Every spring feels like a fresh start. The outdoors is practically screaming “do over,” which means it’s time to open the windows wide and let the fresh air in — and give your home a top-to-bottom cleaning that will make it feel shiny and new.
Unfortunately, though, when that cleanup comes with the stale aftertaste of chemical sprays and toxic cleaners, it’s not exactly as fresh as you’d like it to be. And it’s not just your home that feels the damage from chemical cleaners — those sprays and powders get washed down drains and into local waterways, where they also put the nearby ecosystem in peril. Then there are the garbage bags that get thrown away and the paper towels you use to wipe down the windows. When you add it all up, it’s a pretty big burden on the environment.
Luckily, there are ways to make your home sparkle and shine without putting the environment around you or your family’s health in question. Below are some recipes for more natural cleaners and some ideas for how to get that vaulted springtime clean while maintaining an eco-friendlier ethos.
Biodegradable or Compostable Trash Bags
Many of us already skip the plastic bags at the grocery store, so why use plastic on your garbage? Experts don’t quite agree on just how long it takes plastic bags to degrade. Some say 10 to 20 years, while some quote as high as 1,000 years before they’re fully decomposed. At any rate, it takes a long time! Especially considering that you can easily purchase an eco-friendly garbage bag, made from organic polymers, such as starch-based plastics, which break down easily over time and offer food for beneficial microbes in landfills.
The Basic Ingredients of Non-Toxic Cleaning
Some chemicals found in common household cleaners could be dangerous to your health. The jury’s still out for many regularly used substances, like phthalates, which are potentially carcinogenic, or ethylene glycol butyl ether, which could contribute to reproductive problems. Cleaning manufacturers aren’t regulated as tightly as the pharmaceutical industry, so there’s less incentive for them to study the full effects of what’s in their products.
As mentioned above, household cleaning products could stand to be gentler, especially since you can get strong cleaning power using four basic, less-impactful ingredients: ammonia, white vinegar, baking soda, and coarse salt. Ammonia and water — with an optional tablespoon of vinegar — makes for a fairly efficient solution to guard against most germs found in bathrooms and on countertops. It’s also an excellent stain remover for tubs and tiles. Vinegar and water takes the place of harmful all-purpose cleaners, while vinegar and baking soda mixed scrubs out tough sink clogs, and caked-on grit and grease. Need a scouring powder? Mix baking soda and coarse salt for a gentle cleaner that’s as effective on pots and pans as it is on the bathroom sink.
Reusable Cloths and Swiffer Pads
A lot of disposable products go into conventional cleaning practices, and that means your annual spring clean definitely bulks up landfills in the process. Instead, opt for washable microfiber cleaning cloths, which may be even more effective at picking up dust than your standard paper towel roll. The same thing goes for the pads for wet mops. In fact, if you’re feeling extra resourceful, try making some of your own from old socks or washcloths — and divert two items from the landfill with one stone.
Donating and Recycling Unwanted Household Items
Speaking of landfill waste, if you’re doing a deep clean this spring, there’s a good chance you’ve got some junk you’re going to need to get rid of — but think twice before you toss it in the garbage can! Americans toss out about 4.6 pounds of trash per person, per day, and that adds up fast. In fact, in 2006, the EPA estimates there were about 251 million tons of garbage, and well over half of that came from our homes. Food packaging and organic matter makes up a lot of that waste, but some of it comes from discarded furniture, tossed-out electronics, and plastics. Keep your spring clean even fresher by donating these goods to reselling centers like Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity, or take them to your local recycling center to get them turned over into post-consumer materials that can be used for new products.
Saving Energy and Water When You Clean
It may not seem like it, but it takes a lot of electricity and gallons of water to get your house sparkling clean — and a lot of that excess is totally unnecessary. For instance, you’ll get laundry just as clean by turning off the hot water valve connected to the washer—but your hot water heater won’t have to work as hard, saving energy. Similarly, you can save energy and water when you do a full load, instead of smaller half loads. In fact, if you’re really hoping to save energy, you may want to opt for an energy-efficient washer or dryer.
Spring is a great time to start off on the right foot—not just with a clean household but with an environmentally-friendly energy makeover. What better way to celebrate a whole new era in green?
Lauren Pezzullo is a writer, editor, and musicophile who's passionate about vegetarianism and sustainable eating. As an editor for Modernize, she writes about energy-efficient living in the home. She's currently writing her debut novel.