Stuff you already own could make your life safer and easier.Whether your motive is frugality, concern for the environment, or an obsession with sparkly surfaces, know that you probably already have most of the ingredients you need to get a sparkly-clean (chemical-free) home lurking somewhere in your closets.

I began using natural cleaning products when my father was diagnosed with a rare and untreatable form of brain cancer. Nobody really knew exactly what had caused it, but I decided that toxic chemicals and known carcinogens contained in cleaning products and cosmetics were no longer welcome in my home. Call me crazy, but I was over coating my house, or my body, in a fine layer of poison and rubbing it in.

A year ago, when the economy really fell through and I found myself eating primarily out of garbage cans, I decided I could no longer justify spending seven bucks on a bottle of toilet cleaner or organic shampoo, so I took to the Internet for cheap, natural, homemade alternatives. It turns out the options are countless! Well, I could probably have counted them, but it would have taken a long time, and I'm really lazy.

Being the giant sack of lazy bones that I am, I also needed stuff that actually worked; i.e. "elbow grease" should not be a primary ingredient. In addition to finding stuff with actual cleaning power, I also learned that I already had most of the ingredients in my home, and even if I didn't, I could have easily stocked up for around 20 bucks.

Here are the things I recommend for getting your green on: For beauty products, you've probably already got everything you need in your kitchen. If you're feeling fancy, buy some essential oils from a health-food store.

Arm & Hammer Baking soda will scrub surfaces, deodorize carpets (and armpits), get rid of grease stains, put out fires, and works as a handy-dandy dry shampoo when sprinkled on a hairbrush with a little talcum powder. (Only don't actually use talcum powder -- it's bad for you. There are lots of talc-free alternatives that smell wonderful.)

I was living in a "charming" basement in Queens with some outrageous, plush burgundy carpeting that got dirty really fast because of all the pine needles and dead leaves outside, so one of my favorite things to do with baking soda was to put it on my carpet and vacuum it. Ta-da! Clean! If you have essential oils on hand you can add a few drops and reap the benefits. I like cedar because it's cheap, can be used for scalp health, and made my place smell like a pencil box.

Castile soap can be used for a million things, although perhaps its best use is as a never-ending source of entertainment on the toilet. Have you seen a bottle of Doctor Bronner's lately? It's a little expensive (compared to a box of baking soda), but it's highly concentrated, will last a long time and can be used for just about anything, from laundry, to dish soap, to scrubbing your nether bits. When combined with water, baking soda and eucalyptus essential oil, it makes a great shower cleaner. You don't need the essential oil, but it does help inhibit mold growth.

Vinegar can be used to clean windows, tiles and floors (mix equally with water); it also tones skin and is a great hair rinse. Here is how I made my own "shampoo," although it should be noted that I have very fine, very thick, untreated, healthy hair. A friend of mine with dark curly locks tried my concoction and pronounced me insane. I still think you can just dump apple cider vinegar on your head and it will get rid of the accumulated buildup that long term shampoo use can cause, regardless of the truth of that statement, my BF had a problem with me having a pickle-head, so I improvised a little recipe.

Emerald's Homemade Shampoo
Make a cup of tea (green or jasmine is nice), and make it strong. Add a 1/4 cup of vinegar, a few drops of essential oil if you have it, and a little castile soap (if you really need sudsy action). I filled up an old olive oil bottle that I got out of a recycling bin, but hey, I'm just a crazy garbage-scrounger trying to save a buck. Put some on your head and make sure it gets on all your hair; leave it on for a few minutes, then rinse.

Borax: If there's one thing you should take away from all of this, it's that you need to go out and buy some borax: it scours, brightens laundry, kills bugs (sprinkle on carpets, let it rest for a while, vacuum, and adios, fleas!), unclogs drains, cleans toilets, softens skin, un-stinks garbage disposals, and does just about anything else you want it to. Short of laundry.

Mix 1/2 cup of borax with 2 cups of boiling water and dump it down your clogged tub, and voila! Make a paste with water and use it to remove stains from counter tops without bleach fumes. Dump some in your toilet before you go to bed at night and scrub it when you wake up in the morning, now look at that shine! There's even a rumor that it can treat yeast infections*. And a gigantic box of it costs less than 10 dollars and will last you forever -- I've had mine for at least a couple of years.

As far as a beauty regimen is concerned: Look to your kitchen cupboards.

Plain old table sugar mixed with honey exfoliates and tones the skin, and makes you smell good and feel nice. Just combine the two until it seems appropriately gritty. If you have super-dry skin (like I do -- I'm like a 5-foot-5-inch lizard that learned to walk on its hind legs), you can add a little olive oil.

Baking soda is also great for exfoliation, and you might already have it in the shower because it is also very good for your head. Just massage it into your scalp and rinse away before shampooing. When combined with a little cedar oil, you've got a healthy, toned scalp that feels great and smells like pencil shavings. Don't like pencil shavings? You could pick something else, like mint or rosemary.

This last bit is a little unpleasant, but equally amazing -- baking soda is a fantastic tooth scrub -- why do you think companies are always chucking it into their toothpaste? Combined with salt, it will leave your teeth feeling so clean you won't believe it. To make it stick, moisten your toothbrush with a little water or hydrogen peroxide, and dip it into the cute empty jar you've filled with baking soda and salt that you now hide inconspicuously in your medicine cabinet. I don't recommend replacing toothpaste outright, because I'm a firm believer in fluoride -- I'm just saying it will make your teeth feel riiiiiiidiculously clean.

Let's see -- your dishes and sink are clean, your windows are washed, your toilet is sparkling, your floors have been mopped, your drains no longer smell, and you've gotten rid of that pesky flea problem.

On the beauty front, your hair is washed; every time you touch your face you feel like you're inappropriately caressing a baby; and you can't remember the last time your teeth felt so clean. In fact, you can't stop licking them like those people in toothpaste commercials do, and it's starting to make you feel a little bit crazy.

Oh! And if luxuriating in your clean, nontoxic home with your freshly scrubbed skin just wasn't relaxing enough for you, here's a recipe to make homemade bath bombs out of natural ingredients for super-cheap.

Suddenly all those chemicals lurking under your sink and perching on the limited surface area of your bathtub ledge seem pretty silly, don't they? It's remarkable how easy it is to make the transition from "cleaning" your home and yourself with chemicals to getting things actually clean.

* Just something I heard from a friend with dreadlocks who is not an expert.