Thursday, 28 February 2013

Slim Your Bin - Clean but Green

The theme for the Slim Your Bin project a couple of weeks ago was cleaning. All the bottles and packets create extra waste, and the sponges and scourers too. Not only that but the cleaning products themselves can be damaging to the environment.

Housekeeping is not one of my strong points and I'm certainly not guilty of spending hours squirting anti-bacterial products and bleach around the house or even their natural equivalents, but I'm going to use my 'lite' cleaning methods as the first green cleaning tip:

#1 Less cleaning = less waste = less pollution; sounds good to me! 

On the other hand, it's important to remember that the most important ingredient in cleaning is elbow grease. A bit of hard graft with a damp cloth, a duster and a squirty thing filled with white vinegar cleaner (see below) will work wonders!

The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust provided us Waste Watchers with plenty of other ideas, some of which you may be familiar with and some you may not:

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Sister's old PJs being put to use as dusters!

#2 E-cloths don't require any cleaning products so are a good eco-friendly choice. And of course, you can reuse old clothes by cutting them up for dusters and cloths. (My sister sent me the photo above to prove she was getting good value out of some spotty pyjamas I gave her for Christmas a couple of years ago. How sweet!)

#3 Instead of cleaning sponges, buy a large loofah and cut it up into smaller chunks. Coconut fibre scourers are also available. If like me, you currently use regular cleaning sponges, get the maximum use out of them by washing in the washing machine or dishwasher, and reusing. Replacing sponges is my next green cleaning aim, and should be fairly easy to implement.

#4 Save the bags that oranges come in and wad together to make a DIY scourer.

#4 As with food, it's sensible to buy larger amounts or concentrated products that you can dilute or decant into smaller amounts. This will often make good economic sense too. We havn't got much room for bulk storage but are able to take our washing up liquid bottles for refilling at the Health Food shop.

#5 White vinegar and water mixed half and half makes a good multi-purpose cleaner. Lemon juice supposedly takes the edge off the vinegary smell but I haven't tried this. I have tried the non-lemon version and it works well. The vinegary smell can be off-putting but it soon wears off. Lili at Creative Savv posted her citrus infused cleaner recipe here, a while back, and it looked good enough to drink! My other favourite is the Ecover multi-purpose cleaner, for which you can buy refills.

#6 White vinegar has myriad other uses; cleaning drains, removing limescale, cleaning toilets, rinse aid in the dishwasher, and fabric softener in the washing machine, so it's a good investment!

#6 Bicarbonate of soda is also very versatile, both by itself or with a little water for all sorts of cleaning jobs, and in combination with other ingredients such as white vinegar. It's great for odour neutralisation (nappy buckets, fridges, thermoses) too.

#7 I'm a relative newcomer to the benefits of citric acid. The first time I ever bought any was for elderflower cordial making last year. Imagine how excited I was to find (via Rhonda's Down to Earth blog in Oz) that it descales loos really well too. I chucked half a cup around the toilet basin and not very much later, after a bit of a work out with an old toothbrush, we had one sparkling loo. (Limescale build-up is a big problem round here - we're in the Wessex Water region (hard water); you've seen our Wiltshire white horses on the blog which gives a clue as to the area's geology!)

#8 A good alternative to washing powder or laundry detergent is soap nuts.

These are really good value. I bought a bag for £7 last July which is still going strong. I don't use them exclusively - extra soiled clothing and whites still get the washing powder treatment. (As an aside, I bought them in my Health Food shop, via SaveSomeGreen, who are a fantastic local company with an online shop. It's worth checking out their website for eco home solutions. I've since bought bamboo toothbrushes from them and am currently saving up my pocket money for some coconut fibre scourers!)

Soap nuts are the shells of the soapberry, which release saponin, a natural detergent and anti-bacterial agent. I wasn't quite sure if they were doing much when I first tried them, but after some tips from Economies of Kale who blogged about them here, I perfected my method which is to put about five shells in a muslin bag and soak them in boiled water before popping them in the washing machine.

