When it comes to zero waste cleaning, the key is to simplify ... simplify ... simplify.

I'm a bit of a clean freak, so naturally I collected a rather extensive selection of household chemicals and gadgets under my kitchen sink, many of which contained all kinds of synthetic ingredients I couldn't even begin to pronounce. But as I started researching ways to reduce waste at home, I quickly learned that you don't really need all of this toxic – and oftentimes expensive – crap to keep your house clean.

Over the last year, I've swapped out several of my go-to cleaning supplies with more sustainable options that are (mostly) plastic-free, longer lasting, and either biodegradable or recyclable. Not only has this shift helped me save money, but my house actually feels cleaner now.

I cannot express enough how easy AND inexpensive it is to switch to a less wasteful cleaning routine. To help you get started, I'm sharing five zero waste cleaning essentials that I use on a regular basis. 


We currently own two wood brushes – one for washing produce and another for washing our Chemex and glass bottles. The brush we use for washing produce was an unexpected T.J. Maxx score for about $5 (similar here), and the wood bottle brush was a recent Christmas gift from my sister. Since I skip the plastic produce bags at the grocery store, I want to make sure my fruits and veggies get an extra good cleaning before cooking or consuming. The benefit of using a wood brush over your standard plastic one is that it is chemical free and will naturally break down over time ... Plus it looks quite lovely sitting on your countertop (we store ours in a glass Mason jar)!


Did you know that the average kitchen sponge is made up of plastic and toxins like Triclosan? Not only is this harmful to you as a consumer, but it also poses a threat to wildlife and the environment as a whole. While a lot of zero wasters skip using a sponge altogether, I find it to be the most effective for cleaning dishes. If you're more of a sponge person like me, there are more eco-friendly options.

Trader Joe's sells these awesome pop-up sponges made from natural vegetable cellulose, which come in a pack of 12 and expand when they get wet. They work just like a regular sponge, are very easy to store, and last a long time. I purchased my first pack back in October and am just now getting down to the last couple sponges. While they do still come in plastic packaging, it's very minimal, especially compared to the standard two-pack that only lasts you about a month (considering you should switch out your sponge every 1-2 weeks to prevent growth of harmful bacteria).


Almost every zero waster has a stash of stainless steel drinking straws, which should be cleaned after each use. When I purchased my first set of stainless steel straws last fall (similar here), I also picked up a straw brush, which is small and flexible enough to keep the inside of the straw clean, so you don't end up drinking bits of last week's smoothie. Yuck!


A simple way to cut down on waste and save money is to make your own household cleaning products. For an all-purpose cleaner, I fill up a glass spray bottle (you can either purchase a new one or upcycle an old bottle by adding a spray nozzle to it) with about five drops of Eucalyptus-scented Castile soap and water. You could also use unscented Castile soap and add in a few drops of your favorite essential oil. I use this mixture for all of my basic cleaning needs – wiping down the counters, cleaning the bathroom mirror, dusting off furniture – you name it.

For more heavy-duty cleaning needs like scrubbing down the toilet or shower, I use regular bleach since it's the most effective at eliminating harmful germs and is honestly the only thing that really gets the job done. Since you only need to use it on occasion and in very diluted amounts, a jug of bleach can last you quite a while and the container itself can be recycled curbside in most states. Always double check your local recycling program's requirements, and if it is recyclable in your area, rinse the jug out really well before tossing in your curbside bin.


When it comes to cleaning, ditch the paper towels and disposable wipes! Not only do they add up quickly on your grocery bill; they also add up quickly in the trash. Consider this: If you use a single paper towel to clean your countertops once a day for a year, that means 365 paper towels will end up in the landfill. Now multiply that by the average life expectancy (~70 years) and you end up throwing out more than 25,000 paper towels over the course of your life ... and that's just for a single person! Not to mention, the average household goes through way more than one paper towel in a typical day.

A simple swap? Cloth rags. Depending on the mess, I typically get 3-5 uses out of one rag (I refold after each cleaning so I'm always using a clean side). You can either recycle old T-shirts and towels that would otherwise go in the trash, or if you don't have any on hand, purchase a set of cheap towels for about the same price as a couple rolls of paper towels. When you're out of clean rags, simply toss them in the laundry and voila ... Good as new!




While this post is not sponsored, it does contain affiliate links to products that I previously purchased and use every day. When you shop these links, I may make a small commission from a sale. As always, all opinions are my own.