After having spent the week furiously and continuously cleaning after our bedroom and wardrobe went mouldy last weekend (oh, and having to deal with the fact that someone stole our credit card details to play online poker too), I am starting to feel like my stress levels are back to normal, life can continue on and the flat is now gleaming.
So I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some of the green cleaning tips I’ve picked up in the last week. It’s really easy when we are faced with emergencies like that to chuck all our green intentions out the window and head to the shops to buy the biggest plastic bottle of toxic bleach that we can find. But it doesn’t need to be this way – natural products work better, are safer, don’t give off noxious fumes and don’t harm the environment.
This is a guide to all the basic green cleaning products you need to keep your home clean and chemical free.
Green Cleaning – the Basics
The two key ingredients for green cleaning are white vinegar and sodium bicarbonate (bicarb soda).
Vinegar doesn’t go off, is non-toxic, biodegradeble and cheap. It is acidic (the stuff you can buy from the supermarkets is around 5% acetic acid) and this helps kill nasties. We bought our original bottle from the supermarket, but we refill it at a bulk buy store we found in Fremantle who sell 10% vinegar to save on packaging and waste.
Sodium bicarbonate is an abrasive that wears away stains. According to How Stuff Works, it also reacts with grease to form glycerol, which is the cleaning ingredient found in soap. When bicarb soda is mixed with vinegar it forms carbonic acid, which makes the vinegar more corrosive and enhances its cleaning ability. As an alkali, it’s also good at neutralising odours.
Vinegar and bicarb soda are great at keeping things clean, but sometimes we need a little extra help. There are two essential oils that are cheap, commonly available and great for dealing with mould and other microbes: clove oil and tea tree oil.
Both have antimicrobial properties. Clove oil is an excellent anti-fungal and great for using to clean bathrooms. The WA Public Health factsheet on mould recommends using tea tree oil as a way to kill the mould spores.
How to use: add 1 tsp oil to one cup of water, and wear gloves. You can either use in a spray bottle, shaking well before use, and then wipe with a cloth, or use a bowl, immersing and wringing a cloth out multiple times in the solution to ensure it mixes.
If you’re not using harsh chemicals, you will need to put in a bit of muscle yourself! The extra effort is definitely worth it for not inhaling toxic chemicals and carcinogens, and not releasing dangerous chemicals into our water supplies.
Re-use What You Can
Where possible, it’s always best to re-use or re-purpose where you can rather than buying new. We have two old spray bottles that originally had toiletries in them which we now use for cleaning purposes. We also saved some old toothbrushes (from back in the days when we used plastic ones) to use for cleaning grouting and other tricky spots.
Keep Packaging to a Minimum
We needed to buy a few things, so we made sure we chose products that were as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible. We needed some cloths and bought some biodegradable cleaning cloths. They are plastic free and made with natural fibres. However, they are still single-use and if it hadn’t been an emergency we would have found a different solution. Having been through our wardrobe, we identified a few things that were definitely beyond repair and will cut these up to use as rags so we don’t need to buy any more.
Support Ethical Companies
One thing we needed was a scrubbing brush. I wanted to buy a wooden one with natural fibres but the only wooden ones available were unidentifiable wood coated in varnish. Instead I opted to buy a plastic brush by Full Circle. They are a great company that design products that are sustainable and made from renewable resources.
The brush I bought is made with post-industrial and post-consumer recycled plastic and bamboo, and has a hollow design to keep plastic to a minimum. Despite it being plastic, I feel it is better to support a company with such great intentions.
The star purchase has to be the gloves I bought, made from fairly-traded natural rubber sourced from FSC-certified forests, manufactured by a company called If You Care. They are plastic free, and even the box is made from FSC-certified recycled paper with biodegradable inks. I love it when I find companies like this.
Rags and general purpose cloths are great for general dirt and grime, but microfibre cloths are useful for specific tasks. They are made up of very small fibres (microfibres – hence the name) and have far far more than a standard cloth. This means they are far better at picking up dirt. They are also super-absorbent and quick-drying, which helps prevent microbes growing on the cloth and makes them more hygienic. Want to know more? Check out this site for more information. They’re not cheap, but they last for a very long time, and for jobs like removing mould spores, they are far superior to general rags.
And that’s it! There’s no need for separate cleaners for the kitchen, the bathroom, this type of surface, that type of surface. There’s no need to waste money on expensive harmful products, either. None of this stuff is new, either. It’s what our grandmothers used to use before chemical companies and advertisers realised there was money to be made in producing 3000 different products and scaring people into using them. Another great example of nanna-technology : )