If you’re trying to live sustainably, then you must have heard of zero-waste living. When seeking to reduce waste or avoid it altogether, how we go about keeping our homes clean often proves far from sustainable.
Here’s the problem; cleaning conventionally generates more waste from plastic bottles, plastic bags, toxic chemicals, and paper towels. Zero waste cleaning considers not only the cleaning tools but also the production process cleaning products go through. Below we show you how to go about zero-waste cleaning as a key part of your zero-waste journey.
Most conventional cleaning products come in plastic packaging, which is harmful to our environment. Also, these products contain hazardous and harmful chemicals like ammonia and sulfur monochloride3 that endanger your family’s health.
These cleaning products release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)1, which pollute the air and can cause cancer. These VOCs are present in cleaners, disinfectants, and air fresheners that we use inside our homes.
The commercial adverts we see on television about these cleaning products also make them enticing. Rather than give in to the popular adverts on television, how about you make your cleaning products at home? When you make your cleaning supplies at home, you can control the ingredients you use, opting for non-toxic alternatives.
Furthermore, the choice of zero-waste household ingredients comes plastic-free, and you’re generating no waste by buying them. The best part is that you also get to protect the planet when you opt for natural substances.
Here are cleaning supplies to stock up on for your zero waste cleaning mission when next you’re out in the store.
Related: Grab a collapsible water bottle to carry along in your bag, which makes for an easy option to fill up on the go.
This is a must-have ingredient in your cleaning products if you’re going to have zero waste in your kitchen cleaning. It performs almost every cleaning function in a kitchen. Think of scrubbing the floor, shining silverware, and cleaning surfaces. You should purchase baking soda in bulk and keep it in a reusable air-tight container.
Here’s another zero-waste ingredient you need to have in your own home. White vinegar possesses antiseptic properties that’ll replace disinfectants that come in plastic packaging. You can use this cruelty-free ingredient in a mixture with baking soda.
This is one ingredient that commercial detergent manufacturers will never miss out on in their mixtures. Although it sounds like baking soda, they’re not the same. It’s a chemical compound that’s great for removing stubborn stains.
If you’re bothered about how homemade detergent can remove tough stains, then this is the product you need. Washing soda comes in recyclable cardboard, and you’ll find it in a conventional supermarket.
You probably have this natural ingredient in your pantry right now. This is another go-to ingredient for achieving zero waste cleaning. Lemons possess antiseptic properties that help to kill germs and disinfect surfaces. Add a dash of lemon juice to a used cloth to replace your disinfectant wipes.
You may grate some lemon peels and marinate in a mixture of water and baking soda. Put the mixture in a spray bottle, and you have a scented cleaning spray at home.
If you’re a lover of scents and fragrances, then essential oils need to be part of your cleaning supplies. You can diffuse a few drops into the air after cleaning. You’ll be ridding your home of air fresheners that contain harsh chemicals like benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene.
A small bottle of highly concentrated essential oils can last for several months, as you might already know. You can start with lavender essential oil or peppermint essential oil. If you love the smell of citrus fruits, a mix of citrus essential oil is great for you.
This is a safe and eco-friendly product that leaves no hazardous chemicals in the environment after usage. How is this possible? It breaks down into oxygen and water when applied on surfaces. It’s a safer alternative to chlorine bleach which forms dioxins as its by-product.
Dioxins are a group of chemically related compounds that are persistent environmental pollutants (POPs). They can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, and can interfere with hormones. The more reason we should opt for a safer option.
To clean, set 4 tbsps aside and dilute with water. Allow this mixture to sit on any surface for at least 10 minutes before rinsing off. It can also serve as a multi-purpose cleaner for almost every surface in your home. Note that it can bleach colors, and therefore always test your surfaces to ensure they are color-safe.
This is a biodegradable soap made from olive oil. It is usually available in bulk food or zero-waste stores near you. Since it comes in either liquid or soap forms, you can buy it in bulk and reusable containers. Say yes to plastic-free packaging! If you’re a fan of scents and fragrances, castile soap will leave your house freshly scented, just like essential oils, with the easy addition of these to the base material. You’ll love the tea tree or peppermint oil.
