The big list of zero waste cleaning recipes -

The big list of zero waste cleaning recipes

People can make zero waste cleaning more difficult than it needs to be. After all, the whole concept of zero waste is to stop consuming unnecessary, unsustainable items. Do yourself a favor and simplify.

Plus, take it from a lazy person: the fewer cleaning products you have to choose from, the less overwhelming it feels to actually clean your house.

(Or at least that’s what I tell myself.)

The best part of wholly embracing zero waste cleaning supplies is that you can pretty much use the same four or five different ingredients in any number of useful ways. Read on to find out about the cleaning supplies I use when I’m not feeling too lazy to clean.

Not interested in DIYing everything? (I feel that.) There are stores offering low-waste options like GreenerCleanDesigns, Dropps, or Fillaree!

Simple fabric/carpet spray

Our house is old so no matter how much we clean, our closets will always leave our clothes and linens smelling a little un-fresh. So each morning before getting dressed or whenever I pull out new sheets, I spray down my clothes and hang them up for a few minutes.

  • 1 part water
  • 1 part vodka or witch hazel
  • 4-5 drops of essential oil (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together in a spray bottle and use as necessary. Don’t worry, the smell goes away as vodka evaporates so you won’t smell like you’ve had a few when you get to work!

Pro tip: hanging fabric items outside in the sun is a great way to refresh them as well!

Zero Waste Cleaning - citrus vinegar

All-purpose spray

Perhaps my favorite zero waste cleaning recipe because it’s a simple matter of set and forget – when you need to clean, this citrus vinegar all-purpose spray is ready to go. (See above: left, lemons; right, oranges.)

  • White vinegar
  • Citrus rinds

While the citrus rinds aren’t necessary, I find it’s a good way to give them an additional use before composting. Put the citrus rinds in a container and cover with vinegar. Let sit for at least a week, but can be left longer.

Typically, I make a huge batch all at once and just pour it into my spray jar as needed. This lets the citrus power get more concentrated when you leave it longer. Eventually your citrus rinds will turn grey which means it’s time to take them out. At that point, I’ll drain all the liquid and toss the peels into the compost.

With the stronger stuff, I’ll typically dilute it half and half with water, stretching my supply and making it a little less potent.


  • general surface cleaner
  • window/mirror cleaner (I use crumpled up newspaper to remove streaks)
  • along with baking soda, a grout/tile scrubber

Zero Waste Cleaning - enzyme cleaner

Zero waste enzyme cleaner

I’d never heard of an enzyme cleaner before I started doing battle with a disgustingly stinky rug I picked up off the side of the road (as you do). For those who also don’t know, enzyme cleaners are cleaners that break down protein, starch, or fat-based messes (ie. natural ones) when other cleaners may just mask the smell but not remove the problem.

The recipe I use is apparently not a true enzyme cleaner, but does work effectively and doesn’t – as all commercial enzyme cleaners I found – come in a plastic container.

  • 10 parts warm water
  • 3 parts citrus peels
  • 1 part sugar
  • 1 tablespoon yeast

Recipe modified from Curious Nut.

Add all ingredients to a jar and seal. Burp (open the lid) the jar daily to let off pressure. I had to do this for about a week before the mixture settled.

I modified the original recipe after reading that you can add additional yeast to speed up the creation of the cleaner. Without yeast, you’d let the mixture sit for 3 months before using! I added the yeast and found the cleaner to be effective after about 3 weeks.

Dish soap

Dish soap is one of those things I didn’t think about much when starting zero waste,but quickly realized not only was most soap packaged in plastic but also contained lots of unrecognizable chemicals I didn’t want going into my water supply.

I finally settled on Zero Waste Chef‘s dish soap recipe because it’s simple and effective. What could be better than that?

  • 3 tablespoons grated castile soap
  • 1 teaspoon washing soda*
  • 15 drops essential oil
  • 2 cups water

Add soap to warm water and heat on stove until melted. Once melted, remove from heat and add in the washing soda. Let sit overnight. In the morning, mix well and add essential oils. All done! I put mine in an old plastic dish soap container I saved – no one would ever know the difference!

A word of warning: the first time I did this, I made a big batch all at once. By the time I got to the second part of the batch it had congealed and separated to the point where it was difficult to return it to its regular consistency. I’d resist the urge to bulk create in this case.

*Washing soda is readily available but also easy to make.  Put a thick layer of baking soda on a baking sheet. Place in oven at 400F for an hour, stirring twice. Cool and store in air-tight jar.

The big list of zero waste cleaning recipes -

Dishwasher detergent

Now that I have a dishwasher, I love it! It’s not only easier than hand washing dishes, but it’s actually more efficient in terms of water usage. (Unless you’re a hand washing ninja, which I am not.)

I actually still have a massive box of eco-friendly detergent in a cardboard package I bought ages ago, so I can’t speak to any of these recipes first-hand. Still they come from valuable sources and I figure I only have 2-3 weeks of my old dishwasher detergent left before I need to DIY my  own.

Option #1: very simple

This recipe seems to work on its abrasive qualities more than anything else. I have not tried it, but it seems like this would not necessarily be enough to cut through dirtier dishes.

  • 1 part salt
  • 3 parts baking soda

Mix together, store, and use about a tablespoon per load. (Source: Wasteland Rebel)

Option #2: less simple

I like this option simply because it seems to have more washing power rather than just being abrasive, like the previous.  Also, the additional ingredients should also be easy to source in compostable/recyclable cardboard.

