variety of cleaning products

Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products

Discover how to identify eco-friendly cleaners for a non-toxic home

How do I choose eco-friendly cleaning products?

You’ve probably noticed cleaning product labels with promising words like “environmentally friendly,” “natural,” or “green.” How do you know if these claims are actually true?

Genuinely eco-friendly cleaning products can be hard to identify because of the prevalence of this type of advertising, known as greenwashing. This is where a company creates an eco-friendly image by using these vague or generic eco buzzwords on their products and advertising, providing misleading or outright false information, but have no actual data to back up their claims.

Product eco-certifications helpful to see past the greenwashing, since companies have to meet a strict set of criteria to earn certification. But first, let’s go over what to look for on environmentally friendly, non-toxic cleaning product labels.

Ironically, the cleaning products we use in our homes can create indoor air pollution by releasing chemicals commonly referred to as VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air. VOCs vaporize at room temperature and can persist in the air long after the initial introduction. Indoors, these chemicals are concentrated up to ten times more than outdoors. Outside, they react with nitrogen oxides to form ozone, contributing to air pollution and smog.

Since most of us spend about 90% of our time indoors, frequent exposure to VOCs can become a problem. The presence of VOCs can lead to or exacerbate a variety of health problems, particularly for people with underlying lung-related conditions such as asthma or COPD. Immediate exposure can create symptoms like:

  • Throat or respiratory tract irritation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches, dizziness, or fatigue
  • Visual disorders and memory impairment
  • Nose discomfort or bleeding
  • Allergic skin reaction
  • Nausea & vomiting

The long-term effects of VOC exposure might lead any one of these symptoms can become a chronic ailment. Additionally, more severe illnesses may result, including damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system, and even cancer.

list of cleaning products that commonly contain vocs

Learn more about VOCs and indoor air pollution here.

Water-polluting chemicals in cleaning products

Cleaning products often contain chemicals that can contribute to water pollution when they are washed down drains, eventually reaching rivers, lakes, and oceans. Some of these chemicals can be harmful to aquatic life and ecosystems, as well as to human health. Besides impacting air quality, many of the VOCs previously listed contribute to water pollution as well. Below are more chemicals that are particularly damaging to water quality and aquatic organisms.

Common Water-Polluting ChemicalsProducts commonly found inHealth & Environmental Effects
PhosphatesLaundry and dishwasher detergentsAlgae blooms in bodies of water, including the ocean. Algae blooms deplete oxygen in the water, harming aquatic life and also harmful to humans.
AmmoniaGlass cleanersCan irritate and burn the skin, mouth, throat, lungs, and eyes; lung damage and death at high levels. Toxic to aquatic animals.
ChlorineBleach; also can result when bleach is mixed with other cleanersNose, throat, and eye irritation. Very reactive with other chemicals, creating harmful, even carcinogenic compounds. Harmful to aquatic animals.
TriclosanAntibacterial hand soaps, hand sanitizer, dishwashing detergentsDisruption of endocrine system, increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria. Toxic to aquatic life.
PhthalatesFragranceEndocrine disruptor. Forms strong attachments to soil
and sediment, so very slow to biodegrade. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.
Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs)Laundry detergent, surfactant.Highly toxic to aquatic life. Endocrine disruptor.
Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (Quats)Disinfectants & antibacterial cleaners, fabric softenersUsed to kill microorganisms & could lead to antibiotic resistance; in aquatic life leads to endocrine disruption, immune dysfunction, and reproductive toxicity
*Sodium Lauryl Sulfates (SLS)Cleaning & beauty productsCan irritate eyes, skin, and lungs. Toxic to aquatic life and accumulates over time.
*The safety of SLS for humans and the environment is a controversial subject. Many sources say we should avoid SLS, but others say it is fine, like this NIH study. I think this blog post by Puracy is one of the best I’ve read on the subject, with good source links if you want to read more. The bottom line is, it seems that if formulated correctly (which I’m not sure how to verify) these are generally safe to use. One additional concern is the sourcing of the oils to make this product, especially palm oil.

PFAS

PFAS (perfluoroalkyls) have been dubbed “forever chemicals” for their inability to break down in the environment and to be metabolized by our bodies. These chemicals have been found to lead to a multitude of health problems. Be sure to avoid any products containing ingredients with “fluro” or “perfluoro.”

Fragrances in cleaning products

Fragrance formulas are considered proprietary and therefore the ingredients are not required to be disclosed. This creates a loophole for companies to hide unlimited ingredients under the guise of “fragrance.” One of the most common groups of toxic chemicals that synthetic fragrances utilize are phthalates, one of the VOCs and water-polluting chemicals listed above. Parabens are another common concerning additive.

In addition, many of the chemicals used are fossil fuel-based. Fragrances that are plant-based may be safer, but be wary of those ambiguous “natural fragrance” labels.

The safest choice is to choose fragrance-free cleaning products. This is especially ideal for those with respiratory conditions, are prone to migraines, or have significant allergies or any fragrance-related sensitivities.

Helpful resources

Overwhelmed with all the chemical names? Utilize these helpful resources to find eco-friendly cleaning products.

