What would you say if I said I could save you at least $20-30 off your fortnightly shopping bill by following some simple cleaning tips?
Just by using natural cleaners that you can make yourself, you will save money, and keep nasty chemicals out of your waste stream that would otherwise make its way into our waterways. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!
Since our family started the journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle, our cleaning methods have changed towards non-toxic products with obvious benefits.
We started using grey water at the very beginning of the journey to water the garden, so we needed to change our laundry powder to one that had no Phosphorous and no Sodium so that we could use the water neat in the garden.
The phosphorous would have damaged the native Australian plants, and the sodium tends to make the soil repel water, and increases the salinity.
Also, any run-off that the plants don’t use, does not contaminate the ground water. We found, after trying a couple of NP brands, that the Planet Ark Aware laundry powder worked the best for us. Earth Choice came in at second when we can’t source Aware.
After reading an article in Choice Magazine, we found that it was not made from any petrochemicals, but there are probably similar brands now around the world. Kim raves about it to anyone who will listen, because a 1 Kg box lasts her approximately 8 weeks for 4 peoples clothes as you only use 3 tablespoons per wash. We also use a NP fabric softener, but don’t use it very much, and have been substituting with white vinegar in the last two months with great results. When washing towels, Kim pops in a few drops of eucalyptus oil to kill of any bacteria. It makes them smell nice too.
I believe that Seventh Generation also have a good product rain in the US and Canada.
With the laundry sorted, we looked to the kitchen. We buy an earth friendly washing up liquid for the kitchen dishes that is also low in phosphates and sodium. We still use the dishwasher occasionally when we have a mountain of dirty dishes. We use bi-carbonate soda (baking soda) instead of dishwashing powder, and vinegar for the rinse aide.
We have found this to be very effective, even on some of the tougher dirt. To get rid of a smelly dishwasher we give it a thorough clean with vinegar and bi-carb soda, then put it through a cycle. So we are not only saving a fair bit of water, and about 8 kWh of electricity a week, and caustic dish washing tablets, but we have also realised something profound.
When you wash dishes by hand, and you have someone drying them with you, you actually talk to each other and everything is cleaned far better than it would have in a dishwasher. Not only do you have quality control via an instant feedback loop, you can have a laugh and a joke around at the same time. There is only one rule that we stick to, and that is that the cook does not wash up. You can shotgun for the rest of the washing, drying or putting away!
Lemons and bi-carb soda are also great for getting rid of stubborn burnt on food at the bottom of pots and pans. When life gives you lemons, scrub a pot with them!
Cleaning windows and mirrors is a cinch with white vinegar in a spray bottle and the free local newspaper. Not only is it cheap, but it keeps mould away, and prevents mirrors from fogging up. It gives a nice clear finish without any smell. You can throw that Windex away now!
We also use white vinegar as an anti-bacterial to wipe the kitchen surfaces when dirty. Stubborn stains are dealt with by a paste of water and bi-carb soda. I would rather have a small child accidentally swallow vinegar than some of the other nastier cleaning products kept under the average kitchen sink! If I have an abundance of lemons, I use one cut in half to clean chopping boards before giving them a coat of olive oil.
About a month ago we had a bad smell coming out of the kitchen sink, so it was out with the bi-carb soda, and down the drain with about 4 tablespoons of the white powder. After about a minute I followed it up with a quarter of a cup of white vinegar and let it all fizzle. Let it go for about 3 minutes and then flush with some very hot water. Our drain have never have smelled so nice, and I may have gotten rid of a lot of built up grease as well.
The last cleaning thing I can think of is that my daughter Megan gives the shower a weekly once over with some paste made up of bi-carb and water, with an micro-fibre glove and old rags, which gets rid of the soap scum that collects there. A little bit hot water afterwards washes it all away. Oh, I forgot the toilet. We use bi-carb soda to clean it as well, with a little white vinegar in the final flush.
As for washing ourselves, we all use pure, home-made soap. I even wash my very short hair with it. Kim uses an organic shampoo, but I have heard that bi-carb works just as well in very small doses.
I shave with a pigs bristle brush, having given away shaving cream in a can (just use our home made soap to lather), but am having trouble finding an alternative to disposable razors or blades. I don’t shave very much, as I have a goatee, so I would not use as many blades as the average guy. I might investigate a cut throat razor in the near future, as they last for a very long time, and you sharpen (or is it blunt-en) it yourself. Sweeney Todd eat your heart out!
