There was a time when part of my motivation for Spring cleaning was the idea of running to the store to stock up on all new cleaning products, fresh sponges, a warehouse-club-sized package of paper towels, and maybe even a pair of cute new rubber gloves for myself.
But these days, I find that a less wasteful and more frugal approach to my cleaning regimen is better for my pocketbook, and for the environment. Doing away with toxic cleaners and disposable supplies reduces the amount of used paper towels and empty bottles that end up in the landfill, and decreases the toxic chemicals to which you expose yourself and your family.
Sound good to you? Here are some simple swaps that you can make for Spring cleaning as well as for housework throughout the year.
1. Instead of paper towels … use newspaper and cleaning cloths. I’ve read for years about using wadded-up newspapers to clean windows, mirrors, and other glass, but it’s only been recently that I gave it a try. It really does work, giving them a streak-free shine, without traces of the lint that cheap paper towels seem to leave behind. For other cleaning jobs, I have invested in a set of microfiber cleaning cloths that can be used again and again. Just make sure to wash them properly — no heat and no fabric softener!
2. Instead of glass cleaner … use white vinegar. And while we’re on the topic of window cleaning, I’ve found that plain old vinegar, diluted with a little water, works just as well as that bright-blue stuff in the spray bottle. The vinegar odor quickly evaporates as it dries, leaving behind no smell at all, which is really what a clean house should smell like, rather than a medley of toxic fumes and artificial fragrances.
3. Instead of a Swiffer … Use old T-shirts or pantyhose. As convenient as they seem, I avoided using Swiffers because of the now-debunked belief that the cleaners were toxic to animals. But I also didn’t like the idea of having to pay for replacement pads. Instead, I cut up old T-shirts to fit onto the Swiffer. Old pantyhose are also ideal for dust-mopping the floors, since the nylon attracts dirt and dust.
4. Instead of abrasive cleaners … use baking soda. Sometimes you need the power of a gritty cleaning solution to scour away stains and stubborn dirt. Baking soda is a natural (and inexpensive!) alternative to chemical-laden powdered cleaners.
5. Instead of a caddy full of cleaning products … Use one all-purpose concentrate. It can get costly to buy specific products to clean glass, scrub toilets, clean tubs, and wipe down counters. What’s more, the multiple bottles cause clutter and compound waste when it’s time to throw them out. Instead, consolidate that caddy of specific-use products, and invest in one all-purpose product that does it all.
My favorite is Krud Kutter, which is an EPA Safer Choice product. This all-purpose concentrate can be used at various strengths for wiping down bathroom surfaces, cleaning kitchen appliances, cleaning carpets and upholstery, and even, outside: Scrubbing grills and washing walkways and siding.
6. Instead of air fresheners … Use homemade room sprays. Sure, they can make the house smell better, but many synthetic air fresheners release volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Better instead to find a more natural way to give your home a welcoming aroma. I use a diffuser with essential oils, but you can also find recipes for making room sprays that are concocted of vodka or witch hazel and essential oils. Another good option is simmering a pot on the stove that’s stocked with orange or lemon wedges, a few cloves, slices of ginger, and other fragrant ingredients. It’s a great way to use up fruit that’s past its prime or old spices that might be losing their potency.