  • Browse EPA Safer Choice products.
  • Search the Consumer Product Information Database (CPID), which is supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
  • Read this helpful article by Grove explaining the benefits of switching to natural cleaning products and the main ingredients you want to avoid.
  • Check out the healthy cleaning guide by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). This is a fantastic resource to learn about different product ingredients. EWG has a safety rating system and they also certify products they deem non-toxic. Download the app for quick access to their database.
  • Think Dirty is my favorite app to help me determine whether a product is clean. You can type in an item or scan the barcode of tons of cleaning (and personal care) products and they have a rating system of how ‘dirty’ they are based on the ingredients. Note that any product with added fragrance rates poorly since fragrance is proprietary and the ingredients don’t have to be disclosed; it creates a loophole for companies to hide ingredients.

Certifications to look for on eco-friendly cleaning products

For a company to earn third-party eco-certifications, they have to meet rigorous testing and standards. This makes these symbols very helpful to look for when you’re choosing green cleaning products. Here are the most common certifications to look for.

For more sustainability certifications, click here.

EWG Verified

The EWG (Environmental Working Group) is a non-profit whose mission is “to empower you with breakthrough research to make informed choices and live a healthy life in a healthy environment.”

Safer Choice

The EPA’s Safer Choice program “helps consumers, businesses, and purchasers find products that perform and contain ingredients that are safer for human health and the environment. Safer Choice is an EPA Pollution Prevention (P2) program, which includes practices that reduce, eliminate, or prevent pollution at its source, such as using safer ingredients in products.”

Made Safe

Made Safe certified products are made without harmful and polluting chemicals.

UL Ecologo

The UL ECOLOGO “indicates a product has undergone rigorous scientific testing and exhaustive auditing to prove its compliance with stringent, third-party environmental standards.”

Certified B Corp

This certification is a “designation that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency on factors from employee benefits and charitable giving to supply chain practices and input materials.”

Leaping Bunny

Standardizes cruelty-free claims. Companies do not conduct animal testing or use/purchase ingredients from companies that do.

DIY cleaning recipes

lemons and a spray bottle with lemon-colored cleaning liquid

You may want to skip worrying about all the chemicals and control exactly what you use to clean. This is not only the safest option, but also most likely the cheapest. And you probably already have many natural cleaning ingredients in your cupboards. You can use items like white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, isopropyl alcohol, castile soap, salt, lemons & lemon juice, and borax.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here, so check out these awesome resources for homemade cleaning product recipes.

Tips for reducing cleaning product packing waste:

  1. Use reusable bottles, like these glass spray bottles from Grove. Then purchase refills, concentrates, or cleaning tablets that can be mixed with water. Blueland is a great example; you have the option of buying refills that come in recyclable or biodegradable packaging. If you don’t have access to recycling, you can ship it to them for free and they will recycle it for you.
  2. Buy in bulk. Hopefully you have a shop near you that you can take your own containers and fill them with soaps or other cleaning products. Otherwise buy bulk size refills, which minimizes the amount of packaging used. Boulder Clean refills are a good example.
  3. Look for plastic-free cleaning products. Finding natural, non-toxic cleaners that also come in sustainable packaging adds another element of difficulty in finding the greenest products. The best packaging choices are glass and metal because they can be recycled infinitely and don’t involved a lot of chemicals in their production. Sustainable materials like bamboo, biodegradable packaging, or recycled paper are also good options. Check company websites for information on their packaging.

Recycling cleaning product packaging

The best zero waste cleaning products are packaged in plastic-free, recyclable packaging. Cleaning concentrates are best since they come in smaller packages. Make sure bottles and packaging are empty and dry. Here’s a brief rundown on responsibly disposing of empty product packaging.

  • Glass – recycle curbside as available or at a drop-off location.
  • Steel, tin, and aluminum – recycle curbside. Aerosol cans are acceptable if they are completely empty.
  • Paper products – recycled curbside, unless packaging with a waxy coating.
  • Plastics – recycle per local guidelines. Note that spray pumps cannot go into your curbside recycling since they contain a metal coil in addition to the plastic. Send to Terracycle for free.
  • Plastic wrap – recycle at a grocery store drop off location.
  • Terracycle offers a Cleaning Supplies and Accessories zero waste box that you can fill with dryer sheets, lid tops, cleaning product bottles, detergent bottles and nozzles, spray bottles, dust pans, dry & wet cleaning pads, buckets, mops, and brooms. Check their site for specific brand package free recycling.
woman holding several cleaning products

If you happen to have new, unused cleaning products that you don’t want or need, donate them to places like the YWCA, IRC, or local homeless or animal shelter. If you have opened products that you won’t use, give them to a friend or post on a Buy Nothing forum.

Save resources with better cleaning habits

  • Don’t run your dishwasher or washing machine half full. It takes the same amount of energy either way.
  • Use your dishwasher instead of handwashing: studies show that using a dishwasher uses less water per load.
  • Save water by skipping pre-rinsing dishes whenever possible. Instead scrape the food off the plate into the garbage or disposal, then place dishes right into the dishwasher. Modern dishwashers ‘should’ be able to get dishes clean without pre-rinsing, but of course use your judgement.
  • Don’t keep the tap running while doing dishes or cleaning.
  • When it’s time to replace old appliances or plumbing fixtures, upgrade to newer water or energy efficient models when possible. Learn more about to save money and resources with energy efficient appliances.

