With the world in a state of climate crisis, many of us are more conscious than ever of the impact our daily choices make on the environment.
One big concern is over plastic pollution, as it’s become clear the earth can’t cope with the amount of non-biodegradable waste we’re creating.
Statistics offer us some idea of how rapidly the issue is worsening. A University of California study concluded the world has made as much plastic in the past 13 years as it did in the previous half-century, and research by the Ellen McArthur foundation suggests that by the year 2050, the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish.
There are lots of simple swaps we can all make to cut out plastic from our daily lives, from always carrying a bag for life, saying no to plastic straws and opting for loose leaf tea.
Many of these swaps can be made in relation to cleaning, as often natural, homemade solutions are very effective in removing stains and odours and don’t require plastic packaging.
We spoke to experts for their best advice when it comes to plastic-free cleaning, here’s what they said:
1. Keep your home minimalist
“Having regular declutters (trying to re-home things you no longer need) helps because it is easier to keep a more minimalist living space clean – this is most true in the bathroom,” advises Amanda Keetley, founder of Less Plastic.
“Also once you start enjoying the extra space and simplicity of having less stuff, you will stop buying unnecessary products and accessories.”
2. Bicarbonate of soda is a powerful natural deodoriser
“It’s great for removing odours from fridges, carpets and upholstery,” says Verity Mann, Head of Testing at the Good Housekeeping Institute.
“For fridges, place a shallow bowl of bicarbonate of soda on one of the shelves. For soft furnishings, sprinkle onto the area and leave for a few hours then, suction up using the appropriate nozzle on your vacuum cleaner.
“A scouring paste made from half bicarbonate of soda and half water is also great at removing stains from worktops, sinks, cookers and saucepans.”
Best of all, bicarbonate of soda can be bought and stored in cardboard boxes – no plastic necessary.
3. Distilled white vinegar makes a great alternative to window cleaner
Verity suggests using distilled white vinegar to clean windows and leave them sparkling.
“Vinegar is also good for removing lime scale on kettles – just fill the kettle with a solution of one-part water to one-part white vinegar and leave overnight. In the morning, the lime scale will come off easily – but remember to rinse thoroughly to remove odours. You can do the same with shower heads,” Verity adds.
“A solution of water and vinegar is also good for keeping lime scale at bay on taps, tiles, basins and baths,” says Verity. “Much like bicarbonate of soda, a cup of vinegar can absorb odours – its vinegary smell will fade over time.
Buying vinegar in glass bottles and using it in the above ways can alleviate the need for buying numerous products that normally come in plastic packaging.
4. Opt for natural and reusable cotton cloths
“Opt for natural, reusable and washable cotton cloths or flannels for washing up and cleaning rather than disposable cleaning cloths,” Amanda suggests.
“It helps to have a colour code system so you know what is used in different rooms or for different levels of cleaning (to prevent toilet cleaning cloths being mixed up with dish cleaning cloths), or different pots (eg old ice cream tubs) labelled up for you to know which cloth is used for what.
“You can also repurpose old T-shirts and other items of clothing that would otherwise be thrown away into cleaning cloths,” she advises.
5. Be aware of Microfibres in clothes
“A lot of our plastic pollution that goes into the sea comes from microfibres – the small fibres that wash out of our clothes, whether that’s our polyester underwear or our fleece tops,” Julian Kirby, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth told us.
He recommends purchasing a product like this one called the Guppyfriend which can go into your washing machine and trap microfibres to prevent them from getting into seawater.
“Ultimately we need to have clothes that don’t shed pollution into the sea but in the short time getting something like a Guppyfriend is a great thing you can do on a personal level,” Julian advises.
6. Lemon juice is a must-have
“Citrus juice is a natural bleaching agent. Use it to remove stains from chopping boards by rubbing with fresh lemon (or the bottled stuff) and leave overnight. It’s also effective at removing rust stains and half a capful into your wash-load will brighten whites,” Verity of the Good Housekeeping Institute told us.
7. Try a natural loofah scrubber
“Natural Loofah Scrubbers are completely biodegradable, and can be used for anything from scrubbing pots and pans, to cleaning grimy bathrooms – although you will obviously want separate ones for each job,” says Amanda of Less Plastic.
“Once you’ve finished with them they can safely go in the compost – they’re so much more eco-friendly than cloths and scrubbers made from microfibres and plastic.”
8. Ditch the detergent bottles
“There are lots of recipes online for making your own zero waste washing up liquid or laundry powder or liquid. If you are feeling creative, by all means give some of these a try,” Amanda says.
“For those more pressed for time, you may find it easier to search for your nearest health food store that offers refills of Ecover or Method (eco-friendly brands) to reduce plastic packaging use.
“There is also a new innovative company called Splosh that sends highly concentrated liquid in returnable and reusable plastic pouches. This means the pouches last a lot longer, as you add water at home (following instruction) but also you never have to throw them away as you simply return them in the cardboard box envelopes provided,” Amanda adds.
9. Make your dishwasher eco-friendly
“There are lots of zero waste recipes online if you have the time and creativity to try them out,” Amanda advises.
“If you are after eco-friendly products, Ecoleaf offer eco-friendly dishwasher tablets with a soluble wrapper, made from plant derived ingredients that are biodegradable and non-hazardous. They come in a cardboard box.”
Five top tips for plastic-free cleaning
1. Keeping your home decor minimalistic will make you less inclined to buy lots of products you don’t really need.
2. Bicarbonate of soda, distilled white vinegar and lemon juice make great natural alternatives to shop-bought products that come in plastic packaging.
3. Try reusable cleaning cloths instead of disposable ones. You can even repurpose an old t shirt as a cleaning cloth.
4. Use a refill station to top up the same plastic bottles with washing up detergent, rather than buying new bottles every time you need more.
5. Look for biodegradable dishwater tablets that are soluble in water.