Monday, December 10, 2012

Step Nineteen: Green Your Cleaning

Cleaning is literally a chore, but I've found it becomes much easier when I simplify my routine, get rid of clutter, and use zero-waste methods to clean my home. I have less products to decide between, never suffer from nasty chemical smells, and am always confident that my family is safe from the worst kinds of bacteria and grime. What I like most of all is that my entire cleaning arsenal fits in an old ice cream bucket, with my broom and dustpan right next to it.

What I hated most about switching over to zero waste cleaning was doing it responsibly, by using up what cleaning products I had. I feel that working your way through what you have is the best way to get rid of things, and for me it helps drill home the message that I'd rather be doing things in a more natural way, so that when I finally do run out of the store-bought product and recycle the container, I'm not at all tempted to just buy another one. Additionally, using up what I have allows me a long experimentation time, so I can figure out what's the best way of doing things in the new, natural way.

If waiting isn't your game, you can drop off old cleaning products and chemicals (current and expired) at your community's hazardous waste dump, or even give them to friends who aren't quite on the zero waste bandwagon. Pouring them down the drain or throwing them in the garbage isn't recommended, as this could lead to groundwater contamination. Once you're rid of your old cleaners (no matter what method you choose), I'm sure you'll love the following zero waste ways to keep your home sparkling clean.

Before we start I thought I'd warn you: this is mostly going to be a post extolling the virtues of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap, because I use it to clean everything in my house, including myself on occasion. Many people advocate using baking soda and vinegar for most ecologically sound household work, and while I employ these on occasion, my fallback is always Dr. Bronner's, because it's produced by a responsible company, leaves a wonderful, natural scent wherever I use it, and can be used on almost anything, meaning I have less hassle when it comes to cleaning and more space under my sink.

My go-to solution is two tablespoons of liquid Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap to five cups of water. I mix this in a spray bottle I saved from my before-days, and use it to clean counters, sinks, tubs, toilets, appliances, and floors. I make sure to wipe down whatever it is I'm cleaning several times after spraying it to make sure no soap residue is left behind, but this is worth it to me because of the confidence I have in my cleaning and the wonderful peppermint smell (Dr. Bronner's comes in multiple scents, I just like the peppermint the best right now). I also use a tablespoon in a sink full of hot water to do my dishes (for dishwasher detergent,  you lucky dogs, I trust Crunchy Betty and her recipe), or just a dab on a wet sponge for cleaning just one or two dishes.

For anything that requires scrubbing, I pour some baking soda on it and scrub away. I've yet to find the thing that can withstand this treatment, and it costs a pittance to clean the worst of things, so I don't worry about finding anything better.

To keep my drains clear, I pour 1/4 a cup of baking soda down them, followed by 1/2 a cup of vinegar. The chemical reaction helps clean out the drain; I follow this with a quart of boiling water a half an hour later. Applied weekly this keeps my sinks and tub working great; any time it doesn't work I've had to use a drain snake before the clog  is cleared (we have a lot of problems with tree roots in my area).

I use a pumice stone (just like the kind they use in spas to exfoliate your feet, though don't use one for multiple uses) to scrub the inside of my toilet bowl, and have never had to worry about icky toilet rings since I started using it. Don't scrub your sink or counter-tops with this though, as it can scratch some surfaces. Best to do a Google search or test an inconspicuous area first.

When the water build-up on my glassware gets gross, I use a 1:1 mixture of water and vinegar to gently scrub the marks away. I'm really coveting the Rig Tig Carafe Cleaner to help me clean all my reusable, narrow-necked bottles, but I'm making due by using seven paperclips. They get out any residue without leaving any scratches.

When it comes to cleaning windows, mirrors, and TV or computer monitors, I'll scrub the first two with the Dr. Bronner's mixture, then some vinegar if they need it, then do a final wipe-down with a slightly damp microfiber cloth. For electronic screens, only do the last step, as these surfaces can be easily damaged.

As for cleaning tools, I keep a spray bottle full of the water/Dr. Bronner's soap mixture described above, an old toothbrush for scrubbing odd areas, a coconut fiber sponge, a Trader Joe's kitchen cloth (which I will replace with a Skoy cloth when it wears out, as theirs come in plastic-free packaging), a microfiber cloth, a big plastic cup for dumping water over things, a cheap Ikea dust pan and broom set, and a weird rubber broom that also works as a mop. I also keep a pile of Bird-e towels in the kitchen to be used in place of paper towels. They're great for quickly wiping up spills, using as napkins, and for drying dishes. I can't recommend these highly enough, based on their versatility and how well they've held up over the years.

I've just started using homemade laundry detergent, and I love it. I finely grate a bar of Dr. Bronner's soap (more meditative and relaxing than it sounds due to the heavenly scent), and then mix it with a cup each of borax powder, washing soda, and baking soda (the first two can be found in cardboard boxes in the laundry aisle of most grocery stores). I make four batches at a time and store them in a large glass jar. I use three to four tablespoons per wash (a coffee scoop works great to measure with), and haven't noticed any difference in the cleanliness of my clothes.

Lastly, I mix up an all-purpose spray that I use for freshening rooms, furniture, fabrics, my dogs, as an accompaniment when I use a crystal for deodorant, and I spritz it on my toilet cloth when I want to feel extra-clean. Simply find a small spray bottle (the kind they sell in the toiletries section of stores to repackage products for airline travel work great), put in twenty drops (or whatever you like) each of tea tree essential oil, lavender essential oil, and lemon essential oil, then fill one third of the way up with witch hazel, and the rest of the way  up with water. I've never had any problems with this discoloring fabric, but as always, it's best to test on an inconspicuous area first. For extra odor-absorbing when it comes to carpets, I like to work baking soda into the rug with a broom, then wait fifteen minutes to an hour and vacuum it out.

Though it took a while to explain my cleaning routine, it really takes me less than two hours to clean my entire house, and I never end up coughing from chemical gas, I never have to worry about animals or children ingesting my cleaning solutions, and I can buy all the things I need in bulk from the local health food store. I'm sure you'll be just as happy with these  methods as I am. Happy cleaning.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

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