Special cleaning situations

There are some substances that require special testing for their presence, and if action is required special care should be taken. Hiring a professional is strongly recommended. These include:

  • Asbestos. If your residence was built before the 1980s, it is possible you have asbestos in your cement, floor tiles, insulation, walls and pipes. You can hire a trained asbestos professional to help you detect its presence, and handle the removal if necessary. It is crucial to handle asbestos-containing materials properly, as improper handling poses risks to both workers and the general public, potentially leading to the development of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma cancer, lung cancer, and asbestosis. The Mesothelioma Center is the best resource to learn more about where asbestos can be found in your home, and the safe handling and disposing of this material.
  • Radon. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas emitted from the ground that can enter your home through openings in walls, basement floor, and cracks in the foundation. It is colorless, tasteless and odorless. When radon gets trapped indoors, it may concentrate at dangerous levels. Exposure to high levels of radon can cause lung cancer. In fact, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. You can purchase testing kits or a continuous monitor to detect its presence; the EPA recommends testing every two years. If levels are high, you can hire a professional to help you mitigate this gas. Learn more from the EPA’s radon FAQ.
  • Lead. Lead-based paint was outlawed in 1978, so if your home was built before then you may want to check your home for its presence. Children are more susceptible because their bodies absorb more lead than adults do and their brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead. Exposure to pregnant women creates a risk of harm to the developing baby. In adults, lead exposure can cause cardiovascular, kidney, and reproductive problems. To test for lead-based paint in your home, EPA recommends that you hire a certified inspector or risk assessor. Their risk assessment will tell you whether your home currently has any lead hazards from lead in paint, dust, or soil, and also tell you what actions to take to address any hazards. Learn more about lead from the EPA.

I have not personally tried all of these items, and the suggestions here are by no means comprehensive, but I chose products that are both safe and eco-friendly. I also included some great plastic-free cleaning product options. Have fun trying them out!

Assortment of cleaning products in a white bucket.

The best non-toxic cleaning brands

  • Boulder Clean – Certified B Corp, 1% for the planet; offer bulk refills and tablets, use recycled materials in packaging
  • Blueland – Certified B Corp, Climate Neutral certified, EPA Safer Choice, Cradle to Cradle, Made Safe, EWG verified, USDA Biopreferred, Leaping Bunny; plastic-free
  • Cleancult – Leaping Bunny, 100% recyclable packaging, carton refills made with FSC-certified paper
  • Dr. Bronner’s – Certified B Corp, USDA Organic, Non-GMO, NSF, Certified vegan, Leaping Bunny, Fair for Life, Certified Kosher
  • Ecos – EPA Safer Choice Partner of the year four times; climate positive and water neutral
  • Grove Collaborative– Certified B Corp, certified carbon neutral, currently plastic neutral with plans to be plastic-free by 2025. Products are free from their ‘No Way Ingredients‘ list, which includes chemicals like parabens, phthalates, and much more.
  • Meliora – Certified B Corp, Made Safe, Leaping Bunny, Women owned, 1% for the planet
  • Method – Certified B Corp, Leaping Bunny
  • Puracy – Leaping Bunny, use natural ingredients which are listed on their website, supports diversity and stands with the Black community
  • Seventh Generation – Certified B Corp, EPA Safer Choice

The best eco-friendly cleaning tool brands

  • Full Circle – Certified B Corp, carbon neutral, most products are made from renewable materials or recycled plastic, plastic-free packaging
  • Zefiro – small company based out of Chicago, many plastic-free options, 1% for the Planet
  • Redecker – family-owned German company with products made from natural materials

The best places to buy green cleaning brands

  • Grove Collaborative – Certified B Corp, carbon neutral, plastic-free shipping. Their brand and all products they carry are free from the No Way Ingredients list. At no cost, you have the option to send their product packaging back to them for recycling. Their customer service is fantastic.
  • EarthHero – Certified B Corp, Climate Neutral certified, 1% for the Planet member. Plastic-free shipping. The company prioritizes sourcing products made from organically-grown materials and ingredients and any synthetic materials must be made from at least 70% recycled materials. They seek companies to work with that have sustainable and ethical business practices and look for brands that are female-owned, BIPOC-owned, and LGBTQIA+ owned. I like that under each product they have not only sourcing & ingredient information, but end of life care as well.

Non-toxic air freshener

Go Green: Avoid aerosol air fresheners

Aerosol air fresheners emit VOCs into the air that can be harmful for both you and the environment.

Learn more about VOCs and indoor air quality here.

Plastic-free air fresheners

  • My choice of natural air freshener is Grove’s room spray concentrates, fragranced with essential oils and plant extracts, and free of any aerosolized chemicals. The concentrates are packaged in small glass bottles with aluminum caps. You simply mix the concentrate with water in a spray bottle and you’re good to go.
  • Upcircle Home Mist with Lemongrass and Upcycled Grapefruit Water, packaged in a glass bottle. Certified B corp, vegan, cruelty-free.
  • Fresh Wave Odor Eliminator Spray uses plant-based ingredients and is free of synthetic fragrances and VOCs, including phthalates. It is an EPA Safer Choice product.
  • Grab Green Room & Fabric Freshener, made without phthalates, formaldehyde or dyes; packaged in aluminum bottle
  • This Enviroscent diffuser is made from mango wood, the fragrance sticks are made from recyclable paper (no liquid involved), and it comes in plastic-free packaging. I recently bought one for my bathroom, and I liked the sturdiness of this product, and the scent was very nice. However, it faded within a couple weeks.
  • Also available at Target.

Non-toxic plug in air freshener

I have been using the Pura air fresheners for the past year or so and I’ve been happy with them. The schedule is easy to program with their app, and they have a huge variety of delicious scents. Their products are cruelty-free and are made without acetaldehyde, diclorobenzene, ethylhexanol, formaldehyde, GMOs, methyl pyrrolidone, parabens, phthalates, propylene glycol, styrene, or animal testing.

