The producers of cleaning products, like the producers of toiletries and cosmetics, cash in on our unquestioned belief that we need a hundred different products to do the job properly. The Ethical Consumer Research Association says that we spend about £1billion a year in the UK on cleaning products, with supermarket shelves and kitchen cupboards dominated by products from multinational giants. The majority of products are packaged in plastic and put a burden on the environment in many ways (chemicals, palm oil, animal testing, plastic waste). I decided to go back to basics and try a simpler way of cleaning.
I found that most of the time these four basic ingredients suffice: vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and citric acid or lemons. With just these few simple items you can clean, scour, descale and odorise your toilets, bath tubs, tiles, ovens, work surfaces, sinks, windows, shower doors, mirrors and more. They are all available to buy in shops, indoor markets or online – although it took me a while to source bicarbonate of soda in sufficient quantity and packaged in paper bags. The citric acid reacts with the alkaline bicarbonate of soda to produce a satisfying fizz and you should be careful with skin and breathing it in. But all of these ingredients are used in food production too which I find reassuring.
I have replaced plastic sponges and brushes with natural loofahs and coconut fibre scouring pads and I still have many e-cloths from my days before I ‘saw the light’ which will be replaced by cotton cloths over time.
For doing the laundry and for washing the dishes I refill the same plastic bottles at one of three local refill stations for Ecover, Ecoleaf and Bio-D. Refills are cheap and help save on buying new plastic bottles. You could just as easily use glass bottles. For now, I want to make my plastic bottles last for as long as possible before I relegate them to the recycling bin. Bio-D is an independent company that make all their products in the UK from naturally derived or plant-based ingredients. Bio-D is available in every Oxfam shop and also supermarkets and health food shops. If refilling is not an option for you, try switching to washing powder in cardboard boxes or paper bags. I also recommend concentrated organic cleaning products which can be diluted with water and can dramatically reduce the number of plastic bottles you need to buy.
I’d like to encourage you to have look at what is in your cupboard and start switching to a simpler, cheaper and healthier way of cleaning. Start with vinegar and water for your windows and mirrors and see how easy and efficient it is. Oh, and stop buying wet toilet wipes or any kind of wet wipes straight away. They are made of plastic, clog up our sewage systems, cannot be recycled and ultimately end up as microplastic!
More information and where to buy:
- Buying citric acid and bicarb of soda in cardboard boxes: http://www.dri-pak.co.uk/
- Buying basic ingredients for cleaning and cosmetics: http://www.thesoapkitchen.co.uk/
- Info from The Organics Institute about natural cleaning products
- Cleaning with a few basic ingredients: https://www.theguardian.com/chemicalworld/story/0,,1220125,00.html
- About citric acid: http://dailysuperfoodlove.com/3262/citric-acid-cleaning/
- About sodium bicarbonate:
- Ecover store locator (includes some refill stations but not a comprehensive list): https://www.ecover.com/store-locator/
- For info about wet wipes read The Great British Beach Clean 2016 report: http://www.mcsuk.org/downloads/gbbc/2016/GBBC_2016_Report.pdf