For this episode of the Good Together podcast, we asked Kait Schulhof, the author of A Clean Bee, to stop by and share her favorite ways to clean homes in a more sustainable and planet-safe way.
Inspired by Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home, Kait decided to minimize waste and clutter in her home. She wanted her home to be a clean, low-stress, welcoming environment for her family and guests.
With that mission in mind, Kait started A Clean Bee in 2015. She shares tips about cleaning tools and products that are better for the environment and all of us. She also teaches about creating efficient cleaning systems so that you can spend your time enjoying your home rather than scrubbing it.
What It Means to Have a Clean and Sustainable Home
A clean home is one that is tidy, properly sanitized, and free of unnecessary clutter. That doesn’t mean that it was cleaned in a sustainable or environmentally friendly way, however.
Kait says that a clean AND sustainable home is “tidy, organized, and clean, but uses tools and ingredients that are gentle on the planet.”
Rather than using commercial cleaners with harsh ingredients or plastic tools that will end up in a landfill, Kait recommends using sustainable, gentle alternatives.
Some examples of this are:
- Using wooden broom handles instead of plastic
- Compostable sponges made from renewable resources
- Gentle cleaning agents from bulk stores in glass or steel bottles instead of commercial cleaners
As we always say at Brightly: planet over perfection. The goal here is not to be a perfect green cleaning machine. Kait adds, “The goal is always for us to educate ourselves, always strive to do better, and then forgive ourselves when we sometimes miss the mark a little bit.”
Cleaning Products That Are the Least Sustainable
Four commercial cleaners have very toxic ingredients: oven cleaners, drain cleaners, air fresheners, and fabric softeners. All of these products have simple, effective, and safer alternatives available.
Oven Cleaner Alternatives
Commercial oven cleaners are popular because they reduce the effort needed to clean stuck-on grease and spills. The trade-off in using a less toxic product is the effort required to clean effectively.
Kait recommends using the self-cleaning function on your oven as the first step. Use it once in the fall and once in the spring, with all of your kitchen windows open wide. If you cook very frequently, do this with the change of every season.
You can also clean the interior of your oven by applying a dish soap and baking soda paste. Let it dry completely before gently scrubbing with a brush or steel wool. You might have to repeat this a couple of times. Then make it shine with a 1:1 distilled white vinegar and water solution in a spray bottle. You can add a couple of drops of essential oils (Kait loves using lemon) for a fresh scent.
Air Freshener Alternatives
To keep your house smelling fresh—without toxic ingredients or aerosol sprays—Kait recommends making your own air freshener.
Using an 8-oz glass spray bottle, create a mix of one tablespoon of rubbing alcohol or vodka to every 25 drops of your favorite essential oil. Feel free to combine essential oils to make a signature scent for your home. This can be sprayed on linens and in the air. Kait likes to have a bottle with lavender essential oil for a quick spritz before bedtime.
Learning About the Products in Your Home
If you want to find out more about a specific cleaning product that you use in your home, check out the Environmental Working Group’s consumer guides.
Their Healthy Cleaning Guide has a search function where you can look up any product in your home. Searching for “Febreze,” for example, shows every product in that line and their environmental safety ratings (the only Febreze product to get higher than a C grade is discontinued). There’s also an excellent FAQ section that answers questions about both homemade and commercial cleaning products.
How to Keep Your Sustainable Cleaning Routine Affordable
Although Instagram and Pinterest are filled with images of trendy and aesthetic glass spray bottles and wooden-handled scrub brushes, investing in these tools can be costly.
To save money, Kait recommends repurposing what you already have or borrowing what you need from a neighbor.
Glass bottles that already have a twist top, such as apple cider vinegar bottles, are perfect for repurposing. Add a plastic sprayer from an old cleaning product to this bottle, and you’re ready to go.
Old t-shirts and sheets can become the perfect cleaning rag for scrubbing ultra-dirty items like toilets, bicycles, and cars.
Vacuum cleaners and other cleaning appliances can be borrowed from friends or sourced from the Facebook marketplace. Kait also recommends joining the relevant Buy Nothing group for your address. These micro-community groups trade or give away items every day.
DIY Cleaning Ingredients to Have on Hand
If you’re interested in building a DIY natural cleaning toolkit, Kait has created a special guide for Good Together listeners and the Brightly community. Go to https://www.acleanbee.com/goodtogether/ to download it!
The main ingredients to have available are:
• distilled white vinegar
• baking soda
• dish soap - Kait likes Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap
• hydrogen peroxide
• isopropyl alcohol
• essential oils
These ingredients are the basis for every recipe that Kait uses in her home. One all-purpose cleaner that she makes consists of 2 cups of water, 1 tsp of dish soap, and a few drops of tea tree or eucalyptus essential oil. Shes uses this mix on her kitchen cabinets, tables, floors, and countertops. It can be used on almost any surface in your home.
Decluttering Your Home for Sustainability
Besides cleaning with natural products, getting rid of clutter will help you keep your home clean and tidy. “I like to think of decluttering as a lifestyle rather than a once and done chore,” says Kait.
Use the five R’s as your decluttering guide: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot.
Start your decluttering journey by refusing to buy any new products that are potentially damaging to your health, the environment, or ethics. Refusing freebies from events, doctors’ offices, and grocery store samplers is an easy way to start.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
When decluttering, one way to reduce what you have is to repurpose items you no longer want. From glass jars and sheets to cardboard boxes, there are many ways to give something new life. Kait uses cut-down cardboard boxes as drawer organizers, for example.
You can also post items that you no longer use in your local Buy Nothing group or donate them to your local charity organization.
If something is past the point of use, you will need to throw it away. Commit to replacing it with a higher-quality, more sustainable version. Then forgive yourself for having to throw it in the trash can.
Sustainable Home Tips for Families With Children
With her second little one on the way, Kait is an avid researcher of what should and shouldn’t be present in a child’s environment. Having a safe home for kids requires a few small changes.
The nursery is a great place to start, even before a child arrives. Kait suggests using paints that don’t have volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and allowing plenty of time to air out a room before the baby comes home.
Furniture is also a source of VOCs. There are brands out there making VOC-free baby furniture, but they can be quite expensive. For her children, Kait found a used crib that was still backed by a safety guarantee. She splurged on a nicer mattress that she felt was safe. Buying a used crib meant it had already off-gassed and that she got it at a lower price.
Kait’s Final Tips
As her final action item, Kait recommends, “pause before you buy, and pause before you judge.”
It is easy to get swept up in the excitement of beautiful and aesthetically pleasing home supplies. Taking the time to dig into the sustainable aspects of a product will help you make the best possible choice.
Additionally, try not to judge others who aren’t in the same place as you in terms of sustainability. Everyone has ethics that guide their decisions. Knowing that you are doing your best is enough.
Resources We Mentioned
- Kait’s website: A Clean Bee
- Bea Johnson’s book Zero Waste Home
- Environmental Working Group: consumer guides for products that are better for the environment and you
- Buy Nothing group listings
Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap and Sal Suds