Zero Waste Cleaning


I think I'm a negative person, because when I first moved to Paris, what I noticed wasn't the way cream-colored buildings caught the light or distinctive loggias dotting tree-lined boulevards. It was the thick layer of limescale on everything. Well-meaning friends gave advice, but their homes aggravated my Howard Hughes-level mysophobia- the 'fresh' scent of Ariel smelled like endocrine disruptors to me. For a zero-waste, industrial chemical-free apartment, I use nothing but these biodegradable cleaners, stored in Aesop bottles made of pharmaceutical grade amber glass. Note: This list is Paris-specific. If I lived in Indonesia, I'd probably use soap nuts for everything!

Zero waste cleaners and natural, homemade disinfectants


White vinegar 

Spray directly on any surface and wipe off. To disinfect and remove hard water stains, let stand 10 minutes, then scrub with soap and water. Add 50 cl to laundry as fabric softener. For marble or wood floors, mix one part distilled water and one part vinegar; mop with vegetable sponge. Suitable as toilet cleaner, fruit and vegetable wash, stainless steel, jewelry, electronics and glass cleaner; rinse aid, and deodorizer. Vinegar is acidic- never mix with a base like castile soap.

According to peer-reviewed studies, vinegar removes 99% of bacteria and viruses, except the poliovirus- it eliminates 90% of the population. Soap and water will take care of the rest. Updated to add: If you can only find vinegar in plastic, I don't recommend glass because even though it's fully recyclable, glass transportation has a hefty carbon footprint since the bottles are heavier than plastic. Try making scrap vinegar at home instead. It's easy, I personally just don't do it that often because A) I get vinegar at En Vrac and B) I eat all my apple cores, even the stems. I like lignin.


Aleppo Soap

Rub directly on stains to clean both porous and non-porous surfaces. Apply to damp brush to wash dishes. Grate soap for use as laundry detergent, or dissolve 70g grated soap in 2L boiling distilled water, and use for washing dishes, laundry, hand/body wash or shampoo. Can be used to clean upholstery or hand-wash dry cleaning. Tip: Pour dissolved soap mixture into a silicone ice cube tray and place in refrigerator for zero-waste, non-toxic laundry tabs.

Distilled water 

Place a glass or stoneware bowl in a pot of water (make sure it floats). Invert the lid and bring to boil. When condensation fills the bowl (place ice on the lid for faster results), cool and store. Add lavender or rose petals to the pot for linen water, facial toner, flavorings, or to freshen and dehumidify air. Combine with equal parts vodka in a spray bottle to freshen clothes, bedding and upholstery- zero waste Febreze.

Baking soda

Sprinkle on sofa, mattresses, carpets, rugs or upholstered items and vacuum after 30 minutes to deep clean. Pour in drains and chase with white vinegar. Use to scrub ovens, pans, litter boxes, tubs, and the sink. To kill mold without bleach, scrub surface mold with baking soda, then spray vinegar on area and leave one hour. To remove tarnish from silver, soak in baking soda with boiling water.  To clean drains, use snake and plunger, then follow with baking soda, vinegar, and boiling water. Baking soda is a finite (though practically inexhaustable) resource that is mined from trona ore. It is not usually recycled and vast industrial quantities can persist in ecosystems, posing a risk to several species. However, the benefits far outweight the risks, which are mitigated by proper industrial disposal.

Olive oil

Zero-waste WD-40/Goo Gone- oil hinges, remove labels, and clean residue, gum and paint off of anything; cut with lemon juice to seal wood (or just use straight linseed oil), dust furniture, and polish shoes and silver. Buff thoroughly to prevent spoilage.

Beeswax / Candelilla

Rub directly on boots or rain coats to waterproof them. Melt 1/4 cup with a steamer to seal floors. Loosen rusty bolts and stuck drawers, preserve bronze, and repair rope. Combine 1/2 teaspoon with equal part olive oil to seal cutting boards.


Citrus slices/peels

Leave in gutters or on balcony to ward off mosquitoes; add to garbage can or garbage disposal to deodorize. Soak in vinegar for wood / all-purpose cleaner. Simmer on stove to dehumidify and scent the air. Use lemon slices to clean stains off butcher block countertops and disinfect cutting boards.

Plastic-Free Cleaning Tools


Flour sack towels

Despite the energy input required for cotton, I prefer these over microfiber for biodegradability and versatility. I use towels my mom and grandmother used (with extras from eBay), and they make great napkins and food wrappers. Instead of a wooden, plastic-free toilet brush, a specially designated flour sack towel works fine.

Compostable brush

We use this bamboo brush for scrubbing. After a year, the handle fell off and disappeared into compost, but the head is perfectly usable and disinfected in boiling vinegar every week. Redecker brushes are available throughout Paris.

Instead of spraying Lysol, open a window or set trash cans and litter boxes in the sun to freshen them. Even if your vacuum cleaner isn't bagless, you can compost the contents, rinse the bag, and re-use it. Try using a garment brush or vegetable sponge as a zero-waste lint roller (grow your own- they last indefinitely with proper care), and a galvanized bucket instead of a breakable plastic one. There's a learning curve with natural cleaning products, but now the first thing people say when they walk in is how clean and nice-smelling everything is. Everyone asks the name of our cleaning lady! 