Well that is about all I can think that we use. We simply asked the question to see if the answer was that if things were safe for us, they would be safe for the planet. We made the changes slowly over the course of about a year. If you have a couple of bottles of white vinegar and a big box of bi-carb soda, you have almost all you need to clean the house up.
I did get most of the tips originally from reading Greeniology: How to Live Well, be Green and Make a Difference. Tanya Ha wrote a whole chapter on green cleaning. It helped finding all the good tips in the one place, and the tips were simple to implement (I even met her once (more like stalked), and got my copy of this book autographed).
We save so much money on cleaning products (vinegar and bi-carb are cheap as chips), we feel safe when we clean, and know that it is better for the planet.
Simply the simplest and greenest products we could find make a hell of a difference!
Do you use a natural green cleaner? Do you have any tips that you can share? I am sure readers would love to know.
Paul - The Kind Little Blogger says
Very sound advice, Gavin. As you’re aware, I run green cleaning business, The Kind Cleaner, and use many of the tactics you describe. I do also use a slightly heavier “multipurpose” spray, home-made (by me!) using an ethical (and certified organic) plant-based surfactant, but that’s because many of the houses I deal with aren’t “up to scratch” where they can easily be maintained with softer methods. I reserve the “heavy” stuff for tricky shower screens and stovetops.
One of the best cleaners for a grubby bathtub: bicarb soda and a hard-bristle scrubbing brush. I always add a couple of drops of essential oil or hydrosol to my bicarb to give it a pleasant scent and to assist in the bacteria-fighting–not that you want to fight them all off; just starve ’em a little.
Tania @ Out Back says
Gavin, I loved hearing your uses for green products…I do most of what you listed but haven’t yet attempted to make home made soap. Maybe I will make that a goal for 2013. I have organised molds but am a little chicken to try it 🙂
We are a bicarb and vinegar household too…
In the laundry we use home made laundry detergent, bicarb and vinegar in the washing machine (twin tub), and more bicarb in the rinse water to soften it. I use lemon a lot to remove stubborn stains from clothing…
In the kitchen (we dont own a dishwasher) I use a homemade soap saver with a bar of velvet soap. Smells divine but makes your dishes slippery, so you need to be extra careful. I clean the benches, sink, stove and oven with homemade citrus vinegar. (citrus peels infused in vinegar). A bit a bicarb if I need to scrub…
I clean my showers with vinegar. I take a bucket with fairly strong vinegar and water mix. Sponge onto the tiles and let sit for a 1/2 hour then rinse off and dry with microfibre cloth (repeat if necessary). Again bicarb if I need to scrub the soap scum.
For my windows, microfibre cloths and water works well…
Bicarb can be a replacement for deodorant, and also a carpet deodoriser.
These methods definitely save us a lot of money. I think I worked out that our laundry detergent cost less than $2.00 for 10 litres. I have a book called The Wonders of Baking Soda, and there are many uses. There are 75 uses for baking soda listed on this site if you are interested 🙂
Steve Holmquist says
We’ve been making our own laundry soap for about a year now. Here’s the basics:
1-bar ivory soap
1-cup Washing soda (sodium carbonate)
Place the soap bar on a micowave safe plate and microwave for one minute. It will “grow and poof up”. Allow to cool.
Measure the rest of the ingredients into a storage container. Crumble the cooled bar soap into a food processor and reduce to dust. Add to the other ingredients in your container cover and shake to mix.
Other folks use other bar soaps, but Ivory is the only one that I would put in the microwave. Any other you need to use a food grater and grate into very small pieces.
It takes about 1 to 2 tablespoons of this for a normal wash. I add white vinegar to the softener cup and run the load. It comes out clean, fresh smelling and in my HE washer I don’t have issues with mildew.
I do almost the same for my dishwasher.
1-Cup washing Soda
1-Cup Epsom salts or coarse table salt
1/2 Cup of Citric Acid
The Citric Acid will make it all clump up a bit but it breaks up easily. Because of out hard water issue where I am I also add 2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap to the door front just before closing. It helps with the water spots, but can void your warranty on your washer. I also fill the rinse aid dispenser with White Vinegar. Dishes come out clean and fresh.
We are on to our second batch of home made soap. Most of the first batch has been given away as gifts with a crochets face washer/dishcloth. I have started to wash my hair with the soap as well then rinse with apple cider vinegar diluted in water. Far better results are achieved using this than expensive salon products that I had only because they had a deal going with my last haircut. If I forget to bring the vinegar solution into the shower I apply some morrocan oil when I am drying. I am so happy with these results and I will be implementing them for my two teenage daughters.
