Being accident-prone worked to my advantage. When a guest recently walked into my home, he paused in the living room and said, “It smells amazing in here.” I could’ve easily just let him believe that it always smells like that, but the truth was a bottle of essential oils fell out of my hand less than a few minutes before he knocked on my window. The bottle hit the floor, splashed all over my laminate wood flooring and all I could do was wipe it up with a paper towel. I noticed a few flakes of dust, so I grabbed my dustpan and swept that up, too.
Two weeks later, that same dustpan still smells like essential oils. So every time I sweep my floors, here comes the smell of those oils again. Who needs candles when I can count on being a klutz?
This is one of many tips I’ve found by accident for eco-friendly cleaning. Strong, poisonous cleaners are simply unrealistic in a home like mine. I’m a dog caregiver who is a magnet for curious pets who love to hunt for crumbs, lick floors and already have noses sensitive enough to explore up to 300 million olfactory receptors (compared to approximately 6 million in human beings).
With coronavirus unfortunately creeping its way back up in U.S. infection cases (3.76 million and counting), being a stickler for a clean home and hands is as important now as it ever was. But with families hanging out at home far more than before, finding safe and environmentally friendly ways to clean should be top priority.
Here are a few eco-friendly tips to clean safer, smarter and more economically:
Skip the paper towels as your go-to for cleanups
California dog owners taught me a thing or two about wasting paper. In two dog owners’ homes, neither had paper towels or napkins. Both families mentioned that in California, they were just used to using cloths as napkins and cleaning wipes. Since I was already in their homes for several days, I used what they had. By the time I returned to my own home, I wondered why was I devouring so many Bounty packages.
I had a collection of microfiber cloths, dish rags and cotton shirts that were just taking up space in my own linen closet — until I decided to wash my car. Microfiber clothes are tougher on stains, I realized, and can be used to do everything from polishing furniture and jewelry to wiping down computer screens. Besides some of the more expensive brands, microfiber cloths also hold liquid cleaner longer than paper towels. I didn’t completely give up on paper though, but I use this option about half as much as I did last year.
Bring green bags with your grocery bags
Once the fruit and vegetables are home, what else are you possibly going to do with those flimsy plastic bags in the produce section? Consider buying a pack of reusable BPA-free green bags (a 20-pack is less than $8 from online merchants) that can be reused over and over again. Dump your produce right in the bags, weigh them and put them in your fridge when you get home. Wash the bags like you would any other dish and reuse as needed.
Baking soda is your best friend
If you have scratches in your tub or toilet, or hard-to-scrub stains, baking soda will almost always work for everything. (If that doesn’t work, Bar Keepers Friend has been saving people from porcelain and tile rust since 1882, and it works better and longer than any rust cleaner in your cleaning aisle. Keep it away from the kids, though.) Baking soda can also sanitize and clean carpet, and unclog drains. Mix it with sugar and it can kill roaches, if that’s a problem area for your home.
Vinegar oil and lemon will polish your shiniest things
You could buy a cleaner that has a “natural” lemon smell, or just use a real lemon with vinegar to get a smooth, even finish that’ll last longer.
Clean your plants with soap and water
If you have a plant that tends to attract insects, cleaning the leaves with soapy water can considerably help you avoid this pesky problem. Liquid hand soaps (without the dye and fragrances) are a safer choice to avoid killing your plants though. If you’re a bit concerned about soap on plant leaves, test a small area, too. I’ve had pretty bad luck with plant food and end up killing more plants than I save, so I opted for water-only and threw away all the fancy plant food.
Ditch the air freshener plug-ins
In addition to reducing your plastic use from replacing air freshener refills and plug-in applicators, you’ll more often find that reusing candle containers you already have will save you money. Bath & Body Works three-wick candles tend to last a considerable amount of time. But when you’re done with the glass, don’t be done with the glass. Choose soy pillar candles, which burn slower, or tea light candles with eco-friendly bottoms to burn as needed. Or, you can just fill these glasses (or baskets) with cedar chips, lavender flowers or mints in a concealed nightstand area or behind a closet door.
If your pets (or kids) aren’t too nosy, you can also place these smell-good options behind a couch. However, as mentioned above, rubbing in essential oils has lasted far longer than all of the above. If you spray it on a broom — after sweeping your floor the correct way — the smell sticks around for the long haul.
Do you have other eco-friendly tips that are keeping your home smelling nice without the toxic chemicals? Share with us below.
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