There’s nothing quite like that feeling of walking into a clean house (especially if it’s your own!).
No dog hair, no mould, no accidents on the toilet floor (that one’s for the parents — mostly), windows you can see through, and screen doors that don’t leave you with black smudges if you brush up against them. Heaven, right?
Problem is, sometimes the stuff we use to get our homes gorgeously shiny can damage our natural environment.
But there are some easy ways to make your cleaning greener, and maybe even cheaper and simpler as well.
Lindsay Miles first took a look at the bottles of cleaning product in her home in 2012, when she began a challenge to go plastic-free at home.
Perth author Krissy Ballinger also took a hard look at the products she was using around the house. Five years ago she decided to replace them with more natural ingredients and has since published a recipe book of what she uses instead.
She says it’s possible to get a similar result to cleaning with ‘off the shelf’ products using more environmentally-friendly ingredients.
Don’t underestimate water
The first thing to think about if you’re going green in your cleaning is just how clean you want your house to be.
“I think we need to step back and say that we don’t need to kill all the germs,” Krissy says.
“We don’t need to disinfect our homes — just simple hot water will do the job often. I often just wash my dishes in hot water.”
“I studied biochemistry. When you look at the science, just literal, physical wiping will get rid of most stuff,” she says.
Keep it simple
Krissy says just a few ingredients will get you started if you want to try making your own cleaning products at home.
These include soapberries [the dried fruit of the Sapindus mukorossi tree], castile soap [made entirely from vegetable oil], bicarbonate of soda [bicarb], natural borax, washing soda, salt and citric acid.
“My favourite surface cleaner is a recipe which I use for everything — benches, grubby walls, spot-cleaning the floor — is a citrus vinegar spray.
“I peel an orange for the kids and keep the peels, throw it in a jar and top it with some white vinegar then pop it in the pantry, just in a dark place for a couple of weeks to let the peels really steep in the vinegar and then strain it.
“Then I put it in a spray bottle and that is it.”
Lindsay keeps it even simpler — at home she uses only vinegar, bicarb and some soap.
“Vinegar and bicarb do most things,” she says.
“Vinegar is acidic which denatures bacteria. Bicarb is really good as an exfoliant, it’s like a fine scrubber.”
Don’t assume natural means safer for you
While many natural products might be better for the environment than commercial products, poisons expert Genevieve Adamo, from the NSW Poisons Information Centre, warns it doesn’t mean they are necessarily safer for you or your family.
“There is a misconception that something is going to be different simply because it comes for a plant source or from a company that is not a multinational,” she says.
Ms Adamo says anything is poisonous in large enough amounts, and some natural products can be extremely dangerous in small amounts too.
“Borax powder or boracic acid powder has the potential to be quite dangerous in small amounts to children,” she says.
So even if you go more natural, Ms Adamo recommends keeping your products (homemade or otherwise) in a locked cupboard out of reach of children and separate from medicines.
And do your research about which products you can and can’t mix.
“Particularly [avoid] mixing any product containing bleach with any product containing ammonia (which includes vinegar or citric acid) as this releases gasses that are far more toxic to lungs than the fumes of the cleaners on their own.”
Ms Adamo says if anyone does get exposed to anything (natural or conventional) they should call the 24-hour national Poisons Information Centre number on 13 11 26.
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If the thought of getting rid of the entire contents of that cupboard under the sink is a bit overwhelming, but you want to cut down on chemicals, then just pick one thing to start with, Krissy suggests.
“Find one product that you would like to swap out and tackle that first,” she says.
“Often if it’s occurred to you to make the switch to eco, there’s a reason why.
“Is it because when you clean your shower with the spray that does the job, you don’t feel so great using it? Or is it because you read something about washing powders and what it’s washing down the waterways?
“That’s a great place to start and eventually it just kind of [becomes] normal.”
Sustainable at the supermarket
If you’re still after the convenience of a premade product, then do some research and don’t fall for the marketing hype.
“When you see products that are labelled eco-friendly, I notice a lot of companies now will make beautiful looking bottles and they’ll use words like ‘eco’ or ‘earth’ and it holds no weight,” Krissy says.
“I would always say avoid fragrance where possible because [companies don’t] need to tell you what is in a particular fragrance, whether it be in a cleaning spray or washing powder.
“A good idea is to check these products online and just see what they’re telling you. And if they’re not telling you anything, that’s a huge red flag for me so stay away.”
You might even save some money
“I guess that’s what I think about cleaning products — they are waste of money,” Lindsay says.
“Vinegar is $2.50 a litre, white vinegar. Bicarb is $8 a kilo at the bulk store. Soap is not expensive. That’s pretty much it, job done.”