To help you get started with plastic-free cleaning, 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!
In many countries it is easy to find washing powder in a cardboard box. To kill two birds with one stone, make sure to choose a product that has an ecolabel, such as the Nordic Swan or the EU flower. Use a measuring cup to avoid excessive amounts of washing powder. For stubborn stains, use a soap bar, such as this Marseille soap bar, or apply a few drops of (Ecover) dish soap.
We experimented with soap nuts for a while, but we stopped using them, because they are impossible to find plastic-free (at least in the Netherlands and in Beijing) and because the results were not so great (laundry did not come out satisfactory fresh and clean).
Another experiment was to wash dark colored clothes with baking soda only. Worked out fine. Baking soda works well for smelly clothes, but it is not soap, so it won’t clean stains. Therefore, the baking-soda-only method is only an option for clothes that may be a bit smelly but not visibly dirty.
For whited clothes, one of our team members successfully used lemon juice. Simply juice one or more lemons, put the white items in a bucket and pour the lemon juice over it. Then fill up the container with hot water. The next day, put the clothes in the washing machine, with some laundry detergent and the result is really white, clean, fresh smelling clothes! If the sun’s out, line dry your clothes outside. Sunshine has a bleaching effect, which is great for white items.
We also tried to make our own laundry detergent, but this did not solve the plastic problem, because the necessary ingredients were not available plastic free. When we did make the laundry detergent anyway, the result wasn’t satisfactory.
If you use laundry softener, you can use vinegar instead of softener. Works fine.
If you really have to use gloves (because of skin problems for example), get a pair of If You Care gloves made of FSC certified latex. They are available through Amazon. However, they are not very durable, they break quite quickly.
The best plastic-free dish brush is one made of wood and plant-based fibers, has a replaceable head, and is sold without packaging. Instead of ditching the entire brush in the waste bin, once it is time to get a new brush, you only need to replace the head.
In the Netherlands, you can find such dish brushes at Dille & Kamille, a home&kitchen store that sells most of its products without packaging. It’s really good place to find plastic-free cooking and household products. Some organic supermarkets (such as Ekoplaza in the Netherlands) sell this kind of dish brush too, but quality varies.
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, opt for a washable dishcloth made of organic cotton that comes without packaging. Again a good shop for this in the Netherlands is Dille & Kamille. In Sweden, a great brand is Växbo Lin, which produces dishcloths from 100% linen, made in Sweden.
Often, dishcloths contain synthetic fibers. Microfiber dishcloths 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. Make sure to read the labels before buying to make sure it’s not synthetic! Opt for cotton, linen, or bamboo.
You can also make your own dishcloth, as Bernadette over at Don’t Mess With Dahab did. Read more here.
Instead of cleaning detergent, you can use vinegar. 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 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 highly concentrated and so you must dilute it with water before using it (important!). Although the bottle has a plastic cap, this is a lot less plastic than the regular plastic bottles. In the Netherlands, you can buy such vinegar at Asian supermarkets (“toko“). You’ll find it next to all other kinds of vinegar and soy sauce. It costs only a couple of euros. In Sweden, you can easily find this in the regular supermarket. It’s called ättika. You can find a concentrated version (24%) amongst the soy sauce and vinegars.
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, spread some baking soda on the cutting board. 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. Brush the cutting board clean and rinse with hot water. The result is a clean and hygienic cutting board, ready for the next meal.
Some people make their own dish wash detergent, but not everyone has the time or interest to do this. Moreover, the ingredients may not be available plastic-free. An alternative is to use baking soda and vinegar. Simply spread some baking soda in an empty (no water!) pot or bowl and then use the brush to scrub the item clean. For products made of glass, pour a few drops of vinegar on the item and then use the brush to clean it. After brushing, rinse the item and let it dry on the kitchen desk.
An easier solution is to switch to refillable Ecover products. Such an easy solution! Just bring a bottle, fill it, pay for it, and go home. That’s it! Some stores even give a small discount for bringing your own bottle. You can find a list of Ecover refill points here (click). [Update 24 July 2018: Ecover is currently developing a map with refill points, but it is far from complete. If you know of a refill point that is not on the map yet, please encourage the shop owner to add the shop to the map.]
To save dish wash detergent, don’t forget to fill your bowls, pots, and pans with water right after usage. Let them soak for a while. This makes dish washing a lot easier.
Bathroom and toilet
For cleaning the mirror, pour a few drops of vinegar on a (dry and clean!) dishcloth and wipe the mirror clean. For the sink, use baking soda. Simply sprinkle some baking soda and then rub the sink with a dishcloth. The same goes for the shower/bath.
You can even get an Aleppo soap bar and use this for bathroom cleaning. Some people make liquid all-purpose household cleaner using Aleppo soap, but you can also simply wipe your dishcloth or sponge over the soap bar and then use this to rub your sink or shower/bath clean. Aleppo soap is produced in Syria. It is made from olive oil and laurel oil.
Generally speaking, scourers are made of plastic mesh. An alternative is a scourer made of textile or coconut fiber. Also consider UnSponge, sold on Etsy. These are sponges made with canvas and hessian fabric.
For cleaning the toilet, pour some vinegar in the toilet bowl and sprinkle some baking soda on top of it. What follows is a chemical reaction (bubbles), after which you can use the brush. A toilet brush made of wood and natural fibers would be ideal, but those aren’t easy to find and expensive.
Perhaps a bit unconventional, but a great way to reduce plastic and to “unstuff” is to replace your vacuum cleaner with a old-fashioned broom. Vacuum cleaners are heavy, take up a lot of space, are noisy, and expensive if you want to have one that actually collects dust, rather than simply circulating it. If you have stone or wooden floors, you can keep them dust-free using an old-style brush made of (sustainable sourced) wood as well as a dustpan made of wood, stainless steel, and natural fibers.
To clean the floors, use a mop with a few drops of dish soap in a bucket of warm water. It is almost impossible to find a plastic free mop. Opt for one made of stainless steel or wood and a reusable mop head that is not made of microfiber or other synthetic material because when you wash the mop head, some of its fibers will end up in our water ways. Alternatives are linen, bamboo (for example this one if you live in the Netherlands), or cotton (for example this one if you live in the Netherlands).