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How to Remove Your Dirt (and Your Carbon) Footprint this Spring

In a lot of ways, it is easy to be green. Making small, sustainable choices and changes in your daily life can make an impact on both your health and your surroundings. Spring cleaning is something on most everyone’s to-do list and a great example of how easy it is being green. In fact, by incorporating environmentally-friendly products into your spring cleaning, you can save money, spare yourself from toxic chemicals, and reduce both your literal and metaphorical footprint. Below, you’ll find a range of eco-friendly cleaning methods—from DIY cleaning products to chemicals you’ll want to avoid.

Need to Replace that Multi-Surface Cleaner? Think Again

The chemicals contained in cleaning products negatively impact both global and personal health. The bad news is these ingredients are found in many commercial products. The good news is that it’s easy to check product labels and there are almost always better alternatives available on the shelves. Here is a list of chemicals to avoid:

Ammonium Chloride—This chemical is most commonly found in toilet bowl cleaner and deodorizers. However, it is known to be corrosive to the eyes and to produce irritation of the skin and respiratory tract.

Petroleum Solvents—This ingredient will generally be listed as a “surfactant” in the ingredients list. These chemicals are toxic to animals, ecosystems, and humans. Though there are restrictions in place to limit this chemical’s use, it is still in many household cleaners.

Phosphates—Most often found in laundry and dish detergents, these are harmful to aquatic life. Though you may not live close to a body of water, the factories in which these products are made are known to improperly dispose of waste. This creates toxic pollution in the water, which affects both animals and humans.

2-Butoxyethanol—Found often in window and glass cleaners, this chemical causes sore throats when inhaled, and high levels can contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage. Additionally, the FDA does not require 2-butoxyethanol to be listed on a product’s label.

Why it Matters

These common chemicals are not only harmful to humans, but they severely damage the environment. Though you may only have contact with the chemical for limited periods of time, and in limited capacities, flushing these down the drain, throwing them in the garbage, and dumping them outside can negatively impact wildlife and ecosystems, including the local water supply.

Moreover, it’s not just the individual bottle of cleaner that you have to consider. Manufacturers of these products have a reputation for improperly disposing of hazardous materials. Luckily, many affordable, commercial products do not include these harmful chemicals. Below, you’ll find a range of safe alternatives, as well as cheap, DIY options.

What to Look for in Commercial Cleaners

When shopping for safe cleaning products, be on the lookout for two labels: biodegradable and non-toxic. Biodegradable materials are able to be decomposed by bacteria and other living organisms. Put simply, this means that your cleaning products are easily broken down and will not cause harm after use. Using biodegradable products helps reduce pollution and minimizes individual impact on ozone depletion and global climate change. It also helps to look for products with recyclable packaging, which helps to minimize waste.

“Non-toxic” means exactly what you think—it’s not poisonous. This might sound like a no-brainer, but unless your cleaning product explicitly states that it’s “non-toxic,” you could risk introducing yourself and the environment to harmful materials. Though these cleaners are deadly for germs, they can also make you sick.

“Natural” and “eco-friendly” marketing labels can help make these items easier to spot. Unfortunately, some manufacturers and some labels can be misleading, and there is no widely accepted standard for these terms. Instead, we recommend looking at the ingredients list. But we’ve also assembled a list of brands and products that pass the grade:

You can find additional green alternatives here.

Looking to Go Greener? DIY Cleaners and Limitations

For the cheapest and most environmentally-friendly cleaning method, don’t rush to your local grocery store. Instead, check your kitchen. Most cleaning products work with some combination of bases and acids, and there are two staples that have been used for cleaning for countless generations—baking soda and vinegar. Now, to be fair, you can’t—or at least shouldn’t—use these items to clean everything in your house, but that still leaves plenty of things it can be used for:

Toilets—To clean, pour half a cup of baking soda and 10 drops of tea tree essential oil into the toilet. Let this sit for a few seconds, then pour a quarter cup of vinegar into the bowl. Scrub as the mixture begins to fizz.

Bathtub—Pour white vinegar into an empty spray bottle, then use this to spray the tub and/or (non-tile) walls of your shower. Let the vinegar sit for 30 minutes, then rinse with warm water. Tile walls need a non-acid cleaner for the stone and tile grout. 

Non-Stone Countertops—Combine equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle, then spritz all over the counters. If your counters are made of marble, granite, or stone, replace the vinegar with rubbing alcohol or thoroughly distilled vodka—the vinegar’s acidity is bad for stone surfaces.

Cutting boards—If your cutting board has stains or leftover food, all you need is a lemon and some salt. Cut a lemon in half, sprinkle coarse salt over the board, run the lemon over the surface. Let this sit for 10 minutes, then rinse.

Oven—Combine equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Then, heat oven to 125 degrees and spray with the mixture. Pour salt onto the dirtiest area. Turn the oven off, let it cool, and use a wet towel to scrub away the mess. (Compare this to the warning-filled guide that comes with most ovens’ self-cleaning option.)

Microwave—Microwave vinegar and lemon juice for two minutes (be sure to use a microwave-safe bowl). When it’s finished microwaving, leave the door closed for another three minutes. Then, wipe down all sides with a cloth or sponge.

Refrigerator—Add half a cup of baking soda to a bucket of hot water. Dip a clean rag into the mixture and use it to wipe down the refrigerator’s inside walls and drawers.

Windows and mirrors—Combine one part white vinegar with four parts water in a spray bottle. Use this as you would commercial glass cleaner, then use a sponge or rag to scrub away.

Going Green in Spring

If baking soda and vinegar are so awesome, why doesn’t everybody use them? Well, aside from the fact that you have to find an alternate solution for certain areas of the home, the biggest reason is the smell. One way to combat this is with eco-friendly deodorizers and fragrance. But in spring and fall, you’ll also have the added benefit of being able to open your windows and doors. In summer and winter, when you’re running the heat or air conditioning, keeping your home energy efficient may be just as important. Regardless, the “sacrifice” involved with eco-friendly spring cleaning is often as small and as simple as burning your favorite scented candle.

With this in mind, your products aren’t the only way to make spring cleaning environmentally-friendly. The process not only involves disinfecting and ridding your home of grime built up over the winter months; it also includes decluttering. What you do with your stuff matters, especially if you’re looking to create more space in your home. If you find yourself sorting through piles of clothes, useless belongings, and old junk, let us explain the dangers of an all-or-nothing approach to your spring cleaning.