The eco-friendly guide to cleaning your home this Spring
12 March 2021 | Matt Mostyn
Spring is in the air… and for many of us, now’s the time to indulge in that most cathartic of rituals – the spring clean! It’s a practice that’s thought to come from the days when we often used coal, oil and wood to heat our homes over winter, along with candles to light up those long, dark nights.
As you can imagine, that created a lot of dust, dirt, and soot in people’s homes. But spring spurred us on to clean up our homes, and welcome a brand new season – and the tradition continues to this day.
There’s more than one way to clean a home. And as we become more environmentally-aware, it’s good to understand the impact of our cleaning habits on the world around us. Here, we’ll explain why you should steer clear of many commercial cleaning products. And we’ll also give you some tips for making your own eco-friendly versions.
So here it is – our complete guide to the safer, more environmentally-friendly way to clean your home this spring.
The problem with many commercial cleaning products
There’s no getting away from it. Many household cleaning products are not only toxic to the environment when you flush them down the drain: they’re also potentially damaging to your health.
Bleach is one example. It’s corrosive enough to burn the skin and can be dangerous if inhaled. Worse still, if you accidentally mix it with other cleaning products, it can become even more toxic.
It’s also a danger for our furry companions, who can pick it up from bleach-treated surfaces and floors, and then ingest it when they lick themselves. And that’s not all. When it’s released into our water systems, it lingers for many years, polluting our rivers and streams, and putting wildlife at risk. Its byproducts have been linked to cancer, and it’s been found to lower the populations of several species of birds and fish1.
Household cleaners have become major sources of air pollution, according to an article in the Guardian. And synthetic air-fresheners are another hazard, affecting not only the purity of the air in our homes, but also our health. Many of them contain formaldehyde, a carcinogenic ingredient that can irritate the eyes, skin and throat. They can also cause nervous system damage in people sensitive to chemicals2.
Oven cleaners often contain corrosive alkalis, which can affect your gastrointestinal tract and respiratory system if they’re inhaled or ingested. Oil-based furniture polish can contain phenol and nitrobenzene – carcinogenic chemicals that are just not good to have around the home. And many all-purpose cleaners also contain some pretty toxic chemicals that can be easily absorbed through the skin3.
Clearly, there are loads of good reasons to avoid these types of products. And there’s no doubt about it – green cleaning makes for a happier planet, and a healthier you! But first, let’s find out what eco-friendly cleaning actually means.
What is green cleaning?
Green cleaning means using eco-friendly cleaning products, or cleaning your home in a way that reduces waste, and the burden on our environment. It means turning to natural cleaners that are biodegradable, and free from things like phosphates, chlorine, and artificial fragrances.
When it comes to commercial cleaning products you can buy that are labelled ‘green’, this can mean many different things. They could be biodegradable, grown organically, or produced using sustainable farming practices – but they may not necessarily be free of additives or harmful chemicals.
Find out more about terms like “green”, “eco-friendly” and “sustainable” in our helpful explainer.
So what’s the solution? (No pun intended.) Well, it’s actually not too tricky to make your own all-purpose cleaning spray…
Home-made cleaners that actually work
You can make powerful home-made cleaning sprays using some surprisingly common store-cupboard ingredients. Think bicarbonate of soda, vinegar, salt, and lemon juice!
An all-purpose cleaning spray that really works
Here’s a recipe for a great all-rounder. Just mix:
- 150ml water
- 60ml white vinegar
- 40ml surgical spirit (available in chemists)
Pour each ingredient into a spray bottle and shake to mix. You can also add a few drops of essential oil like lemon or pine, for extra fragrance.
This mix is ideal for worktops, the hob, cupboards, mirrors, glass, tiles, and even inside the car. It dries fast, and won’t smear – even on glass.
Our 12 top tips for easy eco-cleaning your home
Your home-made all-purpose cleaner should be able to handle most of what you point it at. But for some of those more stubborn customers, there are more than a few tricks to supercharge your cleaning. So here are our top 12 tips to help you tackle everything from cleaning the oven, to boosting your white wash.
Whatever spray you’re using, you’re going to need to scrub! But make life easier on yourself by following these steps:
- Start by putting a large roasting tin in the bottom of an oven, and warm it to 220C.
- Carefully fill it with boiling water, close the door, and leave it for 20 minutes. This will steam all those crusty burnt bits, and soften them up!
- Turn the oven off, then make a paste with bicarbonate of soda and water and slather it around the inside of the oven with a paintbrush, or pastry brush.
- Let it soak in for 30 minutes, and then it should be pretty easy to wipe off with hot soapy water and a damp scourer.
2. Screen clean
Whether it’s a smudged TV screen, or a fingerprint-smeared laptop screen, just mix a splash of white vinegar with surgical spirit in a spray bottle: then dilute it with water, before giving it a light spray and buff. This mix is also great for removing dirt and germs from crusty keyboards. Bonus: the vinegar in the mixture will also stop your TV screen collecting dust!
Learn more about the carbon footprint of your laptop, with our guide to the environmental impact of being online.
It’s nobody’s favourite job – but make descaling the loo as quick and painless as possible by using citric acid (which you can find in health food shops, DIY stores and some supermarkets) to remove the limescale.