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20 comments:

  1. US readers might also appreciate the following resource for amber & cobalt bottles, tins, roll on bottles, carrier oils, essential oils, waxes etc. I haven't purchased from them yet, but plan to soon: https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/catalog/containers

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    1. Thank you so much Darcy! What a great resource.

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  2. Ariana, I'm curious. Does Apple Cider vinegar clean as well as white vinegar? I can't find vinegar in bulk and the large bottles (needed when I use it for so many purposes) are only sold in plastic. I'm considering trying to make my own apple cider with a mother etc. but not if it doesn't clean as well. Would love your chemistry wisdom! TIA!

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    1. Hi Darcy, how are you? It does clean just as well, but, the smell doesn't dissipate as quickly, and then sometimes I end up with brown stains on my t-shirts or towels. They've come out of my clothes very easily but the towels need to be laid out in the sun after.

      I highly recommend making your own vinegar! It's fun and cheap. I used to do it because I couldn't find gluten free vinegar but now I don't because I never have apple cores, I eat them :) It's still a cool thing to try. Tell me what you decide and how it goes!

      I never could find vinegar in bulk in the US. They only started carrying it here in Paris recently, at least as far as I know! I think Bea Johnson buys it in glass bottles.

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  3. Doing quite well- thank you for asking! Yes, I've seen that Bea does and it's easy to find, but my concern is how expensive that will become given the amount I use- probably half a glass bottle just yesterday clearing a drain (trying to settle into a sweet spot of affordable "greenness.") I may give the DIY a whirl and just use the ACV for cleaning the house/ gardening purposes and save the white for clothing items. Thanks for such a quick response! Grateful as always for your generosity of information!

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    1. Oh yes that would be pricey. I substitute lemon juice for vinegar too. If I manage not to eat the peel, it's great for scrubbing the tub, fixtures, floors or sink. You can use the juice on mirrors and glass too... Well, anything you use vinega on. And distilled water on a hemp scrub cleans and polishes well- like vinegar, without the sanitizing effect (it does remove some bacteria mechanically).

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  5. Hi Arianna, do you use essential oils in your vinegar mix to make it smell nicer? thanks.

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    1. Hi Kimberley, I don't use essential oils because of my cats, but some people put a drop or two of lavender or grapefruit essential oils inside to make it smell better. I find the smell dissipates pretty quickly but have read that others put a sprig of rosemary or orange peels in the vinegar, which cancels out the smell.

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  6. you had me loling at 'i like lignin'!
    jeanne

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  7. This is a great list of zero-waste cleaning tips. In particular, the olive oil and beeswax tips: have never heard of it before and will definitely try it out!

    I actually just compiled a thorough guide to getting started with the zero-waste cleaning. I think you might find some of the ones not mentioned here useful.

    For example, vodka has some surprising advantages over vinegar for cleaning. Take a look if you get a chance: labient.com/zero-waste-cleaning-guide.

    Natalie

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    1. Oh yeah, vodka is a great one. Especially for freshening clothes! Thanks!

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  8. Hello! I love your blog, it's such an inspiration! Please, where did you find the spray bottles? They seem to be made of glass. I would be glad to find some, I am still using plastic bottles which is fine but not when you want to use pure hot vinegar (for really hard to remove limescale). Thanks in advance. :) A french fan.

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    1. Hi Estelle you are so sweet! They are old Aesop mouthwash bottles, they are glass, I just reused the sprayer from an old Mrs Meyer's cleaning product. If you click the little picture of the glass bottle above there should be a link to where you can buy it online... I don't know where to buy them in shops in France though :(

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  9. Hello! It's coming up a year that I bought and started using the Savon Du Marseiile. I slowly used up my other products and have NOT been replacing all those 'specialty' cleaners with SDM. I'm in love. I'm constantly amazed at how well it cleans, degreasers, shines, washes, launders, de stains and just smells FRESH! It is the best thing to wash my dog with - the clean dog smell lasts longer with the marseille soap over any dog shampoo I have ever used, including the vet shampoos as my dog has a skin yeast that is awful. It took a stain off a blazer that the dry cleaner did not and the blazer smelled cleaner and fresher after I washed it with SDM! I'm truly amazed at how well 'great grandmas soap' is and how much I do not need to buy to have a beautifully clean house! Thank you Ariana!!!!

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    1. Hi Kate! This is so awesome! Glad to hear it's working out so well for you. Thank you for telling me, I love hearing stuff like this :)

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  10. Hi Ariana,
    Any advice regarding dust? Unstoppable, self multiplying dust! I only use soap, vinegar and baking soda in my cleaning routine.
    And a hoover. We live in a busy part of the city and I have jat invested in a codless dyson, simply because I need to vacuum daily! I am at my wits end when I wake up in the morning only to be met with fluff that I just tackled in the afternoon.
    Is it the city dust or sonething else? How do you tackle it?

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    1. Hi Magdalena, I wiped up every day when we lived in the 7th because all the windows meant so much city dust. The wiping kept dust in check but I know it's not practical for everyone. That is so frustrating!

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