If you are looking ways to buy smart so you can help fight climate change, consider purchasing fewer household cleaning products. Despite the constant commercial messaging from behemoth consumer product companies hawking the new-and-improved, extra-added cleaning power of their latest offerings, you don’t need that much cleaning power—or a different specialized product for every task. By cleaning with simple ingredients that you already have in your pantry such as vinegar, baking soda, and even fresh lemons, you’ll be creating a healthier home environment, reducing your environmental impact, and saving a bundle of money—all at the same time.
Unless you’re a hermit living in a cave, you need to clean your home, your clothes, and yourself. However, being too clean isn’t healthy, as your immune system needs some exposure to pathogens to figure out which irritants are harmful and which are harmless. So as it turns out, you’re better off avoiding those fancy hand sanitizers and antimicrobial soaps and not obsessing over cleanliness in general.
But if those hand cleaners are overkill, what about all the toxic chemicals found in common household cleaning products? There are some 75,000 different chemical ingredients used in common household cleaning products, many of which are dangerous, falling into three harm categories: carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, and neurotoxins. And they are just as harmful to the environment after they exit your home as they are for you and your loved ones while there. Additionally, there is the manufacturing process to consider. Did you know, for example, that the production process of bleach results in dioxin as a byproduct, which has been linked to birth defects and genetic changes?
All those plastic containers
By eschewing commercial cleaning products, you will also be helping the planet by using less plastic. According to the UK website Waste Online, “Firstly, plastics production requires significant quantities of resources, primarily fossil fuels, both as a raw material and to deliver energy for the manufacturing process. It is estimated that 4% of the world’s annual oil production is used as a feedstock for plastics production and an additional 3-4% during manufacture.” Then there are the additional resources required for plastics manufacture, such as land and water, as well as the waste and pollution of the process.
The plastics used for household cleaning product containers are polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), with polypropylene (PP) for the lids and dispensers. Although the amount varies depending on the type of plastic, the container’s form, and the manufacturing process, in general, the amount of CO2 it takes to produce 1 gram of plastic is 2 grams. A 2-liter or half-gallon HDPE detergent bottle that weighs 72 grams will therefore represent 144 grams of CO2 used just for its production.
Of course, your carbon footprint will be reduced if you recycle these plastic containers. The Waste & Resources Action Programme (.pdf) reports that each ton of recycled plastic bottles (rPET or rHDPE) used in new bottles saves about a ton of CO2 equivalent.
However, you will create even greater savings by eliminating the need for many of these plastic containers in the first place.
Clean and disinfect with vinegar
Vinegar is an excellent inexpensive, all-purpose cleaner and disinfectant that is safe to use on most surfaces, save for marble and other natural stones. Try it out first in an inconspicuous spot on your wood floor and other surfaces you’re not sure about. And remember, it’s acidic. Therefore, you should dilute it so it doesn’t dissolve your tile grout.
For those who don’t like the smell of vinegar, don’t worry—it dissipates quickly when it dries. Or you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Alternatively, you can infuse one quart of white vinegar with citrus peels, filling up a half-gallon mason jar and leaving it for a couple of weeks.
Use vinegar for cleaning in the kitchen and the bathroom, on floors and windows, and as a natural fabric softener for your laundry.
Baking soda for scrubbing and deodorizing
You’ll wonder why you ever bothered with commercial abrasives after discovering the cleaning power of baking soda. In addition scrubbing, it also absorbs odors in the refrigerator, freezer, musty dressers, smelly shoes, and any other location that needs a deodorizer.
Awesome baking soda and vinegar drain opener
If you think you need nasty chemicals to remove the grimy sludge that’s clogging your drain, well think again! The explosive chemical reaction of adding vinegar to baking soda will loosen things up and clear the way. If these instructions for clearing your drain with vinegar and baking soda don’t do the trick on their own, add a little plunging action. It really works!
Lemon juice is also an effective all-natural household cleaning agent and deodorizer. It can be used to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits, shine brass and copper, clean dishes and cooking surfaces, and so much more.
Put a lemon or orange peel through your garbage disposal to dispel lingering odors. And avoid using harmful volatile organic compounds by mixing lemon juice with olive oil in a 1:2 ratio to make a more wholesome homemade furniture polish.
Once you get started making DIY household cleaners out of these inexpensive natural substances, you’ll discover endless possibilities for a healthier, greener, and smarter, home.
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