You looked forward to it, planned to do it, even relished the idea of flinging open the windows and finally vacuuming under the rugs. And then? Life happened. And now it’s almost June and you never got around to that session of spring cleaning you had thought about all winter long. But guess what — it’s never too late to dust away the cobwebs and start fresh ahead of the June solstice on June 21, which marks the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. (Yes, we are still officially in spring.)
With roots that trail through neurochemistry, religion, spirituality, and healthy living, spring cleaning is a popular practice that, given its prevalence, could even be considered a global rite. The tradition dates back centuries and is a hallmark of Jewish, Iranian, and Chinese cultures. Biology may play a role in the urge to spring clean. During darker winter months, the body produces more melatonin, a hormone that increases sleepiness. As days lengthen, this natural lethargy lessens, and we literally feel “lighter.” With greater energy, we’re more likely to want to clean our homes. In ancient Jewish tradition, they would clean their home to prepare for Passover, in part to remove any bread that wasn’t unleavened.
So as you prepare to give your home that overdue spring-time scrubdown, here are some eco-friendly tips to get rid of the dirt without harming the Earth — or your health.
1. Switch to clean, green products
Today, there's a wealth of high-quality, effective cleaning products that will get the job done without polluting your home environment. Look for products that are well-rated — with bonus points for packaging that is recycled or biodegradable. You don’t want to bring more toxins into your home — you want to get rid of harmful chemicals, making your home cleaner and safer for you and your family. In fact, you may already have many of the ingredients you will need to make your own non-toxic cleaning solutions. Coffee grounds are a simple way to deodorize your fridge. Baking soda, vinegar and water make a great oven cleaning mix.
Want your wood to shine? Opt for olive oil and lemon juice rather than a chemical-filled furniture spray. If you need a natural disinfectant, why not make your own? Add two cups water, 10 to 20 drops of tea tree oil, two tablespoons of white vinegar, and half teaspoon liquid dish soap (non-toxic, of course) to a spray bottle, then shake and use. Here are a few more recipes and techniques for green spring cleaning. Remember to use eco-friendly, non-toxic paint for any touch-ups you may want to do, particularly if you want to lower indoor air pollution levels, remove harmful toxins, and give your home a healthy glow.
2. Hang your clothes out to dry
You can significantly reduce your carbon footprint by air-drying your clothes. On days when the sun is shining and a breeze is a’ blowing, clip your clothes up on a line strung across your porch or between two trees to take full advantage of those fresh air-dried vibes. Don’t have a yard or a porch? You can still air-dry your clothes indoors with a few wooden drying racks. Save electricity by taking advantage of the nicer weather and dry your bedding, clothing, and towels outside instead of in the dryer. Air-drying clothes can reduce the average household’s carbon footprint by 2,400 lb. a year. Save the dryer for rainy days and you will be taking a big step toward helping the environment.
3. Learn to recycle properly
As you are spring cleaning, look around your home and office to see how you can better set it up for easy recycling. For instance, is there a place in the bathroom or upstairs to put recyclables, like toilet paper rolls, paper, and plastic shampoo bottles? Is your workplace’s lunchroom set up for easy recycling for plastics, aluminum, glass, and paper? There are a lot of items that commonly do not make it to recycling because people forgot or did not know they were recyclable. Remember to set better habits for the months ahead. Improper or “wishful” recycling can cause entire batches of recyclable goods to get dumped into landfills.
4. Ditch the paper towels, and reuse old clothes
Clothes that are too old or stained to be donated, sheets, towels and other fabrics can all be recycled or re-used for cleaning supplies. There is no need to use paper towels or other paper products. Worn-out socks make for great cleaning “gloves.” Make cloth rags out of old clothes for deep cleaning projects around the house. If you need more than your closet can provide, check out a local thrift store, as some will make and sell bulk rags from un-salable donations. It’s a great way to save money, reduce waste and extend the life of fabrics. If you don’t like the idea of dusting with your old college shirt, it’s just as easy to switch to reusable towels. Either way, you are keeping waste out of the landfill.
5. Discontinue the junk mail — go paperless
As you are sorting through the dreaded pile of mail and papers that have gathered over the months, make note of the bills that can be switched to paperless, and what junk mail lists you can be removed from. Also remember to opt for digital receipts any time this is offered since receipt paper is often coated with toxic BPA and BPS. If part of your spring-cleaning plan includes organizing your accounts, use it as an opportunity to eliminate some paper waste by opting for electronic communication. Getting your statements and correspondence online will also cut back on the amount of mail you have to sort through.
6. Use less water
Make sure you are being water-wary and water-wise. Don’t leave water running while you clean. Fill up buckets as needed and use “gray water” to water plants both indoors and out. Make necessary repairs on leaky faucets or pipes. Install a low-flow toilet or low-flow shower head. Only run your dishwasher and washing machine when you have a full load. In addition, adjust any automatic timers you have set to turn on outdoor (or indoor) lighting or to water the lawn. As well, take the time to make changes on your programmable thermostat. There is no reason to waste water, electricity or energy.
7. Air out your home naturally
Forget the toxic “air fresheners.” The simplest and most effective way to air out your home and lower the levels of pollutants is to do it naturally. Open your doors and windows. Let a nice breeze in and create a cross flow so the bad air goes out and the fresh, clean air comes in. For some added purity, light a little sage, open the doors, and let the smoke clear your home’s air and energy naturally.
8. Adopt some colorful flowers and air-purifying plants
Why not utilize some of nature’s freshness to keep your house clean and green in the months ahead? Plants can also increase oxygen levels and help improve your overall mood. To start off, try any combination of these air-cleaning houseplants that are almost impossible to kill. Then if you want, you can add in some orchids, anthuriums or florist’s chrysanthemum (mums), as these flowers and flowering plants can also help eliminate certain types of toxins.
Nothing feels quite as satisfying as coming home to a house that’s so clean it practically sparkles. But be gentle because cleaning your house from top to bottom can be overwhelming — not to mention, tiring and time-consuming. It’s easier to take it room by room or appliance by appliance. Whether you have five minutes to freshen things up or a weekend, it’s not too late to renew and refresh your space in an eco-friendly way.