Your Complete Guide to Making and Choosing the Best Sustainable Cleaning Products
Most of what I learned about cleaning, I learned from my Oma. She was thrifty, self-sufficient, and smart about how to choose the right ingredients to get her house sparkling clean, safely. Every day, my Oma started off her chores by mixing up a bucket of her homemade cleaning solution. It always smelled zesty and fresh. Once the sprays, pastes and other cleaning products were ready, I remember her always pulling out a stack of neatly folded rags made from cut up old clothing.
Then she’d go to work. Once she finished, her home felt tidy and welcoming — all without any waste or harsh chemicals. She was living the clean, zero-waste lifestyle long before sustainability was cool. It’s just the way she did things, because doing them any other way just didn’t make any sense. I loved that about her!
Years later, I still clean my own home in much the same way my Oma did. I love knowing I’m using safe, natural products without iffy or irritating ingredients.
And the good news is that you can easily make the swap too. Even if you’re brand new to the world of green cleaning, this guide will help you get started.
We’ll explore everything you need to know about making and choosing the best sustainable cleaning products for your home. From simple DIY recipes to understanding eco-friendly product labels to our personal favorite products, we’re here to set you up for success.
Conventional Cleaning Products Negatively Impact the Planet
First off, let’s dive into the problem with conventional cleaning products. While they may be “conventional” now, they’re still relatively new.
For years, people made their own cleaning products with household ingredients. Or they bought simple concentrates and mixed up batches of multifunctional formula at home. But over the past few decades, the cleaning industry has pursued profit over simplicity, becoming more and more harmful to people and the planet.
Here are some of the ways conventional cleaning products pose a threat to environmental health.
Air Pollution from VOCs
Many cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can evaporate and contribute to indoor and outdoor air pollution. These VOCs can cause respiratory problems, and some can contribute to the formation of smog and ground-level ozone.
Chemical Pollution In Our Waterways
Cleaning products can contain chemicals like phosphates and surfactants that can be harmful to aquatic plants and animals. If these chemicals are washed down the drain, they can end up in rivers, lakes, and oceans. Over time, this buildup hurts marine life and travels up the food chain to affect human health as well.
Some cleaning products contain chemicals like ammonia and bleach that can leach into the soil and harm plants and animals. When these chemicals are used to clean outdoor surfaces like driveways or sidewalks, they can wash into nearby soil. This can kill important microbes, make it harder for plants or crops to grow, and make insects or animals sick.
Mainstream producers of cleaning products may use unethical practices like unsafe working conditions or animal testing. And with unclear labeling requirements, it can be difficult to figure out which brands are ethical and which are not at first glance.
Excessive Packaging Waste
The majority of cleaning products come in plastic packaging that is difficult or impossible to recycle. After use, most of this packaging ends up in landfills. This contributes to our growing plastic pollution crisis and puts more strain on the environment.
These risks to the planet are real, but they’re not the only problem with many conventional cleaning supplies. These products can also be hazardous for the people or pets in your home.
Conventional Cleaning Products Are Often Harmful to People and Pets
You want to create a clean, safe environment in your home. Unfortunately, many conventional cleaning products work in opposition to that goal. Here are some of the ways that mainstream cleaning supplies can be harmful to use at home.
Many cleaning products contain harmful chemicals like ammonia, bleach, and phthalates that can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals can cause headaches, dizziness, and lung irritation. This is especially true for people with health conditions like asthma, allergies, or compromised immune systems.
Some cleaning products can leave behind chemical residues on surfaces, especially if they are not rinsed off properly. These residues can be harmful if they come into contact with food, or if they are breathed in or absorbed through the skin.
Danger to Pets and Children
Pets and children are at a higher risk of experiencing harmful effects from toxic cleaning products. This is because they’re smaller and more likely to touch surfaces or put things in their mouths. Children’s systems are still developing, which leaves them more vulnerable to irritation. And if cleaning products aren’t stored properly, pets or young children may accidentally ingest or come in contact with them and become seriously ill.
Conventional cleaning products can be expensive, and many of them are only designed for specific cleaning tasks. This means you have to buy and store more products. You may also end up making more trips to the store when you run out of a certain item.
The Benefits of Cleaning with Sustainable Products
If you want to avoid these risks while still keeping your home sparkling, we have good news for you. Sustainable products deliver the cleaning results you need without the harmful side effects.
Here are five powerful benefits of choosing sustainable products when you’re cleaning.
Safer for Your Health
Sustainable cleaning products are typically made with natural and non-toxic ingredients, which can reduce the risk of health problems like allergies, asthma, and skin irritation. These gentler products are safer to use around children and pets. And they are less likely to make you feel ill or dizzy while you’re cleaning.