Non-toxic all-purpose cleaner

These eco-friendly all-purpose cleaners can be used to clean most surfaces, but check brand-specific information first, and always test on a small, inconspicuous area.

Finding a good all-purpose cleaner you like can eliminate the need for purchasing multiple cleaners for all your different surfaces, decreasing waste and saving you money and space under the sink. Some experts say you really don’t need a different cleaner for each type of surface.

Go Green: Plastic-free all-purpose cleaners

All-purpose cleaner tablets

All-purpose cleaner tablets are the best zero waste option as they come in minimal packaging; the following tablets all come in compostable packaging. Tablets are simply added to water in a spray bottle.

All-purpose powder

All-purpose liquid concentrate

  • Dr. Bronner’s Castile Liquid Soap. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this all-star cleaner. They are finally offering refills in FSC-certified paper cartons, although they still do contain some plastic, and you may not find them at retailers yet. I think this brand deserves to be mentioned, as this company has more eco-certifications than any other I have come across. This castile soap can be diluted to clean just about anything.
  • Grove Multi-Purpose Cleaner Concentrate – packaged in glass
  • Puracy Surface Cleaner Concentrate is packaged in plastic, but they have just come out with a ‘Clean Can’ system that utilizes aluminum cans to package their cleaners and refills. I’m excited by this new development since I really like their products, and I’m not alone as this concentrate has 13.6k positive reviews on Amazon.
    • Also available on Amazon (only the concentrate packaged in plastic; cans haven’t made it yet) / Target
  • Branch Basics – The Concentrate – This concentrate can be used to clean just about anything, and including dishes and the laundry. Made Safe, EWG A rating, Leaping Bunny.
  • Etee All-Purpose Cleaner Concentrate – packaged in compostable beeswax
  • Ethique Multi-Purpose Kitchen Spray Concentrate – solid bar packaged in paperboard (currently unavailable)
glass spray bottles labeled bathroom cleaner and kitchen cleaner

Non-toxic bathroom cleaner

Go Green: Plastic-free bathroom cleaners

Natural carpet stain remover

In addition to the products listed here, most laundry stain removers should also be able to double as carpet cleaners.

Pet stain remover

  • Puracy Pet Stain & Odor Remover – 99.52% natural with 5 plant-based enzymes
  • Ecos Pet Stain & Odor Remover
  • Rocco & Roxie Stain & Odor Eliminator – this Utah-based company product has over 110K positive reviews on Amazon. I’ve used it and it works magically. It has been certified safe for all carpets, earning the Seal of Approval by the trusted Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI). The only thing I’m not a fan of is that their ingredients listed are super vague, and when I emailed asking for specifics, they declined saying that it was proprietary information.

The AKC recommends two recipes for DIY pet stain remover:

  • 2 Cups vinegar, 2 Cups lukewarm water, 4 Tbsp baking soda
  • ½ Cup of hydrogen peroxide + ½ Cup of dish soap

Plastic-free carpet cleaners

I haven’t found any plastic-free pet stain removers, so try out these plastic-free all-purpose cleaners that list carpet under their usage instructions.

Degreaser

Try a natural degreaser with vinegar and water, baking soda, or even oil, as suggested by Allrecipes.

Go Green: Skip the wipes

person in hazmat suit wiping a table

Even in our Covid life, there’s no need for any kind of disinfectant wipes at home. Cleaning wipes are made from synthetic materials like polyester and rayon. At home, use store-bought or home-made disinfectant spray with a rag to clean pretty much anything without all the excess waste.

Buy a glass spray bottle like my Grove Reusable Cleaning Glass Spray Bottle and try making this natural disinfectant spray recipe from Bob Vila. I like it because it’s quick and easy to mix, and uses ingredients that you probably already have.

Plastic-free disinfectants

There aren’t many options for plastic-free disinfectants. All I have been able to find is the Seventh Generation Disinfectant Spray, packaged in a aerosolized metal can. Also available at Grove / Amazon.

Best disinfectant wipes

Save disinfectant wipes for when you’re out and about or traveling.

  • Boulder Clean Disinfecting Wipes
    • Kills 99.9% of bacteria
    • Free of bleach, triclosan, paragons, phosphates and phthalates
    • California Prop 65 Compliant, EPA Safer Choice
    • Leaping Bunny certified
    • Available at Amazon

Disinfectant wipe disposal

Wipes are not recyclable or compostable; throw in trash. Recycle plastic packaging with plastic film.

Natural drain cleaner

Before resorting to chemical drain cleaners, try mechanical removal of clogs and slow drains with a product like the Green Goblin Drain Snake. I’ve had a lot of success clearing hair from slow drains with this.

  • Drainbo Natural Drain Cleaner – USDA certified biobased product
  • CLR – EPA Safer Choice
  • Earthworm Drain Cleaner – I saw this product at Whole Foods and thought it looked promising. But alas, although it advertises a natural enzymatic process for drain cleaning, it receives a ‘D’ grade from EWG.

Natural floor cleaner

Natural hardwood cleaner

Plastic-free floor cleaners

Glass cleaner

Go Green: Plastic-free glass cleaners

Natural leather cleaner

I haven’t found any plastic-free leather cleaner options.

Non-toxic oven cleaner

Remember, oven cleaners are notorious for containing VOCs, so take special care to choose a product free of these chemicals. Use the degreasers listed above for this purpose.

