Last week I wrote a blog post about the impact our cleaning routines, full of synthetic chemicals, have on the planet and also our health. This time I would like to focus on ingredients and alternatives.
I personally think this can’t be an all-or-nothing approach simply because again this is a journey, an opportunity to explore something different, an invitation to change. So remember, it is about keeping your mind open to new possibilities and be willing to try.
The word natural these days is over-used. It is very easy to go to any supermarket and grab a product with the word “natural” in the label only because out of 15 synthetic chemicals, one of them is eucalyptus oil.
Natural ingredients are those you can usually read and understand like olive oil, baking soda, vinegar, lemon – except that sometimes they use botanical names to describe certain ingredients.
I love these ingredients because they are simple. Most of them are safe and they don’t harm the environment. I also like the fact that some ingredients most people already use them around the house, so when making the switch they don’t need to add many stuff to their cabinets.
These are some common ingredients I use on regular basis and some of its uses:
- White Vinegar: All purpose cleaner, clothes softener, toilet cleaner, disinfectant, glass cleaner, grease cutter.
- Lemon: Stain remover, fabric whitener, disinfectant.
- Bi-carb or baking soda: shower/oven scrub, sink polisher, deodorise carpets, dish washer
- Castile Soap: liquid dish washer, all purpose cleaner
- Salt: cast-iron cookware cleaner, scourer
- Eucalyptus oil: Floor cleaner, multi-purpose cleaner, air freshener.
Natural Cleaning Ingredients
My favourite without a doubt is White Vinegar. If you are concerned about germs and bacteria, this great article from ABC news is a must-read and it highlights:
“When US researchers tested commercial cleaning products against alternatives like vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, they discovered that neat vinegar killed a range of household pathogens. Science also tells us, for example, that vinegar will kill off the flu virus.”
Cleaning with natural ingredients has great benefits:
Better for our health
Most of these natural ingredients have been used forever and we even consume some of them. If I am using ingredients that I can find in my kitchen, I know they are safe – I don’t need studies to confirm that.
Also if I decide to buy some commercial products that use natural ingredients, they will probably be a safer alternative to conventional cleaning products.
Better for the environment
When we clean with natural ingredients/products we are protecting the planet as these substances are biodegradable, naturally derived and especially non-toxic. This helps reducing air pollution, water pollution and even plastic packaging (especially if you don’t use many commercial products).
As I mentioned above, most of these ingredients are already in your kitchen and it is easier to keep buying a couple of these basic ingredients than a dozen of cleaning products to do exactly the same thing. For instance White Vinegar can substitute these 5 products: all-purpose cleaner, clothes softener, toilet cleaner, disinfectant and glass cleaner.
If you replace some of your products with some of these ingredients, I guarantee you’ll save money. Let’s do an exercise.
Let’s assume I buy these basic products every 3 months roughly. I am using average prices from common brands in regular supermarkets:
- Shower cleaner: $5
- Glass cleaner: $3
- Bleach: $2
- Toilet cleaner: $4
- Disinfectant for surfaces: $3
- Floor cleaner: $4
- Dish washer liquid: $3
- Oven cleaner: $3
Total: 27 * 4 times a year = $108 per year.
- Baking Soda 1 kg: $3
- Vinegar 2 lts: $1.5
- Lemons: $0.5 each
- Salt 1 kg: $1.5
- Eucalyptus Oil 200 ml: $10
- Castile soap 1 lt: $15 (this one you can’t find it in the supermarket. This is the price I buy it in bulk, but you can find it way more expensive in health shops)
Some of these ingredients like Baking Soda and Vinegar you’ll use often so let’s say you buy those two every 2 months: $27. The rest of the ingredients in this list last long time (except for the lemons), depending on your personal cleaning habits and how you use these, let’s s say you buy them once a year: $27
These give us a total of $54. Add some lemons here and there and let’s say you spend $60 per year. That’s better than $100+.
These are supermarket prices, I buy vinegar, salt and baking soda in bulk and they are usually cheaper. Also refilling your containers is a great way to fight plastic pollution.
I know it is hard to get a realistic estimation, but I invite you to do your own exercise based on the products you use and the frequency you buy them.
Tips to make the switch
I understand stop using these products we have been using our entire lives is daunting and it can be overwhelming. I know it first hand because I went through that process several years ago and gosh, so many questions and doubts. However, all you need is making the decision and start taking action, one change at at time.
Based on my personal experience these are few things to consider:
1. Finish the products you already have
This I talk from personal experience, I didn’t do that. I started my journey, I kept learning about how bad many of these chemicals were and I never used them again. I actually still have some of those bottles because I put them in the garage and I forgot about them. Today after so many years away from those products I can’t even stand the odour – it is amazing how the smell sense changes.
If you have been using conventional cleaning products for long time, it won’t make a huge difference if you use it for another month or two. Trust me, later you won’t want to go back. Alternatively if you don’t want to keep using them, give them away to someone who otherwise would be buying those products anyway. Remember there are resources in those bottles.
2. Pick one product and start experimenting
Select one product you’ll need to buy soon to start with. Try natural ingredients as the ones described above to replace that particular product, there are literally thousands of recipes online to make your own natural products. I’ll start sharing some I use.
As usual one change at a time is all you need to start moving towards the right direction. Experiment with a recipe, if you are not happy with the result, smell, texture, keep trying. In my experience, for most of the products it was an easy transition once I decided to make my own.
3. Natural ingredients work differently
When I changed to natural options, one of the things that I had trouble to accept at first is the fact that these ingredients are not as harsh and quick as the other synthetic chemicals.
For instance, if you add bleach to any stained or dirty surface, in seconds the chemicals will dissolve it, you don’t need to do anything. However, if I do the same thing with white vinegar, that wouldn’t necessarily be the result, you’ll need to rub the surface to get a similar outcome.
This is important to understand because some people say it doesn’t work just because their expectations are based on these commercial products they have been using for long time.
Look at your cabinets and assess what you really need. Simplification is always the best approach. If you have special cleaners for general surfaces, kitchen and bathroom, probably you can replace all those with one multi-purpose cleaner.
The more you simplify the easiest to make the switch!
5. Buy healthier natural products
If using natural ingredients to make your own products is too daunting right now, that’s ok, instead of buying the same product you have been using, start by looking at more natural products.
This was actually my initial approach several years ago. I started buying some eco-friendly cleaning products, however, at that time I didn’t know a lot ingredients and I didn’t really read labels, therefore I bought anything that said natural/green/eco-friendly and I must say it wasn’t a good strategy.
As I kept learning I realised that those products were not as good as the label said. Of course they were way better than the conventional products I was using, but not that great, still a lot of synthetic ingredients.
Look for ingredients you can actually understand, if you grab a cleaning product, read the labels and see ingredients like propylene glycol, hexoxyethanol or sodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate, then you know that’s not what you are looking for.
Supermarkets these days offer some brands that are more natural but you’ll probably find a better selection in a health or bulk shop. Also try to look for other positive things in these products like: palm-oil free and recycled plastic packaging.
I remember I tried these eco- friendly products for some months and then I felt ready to start experimenting with just natural ingredients and slowly stopped buying majority of them. I still buy dishwasher powder and detergent but I buy them in bulk. I am still to find a good and easy recipe for those products.
“Unless we change our reproduction and consumption habits, our planet will conclusively neither be able to provide the resources needed to sustain human expansion nor absorb its waste” – Bea Johnson
Well, that’s it for today. Remember it is about making better choices, evaluating alternatives and progressively switch to better options for us and our planet. Please share this info with your family and friends and let me know in the comments below: How do you clean your house? Have you ever tried natural ingredients to clean?
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