Further, castile soap is also an eco-friendly cleaning supply for your body. Its plant-based composition also makes it safe for sensitive skin types. Common soaps contain sulfates like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate, which cause them to lather as much as they do. This lathering dries out the skin in the long run, and most people don’t even know it.
However, castile soap is non-toxic soap because it contains no sulfates and is consequently cruelty-free. Just ensure that you buy a 100% pure brand that is undiluted.
Bar soaps are essential in your zero-waste cleaning kit. To make a liquid solution, grate some bars in warm water. While some bar soaps come with no packaging, others come in brown paper packs made of recyclable materials. This plastic-free packaging contributes to its zero waste advantages.
Check out our picks of 10 of the best dish soap bars for choices to purchase online.
Now that you know the essential zero-waste cleaning product supplies, here are simple recipes to get you started in your zero-waste journey:
When you try out any of these recipes, you’ll get the job done, and you’ll be saving the planet at the same time. Here are some homemade zero waste cleaners for different parts of your home;
Mix 1 part white vinegar (ACV) and 1 part water. To add a dash of fragrance, add any essential oil of your choice to the mixture. Spray this mixture on every surface in your kitchen while cleaning, and you’ll have dazzling surfaces. This is exactly why it’s multipurpose.
Mix a few spoons of baking soda with vinegar in a bowl. Use a clean cloth to wipe this mixture on the surfaces of your sinks and counters.
To remove stains from your floors, mix baking soda and white vinegar in a thick consistency. You’ll have to scrub the mixture into the affected area.
Create a paste of baking soda, water, and vinegar and apply to the dirty parts of the oven. Leave this mixture for 30 minutes, and you’ll get a thoroughly clean oven. Apply this mixture to remove burns on your baking sheet.
Scour your pot and pans with baking soda after cooking. If there are burnt parts in the pot, add some vinegar to the baking soda before scrubbing. Also, lemon juice mixed with salt clears the scorched sections of your pot.
Or you can grab zero waste kitchen products pre-made. Our choices of top options include a handful of ideas for cleaning alongside storage and other zero-waste essentials.
Mix hydrogen peroxide with baking soda to remove grout stains. Use an old toothbrush you have in your home to scrub the stains away.
We all know how difficult getting soap scum out of bathtubs, sinks, and showers is. Rather than buy a cleaning product composed of chemicals, here’s what to do. Grate some bar soap, add some water and baking soda to form a thick paste. Scrub this mixture into your showers and bathtub, and the sparkling results will amaze you. If you’d like to disinfect these surfaces simultaneously, add some vinegar to the thick paste before scrubbing.
Leave a mixture of baking soda and water for a few minutes in the toilet bowl. Then scrub. This zero-waste and plastic-free mixture conveniently replace toilet washes.
For more, there are some more general zero waste and plastic-free bathroom ideas over here.
A mixture of warm water and white vinegar gives you a clean floor.
The multipurpose cleaning spray works for your windows. Use
As you will observe, three ingredients stand out in these recipes; baking soda, ACV, and bar soap. These ingredients are essential in your kitchen in achieving zero waste cleaning.
As humans, we tend to repeat our actions. You perform a cleaning routine often, and you will have to take intentional actions in using these cleaning supplies. Establishing a zero-waste cleaning routine allows you to practice zero-waste cleaning without minimal hassle. Here are routines to include:
When you’re out cleaning your home, you’re almost going to do the laundry. Doing the laundry makes your clothes clean, which you’re trying to achieve. Most times, we use stain removals, fabric softeners, and several bottles of detergent. These conventional products are toxic and eventually end up in landfills yearly.
Here are some tips for your laundering process:
People commonly use laundry detergent for most laundry purposes. It’s hard to think there’s an alternative to it. But there is. Remember the bar soap? Just grate it in a mixture of warm water and use it for all your laundry tasks. To make laundry easier, fill a spray bottle with this mixture. By choosing to grate your bar soap, you’re cost-effectively achieving zero waste cleaning plastic-free.
To remove stains from your clothes sustainably, dry them in the sun. The sun removes discolorations and also brightens them at the same time. When there isn’t enough sun shining, mix some vinegar, baking soda, and water to remove tough stains.