Stainless steel cleaner

All-purpose cleaners that list stainless steel under their uses include:

Stone cleaner

Plastic-free stone cleaners

Again, we’re relying on the plastic-free all-purpose cleaners here, since I haven’t found options for labeled stone cleaners that are plastic-free.

Natural toilet bowl cleaner

Go Green: Plastic-free toilet cleaners

person cleaning toilet
Liquid
Powders
Tablets

Natural wood cleaner

Plastic-free wood cleaners

I haven’t been able to find any plastic-free cleaners labeled specifically for wood, but you can go with all-purpose cleaners here who list wood under their uses. Of course use your discretion and test first.

Wax: I’ve used this Daddy Van’s all-natural beeswax polish for a long time and I love it. Beehive Naturals is another option.

broom & dustpan

Eco-Friendly Cleaning Tools

Make sure you have eco-friendly cleaning supplies to go with your non-toxic cleaners.

Go Green: Tools made from natural, non-plastic materials

Buckets

Go Green: Reuse old buckets

You can reuse any size of bucket or tub. There are probably millions of uses for 5 gallon buckets. Mine mostly are used for storing things like gravel or mulch, and I carry one when I’m working in the yard to collect my weeds. It makes a pretty good compress tool to stuff the green waste bin as full as possible. I don’t think you need to spend money on new ones…I bet if you could find some restaurants with extras they don’t need, or if you know anyone with a saltwater aquarium, they will probably have ton of buckets that their salt came in.

If you need a new bucket, try one made from recycled materials, such as these EcoSolutions 5 gallon buckets.

Even better, go plastic-free with a galvanized steel bucket. Behrens makes many sizes, which are widely available.

Recycling buckets

Metal buckets are recyclable; plastic buckets are recyclable depending on type of plastic and local recycling guidelines.

Cleaning cloths

Pretty much any fabric scraps from old clothes, towels, or sheets can serve this purpose. Microfiber is a very useful and popular material to use for cleaning. Unfortunately, microfiber is a synthetic material that sheds tiny pieces of plastic into the surrounding environment. Read more about microplastic pollution here. If you buy new cloths, make sure they are made from a natural fiber like 100% organic cotton.

Eco-friendly duster

Most popular dusters are made from microfiber, which is unfortunately is a synthetic material that can release microplastics. For plastic-free dusting, try one of the following products.

Wool Shop is a family-owned business that sells all kinds of dusters, including lambswool dusters with wood handles, however they have nothing on their website concerning animal welfare. They can also be found in various retailers, including Williams Sonoma.

**I don’t like ostrich feather dusters because I don’t trust that the feathers are gathered humanely and it’s difficult to verify.

cleaning tools hanging on wall

Plastic-free floor care

If you’re a Swiffer fan, switch from the disposable cloths to reusable ones such at these 100% cotton Washable Mop Covers sold at the Zero Waste Store. Many other options can be found on Etsy.

Eco-friendly brooms

Dustpans

Eco-friendly mops

What to do with old mops and brooms

If your mop or broom has a removable handle, it can be used to replace broken ones on other tools or as garden stakes. A broom with a broken handle can be used stored in the car and used as a snow brush.

Unusable mops and brooms can be composted if made from all natural fibers. The dust you sweep up (and vacuum) is mostly organic material and can be dumped in your green waste bin.

If you’re using up your disposable Swiffer pads before switching to a reusable one, recycle them with Terracycle’s free mail-in program.

Eco-friendly cleaning gloves

Go Green: Latex or nitrile gloves

Most household rubber gloves are not actually made from rubber but from from PVC, or vinyl, which is the most dangerous plastic to our health. These gloves are not recyclable or biodegradable. Instead, choose cleaning gloves that are made from natural rubber latex, which comes from trees and is fully compostable.

If you have a latex allergy, go with nitrile gloves. While these are still a synthetic material, and therefore not biodegradable, they are non-toxic and a more eco-friendly alternative to vinyl gloves. I had a hard time finding 100% nitrile gloves meant for household cleaning and not single-use. The only option I have found is the HDX Green 11mil Reusable Nitril Glove at Home Depot.

Paper towels

Best practice is to skip paper towels altogether and use cleaning cloths or rags, Swedish dish cloths, or reusable paper towels. I know there are some messes you want a single-use paper towel for, so click to learn how to choose sustainable paper towels.

Eco-friendly plunger

The inexpensive traditional plunger with a wooden handle and rubber cup is an acceptably sustainable choice. However in my experience, they don’t last as long as others and get pretty gamey fast.

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to fork out $30-40 for the best sustainable plungers.

  • The aptly-named Royal Plunge plunger by Full Circle has a handle is made from recycled aluminum and bamboo, and the plunger sits in a ceramic holder with a base that absorbs water.
  • Grove’s Eco Plunger is essentially the exact same as the Full Circle plunger, but has a removable head that can be replaced as needed.

I debated whether to include OXO Toilet Plunger & Canister since it is made from plastic, but ultimately decided to because it has lasted much longer than the traditional plungers I’ve had in the past, and I really like the holder that contains the water and germs, keeping the plunger cup out of sight. Also available on Amazon.

Go Green: Biodegradable sponge

Most cleaning sponges and scouring pads found in stores are made of plastic. Instead, purchase biodegradable sponges made from 100% plant-based materials such as cellulose, walnut, or coconut coir.