As you switch to your home-made all-purpose spray to clean the toilet, you might find that you see limescale more. Bleach simply hides the problem, but citric acid will actually remove it.
Here’s what to do:
- Mix 200g citric acid and 150ml water in a clean, empty squirt bottle
- Add a dash of eco-friendly washing-up liquid and shake
- Aim, scrub, and leave for at least a couple of hours before flushing
- Remember to rinse the nozzle of the bottle afterwards, to stop it crystallising
4. Shower power
Soap and limescale can stick like glue – as anyone who’s ever cleaned a glass shower screen knows all too well. But a spray of citric acid and water (as above, minus the washing-up liquid) will shift it with minimal elbow-grease! You just need to rinse it thoroughly, as it does dry sticky.
Find out how saving water in the shower can help in the fight against climate change, with our guide to water-saving for the planet.
5. Mirror mirror
Nice and simple this one. The recipe for the all-purpose spray we mentioned earlier is ideal. But for more stubborn stains and smears on mirrors and windows, sprinkle a little bicarbonate of soda onto one cloth after you’ve sprayed it. Then scrub, and use a second clean cloth to polish to a streak-free shine.
Learn how to make your sparkling windows less draughty, with our guide to energy-efficient windows and doors.
6. Wood would approve
Most furniture polish contains petroleum distillates and solvents – both of which are hazardous. So to make your own eco-version:
- Mix 2 parts vinegar, 2 parts olive oil, and 1 part lemon juice. Make only what you need, as it won’t keep for long (though if you’re having salad for dinner… ) – and don’t use it on wood floors, as it’ll make them a little slippery.
- Dip a corner of your cloth in the mixture, then apply all over, going with the grain – and use a second clean cloth to take off any excess.
- Of course, always test a small section first, to make sure there’s no dodgy reaction!
7. Ground up
For floors, mix 1 cup of white vinegar with about 4 litres of warm water in your mop bucket. This mix is perfect for ceramic tile, linoleum, vinyl, or wood floors, and you don’t need to rinse it. Just remember that less is more, so try not to soak your floors with it. And if your floor looks a bit dull afterwards, believe it or not, you can add extra shine by pouring some soda water on your mop and giving it a quick once-over.
8. Brighter whites
Newsflash: you don’t need bleach to brighten off-colour whites before the wash. Soak them in a mix of 4 litres of water and one cup of bicarbonate of soda before your wash. And here’s another clever soaking agent. Plain old aspirin can help break down that yellowy tinge (though it works better as a brightener than a stain-remover). Dissolve 5 in a bowl of water, and let your clothes soak for several hours, before washing as usual. And of course, just make sure to use white, not coloured aspirin!
9. Dry-clean no more
Sadly, most dry-cleaners use some pretty toxic chemicals. They’re actually the largest users of an industrial solvent called Perchloroethylene, or perc – which is toxic, and also creates smog. Unfortunately, 85% of UK dry cleaners use the stuff4.
Instead, try to find a cleaner that doesn’t use perc. And much of the time, you can actually avoid the trip in the first place – especially if it’s just a grubby collar, or a stained patch. Instead, spot-treat with a cotton pad dipped in surgical spirit (available from chemists). Job done!
10. See-mould, no-mould
Mouldy spots on grout, sealant, and fridge seals are easily zapped using just 2 ingredients, which also go perfectly with fish and chips – salt and vinegar! Squirt the offender with a spray of white vinegar, then dip an old toothbrush in some salt and scrub till it’s gone.
11. Bug off
As we move into the warmer months, your houseplants (and herbs and veggies, if you have them) might also need a bit of a spruce-up, to keep bugs away.
Shop-bought pesticides aren’t ideal – so to keep them happy and healthy, try making your own non-toxic bug spray. All you need are stinging nettles!
Of course, wear protective gloves when you’re collecting them, then just pop them in a bucket, cover with water, and leave it outside for a couple of weeks. The nettles will ferment and create a non-toxic “soup”, which you can pour into a plant sprayer. Not only will it kill bugs like aphids, it’ll also fertilise your plants!
Get more inspiration on the best carbon-munching trees to plant indoors, and in the garden.
Often, after doing a spring clean, you’ll be left with a pile of old items you don’t need any more. But decluttering doesn’t have to just add to our landfill problem. Instead, use websites like eBay and Gumtree to sell higher value items – while sites like Freegle and Freecycle are great for giving away anything you can’t sell.
And for things you can’t sell or donate, there are plenty of environmentally-friendly ways to get rid of them. Use the handy Recycling Locator at recyclenow.com to find your nearest recycling centre, or check to see whether your local council has a household pick-up service.
And don't forget to check our very handy Recycling guide, to find out which products can be recycled, and which can’t.
Learn more about clearing and decluttering, in our green guide to moving home.
Want to do even more to help care for the planet? Switch to OVO and you could lower your carbon footprint, help fight the climate crisis, and enjoy competitively-priced green energy – with:
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Sources and references
5. The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on REGO certificates and how these work.
6. Each year, OVO plants 1 tree for every member in partnership with the Woodland Trust. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so tree-planting helps to slow down climate change.
7. Interest Rewards are paid on positive balances of customers paying by monthly Direct Debit. It is calculated at 3% in your first year, 4% in your second year and 5% in your third year (and every year thereafter) if you pay by Direct Debit.