Forget the household arsenal - a few basic products in limited amounts are all you'll need, and they're available off-the-shelf.
Re-thinking the chemical cleaners
You have only to walk through the cleaning section of the supermarket to see the huge number of chemicals we rely on to clean the house. I do not believe that all chemicals should be banned from the home. Modern household cleaners have made a major advance in our lives. You only have to look at some of the concoctions our forebears used to see the truth of this. Mrs Beeton, for example, recommended removing grease spots from silk and satin by pouring on, first rectified spirits of wine, and then sulphuric ether. Fruit spots were removed with chloride of soda, and ink spots with oxalic acid. It makes you reach for your Vanish stain remover stick with a small prayer of gratitude.
But we should limit the number of chemicals and the amount we use. And when we do use them, use as little of the product as possible. The good news is that it is possible to keep a house perfectly clean with just a handful of products. Your basic household arsenal consists of the following:
I use this for almost anything. It is particularly good for cleaning old, fragile items or anything that is sensitive to detergent, such as marble or limestone. It is very good for windows, mirrors and wooden floors - add a small amount (so it doesn't foam) to water and clean as usual.
Use this for heavier cleaning jobs - to clean kitchens, bathrooms, floors and paintwork. One basic cleaner will do most jobs: you don't need different ones for different rooms (bathroom, kitchen and so forth). Supermarkets' own brands are generally cheaper than proprietary brands.
This is a pretty heavy-duty chemical but don't beat yourself up about it. You need it to clean and sanitise. You could also use bleach. Use either one or the other, not both, and certainly not together. Mixing bleach with any substance other than water can produce toxic gas.
Powder detergent for most washes; liquid detergent for delicates. You may also want to use fabric conditioner and a proprietary stain remover, such as Vanish.
I also keep a non-caustic drain cleaner and a non-caustic oven cleaner, plus a bottle of vinegar and a tub of bicarbonate of soda. For more on using these and other natural cleaners, see my next column. The Housewife's Handbook by Rachel Simhon (Bloomsbury) is available on www.amazon.com