Clean rhymes with green. In the environmental context certainly, what is greener is also cleaner. In our homes though, there are some challenges when it comes to cleaning in a way that is kind to the environment. Many of us automatically reach for the bleach to deal with anything smelly or germy, but perhaps we should think again. With a little bit of extra effort, we can keep our homes clean and smelling fresh without resorting to the kinds of chemicals that may damage our health or the environment.
Keep it dry! As a young adult, I actually thought showers didn’t need to be cleaned because they got washed with water every time we used them. I was wrong! Water left lying around in showers etc. is a breeding ground for microorganisms, such as mould. By drying the shower and drying up any water spilled in the bathroom or kitchen, we prevent mould from growing. The action of wiping also removes dirt before it has a chance to build up.
Clean up messes in the kitchen immediately, and clean everything else on a regular basis. Why? Because if we clean things when they’re only a bit dirty, or at least when the dirt is fresh, we often only need a cloth soaked in hot, soapy water. The arsenal of tough cleaning chemicals hiding in your cupboard is usually only necessary for built up grease and grime.
Invest in some good cloths, as they will minimise the amount of cleaning product you need to use. You need large microfibre cloths containing at least 12% polyamide (for absorbency). Exel brand “magic” microfibre cloths apparently have an “antibacterial cleaning action formulated into the cloth”, which means you don’t need antibacterial surface spray because the cloth will do it all! A 10 pack of these cloths can be bought for about £7 on Amazon.
Your pantry probably contains some excellent natural cleaning products. White vinegar, for example, is great for removing limescale. There’s no need to use expensive wine vinegar – the cheapest distilled vinegar will be fine. Some people even clean toilets with it. A multipurpose bathroom cleaner can be made with 50% distilled vinegar, 50% hot water, and a squirt of dishwashing liquid.
If you’re like me, and don’t like the smell of vinegar, substitute it for citric acid, which is actually more effective on limescale anyway. A 1kg bag of food grade citric acid costs about £5.50 on Amazon and will last you for ages.
Baking soda is another one of my favourites. Baking soda is the stink-meister. Use it for cleaning by sprinkling it on a damp cloth: it will remove odours and its mild abrasiveness will clean without scratching. You can also dissolve it in water and dip your cloth in it. For spills and smells on carpet, soft furnishings and mattresses, sprinkle with baking soda then vacuum up. The baking soda will soak up smells and often removes stains if applied promptly. The good thing about baking soda is that it’s unlikely to harm fabrics or surfaces. Dry baking soda is therefore a good first move; if it doesn’t work, then no harm done – vacuum it up and try something else.
Baking soda and vinegar together are a dynamic duo. A sink drain can be unblocked (or a washing machine cleaned) with about 3 tablespoons of baking soda and a cup of distilled vinegar. For the sink, just leave those ingredients to sit and bubble for ten minutes then pour a litre of boiling water on top. For the washing machine, put the vinegar in the drum and the baking soda in the detergent compartment and run a hot wash.
The perfumes in supermarket cleaning products don’t really do anything – they don’t make the product work better, and these synthetic fragrances can cause sensitivities for some people. If you like nice smells in your house, and in your cleaning products, you can use essential oils. I buy mine from Mother Nature’s Goodies on eBay (100 ml of lemon oil costs less than £6). Certain oils, such as lemon and tea tree, have antibacterial properties too. Make up a 5-10% (w/v) citric acid solution in a 750 ml spray bottle, add a squirt of dishwashing liquid and 10 drops of lemon oil, and you’ll have yourself an awesome citrus scented bathroom and kitchen cleaner. Be careful with essential oils though – they can burn skin in the undiluted form.
After those 5 tips there’s still another point I want to make: cleaning makes your stuff last longer. The environmental impact of having to replace a bathroom every five or ten years would far outweigh the impact of cleaning your bathroom with toxic products from the supermarket. Remember, cleaning is maintaining. You might have a busy life. You might not have time to dry your shower or put baking soda and vinegar in the plugholes. You might buy “daily shower cleaner”, Cillit Bang and Mr Muscle Drain Unblocker from the supermarket. Don’t feel bad about it. Actually, feel good about it, knowing that by making your home fixtures last longer you’re helping the environment.