Harsh cleaning chemicals in some products are not only harsh on your hands and lungs, but also on the environment around us (even though you may not see it directly). These chemicals can pollute water sources when disposed of, but can also contribute significantly to air pollution, as household cleaning products evaporate almost completely resulting in harmful airborne particles. Not only do these products contaminate the air and water, but they also are produced and sold in… you guessed it, plastic bottles and packaging, some of course non-recyclable.
There are a few great alternatives to harsh cleaning products and wasteful cleaning habits that work just as well and create less waste. First, here are a few ingredients that become the essence of natural and less waste cleaning.
5 Natural Green Cleaning Supplies
Sodium Bicarbonate, or baking soda, has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which makes it perfect for disinfecting surfaces. It is often used in a fridge to neutralize odours, as many bad odours are caused by acids, and as an alkaline baking soda neutralizes these odours when it reacts with them. It is great at whitening and removing stains naturally, and can even be used as a mouthwash or teeth whitener.
Vinegar is a combination of acetic acid and water, and usually has an acetic acid percentage of about 4 – 11%. Like baking soda, vinegar also has antimicrobial properties, which means it stops the growth of organisms like bacteria. Therefore, vinegar is also great at disinfecting, however, baking soda and vinegar should not be used together. When reacting together, baking soda (an alkaline) and vinegar (a base) somewhat neutralize each other and don’t actually do you any good when it comes to cleaning. I have made this mistake so many times and have wondered why I have to scrub so hard! They are both great in natural cleaning methods, but should be used separately or one after the other.
Lemon and other citrus fruits act as a powerful antioxidant. They are a high source of vitamin C when consumed and can be used in many different ways through cleaning, cooking, and preserving. In cleaning, lemons are antibacterial and can substitute as a natural bleach, as well as add a lovely refreshing smell.
Citric acid is naturally found in citrus fruits, and is great for cleaning because it helps kill bacteria, mold, and mildew. Although it is a weaker acid than vinegar, it still reacts with baking soda when water is added, and when using them together, there should be significantly less citric acid. If you give citric acid powder a bit of a taste, you might also notice it is very sour and tastes just like the outside of sour skittles.
Washing soda, or sodium carbonate, helps other cleaning ingredients lift dirt, food, and other difficult matter by softening the water. This is what I use to remove most sticky labels on glass jars. It is also an ingredient that is great to use in laundry and dishes.
These are five basic green cleaning ingredients, and they can be mixed with other plant based or natural materials to increase cleaning power. Below I have compiled a list of five ways to reduce cleaning waste and create a healthier home environment for you and your family. Some of these things include the ingredients above as well.
5 Ways to Reduce Cleaning Waste
#1 Lemon Vinegar Surface Cleaner
Just as it sounds, this is an easy to make all-purpose surface cleaner made from lemon rinds, vinegar, and water. It is made by soaking used/juiced lemon rinds in a jar of vinegar, then splitting your spray bottle 50/50 with the lemon vinegar and water. This very easy DIY will save you a ba-jillion dollars spent on store bought cleaners, it works just as well, and you know exactly what ingredients are in it. Just a precaution, vinegar is not the greatest to use on hardwood floors or marble countertops, in which case you can use rubbing alcohol instead of vinegar. A few months ago I added my recipe for this cleaner on the DIY page of this blog, and it can be found here.
#2 Dishwasher Detergent Powder/Pods
This is a super easy switch from any store bought brand of dishwasher detergent and again is really easy to make with a few simple ingredients that can be found packaging free at bulk or zero waste stores. Before attempting to make my own, I used Nellie’s brand of natural powdered detergent, where some of the ingredients are the same as this detergent recipe. However, I found that these ingredients were cheaper to buy individually than the can of Nellie’s (however Nellie’s is still a good natural option if you don’t want to make your own).
There are also many recipes out there for detergent pods and powder, and most of them have a variant of the same 5 simple ingredients. In doing research on the properties of each ingredient, I came up with this formula, having the baking and washing soda make up over half of the mixture and the citric acid ¼ of the amount of the sodas. I’m still testing out these ratios, and so far so good, however I will continue to test other ratios to make sure the best one is on here!
1 cup washing soda 1 cup baking soda ¾ cup pickling salt (or salt without any additives) ½ cup citric acid 1 cup water
If you plan to only use powder, no need to add water, just mix the dry ingredients together and used 1 – 2 tbsp. of powder per load. If you prefer washing with pods, pour the water over the mixed dry ingredients and let it fizz (pour water slowly). Once fizzing has simmered, start to handle the mixture and press into 2+ ice cube trays. The pods will take about a day to dry.
#3 Make Your Own Cleaning Pads
Another way to reduce cleaning waste is by the tools you choose to clean with. Mops and brooms with attachable and disposable cleaning pads are quite popular as they are great at collecting dust, pet hair, and dirt. The part that’s not so great is the disposable issue. The solution is using a reusable pad made specifically for whatever mop or duster you have. I made a mop pad for mine in less than ten minutes using an old hand towel, cutting it to size, and sewing the sides with my machine. Mis-matched old socks work great too as no-sew attachments for swiffer-like brooms. The idea here is to ditch disposable cleaning supplies and switch to a reusable and possibly up-cycled alternative.
#4 Soap Nuts
Soap nuts are the dried outer shell of the soapberry (a fruit, not nut) that is grown on Sapindus trees. These shells contain a substance called saponin, which foams when agitated with water and acts as a cleaning agent. Although they create a foam similar to soap, they actually don’t contain any soap, thus not leaving any trace of soap scum or residue. However, similar to the properties of washing soda, soap nuts are able to soften the water to lift dirt away from fibres. It is also very mild, meaning it is a great cleaner especially for baby clothes and anyone with sensitive skin.
When using soap nuts, simply add about 5 – 7 shells to a small fabric washing bag and place in the machine with your laundry. The bonus of soap nuts is that they can be used for multiple loans instead of having to use new detergent for each loan. The only extra suggestion I would add, is if you are washing with cold water, dunk your bag of soap nuts in warm water to activate them before tossing the bag in with your load.
If you’re still curious as to how these little things clean clothes, check out Eco Nuts, which even has a video showing how soap nuts work on the inside of your washing machine!
#5 Cleaning Cloths
Yes, cleaning cloths! Ditch that paper towel or wipes and start using cloths for your cleaning. Even though paper towel can sometimes still be composted, it doesn’t mean it is any better especially if the paper product was not sourced sustainably. Cloths work even better than paper towel as they don’t wear through when wiping up messes, they have a fibrous texture for scrubbing surfaces, and of course they are washable and reusable.
Pictured, you can see all the different types of cloths I use for different types of cleaning. I use knitted cloths for surface cleaning, woven ones for dishes, rag-like or worn out cloths for deep cleaning, soft fibre cloths for dusting (dust bunnies), and soft cotton hankies for napkins.
Each have a separate use in my house, which helps me stay organized and makes sure I am never short on cloths for each cleaning duty no matter how much laundry has built up!
That’s all for this week’s pint of information on greener cleaning tips. These up-cycled materials and natural ingredients are sure to make for a disinfected healthy home and planet. Happy Cleaning!