Everyday Ethical: A Guide to Ethical Cleaning [ep. 007]

Mar 26, 2019

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Sustainable and cruelty free cleaning guide

Important links from the show:

My post “The Mrs Hinch Effect: The internet, our toilets, the planet”

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Tabitha Eve None Sponges 

Hello and welcome to everyday ethical, a podcast about all of the small ways that we can be more sustainable, without the pressure to be perfect.

I’m your host Bethany Austin and I’m an ethical lifestyle blogger who talks about everything from slow styling to low-waste living.

Today we’re going to be tackling a topic that probably isn’t at the front of most people’s minds when they start on their journey to more ethical living. For a lot of us, being more ethical and sustainable first means tackling issues like whether or not you should eat meat, reducing your plastic waste in the kitchen and switching your cosmetics so that they are all cruelty-free. One thing that I think often gets forgotten is cleaning products. And in the age of Hinching, there’s no time quite like now to talk about it.

So, let’s dive in.

We are in a cultural moment where cleaning seems to be at the forefront of conversation, maybe only just between by Brexit as the most talked about topic right now. The other day Mrs Hinch reached 2 million followers on Instagram. On an account that talks about how we can clean our fridges and the many, many uses for Zoflora.

And, can I tell you a secret? I am a total Hincher. I bloody love Mrs Hinch and her personality. I even get her Insta up on my laptop, head to her highlights and just let them play whilst I’m cleaning. That woman is my one and only source of cleaning motivation let me tell ya.

But, of course, as someone who is trying to be more sustainable every single day, I do have to make some rather big alterations to the Hinching routine. The amount of plastic waste, the fact that a lot of the products aren’t cruelty and, to be honest, just the sheer amount of product being consumes does concern me. I’ve actually already written a whole post about hinching and sustainability, so I’ll be sure to link that in the show notes if you want to check it out.

My point is though, that even I am massively tempted to dump my attempts at being ethical in order to be able to jump on board the current cleaning trends. Cleaning trends…How ridiculous is that? And, as I said, most people forget about cleaning products at first on their eco-living journey. So basically, just don’t beat yourself up!

Anyway, let’s talk about my own journey to more ethical and sustainable cleaning practices, shall we? The truth of the matter is, until maybe 6 months ago, I didn’t give a flying F about what I was using to clean. I lived in a shared flat for uni, a lot of what we bought was communal and, most important, it needed to be cheap. For me, that meant own brand bleach and counter wipes. Not much thought went into it beyond that! However, towards the end of my time at uni, I’d gone cruelty-free with cosmetics about a year ago and I started to read more about animal testing of cleaning products. And I kind of thought “well, it doesn’t make sense for me to be okay with harming an animal to make my lashes look longer, so it shouldn’t be okay to harm one to make my loo look more sparkly?” I realised that my morals just weren’t consistent, which is totally okay and all part of the journey but was something that I knew I wanted to work on.

On top of that, after leaving uni and getting my own space with my boyfriend,  I went and bought all of the cleaning products that I thought we would need. And WOW it was a lot. That coupled alongside seeing Mrs Hinch on the gram – because both things were happening at roughly the same time – and I realised that the cleaning industry has a huge plastic problem, much like a lot of the world currently!

So that’s when I became more aware of the brands that I was buying: I now try to buy exclusively cruelty-free products, from companies that use green practices and, honestly, I’m just buying less. I’ve implemented the “one in one out” rule that I now also have with cosmetics where I don’t allow myself to buy one type of product, be it a face mask or a surface spray until I’ve completely used up every single one that I already have. I’m certainly not perfect: I don’t make my own cleaning products yet and I still defo create waste in this area, but my current situation is miles better than it was a few months ago.

That’s where I’m at. And I promise you I’m not gonna tell you that you need to start exclusively using vinegar to clean every surface in your house. But what I am going to chat about now is all of the different things to consider when buying cleaning products, if you’re trying to live a more ethically and sustainably conscious day-to-day life.

First things first, let’s talk about that one that I’ve already touched upon: Whether a product is tested on animals. The sad truth is that a lot of conventional, household cleaning products are tested on animals in some capacity. Whilst a ban was created in the UK in 2015 to stop companies testing the “finished” cleaning products on animals, that doesn’t (and most likely hasn’t) stopped them testing individual ingredients under certain circumstances.