Rather than buy a fabric softener, add a few drops of vinegar to your clothes to have a softening effect. Vinegar also rids your washing machine of odors and makes it clean.
Heat-activated dryer sheets have toxic chemicals, which are known as quaternary ammonium compounds. The Environmental Working Group reports that these compounds, though they make clothes feel soft and wearable, trigger asthma and are toxic to our reproductive system.
Air drying your clothes instead makes your laundry process sustainable. Of course, while this will only be possible during summer, you can then use a drying rack inside your home when it’s cold and rainy. It’s also a great way to save electricity and money from your bills.
Another zero waste routine is bulk buying. Plastic recycling isn’t sustainable. Out of all the single-use plastics thrown into the recycle bin, we only recycle 9% of them. Plastic recycling requires a lot of time and is cost-intensive.
The solution for us, then, is to reduce the number of single-use plastics that we buy. An excellent way to reduce your single-use plastics is to buy them in bulk. Buy your cleaning supplies in bulk so you won’t accumulate plastics in your home.
Usually, toilet brushes, mop buckets, and vacuum cleaners come in single-use plastics. Once you’ve used them to a point, you’ll have to dispose of them once they reach the end of their useful life. A zero-waste lifestyle minimizes the amount of plastic that goes back into the environment. What, then, can you do instead?
Itemize the cleaning tools you use at home and identify the ones you can replace with alternatives better for the environment. Of course, only do so once they actually need replacing. We provide a list of tools that will make a vast difference in your own home.
Manufacturers use toxic chemicals to produce paper towels. Most times, people dump these paper towels in water bodies and cause pollution to ocean life and even on land.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2018 that paper towels amounted to 3.8 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). Thus recording the most significant contribution to MSW. Almost 3 million tons of these paper towels end up in landfills2. If paper towels and tissue papers are crucial in our cleaning process, what’s the alternative?
Reusable pieces of clothes are a swap for paper towels. You can cut unused clothes into squares and rectangles to get reusable pieces for your sinks and windows. These can replace paper towels and cleaning wipes commonly made from wood pulp, just like every other paper. On the one hand, you’re reducing the number of plastic products you buy, and you’re minimizing the waste you’re generating from your unused clothes. Another advantage is that it’s a cost-effective cleaning tool.
Rather than buy plastic mop buckets, you can buy a galvanized bucket called a pail. Manufacturers make galvanized buckets from metals like aluminum, steel, and iron. These buckets are durable and long-lasting, and you’ll be saving yourself a lot of future costs. Though not as popular as the plastic ones, you’ll find one to purchase in an antique store.
You can replace your kitchen sponge with wooden brushes. Otherwise, use a reusable cloth in place of a sponge when washing. You can also swap a sponge with a natural loofah. You can find a loofah sponge online and in food stores.
Here’s an all-natural tool to include in your cleaning routine. When compared with dryer sheets, wool dryer balls are cost-effective and environmentally friendly. They contain natural ingredients and come in cotton compostable packaging.
When you place wet clothes in a dryer, a wool dryer ball absorbs most of the moisture from the clothes. You will have to place them in the middle of your clothes, then place them in a dryer. You’ll save more energy because wool dryers reduce the minutes you spend using the dryer.
If you’re addicted to the fragrance of dryer sheets, add a few drops of essential oil before using them. You’ll be drying your clothes faster and saving the planet at the same time.
Sponges are by-products of plastics, and they either break down gradually by going down the drain or escape to the landfill. An alternative to a sponge is a wooden dish scrubber. It’s made of natural bristles from plants, fiber, and beechwood.
Wooden broomsticks with wooden heads are zero-waste alternatives to plastic brooms. They are durable, and you will not have to replace them so often.
If you purchase most of the household cleaners and zero-waste cleaning supplies we listed above, then you can make most products sold on shelves in your home. We’ve put together a list of DIYs you can try out to make your zero-waste cleaning supplies.
Manufacturers will mostly bottle dish soap in plastic bottles. These products contain petroleum surfactants. But we need to get rid of sticky oils, right? You can make one by yourself.
