The four ingredients you need to ditch chemicals, clutter and plastic from your cleaning routine

Conventional cleaning products are an UN-necessary evil. They are over-packaged, loaded with chemicals and contribute to a significant amount of clutter in our home. Many also don’t even work that well! So we’re wasting money and harming our health and the planet’s when we can easily switch to just four natural ingredients that can clean our home safely AND effectively.

The problem with conventional cleaning products

The chemicals

I’ve been buying natural cleaning products for decades, not just because our planet is better off without all those chemicals but because I am too. Chlorine, phthalates, sodium hydroxide and sodium laureth sulfate are just some of the ingredients in common household cleaning products. Chemicals in cleaning products carry loads of different health risks, from infertility to cancer, as well as the environmental impacts when they enter waterways, where they may never break down, entering the food chain and coming back to bite us again.

The clutter

We keep our cleaning products in a corner cupboard in our kitchen. You know the ones under the bench with two shelves? So to reach something at the back of the bottom shelf we have to get down on our knees and take out everything that’s in front of it. Fortunately we don’t have to do this every day but I got sick of having so many different cleaning products, most of which we hardly use, cluttering our cupboard. I gradually realised I don’t need a different product for every single purpose and that, like most people out there, I’ve been a victim of clever marketing.

The plastic

Most cleaning products in your average supermarket are packaged in 500ml plastic bottles. Many bottles like bathroom cleaners, window cleaners and surface cleaners have a spray mechanism, which is not recyclable, so every time we empty a bottle the spray mechanism is going to landfill. How wasteful is that??? And the thing is it’s COMPLETELY unnecessary!

Aside from plastic packaging, there is another way our cleaning habits are contributing to plastic pollution: microfibre. Any cleaning item I go to buy these days, whether it’s a cloth, scourer, mop, duster, etc. is made from synthetic microfibre. And many of these products are just drowning in greenwash! Many companies are creating a green façade that draws our attention to how these ‘miraculous’ products can reduce our chemical use but ignores all the plastic microfibres that are entering the ocean instead. So basically we’ve just replaced chemical pollution with plastic pollution! And it’s not just the ocean they’re polluting — many of these microfibres are floating in the air inside our homes and ending up in our lungs. This is REALLY SCARY STUFF and we need to start paying serious attention to it!

The SIMPLE solution that’s better for us AND the planet

With just four simple, natural ingredients (all available in bulk) you can ditch ALL your conventional cleaning products. These magic ingredients are:

  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Castile soap
  • Eucalyptus oil

And here’s how to use them:

Spray cleaner

Mix 1 part vinegar to 2 parts distilled/pure water in a spray bottle. Use for:

  • Windows and mirrors
  • Benches/stove-top/sink/tiles (non-porous surfaces)

Paste cleaner

Mix 1 part baking soda to 1 part water (don’t make more than you’ll need at once). Use to:

  • Remove more stubborn stains from bench tops, stove-top, sinks, etc.
  • Remove stains/tarnish from stainless steel, ceramic, enamel (including sinks, cookware, cutlery, crockery) — wipe/scrub with a damp cloth until surface is clean/shiny again.
  • Clean oven — apply the paste to oven surfaces, leave a few hours then scrape/wipe off.

Basic recipes for some other common cleaning applications:

  • Floors, walls and porous surfaces — mix castile soap and distilled water in a bucket at a ratio of 4 tbsp soap : 1 litre water.
  • Shower — to remove soap scum from tiles and bath, spray with vinegar, sprinkle with baking soda, scrub then rinse with water. Eucalyptus oil is also great for removing soap scum (although not as economical). I’ve found both of these work WAY more effectively than supermarket products designed for this purpose! To remove mould from shower spray undiluted vinegar onto wet surface, leave a few minutes then scrub and rinse with water (I use an old toothbrush to clean tile grout, drains and around taps). I also find 6% hydrogen peroxide effective to kill stubborn mould in grout (spray or apply with toothbrush, leave 5 minutes then scrub and rinse with water).
  • Toilet — spray 1:1 vinegar:water mix, sprinkle with baking soda, then scrub/wipe and flush.
  • To remove mould/mildew — spray undiluted vinegar and wipe with a damp cloth, then wipe again with a clean damp cloth to remove any vinegar residue. Light and ventilation are the best mould & mildew prevention. Make sure you always use your bathroom exhaust fan when showering and keep windows/doors/blinds open as much as possible each day to allow light and air flow through your house.
  • To remove glue/wax/sticky residue (e.g. after you remove a label from glass) — rub with Eucalyptus oil until residue is removed then wash with hot soapy water.
  • To remove oil/grease stains from clothes — wet stain with warm water, apply enough Eucalyptus oil to cover stain, rub gently then wash in warm soapy water (make the water hot enough to remove the Eucalyptus oil but not too hot to damage the clothing — I find as hot as my skin can tolerate is about the right temperature).

Aside from the substances we use for cleaning, we also need to consider the tools. Here are nine ways you can switch to natural materials and get the plastic out of your cleaning routine:

  • Dish cloth — avoid synthetic dish/cleaning cloths and choose organic cotton, hemp or bamboo instead. Provided they are 100% natural fibre they can be composted once they’re worn out.
  • Scourer –steel wool or scourers made from coconut fibre are great for cleaning dishes but we also use baking soda for more gentle scouring.
  • Dish brush — look for a brush with a sustainably-harvested timber handle and natural-fibre bristles (for the purpose of minimising clutter, you can also use this for scrubbing vegetables).
  • Scrub brush — look for sustainable timber with natural-fibre bristles.
  • Reusable rubber gloves — choose 100% latex (preferably FSC-certified) if you’re not allergic.
  • Duster — avoid synthetic microfibre cloths and look for bamboo/natural microfibre instead. If you prefer a duster with a handle then choose natural fibre like wool with a wooden/bamboo handle.
  • Mop — there are not many options for avoiding synthetic microfibre at this stage — basically the cotton rag-doll-hair style mop with a wooden handle, or the ones with a rectangular cellulose sponge (with in-built wringing mechanism).
  • Brooms/brushes — choose wooden handles, natural bristles and a metal dustpan.
  • Toothbrushes — we save old toothbrushes for cleaning as they are handy for many things like stove tops, sink drains and around taps. We only buy bamboo toothbrushes now, which are 100% biodegradable.

Ditching over-packaged, conventional cleaning products is a WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN (yep that’s seven wins!):

1. The planet wins because we’re chucking out WAY less plastic bottles.

2. The planet wins because we’re not washing toxic chemicals down the drain and into our oceans.

3. You win because you’re not exposed to toxic chemicals that screw with your fertility and many other parts of your body.

4. You win because your cupboards are FAR less cluttered.

5. You win because you save money not buying products you don’t need.

6. You win because natural/bulk cleaning products are MORE effective than conventional ones for certain uses.

7. You win because you save time a) in the supermarket b) not wheeling your recycling bin to the kerb as often c) cleaning more efficiently (refer to #6).

Smart move, don’t you think?

Sustainability educator & activist, founder @ Earth Ethic

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