It’s spring, which means it’s time for cleaning, a tradition that began thousands of years ago in the Middle East or China.1 Today, many people skip this annual rite because it can feel overwhelming. But as the world starts to turn green outside, it’s immensely satisfying to tackle long-neglected cleaning, organizing, and decluttering projects. However, if you’re still cleaning with products plastered in warning stickers, it may be time to go green inside as well.
Conventional cleaners help make things shine, but they can be hazardous. Common ingredients in household cleaners, such as perchloroethylene, triclosan, ammonia, sodium hydroxide, and chloride, have been linked to serious illnesses, including asthma, cancer, reproductive disorders, hormone disruption, and neurotoxicity. 234 Furthermore, after we flush household cleaners down the drain, some of them go on to pollute waterways and threaten aquatic life.5
Green cleaning doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice scrubbing power. Read on to learn how to make every room in your house sparkle the green way.
Get Ready for a Spring Clean
Spend some time brainstorming and planning before you start scrubbing and organizing.
- Gather the necessary tools and supplies.
- Decide which rooms and projects are a priority and in which order you’ll clean them. Most time-management experts recommend doing the hardest projects first, so doing the rest of the work feels easier.6 Plan to clean rooms top to bottom since you’ll dislodge dust as you go.
- Set your time frame. Aim to tackle a spring clean in several weekends, or break it into smaller tasks over a longer period of time. Be sure to set aside adequate time for priority projects and plan for breaks.
- If you have a lot of decluttering to do, consider renting a dumpster or a larger trash can and/or a truck to haul things to recycle and disposal centers.
- If your house is carpeted, consider renting a steam carpet cleaner.
- Have a family? Get them involved! With a little preparation, spring cleaning can be fun for kids. Use these strategies:
- Play some music or audiobooks that set an upbeat tone.
- Think of age-appropriate chores for kids and write them down on a colorful checklist. Draw pictures of tasks for pre-literate kids. Kids won’t need to be nagged constantly, and they’ll have fun checking off projects.
- Plan to work in teams instead of sending young kids off to clean a room alone.
- Kids tire more quickly than adults, so plan some (non-messy) activities to keep them busy after they’re done with their chores.
- Plan a special treat or event, such as a family pizza or movie night, after a day of cleaning.7
- Make snacks and meals ahead of time.
- Call in help if needed. Decluttering, organizing, and cleaning can be emotional and strenuous, especially if you’ve neglected a project for a long time. A friend, family member, or professional can help get the job done.
- Discard any outdated food from the refrigerator, pantry, or cupboards. Use stilltasty.com to determine the average shelf lives for foods without expiration dates.
- Toss any herbs or spices that have been around for more than a year or that no longer smell fragrant.
- Sort out old or scratched-up plastic containers that are no longer safe for food storage. Use them to organize non-food items in drawers or cupboards or recycle them.
- Donate countertop appliances, pots, pans, utensils, or cookbooks you haven’t used for a year.
Is the current kitchen organization working? If not, now’s a great time to move things around. Try these best practices:
- Store similar objects together.
- Put the least-used items on the highest shelves.
- Keep items near the places they’re used. For example, store leftover containers and plastic wrap near the fridge and keep pots and pans near the stove.8
- Organize your way to less food waste by hanging a marker and a package of labels on the fridge so you can write a name and date on leftovers. Consider putting an “eat-me-first” tub or cardboard box on the top shelf of the fridge. Store items that are almost expired front and center.
- Use see-through baskets and bins to keep cupboards organized so you know where everything is at a glance.9
- If wall space is more plentiful than drawer space, use pegs to hang utensils, pots, pans, oven mitts, or aprons (ideally at least two feet from the stove).
Coat the oven with a paste of baking soda and water and let it sit overnight. Put on gloves and use a plastic spatula to remove the paste. Wipe away any remaining residue with a wet cloth.
- Coffee maker
Fill the tank with equal parts water and vinegar. Run it through half a cycle. Stop it, let it sit for an hour, then complete the cycle.
- Drawers and cupboards
Make an all-purpose cleaner by putting equal parts water and vinegar in a spray bottle. Use it to wipe down the bottoms of drawers and cupboards. Then dry and reline drawers and shelves if necessary. Consider eco-friendly, non-adhesive cork drawer liners.
Remove all the food and unplug the fridge. Wipe down all the surfaces with a paste of baking soda and water and use a toothbrush to scrub the crevices. Rinse with a wet, clean cloth. Vacuum the condenser coils, which are located on the back of the fridge or beneath the grill in the front.
Scour with baking soda and salt.
- Garbage disposal
Cut a lemon in quarters. Turn the water and disposal on and carefully feed the pieces one at a time into the disposal.
- Remove any displays, art, or collections that no longer hold appeal.
- Donate books you no longer need or want.
- Sort out and donate remote controls, DVDs, electronics, or board games you don’t use.
- If the room feels crowded, consider removing a piece of furniture, especially one that doesn’t get used much.
