The best part of wholly embracing zero waste cleaning products 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 zero waste cleaning products I use when I’m not feeling too lazy to clean.
Note: I do have a small bottle of bleach for occasional use, but I live in a household with two healthy adults so these less obliterating cleaners work for me. Those who require significantly more de-germing because of immunocompromise, etc. should proceed with caution! Health > zero waste.
Zero waste cleaning products to try:
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!
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 (or other scent of choice!)
Put the citrus rinds in a container and cover with vinegar. Let sit for at least a week, but can be left longer. I make a huge batch all at once and just pour it into my spray jar as needed. 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.
Dilute it half and half with water, stretching my supply and making it a little less potent.
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 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.
- 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!
*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.
How wild do you want to get?
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.
I’d add white vinegar as a rinse aid, particularly if you have hard water like we do!
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 add water until you reach a gel-like consistency.
Zero waste dryer sheets
To keep clothes soft, static-free, and smelling fresh, use this easy recipe:
- white vinegar
- 5-10 drops essential oil of choice
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.
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.
And now I leave you with all these cleaning product recipes! Happy cleaning! (Or as happy as cleaning can be.)