After a long winter, our cozy homes can appear as stuffy, dusty, germ-dwelling habitats that make us want to throw open the windows and breathe in fresh air. Warmer spring sun may also shed light on the clutter that we accumulate throughout the year. For these reasons, spring cleaning is a must.
Clearing my space feels gratifying, but the trash bags of discarded belongings and spoiled food can leave a pang of guilt in my nature-loving heart. I also start questioning whether a home can really be considered clean after it has been scrubbed down with chemicals. Is the use of chemicals, plastics and paper trash the way to foster a healthy environment that we can feel confident having our children and pets run around in? If your answer to this question is a resounding NO, read on for three ecologically-friendly and healthy alternatives to your spring cleaning routine.
Switch: Bags full of waste and paper for recyclable cloths, composting and the reuse of old items
Eliminating clutter is one of the first projects many of us tackle when we spring clean. Instead of throwing unwanted items away without a second thought (adding to the growing landfill problem), first try to find ways to breathe a second life into recyclable/reusable material. Turn mismatched socks or old t-shirts into dust rags and cleaning cloths. Convert old frames and torn book covers into works of art.
The average American household throws away approximately $640 worth of old food per year, and this trash adds to greenhouse gases and other ecological problems. Rather than throwing old food away, try composting. A quick internet search can provide you with a plethora of information, from the correct way to compost to its environmental benefits.
Switch: Chemical-laden cleaning formulas for healthier (and equally reliable) alternatives made at home
If you want a healthy environment for you, your children and pets, walk away from the chemical-filled cleaners and head into the kitchen. Vinegar, baking soda, boiling water and lemons are a few common ingredients that make powerful cleaning solutions.
Any vinegar will cut grease, grime and kill bacteria, but I prefer apple cider vinegar for its pleasantly sweet scent. Apply it directly to heavily soiled areas or mix it in equal parts with water for a less abrasive cleaning solution that’s safe for many surfaces.
For wood surfaces, mix 1 part of apple cider vinegar with double parts of olive oil. The olive oil will cut the harshness of the vinegar while also polishing and conditioning the wood. You can also add lemon juice or drops of essential oils for their appealing scents (lemon will also add to the anti-bacterial properties of your cleaner). Wipe with a soft cloth (perhaps one made of the old clothes you just turned into rags), but first, as with most cleaning solutions, test a bit of this mixture on a small area. Also, don’t rub it into the wood, but wipe gently and allow your furniture to air dry.
Baking soda will also scrub away grime and deodorize. Sprinkle it on tough stains and gently wipe them away or shake some over your carpet a few minutes before vacuuming. Keep in mind that baking soda will neutralize vinegar, so mixing the two in hopes of a double-action cleaning solution won’t work. The two together will, however, unblock clogged drains when chased with boiling water.
In place of air freshener, wipe a diluted mixture of essential oils to surfaces. You can also try simmering cinnamon, vanilla, a lemon peel and a little water on the stove top and let their comforting, mingled scent waft throughout your kitchen and other areas of your home (a great idea for apartments).
Switch: Plastic storage bins and containers for glass, metal or wicker
After everything has been wiped down with your chemical-free cleaning solutions, it’s time to store it all away. Unfortunately, our lives have been infiltrated with plastic, and we store everything from our food to toys and animal supplies in it. Not only is plastic unhealthy for the environment, but the chemicals used to create plastic can seep into our food.
Going plastic-free may not happen overnight, but spring cleaning is a good time to slowly begin expunging it from your home. Keep kids toys in wicker or heavy duty cardboard containers. Store your animal’s food in a glass jar.
Click here to read North Carolina State University’s alternatives for plastic in the kitchen.