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Does Your Cleaning Routine Need a Makeover?

Try these 5 eco-friendly hacks to clean your home better, faster and greener

spinner image Woman working at home, cleaning the floors, washing the laundry and cleaning up the mess in the closet during quarantine
Drazen_/Getty Images

For some, more time at home has meant more time to notice dust under the couch, tackle cluttered closets or do those deep-cleaning projects that were once regularly put off. With COVID-19 forcing people to hunker down, it's also making them aware of the dirt and grime that may have accumulated when lives were not so confined.

But should you swap out that spray that's been part of your cleaning rotation for decades in favor of a greener version? Is there a better way to remove that bathroom grunge? Perhaps it's time to rethink your housecleaning routine and the tools and strategies to do it.

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Arm yourself with greener cleaners

"If you want to clean your home with confidence, start by cleaning out your cleaning closet,” says Donna Smallin Kuper, 60, a certified housecleaning technician and author of a dozen books including The One-Minute Cleaner Plain & Simple: 500 Tips for Cleaning Smarter, Not Harder.

5 Eco-Friendly Cleaning Hacks Using Pantry Staples

1. Make a vinegar-based cleaner for dirty vertical surfaces like shower doors, walls and faucets: Whisk a half-cup of vinegar and 1 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch together in a saucepan on medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Once the mixture has thickened, allow it to cool. Store in an airtight container or squeeze bottle.

2. To get rid of caked-on buildup on your showerhead: Mix 1/3 cup baking soda and one cup of vinegar until the mixture foams, then pour into a small plastic bag. Slide the bag over your showerhead, and secure it on top tightly with twist ties. Leave it there overnight, then remove the bag and rinse the showerhead with warm water.

3. Clean grimy barbecue grill racks: Brush with vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt. Cut a potato in half and scrub until clean.

4. Remove baked-on oven spills: Place an ovenproof bowl of water into a preheated oven. Cook at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. The steam will loosen grease and food drippings. After oven has cooled down, wipe with damp rag or sponge.

5. To get rid of mold on grout: Pour hydrogen peroxide into a spray bottle and soak affected areas. Sprinkle baking soda onto a stiff brush and scrub until stains are gone.

Consider ditching most of the toxic products that are harmful both to the environment and to the person using them. Many release potentially dangerous chemicals and volatile organic compounds that can irritate your eyes and throat while also causing headaches, respiratory issues and other health problems.

Some of the most commonly used cleaning agents you may want to replace with eco-friendly options include chlorinated toilet bowl cleaners, drain cleaners containing sodium hydroxide, ammonia-based products, oven cleaners and scouring powder.

"There are some great eco-cleaning products out there,” says Kuper, who recommends Force of Nature and Better Life cleaning options. “For most surfaces, like glass and countertops, I clean with just water and a microfiber cloth that removes dirt, grime and germs.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offers a comprehensive list of eco-friendly cleaning alternatives. Household items like vinegar and baking soda can be used in a variety of household cleaning tasks, too (see sidebar).

Use the right tools for the job

In Orlando, Florida, Tina Willis, 52, says her worth-the-splurge canister vacuum, reusable cloths and new battery-powered rechargeable shower-scrubbing wand have streamlined her routine."I never thought I'd be so interested in housecleaning hacks until I resumed doing most of it after we stopped using a cleaning service … due to COVID-19,” says Willis, a personal injury attorney. “I've become somewhat obsessed with keeping our house clean, and doing it as efficiently as possible."

When it came to doing her own vacuuming, Willis realized her machine wasn't picking up dirt, so she invested in a new one that has made all the difference. Willis also uses microfiber cloths to clean countertops, furniture, appliances, mirrors and windows.

"The shower scrubbing device makes one of the worst jobs much more bearable and less strenuous,” she says. “I also had my husband install a new showerhead with a hand wand so I could rinse the walls without having to use a bucket."