Steve if you put your diswaher mixture into ice cube trays and leave them for a day or two, you can pop them out and use them as “tablets” Lets the citric acid work for you not against you!
I was going to add about the vinegar rinse after using bicarb to wash hair. It restores the pH to normal. I did do that for a while, and then suddenly my hair turned on me and became a frizzled mess. It was an extremely stressful time though, just after my grandfather died, so I do wonder if stress had more to do with it than the bicarb. I have curly hair and am planning to go the no shampoo path soon. Have bought everything I need to make my own conditioner. Just using up some old stuff before I make my own.
With the soap for shaving, if you google you should be able to find a shaving soap recipe. I made some for my flatmate at the time as he used a brush and had one of those little cup things to work up a lather. I saved empty toilet rolls for ages and made him a whole batch. It had some more luxurious oils and butters in it than my everyday soap, and kaolin clay for added slip. We sliced all the round logs into about 1.5cm slices to be just right for his little cup/dish thing and wrapped them in foil for storage. He’s still going on that batch 9 years later 🙂
Michelle J says
We have hard well water, so we use borax in our laundry and dishwasher to lessen the mineral and rust deposits. We also use vinegar and baking soda to clean most everything. In addition to the baking soda in your disposal, I’d recommend tossing a lemon (or any citrus fruit) rind down there now and then. It smells lovely and I feel like the citric acid helps clean things up a bit as well. 😉
Great to hear of more people moving away from commercial cleaners and rediscovering older recipes. I make my own laundry liquid – you can get the exact recipe from your countryperson Rhonda @ Down to Earth blog; but basically it’s washing soda, borax, soap flakes and water to dilute – as I make my own soap every so often I make a plain batch which I then grate as I need for the soap flakes part. The recipe makes 9 litres in all so both ecologically and economically sensible. As for the rest of it, bicarb soda, teh soap, vinegar and plenty of elbow grease are my main household cleaners although I do buy a green eco washing up liquid. I reckon I save quite a bit and my house doesn’t smell like a chemical factory either.
We’ve used vinegar and/or baking soda for a few years now for most cleaning jobs – squirt bottle of diluted vinegar lives under the kitchen and bathroom sinks, small box of baking soda in the bathroom, etc. I might add that there is no need for paper towel – get a couple of those microfibre cloths that are so amazing nowadays or be cheap like me and cut up old shirts and sheets for rags. There is simply no need for paper towel at all.
Gav, we found the eco-friendly dish soap and laundry detergent was clogging the grease trap on our grey water system, and I was forced to revert to something more conventional while we sort that out (cleaning the grease trap is an ICKY job, let me just say). The grey water only comes from the kitchen and laundry, and yes, some cooking grease is undoubtedly going down – despite best efforts to scrape before washing – but it always had done, so what changed was the soap/detergent. Any suggestions?
I use Clean Conscience cleaning products which are made in Tasmania and are the greenest of the green…. the laundry powder is great. Otherwise I use carb soda and vinegar for everything. First question: I read that cheap vinegar may not be vinegar but made from petrochemicals!! Next: who makes carb soda, where, and how?
I am a self employed soap maker (www.60degreesnorth.co.uk) and use grated soap ends and hot water for laundry liquid or as a general spray. For mould I have found vinegar (brewed not distilled!) with a few drops of lavender or jasmine essential oil in is fantastic. For when I need a really heavy grime killer for the sinks etc I tend to use soda crystals which are biodegradable.
All great ideas Gav (and others).
One word of caution, baking soda (bicarb soda a.k.a. sodium bicarbonate) contains sodium and this should be factored in if you are going to use the grey water in the garden.
I too eco clean with vinegar, bicarb, the homemade washing powder and so much more but a word of caution. Many of the cheap vinegars may be made using petroleum products! Obscene hey. The only way to make sure it’s proper vinegar is to confirm it’s brewed or use a different vinegar. I use white wine vinegar which, although dearer is, I believe, a LOT stronger (I think it’s up to 5 times stronger) so I use it a lot more diluted. Check out The Eco Mum’s post on vinegar here. She has put a HEAP of research into it. http://www.theecomum.com/1/post/2011/11/eco-myth-busting-myth-3-white-vinegar-is-the-greener-cleaner-nope.html