My kitchen deep-cleans used to leave me wasting a lot of plastic bags, paper, and plastic containers. It got me wondering how I could make my cleaning routines less wasteful.
Scientists are developing new ways to recycle plastic, but it's not an Earth-friendly material right now, and cleaning supplies use a lot of it. Solutions like disinfecting sprays and soaps are largely composed of water, which also makes those products heavy and hard to ship efficiently. Excessive packaging is another contributing factor, as are harmful chemicals that can end up in the water supply (or you). Add in the risk of microplastic shedding and a gazillion greenwashed Instagram ads, and it can be difficult to know how to start making your routine more sustainable.
Below are some of my favorite cleaning products that try to be more eco-friendly. They won't feel too different from what you're already using and are relatively affordable.
Updated October 2021: We've refreshed this guide with some new favorite products.
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Eco-Friendly Cleaners for the Whole House
Several cleaning solution makers offer general-use products you'd typically buy in spray bottles. All of the brands mentioned here are eco-friendly in various ways, whether by offering refills, using green ingredients, or shipping without plastic. Go with whichever fits your cleaning style, budget, and aesthetic goals—because, yes, they're all nice to look at.
- ★ Supernatural Starter Set (Our Top Pick): Supernatural's $75 Starter Set is pricey, but you get what you pay for. The glass spray bottles are hefty (in a good way), and the silicone bottoms keep the bottles in place. The nozzles don't clog or get jammed, but the best part is the scents. The glass concentrate vials contain blends of essential oils designed for windows and mirrors, counters and granite, bath and tile, or wood and floors. The products smell amazing—like fresh botanicals, not artificial or chemical like most cleaning solutions. This set is the only one I've personally continued to purchase refills for.
- Blueland Concentrated Cleaner Kit (Best Value): Blueland's cheap refills come in the form of dissolvable tablets. You'll get a few recyclable acrylic Forever Bottles by purchasing a $39 starter kit. Refills include hand soap, bathroom cleaner, glass and mirror cleaner, and multipurpose cleaner. Blueland also offers laundry soap, dishwashing essentials, and various accessories. You can mix and match products to suit your needs. Everything I tried smelled great and worked well.
- Branch Basics Concentrated Cleaner Kit (Most Versatile): The $69 starter kit gets you a 34-ounce bottle of sustainable concentrated cleaning solution, plus spray bottles with fill lines for easy dilution and a tub of Oxygen Boost powder. You'll get enough concentrate for three bottles each of all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, bathroom cleaner, and foaming wash, plus a 64-load laundry bottle. The unscented concentrate is powerful and made from simple ingredients. Fans of nice-smelling cleaners might find this set lacking, but a few drops of essential oils would liven things up in the olfactory department.
- Grove Concentrated Cleaner Kit (Best Looking): Grove's cleaning concentrates are available in a three-pack for $10. You'll get all-purpose, glass, and tub and tile cleaners. Dump the contents into 16-ounce bottles (also on Grove's site) and fill up with water. I especially like the glass cleaner, which works better than Windex—and smells nicer too.
- JAWS Ultimate Cleaning System (Most Well-Rounded): This $45 kit isn't the best looking of the bunch, in my opinion—the oddly curvaceous bottles are difficult to store in a neat and tidy way. But what it lacks in style, it makes up for in substance. It includes six cleaners, with two refills apiece, as well as six color-coordinating microfiber cloths. It also ships for free. (JAWS stands for Just Add Water System.) Fill the bottles up, thread the nozzles through their respective refills, and twist. You'll have scented solutions in basically no time. The cleaners work super well, but they aren't as nice-smelling as some of the other kits mentioned here.
- Seventh Generation Free & Clear All-Purpose Cleaner (Best for Sensitive Households): This $4 bio-based product isn't sold in concentrates, but I'm including it here because I didn't try anything else like it. It has no fragrance and no color. It almost feels like you're cleaning with water. If you're really sensitive to fragrances, to the point where "lightly scented" still gives you a headache, this is what you're looking for.
For the Kitchen
- Seventh Generation Liquid Dish Soap: This is the dish soap I now use. I like it because it's made of plant-based ingredients and it gets the job done.
- Juniperseed Mercantile's Laundry Bar: This bar can double as dish soap, and I also like No Tox Life's ($10) dishwashing block. Pair it with a brush for more suds.
- Three Bluebirds Swedish Dishcloths: These fast-drying biodegradable cloths are made of cellulose and cotton. They're awesome because they don't get smelly or mildewy. You can wash them up to 200 times in your washing machine or the top rack of your dishwasher. The eye-catching designs are a bonus.
- Scrub Mommy: I didn't want to love this extremely popular, cheery sponge, but it lives up to the hype. It's weirdly effective for scrubbing, wiping, and suds. I use it for everything from doing my dishes to cleaning my floors. It's also more durable than other similarly priced sponges. While the sponge itself isn't particularly sustainable, Scrub Daddy products are recyclable, making them a better option than sponges you'd throw away.
- Marley's Monsters Unpaper Towels: These bright cotton flannel towels are durable and really absorbent. They get even more absorbent after a few washes. They also cling together, so you can roll them up on a cardboard tube just like the paper alternatives.
- Cloud Paper Bamboo Paper Towels: If you prefer more traditional paper towels, these strike a good balance between familiarity and sustainability. They're made of bamboo—no trees. The towels aren't the softest, but they are absorbent and don't fall apart or shed easily. For gross or quick tasks like cleaning up cat hairballs or cooking residue on my stove, I feel less guilty throwing these out than a tree-based paper towel.
- Juniperseed Mercantile Sweeper Pads: Disposable mop pads are wasteful and flimsy. These sweeper pads work with Swiffer mops and similar systems. They're thick and textured, so they pick up dirt well, and they work wet or dry. Toss them in the washing machine to reuse them.
- Casabella Infuse Spray Mop Kit: I really like this mop, but it was a pain to set up. (The company's YouTube channel makes up for the included crappy instructions.) But once assembled, the mop has been great for my small apartment. It's easy to store and doesn't take up too much space, and the proprietary refills smell good. There's a refillable reservoir and a washable mop pad, and the cleaning solution sprays via a manual trigger, making this much more sustainable than battery-operated models like a Swiffer WetJet.
- GreenPolly Trash Bags: They aren't as durable as traditional trash bags, but they're made of 90 percent postconsumer plastic (the other 10 percent is renewable sugarcane). That eco-friendly composition makes these trash bags a worthy trade-off.
For the Laundry Room
- Dropps Biodegradable Laundry Detergent Pods: These pods smell fantastic, work with high-efficiency (HE) machines, get your clothes squeaky clean, and are made of plant-derived ingredients. There are no dyes, and shipping is free and carbon-neutral. I also like the brand's wool dryer balls as an alternative to fabric softener sheets. If you don't like pods, try Defunkify's Free & Clear liquid laundry detergent.
- Defunkify Stain Remover Spray: I tested this plant-based spray on blood, coffee, red sauce, and makeup. It removed them all. It also doesn't contain common irritants typically found in other stain removers.
- Branch Basics Oxygen Boost Bleach-Free Detergent Booster: This baking soda booster is free of bleach, ammonia, dyes, and fragrances. It's also septic-safe. I especially like it for linens and towels—it leaves them really fresh and banishes any lingering smells.