quarter of a cup of bicarbonate of soda. It fizzes but we're talking lemonade rather than a Coke-and-Mentos explosion.
If you have a lemon, you don't need limescale cleaner: wrap a couple of slices around the base of your taps, and leave overnight.
White vinegar cleans windows beautifully. I use screwed-up balls of newspaper instead of dusters for a smear-free finish. In fact the newspaper on its own, without any cleaning solution, works surprisingly well.
I buy everything I need from Summer Naturals (summernaturals.co.uk; prices as above) and Amazon also stocks these products. Alternatively, try a Chinese supermarket for white vinegar and bicarb in bulk, or chemists for borax. What we get in the UK is technically substitute borax, due to EU rules. Either way, it has many different uses around the house.
Household management will always be a chore but when you slash costs, it also becomes a money-saving mission. One bag of soap nuts, four bottles of white vinegar, one bag of bicarb and two boxes of borax last me a year. Total cost: less than £40.