Hello, spring! There’s nothing quite like giving your house a good scrub-down to ring in the warmer weather. Now that most of us are finally (please mother natch), out of the sub-freezing temps, it’s time to wipe that winter dust away and put those puffer coats in the back of our closets where they belong.
There are two types of people: those who find cleaning to be a pain in the butt, and those who find it to be meditative. Regardless of which type you are, we all should clean pretty often to keep our spaces fresh. Here’s how to make that cleaning routine more sustainable (and hopefully more enjoyable)!
A quick roundup on how to clean your home more sustainably:
#1 Use everything you have...
#2 ...And then replace those products with more sustainable ones
#3 Use dish towels instead of paper towels
#4 Use your dish towels multiple times before washing, and only wash them in full loads of laundry
#5 Dispose of stuff responsibly
Want more information on why? Read on before cleaning house!
1) Use everything you already have
Before you run off and replace all of your current cleaning products with new, more sustainable ones, let us remind you that the most sustainable course of action is to use what you already have first. The products sitting beneath your kitchen sink have already been produced, packaged, and transported to your house, and the energy and resources required to do so shouldn’t go to waste.
2)...And then replace those products with more sustainable ones
We score products on Amazon from 0-10 based on six environmental footprints and real reviews. The easiest way to find more sustainable replacements for your old products is by using our extension.
If you’re interested in learning more about the factors to consider when buying products in each category, check out our Wise Guides. Here are a few important ones for cleaning your house:
- Red flags: Phosphates and bleach, which can be harmful to aquatic life.
- Green flags: EPA Safer Choice certified products. We also love concentrated tablets that can be dissolved in water at home, so the emissions associated with shipping are significantly less.
- Red flags: Ammonia, bleach, and phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors to both humans and aquatic life.
- Green flags: EPA Safer Choice certified products. Look to baking soda, vinegar, and sodium percarbonate as great (gentler) substitutes for ammonia and bleach.
3. Dish Soap
- Red flags: Ingredients like “surfactants”, “fragrances”, and “cleaning agents”, which can mask nasty chemicals that are toxic to aquatic life.
- Green flags: USDA BioPreferred, EPA Safer Choice, EWG Verified, and Leaping Bunny or PETA cruelty free certifications. Eliminate packaging waste by buying refillable dish soap or dish soap bars.
4. Dish Towels
- Red flags: Polyester and microfibers, which shed microplastics when laundered.
- Green flags: Organic cotton, OEKO-TEX and GOTS certifications.
5. Paper Towels
- Red flags: Chlorine bleach and virgin paper pulp.
- Green flags: Processed Chlorine-Free or Totally Chlorine-Free paper towels made with 100% recycled or tree-free paper pulp.
- Red flags: Virgin plastic.
- Green flags: Sponges made out of 100% cellulose or other plant-based materials (like loofah).
7. Trash Bags
- Red flags: Virgin plastic.
- Green flags: Post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic, or bio-based plastic.
- Red flags: Lofty claims like "odor blaster" and "white reviver". These usually mean that the product is packed with nasty chemicals that could cause rashes for those with sensitive skin and harm aquatic life once in the waterways.
- Green flags: EPA Safer Choice certified products, and those with plastic-free packaging.
- Red flags: Chlorine bleach and boron.
- Green flags: EPA Safer Choice certified products. Look to hydrogen peroxide as a great (gentler) alternative to bleach.
Better yet, DIY and make your own cleaners when you can. And while you’re cleaning out your closet, why not give your old t-shirts, towels, and even workout clothes a second life? Simply cut them up into squares and voila – “brand new” cleaning rags and dish towels.
3) Use dish towels instead of paper towels
We LOVE dish towels for their absorbency, durability, and the fact that they can be more sustainable than paper towels. But, if you do need paper towels, choose some that are made of 100% recycled paper pulp and aren’t whitened with chlorine bleach, like these. Better yet, use our browser extension to find the most sustainable paper towels that work for you.
