“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” — Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
Did you know you can sustainably kill pesky weeds, make yummy garden pickles, brighten your whites, and sanitize surfaces with one, yes ONE, all-natural solution? Any guesses on which one it is?
Distilled white vinegar! 🙂
It still boggles my mind that one liquid can do all of these magical things: Eliminate cooking odors in the kitchen, keep garbage disposal clean and smelling fresh, help dyes set, make great salad dressing, clear mineral deposits from a steam iron, clean hardwoods, ferment foods, deodorize garbage cans and lunch boxes, preserve foods, clean eyeglasses, repel ants, kill weeds, clean soap scum, brighten laundry whites, remove stains, clean windows and mirrors, unclog drains, keep flowers fresher for longer, clean lime deposits, and prevent bright colored clothes from fading in the wash!
This post is more than an ode to vinegar, but it is definitely that too. It’s also a nod to something I am quite passionate about, eco-conscious living and reducing consumption at home. After having many conversations with friends, acquaintances, and family, (and also by sheer observation) I have concluded it may be helpful to break things down a bit and discuss exactly what it means to clean and care for your home in sustainable, zero-waste ways. It’s a rewiring of thoughts, but it doesn’t have to baffle! Here’s my humble definition of eco-conscious cleaning:
E C O – C O N S C I O U S – C L E A N I N G: a sustainable home-keeping philosophy that respects mindful care of your home using nature-friendly, plant-based, zero-waste practices to minimize harm to the environment. It’s about refusing from the start, reducing what you need, reusing what you can, recycling when possible, and rotting the rest to best mimic the earth’s ancient cyclical rhythm. Cleaning and caring for your home the eco-conscious way means going beyond what can be recycled and/or composted outside of the linear and disposable mainstream culture. Yes, it means cleaning with care, but also consuming with care as well. With eco-conscious cleaning, one must also consider waste prevention and product design in the process. As responsible consumers, it’s important to know how the products we use on a daily basis are being made, specially with regard to the resources it takes to create them and get them into our homes. There are four pillars of eco-conscious cleaning that I think help break down how to best mindfully clean and care for the spaces you inhabit:
Four Pillars of Eco-Conscious Cleaning:
- Eco-Conscious Cleaning Agents: All-natural, plant-based, chemical-free solutions and substances used to remove germs, bacteria, dust, grime, stains, smells, and dirt. (i.e. vinegar + baking soda + essential oils etc.)
- Eco-Conscious Cleaning Tools: Instruments made from sustainable resources used with environmentally-friendly cleaning agents to clean and care for your dwelling. (i.e. cleaning brushes made from bamboo + natural fiber bristles + wood brooms etc.)
- Eco-Conscious Cleaning Rhythm: Small, practical, mindful ways you go about bring for your home that conserves the most energy and resources. (i.e. running a full dishwasher without heated dry + running the washing machine with cold water + line dried linens etc.)
- Eco-Conscious Cleaning Ethos: Manifesting the spirit that less is more and haste makes waste, while giving yourself plenty of grace as you do your best, with what you have, where you are, in adopting long-term habits over short-term frills.
When it comes to stocking an eco-conscious cleaning pantry you really only need a few trustee ingredients. Let’s play a game: if I were to be stranded on a remote desert island and I could only bring along four cleaning items with me, they would be: distilled white vinegar, organic Castile soap, essential oils (preferably lavender, lemon, or tea tree), and baking soda. I know I wouldn’t need these items on said island, but thanks for playing along! Contrary to what trendy cleaning companies would like to have you believe, you do not, I repeat: you do not need everything you think you “need” to successfully clean or even eco-consciously your home. So many products are sold to us for a very specific use (i.e. bathroom wall spray, bathroom, sink spray, bathroom toilet spray, bathroom floor spray, bathroom shower spray…”) for all kinds of cleaning and care, but honestly you do not need a separate cleaner for every single area of your home. Two or three will do. I do however think it’s nice and fun to change up scents depending on what I am cleaning and the season it is outdoors, but buying hoards of chemically-scented cleaning solutions throughout the year is not the only way you can achieve this. I strongly urge against the pull to purchase new different cleaning solutions every few months simply because the store put them on the end-cap. Hey-ho Target, I’m lookin’ at YOU kid. Instead, try investing in a few simple, natural ingredients that are made from the earth and will happily return to it, and customize from there if need be. Bonus points if you buy in bulk and recycle the containers they come in!
Alrighty, so why do this in the first place? Why change the way you are caring for your home reroute to eco-conscious cleaning and caring practices? For starters, it’s much, much safer for you and for those who live in your home. Many of the cleaning agents and tools on the market are chalk-full of very dangerous and unnecessarily harsh ingredients that simply put: are horribly harmful. And they don’t even have to be there in the first place! And then there’s plastic. Did you know plastic was designed to last until the end of time? So every singly bottle of cleaning spray you buy for every single different purpose in your home will end up on a giant heap forever if you toss it in the trash bin after use. These bottles were made to be tossed, keeping you the consumer buying on end. And what about the chemicals in said plastic bottle? Those toxins leak out and get into our water system, endangering all living things. You can read more about this here, and here, and really all over the Interweb these days.
So what can you do right now to start? First off, take a deep breath and give yourself grace. This is a long-haul approach you’ll want to take, so do what you can in small ways that fit for your lifestyle. You will learn so much more as you go, so don’t feel discouraged right off the bat as if you need to do this perfectly. I am still finding ways to do better every day, and I am several years into this process. That being said, one of the biggest things you can do to make an impact is it stop buying so much in the first place. Refuse refuse refuse. Say no to plastic. Say no to chemicals you cannot pronounce. And when you do need to buy something make sure it’s all-natural and non-disposable. Go plant-based when possible. Buy a few things in bulk and make sure they’re organic, if possible.
Here’s a nifty, non-overwhleming place to start gathering eco-conscious goodies:
- Two 16 oz. glass amber spray bottles
- Distilled white vinegar
- Baking soda
- Several essential oils (lavender, tea tree, orange, lemon, peppermint, and eucalyptus are great)
- Organic Castile soap
- Sustainably made brushes
For the curious, here are a few past posts I’ve written on this topic and may be helpful in your zero-waste endeavors:
- Customizable Cleaning Rhythm PDF
- A Natural Guide to Cleaning Your Hardwoods
- Cleaning Tool Source List
- Essential Oil Wellness
- 10 Natural Cleaning Recipes
- My Weekly Cleaning Rhythm
- Cleaning and Tidying Tips
And lastly, what questions, tips, or inspiration can you add! I love learning about this and am continuing to refine my approach living a more eco-minded life.