The biggest realization was that I don’t need specific cleaners for everything. Simple ingredients such as baking soda and vinegar are versatile and cheap. Overall benefits of low waste cleaning:
I use this to clean my kitchen counters and other hard surfaces around the apartment. First, find a spray bottle. You can repurpose a used cleaner spray bottle (wash it out well first), or buy a glass bottle with a spray head. The spray heads are almost always plastic, but at least it’s reusable. Add ingredients, and shake to mix well. Use with unpaper towels or old rags.
Sprinkle baking soda on the surface, then drizzle or spray the vinegar onto it. It’ll suds up and create an abrasive paste, perfect for scrubbing away grime and scum. Google it if you have fancy tile or something you’re worried about roughing up.
Redecker dish brush ($5 at Sur la Table)
It's made of wood, plant fiber, and metal. It has a replaceable head, so that's the only part you need to re-buy whenever the bristles wear out. At its end of life, the metal can be recycled and the bristles + wood composted.
Biokleen Dish Liquid (Fillgood - SF bay area only)
Bulk liquid soap sold in a reusable glass jar
If You Care Dishwasher Tablets (found at Whole Foods)
Great, low waste packaging. The box is recyclable paper, and the tablet packets are plant-based and biodegradable. I've found bulk dishwasher powder, but it was too pricey. This is the best affordable option I've found so far.
Dr. Bronner's Liquid Castile Soap (Fillgood - SF bay area only)
Bulk liquid soap sold in a reusable glass jar. It's super concentrated, so I dilute it with water and use it in a foaming glass/metal dispenser from Fillgood. It is made with palm oil, which is often inhumanely sourced. Dr. Bronner's has their own palm farm which I've read is sustainable and ethical.
Unpaper towels from Etsy. Search for "unpaper towels" and opt for organic, unbleached cotton ones. Caveat: To clean cat messes, I use newspaper to pick up the waste and a minimal amount of recycled, non-bleached paper towels to clean the area.
This is like a Goo Gone, but natural. Removing labels from glass jars makes them so much prettier and not sticky! Put a couple squirts of dish soap into a bucket. Fill it with hot water-just enough to cover the jar(s). Add a cup of white vinegar. Let soak for at least 30 minutes. Scrape off labels with a bamboo pot scraper or an old credit card. Don’t wear out your hand - for stubborn gunk, make a paste that’s equal parts cooking oil (any, I use canola since it’s one of the cheaper ones) and baking soda. Spread onto the gunk and let sit for another 30 minutes or so. Scrape again, then rinse with water.
Mix. Store in a glass jar. Sprinkle a few tablespoons in your bath tub when you take a bath.
Sometimes I miss the fun fragrances in commercially bought cleaners. But, after learning about the negative impact synthetic fragrances have on our health, I stick to essential oils. For those times when you want your home to smell like a field of wild flowers, try out a simple room spray.
First, find a spray bottle. I already had this plastic one for spraying naughty cats. You can repurpose a used cleaner spray bottle (wash it out well first), or buy a glass bottle with a spray head. The spray heads are almost always plastic, but at least it’s reusable. Add several drops of the essential oil until you have a concentration you like (it doesn’t take much).
There are some recipes online for DIYing laundry detergent, and maybe I’ll try it one day. A couple things have held me back from that: time/energy (some recipes call for boiling ingredients on the stove) and some use ingredients I can’t find in bulk. For now, I’m taking advantage of a local company that hand delivers bulk products in reusable glass jars. P.S. If you have synthetic clothes (most of us do), wash them in a GuppyFriend bag so the microplastics don’t enter rivers and oceans.
Biokleen Laundry Liquid from Fillgood
I get so much inspiration and recipes from following other low waste / zero waste / sustainability people on Instragram. Check out the Resources page for some of my favorites.
I checked this book out from the library, and it's a very thorough resource for anything I could ever dream of cleaning: The Natural Home by Isabelle Louet and Sylvie Fabre