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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!