It took a while for me to reduce my plastic waste when it comes to household cleaning. Over the course of several years I have experimented quite a lot, such as making my own laundry detergent and dish soap. To help you get shared, we have put together a plastic free cleaning guide. This is work in progress, so should you have more tips (especially for places other than the Netherlands!), please send us a message. We would be very happy to hear from you!
At the moment, I use laundry detergent that comes in a cardboard box and has an ecolabel. I prefer the Nordic Swan ecolabel because it seems to be the best option from an environmental point of view.
I used soap nuts for a while, but because they are impossible to find plastic free (at least in the Netherlands and in Beijing) and because I wasn’t satisfied with the freshness and cleanness of my laundry, I switched back to regular laundry detergent.
For a while I used only baking soda when washing dark colored clothes. Worked out fine. Baking soda works well for smelly clothes, but it is not soap, so it won’t really clean stains. So the baking soda only method is only an option for clothes that may be a bit smelly but not visibly dirty.
For white clothes, I use lemon juice. I simply juice one or more lemons, put my white items in a basket and pour the lemon juice over it. I then fill up the container with hot water. The next day, I put the clothes in the washing machine, with some soap nuts and the result is really white, clean, fresh smelling clothes! If the sun’s out, I dry the laundry outdoors. Sunshine has a bleaching effect, which is great for white items.
I also tried to make my own laundry detergent, but this did not solve the plastic problem because at that time I was living in a place where I could not find the necessary ingredients plastic free. When I made the soap anyway, I wasn´t very satisfied with the result.
I am not much of a laundry softener person, but I have sometimes used vinegar instead of softener. Works fine.
For a while I used household gloves when doing the dishes, because my hands easily become very dry and itchy, with water being one of the main culprits. I used If You Care gloves made of FSC certified latex. These gloves are available through Amazon. But because they were no very durable, I had to replace them quite often which meant waste (and a small investment every time I bought a new pair). So I no longer use household gloves.
The best plastic-free dish brush is one made of wood and plant-based fibers, has a replaceable head, and is sold without packaging. While you would normally ditch the entire brush in the waste bin, once it is time to buy a new brush, you only need to replace the head. This saves a lot of waste, especially if you cook frequently, have no dishwasher, and thus have piles of dirty dishes to wash.
In the Netherlands, I found the most durable brush of this kind at Dille & Kamille, a home&kitchen store that sells most of its products without packaging. It’s heaven for those into cooking and plastic-free living. Organic supermarkets sometimes sell this kind of dish brush too, but I found the quality inferior.
Disposable dish wipes might be convenient but are an environmental disaster. They not only come in plastic packaging, but also generate a lot of completely unnecessary waste. Instead, I opt for a washable dishcloth made of organic cotton that comes without packaging. I bought several at the same store I bought the dish brush, Dille & Kamille.
Some types of dishcloth contain synthetic fibers. Microfiber dish cloths are usually made from polyester, polyamide, or a combination together with polypropylene (PP). All three of these are plastic. Research has shown that a large share of the plastic pollution in our oceans (“plastic soup”) comes from washing synthetic clothes and items such as microfiber cloth. Make sure to read the labels before buying to make sure it’s not synthetic!
You can also make your own dishcloth, as Bernadette over at Don´t Mess With Dahab did. Read more here.
We haven’t bought cleaning detergent for ages. Instead of buying cleaning detergent I use vinegar. I just pour some vinegar on a dishcloth and use this to wipe the stove and kitchen counter top. Vinegar excels in removing grease stains. Although vinegar usually comes in plastic bottles (at least here in the Netherlands), vinegar is much better from an environmental point of view. Ideally, you would buy concentrated vinegar in a glass bottle. This type of vinegar is very concentrated and so you need to dilute it with water before using it (important!). Although the bottle has a plastic cap, this is a lot less plastic than the plastic bottles I used to buy. In the Netherlands, you can buy such vinegar at Asian supermarkets (´toko´). The concentrated vinegar was standing next to all other kinds of vinegar and soy sauce. It costs only a couple of euros.
Vinegar + baking soda for a clean cutting board
Some foods, for example garlic or onion, leave your cutting board smelly after usage. Other foods, such as meat, leave behind potentially dangerous bacteria. In order to erase any odor and bacteria, I spread some baking soda on the cutting board. I then pour some vinegar on it. What follows is a chemical reaction with bubbles and a sizzling sound. After a few minutes, the chemical reaction is finished. I then brush the cutting board clean and rinse with warm water. The result is a clean and hygienic cutting board, ready for the next meal.
I experimented making my own dish wash detergent, but again, wasn´t thrilled about the result. I needed a lot of it to get rid of stains and grease. Not a success. Also, where I lived at that moment it was hard to find the ingredients plastic free.
So, for a while, instead of making my own dish detergent, I simply used baking soda and vinegar. To dish wash, I simply spread some baking soda in an empty (no water!) pot or bowl and then used my brush to scrub the item clean. For products made of glass, I poured a few drops of vinegar on the item and then used my brush to clean it. After brushing, I rinsed the item and let it dry on the kitchen desk.
Altogether, this wasn´t a great solution either. So I recently switched to Ecover products that I buy at a refill station. Find your refill station in the Netherlands here. Such an easy solution! Just bring a bottle, fill it, pay for it, and go home. That’s it! The store where I buy it gives a small discount for bringing your own bottle. I use 500 ml plastic bottles from a different brand, because I did not want to buy new Ecover plastic bottles. When I go to the counter to pay, I take an Ecover bottle along so that the label can be scanned but I don´t buy the actual Ecover bottle, I leave it at the counter, it´s only to help the person at the counter to scan the price.
To save dish wash detergent, it is crucial to fill bowls, pots, and pans right after usage. So, right after cooking, I fill the pots I used with warm water. This way dish washing becomes a lot easier.
Bathroom and toilet
For cleaning the mirror, I pour a few drops of vinegar on a (dry!) dishcloth and wipe the thing clean. For the sink (also in the kitchen!), I use baking soda. I simply sprinkle some baking soda and then rub the sink with a dishcloth. The same goes for the shower cabin.
For cleaning the toilet, I pour some vinegar in it and sprinkle some baking soda over it. What follows is a chemical reaction (bubbles), after which I use the brush. My brush is made of stainless steel and plastic. I have not yet looked for a plastic free brush.
Perhaps a bit unconventional, but I do not own a vacuum cleaner because it´s heavy, takes up a lot of space, is noisy, and because you need a pretty expensive model if you want to have one that actually cleans rather than simply circulating dust. I have stone and wooden floors, which I keep clean using an old-style brush made of sustainable sourced wood as well as a dustpan made of wood and stainless steel (not sure about the bristles though).
Every now and then I use a mop to clean it (using a few drops of dish soap in a bucket of water). It is almost impossible to find a plastic free mop. I settled for one with the least plastic and a floorcloth with a high content of plant fiber, but unfortunately it contains some synthetic fiber too, as does the mop which is made of stainless steel and plastic.