Kinder for the Planet
The best sustainable cleaning products are made with biodegradable ingredients that break down easily in the environment, reducing the risk of pollution and harm to wildlife. And many sustainable cleaning brands use low-waste packaging, so you don’t send plastic to the landfill.
You can make your own cleaners with simple, affordable ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils. We’re sharing a few recipes below. Sustainable cleaners are often designed to be versatile and have multiple uses. That way, you buy and store fewer products.
Higher Ethical Standards
Sustainable cleaning products are often produced by companies that prioritize ethical practices, such as fair labor, safe working conditions, cruelty-free ingredients and testing, and environmentally friendly manufacturing.
Peace of Mind
When you choose green cleaning products, you can create a safer, healthier home. And you can clean without stressing about things like toxins or plastic pollution. This gives you more peace of mind knowing that you’re doing something positive for your loved ones and the earth!
How to Shop for the Best Sustainable Cleaning Products
With greenwashing and confusing labels, it can be tricky to figure out which products are actually safe and sustainable.
Here are a few key areas to consider when you’re shopping for cleaners.
It can be frustrating to figure out what is in the products you buy when cleaning product manufacturers aren’t required to list all their ingredients on the label. But consumers are becoming ever more conscious about what they use on their bodies and in their homes, and smart, honest companies will make their ingredients easy to find. If you can find an ingredients list, there are definitely some ingredients to avoid.
Some common toxins in conventional cleaning products include:
- Ammonium quaternary compounds (QUATS)
- Glycol ethers
- Petroleum distillates
- Sodium hydroxide (except where used in a reaction to make traditional bar soap)
These ingredients are more likely to cause irritation or harm. Instead, choose products made from gentle, plant-based ingredients. If you’re not sure about interpreting ingredient lists, you can also look for certifications by third parties. The certifications below can help you know you’re getting a product that is tested and safe.
Some companies may use phrases that look like official safety ratings, but there are some well-known certifications that can’t be counterfeited. Some vetted certifications include:
- EPA’s Safer Choice Program
- Cradle to Cradle
- Green Seal
- Green Good Housekeeping Seal
- Leaping Bunny (Certified Cruelty-Free)
- Natural Products Association Certified
- USDA BioPreferred
- USDA Organic
Terms like green, natural, and eco-friendly aren’t regulated and may be misleading. So looking for certifications like the ones above can help ensure you get the best possible product. Keep in mind though, many small scale makers (like us!) who are using simple, traditional formulas and fully disclose their ingredients, may not have certifications in place. That doesn’t mean they are not safe, it just means that they are relying on your trust in their transparency, and they give you all the information you need to decide for yourself.
Choose products that come in reusable, refillable, recyclable, or biodegradable packaging whenever possible. Avoid products packaged in single-use plastic or excessive packaging. You can also see if there is a zero-waste shop near you where you can refill your cleaning products without having to purchase any new packaging. At our Juniperseed Mercantile refill stations in Colorado, you get a discount when you bring your bottles and jars to fill by the ounce!
Look for brands that are transparent about their production methods, ingredient sourcing, and environmental impact. If you’re not familiar with a brand, you can check out their website to see if they make this information available and easy to understand. If it’s not available or easy to understand, this should be a red flag.
Effectiveness or Reviews
Ensure the product you choose is effective at cleaning. Some sustainable cleaning products may require more elbow grease or longer soaking times than their conventional counterparts, so it’s important to read reviews. You can also try a smaller size of a new product before committing to a more affordable bulk size.
Now that we’ve gone over how to shop for cleaner household products, let’s talk about some you can make at home.
Easy DIY Sustainable Cleaning Products You Can Make at Home
If you’re dipping your toes into the world of eco-friendly cleaners for the first time, a great place to start is by mixing up a couple of your own DIY cleaning products. These are six go-to recipes you can make with just a few household ingredients.
So let’s take a look at some of our favorite sustainable cleaners to make at home, as well as some we carry in our shop.
Note: We recommend that you always be sure to test new cleaning products on an inconspicuous area before use.
DIY: Basic Natural All-Purpose Cleaner
- White vinegar
- Spray bottle with label
- Essential oils like tea tree or lemon (optional)
- Sliced lemon or orange (optional)
Vinegar is an old fashioned choice for general purpose cleaner. Simply mix equal parts of water and white vinegar in a spray bottle, adding essential oils if you like, or one or two slices of lemon for some additional cleaning power. Shake gently and spritz on surfaces, then wipe dry with a clean cloth. You can use this spray on countertops, toilets, shelving, wood or tile floors, and more.
DIY: Fizzy Toilet Scrub
- 2 cups baking soda
- ½ cup powdered citric acid
- 10-20 drops of essential oils
- Medium glass bowl
- Medium glass jar with label
In the medium glass bowl, whisk together the baking soda and citric acid. Then add 10-20 drops of essential oils, mixing after each couple of drops to avoid clumping.