On top of that, a lot of the brands that own cleaning labels do far, far more than just make cleaning products. So, whilst they may not test their loo cleaner on animals, they may be testing other products on animals, especially if they sell in mainland China, where animal testing is still required by law in a lot of cases. Though that does look like it’s in the process of changing which is great news! But anyway, as an example, Procter and Gamble own Febreeze, but they also own Head and Shoulders and Pantene, neither of which are cruelty-free.

Here’s what Febreeze say about their products: They “are not tested on animals, and have been extensively evaluated for safety using alternative testing methods. Febreze works closely with leading animal protection groups, such as the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States, to promote alternative research methods.” However, as you now know, Procter and Gamble are not CF as a company. P+C is Febreze’s parent company – if you’ve heard that word floating around, that’s what it means: Simply a company that owns another company. And since P+C are not cruelty-free in terms of their cosmetic products, many would argue, that you are still in some way supporting animal testing by giving them your money.  

Does that make sense? I hope so! But don’t worry, I will have a comprehensive episode coming all about everything you need to know about going cruelty-free at some point soon.

Now, what this business about parent companies means is that you can’t necessarily always trust “cruelty-free” labels. Just because a company doesn’t test on animals, doesn’t mean that their parent company is cruelty-free too. So, if that’s something that concerns you, always research parent companies. A simple “who owns so-and-so” and then “is that company cruelty-free” google search should suffice.

It’s completely up to you to decide whether you’re happy to support parent companies or not!

But, don’t despair, there are some incredible companies out there that are cruelty-free and relatively accessible. The two major ones that come to mind are co-op own brand products and Astonish products which are available in Poundland!

Another thing to consider when shopping for cleaning products is packaging. We all know that plastic talk is hot in the media right now, we’ve all heard the “more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050” stat and we’re all terrified? Right? If you’re not even slightly terrified then, well, this might not be the podcast for you haha.

The thing is that all of our conventional cleaning products come in, often plastic, packaging. If you’re shopping like the Hinchmiester then you’re wracking up quite a huge amount of plastic waste just from your cleaning alone.

But what actually are your options for avoiding creating so much waste? Well, the first and most simple step is to make sure that every single item you buy comes in a recyclable bottle, preferably in a bottle that has been recycled previously. So, companies like Method use recycled plastics for example. On top of that, there are certain products that you can get plastic free: For example, laundry detergent. If you opt for powdered laundry detergent is those big cardboard boxes then that’s a huge step in the right direction. So be sure to keep an eye out for card and glass packaging as opposed to plastic and snap them up where possible. And if you can find some incredible zero-waste shop that lets you refill your glass bottles with surface spray, even better!

However, for most people that probably isn’t attainable. I know it’s not for me right now!

Finally, perhaps the best way to reduce your cleaning product packing waste – and one that I haven’t yet taken the plunge and done – is making your own! There are a tonne of natural ingredients out there that are antibacterial, as well as ones that can make surfaces shine that can be utilised. And lots of those ingredients come in glass packaging, like vinegar for example, or can be bought more easily in eco-friendly packaging or from zero waste shops. I have a board on Pinterest dedicated to zero-waste cleaning, so be sure to check that out for some inspo I’m /bethanypaigeaustin on there but it will also be linked in the show notes! So there are a few recipes on there for homemade cleaning products.

Plus, making your own is waaaay cheaper!

In terms of the waste of cleaning products it’s also important to think not about packaging, but things like wipes, cloths and sponges.

Let’s start with the worst culprit: Disposable wipes. Now, of course, I get it, anti-bac wipes are super handy. However, they are also god awful for the planet. Much like wet wipes, they build are often made of a mix of fabrics like cotton and plastic woven together. So, not only does that mean that they don’t biodegrade, but that they are a contributing factor to the microplastics that are polluting our waterways.

So, if possible, opt for reusable cloths and some kind of liquid cleaner instead.

