Green cleaning: how to clean sustainably

Can you really clean with a conscience?

Think of cleaning and you’ll often visualise bottles of chemically-laden products designed to beat the dirt. But with the prevention of climate change and environmental damage an increasing priority for many, is there a way to spring clean with a conscience by eschewing the overly-produced products in favour of more eco-friendly alternatives?

It seems an increasing number of us hope there is.

Credit: Shutterstock/mama_mia

Mintel’s UK Household Cleaning Equipment Market Report 2022 reveals that 55% of UK consumers agree there should be more sustainable cleaning products available.

As temperatures rise globally we are looking to our cleaning products to do more than just clean – they also need to leave us with a squeaky-clean conscience.

Does a clean home mean a clean bill of health?

Historically, spring cleaning took place to remove the soot and dust that had built up from winter fires. Although heating has come a long way since then, the winter still sees us spending more time in our homes and therefore we are more inclined to fill them with clutter or make certain areas less clean.

This, combined with the increased post-pandemic awareness of viruses and bugs, means the need to refresh our homes is something many of us consider a necessity.

The stark fact is that although we obviously need to clean our homes, the ways we do so at the moment aren’t necessarily beneficial for us or the environment.

Chemical concerns

Why should we worry about the chemicals in cleaning products?

Ingredients in non-eco-friendly cleaning products are often investigated by scientists investigating claims that they are linked to health and skin conditions such as asthma, eczema and headaches.

Referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOCs – chemicals that vaporise at room temperature) – the ingredients in question are found in most household cleaning products, including aerosol spray products, air fresheners, chlorine bleach, detergent and dishwashing liquid, dry cleaning chemicals, rug and upholstery cleaners, furniture and floor polish and oven cleaners.

We’ve likely all experienced the itch in our noses when opening a bottle of bleach or needed to pop a pair of rubber gloves on when using extra-strength limescale remover so it doesn’t irritate your hands. The warning symbols on the back of products tell us all we need to know. Chemicals don’t always mix well with our families and homes.

Credit: Shutterstock/Firn

But when you dig deeper into the subject and find research from the Clean Air Day campaign telling us the air inside our homes can often be more polluted than outdoors – because cleaning products combine with the build-up of existing pollutants such as smoke from cooking to create poorer air quality that has nowhere to go due to poor ventilation – it’s time to make a change.

Environmental damage

The growing environmental cost

The risk from cleaning products also extends to the larger environment.

Even after passing through water treatment plants, small quantities of chemical compounds from cleaning products can find their way into rivers, ponds and lakes and effect aquatic life.

Many of these compounds can be toxic to wildlife or have adverse effects on reproduction.

In addition, phosphates in laundry and dishwasher detergent can have a fertilising effect, triggering the widespread growth of algae which in turn saps away the water’s oxygen, further reducing biodiversity.

Polluting plastics

Plastic waste still not resolved

But it’s not just the chemical risk that we need to consider.

In 2020, we collectively threw away 468 million spray cleaning bottles. With 83% of us still unsure about what can be recycled, there’s a strong chance many those bottles ended up in landfill.

Plastic never really decomposes even after hundreds of years. Tiny particles remain and make their way into our eco system.

Credit: Shutterstock/DenisProduction.com

Is there a way to clean without causing damage?

With these facts in mind, we’ve looked at the market to see if it’s possible to clean effectively, in a way that both protects you and your loved ones and leaves you with a clear conscience.

We’re pleased to say it is – and the opportunities are even greater than we hoped.

Sustainable also means style

Design is key in the eco-friendly market

Looking across the cleaning market for liquid-based cleaning products that are both sustainable in terms of their container and eco-friendly in their formula reveals not only an increasingly wide range of options, but also the added benefit of stylish design in the packaging.

In a category that has historically been hidden away under the kitchen sink, we find a range of products that are in fact a thing of beauty.

Brands have quickly recognised that becoming more sustainable allows them to not only improve the content of their product, but to also improve the look of the container.

With glass and metal leading the way in the list of new refillable containers, suddenly the bottle of multi-purpose cleaner that you would have once hidden away, now wouldn’t look out of place in a spa.

This equally goes for the scents used, with the traditional pine or lemon now being replaced with fragrances such as green tea and bergamot, vetiver and florally-led aromas to create a delicious scent sensation around the whole house.

Purdy & Figg

Highly rated by consumers

Credit: Purdy & Figg

For those of you who favour the smooth, glossy look of a brown glass bottle, brands to look at include Purdy & Figg whose products are repeatedly recommended for their durability and amazing smells.

As with most of the newer sustainable brands, it offers a subscription service that means you can sit back knowing you’ll never run out. Refills come in the form of small glass bottles which you add to the reusable glass bottle and top up with your own water. The small refills can be placed in your glass recycling box or returned to Purdy & Figg for it to re-use.

Made with zero chemicals, the products are created using only natural ingredients and pure essential oils for scenting. Stripping back to natural anti-bacterial ingredients means no loss in cleaning strength and a huge gain in safety.

Nookary

Naturally probiotic

Credit: Nookary

Equally boasting strong eco-credentials and stylish spa-like recyclable glass bottles and full size refillable pouches is Nookary. It also differs from some of the other brands by offering natural probiotic cleaners. Made by adding natural bacteria in the ingredients, the products work by outcompeting the nasty bacteria in our homes – in a similar way to how good and bad bacteria work in our bodies.

