| Environmental Columns

Zero-waste house cleaning

Written in collaboration with the Incita Cooperative

When aiming for a zero-waste lifestyle, we often focus on the kitchen, but there are several changes we can make in our household cleaning habits as well! Here are a few tips and recipes for zero-waste cleaning.

The tools

No need to buy reusable paper towels or special cleaning cloths! Your old socks are great for dusting (put a sock on one hand and hold a spray bottle in the other)! Old sheets or clothing also make great cleaning rags. It’s a perfect way to repurpose worn fabrics in your home!

Homemade household products

Homemade household products provide many advantages:

  • They reduce costs. Many of the solutions suggested in this column are reusable or made from inexpensive basic ingredients.
  • They reduce the time spent managing your products. Since reusable products do not need to be purchased over and over again, they save us time. Moreover, the recipes provided here are quick and easy to make.
  • They are eco-friendly. Opting for reusable items rather than disposable ones and using ingredients that are good for the environment naturally lowers our environmental footprint.
  • They reduce our exposure to toxic products that are harmful to our health. This often overlooked benefit is just as important and applies both to homemade and eco-friendly products sold in bulk. Many common household products contain ingredients that impact our air quality and, therefore, our health.


There are several options available when it comes to replacing laundry products, each with their advantages and disadvantages. Try them out to see which is right for you. If nothing meets your needs, try bulk detergent.

  • Soap nuts. Soap nuts are actually dried berries containing saponin. When placed in warm or hot water, this substance acts as a laundry detergent. Simply put a few fruits in a closed cloth bag (or a knotted old sock) and place it directly with your clothes in the washer. It is important to wash in warm or hot water and rinse in cold water. These can be reused for a few washes. Note that soap nuts are not effective in front-loading washers.

To wash with cold water, prepare a liquid detergent ahead of time by boiling a handful of soap nuts in a pot of water to extract all the saponin. The nuts can then be disposed of in the compost. The liquid obtained should be kept in the refrigerator. Just pour about half a cup of liquid (125 ml) for each batch.

  • Wood ash detergent. This liquid detergent is obtained by soaking one part sifted ashes in three parts water for four days, stirring daily, and then filtering it to obtain a yellowish, ash-free liquid. Use one third of a cup (85 ml) of this liquid per load. This is both economical and very environmentally friendly, since the ashes can be reused in the garden afterwards, but it takes a little longer.
  • Do-it-yourself laundry detergent. Explore the many recipes online and find the one that’s right for you!
  • Savon de Marseille or any Québec equivalent works like a charm to get rid of stains and can be purchased either in bulk or with minimal packaging. Note that dish soap is also an excellent stain remover, thanks to its degreasing power.
  • Replacing bleach with sodium percarbonate, soaking the clothes to be bleached in a bucket of hot water and half a cup (125 ml) of the product for 24 hours, then wash as usual.

Some natural products to have on hand

White vinegar

White vinegar, the superstar of cleaning, can be used as is to clean and disinfect practically all surfaces. If you don’t like the smell so much, prepare a citrus-infused vinegar to use as a multi-purpose cleaner. This mixture is not recommended for cleaning windows and mirrors, however, which are best cleaned with a little white vinegar mixed with hot water and a good cloth.

To prepare your scented vinegar:

  1. Cover citrus peels with white vinegar and leave to macerate in a cupboard for 2 to 3 weeks.
  2. Filter the vinegar and put the peels in compost.
  3. Use the scented vinegar in hot water to wash a surface or fill a spray bottle halfway and top up with water.

Note that although white vinegar is a disinfectant, it does not kill the COVID-19 virus. If you are looking for a disinfectant for this specific purpose, choose an alcohol-based disinfectant with a concentration of 60 to 70%.

Baking soda

Baking soda, the second essential ingredient for zero-waste cleaning, is not only the basis of an excellent scrubbing product, it is also deodorizing! You simply need to make it into a paste to use it.

To prepare your scouring paste:

  1. Add a little water to the baking soda and apply it to the surface to be cleaned (e.g. bathtub or oven).
  2. Let it sit (about 15 minutes for the tub and overnight for the oven).
  3. Spray the surface with the vinegar mixture (or simply white vinegar).
  4. Scrub and rinse.

This paste is also very useful for saving your mishandled pots and pans!

Should you add scent to your homemade household products?

Many people use essential oils in their homemade household products. Before adopting this practice, here are two aspects to consider:

  1. To move towards a zero-waste lifestyle, it is recommended to follow the 4 R methodology in order of importance: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (including composting). In this perspective, it is preferable to reuse citrus peels for your recipes rather than buy a new product such as an essential oil. This way, you reuse the peels and refuse to buy a new one.
  2. It is important to know that, even if they are natural, essential oils are not to be used lightly. Some of them are not recommended for children or pregnant women, and others should not come into contact with the skin. Before using them, it is therefore important to be well informed about the specific use of each of them.

Purchasing products in bulk

While making the products you need yourself is eco-friendly and economical, you can also find a balance between making your own recipes and buying products in bulk. Visit the Circuit Zéro Déchet website to find out where to buy household products in bulk.

Whichever path you choose to achieve zero waste, be sure to find quick and simple solutions that you can realistically incorporate into your daily life. While some people like to make their own products, others will achieve the same result with local and environmentally responsible bulk products.