I bloody love a reusable cloth personally. I use them for everything from wiping down my surfaces to cleaning my loo seat. But not the same cloth, obvs. I do understand that maybe there’s a bit of an “ick” factor there though and I completely get it because I used to hate the idea that something would touch my toilet and then not go straight in the bin. So, now, I colour code all of my cloths. Are you ready for this? Blue is for loo, pink is for sink and shower, green is for glass and every other colour is for surfaces. Maybe that’s a bit too much, but that’s what works for me. It means that I can use a blue cloth to clean the loo, wash it on a 40-degree wash to get rid of germs and then know that, even if everything isn’t completely gone, I’m only going to use it on the loo again!

Another thing to consider is the materials your sponges and brushes are made of. A lot of those sold in supermarkets are plastic. Yep, that includes dish sponges. A great alternative is to go for things made of natural fibres like pure organic cotton or bamboo. Personally, I use a “none sponge” by Tabitha for my washing up and those are 100% recyclable. For things like brushes and scrubbers, even opting for those with wooden handles is a step in the right direction because they would be biodegradable.

Another massive talking point with cleaning products at the moment is about the ingredients used and whether they’re harming water systems. The truth is that here in the UK  we have systems in place to treat all water that goes down our plugs or sinks before it heads back out into the ocean. However, no, that doesn’t completely get rid of any potentially harmful ingredients. Detergents often contain phosphates which have a fertilising effect for algae. This takes up oxygen in the water and kills off other sea life. Bleach products can react with other minerals in water to create dangerous substances that take years to wash away and be toxic to sea life also.  Does all of your bottle of bleach end up in the sea? No. But I’m sure there is a cumulative effect.

However, I certainly don’t think that this is our biggest worry at the moment. If you can afford to buy more “natural” cleaning products or you can make your own, then go for it! That’s great and you are a badass eco-warrior. However, if you can’t, like I said, a lot of problematic ingredients will get treated out of the water anyway before it enters our natural water system. And I personally feel like plastic pollution is a bigger threat to sea life right now.

Finally, and the thing that won’t cost you a single penny but may actually save you a few: More conscious consumption. I know how tempting it can be to buy every cleaning product under the sun. Shops make us feel like we need a different product for every material, room and bloody day of the week. However, we just don’t. A lot of us could quite easily cut down on the cleaning products we use, thereby reducing plastic waste and meaning that you don’t have to check the info on a million different companies to know if they’re cruelty-free!

I truly do think that just being more aware of what we actually need is the most important step to being more eco and ethical minded in terms of cleaning products. And probably everything to be honest. So I have a challenge for you all! After this episode finished, go to your cleaning products and separate out those that you need (like really need) from those that you could probably do without. For example, do you need a floor cleaner, surface spray, freaking door handle cleaner or could you just keep that one concentrated bottle of disinfectant for all of those jobs? I’m going to challenge myself with this one too and then I’ll post a picture of the cleaning products that I need, versus the cleaning products that I own over on my Instagram. I would love it if you could do the same and tag me in on an Instagram story to show me that I’m not alone in having a bit of a way to go towards becoming a more conscious cleaner!

Before I head off, let’s have a quick recap and set some goals to put us in the direction of becoming more sustainable when it comes to cleaning products. So, here are some ideas for goals that you can set yourself:

  1. You could try to buy all of your cleaning products for the next month from completely cruelty-free companies and see how it goes
  2. You can ban the disinfectant wipe in your house and challenge yourself to use reusable cloths instead
  3. You could go all out and learn how to make yourself some homemade cleaning products, you eco-warrior, you
  4. You could simply take my little challenge to see how much of the stuff in your cleaning cupboard you actually need and use! Be sure to tag me in @bethanypaigeaustin on Insta which will also be linked in the show notes and use #everydayethical.

Please do let me know if you do decide to go with any of those goals or even set yourself another goal altogether because I love hearing for you and getting inspired by your amazingness. Just slide straight into my DMs and we can have a chat!

I really hope that you’ve learnt something new in this episode and that it’s made you stop and think about an area of your everyday life in a different light. If it did, please leave me a glowing review on iTunes – it really, really does help me out more than you even know- and also share the podcast with all of your pals, online and off!

I’ll speak to you guys next week!


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