Supposedly you can reuse them several times and then boil them up and use as a multi-purpose cleaner. I made the cleaner once but I wasn't convinced it was any more effective than squirting diluted tea around the kitchen (*waits for someone to tell me that diluted tea is a very effective kitchen cleaner!*).

My main environmental concern with soap nuts, (and I have to confess I haven't researched these concerns at all), would be whether they are farmed sustainably and whether the airmiles expended still outweigh using a laundry powder that is produced closer to home.

#9 Having run out of washing powder and in the interests of waste watching, I finally took the plunge and made some washing powder last week, after discovering an easy peasy recipe via Lois at Living Simply Free, who posted a link to Trash Backward's recipe: 1 cup soda crystals, 1 cup borax (I could only get borax substitute) and 1 bar of soap. Grate the soap (finely), and mix with the other ingredients. 

It didn't make a lot (that's a pickled onion jar in the photo below), but then you only need to use a tablespoonful. The borax substitute was £1.99 and the soda crystals, 99p, and I still have lots left, so the most expensive ingredient was the soap. (Dr Bronner's Castile soap always seems to be a popular ingredient for homemade cleaning products but at over £3 a bar, it was not going in my shopping basket).

I've used it for about three washes this week and it seems to work really well, even on the grubbiest member of the family's clothes (9 year old Son). You can add a few drops of essential oil if you want a subtle fragrance but I'm happy with the soap flavour.

#10 Both soda crystals and borax (substitute) are like vinegar and bicarb; they have multiple uses...some of which might start to sound familiar...soda crystals can be used for drain cleaning, cleaning sinks, stain removal...and borax does similar things too! The Dri Pack website makes it crystal (excuse the pun) clear; bicarbonate of soda is the weakest, soda crystals are the strongest and borax substitute is in between, so I guess you choose according to how clean or dirty the household job you are tackling.

Dri Pack also explains that borax substitute has replaced borax because "The EU has reclassified the 'Borate' group of chemicals that Borax belongs to, so it is no longer available as a cleaning and laundry product." Confusingly it still seems to be available to buy online from some retailers - I guess for non-cleaning or non-laundry purposes.

#11 Eco balls are also an option for laundry. When I first started looking at 'greening up' and economising on my laundry practices, I decided against these, mostly because of plasticness, cost and over-packaging. From what I could make out, although refillable, they don't last forever either.

#12 I bought all the ingredients I needed in the local Hardware shop. The local Health Food shop also supplies white vinegar for cleaning; you just take your own bottle along and they'll fill it for you. Summer Naturals was recommended by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust as a good online source for anything you could need for homemade cleaners and toiletries.

My own conclusion from all this is that there are some good old fashioned, cheap products that will keep your house squeaky clean and that are much safer for you and your family, and the environment. If you have lemon juice, bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar, you'll be able to tackle most jobs. As the need arises you might want to add soda crystals and borax or borax substitute to your cleaning tool kit.

Have you got any frugal or eco cleaning tips? Or a favourite cleaning product recipe to share?


  1. I'm glad you worked out the soap nuts - I've tried making the cleaner out of them too and failed dismally :) That is a good point about sustainable farming and air-miles, I should check where mine are from when I get home.

    I use vinegar or homemade citrus cleaner with bicarb to clean almost anything. The only commercial cleaning product I buy is dishwashing liquid, after the soap nut liquid failed to replace it :)

    We have quite hard water as well, so I like idea of using citric acid to get rid of it. Thanks for the tip :)

    1. My next job is to research homemade dishwasher powder for the machine; but for hand dishwashing check out Lois at Living Simply Free - she uses bicarb for washing up I think.

  2. I love Rhonda's Down to Earth blog too. I have tried her laundry powder and her liquid laundry detergent. Like you the powder receipe didn't make much and didn't last long (we are a family of 4) so I now use her liquid laundry detergent receipe it makes 10 litres, works well and lasts us about 2 months. I store it my 5 litre containers that my White vinegar comes in some I'm reusing them too! I also use it too wash my Lino!!

