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:
|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?