- Tame cords
- Buy a tool specifically designed for organizing and camouflaging cords or make a DIY one by wrapping a coiled phone cord around cords to keep them together.14
- To make it easy to disconnect and reconnect electronics, label each plug with the electronic device it’s connected to (plastic bread tags work great).
- If your coffee table doesn’t provide storage, slide some wicker bins under it or on a nearby shelf to hold remotes, magazines, and other items.
- If the living room often looks more like a play room, add a rolling bin to contain toys and encourage your kids to clean up.
- Wood floors
Mix one part water, one part vinegar, one part isopropyl alcohol, and a few drops of dish soap in a bucket. Use the solution to mop sealed wood floors.
Sprinkle baking soda on carpets and vacuum thoroughly. Then steam clean them with equal parts vinegar and water.
- Carpet stains
Spray with a solution of two parts water and one part vinegar. Cover with a dish towel, then iron the towel. Repeat as necessary.
Sprinkle on baking soda and vacuum thoroughly. Then mix 1/4 cup of dish soap with 1 cup of warm water and brush it in gently without getting the fabric too wet. Dab it with a towel to remove excess moisture, then let the furniture air dry.
- Upholstery stains
Scrub with hydrogen peroxide.
- Wood surfaces
Combine 1 cup water, 1/4 cup vinegar, and 2 teaspoons olive oil in a spray bottle. Shake, spray on surface, then buff using a soft cloth.
- Dispose of expired medications (find out how below).
- Toss any personal care products that smell bad or that are discolored or separated.
- Toss cosmetics that are more than a year old.
- Donate personal care appliances (like electric shavers and hair tools) that haven’t been used in a year.
- If possible, designate a drawer for each person who uses the bathroom.
- If the towel rack gets cluttered and wall space is available, add a towel hook for each person.
- Install drawer dividers to keep things orderly.19
- If storage is sparse, consider installing a cabinet over the toilet to stash washcloths, extra rolls of toilet paper, and other items.
- Use glass jars to turn cotton balls, cotton swabs, and bath salts into an attractive, functional display.20
- Bath tub
Scrub with a paste of baking soda, salt, and dish soap.
Pack with 1/2 cup baking soda. Pour in 1 cup of vinegar and cover the drain. Let it sit for 30 minutes. Flush with a kettle of boiling water.
- Clogged showerheads
Fill a plastic bag with undiluted vinegar, submerge the showerhead in it, and secure with a rubber band. Leave overnight and then scrub the head with a toothbrush.
Spray on undiluted vinegar. Leave for several minutes and wipe down.
Apply a paste of baking soda and water. Scrub with a toothbrush.
Spray with an all-purpose 50/50 vinegar–water solution. Wipe off with newspaper.
- Soap dishes, toothbrushes, and some personal care items
Wash in the dishwasher on the top shelf or in the silverware compartment.
- Donate any clothes, shoes, or accessories that don’t fit, that are dated or ripped, or that haven’t been worn in a year.
- Return books to bookshelves and personal care items to the bathroom.
- If the room is crowded, consider removing a piece of furniture, especially one that’s not used much.
- Add a hamper or attractive laundry basket to hold dirty laundry.
- Put a basket on each nightstand to hold books and a tray to hold glasses, watches, earplugs, and eye masks.
- If storage is tight, add drawers under the bed to hold out-of-season clothes, linens, or other items. For a DIY solution, screw caster wheels to the bottom of old dresser drawers.22
- Fold clothes into squares and file them vertically in drawers so you can find everything at a glance.
- Sheets and curtains
Wash in hot water. Add a cup of lemon juice to the wash cycle to brighten whites without using bleach.
Sprinkle with baking soda, let sit for several hours, then thoroughly vacuum.
Vacuum baseboards and ceiling corners. Remove wall grime by scrubbing with a paste of baking soda and water. Wipe down walls with an all-purpose 50/50 vinegar–water cleaner.
Spray with an all-purpose 50/50 vinegar–water cleaner and wipe off with newspaper.
- Kids’ plastic toys
Wash on the top shelf of the dishwasher.
- Clean the washing machine by running an empty cycle with hot water and a cup of vinegar.
- Vacuum out the dryer vent.
- Check smoke detector batteries and fire extinguishers.
- Open the windows to air out the house.
- Boil orange peels, rosemary sprigs, or cinnamon sticks for a natural air freshener.
- Add potted plants to your decor to naturally reduce air pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene. Try easy-to-grow spider plants, snake plants, ferns, or bamboo palms.23
Say goodbye to winter and hello to spring with a whole-house clean up, and you’ll go into the warmer months with sparkling rooms and a huge sense of accomplishment.
Reprinted with permission from our friends at Fix.com/blog
About the author:
Abby Quillen is the author of the novel “The Garden of Dead Dreams” and the editor of two anthologies. Her articles and essays have appeared in YES! Magazine and The Christian Science Monitor and on Common Dreams, Nation of Change, Reader Supported News, The Daily Good, Truthout, and Shareable.
Abby lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her family. When she’s not writing or working on her website, Abbyquillen.com, she grows vegetables and weeds, bikes and walks as much as she can, and jots down cute things her kids say.