  • Bambu LongLife Sponge – There are two side of this sponge: a scrubbing side made from 100% hemp, and a washing side composed of a certified organic cotton/hemp blend, with a natural latex fill. Machine washable.
  • The Blueland Scrub Sponge is made from 100% FSC-certified cellulose and loofah. It is also vegan, gluten-free, soy and nut-free.
  • Full Circle Plain Jane sponge is made from 100% cellulose, and the packaging is compostable too.
  • Casabella Kind Loofah Sponge is made from cellulose and loofah, packaged in compostable film.
  • 4Ocean Biodegradable Sponges are thin and flat until you put them under water and watch them expand in a satisfying way. The website says to use on per day to prevent bacteria buildup, but I’ve been using the same one for over a week and it shows no signs of breaking down and I can clean it as I do any other kitchen sponge. I think this pack of 30 is going to last me for a while.

Swedish dishcloths

I have become a big fan of Swedish dishcloths, which are essentially compostable sponge cleaning cloths. They have multiple uses: they can serve as a kitchen sponge, paper towel, and dishrag. They can be laundered in the washing machine or dishwasher. And best of all: they are made with natural cellulose that can be composted when they reach the end of their life. What’s not to love?

My favorites include:

Sponge reuse ideas

I cringe when I think of repurposing a gamey old sponge, but here are some ideas on what to do with old sponges for the more brave souls. There’s a couple interesting ones worth trying.

Are sponges recyclable?

No, whether made from synthetic or natural materials, sponges are not recyclable.

However, eco-friendly sponges and Swedish dishcloths made with 100% cellulose or other natural fibers are compostable when they are worn out. Discard regular synthetic sponges in the trash.

Natural scrubbers & brushes

Go Green: Biodegradable scrubbers & brushes

For something with a little more scrubbing power, here are some great biodegradable scrubber and brush options.

Spray Bottles

Purchase reusable glass spray bottles like these from Grove and fill using refill packages, tablets that you add to water, or make your own cleaner with the plethora of recipes online. See more details above.

Recycling spray bottles

Cleaning product spray bottles can be tricky to recycle because while the bottle is usually acceptable, the spray head/trigger is not because of the combination of plastic and metal spring mechanism inside. Check for local recycling options. Terracycle has a free mail-in recycling program you can send them to.

Eco-friendly toilet brush

Go Green: Biodegradable toilet brush

  • Zefiro’s wooden toilet brush is made with FSC certified beechwood and sisal bristles without any glues. It is vegan and fully compostable.
  • The ZeroWasteStore Plastic-Free Toilet brush is composed of compostable, sustainably-sourced beech wood and tampico agave fibers and comes with a beechwood stand.
  • The JoyfulHomeSL shop on Etsy sells a handmade toilet brush with a wooden handle and coconut coir bristles that is also completely compostable.

Other options:

  • The Grove Toilet Brush with Replaceable Head is made from recycled aluminum and recycled plastic.
  • Oxo Good Grips. This one isn’t exactly made from eco-friendly materials, but since the brush heads are replaceable and you keep the handle, it’s a start. It comes with an amazing little holder, so as long as you keep replacing the brush heads as needed, this should keep your toilets clean for a long time.

Eco-friendly trash bags

Go Green: Biodegradable garbage bags vs recycled trash bags

This is one of the classic there-is-not-a-clear-cut-answer-here issues. By now, you know plastic should be avoided as much as possible, and biodegradable or compostable materials are what we should aim for. So it should be a simple win for biodegradable trash bags here, right? If only it were that simple.

Take a moment to consider where your trash is ultimately headed, which is most likely the landfill. Here your refuse gets dumped and buried by layers of more waste. In that environment, your trash quickly loses access to oxygen. In this anaerobic environment, stuff takes forever to break down. Even organic material. If you’ve read anything about food waste, you’ll know that a simple head of lettuce can take up to 25 years to fully decompose in a landfill! Normally this breakdown process creates carbon dioxide, but with the lack of oxygen, methane is created instead, which is much worse at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Under these conditions, neither type of bag is going to break down readily. I’ve given this too much thought, and if you’re over it and just want me to tell which type of bags to get, I understand. Either choice has pros and cons so take your pick. If you want to know more, read on.

Recycled garbage bags

Biodegradable garbage bag details

Instead of being made from fossil fuels like other plastic, bioplastics are made from plant material, such as sugar cane or corn/potato starch. These include PLA (polylactic acid) and PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate).

While bioplastics are technically compostable, most of the time this process must be done in a commercial composting facility that achieves higher temperatures than simple backyard composting (or in a landfill). These types of facilities are rare.

While the idea of bioplastics seems promising, their production is expensive and not a clear cut solution. They do result in less greenhouse gases than conventional plastic, but the tradeoff is increased pollutants from fertilizers and pesticides needed to grow the crops, as well as extensive water and land use. In addition, despite being made with plant material, chemicals are still added during production. A 2020 study found that bioplastics are just as toxic as conventional plastics.

Having said all that, the fact that compostable trash bags will eventually fully break down, unlike plastic, is a big upside. In addition, they don’t contain the harmful chemicals that plastics leach into the soild and groundwater as they break down into smaller pieces.

Recycled trash bags

Although I normally want to say all plastic is bad, some has its place. We have an excess of plastic in the world, and it is notoriously difficult to recycle, so I think giving some of that plastic another life before ending up in the landfill has its value. Especially when compared with trash bags made from new materials. Reusing plastic grocery bags to line trash cans is a great way to repurpose existing bags.

Should you just go bagless?

