20 Ways to Reduce Waste in Your Cleaning Routine

With Earth-friendlier materials and packaging, reusable supplies and nontoxic recipes, you can keep your home sparkling clean and reduce your impact on everyone’s home.

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August 28, 2020

Photo By: Andy Vinson

Photo By: Debbie Wolfe

Photo By: Flynnside Out Productions

Photo By: Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

Swap Out Dryer Sheets for Dryer Balls

Wool dryer balls are a one-two punch of sustainable materials and energy efficiency. Deployed in lieu of single-use dryer sheets (which are often loaded with toxic chemicals linked to respiratory and nervous-system distress and made of polyester that’ll stick around forever), they combat static and wrinkles just as effectively and can reduce your drying time by an estimated 10-25 percent per load. Another bonus: These triple-felted balls are upcycled from old wool sweaters. (You can also make your own using a wool sweater or wool yarn.)

Buy It: GodsGreenEarth241 via Etsy, $4

Invest in a Drying Rack

Air drying your clothes instead of loading them into a machine can reduce your home’s carbon footprint by an estimated 2,400 pounds per year. Plus, sunshine is particularly good at disinfecting fabrics (thanks to UV rays) and making them smell fantastic. That said, if you don’t have the space or the inclination to string clotheslines as far as the eye can see, a compact rack like this one will still chip away at your energy use — and it comes in awfully handy when you have just a few items to dry.

Buy It: PBTeen, $59

Dilute a Concentrated Cleaner

If you’re a fan of one-stop shopping, allow us to introduce you to your new bestie: Branch Basics’ plant- and mineral-based Concentrate is fragrance-, VOC- and GMO-free, and it dilutes to create a kid- and pet-friendly "clean" cleaner that can be used for everything from pacifiers and yoga mats to laundry and hardwood floors. One 33-ounce concentrated bottle translates to 12 bottles of cleaner and 64 loads of laundry. (The BPA-free bottle is reusable, too.)

Buy It: Branch Basics, $49

Go for Glass

The gravity-weighted gold pour spout on this recycled-glass dispenser opens on its own and is ideal for everything from fancy olive oils to that concentrated household soap you just purchased (ahem) and need to dilute and decant. Note that natural soaps are most suitable for a vessel and mechanism like these; if you prefer to use commercial dish or hand soap, you might need to thin it down with an equal amount of water.

Buy It: HomeIntoHaven via Etsy, $27

Tap and Reuse Mason Jars

A stainless-steel-and-silicon gadget like this one, in turn, repurposes 8-, 16- and 32-ounce standard Mason jars as multi-use vessels for store-bought and homemade elixirs of all kinds. Speaking of homemade elixirs ...

Buy It: W&P, $6

Create Vinegar-Based Natural Cleansers

... The sky’s the limit when it comes to concocting eco-friendly cleaning solutions at home. One of our perfect-for-fall favorites combines white vinegar, oranges, cinnamon sticks and whole cloves to yield an infusion that’s ideal for degreasing surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom.

Read More: 4 All-Natural Vinegar Cleaners That Smell Good + Work Hard

Buy a Better Spritzer

This spray bottle from Full Circle Home has a glass body, a bamboo neck, a sturdy silicone base and a recycled, BPA-free polypropylene plastic mechanism. Its wide mouth makes it easy to fill with, say, an orange, cinnamon stick and clove degreaser, and its minimalistic aesthetic means it won’t clash with other items on your countertop.

Buy It: The Container Store, $9.99

Re-Cork Wine Bottles

The same inexpensive bar tools that make mixology a breeze will convert empty wine and liquor bottles into easy-pour vessels for household cleaners. Because these hard-working little fellows are designed for use across the food and beverage industry, they can handle a variety of bottle widths and content viscosities: brilliant.

Buy It: Selectobake via Etsy, $8.80 (Pack of 10)

Try One-and-Done Window Washing Cloths

Newspaper printed with petroleum-free, soy-based ink (look for the Soy Ink Seal on your local to know for sure) paired with diluted vinegar is a great alternative to umpteen paper towels for streakless windows — the dense, rigid paper fibers won’t separate and leave lint behind — but it can’t be recycled once it’s dampened. For an even better alternative, try specialized, reusable cloths developed to attract and remove dirt with water alone.

