Sustainable washing and cleaning methods are so much easier than we think – and cheaper! Many of the products we have learned are necessary are not needed at all, and some products are even harmful to both our health and to the environment. An easy way to reduce emissions of chemicals is to reduce the number of cleaning products and use eco-labelled detergents. Strong cleaning agents are usually not needed to make your home clean. Today there is a whole movement online about how we can clean our home with some simple eco-friendly products such as vinegar, lemon, salt, and bicarbonate of soda. Below are more detailed tips for those who want to make a difference in their washing and cleaning methods at home.
Tips for eco-friendly cleaning
- For cleaning the floors, use only water and soap, preferably an eco-labelled one.
- The kitchen, bathroom, windows, and other surfaces can be cleaned with a mixture of 2 dl vinegar (12%), 3 dl water and 5 drops of dishwashing liquid. Pour into a reusable spray bottle and spray (note: not suitable on natural stone as stains may occur!). This leaves surfaces shiny clean. For sinks and toilet seats, first sprinkle a little bicarbonate of soda on the surface and then spray. The bicarbonate of soda dissolves the dirt and leaves everything spotless.
- Microfiber cloths are good for cleaning dust, they absorb grease and dust and you do not need to use detergent. However, they can emit microplastics. An alternative can be linen rags – linen is one of the most durable textiles in the world.
- Remove tiles- and oven stains with bicarbonate of soda. Mix bicarbonate of soda with water until it has a viscid but manageable consistency. Smear over the tiles and leave on for at least 15 min. Use for example a toothbrush to scrub. For the oven, use a scraper.
- Scrub and scrape! Sometimes some muscles and hard work may be needed to remove tougher stains such as limescale deposits. Limescale on glass in the bathroom is advantageously removed with the same scraper as for the oven hatch. Try to use a discarded toothbrush or coconut fibre brush.
- To make the dishcloth last longer, boil it in a saucepan with water and a few drops of detergent. It is also fine to wash Wettex cloths and dish brushes in the dishwasher. An advice is to always rinse the dishcloth with cold water before putting it down – hot water in the dishcloth benefits bacterial growth.
- Read about more non-toxic cleaning tips here: Replace the harmful chemicals (in Swedish).
Washing and microplastics
What kind of materials our clothes are made of and how we wash them affect the environment in different ways. Synthetic fabrics emit tiny particles, so-called microplastics, and when we wash our clothes these microplastics go down the drain. Microplastics end up in the oceans and have been found in everything from fishes to sea salt and seaweed, and even in our drinking water and vegetables!
Why do we need to worry about microplastics ending up in the environment and finally, in our bodies? Research on microplastics is still relatively new but the studies that have been done shows, among other things, that it does impact our health. Plastic attracts oils, and oils in the sea often attract various pollutants and microorganisms that are harmful to humans. In several studies, microplastic fragments have been found in the brains of fish, in the liver and in the heart of rats and in mouse embryos. Researchers believe that microplastics in the human body can lead to several health problems such as oxidative stress, damage to our DNA and inflammation. At present, water treatment plants have no effective way to filter microplastics, but we can prevent them from ending up in the sewers!
- Buy textiles in natural materials. Read our post on sustainable textiles.
- Avoid skin care products, beauty products and other hygiene products that contain microplastics. Kurera (in Swedish) has an informative article on how you can identify which products that contain microplastics and a whole list of hygiene products to avoid.
- When you are washing synthetic materials (such as swimwear), hand washing in cold water is the best way to reduce the amount of microplastic that ends up in the environment.
- There are also laundry bags that catch a large amount of microplastic, such as the Guppyfriend laundry bag. The bag reduces the amount of microplastic that ends up in the drains but does not stop all microplastics.
Tips for an eco-friendly washing
- Ventilate your clothes in the first place (preferably when it is damp outside), before you decide to put them in the washing machine. That is often enough!
- Use eco-labelled detergent and dose correctly.
- Fill the washing machine thoroughly before you start washing.
- Wash in as low degrees as possible, the laundry is usually clean anyway. Today’s detergents are so effective that 30 or even 20 degrees may be enough. Why not try once?
- To get rid of tough stains from white textiles, boil the fabric for a while on the stove with water and lemon. Then hang the garment in the sun and stains will disappear!
- Avoid fabric softeners as they often contain environmentally hazardous surfactants and allergenic perfumes. Instead use vinegar (in the same way), as vinegar removes odours from clothing and removes a variety of harmful organisms such as mould spores.
- Let your laundry air dry if you have the opportunity. It reduces energy use, but above all wears less on clothes.
Page updated 2021.
NATIONAL LIBRARY OF MEDICINE Nanoparticles can cross mouse placenta and induce trophoblast apoptosis
SCIENCE DIRECT Microplastics in air: Are we breathing it in?
SPRINGER LINK Bioavailability and biodistribution of differently charged polystyrene nanoparticles upon oral exposure in rats.
SCIENTIFIC REPORTS Brain damage and behavioural disorders in fish induced by plastic nanoparticles delivered through the food chain.
SCIENCE DIRECT Dangerous hitchhikers? Evidence for potentially pathogenic Vibrio spp. on microplastic particles.