Household cleaning is an easy area to reduce or even eliminate plastic waste. Before making any changes, it’s a good idea to take a long, hard look at all your cleaning products and think about their uses and what you actually need. Do you have different packs of wipes for different purposes? Do you have multiple pump action sprays? Do you have products that promised amazing results, but didn’t actually come up to the mark? When you start running out of these products, why not make a new resolution to streamline your cleaning routine and products? With just a few changes you can reduce your plastic waste by a huge amount.
1 Switch to one or two multi-purpose products and stop buying tens of single-use ones. For example, a simple vinegar spray that you can make at home will replace surface cleaners for the bathroom and kitchen, floor cleaners and glass cleaners. I currently buy my white wine vinegar from Sainsbury’s or Aldi in a glass bottle. Simply pour it into a big glass jar and add citrus peel, I prefer oranges. Leave it to sit for a few weeks and then transfer to an old spray bottle, dilute about 50:50 with water and there you have it: your own vinegar cleaning spray.
2 When you need a bit more power to your elbow, bicarbonate of soda makes a great scourer. I buy mine plastic free in bulk from Plastic Free Pantry. You can also buy it in cardboard boxes from Wilkinson’s (not food grade) or in big sacks online and in some Asian supermarkets. It took me about two minutes to make my own shaker by carefully putting some holes in a jam jar lid with a small nail and a hammer.
3 Soap. When I clean the bath and basin, I spray the bath with vinegar cleaner, sprinkle it with bicarb, squirt some liquid soap on a flannel and scrub away. I had a go at making my own liquid soap from a bar of soap, but you can also buy…
4 Refills. There are quite a few eco-friendly cleaning companies now and most of them offer some kind of refill service. It’s worth checking out what you have in your area or how the online companies work. At the moment, we buy Ecover washing up liquid and refill the bottle at the shop. However, I’m a little bit concerned about their ethics now they’ve been bought out by a larger company. If my liquid soap proves to be okay for dishwashing, I’ll stop buying washing up liquid altogether.
5 Ditching the wipes, plastic scourers, kitchen roll and disposable cloths is a great step in reducing plastic waste. We used to get through so many sponge scourers and so much kitchen roll, it makes me feel quite guilty when I think about it. We now use cotton dishcloths for most of our cleaning, just like my parents always have and my grandparents before them. Other plastic-free options we have for cleaning include: stainless steel pan scrubber (we don’t have any non-stick pans anymore, so this is a good option for us) and rags in various stages. I’m also going to have a go at knitting a pan scrubber out of jute yarn and I’d like to try a coconut fibre scrubber too sometime.
6 I’ve been experimenting with different dishwasher options lately. I made my own dishwasher detergent following the recipe in Bea Johnson’s book ‘Zero Waste Home’. This used citric acid, washing soda or bicarb of soda and salt. It worked quite well except our glasses started going cloudy. Also, two of the ingredients had come in a plastic bag, which seemed to defeat the object somewhat, though I’m sure you could source them plastic free. So I’m now trying Wilkinson’s eco-friendly dishwasher tablets, which come in a cardboard box and have a water soluble wrapper. These seem to be doing the job very well. I’ve yet to try Sainsbury’s dishwasher detergent that comes loose in a cardboard box, but I’ll let you know how I get on when I’ve tried it.
So, there you have it. That’s my basic cleaning routine covered. Have you discovered any amazing plastic free cleaning products or methods that you’d like to share? Perhaps you have some good stain removal tips you could pass on?
Edit 24/2/20: I recently tried a dishwashing bar soap which I bought at By the Weigh in Barnard Castle. It seems expensive at £10.50 for a bar, but I started mine on New Year’s Day and I’ve barely used any yet, so I think it will last a really, really long time. It lathers well on your hands or scrubbing brush, but the water doesn’t bubble up like it would with conventional washing up liquid. The water is a pale grey. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t cleaning or that you need to use more. You just have to remember that we’ve been programmed by marketing for decades now to believe that when we see bubbles things are being cleaned. Bubbles do not do the cleaning. The best way to use it is to put some hot water in your washing up bowl or sink, then either rub the soap in the water a little with your hands or wet your brush, scrubber or cloth and then rub that on the soap.
I’ve also started making my own apple scrap vinegar, which I’m really pleased with. I don’t think I’ll need to buy apple cider vinegar for a very long time, or hopefully ever again! You can find the recipe here.