Although neither type of trash bag is clearly better than the other, I don’t think skipping a bag altogether is a great option either. Some municipalities require bagging. In addition, I think that loose trash is likely to spread outside of the garbage truck, especially on a windy day. What would work, though, is to use other trash to hold your garbage, like say an empty dog food bag.

Are trash bags recyclable?

If composed of #2 HDPE or #4 LDPE plastic, then yes empty trash bags could be recycled with other plastic films. But of course this would entail you dumping your trash out of the bag and into the can, which may be less than desirable as mentioned above. In addition, plastic films need to be clean and dry. So most likely, recycling trash bags is not a feasible option.

And while we’re on the subject, recycling bags in curbside recycling is a big no-no. Do NOT bag your recycling. This is among the biggest errors seen, and may result in your recycling being thrown away. In most cases, bagged recycling cannot be sorted. And plastic bags can cause clogs in facility machinery.

washing dishes

Bottle Brush

Cookware/Bakeware cleaner

  • bon ami Powder Cleanser – versatile cleaner made without triclosan, sulfates, parabens, chlorine, or dye; plastic-free packaging

Dish brush

I like the Grove Bubble Up Dish Brush, which is made from bamboo; however, the bristles are made from recycled plastic, which means it cannot be composted unless the bristles are removed.

Go Green: Compostable dish brush

If you like a scrub brush with a handle, try the Package Free Dish Washing Brush, composed of beechwood, stainless steel, and replaceable head with 100% sisal fiber bristles.

Go Green: Plastic-free dish soap

Solid dish soap bar

Liquid dish soap

Powder

Go Green: Plastic-free dishwasher detergent

I have decided to skip dishwasher detergent pods and sheets because they are contained in polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), which may or may not release microplastics despite claims of its biodegradability. Read more below, under laundry detergent.

Powder

Natural dishwasher rinse aid

Go Green: Plant-based rinse aid

Dishwasher cleaner

  • Best dishwasher cleaner tablets: Affresh Dishwasher Cleaner – EPA Safer Choice; come in a paperboard box but each tablet is individually wrapped in plastic
  • My preferred method is to run a cycle with DIY dishwasher cleaner, which is simply a glass liquid measuring cup filled with vinegar. It works just as well, is cheaper, and minimal packaging involved.

Garbage disposal cleaner

How to clean garbage disposal naturally

I recently had to replace my garbage disposal, and when I asked the technician what he thought the best disposal cleaner was, he suggested to simply fill the with ice cubes and run. You can pour dish soap over them if you would like.

Another natural disposal cleaning option is to use equal part baking soda and vinegar and let it sit for about 10 mintues beofre rinsing with hot water.

Drying rack

Go Green: Plastic-free drying rack

Sponges

See sponge section above.

Straw cleaning brush

Wicker laundry basket with clothes.

Sustainable laundry

Something that you probably didn’t know is that up to 700,000 tiny microplastics are released from clothing made from synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, and elastane with each load of laundry. It is estimated that 35% of microplastics in the ocean and 71% in rivers come from synthetic clothing. Purchase a washing bag from GuppyFriend for your synthetic clothes to help prevent microplastics being released into your wastewater. Another option is the Cora Ball, which you simply place in your load of laundry. The last, and possibly best, option is PlanetCare‘s microfiber filter that is attached to your washing machine. Third-party testing shows this filter catches 90% of microfibers. When the filter is full, you send it back to the company and they refurbish it to be used again.

Non-chlorine bleach

Everyone knows that burning feeling chlorine can create in your eyes and throat, right? Anything that creates those kinds of reactions are obviously not the healthiest chemicals to have around. By itself, chlorine bleach fumes can be harmful and exacerbate conditions like asthma, but mixing it with other cleaners or chemicals such as vinegar, ammonia, or rubbing alcohol can create deadly gasses.

Bleach ingredients to avoid:

  • Sodium hypochlorite is the active ingredient in chlorine bleach.
  • Optical brighteners or UV brighteners. Stilbene and biphenyl are the two fluorescent chemicals used to create the illusion of brightness on fabrics. These materials can absorb UV light and emit visible (blue–violet) light. So when deposited on fabrics, they enhance the whiteness or brightness appearance of white or lightly colored fabrics. These substances do not biodegrade in water, can irritate skin, and break down into metabolites that may be harmful to our endocrine & reproductive systems.

Chlorine-free bleach alternatives

Sodium carbonate or hydrogen peroxide are the best alternative ingredients for bleach.

Liquid
Powder
Plastic-free bleach alternatives

How to whiten clothes naturally

What are natural bleach alternatives for laundry? You probably already have them in your house.

  • vinegar
  • baking soda
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • lemon juice
  • sunlight

Read more about how to utilize these ingredients from The Spruce.

The best ingredients for natural laundry detergent are sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium percarbonate and citric acid.

The safest laundry detergents are free of the following ingredients:

  • Phosphates
  • Dyes
  • Phthalates
  • Benzene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Optical brighteners
  • 1,4-Dioxane – Usually not specifically listed. Ethoxylated surfactant ingredients ends in “-eth”, such as laureth-6 or sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), ceteareth or steareth.
  • Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs)

Go Green: Plastic-free laundry detergent

Plastic laundry detergent jugs are among the worst plastic pollution offenders out there. 700 million laundry detergent jugs end up in U.S. landfills each year. Up to 90% of liquid detergent contains water, which leads to increased volume and weight, and therefore emissions, in producing and transporting these jugs. There are quite a few eco-friendly laundry detergent options that have plastic-free packaging, and some are even compostable.