  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1 cup citric acid
  • 1/2 cup salt

Mix all together and store in an air-tight container. Use about 1 tablespoon per load.

To both of these I would add white or citrus vinegar as a rinse aid, particularly if you have hard water like we do!

Zero Waste Cleaning - Laundry Powder

Zero waste laundry detergent

Whether you have an old top-loading washer like me or a high-efficiency unit, this laundry detergent seems effective for almost everyone. Simple, cheap, and able to be made in bulk, this zero waste laundry detergent is a win!

  • 1 bar of castile soap (grated or thrown in food processor)
  • 1 cup of baking soda
  • 1 cup of washing soda
  • 5-10 drops of essential oil (optional)

Adapted from Wasteland Rebel’s site.

Simply mix all the ingredients together and you’re good to go. Add 1-2 tablespoons per load. I like to add mine to the bottom of the washer, fill it a bit, and then add clothes to make sure it dissolves.

If you want to turn this into a liquid detergent, add 2/3 cup boiling water to grated castile soap and dissolve. Then add other ingredients and carefully add water until you reach a gel-like consistency.

You can also add white or citrus vinegar as a softener.

Zero waste dryer sheets

To keep clothes soft, static-free, and smelling fresh, use this easy recipe:

Place cloth in container and cover with vinegar + essential oils. You want enough to make them all wet, but not have standing liquid. Make sure your container is closed tight. Use 2-3 sheets per load and then resoak as needed.

The tools

I don’t have many specialized tools – it’s all part of the zero waste cleaning ethos. Why buy extra things when you can use what you already have?

Rags are pretty much all you need for 90% of your cleaning ventures. That being said, let me tell you what else I do have:

  • Color-coded rags. I’m not a hugely clean person, but I do like to keep my kitchen counter rags separate from my dusting and toilet rags! I suggest tearing up 2-3 different colored t-shirts and designating a color for each different function.
  • Twist sponges. I was really disappointed to find they’re now wrapped in plastic, but I still think they’re value outweighs that plastic wrapping. These are 100% plant-based so I just throw them in my compost pile once they’re dead. I use them on dishes and then dirtier floor work until they start to disintegrate. I buy them on Amazon, but they are occasionally available at Kroger.
  • Circle scrubber. I like this guy for deep scrubbing. It’s great for scrubbing the sink as I angrily consider what idiot would ever think white kitchen sinks were a good idea. Like a bamboo toothbrush, you’ll have to remove the bristles as they’re not 100% natural, but I’ve had this guy for a long time and haven’t yet needed to get rid of it.
  • Bottle brush. I resisted buying one of these for so long because I thought they were useless, but I picked one up on the clearance rack at TJ Maxx and have never looked back. If you use a lot of jars or bottles, this can be a lifesaver for scrubbing out all the hard-to-reach stuff. I have just the large brush from a Kleen Kanteen set (why it was on sale) that works really well.


13 Replies to “The big list of zero waste cleaning recipes”

  1. Gina Caro @ Gypsy Soul says:

    I’m going to have to try that dishwasher detergent as I’m not happy with what we are currently using. I found this post really useful thank you! #GoingGreenLinky

  2. Ooh, I might have to give the rug and carpet cleaner a go. We have a cat that likes to pee on an old rug of mine, I wonder if it would work on that!

    • Polly says:

      I would definitely suggest the enzyme cleaner for that purpose! It breaks down those gross natural odors and stains in a pretty awesome way! It worked on a gnarly old rug I saved!

  3. Lauren says:

    What’s an alternative to the citrus vinegar? I keep seeing people mention how great it is, but my family doesn’t eat a lot of citrus.
    Or I guess, my alternative question: can I slowly make the citrus vinegar (as in place peels in the vinegar here and there and build up the strength over time)?
    Thank you for putting this all in a list!! I love the idea of using natural cleaners instead of harsh chemicals- for me and my home but also for my septic. Gotta keep those microbes happy and healthy!

    • Polly says:

      As I mentioned in the post, I leave mine to sit basically forever. We don’t consume much citrus beyond lemons either, but we freeze the peels and save them there until we need a new batch of cleaner so we end up having enough. I don’t see why a slow addition would make any difference – just a weaker solution at the start.

    • Carolane Plamondon says:

      You can also but lemon essential oil which will do the same thing.

  4. Emily says:

    Just a caveat about the laundry soap. It is soap, not detergent and will build up in your clothes over time! I used this recipe for about a year and did some investigating when my clothes and cleaning cloths seemed to have a weird film. Turns out soap is not great for washing clothes! I have since switched to a natural detergent I can buy in bulk and my clothing is much happier!

    • Polly says:

      Yes, I’ve heard that as well. Good point!

      I’ve used this + a vinegar add-in and haven’t seen an issue. I did try the ‘wash with regular detergent’ after seeing some horror post about the dirty water pulled from laundry soap treated clothes. Nothing for me, even after a year+ of using it (thankfully lol). For sure something for people to consider, but I feel OK with it especially since I haven’t found any local options for decent detergent in non-plastic packaging. Thanks for the head’s up!

  5. Some great ideas, love the fabric refresher spray. #GoingGreen

  6. What a fabulous resouse which I know I will come back to for the many recipes you have added. I make what I can but am always on the look out for new cleaning products so thank you!
    A great post to add to #GoingGreen and I am so sorry it took me for ever to pop by. The next linky opens tomorrow (May 7th) so I hope you will join in again 🙂