This article was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.
In the last several decades, manufacturers of chemical cleaners have convinced millions of people that this annual cleansing ritual requires heavy-duty compounds toxic to human and environmental health. However, more people have come to realize that quite contrary to Big Chemical’s message, a truly clean home shuns chemical pollutants. Here’s what you need to know to have a greener spring clean this year.
Even if you don’t knowingly bring chemicals into your home, indoor air still has far more pollutants than most outside air. Our furniture, water, and cooking all put compounds in the air that we’re better off not breathing. Letting fresh air into your home as soon as weather permits will clear the air and help you breathe better.
If you want to add a truly fresh (rather than chemical-laden) scent to your home, consider adding some essential oils to your cleaning products. Or place a bowl of baking soda with a few drops of your favorite essential oil on a counter to absorb odor and add fragrance. I particularly enjoy the uplifting scents of bergamot and lemon.
2. Clear the clutter
With boots, coats, hats, scarves, gloves and all the gear associated with winter, the colder months can challenge (or enhance) our tolerance for clutter. After you’ve packed away the cold-weather togs, look around to see if there are other areas of your home that are more cluttered than you might like. Maybe it’s toys or books messily shoved onto shelves, or a closet that’s become unusable because it’s so crammed with stuff.
Choose an area whose clutter annoys you and tackle with it an eye to getting of rid things you don’t need, use, or want. A trip to donate your unwanted stuff to your local thrift shop can be another satisfying ritual of spring cleaning. Then enjoy your de-cluttered home and the extra time you’ll enjoy not having to manage the mess.
3. Gather non-toxic cleaners
Many cleaning projects—floors, surfaces, and windows—can be handled with a simple solution of vinegar and water. For extra cleaning power plus a pleasant scent, add essential oils like lemon or orange. Castile soap and baking soda help with most scrubbing projects. There’s also no shortage of recipes for homemade cleaners made from nontoxic ingredients you probably already have on hand.
Some simple recipes to get you started:
- All-purpose cleaner: Combine 1 part white vinegar with 4 parts water in a spray bottle.
- Glass and window cleaner: Use 2 teaspoons vinegar in a quart of water.
- Scrubbing paste: Mix baking soda with a little water and soap to make a scrub for tubs, sinks, and pots.
If you lack time and prefer to purchase pre-made cleaners, choose nontoxic versions. Plant-based cleaners meant for windows, wood, or surfaces let you enjoy a sparkling clean house without the harmful chemicals. These are ideal for cleaning wood, porcelain, and stainless steel.
But some projects require extra effort. Baked-on oven grime, for instance, can benefit from a good scrubbing tool like a KitchenStone made from recycled glass. In addition to ovens and stove burners, a KitchenStone removes stuck-on gunk from enamel and ceramic cookware, bakeware, stoneware, porcelain, tempered glass, tile, grout, and more. You can also use it safely on hot and cold surfaces. Completely chemical free, the KitchenStone also won’t absorb odor-causing bacteria like sponges.
A heavy-duty nontoxic cleaner like Citrasolv can also help with the toughest stains. Spots on your upholstery or carpet? What about bricks or concrete? Although plant-based, heavy-duty non-toxic cleaners can still tackle tough stains like grease, oil, paint, pitch, and even tar.
4. Use reusable cloths and tools
You don’t need rolls of paper towels to accomplish your cleaning tasks. Most can be handled with rags made from clothes that are no longer wearable. Use a mop with a washable pad rather than relying on throwaways. Save old toothbrushes for removing crud from cracks and crevices. For removing the grime that accumulates on windows, try using newspaper, which you can compost when you’re done.
Instead of polyester sponges infused with triclosan, a potent hormone disruptor recently banned from handsoaps, try reusable, biodegradable cloths. These absorbent cloths, like those made by Skoy, work like sponges and are so durable, they outlast fifteen rolls of paper towels. They can be washed several times and then composted when they’re no longer useful—so much greener than paper towels. They’ll save you money as well. Skoy cloths are also naturally anti-microbial and odor resistant.
5. Prepare for critter invasions
When things warm up, ants and other unwanted houseguests come into our homes searching for food. This can shock the homeowner into using more toxic pest control products. But these occurrences are usually localized and short-lived, and may be best addressed by simply wiping with a damp paper towel or similar method to pick up the newly hatched insects.
You can also be ready for them with some nontoxic pest control solutions. The first line of defence against insects in your home is diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is broad spectrum (kills most types of insects), nontoxic, safe around kids and pets, and likely the only insect control your home will need.
A beautiful glass fruit fly trap looks like a decoration but will help keep populations down as all the luscious spring and summer fruits start arriving in your kitchen. An electric flea trap can help when these unwanted pests hitch a ride on Fido.
Don’t forget some moth deterrents as you pack up those winter woolens! Placing some cedar or sachets of lavender, dried lemon peels, or cinnamon sticks with your clothing can help make your favorite woolens less appealing to moths.
6. Involve the family
Nothing makes the task of a big cleaning project more daunting than having to go it alone, so get everyone to join in. Give kids age-appropriate chores and make spring-cleaning a family event. Put on some music and turn the work into games.
Several springs ago, I was stunned when my two-year old daughter eagerly grabbed my brushes and energetically scrubbed our grimy porch floor for over an hour. She thought playing in the water was a blast and asked pretty regularly whether we could clean the porch again, even when it wasn’t dirty.
Every spring my now-six-year old and her four-year old sister help gather buckets and get to scrubbing. The work goes faster with my helpers, we have fun together, and they feel a sense of pride in helping with a household project. Then we arrange the furniture and sit down together to admire our work.
Even very small kids really enjoy cleaning woodwork and windows. Give them a cloth and a spray bottle and watch their delight as they turn work into play. Sweeping and vacuuming are other jobs that littler folk can help with. Bigger kids can be given more challenging cleaning tasks, like scrubbing bathtubs and going through their wardrobes for items ready to pass along.
Welcome spring with a cleaner, greener house!
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