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If you have followed our previous articles about reducing your plastic use by changing a few habits or products in your kitchen and bathroom and adopted at least some of the recommendations, you are already having a positive impact on the environment. To help you improve even more, we will continue with our “eliminate-plastic house-tour” and focus on your laundry and cleaning products.
Surprisingly, conventional cleaning isn’t very clean. Our cleaning products have quite an impact on the environment and potentially on our health as well. Moreover, cleaning has become more complicated than ever. The companies are trying to convince us that we need a special product for every corner of the house or every specific cleaning activity.
All-purpose cleaner, detergent for the dishes, a product for oven cleaning, a product for cleaning of the stove, laundry detergent, softener, toilet cleaner, window cleaner, specific cleaner for every kind of flooring, furniture spray, carpet cleaner, air refresher, have I forgotten anything? Now imagine them all placed on the counter, how many plastic bottles or spray tins do you see?
Think about it. These plastic bottles are mostly made of mixed plastic materials and therefore are impossible to recycle. Those that are made of recyclable materials are hardly ever recycled. So, unfortunately, most of these will end up in the landfill. How many of each of them do you use every month or every year? If you want to do something about it, we will give you several options on how to achieve this.
Apart from plastic pollution, cleaning products have additional adverse effects on the environment. Most conventional cleaning products are made with chemical substances that will pollute the water, and later on, will go on and pollute the soil and the air. Most of their components are not easily biodegradable and they will stay in the soil for years to come. This will consequently cause these particles to get to our food chain.
First, let’s think about cleaning for a bit. In simple terms, cleaning is getting rid of any dirt, marks, stains. Usually, we aim to create healthy environments by removing or reducing germs, bacteria, contaminants, or allergens to prevent any possible diseases. But knowing that most conventional cleaning products are made of toxic chemicals, are we really creating healthy environments for our families?
As we did in the kitchen and the bathroom, the first step is to simplify. The fewer types of products you use, the easier it will be for you to find better alternatives. Pick the indispensable products. Unless you have a very special kind of floor, you can use your dish soap to clean the floors, and similarly, you can use it to clean windows, mirrors, carpets, and many other surfaces. If you find great laundry detergent, you probably don’t need a softener. Instead of a toxic air refresher, use natural candles or aromatherapy essential oils to give your home a nice smell. With a total of 3-4 products, you should be fine to clean all your house.
To get a good cleaning, the main element we need is a solvent, and one of the best solvents is water, if we use warm or hot water, even better. Water alone can clean most of the dirt, marks, and stains. It will even wash away most or some of the germs. But in other cases, water alone will not remove all the stains of some surfaces, and it might not wash off all the germs, and that’s where cleaning products come in.
First, you should choose better products, products that are healthier for the people and the animals living in your home, but also better for the environment.
Fortunately, there are a plethora of brands that are focusing on providing cleaning products based on natural ingredients, without using any toxic ones. They develop products that are made of sustainable, bio-based ingredients, they do not use dyes and preservatives like parabens, and phosphates and the final products are biodegradable.
As a secondary effect on choosing better cleaning products, you will be able to eliminate another culprit from your house. These detergents are usually so soft, that you can forget about using gloves, as these products will not damage, dry, or irritate your skin... And fewer gloves means less trash.
The next obvious step is to find these products with refill options. You buy the container once and use it forever. Most zero-waste, bulk stores will carry refill options of diverse cleaning products. There are even whole bulk stores only for cleaning products and cosmetics.
For laundry detergent, I recommend finding an eco-friendly brand that will clean well, leave your clothes with a nice smell, and then you can forget about using anything else. Softener isn’t a necessity.
If you need to get rid of particularly smelly odor, add baking soda or white vinegar to your laundry, that should help remove the smell and act as a softener as well.
For even more zero-waste experience, you can experiment with soap nuts, also called soapberries. They are dried shells of plants of the Sapindus family, they naturally contain saponin, with soap-like qualities. Put a few nuts in a closed textile bag and put the bag in your laundry. During the cleaning cycle, the nuts will release saponin that will clean your clothes. Soap nuts work well for regular, not so dirty clothes, as the saponin is not as strong as other ingredients contained in laundry detergents.
If you want to go a step further, you can forgo some cleaning products altogether and clean using natural ingredients that are easily accessible, cheap, and surprisingly effective.
One of the prime examples of this is using vinegar to clean various surfaces. Vinegar is created via a fermentation process from many kinds of fruits. The most common kinds of vinegar are made of apples, grapes, citrus fruits, but could be made of any sweet fruit. The main component of vinegar is acetic acid, hence its sour taste and pH of around 2.5. Vinagre is more acidic than lemon juice but less acidic than stomach juices. And it is exactly its acidity that makes it perfect for cleaning.
The best kind of vinegar to clean is the white distilled vinegar, as it does not contain any coloring agents. You can use it on most floors, your entire bathroom, (faucets, tubs, showers), you can put it inside the toilet, use it for windows, mirrors, and other surfaces.
Do not use on delicate fabrics. Some stone surfaces like granite or marble and some wooden polishes could be potentially damaged with concentrated vinegar. It is always best to try on a small area first, just to be sure.
The next great ingredient to use for cleaning is baking soda. Baking soda acts as soft abrasive to remove many kinds of stains, and it will also extract bad smells. Put the soda on a wet luffa (instead of sponge) and scrub away. You can even wet the luffa in vinegar and then use baking soda to combine these two powerful cleaning agents.
Baking soda is great to use to clean stoves, ovens, refrigerators, or scrub any other hard-to-remove stains.
We would argue to almost always combine vinegar and baking soda to improve the effectiveness of the cleaning.
After you have simplified your cleaning products, found your refill provider, or maybe added vinegar and baking soda to your arsenal, there is one more important step.
There are other products that you use for cleaning that impact the amount the plastic and synthetic materials you use and trash. Look at all the cleaning supplies you use: sponges, cleaning scrubs, single-use wipes, and synthetic cloths of all kinds. The easy solution is to get luffas for all kinds of scrubbing, and textile reusable cloths for cleaning.
Luffa is a plant that is very fibrous and when it completely dries out, it is used as a sponge in the kitchen or the bath. It has a great abrasive ability for all your scrubbing needs. After it is no longer usable, it can be composted.
Reusable textile cleaning cloths can be washed to be used over and over again, and if you get them made of organic materials like hemp, jute, or cotton, at the end of their life, you can compost them too!
If you follow these steps, you will soon realize that you didn’t need all those products, and your house is clean and nice as ever... Now you just have to find a use for all that empty space under your sink, that was before cluttered with all the plastic bottles.