Being at home during COVID-19 inspired Linda Mueller, 51, of Chicago to pick up knitting again through a virtual club, which then led to her discovery of an eco-friendly craft that makes doing the dishes easier.

"I knit scrubbies with rough yarn, and it's pretty fun,” Mueller says. “They're really good for scrubbing dishes."

Commit to deep cleaning with laundry stripping

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Laundry stripping — soaking items in hot water, Borax, washing soda (also known as sodium carbonate and available at many retailers like Walmart, Target and Amazon) and laundry soap in your bathtub or washing machine — has become a huge trend. Viral TikTok videos highlight the gross but oddly satisfying results: The water turns brown or black as the process strips away residue from laundry detergent, fabric softener and dirt.

spinner image Linda Mueller knitting
Linda Mueller knits eco-friendly scrubbers for her dishes.
Courtesy Linda Mueller
spinner image Linda Mueller knitting
Linda Mueller knits eco-friendly scrubbers for her dishes.
Courtesy Linda Mueller

Long popular with cloth diaper users, the practice of laundry stripping to revive light-colored linens is generating huge buzz on social media. Just make sure you have the time to do it right: You'll need to soak your laundry for about 12 hours to get the best results.

You can't clean if you're drowning in clutter

No matter how good your intentions may be, it's harder to revamp your housecleaning system if your space is defined by a chaotic jumble of stuff, says Robyn Reynolds, 58, owner of Organize2Harmonize in Sherman Oaks, California.

"The clutter didn't happen overnight, so start small,” says Reynolds, who suggests beginning by tackling one closet or the dining room table. “Your dining room may now be the school, the office and the place to eat, so have a container for all the supplies and bring it out when you need it."

Next on the list? Flat surfaces — the number one trouble spot.

"It could be a chair, a countertop or the floor — if somebody can put something on it, it becomes a resting spot for everything,” says Reynolds, who recommends assigning a designated home for every item in your house.

A routine promotes consistency 

Now is the perfect time to establish a consistent cleaning routine so specific tasks are done regularly before they become overwhelming.

"When you clean the same way every time, you'll get it done more efficiently and won't miss anything,” Kuper says.

Professional house cleaners typically first clean “dry” rooms, like bedrooms and living areas, and then “wet” rooms, like the kitchen and bathrooms, Kuper says. She recommends cleaning from top to bottom in each room, starting with dusting and wiping surfaces and finishing with floors.

Kuper suggests keeping cleaning supplies in a caddy or rolling cart so you can easily move from room to room. If your home has more than one floor, leave separate cleaning kits in each space to avoid lugging supplies up and down the stairs.

Split up your to-clean list

Willis divides her weekly cleaning over two days and has embraced some easy shortcuts. On Thursdays, she cleans the bathrooms and part of the kitchen, and on Fridays she cleans the rest of the kitchen — usually just wiping down countertops, the sink and appliances. Then she wipes down furniture, vacuums and mops, and changes sheets.

"Trying to clean the entire house in one day is really too much,” she says. “Dividing the cleaning between two days feels less time-consuming and difficult."

Instead of deep-cleaning her fridge once every few months when it's really dirty, Willis wipes it down when cleaning her countertops so it's always clean.

"I've also been vacuuming every day or two, which only takes a few minutes and leaves the house looking almost perfectly clean. Our house is cleaner than it ever was with our cleaning service,” she says.

Mueller has also been rotating deep-clean days by focusing on areas her family is actually using.

"Some bathrooms need cleaning every week, but other spaces don't,” she says. “We have a third-floor guest room and a basement for entertaining and we're not using either because of COVID-19."

In Northampton, Massachusetts, Colleen DelVecchio, 50, uses some housecleaning chores as productivity boosters.

"I use laundry as a timer for working: When washing clothes, use the quickest setting on your washer to save water, and decide on a project to do during that time,” says DelVecchio, who is a leadership and career coach.

To combat the pandemic-related shortage of paper towels, DelVecchio also keeps washable cloths in a basket in the kitchen and wipes down counters every morning after getting ready for work.

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