The added bonus: these continue working on kitchen surfaces even after they’ve cleaned.

Bower Collective

Eco-friendly products for you and your home

hand pouring liquid into bottleCredit: Bower Collective

For the chance to purchase more than just cleaning products, Bower Collective is a great place to start. With sustainability at the core of its philosophy, the company stocks over 400 eco friendly home and personal care products.

Ranging from kitchen cleaner to hair conditioner, the company’s own products feature beautiful bower bird illustrations on muted colours, making it seem almost a shame to send them back once they’ve been used.

Vegan, chemical free and made again using natural ingredients it’s a great one-stop shop for conscience led shoppers.

Spruce

Certified and stylish

Credit: Spruce

For a more contemporary interior, easy-to-recycle aluminium bottles are also proving to be style leaders in the category. Perhaps one of the most aesthetic ranges we’ve seen comes from Spruce.

Its pale blue and peach bottles, coupled with small sachet style refills, are simple yet stunning. Although the container is made from aluminium, the soft colour scheme warms the utilitarian nature of the product. The company is also B-Corp certified, meaning it demonstrates a high social and environmental performance.

Free from chemicals, synthetic fragrances, palm oil and petroleum, the company’s zero plastic zero water approach is strong.

As well as boasting fantastic eco-credentials, it has been called the ‘Jo Malone of cleaning’ – so you know you’re getting some high quality with that kind of comparison.

Neat

For a modern multi-purpose approach

Credit: Neat

Equally striking are the dispensers from Neat. With a look reminiscent of Phillipe Starke designs, the white spray bottles can be filled with a range of plant-based multi-surface refills and glass cleaner.

Shipped in small refill bottles, the brand is plastic free, vegan and only uses bio-degradable ingredients.

Multi-use seems to be an important attributed to all the brands we looked at and one which is beneficial for the environment, reducing over-use of products that essentially do the same job – and potentially reducing the long-term financial cost.

Ecover

Allergy approved

Credit: Ecover

If the thought of a cleaning product on display, however stylish, still doesn’t sit comfortably but you want to clean sustainably, then brands such as Ecover – one of the earliest leaders in sustainability having offered bulk refills since 1989 – also offer their supermarket staples online in 5L quantities.

Simply use your existing bottle for less plastic waste. With a seal of approval from Allergy UK, you can be assured the products will be kind to you and your family.

Refill your household staples

Re-use your refillables

If you already have a range of refillable bottles to hand, then many high streets also now have refill stores where you can buy household staples using your own containers.

These often include cleaning and laundry products as well as food so be sure to check out the Refill app which can connect you to a variety of stores, shops and services offering refill options.

Conscious cleaning kit

Is your cleaning equipment also a problem?

Credit: Snoap

It’s not just the cleaning liquids and sprays that are also changing their credentials. With the latest research showing 35% of consumers agreeing its acceptable for sustainable products to cost more, brands have responded to the need and have looked to nature for innovation, creating cleaning equipment made from sustainable sources such as bamboo and coconut fibres.

Replacing plastic scrubbing brushes with ones made from sustainable timber and coconut fibres, dishcloths with compostable and plastic free sponges are all great ideas. Using coconut fibre or copper recyclable scourers instead of plastic ones means all of your cleaning process can be more sustainable than ever before.

Even if switching to sustainable means we may have to slightly increase our average £3.10 a week spend on cleaning products, the added health and environmental benefits should outweigh the extra pennies spent.

Every little bit helps

Start as you mean to go on

Although in the current economic climate, we may not always feel able to spend extra money on essentials, household brands are recognising our desire for a more eco-friendly approach by launching their own products with sustainable credentials.

While these may be slightly cheaper than other eco brands, it’s important to remember this doesn’t mean they’ve fully removed all their other products containing chemicals – or indeed stopped selling single-use plastic products. Critics call this method ‘green-washing’ where companies are trying to distract you from the less sustainable elements of their business.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy one of these products. Even switching just one of your regular cleaning items to a more sustainable one means you’ve started your journey towards cleaning with a conscience.

Every little step in the right direction is a move towards a cleaner, greener, and healthier world.

Sarah Harley

Written by Sarah Harley she/her

Updated:

Since first picking up a paintbrush and experiencing the joy of re-decorating her bedroom in a questionable red, white and grey scheme as a young teenager, Sarah Harley was hooked on the world of interior design. This obsession even led to a real life ‘Grand Designs’ project in 2005 when she donned a pink hard hat and appeared on TV screens, project managing the renovation and extension of a Grade II listed 17th century Folly in South Wales.

Throughout her career, Sarah has gained an array of experience in several different roles, ranging from copywriting, PR, events management and photography to interior design and home staging. With her two passions being the written word and the joys of a beautifully designed home, Sarah’s mission is to open the door on the world of interiors, inviting readers in to help them work their way through the vast choice of products, ideas and trends so that their own homes can reach their full potential.

Away from work, Sarah fills her Pinterest boards with more ideas, dreams of where to travel, takes photographs and loves being by the sea. She has two sons and if she absorbed everything they said would also be a football expert. The fact is she is often more interested in the colour and design of the kit – but don’t tell them that.

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