The Ten Best Ways We Have Made our Cleaning Better for the Environment (and Ourselves)

by - Monday, January 27, 2020

I hate cleaning. I am not a naturally neat person. But trying to live a more Earth-conscious lifestyle has made me appreciate our choices about how we clean. I mean, I still hate to clean, but now I get to feel a little better about doing it.

When you are ready to live a more eco-friendly life, it can be so hard to know where to start. Since it is all about choices, start with the choices you make every day- what you eat, how you get from place to place, what you wear, how you keep your home.

It's tempting to start with big ticket items because capitalism has conditioned us to think the more you spend, the more impact it has. For most of us, that isn't true. In fact, it's all of our little decisions, and the waste that make and carbon they cost, that have significant impact. Not only on the world, but on our own perspective and lives.

This is especially true for the things we put in, on, and near our bodies. Switching out the chemicals in your house can actually extend your life significantly. Cutting out the clutter makes your home happier and less anxiety-inducing (not to mention makes less cleaning). Washing your clothes in cold water will make them last way longer (therefore saving you money). These things all do help the Earth, but they also make your life better, safer, and happier. And you matter, so the mere positive effect green choices have on your life still matters. If it's better for the Earth, it's better for you too.

Changing our cleaning habits may not single-handedly change the world, but it has certainly changed our lives for the better. Here are ten ways that our clean house is improving life:

10. We Cut Off the Chemicals

This seems so obvious, but if we don't recognize what is on the bottle, we probably aren't going to buy it. This is just as true for our outside spaces as well- weed killers like Round Up have been proven to cause cancer and to damage children's brain development (now let's all take a moment to reflect on the stores in our lives that still sell that stuff... why?). When you realize just how harmful chemicals can be, you want more natural options in your own space. I mean, who thinks a clean bathroom floor is worth getting cancer?

Giving up on high chemical cleaners is also good for the planet, because that means less chemicals are being washed down the drain after we are done cleaning. It just benefits everyone.

So how do we do it? It's a combination of buying cleaner products and making our own. Certain brands may seem more trustworthy, but be sure to check the bottle. There is a lot of greenwashing out there and some of the more recognizable clean brands are actually owned by a pretty huge (and maybe a bit sketchy) larger company. For example, Seventh Generation is now owned by Unilever. If you are buying something bottled (we still do for carpet cleaner, for example), bulk is better. The smaller the bottle, the more waste it makes.

It can actually be easier to just make it yourself. This one is such a no-brainer it gets its own spot in a bit. For example, diluted vinegar with some orange peels in the bottle makes a perfectly excellent all purpose cleaner. It's actually mind-boggling when you think about how much money people have made replacing a product you can basically find for free in your own kitchen. Check out this post on the easiest cleaners to make yourself.

9. We Compost (and Weirdly Love it)

Did you know a banana will decompose in a few weeks? Do you know that in a plastic garbage bag, and surrounded by plastic garbage, it may never decompose?

By simple splitting our food and yard waste from our plastic waste, we can dramatically decrease the volume of garbage in landfills. A few lucky American cities already offer some sort of green waste/composting for its residents. If you don't live in one of those places, there are also tons of choices for composting yourself. We have a simple compost turner like this one. We fill it up in the fall, and in the spring when it is time to plant, we have some healthy soil to add to the mix.

It's not much work at all, and it feels good that we create very little actual garbage a week.

8. We Save Trees and Only Use Recycled Paper

This one is SO SIMPLE to do. We don't use a ton of paper towels or napkins (more on this later), but the ones we do buy are all of recycled paper. To fight climate crisis and have clean air, we desperately need every tree to stay standing, so it's pretty devastating when you consider hundreds of thousands of trees come down every year so people can clean their spills and wipe their butts. Is it worth it?

So we get everything recycled and unbleached. Our kids saw white paper towels in a family member's home and thought it was so weird. We buy all of these things in bulk and we SAVE money. Like, a lot of money.

This is another one of those things you can feel really good about without spending much money or effort at all. Check out this post for 5 of the simplest basics to switch to greener products.

7. We Don't Move our Piles, We Give Things Away

For most of my life, my cleaning was more like moving things around than actually eliminating clutter. I honestly don't remember doing much of that at all, and I was particularly infamous for not throwing anything away . Now, as a parent, I can see that I was absolutely insane.

Every time you clean up, every object you "put away" is a commitment to keep putting it away. Over and over again. If there are more objects than places, that means it's time to give things away. If you spend more time putting things away than actually using them, it means there is too much. Handing objects off is cathartic, because it means that I do not have to clean up that object ever again. Every year, we try to give away about 2,000 objects. It always feels good to say goodbye, like a weight has been lifted.

This simple shift in perspective about cleaning costs us nothing, but it keeps us SANE. And that really, really matters. The other nice thing is that we give things away when they are still plenty useful, so we are helping others and keeping objects out of landfills.

6. We Embraced the Refill

One of our local grocery stores has bulk dish soap, dishwasher detergent, and laundry detergent. We take our empty containers and refill them, rather than buying a new container filled with soap. This has been a perfect compromise too, because we haven't had to shift to all powders and hard soaps, which are outside of my partner's comfort zone.

If you don't have any resources like that where you are, this is still an option for you! The Refill Revolution is an extremely cool online space where you can have pouches of cleaning supply refills sent to you, and then you just send the pouch back.