    1. Thanks for sharing that. I did have a look at Rhonda's laundry detergent but it seemed such a huge amount I wasn't quite brave enough to go for it. You're quite right that the advantage of using multipurpose ingredients is that it follows that whatever you make with them then becomes multipurpose too - I've been using a little sprinkle of the laundry powder to scour stuff off the kitchen work surfaces.

  3. It's interesting that you can take bottles to the health food store and get them refilled. I haven't see that around here. Also, what is the problem with borax according to the EU?

    1. This is what Wikipedia says: "Borax was added to the Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC) candidate list on 16 December 2010. The SVHC candidate list is part of the EU Regulations on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals 2006 (REACH), and the addition was based on the revised classification of Borax as toxic for reproduction category 1B under the CLP Regulations. Substances and mixtures imported into the EU which contain Borax are now required to be labelled with the warnings "May damage fertility" and "May damage the unborn child".[23]

  4. I'm doing my part to save the earth, less cleaning all around here!

    Thanks for all the information. I have some reading to do now!

    For the most part I use vinegar and baking soda to clean, but I do use traditional dishwasher detergent and laundry soap. I've tried the greener dishwasher detergent and I wind up using more detergent, running the machine twice, and still have to rinse and clean off particles. So I figure it's a trade-off. I can use a green product and have to use more water, electricity and natural gas, and go through the detergent faster (which means more packages for the landfill/recycling), or I can just use what works in the short-cycle. And I find the same is true for the laundry. If I use a green alternative then I have to wash in HOT and for the maximum wash cycle.

    1. I guess it's all about finding a balance that works! Sounds like you've given the green versions a fair chance.

    2. Hi Sarah,
      Yeah, I think it is about finding balance. I'm always willing to try something different, just to see. My family was not happy at all when we tried no laundry detergent at all and just the HOT cycle.

      But there are so many old-time ways to clean that work as well as the chemicals. Like whitening clothing in the sun. Works as well as bleach, and no unpleasant after-smell. Spraying down the shower daily with vinegar, instead of using heavy duty cleaners a few times a month. (I still have to give the shower a good scrub once a month, though.) Using a barely damp-with-water rag to clean mirrors, instead of ammonia. Skipping the fabric softener altogether. If the towels are a little bit rough, I figure we're all getting a good exfoliation when we dry off after a shower.

      I got started trying greener cleaning products for my own health. I get headaches, sinus problems and breathing difficulties when I'm exposed to too much of some chemicals. And when cleaning the kitchen, where food is prepared, I shudder to think of what winds up in some people's systems because they use those chemical wipes on the counters daily. We don't use anti-bacterial hand soaps, either. There's a chemical in them that is under scrutiny right now. I'd like to try making soap, myself, for hand-washing.

      I also prefer to think that maybe we don't need our homes to be clean enough to perform surgery. Reasonable cleaning with ordinary soap and water, vinegar and baking soda is a just-enough approach for me. (I'd rather be doing something other than cleaning, personally!)

    3. Lots of good points Lili. I've never used fabric softener or anti-bacterial stuff either, and my home is certainly not operating theatre clean! But we're all pretty healthy and I've never given anyone food poisoning to my knowledge!

  5. I'm glad the laundry soap recipe was helpful to you and I was able to introduce you to Trash Backwards which is an amazing resource all by itself.

    1. Yes I'm going to go back to Trash Backwards for a longer visit!

  6. Next time I make the soap I will try it in powder form. At least it won't set solid.

    1. But having looked at your pictures I think you got more for your money...hopefully we might get some warmer weather and it will melt a bit!!

  7. I use the rinds of any lemons used in cooking to clean my sink and metal hob, a rub with lemon and a wipe down and all is sparkling.

    1. That's a good way of making use of all of the lemon - I've never thought to use the rinds.

  8. Your 5th tip is great, I tried it and actually it is perfectly worked.