Looking to reduce your household’s plastic usage? Try these simple and practical cleaning swaps to reduce plastic waste and positively impact the environment.
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Trashing the Planet as We Clean
As consumer demand for convenient cleaning wipes, pre-treated mops, and disposable bottles has exploded, plastic cleaning products and packaging have become a huge issue.
Millions of tons of plastic garbage are created each year in the pursuit of a “clean” home. Most of this plastic waste is packaging, which is used only once before being thrown away. (The EPA estimates that 14.5 million tons of plastic containers and packaging were generated in the United States in 2018.)
Recycling plastic is supposed to help address this problem by turning trash into new items, but recycling rates are getting worse. By 2021, only 5% of U.S. plastic waste was recycled…because most single-use plastics can’t be recycled.
It’s a wake-up call for anyone concerned about their personal impact on the environment.
How to Reduce Plastic Waste
I’m not here to shame you for your cleaning routine! I loved disposable dusters and mopping pads before I learned that they were made from plastic.
But we must face the truth: to reduce plastic pollution, we have to curb plastic consumption. This means swapping out some of our favorite cleaning tools and convenience products for green, more sustainable options.
It’s a difficult decision for many consumers.
Luckily, the availability of convenient, eco-friendly cleaning tools has grown! There are lots of great alternatives to single-use cleaning products.
13 Cleaning Swaps to Reduce Plastic Waste
Try some of these plastic-free options when you run out of your current cleaners to get your home clean while reducing plastic waste:
- Swap single-use moping pads for washable cloths or a reusable mop.
Disposable mopping pads such as Swifter are made from plastic. These single-use items are not recyclable, create lots of landfill waste, and are not biodegradable.
Try a mop with a washable head, or use a cotton cloth as a “refill” for your existing mop. You’ll save $ in the long run and reduce single-use plastic waste.
- Swap plastic sponges for plant-based scrubbers.
Most conventional cleaning sponges are made from plastic: Magic Erasers are made from melamine plastic foam, Scrub Daddy products are made from engineered polymer foam, and Scotch-Brite scrub sponges are made from synthetic cellulose fiber. They are not biodegradable and break down to microplastic pollution.
Try using a bamboo or wooden dish brush, felted dish cloth, or compostable sponge and scourer. They work great for washing dirty dishes, look cute on the kitchen counter, and decompose naturally.
- Swap microfiber cleaning cloths for cotton rags.
Microfiber cloths are made from a synthetic polyester and nylon blend (plastic). They are not recyclable and are not biodegradable. When washed, these synthetic fabrics shed millions of microplastic fibers into the water.
Make your own upcycled cleaning rags from old t-shirts or towels, or buy cotton cleaning cloths. These reusable cloths are affordable, don’t have to be babied in the laundry, and biodegrade once they are thrown away.
- Swap dryer sheets for wool dryer balls.
Dryer sheets are made from polyester, which is a type of plastic. They go directly to the landfill after one use and are not recyclable or biodegradable.
Try reusable wool dryer balls, which reduce drying time while softening laundry, last for years, and biodegrade once they are thrown away. You’ll save $ and reduce single-use plastic waste.
- Swap liquid laundry detergent/ pods for laundry sheets or pressed tablets.
Single-use bottles of liquid laundry detergent and containers of laundry pods are heavy to ship (creating lots of carbon emissions), create lots of landfill waste, and are not biodegradable.
Try detergent strips or tablets to eliminate the need for disposable plastics; they are light to ship and often come in biodegradable cardboard sleeves. You’ll save space in the laundry room and can have the detergent delivered directly to your front door.
- Swap pre-made cleaning liquids for cleaning concentrates.
Single-use cleaner bottles are heavy to ship (creating lots of carbon emissions) and create lots of landfill waste.
Opt for eco-friendly, refillable cleaning products such as Grove and Public Goods. These cleaners are sold in glass bottles that can be refilled over and over with cleaning concentrates (you mix with water at home). These products create less plastic waste and reduce carbon emissions because concentrates are lighter to ship.
- Swap dishwasher liquid or pods for powder or tablets. Single-use containers of dishwasher detergent are heavy to ship (creating more carbon emissions) and are not biodegradable.
Choose powdered dishwasher detergent that comes in a biodegradable cardboard box, or buy cardboard-packaged tablets. These products use no plastic and are lighter to ship, reducing carbon emissions.
(Note: You can find dishwasher tablets in the supermarket, but most come in a single-use plastic bag and are wrapped in PVA.)
- Swap disinfectant wipes for a spray bottle of alcohol and cloth. Disinfecting wipes are single-use plastic sheets that create lots of landfill waste and are not biodegradable.
Try using a spritz of isopropyl or ethyl alcohol (70% minimum) and a washable cotton cloth. A bottle of alcohol lasts longer than a container or disposable wipes, creating less waste. (Learn how to use natural disinfectants including alcohol.)
- Swap sticky lint rollers for a reusable lint brush. Link roller sheets are made from plastic that cannot be recycled and are not biodegradable.
Try a zero-waste felt lint brush, rubber link brush, or rubber lint remover that can be used again and again. You’ll save money in the long run and never run out of disposable sheets when you’re covered in pet hair.
- Swap single-use dusters for a washable duster head or cotton cloth. Disposable dusting clothes and duster heads from brands such as Swifter are made from plastic. These single-use items are not recyclable or biodegradable, creating lots of landfill waste.
Try a washable, reusable duster, or use a damp cotton cloth. You’ll save money in the long run and never run out of disposable sheets.
- Swap pre-made cleaners for homemade versions. Conventional cleaning products sold in single-use plastic bottles are often full of unknown ingredients.
Try making your own cleaning solutions from ingredients you already have at home (like vinegar or baking soda) to eliminate waste and harsh chemicals. You can reuse the same bottles repeatedly and will save on cleaning supplies. Get my favorite green cleaning recipes here.
- Swap paper towels for cloths or rags. Paper towels have a lower carbon footprint than plastic cleaning wipes and break down in landfills, but they are a heavily used, single-use item that is sold wrapped in plastic.
Try replacing some paper towels with reusable paper towels: rags (upcycled them from old clothes or towels), a lightweight cotton towel, or a biodegradable dishcloth. You’ll save money and reduce landfill waste.
- Swap new items for upcycled tools. Using the items you already own is always the most sustainable option. Look for items you already have at home that can be repurposed for cleaning.
Try using old t-shirts or orphaned socks as cleaning rags, upcycle a glass bottle and old spray top into a cleaner bottle, or make a t-shirt folder from a cardboard box.
There are lots of convenient cleaning swaps to reduce plastic, such as using reusable cleaning tools, refillable cleaners, and plastic-free storage containers. Try a few new options to help reduce single-use waste and plastic pollution.