Refilling instead of rebuying will keep hundred of plastic bottles out of landfills in a lifetime. So simple, and if it became the norm, we could really change the world! Ask your local grocery store why they don't do this yet- as we fight for a new normal in our stores, we really change the world.

5. We Switch Out our Cleaning Tools (As the Old Ones Really Bite the Dust)

I did a ton of research on which cleaning supplies from sponges to vaccuum cleaners were the best for the environment (you can read all of my research here). As our first round of stuff has run out, we have been replacing with things on this list. We use Marley's Monsters unsponges, reusable pads for our swiffer, and have committed to a HUGE supply of bulk recycled garbage bags.

That said, we still have some plastic items we use to clean, from dish brushes to our basket for cleaning supplies. Why? Because they still work! I love the look and functionality of those Redecker dish brushes, but I will not switch until we have ABSOLUTELY used our current brush up.

I know it is tempting to switch everything over immediately, but the best thing for the environment is almost always to not buy anything at all. It can be so tempting to switch over to all the beautiful zero-waste stuff immediately, but that is just another consumer impulse you have to shake off.

4. Making our Own All Purpose Cleaner

Diluted vinegar with some orange peels in the bottle makes a perfectly excellent all purpose cleaner. It's actually mind-boggling when you think about how much money people have made replacing a product you can basically find for free in your own kitchen. Check out this post which has a good ratio to use. She uses essential oils as well, but it's really up to you.

 When your current bottle runs out, you can use this recipe for the basic recipe, and throw in some citrus or oils or Dr. Bronner soap for a better smell. Even if it only saves you a bit of money a year, it will add up over time. And less plastic waste!

3. Overhauling our Laundry Routine

One of the most dramatic ways we have changed (that you wouldn't even notice at first) is how we do our laundry. You can take a lot of steps to eliminate energy and plastic waste in how you do your laundry. Here are a few we do-

- wash on cold. Better for our clothes, saves us money on our energy bill.
- use a dryer ball. Can be used thousands of times instead of once like a dryer sheet. Everyone can do this and save money.
- use a cora ball. You can use a Cora Ball or My Guppy Friend in your washing machine to slow the flow of plastic microfibers into our water sources.

There are so many options (you can read more here), but laundry switches can be low impact on your life and maybe even make life better. Every time you hang dry instead of using the dryer, you save money. Every time you wash on cold, you save money! We love all of these little changes, which doesn't slow down our endless flow of laundry, but makes our impact more positive.

2. We Joined Buy Nothing (and Saved our Mental Health)

I love the Buy Nothing Project. Have I mentioned that? About a billion times? Well, here is why.

Buy Nothing makes minimizing a treat. It's much easier to say good bye to things when I know I am helping someone else. It was paradigm shifting, because I stopped thinking that the best place for my stuff was absolutely with me. And as stuff goes out of our house, the clutter and chaos goes down too. We know that clutter in our space adds to stress and unhappiness, so just by cleaning out our spaces, we can make our life happier.

I am not saying our house is a minimalist dream (definitely not), but it feels like we are taking care of our mental health and the planet when we hand out things we are just done with to our neighbors. We have gifted at least 3,000 things since we joined, so it has definitely been effective in our decluttering.  We also went from totally anonymous to seeing people we know all over the place because we have met so many people through this project.

But you know my favorite part? Every day I get on Facebook, and instead of just seeing doom and gloom stories or political nastiness, I see kindness every day. Someone asks for help and gets it nearly immediately every day. People share what they have every day. I get to feel a little bit better about the state of the universe while simultaneously reducing clutter. Buy Nothing is the best.

Not in a Buy Nothing group yet? Check out the website here and look for the group near you!

1. Thinking Reusable, Not Disposable

We love disposable tools for cleaning, because let's face it, cleaning is gross. Once you have seen what that paper towel has been through, it is hard to not want to part ways forever. All disposable things seem essentially easier- saving time and making domestic work easier. Because of this, cleaning can be one of the most waste-producing activities of our daily life.

So one of the best and easiest switches we have made is to use reusable cleaning supplies instead. Those cleaning wipes we totally loved at the beginning of living together are just terrible for the environment, but they also have tons of unknown chemicals in them, and they aren't actually that effective. We have swapped out most disposable options with reusable ones (mostly bought as stocking stuffers) so we spend very little money on cleaning supplies.

There are tons of options out there, and you have to find what works for you, but this is what has worked for us:

We use reusable sponges (our favorites are in this post)
Reusable paper towels (instead of wipes)
Cloth napkins (you can read about our favorites here)
Bowl covers instead of plastic wrap (we love these from Marley's Monsters)
Reusable sandwich bags (like these from Full Circle)
Reusable Cleaning Gloves
Wool Dryer Balls
Reusable Swiffer Wipes

Instead of buying cleaning rags, we mostly reuse old clothes from tshirts to underwear to socks to do our dusting and cleaning up. It's not super dignified, but not much of cleaning is. You can also cut up old towels and such, but even our ten year old towels are mostly holding up pretty well.

This is such a positive step, saves money in the end, and it cuts way down on the waste we make. Three or four years in, we don't miss the "normal" stuff at all. What green changes have you made in your cleaning? What works best for you?

The Ten Best Ways We Have Made our Cleaning Better for the Environment (and Ourselves)

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