4 Easy Ways to Make Your Cleaning Routine (Almost) Zero Waste
Over time, tiny changes make a big difference.
Living a zero-waste lifestyle is undeniably admirable. But similar to those lofty New Year's resolutions that are so unachievable we abandon them within a week, attempting to make an overnight switch to a zero-waste existence probably isn't sustainable for most of us. For a less intimidating approach we can actually stick to, we consulted Melanie Mannarino's new book, The (Almost) Zero Waste Guide: 100+ Tips for Reducing Your Waste Without Changing Your Life ($15, bookshop.org). As the title suggests, the book focuses on small but meaningful ways to live a less wasteful life. It delves into everything from cooking, to travel, to clothes—but we've decided to start with our cleaning routines. Follow these four simple tips from The (Almost) Zero Guide Guide and they'll soon become second nature.
Want to eliminate a shelf full of household cleaning products in numerous plastic bottles and jugs? Many professional house cleaners swear by a water-dampened cloth and some muscle—yes, even to clean grimy windows. But if you’re the type who likes to spritz a solution on counters, porcelain, and other surfaces, repurpose an old spray bottle and fill it with one part water to one part white vinegar. You can use the mixture as is or create a custom blend with a few drops of lemon essential oil or your favorite natural scent. For tough surface stains—even on granite— a paste of baking soda and water is also highly effective.
Many cloth rag materials have environmental knocks against them. Microfiber towels are excellent at grabbing and holding dust and dirt particles—but they can shed microplastic fibers when washed (which then end up in rivers, oceans, and other bodies of water—and potentially in the digestive systems of the seafood we eat), and are not universally recyclable. Even cotton, a natural fiber, has come under scrutiny for its heavy reliance on chemical pesticides, large amounts of water, and vast farmland. But when you reuse cotton that you already have in your home—an old T-shirt, a cut-up bedsheet or bath towel—you’re offsetting the environmental burden created when that item was made, and sparing rolls upon rolls of paper towels in the process.
Typical synthetic sponges are plastic-based, meaning they come with all the microplastic-shedding and live-forever baggage other plastics are known for. Considering that most experts recommend replacing your bacteria-laden kitchen sponge every two weeks to a month, that’s a lot of waste going straight to the landfill just so you can clean your chef’s knife. Instead, buy plant-based cellulose sponges. Made from wood pulp, these sponges are biodegradable and even compostable. To further reduce waste, look for cellulose sponges that are packaged minimally in a small paper or cardboard sleeve, rather than sealed in plastic film.
To clarify, here’s the wrong way: letting the faucet blast hot water at full force while you individually wash each dish, pot, knife, and pan underneath the flow. You’re literally pouring water—one of the planet’s most precious natural resources—down the drain. Instead, fill the sink with warm, sudsy water, then turn off the faucet before washing a meal’s worth of pots, pans, and utensils. If you have a double sink, fill the other side with clean, warm water for rinsing. (No double sink? A roomy, shallow bucket will also work.) If you’d rather use the dishwasher, make sure it’s full before you run it; doing so makes the water used per item as minimal as possible. Energy-efficient dishwashers use about four gallons of water per load, and require a smaller amount of energy to heat the water and drive the water pump.