You don’t necessarily have to make your own cleaning products to be a greener cleaner. Armed with a little knowledge, you can find packaged cleaners that deliver a green clean without sacrificing convenience and effectiveness. But green cleaning goes beyond your choice of cleaning products. Here are seven everyday best practices for keeping your home green and clean, reducing waste and lessening a negative impact on the environment — all while saving money in the process.
1. Switch from paper towels to microfiber cloths
According to The Energy Co-op, if every American reduced the number of paper towels they use by just one per day, we would divert 571,230,000 pounds of paper waste each year. Reach instead for a washable, reusable microfiber cloth. Microfiber attracts dust, dirt and grime like a magnet. Simply spritz with water and wipe everything from mirrors to countertops for a streak-free, lint-free clean. Microfiber and water alone has also proven effective at removing 99 percent of germs on hard surfaces. Best practice: Wash microfiber cloths in a separate load. Do not use fabric softener, and either air dry or machine dry on the delicate cycle.
2. Wash laundry in cold water
According to the Alliance to Save Energy, about 90 percent of the energy used by your washing machine is used to heat the water. By doing all your laundry in cold water with liquid laundry detergent or detergent packs, you can save up to 75 percent on the cost of running your washer. Bonus: Washing in cold water is gentler on fabrics so your clothes will last longer. Best practice: Use a liquid laundry detergent specifically developed for cold water washing, preferably one that is bio-based.
3. Dispose of electronic waste properly
Recycling electronics means recycling the valuable resources that went into making them including metal, glass and plastic. Many manufacturers offer takeback programs because they can reuse these materials. Alternatively, many communities schedule regular electronics recycling days. If your old laptop, cell phone or television is in working order, you may be able to sell it on eBay. Donating working (and even nonworking) devices to charity is yet another option. Best practice: Reduce waste through reduced consumption. Think twice about upgrading devices that are still in working order.
4. Stop washing dishes by hand
Modern dishwashing machines use about 3 to 5 gallons. Compare that to 27 gallons used by the average person washing dishes by hand. And if you rinse dishes before placing in the dishwasher? Stop that. Rinsing wastes water and energy and it’s not necessary to get dishes clean. Best practice: Don’t pre-rinse dishes, but do scrape food from items before placing in the dishwasher.
5. Don’t overuse cleaning products
Did you know that water dissolves more things than any other solvent? Add a little soap if more cleaning power is needed. A drop of dishwashing liquid in a bucket of warm water can clean a lot of surfaces. When using commercial cleaning products, don’t use more than recommended. If more worked better, the manufacturers would recommend more. Also, allow the product to “sit” on the surface as directed before wiping or rinsing. This gives the product the time it needs to penetrate the soil making it easier to remove. Best practice: Always try cleaning with the most neutral cleaning solution—water—first.
6. Pay attention to packaging.
When purchasing green cleaning products, look for the Green Seal logo, Eco logo or Design for the Environment (DFE), an EPA designation administered by Underwriters Laboratory. Buy in bulk to reduce packaging waste. Or buy concentrated cleaning products (50 to 60 percent less packaging) and mix with water as directed to use in spray bottles. Best practice: Be sure to clearly label spray bottles of cleaning solution and keep even green cleaning products out of reach of children.
7. Use “pantry” cleaners.
Baking soda can be used as a nonabrasive cleaner for kitchen or bath. Just sprinkle it on a wet sponge and then rinse or wipe with a clean wet sponge or towel. Or sprinkle some in a skillet along with water and bring to a boil to remove food cooked to the bottom. Hydrogen peroxide is another safe yet effective cleaner—and sanitizer. It’s actually just water (H2O) with an extra atom of water (H2O2) that turns to water when exposed to air, making it safe for most surfaces. Best practice: Avoid using vinegar to clean; its pH is too low and the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) too high to be considered green. Surprise, surprise.
Donna Smallin Kuper is a productivity expert and IICRC certified cleaning technician. She writes about eco-friendly cleaning tactics, including responsible disposal of electronics for eBay.com.