Swap your toxic household products for nature-friendly ones, or make them yourself using just a few harmless ingredients.
On the Market
- Ecover is a line of cleaning products made and packaged for minimal impact, harnessing natural processes. The cleaning agent in their products is made by fermentation, rather than the conventional heat- and water-intensive processes, and biodegrades back into natural compounds once it makes its way into wastewater. All of their bottles are made of 75% PlantPlastic® (made from sustainable sugarcane) and 25% recycled HDPE plastic, so they can be recycled again – not 100% solution but very close, especially if you have access to a refilling station (also, their powder products come in plastic-free cardboard boxes). The website even features a glossary of all their ingredients, how they are made, and what they do. (I’m particularly happy with their powder, non-chlorine bleach.)
- Libby Chan is something of a miracle cleaning product that works on absolutely everything and is made up solely of friendly bacteria (from lactic acid), an incredible way of working with nature for cleanliness and health. Safe to breathe, drink (think kids and pets), pour down the drain, and gobsmackingly efficient: I used it on kitchen cabinets that I had written off due to at least two decades of previous tenants frying up without cleaning properly — nothing could get the grime off. But it did! And after wiping off the dirt, you spray some more on so the bacteria populate the place and they go on eating most of the grime as it forms. It’s a fascinating way of creating a healthy home ecosystem as opposed to killing all life forms. The stuff may come in a plastic container but it goes an extremely long way (you dilute it with 5x as much water) and it saves you from buying a whole range of other plastic-packaged cleaning products that may be green, but not probiotic. Have a look and read their FAQ!
Ingredients for DIY
Here are basic ingredients that are used to make household cleaners. There are others but these are relatively easy to source plastic-free, which is a bonus (except the essential oils, but they go such a long way they represent very little plastic in proportion to their usefulness). All of the recipes provided here can be made using just these (though some also require one or two things from your kitchen), so it’s a good idea to stock them.
Baking soda (any grade)
You could almost use nothing but baking soda for all cleaning purposes, it is so versatile.
Where to get it plastic-free: In the US, Arm&Hammer baking soda is omnipresent, available in cardboard boxes of various size. In the UK, look for “Dri Pak Ltd Bicarbonate Of Soda” on eBay or Amazon. It comes in cardboard boxes of 500g for less than £4 from some vendors.
Limescale’s worst enemy. It can be used sheer to descale anything. It’s widely available in glass bottles, which is not really ideal to carry home, but it’s the best option I know of right now. An alternative, which also deal with the smell if that’s a big deterrent, is citric acid described below.
Instead of buying liquid castile soap, which comes in plastic bottles, you can simply use your (eco) dish soap for household purposes. However, making your own liquid soap means that a modest soap bar will cover all your needs for the house: dish soap, laundry soap, handwash and so on. Any bar of soap will do, but the easiest to work with are classics such as savon de Marseille, savon d’Alep, castile bar soap or similar, which organic shops will usually sell package-free. I tend to pick up a bar whenever I come across one, and keep it in my wardrobe (where it deters moths) until it’s needed. A 120g bar will make 2 liters liquid soap (8 cups) so it’s incredibly good value.
To make liquid soap: Bring water to the boil in the amount of 250ml (1C) for each 30g (1oz) of soap. Grate the soap and mix it into the boiling water till dissolved. Let cool 12 to 24 hours: it will thicken. Give it a vigorous mix to fully incorporate before storing or using it. You can always add some water if it needs thinning. Note that the liquid soap has a shorter shelf life than a bar, so don’t make too much at once. To extend the life of any that you’re not using soon, add a few drops of clove oil and/or refrigerate.
A wide array of essential oils can be used for these products since they’re not going on your body, provided of course they’re safe to breathe. The following three are cleaning staples. Others can optionally be added for scent if you fancy.
- Lemon: Disinfects and cuts through grease. It can be replaced with the fresh, strained juice of a lemon, but this reduces the product’s shelf life.
- Rosemary: Kills mold and mildew.
- Clove: The most powerful germicide/antimicrobial oil. Other good but less powerful germicides: tea tree, cinnamon, bay and thyme. These also extend the shelf life of the product containing them, by preventing mold.