Laundry detergent tablets

  • Blueland Laundry Detergent Tablets – packaged in commercially compostable packaging. You can also order a cute refillable tin to hold the tablets. This is a great product.

Liquid laundry detergent

These eco-friendly liquid detergent options are concentrated, so a little goes a long way.

Laundry powder

Laundry detergent pods and sheets marketed as eco-friendly options are everywhere. On the surface, these popular products seem like the simple solution to replace the bulky plastic jug, but they may not be as eco-friendly as they claim to be.

Detergent pods are encased in polyvinyl alcohol (PVA), which is also an ingredient in detergent sheets. PVA (also known as PVOH) is a water-soluble fossil fuel-based synthetic polymer. A debate rages on whether it is truly biodegradable, as many companies claim. Others, including one study by ASU, say otherwise, that PVA only breaks down into tiny microplastics, contributing to plastic pollution.

Other studies found that PVA is not filtered out by wastewater treatments and is biodegradable only under specific conditions, which do not include the natural marine environment.

The Washington Post explores this controversy if you wish to learn more. For me, it comes down to this: PVA is based on petrochemicals, which alone have an negative environmental impact. I don’t want to use them if I don’t have to, and in detergent, PVA is an unnecessary ingredient used solely for convenience. Since debate remains on biodegradability, I’d rather err on the side of caution. And there are more than enough eco-friendly, plastic-free laundry detergents to choose from.

Reusing laundry jugs

Here are some upcycle ideas for bottles and jugs.

Recycling detergent jugs

Detergent bottles and caps are recyclable in your curbside bin.

Terracycle has a couple free mail-in programs. The first one accepts fabric care products and packaging from brands Tide, Gain, Downy, NBD. & Dreft, including plastic components (dispensing cup, bag, nozzle, nozzle clip), and plastic packaging wrap, flexible plastic bags, rigid plastic tubs and lids, and Tide To Go pen.

The second program takes Arm & Hammer and OxiClean brand plastic pouches.

Natural stain remover

Plastic-free stain remover options

Washing Machine Cleaner

  • Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner. EPA Safer Choice. I just wish the tablets weren’t individually packaged in a plastic wrapper.
  • The cheaper, zero waste option is to run a full load with hot water and 2-4 cups of vinegar.

Dryer sheet alternatives

Single-use dryer sheets like Bounce can be used several times, but they still eventually end up in the trash. Most dryer sheets are made from nonwoven polyester material (aka plastic) coated with softeners and other chemicals. These chemicals achieve their fabric softening and anti-static cling properties by leaving a coating on your clothing. They may also leave a film behind inside your dryer, and build up in the vents or lint trap can decrease the dryer’s efficiency.

The coating on clothing also decreases absorbency, which is less desirable on towels or moisture wicking clothing, such as activewear.

Packaging doesn’t always list all the chemicals contained in dryer sheets. Many unlabeled toxic substances have been detected in dryer sheets. Dryer vents may introduce some of these, such as harmful VOCs, into the air. Dryer sheets can also be harmful or even fatal to pets in ingested.

There are more eco-friendly options out there, made with plant-based, biodegradable materials, but I say skip all these single-use options and go reusable.

Go Green: Dryer balls

wool dryer balls

What can you use instead of dryer sheets? Wool dryer balls.

Wool dryer balls are exactly what they sound like: round balls made of wool. These reusable balls are hypoallergenic and in my experience, they work just as efficiently as dryer sheets to decrease static cling and keep clothes soft. They work well to remove pet hair, too. I worried that hair would wrap around the ball and be a pain to clean, but this is not the case.

The balls can also help reduce drying time, saving energy.

If you prefer fragrance, you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oils to them before running the dryer. This does cause some discoloration (as seen in the photo) which is normal.

Find wool dryer balls in a number of retailers, such as Target or Walmart. I own some from both Grove and Blueland.

What if I’m allergic to wool?

For those who are allergic to wool or want a vegan option, there are several choices.

  • Try dryer balls made from other materials.
  • Using safety pins or a ball of aluminum foil can discharge static electricity.
  • Airing out clothes in natural sunlight keeps them static-free and smelling fresh.

For your existing dryer sheets, here are some ideas to give them a little longer life.

Dryer Lint

Lint from natural fabrics can be composted or placed in your green waste bin.

Hangers

Go Green: Plastic-free hangers

There are a variety of metals and woods that make great alternatives to plastic hangers.

Hampers & laundry baskets

Go Green: Natural materials

Admittedly, buying a plastic-free hamper or laundry basket made from natural materials will most likely cost you more than plastic. Plastic is cheap, right? I’ve got a really nice rattan laundry hamper from Pottery Barn that I splurged on in the early days of being a poor newlywed, and that thing still looks new after over 20 years.

Look for hampers and baskets made from natural materials, such as rattan, wicker, seagrass, or bamboo. But make sure to pay special attention the material actually specifies it is indeed natural and not synthetic—especially wicker, which is a weaving method and not a type of material.

An additional challenge for a truly plastic-free option is the basket liner. The majority of these canvas liners are often a cotton-polyester blend, rather than pure cotton or linen, so be sure to check the label.

Plastic-free hampers

Plastic-free laundry baskets

Eco-friendly lint roller

Go Green: No tape lint rollers

Say goodbye to those wasteful tape lint rollers and get yourself a reusable lint remover.

Plastic-free lint roller options include:

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