Pour the dry mixture into the jar and label it. To use, flush the toilet, then sprinkle a tablespoon or so of powder into the bowl and more around the sides. Scrub well with a toilet brush, then let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes before giving a final swipe with the brush, and a flush.
DIY: Fresh Bathroom Fixture Cleaner
- ½ cup baking soda
- ¼ cup liquid castile soap
- Essential oils like lavender or peppermint (optional)
- Glass jar with label
Baking soda is a great mild abrasive – perfect for scrubbing off sticky messes, without scratching surfaces. Add the baking soda and castile soap to the jar and stir well. Then add a few drops of essential oils for a fresh scent if you like. Use this paste with a sponge to scrub the top, sides, and lids of toilets, sinks, showers, or tubs. Also works great on stove tops, microwave interiors, and grimy range hoods. Use a clean damp cloth to remove any remaining paste and loosened grime.
DIY: Wood Furniture Polish
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup white vinegar
- Lemon or orange essential oil
- Spray bottle
Add the olive oil and vinegar to your spray bottle and shake well to combine. Add the essential oils and shake again. Spritz onto wooden furniture and rub in with a soft, clean cloth to clean, moisturize, protect and polish. This formula is best fresh – don’t store for longer than a couple of weeks.
DIY: Deodorizing Carpet Cleaner
- 1 cup baking soda
- 10-15 drops essential oils of your choice
- A jar with an airtight lid
Mix together the baking soda and essential oils in your jar. Shake thoroughly. Sprinkle onto your carpet or rug and let the mixture sit for 15-20 minutes, then vacuum it up. This helps absorb odors and oils to leave your carpet feeling and smelling fresh.
DIY: Upcycled Cleaning Rags
- Old t-shirts, sheets or towels
- Sharp scissors or pinking shears
- A basket or drawer for storage
When linens and old clothes wear out, and aren’t in good enough condition to fix or donate, don’t toss them! Instead, you can cut them into rags perfectly sized for napkins or cleaning cloths. Using the scissors or shears, cut the worn fabric into squares. Then store them near your cleaning supplies for quick and easy use. Wash a load of rags used for cleaning separately from other laundry.
Making your own cleaning products is easy, affordable, and gives you the peace of mind, knowing exactly what you’re using in your home. And of course – if you’d prefer to leave the DIY to us, we’ve got you covered! We take care of all the trial and error, research, prep, and packaging. That way all you have to do is use the finished product to keep your home clean with more peace of mind. Here are just a few of our favorites:
Our All-Purpose Cleaning Concentrate
One of our most trusted go-to products is this ultra concentrated natural cleaning solution. We love using our sustainable all-purpose cleaner on everything from floors and countertops to windows and mirrors. Dilute at a rate of one ounce of concentrate in a cup of water.
Our Johnny Drops
These natural toilet cleaning bombs are some of our most popular cleaning products. They make cleaning your toilet easy, and even fun! Just drop one in and wait a few minutes, then give a quick swish with a brush. Simple, natural ingredients make these safe for septic systems, and are packaged in a zero-waste compostable bag.
Our Tub and Tile Scrub
Grime in the bathroom can build up fast. You can let this natural tub and tile scrub do the heavy lifting for you.
It’s made with safe, powerful cleaners like baking soda, essential oils, and our handmade liquid soap. It helps you power through stains, soap scum, cooking residue, mildew and more.
Our Laundry Stain Remover Stick
If you’ve ever found a stain on your favorite shirt, you know how valuable a good stain remover can be. This non-toxic Laundry Stain Stick takes care of even the toughest set-in stains. It tackles dirt, grease, and grime. Made with gentle yet powerful cleaning agents, yet it’s palm-oil free.
Our Washable Cotton Unpaper Towels
Our handmade reusable unpaper towels pair perfectly with your natural cleaners. They eliminate the need for wasteful paper towels while still giving you the convenience you are used to. Made from soft organic cotton, these unpaper towels are absorbent, durable, multifunctional, reusable, and beautiful.
Working Together for a Cleaner World
Whether you prefer to make your own, or buy from a trusted source, we hope this guide helps you feel more prepared to choose the best sustainable cleaning products to fit your lifestyle. That way, you can feel confident that you are keeping your home feeling tidy and fresh while saving money and the planet too – just like my Oma did!
Start your clean greening routine by trying a DIY recipe or picking out some supplies from our shop. We only use the safest, highest quality ingredients in our products. Everything we make, we use at home with our own families.
That way, you can rest assured knowing that anything you shop for will fit in perfectly with your sustainable cleaning routine.
To discover more natural cleaning products, browse our household collection.
EWG – Cleaners and Your Health
American Cleaning Institute – Cleaning Product Labeling