4) Use your dish towels multiple times before washing, and only wash them in full loads of laundry
The greenhouse gas emissions associated with the use of a dish towel can vary from as low as 1.14 grams of CO2e per use (one smartphone charged to 14%) to as high as about 242 grams of CO2e per use (29 smartphones charged to 100%). Wonder why? To simplify a complex conversation, let’s assume that we are only using 100% cotton dish towels. Under this assumption, the impact of your seemingly simple dish towel can vary based on the type of detergent you use, the number of uses per laundry cycle, the number of items washed per laundry cycle, and the type of washer and dryer used to launder the dish towels.
Of that list, the biggest variations come from the number of times between washes and the number of items per wash. When you wash 12 dish towels per load (which is roughly half a load of laundry) instead of one dish towel per load, the carbon footprint per load decreases by about 92%. When you increase the load size to 24 dish towels (a full load of laundry) from 12 dish towels, we drop another 50% or so. Pretty awesome, huh?
On the flip side, when you decrease the number of dish towels in a load of laundry from 24 towels (full load) to 1 towel, the increase in the carbon footprint is a whopping 2274%. The impact can also vary significantly based on how many times you use a dish towel before you throw it in the laundry. Using a towel ten times instead of only six times before washing decreases the associated carbon dioxide emitted per use by about 40%.
5) Dispose of stuff responsibly
When throwing out packaged goods (i.e. stuff in your fridge, pantry, and medicine cabinet), separate the stuff on the inside from the stuff on the outside. That jar of pickles that’s older than your pandemic puppy? Stick the pickles in your compost bin and rinse the jar before placing it in the recycling bin*. That crusted moisturizer that expired when Obama was still in office? Scrub that baby out and make sure the plastic tub is accepted by your local recycling facility before dropping it in the blue bin. Questions about how to recycle correctly? Check out some tips here and here, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Quick acknowledgement that the ability to recycle and compost goods depends on the infrastructure in your local area.
Drop off your old shoes (from any brand in any condition) at a North Face store and they’ll repurpose them through their Clothes the Loop program. Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe program is a good option for sneakers specifically. We recommend asking your local running store if they have a program, too.
Madewell and Levi’s both work with the Blue Jeans Go Green to turn jeans into housing insulation. All you have to do is bring your old jeans (from any brand in any color and condition) to a Madewell or Levi’s location and they’ll take care of the rest. The best part is, both brands will give you a credit towards future purchases in exchange for your donation.
ThreadUP is an online thrift shop that is a great option if you’re looking to get rid of slightly used clothing and make a few bucks. They’ll send you a “Clean Out Kit” free of charge for you to fill up and send back. Once they receive your clothing, they’ll determine if it’s sellable based on the condition and brand, and then they’ll notify you of your payout amount. If you’d prefer to donate that money to charity, they give you that option, too. Any clothing that is not suitable for their marketplace, they’ll recycle for free or send it back to you for a fee.
H&M rolled out a Garment Collecting program in 2013, through which they take unwanted clothing and textiles in any condition, from any brand. Just bring your stuff to an H&M store, and they’ll take care of the rest.
Lots of other brands have smaller take-back programs for their own goods, including Patagonia, Eileen Fisher, and Marine Layer. If you’re looking to dispose of a piece of clothing, you may want to check out that brand’s website to see if they’ll take it back in exchange for a credit on future purchases.
If you live in the Pacific Northwest, check out Ridwell, a company that will pick up your old stuff right from your doorstep for a small fee.
Bedding & Towels
Animal shelters are always in need of spare towels, sheets, and blankets. Call your local shelter to find out if they’ll accept your items.
Rules of thumb
As mentioned above, old clothes, bedding, and towels make great cleaning rags and dish towels. Cut ‘em up and give them a second life. The most efficient way to keep stuff out of the landfill is to keep it in use.
Earth 911 has an awesome recycling search tool so that you can find recycling solutions in your area. Simply type in the item you’re looking to recycle and your zip code, and they’ll surface options near you.
Before you send off your old clothing, bedding, and towels to be recycled, check out the recycling company’s website to ensure your garments fall within their specifications. Some organizations have pretty strict rules about what they can and cannot take, and may send your goods to the landfill if they don’t meet their standards.