Greener Cleaning in the Kitchen
Washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen isn’t my favourite chore, but it’s something we all have to do every day. However, it’s easy to make your cleaning greener by using products that are kinder to the environment. Fortunately, eco-friendly choices for doing the dishes and keeping your kitchen clean are becoming more widely available. Here we’ll outline some of the issues with household cleaning products and give our top tips for greener cleaning.
Most big brand conventional cleaning products such as washing up liquid, dishwasher detergent and multi-surface sprays have a negative environmental impact. They are generally full of a cocktail of toxic chemicals – including surfactants derived from crude oil, triclosan, parabens and phthalates – which are harmful to wildlife and pollute our water.
Another ingredient to be aware of when choosing cleaning products is palm oil, which is associated with deforestation on a massive scale. Palm oil is a complicated issue (see www.ethicalconsumer.org/palm-oil), but eco-friendly products will either use deforestation-free RSPO certified palm oil products or be labelled palm oil free.
Things like washing up sponges, scourers and cleaning cloths are usually made from plastic, which is bad news as they can release microplastics into the water every time you use them. And even kitchen paper isn’t great as it’s designed to be single-use and often made from non-recycled paper.
The majority of kitchen cleaning products are packed in single-use plastic. Yes, most plastic bottles can be recycled, but as we’ve said before, recycling in not the answer. With real-life horror stories in the news of Britain’s plastic recycling being dumped abroad, or even being incinerated in council-run facilities in the UK, we prefer to steer clear of plastic packaging where possible.
Other issues to bear in mind are the carbon footprint of a product. This can be tricky to measure, but British made products are generally a better bet than those made overseas. You may also want to look at the ethics of the brand based on what’s most important to you – is the product vegan/organic/free from animal-testing? Is the brand guilty of greenwashing – do they also sell non-eco stuff?
Our Top Tips
Refills – Using zero waste shops to refill your existing bottles and containers can significantly reduce the plastic impact of your cleaning products. As the ethos of refill stores is to minimise environmental impact, the brands they offer are generally eco-friendly as well as being plastic-free. Of course, the products are supplied to the retailer in big plastic containers, but these are frequently taken back and reused by the manufacturer. If you’ve not used a refill shop before, check out our Beginner’s Guide to Zero Waste Shops.
Bulk Buying – A lot of eco brands sell their cleaning products in bulk sizes (from 2 litres to 20 litres). Buying in bulk is a great option if you don’t have a refill shop nearby, or if you prefer to shop online. As well as getting a discount for buying in bulk, buying one large container rather than individual smaller bottles uses much less plastic. Which? recently did a report that found large bottles of cleaning products used 47% less plastic and required less space to be transported. Some companies, including Greenscents and Faith in Nature, even take back their containers to be reused. Alternatively, you could find ways to reuse the containers yourself – for example, I use 5 litre bottles to store my homemade nettle fertiliser! Or try giving them away on Freegle or Freecycle. A good online place to buy in bulk is Ethical Superstore.
Concentrates, Powder or Tablets – As the main ingredient in liquid cleaning products is water, switching to concentrates that you dilute yourself, or dishwasher powder or tablets, means less water being transported and therefore lower carbon emissions. Which? found concentrated products had 75% less plastic packaging and used 97% less water than equivalent liquids. The plastic pouches can be recycled as flexible plastic at some supermarkets, although I’m a bit sceptical that this initiative is greenwashing by the big brands and wonder how much of the plastic actually gets recycled. Eco-friendly dishwasher powder has the advantage of being packaged in recycled cardboard that can be recycled after use. Eco dishwasher tablets also come in cardboard boxes and are usually individually wrapped in a biodegradable water-soluble wrapping rather than plastic.
Make Your Own – If you’re the experimental type, there are lots of recipes online for making your own cleaning products, usually involving things like soda crystals, white vinegar, lemons or bicarbonate of soda. I haven’t tried making my own (yet) as I’m happy with the eco brands I use, but I do use white vinegar as rinse aid in my dishwasher, to clean windows and to descale the kettle. Jane uses bicarbonate of soda and vinegar to clean her oven (not very regularly mind you)! You can also make your own washing up scrubbers if you’re crafty, or if you’re not crafty (like me) just cut up old clothes to make your own cleaning cloths.
Alternative Products – Plastic free alternatives are now available, including washing up soap bars. I haven’t tried using a bar for washing up, but apparently you rub it on to your washing up cloth or brush to make a lather (like using actual soap). Things I do use include washing up pads made from loofahs (which can be composted when they need replacing) compostable sponge cloths for wiping surfaces (made from unbleached cotton and cellulose, and can be washed and reused many times) and 100% recycled kitchen paper (although this is still a single-use product so I try to use it sparingly). You can also buy a variety of plastic free accessories such washing up brushes made from wood or bamboo. However, it’s always best to use your existing plastic accessories until they need replacing rather than just throwing them away because they’re plastic – remember There is No “Away”.
Eco Brands – Once you start looking, you’ll find there are a number of good eco-friendly brands offering green cleaning products for eco-conscious consumers. In particular, I find Ecoleaf washing up liquid and dishwasher tablets work really well and get stuff properly clean. Bio-D are another good brand that I’ve used. Jane recommends Miniml and Ecoleaf laundry liquids. Other “best buys” as rated by Ethical Consumer Magazine include Bide, Greenscents, Fill Refill and SESI. Bentley Organics, ecoliving, Faith in Nature, Planet Detox and Splosh are other recommended eco brands. I personally would avoid big brands with a poor environmental record such as Fairy and Finish, and also Method and Ecover (eco brands that are now owned by SC Johnson).
Switching to green cleaning products is an “easy-win” that can help you reduce your plastic waste and avoid polluting the environment while still getting your dishes done and keeping your kitchen surfaces clean. The chores aren’t going to stop, but you can do them in a greener way!