How to clean your home – naturally

As natural cleaning products pioneers Ecover and Method champion the efficacy of their ranges we revisit exactly why ecological household cleaners should be the natural choice for conscientious shoppers. Sarah Woodhead writes

An English girl's home is her Taj Mahal

If an Englishman's home is his castle, an English girl's home is her Taj Mahal. Our sanctuary from daily stress, or a safe nest for our kids, our home is a uniquely precious place. We put our hearts and souls into making our homes comfortable and uplifting. We love to pour through glossy interiors magazines, browse in boutique homes stores and go window shopping at estate agents too. Our love for our home has no bounds.

It's not surprising then, given that we cherish our homes as a place of safety and sanctuary that more of us are thinking carefully about the products we use to look after our home. We are choosing to treat our homes kindly, not just because it's better for us and better for our children but because it's better for the environment too.

Switching to natural cleaning products

From wall paint to toilet cleaner, we are increasingly picking ecological products that are free from toxic nasties. It comes as naturally to us as buying natural beauty products or fresh organic fruit and vegetables. We know that, ultimately, the kinder we treat our home, the kinder it will treat us in return. Fortunately, a good number of us are also realising that natural products can bring more than enough cleaning power to our homes too. We are, thankfully, surfacing from decades of “kill every known germ dead” advertising in which, apparently, our children's very lives are on the line if the kitchen floor isn't industrially scoured twice daily!

If you've yet to switch to natural cleaning products the range of choice can seem a bit bewildering. It's not always clear what to avoid or what the benefits of switching to natural products are.

But choosing natural cleaning products doesn't have to be complicated. You might want to pick a brand that you trust or that has come recommended to you, such as Ecover or Method. Or you may wish to try an own-brand product. Either way, our guide highlights what to look for.

Photo credit: mysza

Switching to natural laundry products

What to look for: A concentrated solution that works at low temperatures, because nothing else will limit damage to the environment more than turning down the temperature of your wash to 30 degrees or less. Also look for rapid biodegradability, as your children won't thank you for the future impact of laundry liquid sloshing about in rivers. Products should be free from performance-enhancing phosphates, too, and sold in packaging that can easily be recycled.

A product like Method's Laundry Detergent fits the bill. It is a 95% plant-based biodegradable formula, in an impressive 8 x concentrated solution that washes at 30 degrees. The packaging is made from 50% recycled plastic, and there are various fragrance choices too.

Going natural in the kitchen

What to look for: Products made from sustainable plant and mineral-based ingredients, organic all the better. Don't be conned by products with natural sounding names, or with a “natural” synthetic fragrance or essential oil. Look for biodegradability again, and select products that are free of phosphates, phthalates and known allergens such as parabens (preservatives). Choose minimum packaging and if possible, consider refillable products.

Pioneering brands, like Ecover, are currently researching surfactants made from natural sources without the use of chemical processes. Surfactant is the ingredient that clings to dirt and whooshes it away. Currently even natural plant-based surfactants go through a chemical process.

Where concentrates aren't available, think about buying larger-sized packs to cut down on multiple smaller plastic bottles. Washing-up liquids, like Ecover's Washing Up Liquid, can be bought in large sizes too, to cut down on packaging.

Choosing natural bathroom cleaners

What to look for: A recent Which? report criticised ecological toilet cleaners, claiming they had no less impact on the environment than normal cleaners once water had been through waste treatment facilities. However, as Method boss Adam Lowry  pointed out to Independent.co.uk, normal toilet cleaners contain bleach which won't biodegrade. Instead, bleach breaks down into chlorine which combines with organic material to form toxic chemicals.

Photo credit: Juhansonin

For bath, shower and sink cleaners look for the same elements as kitchen cleaners, with the added incentive that your skin has much more chance of coming into contact with any cleaning product residue in the bathroom.

An important tip is to buy products that do more than one job. This cuts down on plastic waste for all of those separate bottles. And it should go without saying that you should avoid any product that has been tested on animals. Look for the cruelty free rabbit logo, or a Not Tested On Animals guarantee. BigGreenSmile.com does not stock any products that have been tested on animals.

What products are available?

You might not be aware but it is possible to buy ecological versions of the following household products, amongst others: Laundry liquid and balls; washing up liquid; dishwasher liquid, tablets, gels and rinsing agents; cleaning cloths; all purpose cleaners; shower and bathroom cleaner; disinfectant; limescale remover; floor cleaner; carpet shampoo; toilet cleaner and drain unblocker.

Where to start?

We don't recommend you clear out your cleaning cupboard in one go as that would be wasteful. Simply swap in ecological products as your old non-eco ones expire, initially buying smaller sizes until you find products you feel happy with. The technology behind these products is so much more advanced now than when we first started seeing them on the shelves more than 20 years ago, so you'll be hard pushed not to find ones that you'll want to stay loyal to. What's more, the packaging of some ranges is so pretty you'll want to keep it out of the cupboard. Now, I can guarantee you'll never feel that about a bottle of Domestos!

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