Zero Waste Cleaning

Maintaining a clean, zero waste home is a pretty easy thing to do. If you are shopping for cleaning supplies, it seems like there is a different product for every surface and room imaginable, resulting in a cluttered mess of plastic bottles. I’m still making my way through some of my Swifter cleaning products, but in the meantime, I have streamlined the products I need to use to clean my apartment. You’ll notice that I don’t use any specific measurements for these recipes, but there are plenty of YouTube videos and recipes on the web if you want a little more guidance.

As much as I hate fear mongering, I think that the household cleaners stashed under our sinks need to be scrutinized. My apartment isn’t particularly well ventilated, and I’ve definitely gotten headaches from cleaning before, which is a good sign that these cleaning agents are neither good for me nor the environment. My friend recently shared this great guide highlighting some of the concerns linked to conventional cleaners and why we should be wary of what we bring into our homes. DIY cleaners will keep these products out of your home and minimize waste.

The stars of my zero waste cleaning kit: baking soda, vinegar, and a spray bottle I had on hand.

1: Multipurpose Cleaner

My multipurpose cleaner of choice is now a simple mixture of distilled white vinegar, water, and some sort of agent to make it smell nice. You can add some drops of your favorite essential oils (I like tea tree oil because if its purported anti-bacterial properties), or you can soak citrus fruit in a jar of vinegar and use the solution for the base of your multipurpose cleaner. I just mix up the cleaner as needed and use it on my sinks, countertops, toilet, and shower. At first I did about half-and-half water and vinegar because of the smell, but now I use primarily vinegar in the solution.

If you are looking for something a little bit stronger, you can also make a bleach-water solution. Bleach is a bit of a sticky point in the zero waste community (since people don’t like those “harsh chemicals”) but since you probably already have it in your home already, you might as well be using it. And because bleach is so strong, you’re going to get a lot more uses out of a bottle of bleach than store-bought cleaners.

2: Baking Soda

While I love my homemade multipurpose cleaner, it doesn’t pack quite the same kick as conventional products for more serious stains on the countertop (like curry powder). To deal with these spots, I spray down the area with my multipurpose cleaner and wipe away the excess. Then, I sprinkle on a little (or a lot) of baking soda and apply vinegar on top. I scrub the surface as the fizzy, elementary school science project works its magic on the counter. Finally, I’ll wipe down the area once more with my multipurpose cleaner to make sure no baking soda residue is left behind. I’ve also used this method in my shower to get at some pretty nasty soap scum that even my conventional shower cleaner wasn’t tackling properly.

3: Fighting Clogged Sinks

I have a lot of hair and it sheds pretty much everywhere I go. One of the best additions to my zero waste life was the purchase of a reusable drain snake so that I can stop throwing out single-use snakes whenever there’s a clog (saving me money and trips to the drug store). The snake I bought is a little tricky to clean (and you’re going to have to be ok with pulling off the hair that was clogging your drain), but I think by snaking my sink more regularly the overall process will be less gross because there won’t be month’s worth of hair on the snake after it’s used. The final step is to pour some baking soda down the drain, followed by vinegar and then flush the product down with warm water.

4: Tools

My main go-to tool is a spray bottle I had on hand before going zero waste (if I were to purchase today I’d look for a metal bottle). I’ve also abandoned single-use paper towels and now opt for reusable cloths and rags. My personal favorite is the Swedish Dish Cloth. They’re machine washable and great at wiping up messes. I simply run it under warm water and add either dish soap or multipurpose cleaner when I need to wipe down my counters. I keep mine behind my kitchen sink, draping them over the faucet to dry after I’ve used them, which keeps them handy for any messes that may arise. They also come in really cute designs so you can personalize them to your home in a way that isn’t possible with paper towels. I also bought microfiber towels, but now I keep reading how tiny particles from the towels end up in our water ways and in the bellies of fish (which I’d like to prevent if possible). You can also cut up old t-shirts to use as rags since there is an abundance of t-shirts in the second-hand world. I just keep separate rags for the bathroom and kitchen to avoid any cross contamination and wash my rags fairly regularly to keep everything clean. I sometimes miss the convenience of single-use Clorox wipes, but I do not miss buying them nor will they be missed in the landfill.

This single dish cloth will keep hundreds of sheets of paper towels out of the landfill!

Since I still have conventional glass, carpet, and floor cleaners on hand I haven’t made the zero waste switch for those yet. But when I do I’ll be sure to share what works (and what doesn’t). I think the main trick when it comes to zero waste cleaning is to clean more frequently so as to avoid and really tough to clean stains. If I learned anything from years of watching Alton Brown as a kid, it’s that uni-taskers have no place in the home. Streamlining your cleaning supplies will save you time, space, and money and get you to a less wasteful (and less toxic) home.


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