At first, I was a little reluctant to give up my trusty old bleach and ammonia-containing cleaners, even though their fumes gave me a headache every time I scrubbed the bathroom. I wondered if green cleaners, made from seemingly gentle ingredients like coconut or soybean oils, could really cut through grime — but I made the switch to some eco-friendly cleaning brands, and I'm happy to report that they work great for my everyday cleaning tasks.
It's worth giving green cleaners a try because some ingredients in conventional cleaners can pose health or environmental risks — for example, chlorine bleach can irritate the eyes and respiratory tract.
Here are five inexpensive strategies to help you cut harsh chemicals from your cleaning routine, without sacrificing performance:
Cloths, dusters, and mops made from microfiber are so effective at trapping dirt that in many cases you can just use them dry (or dampen them with water) to clean surfaces — no cleaning chemicals are necessary. Also, they can be machine-washed and reused hundreds of times, eliminating the need for wasteful (and costly) disposable supplies like paper towels or wipes. Note that you should only wash them with other microfiber cloths or they'll lose their effectiveness.
Choose Multipurpose Cleaners
Look for gentle products that can clean lots of surfaces, like Dr. Bronner's liquid Castile Soap. It can be used to wash everything from dishes to lawn furniture to tile floors. Concentrated all-purpose cleaners like Clorox Green Works Natural Dilutable Cleaner can be diluted in a bucket for mopping floors or used in a spray for countertops. By using fewer products and opting for concentrated ones, you can cut down on packaging and the energy used for shipping. A bonus: You'll save storage space since you won't have so many specialized cleaners cluttering up your pantry.
Read the Ingredients
When you're shopping for cleaners, keep in mind that claims on labels — such as "natural", "eco-friendly", "organic", and "nontoxic" — may not be very meaningful on their own since they're not independently verified (unlike, say, the USDA organic label on foods). Manufacturers are not required by law to disclose all of the ingredients on the label, but it's a good sign if they voluntarily do so. Look for plant-based ingredients derived from coconut, soy, corn, or palm oil, and cleaners that contain hydrogen peroxide, which is a safer substitute for chlorine bleach.
Recycle the Packaging
After you've used up a cleaner, rinse and recycle the empty plastic container. Most cleaners are sold in bottles made from plastic #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE); find out if these are accepted for recycling in your community. If a container — for example, a tube of powdered cleanser — contains both metal and cardboard parts, separate them and recycle them with the appropriate materials.
Make Your Own
It might take a little more time, but it's the greenest and thriftiest option of all. Check out these do-it-yourself recipes from green cleaning expert Annie B. Bond to create your own non-toxic cleaners using ingredients like baking soda and vinegar. With all the confusing labeling (and unpronounceable ingredients) these days, it's nice to know exactly what's in your cleaners.