Spring Cleaning: How to Tidy Without Plastic and Toxic Chemicals

With the weather warming up in the Northern Hemisphere, many people are now making time for spring cleaning. While often we associate home cleaning supplies with synthetic scrubbers and harsh ingredients packed in plastic packaging, it’s far healthier to clean without the plastic and toxic chemicals.

 Conventional cleaning supplies contain toxic chemicals like ammonia, bleach, phthalates, triclosan, and more, in addition to the thousands of chemicals present in plastics. Some cleaning products also contain or shed plastic particles that pollute the environment and our bodies. Chemicals and plastics found in common cleaning supplies—including some synthetic products labeled “green”—have been connected to a number of serious health issues, including cancer, heart disease, hormone disruption, and respiratory illnesses.

You can avoid harmful chemicals and plastics by incorporating nontoxic and zero-waste principles into your cleaning routine. Luckily, it’s quite easy to do so, with many healthier, plastic-free cleaning options highly accessible, DIY-friendly, and available at an even lower cost than most conventional options.

What to Look For: Nontoxic, Plastic-Free Cleaning Supplies

DIY

When you’re looking for healthier cleaning supplies with just one or two ingredients to make yourself, the first step is to think simply. Look for tried-and-tested cleaning ingredients that do not expose you to toxic chemicals and plastics. These include:  

  • Baking soda, in cardboard — a great all-around cleaner, especially in the kitchen and bathroom
  • Castile soap, in paper or glass — excellent nontoxic soap
  • Citrus peels (lemon or orange) — work well when added to vinegar as a cleaning solution
  • Coffee grounds — useful for abrasive needs, such as scrubbing pans
  • Cornstarch, in cardboard — a great glass cleaner 
  • Essential oils, in glass — adds scent and cleaning properties to vinegar and water solutions
  • Olive oil, in glass — works for stain removal in fabrics
  • Salt, in glass or paper — useful abrasive for tile cleaning 
  • Soap nuts, in paper, glass, or canvas — for washing clothes or dishes without detergents
  • Vinegar (apple cider or white), in glass — a super all-around cleaner, dilute 1:1 with water
  • Vodka, in glass — good for disinfecting and cleaning glass
  • Washing soda, in cardboard — use instead of laundry detergent

Some of these cleaning items can be used on their own or by scrubbing with a little water, like baking soda, while others may be combined, such as vinegar and citrus peels, to maximize cleansing properties. With many of these cleaning items also commonly found in the kitchen, chances are, you have at least some already in your home. If not, you can find many of these items in grocery stores or at your local food pantry. Whenever possible, avoid purchasing cleaning supplies in plastic containers and packaging, and instead try to buy in bulk. 

Find more tips on choosing plastic-free and nontoxic cleaning supplies in our Plastic Pollution Coalition Guides. And find inspiration to kickstart your plastic-free choices, as well as DIY recipes, with the book I Quit Plastics by Plastic Pollution Coalition Notable Member Kate Nelson.

How to Store and Use Cleaning Supplies

There are many plastic-free ways to store and use your cleaning supplies. Reuse glass jam or pickle jars to hold dry or wet items until they are ready to use. For dry items, add a metal or wooden scoop. Glass-and-metal sprayers are a sturdier alternative to the plastic type and useful for spritzing the cleaning liquids on surfaces. Store coffee grounds and citrus rinds in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.

When you’re ready to clean, hop online to learn about the many ways you can use the simple ingredients above to keep your home clean. When you’re ready to dive into your spring cleaning, equip yourself with any mix of the following items:

  • Bamboo and natural bristle toothbrushes for hard-to-scrub areas of your home
  • Coconut fiber, cellulose, and sea sponges
  • Cotton rags, made from old towels or t-shirts
  • Glass-and-metal sprayer
  • Metal bucket
  • Metal dustpan
  • Wooden and natural bristle broom
  • Wooden and natural bristle scrubbers 
  • Wooden string mop

Some of these items can be found in secondhand stores for a reduced price compared to buying them new. 

Ready-made Options

If DIY is not your thing and you’d rather purchase ready-made healthier cleaning products, Plastic Pollution Coalition Business Members offer some excellent options.

Blueland

Blueland strives to minimize waste and make cleaning products that are better for people and the planet. Simply fill the provided refillable spray and pump dispensers with water, drop in Blueland tablets, and start cleaning. And if doing the dishes or laundry, Blueland makes plastic-free washing tablets to pop in your dishwasher and washing machine.

EarthHero

EarthHero provides a wide selection of environmentally friendly products sourced from ethical and eco-friendly businesses, making it a one-stop shop for sustainable living—and cleaning. EarthHero offers all manner of cleaning supplies and equipment suitable for every room of your home.

I’m Plastic Free

I’m Plastic Free is a matchmaking platform you can use to find laundry and household cleaning products without all the plastic. Use I’m Plastic Free’s resources to learn how to swap conventional cleaning products for healthier plastic-free choices.

Life Without Plastic

Life Without Plastic offers reusable, nontoxic alternatives to everyday items that are so often made of plastic. In the cleaning category, you can find a selection of glass and bamboo storage jars, glass and metal soap dispensers, bamboo scrubbers, and more.

Meliora Cleaning Products

Meliora Cleaning Products is committed to offering eco-friendly laundry powder and other healthy cleaning products for homes, without any plastic. The company uses safe, non-toxic ingredients and packages their products in plastic-free reusable, recyclable, and compostable materials.

PlanetCare 

PlanetCare makes laundry machine filters designed to trap microplastics that shed from synthetic fabrics when they are being washed, keeping them out of water treatment systems. Unless your wardrobe and bedding are plastic-free and made completely from natural fibers, unfortunately, your washing machine is still creating microplastics with every wash. With each wash, a single fleece jacket is estimated to shed at least 250,000 individual synthetic plastic fibers into wash water, which is either discharged directly into your home septic system or into a sewer. Choosing clothing made of natural fibers like bamboo, hemp, organic cotton, or linen will best prevent the release of microplastics when washing laundry.

Refill and Zero-Waste Shops

Refill and zero-waste shops are another excellent place to find healthier, plastic-free cleaning supplies. And chances are, there’s at least one such shop near you! PPC Member Ecorate keeps a database of shops offering bulk refills of personal care and cleaning supplies with the aim of assisting users in reducing waste. PPC Member Plastic Free Future also maintains a platform listing a wide selection of zero-waste and refill shops.

Beware of False “Greenwashed” Solutions

As with most categories of stuff, if you look closely at the available selection of cleaning products available today, you’ll find greenwashed options among real solutions. If you’re looking to purchase cleaning products, check the ingredients lists to avoid plastics and toxic chemicals. This means avoiding microplastics, PEG (polyethylene glycol), phthalates, and PVA or PVOH (polyvinyl alcohol), as well as ammonia, chlorine and chlorinated chemicals, phenols, phosphates, SEA, SLS, SLES, TEA, triclosan and triclocarban. 

While polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) is frequently praised as a “degradable” plastic, in reality it does not live up to its eco-friendly reputation. PVA poses a number of environmental and health risks that call into question its status as an ecological solution, despite its claimed degradability.

Take Action

Choosing healthier, plastic-free cleaning products is a great way to further eliminate toxic plastic and chemicals from your life. You can also help by supporting real solutions in your community—and on an even larger scale. 

Support policy actions, like the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act in the U.S., and a strong global UN Plastics Treaty, to create the systemic change necessary to seriously reduce plastic pollution at the source. Sign the petitions below.

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