I’m already looking ahead to spring cleaning. Yeah, we’re a barrel full of fun at our house.
And over the past few years I’ve been looking into ways to not just literally clean each room, but make them more environmentally friendly, as well.
It started when our kids were younger because they both would get horrible eczema. I started switching to milder soaps and detergents, getting rid of air fresheners, trying out natural cleaning products . . . you name it, just to see if it would help their skin. They are doing much better now, and though I’m not quite sure what combination of changes did the trick, I’m happy to share some of my health-friendly/eco-friendly changes with you.
Let’s start in the kitchen, because who doesn’t love that room?
I wanted to try out a natural dishwasher detergent, so I started using detergent pods without harsh chemicals. I get mine from Cleancult. They’re mainly made of glycerin, salt, sodium citrate, soda ash, and plant extracts, and they work just fine. The packaging is all recyclable and you can reorder more as often as you choose. I get my refills every two months.
They offer liquid dish soap, too, that comes in cardboard milk cartons and that you can pour into a reusable glass pump. It’s made with coconut oil (a great overall cleanser) and other essential oils. I’ve noticed that the “natural” soaps don’t get as bubbly or foamy in water, but they still do the trick.
As far as energy efficiency, it’s better to run a full dishwasher load than to regularly wash dishes by hand with the hot water cranked up. (I checked a lot of websites to confirm this—please feel free to do so as well!) I usually wash a batch of our non-dishwasher-safe items about once a week. I wash it all in a bin of hot water first, with the faucet turned off; then rinse everything in cold water all at the same time, to avoid turning the water on and off, on and off.
Note: As to the age-old question of whether or not to rinse your dishes before loading them in the dishwasher, most experts today say no. Scrape excess food into the trash, then toss the plate in the dishwasher. Most dishwasher models today will handle the tough dirt for you.
Paper towels, napkins, disposable cleaning pads . . . not eco friendly. (Though admittedly soooo convenient!) Fortunately there are tons of reusable cleaning cloths and kitchen wipes on the market. Or you can get recycled paper products or bamboo towels. Or you can cut up old t-shirts to make your own.
I also recommend a biodegradable sponge for all of your cleaning needs. Check out these compostable beauties from etee.
And, skip the paper plates. I still use my mom’s Corelle dishes from the ‘70s (you know, the white ones with the tiny green flowers all around the border?).
OK, so if you’re being energy conscious, first try checking that your fridge is set to the “optimum” temperature, which is right about 37 degrees. Depending on your model of fridge this can be hard to assess just by using the dial on the unit, so you may want to stick a thermometer inside to be sure it’s right.
What you put in the fridge is also important. You can check out my two-part blog post on reducing waste on supermarket purchases here.
Next, food storage. If possible I like to chop up fresh veggies and store them in an accessible container so the kids can grab and go. If you’re trying to get away from plastic food wrap and disposable containers, you can switch over to glass jars, stainless steel containers, or use beeswax wraps to cover the tops of bowls and casserole dishes. Wrapping up fruit may also help it last longer.
Most importantly, just try to eat the food before it goes bad. Up to 40 percent of the food bought in the U. S. doesn’t get eaten. Wild, right? According to Forbes, this results in $172 billion in wasted water each year, $220 billion for growing, transporting, and processing that food, and it fills up 21 percent of available landfill space.
I’ve actually found that staying home during the COVID pandemic is rather helpful as far as reducing our food waste, because while shopping online I can order exactly what I need for each recipe, and avoid impulse buys at the store. One thing a lot of folks do is to cook big batches of food (pasta sauce, soup) and freeze it for later; those types of dishes still taste good when defrosted, long after the fact.
Another trick is to add an “Eat Me Now” section in your fridge to be sure your family eats everything in that section first before it goes bad. If you do backyard composting, be sure all possible food scraps make it into your bin. (You can check out my blog post on composting here).
Using a typical American oven is a tricky eco proposition, as they’re either going to use electricity or natural gas, both of which derive from fossil fuels. I’m not saying you should get rid of it, but other small kitchen appliances are way more energy efficient (and I like using them better—mostly because they’re faster). Pressure cookers and crock pots take way less time to heat and stay warm longer and/or cook the food faster. Microwaves and toaster ovens are also handy for smaller meals.
When using the old-school oven, try to cook multiple things at once; and when heating water on the stovetop, cover the pot with a lid to keep the heat contained and bring it to a boil faster.
Last but not least. When tidying up your work space, you don’t have to use tons of chemicals, or cleaners that only come in plastic bottles. Many companies now offer refillable options for their cleansers, or you can make your own. Grandma’s handy old vinegar + baking soda paste is still great to wipe down your surfaces.
If you need a more heavy-hitting disinfectant, you can make an alternative to bleach using 3% hydrogen peroxide from the drug store. Fill a spray bottle with 50/50 hydrogen peroxide and water. Spray it onto surfaces to disinfect (you can add a vinegar spray on top, as well).
I also recommend setting up a little “recycling station” on part of your counter if you can. Have your family help with rinsing and cleaning out recyclable jars, bottles, cans, and jugs, and leave them to dry on your station before tossing them in the recycling bin. It helps to remind me of what’s recyclable and what’s not, and also ensures they don’t accidentally get tossed into the wrong bin. (I really should get different trash cans, instead of the identical trash and recycling cans we’re currently using.)
I think that’s plenty of food for thought for now! Join me in the coming months as I explore how to “green up” your bathroom and your laundry room. (Exciting stuff!)