7 Eco-Friendly Cleaning Tips I Learned From My Mom

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When you grow up in a hippie household, you learn a lot about eco-friendly cleaning. There was no bleach in my childhood home, and I'm pretty sure my mom doesn't even know how to use it. And I honestly couldn't have a named a conventional bathroom cleaner until well after college. All of this to say that when friends tell me they want to switch to more eco-friendly cleaning options, I'm like, "I've got you."

My mom claims she isn't a hippie, but check this: She drove to Vermont from New York City in 1973 in a VW bus, lived on a farm, and then ran a pottery co-op for over 40 years. Sounds pretty hippie-ish to me, Mom.

But, all teasing aside, I'm really grateful for the hippie values that my mom picked up in 1970s Vermont, even if she'll never claim the moniker. I grew up eating whole grains, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and with limited exposure to harsh chemicals. That's because my mom knows all the tricks of eco-friendly cleaning products, from which ones to buy to how to make your own.

Why choose eco-friendly products over conventional? Well, for one, minimizing your exposure to harsh chemicals, especially on surfaces where you prepare food, means reducing your exposure to potential carcinogens or hormone disrupters, according to CNN. But these harsh chemicals can have just as much of an impact on the planet as on our bodies when they get rinsed back into our water system, meaning you're also reducing the risk of polluting the earth when you choose these products. Win-win, right?

In that spirit, I'm going to share a little bit of my mom's eco-friendly cleaning knowledge with you. Enjoy that harsh chemical-free life, friends!

1. Be Conscious About Packaging

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There are way more eco-friendly cleaning products these days then when my mom was raising me sans bleach — and that’s great! But one thing it’s important to keep in mind when you’re moving over to a more eco-friendly cleaning style is packaging. All of that plastic, cardboard, and paper? That’s not great.

Unfortunately, eliminating packaging can be almost impossible in this day and age, because everything comes in packaging. And that’s not your fault. But you absolutely can reduce the amount of packaging you consume and throw away by buying refillable bottles and products that come in lower impact packages. A good example is Method, which offers refills (sometimes for up to three times the size of the original!) for most of their soaps in lower-impact packaging. Another option is buying in bulk at your local health food store or online.

You can also reduce packaging waste by not buying a million different products. It’s a myth that we need different soaps for our kitchen sink than those we use on the bathroom sink. Assess which of your favorite products can be used in multiple parts of your home and stick to those, rather than buying a new product with its own packaging for every type of cleaning.

2. Vinegar And Baking Soda Are Your Friends

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Did you know that you can DIY most home cleaning products? Yup, people had clean homes before modern surface cleaner, believe it or not! And one of the most common ingredients in DIY home cleaning products is vinegar.

But if you’re not interested in your house smelling like a back of salt and vinegar chips after you clean it, check out this recipe for a vinegar cleaning spray that doesn’t stink. Vinegar cleans basically everything, is cheap AF, and is totally eco-friendly. You can’t really beat that!

If vinegar is in basically every DIY eco-friendly cleaning product, then baking soda is there to give them a little extra oomph. Mixed with water, it creates a paste that can be used as a non-toxic abrasive. It can be used as a deodorizer for everything from stinky shoes to much-loved stuffed animals to refrigerators. And it’s also a great stain remover! Baking soda: Cheap, non-toxic, and very useful.

3. Dish Soap Can Have Many Functions

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One product that you can’t really make on your own is dish soap, although there are plenty of eco-friendly dish soap options out there. (I like Sal’s Suds, a product by Dr. Bronner’s that can be used on pretty much everything.)

Also, if you get a good eco-friendly dish soap, you can use it on way more than just your dishes. For example, castile soaps can be mixed up with water to wash your floor, or mixed with other ingredients to make just about every type of cleaner.

Fun fact: Because it’s specifically formulated to stick to oil, dish soap is all you need to get out any stain on clothing that’s oil-based. So next time you spill food on yourself, no need to buy a whole other product to get the stain out! Just reach for your eco-friendly dish soap, place a clean cloth under the stain, and then blot it gently with soap and water until the stain lifts.

4. Use Salt And Lemon To Polish Copper And Brass

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This is a fun one I discovered recently, after my boyfriend got bacon grease all over the vintage copper and brass tea kettle I found at an estate sale. (No, I’m not still salty about it. Why do you ask?)

Here’s what you do: Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle sea salt on the end of it. Then, rub it in gentle(ish) circles on the copper or brass object. If you want to up the impact, make a vinegar and baking soda paste and use that as well. Depending on how dirty whatever it is you’re cleaning is, it may take a while (and a few lemons) but you’ll be left with a gleaming, lovely item once you’re done. No chemicals needed.

5. OxiClean Is The Greatest

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I can’t tell you how much I love OxiClean. Seriously. It’s such a great product that works to clean everything, gets out every stain — including pen! — and is eco-friendly. Surprised? So was I. It turns out that even though the packaging on OxiClean makes it look like a conventional cleaning product, it’s actually mostly hydrogen peroxide.

If, like me, you’re trying to keep bleach and other heavy chemicals out of rotation, but still like a sparkling white tub, then OxiClean is your new best friend. Just don’t get sucked into their many different products. Really all you need is the OG powder — it can be mixed up with water for many different purposes.

6. Check Out Bon Ami

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Bon Ami is another product that’s great to add to your eco-cleaning arsenal. While many of the other products and methods I’ve mentioned are mostly liquids, Bon Ami uses mild mineral abrasives to really dig in and get things nice and clean. Unlike a lot of other cleaners, Bon Ami uses only five ingredients and you can read them all without a degree in chemistry: Limestone (calcite), feldspar, soda ash, baking soda, and biodegradable detergent. And it's safe even on more delicate surfaces: It's cute logo is a little chick, with the motto "Hasn't scratched yet!"

Since it’s been around since 1886, my grandma used it, my mom uses it, and now I use it. It’s a classic eco-friendly go-to.

7. Ditch The Paper Towels

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Now, I know: Paper towels are super absorbent. And it can be really hard to give that up! But any single use paper product is the antithesis of eco-friendly cleaning.

Instead of wasting all that paper, get some good cleaning rags that you don't mind getting filthy. Even better? Cut up old t-shirts and other clothing to use as rags when they've gotten too worn to wear. That way you're reducing waste times two!

Eco-friendly cleaning doesn't mean you have to run out and buy a bunch of new products — in fact, it means pretty much the opposite. But the rewards of making the switch are numerous, on top of having a shiny clean house.