This substance which is available as a white powder is found naturally in lemon and other citrus, so it’s actually edible. It’s also cheap and comes in cardboard from Wilko’s, or on Amazon (look for the brands Dri-Pak Ltd or Clean & Natural). Like vinegar, it counters water hardness, but it also creates foam (making it a major ingredient in bath bombs, for instance). Like lemon essential oil, it is antibacterial, antiseptic and efficiently cuts through grime. It makes a brilliant kettle descaler, but it can apparently take the enamel off toilet bowls, so check before using on other surfaces. Also note that while safe in general, it can aggravate pre-existing respiratory problems.
Alcohol is a great sterilizer, and cheap vodka is easy to find. I wouldn’t drink this variety, but mixed with water in equal portions, it does a great job of cleaning surfaces and appliances.
Last on the list because it’s not as highly recommended, but for those who feel the need for something more sterilizing than vinegar, this is a better alternative to the highly poisonous chlorine bleach. Available in pharmacies in small glass bottles (with a plastic cap, alas), it can be transferred to a spray bottle to maximize its usefulness.
All-purpose antibacterial cleaning spray
In a spray bottle, mix together 1/2C white vinegar, 3.5C filtered (or boiled and cooled) water, 30d lemon oil, 30d rosemary oil. Spray on the surface to clean and wipe.
Bathroom cleaner and limescale remover
- In a spray bottle, mix together 1 part water and 1 part vinegar. Spray and wipe. Do not use on marble!
- For thick limescale deposits, soak a sponge in vinegar and let it sit on the deposits for up to an hour.
Natural Bleach (for laundry)
In 7C water, mix 3/4C hydrogen peroxide, the juice of 1 lemon, and 10d lemon oil. Use 1C in a hot laundry cycle. (It will last 2-3 months if you store it in the dark).
[Printable recipe here]
Natural bleach (for sanitation)
Spray hydrogen peroxide, then spray white vinegar, and allow to air-dry.
Mix 1C baking soda with 1/3C citric acid and 1/3C coarse salt. Add 10-15d lemon (or other citrus) essential oil and stir well. Use a spoonful in the detergent compartment of your dishwasher. Simultaneously, use white vinegar in your rinsing compartment (but don’t mix them together in the same compartment).
Mix together 2C water, 1C baking soda, 1/3C salt. Add 1C liquid soap and optionally 10d essential oil, for scent, and mix thoroughly. Use 1/4C for a laundry load (shake well before each use). I have been using this satisfactorily for some time now!
[Printable recipe here]
- Use 1/4 to 1/2C white vinegar in a wash. You can optionally add essential oils for scent, but in my experience they don’t add much (it’s more effective to add scent to the laundry detergent). The vinegar smell vanishes as the clothes dry.
- Add 1t essential oil to 2C coarse salt, shake well and allow to absorb overnight. Add 1/3 to 1/2C to your wash.
Scouring cream (aka cream cleaner or soft scrub)
Mix 1/2C liquid soap and 1/2C baking soda together thoroughly, then add 5d rosemary oil and 5d lemon oil. Mix again till frosting-like. Rub on surfaces that need it (chromes, sinks, hob/stove top…) let sit a few minutes and then wipe with a clean damp cloth.
This cleaner is incredibly efficient: the trick is not to end up using more of it than necessary, as it can be tricky to apply. I usually pour a little in my sink, or on the hob, and use a brush to spread it all over the surface and up the sides, as well as onto the taps. It is so efficient that when I left some of it aside in a metal dish that had a slight stain, and poured it back out a little later, the stain literally came away with it.
Line your sink, or a tub, with aluminium foil and fill with hot water. Place your tarnished silver items on the bottom: they should touch the foil and each other. Pour in 1/2C of coarse salt or of baking soda. Leave till shiny. You may need to repeat 2-3 times for very tarnished items.
Pour 1/2C baking soda down the sink hole, followed by 2C boiling water, to dissolve sludge in the pipe. (Do this step monthly to prevent clogging). Then pour 1/2C vinegar after it, plugging the drain immediately. When it stops fizzing, pour another 2C boiling water to finish.
Washing-up liquid (aka dish soap)
Mix together 2C liquid soap, 1tsp white vinegar, 5d lemon oil (or the strained juice of half a lemon), 5d clove oil. More essential oils can optionally be added for scent.
Window and glass cleaner
Mix together 1/4C white vinegar, 1/2C water, and optionally 1/4C vodka (this makes it dry quicker and without streaks. It’s also easier to find than rubbing alcohol, and plastic-free). You can also add 5-10 drops of any essential oil for scent. Shake well and transfer to a spray bottle.
Mix 1/2C olive oil with a few drops of lemon oil. Apply and polish with a soft cloth.
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