Your zero-waste dish soap is ready for use.
Grate a bar of castile soap, mix the other ingredients and keep in a bowl.
Your laundry detergent is ready for usage. If you’d prefer a liquid solution, add some hot water to achieve your desired consistency. This is a zero-waste detergent, and you get to save costs compared to the packaged laundry detergent.
If you don’t have the luxury of time to make these cleaning products at home, then opt for an alternative. You can choose to buy zero-waste cleaning products instead. As a consumer, you’ll only have to dilute these products as they come in safe concentrates. They come in reusable bottles and refill pods with secure caps that are convenient to use.
Here are some of the best refillable laundry detergent options.
When next you have food waste and scraps after cleaning, rather than dispose of them, compost them instead. The danger of throwing food waste away into our landfills is that they release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Since you’re interested in sustainable cleaning methods, composting is something to try out.
You could compost things like fruit and vegetables, eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds, and filters following a zero-waste coffee pot brew, leaves, sawdust, hair and fur, fireplace ashes, and shredded newspapers. What you’ll be needing is a high-quality compost bin where you’ll toss this food waste. Ensure that the bin will prevent animals from accessing it and will also prevent the odor from escaping. Add some water to it for moisture.
Your compost will be ready within two weeks and six months. This will fertilize your soil organically, enhance plant growth, and thus reduce the harmful chemicals released from artificial fertilizers.
Read more here about how and why to compost food waste at home.
Three of the four Rs of sustainable living are essential in practicing zero waste cleaning.
The fewer the amount of plastic you have, the less you’ll have to dispose of after cleaning. Make a conscious choice to allow only plastic-free items into your home.
When you reduce the number of plastics you buy, you reduce the amount of waste you generate. Choose to buy a few single-use plastics and reuse them. So when next you’re planning a picnic, rather than purchase drinks in pet bottles, which people trash after use, go for canned beverages.
Research has shown that aluminum recycling is more sustainable than plastic recycling, which leads to degradation. It also further leads to the release of toxins into the environment. Aluminum cans have, on average, 68% recycled content compared to just 3% for plastic.
An average American purchases a single-use plastic drink at least 70 times a year. Reducing this rising number will promote sustainable living and enhance zero-waste living. Also, when next you’re shopping for cleaning supplies, remember to buy natural ingredients in place of plastic-packaged cleaners. For example, make an all-purpose cleaner instead of buying dish soap.
Reuse your glass jars and spray bottles rather than opt for new ones. When it’s time to clean, you’ll have fewer plastics than you had. Another eco-friendly tip is to take your plastic bag along when visiting the grocery store. Remember to take your jars along when you’re buying baking soda or castile soap.
We stuff a lot of unnecessary things in our homes. A lot of items we have are not useful. We either buy stuff we don’t need or buy things we need and forget about them. This is the reason decluttering your home is such a big deal. When next you’re cleaning, identify the items you no longer need. Now, don’t get too sentimental because you’ll end up not removing anything from your home.
Here are some questions to ask:
If you answered no to the first question, then you may not need that item. If you answered yes to the second question, then you should consider giving the item away.
Rather than throw away a shirt because a button is missing, fix it with your hand. Repurpose & recycle your worn-out clothes by making them into cloth rags. Try cutting them into squares and rectangles, so they’re handy for cleaning.
Also, if you have clothes that aren’t very old or worn, you can donate these to a charity home or thrift store online or down the road. Remember that these clothes shouldn’t be overly old or worn. Also, present unused books and stationery to a local library near you rather than throw them away.
A final step is to pay attention to the number of items that you buy. Before buying a product, ask yourself if you need it. Sustainable cleaning entails simple living and minimalism.
Establishing a zero-waste cleaning practice seems daunting but remains attainable. As with everything good, the minor adjustments will make a huge difference. Using homemade cleaning products and implementing zero-waste routines can make a significant impact on our planet.
United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA (2021) Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact on Indoor Air Quality EPA.gov.
United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, Nondurable Goods: Product-Specific Data EPA.gov
United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA (2020). Consolidated List of Lists [PDF] epa.gov
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.