Plastic Free July Day 13: Cleaning

plastic bottles in the bathroom

(picture credit:

(Back to the challenge summary)

When it comes to house cleaning, 99% of the products we purchase are sold in plastic bottles! Or worse, disposable wipes…

All purpose cleaner, dish soap, dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, fabric softener, glass cleaner, stainless steel cleaner, floor cleaner, toilet cleaner, … for a family, this probably represents more than 30 bottles a year if not more.

Do we need all this? NO

Can we clean our homes without plastic and harsh chemicals? YES!!!

toxic harmful cleaning products

(Picture credit: Green Lifestyle Market)

First Things First: Choose or Make Products with Safe Ingredients

The world of cleaning products is scary, seriously. NO government or state agency checks a product’s toxicity before it is put on the market. Therefore, companies can basically put anything on the shelves…

According to EWG website: “There are no current regulations requiring manufacturers to fully list their ingredients on their packages or online, which can leave shoppers completely in the dark regarding the safety of these products. Although some companies voluntarily reveal some ingredients, only about one in seven cleaning products reviewed by EWG in 2016 fully disclosed ingredients on their packages or websites.

What are these highly toxic chemical ingredients? Ammonia, chlorine bleach, hydrochloric acid, phosphoric acid, sodium or potassium hydroxide, ethanolamines, synthetic fragrances, triclosan and more. Avoid them at all costs, don’t trust the pretty packaging!

According to EWG again : “Cleaning products can bring toxic chemicals into your home, which tend to build up in indoor air. In fact, EWG tested 21 commonly used cleaning products—like air fresheners and multipurpose cleaning sprays—and found that they emitted more than 450 chemicals into the air, including a number of compounds linked to asthma, developmental and reproductive harm, or cancer. Children are more vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals than adults.

And I won’t even start on the harmful impact of these products on the environment. Because when we rinse the bathtub or the sink, they are all discharged in the water and they are toxic for aquatic animals and plants.

ewg healthy living app 

But we are lucky, some people are checking everything for us, because not everyone has the knowledge or the time to check all these ingredients one by one: EWG and Made Safe. They are my to-go trusted sources.

For example, EWG even has an app (Iphone and Android) with products ratings: scan the barcode "et voilà", you’ll know if this product is safe to use. Isn’t it awesome?!!

The rating is not enough for me though, I always check the list of ingredients in the app; each one is rated, I only purchase products with ingredients rated #1 and #2.

Plastic Free Option 1 : Refill your bottles, opt for plastic-free packaging

refill stores package free products

(Picture credit: Fillgood / The soap dispensary / West Coast Refill)

As I was saying, 99% of cleaning products come in a plastic container. A few are packaged in cardboard (powder products mainly) but it’s potentially lined with plastic on the inside, try to check before buying or ask your zero waste group.

Some brands are innovating: Meliora makes all purpose cleaner tabs. Dissolve one little tab in 16oz of water, and tadaaa, you have a whole bottle ready! The ingredients are simple and safe, it's a perfect match. 

online refill store san francisco bay area

Now what about refilling your bottles in a store? There are more and more package-free shops around the world, hurray, and most of them have a cleaning products refill corner. Bring your bottles to our Berkeley zero waste store and refill, refill, refill! It’s easy, you can bring any container.

If you don’t feel like going to a store, if you don’t have the time to do it (as a mom of 2 I feel like I never have enough time!), you can opt for a “milk man style” refill service like what we offer at Fillgood. Products are delivered to your door and when you run out, leave your empties outside, we’ll take them back, clean them and refill them!

Plastic-Free Option #2 : Make your own products!

homemade safe cleaning products

There are many recipes online for simple products, I’ve tried some and I’ll share them below. I have not tried to make laundry detergent or dish soap, it’s seems a bit too complicated for me and I really don’t have time to try laundry recipes, I already spend too much time doing the laundry :-)

There’s one important thing to remember: it’s a plastic-free option if you manage to buy the ingredients without plastic!

glass cleaner all purpose zero waste

The very easy ones : glass cleaner / all purpose cleaner

Glass Cleaner Recipe : half white vinegar, half water, essential oils (the ones you prefer, it’s for the scent) or lemon/grapefruit peels (let them macerate for a few days).

All Purpose Cleaner Recipe: 3 oz castile soap, 24 oz water, essential oils

  • Essential oils are very hard to find in refills but at least they come in a glass bottle (if you can, bring all your glass containers to your local recycling center and place them directly in the glass bins, it’s way more efficient as they are not mixed with other materials).
  • White vinegar: I’ve found a brand in a glass bottle (picture)
  • Castile Soap: bulk
  • Water: tap water.

toilet bowl cleaner safe zero waste

A fizzy one: toilet bowl bombs!

Someone gave me 2 of those, she made a whole batch. I’ve tried them, it works great and it’s fun! Now I haven’t tried to make them yet, but it looks easy and cheap.

You can find the recipe here:

  • Baking soda: bulk or cardboard box
  • Citric acid: bulk (it looks like it mostly comes in a plastic bottle though )
  • Essential oils: glass bottle
  • Orange zest
  • Water 

And for those of you who don't have time to make toilet bombs, you can order on the website!

Plastic Free Option #3: Loofahs, Brushes and More!

plastic free sponges zero waste tawashi brush

(Picture credit: GiseleByLaMissApple/

We already talked about rags on Day 9, to replace paper towels. What are the other zero waste cleaning essentials?


  • Loofahs: these plants are a great plastic-free alternative. You can even grow them in your garden. Untreated, each one of these soft sponges can last one to two months and is fully compostable in the end, in your backyard or your city compost (use it with eco friendly products though!).
  • Swedish dishcloths: 1 can replace up to 17 rolls of paper towels! You can not only use them to clean spills and wipe counters but also to handwash your dishes. They are machine washable, that's why they can last 9 months to a year. Reduce waste and save money at the same time!

Brushes (dish, toilet bowl, bottles cleaner…)

Look for brushes with natural bristles and a wooden handle. Some even have a replaceable head. Plastic bristles release microplastics everywhere, that's why plant bristles are a perfect plastic free and sustainable alternative. Let them dry between uses to make them last longer and compost them at the end of their life.

Toilet brush, pot brush, scrub brush, bottle brush, etc : there's a brush for every cleaning job in the house!

Join the conversation!