Buy It: E-cloth, $14.99 (Pack of 2)

Dust With Fleece

Traditional, limited-life dusters made with materials like feathers, wool and cotton have a tendency to push allergens around without actually removing them from your home and what they do collect isn’t going anywhere, since they themselves can’t be cleaned. Newer, washable materials like the cotton and bamboo microfiber fleece in a tool like this one, on the other hand, actually get better with use, since the fabric curls into crud-catching tendrils once it’s laundered.

Buy It: Marley's Monsters, $38

Get Sturdier Paper Towels

If you’re not quite ready to give up paper towels completely, make a partial switch with super-absorbent, extra-durable unbleached cotton and cellulose sheets that are designed to last through several rinses and a week’s worth of use. How durable is durable? You can disinfect these babies in the microwave or drop them in the dishwasher for a full cleaning. Once they’ve worn out, add them to your compost pile and reach for new ones.

Buy It: Food52, $32 (Pack of 3)

Use a Dishwashing Block

Ditch bottled dish soap and suds up with this zero-waste, palm oil-free (and vegan!) alternative. One starter bar is the rough equivalent of 12 ounces of liquid, and it adapts beautifully to tasks all over the house (think stain and label removal, spot cleaning the carpet and laundry, wiping down counters ... you get the idea). Its rich lather is also easy on your hands.

Buy It: Dot & Army, $8.98

Skip Steel Wool

These washable scrubbers are easily better looking than a greasy lump of steel wool, but their real beauty is in their functionality. They’re handmade in the U.S. from durable nylon fibers that withstand rigorous cycles in the washing machine once they’ve gotten grubby, and when they do wear out at long last, they’re fully recyclable.

Buy It: Food52, $32 (Pack of 5)

Scrub With Stronger Sponges

Filled with hypoallergenic, mildew-resistant foam made from recycled materials, these pretty machine-washable and -dryable sponges have colorful, 100 percent cotton terry cloth on one side and 100 percent cotton flannel topped with a layer of polyester mesh on the other. That durability is key from both waste- and ick-reduction perspectives. According to one 2017 study, 362 different kinds of bacteria take up residence in household sponges (which need to be cleaned and disinfected regularly and aggressively).

Buy It: Marley's Monsters, $10

Minimize Microplastics

If the aforementioned ick factor in long-lived cleaning supplies gives you pause, consider a vegan, zero-waste alternative made with completely biodegradable natural plant fibers. According to their manufacturer, a three-pack of these sponges will last three to four months — and they work wonderfully with blocks of dishwashing soap. When your sponge is spent, just compost it or bury it in your garden.

Buy It: Mindful Goods, $6 (Pack of 3)

Consider Coconut Bristles...

Coir, or the fibers on the surface of mature, fully ripened coconuts, are one of the sturdiest and most sustainable natural materials used in zero-waste cleaning products — and they won’t scratch delicate surfaces. This long-handled, circular scrubber is ideal for glasses and cups with narrow openings, and it ships from Canada with 100 percent plastic-free, recyclable or biodegradable packaging.

Buy It: PlantishFuture via Etsy, $6.71

...And Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a gentle, effective polishing and cleaning agent for removing crayon marks from walls, buffing scuffs from wooden furniture, freshening up leather and even removing labels from vessels like that Mason jar you’re turning into a soap dispenser.

Watch the Video: How to Clean With Coconut Oil

Unclog Slow Drains With Baking Soda

DIY cleaning-product fans are head over heels for baking-soda-based home solutions, and it’s easy to see why: it’s in most of our refrigerators already, it’s inexpensive and it abrades surfaces gently but effectively. Our favorite Earth-friendly cleaning trick is a kitchen-based variation on science-fair volcanoes of yore. Instead of pouring harsh chemicals down a sluggish drain, add a cup of baking soda, then fizz it up by following it with a cup of heated vinegar. After 10 minutes, flush with hot water.

Read More: Clean Your Entire Home With These 12 All-Natural Baking Soda Solutions

Wash Dishes Au Naturel

Clarification: We’re suggesting plastic-free, nude dishwasher tablets here, not washing your dishes in the nude (though if that’s where you are in your cleaning routine, no judgment). This sleek steel tin arrives at your door with 40 packaging- and toxin-free tablets; invest in it once and cut plastic out of your dishwashing routine once and for all.

Buy It: Blueland, $18

Pick Plant-Based Garbage Bags

Hippo Sak’s first-of-their-kind, plant-based tall kitchen bags are made with sugar cane rather than fossil fuels. Want something a little tougher? The company also collects plastic from the beaches in developing countries and uses it as raw material for their recycled ocean plastic kitchen bags. Find a local retailer here.