The why, what, where and how to use natural, zero-waste cleaning tools in the home
Cleaning… Urgh, what a bore! Albeit an essential bore, and one that can affect your health, state of mind and environmental impact in a very big way! Whether you’re looking to avoid commercial cleaner toxins, trying to reduce synthetic chemicals that cause allergies, or just trying to minimize your environmental footprint and do good for the planet, in this post we’ve got you covered with the 101 basics of natural cleaning tools. In a follow-up post, we’ll cover the 101 basics of natural and zero-waste cleaning agents.
Why are natural, biodegradable and zero-waste cleaning accessories beneficial and necessary?
The reasons are mainly two-fold: for your own immediate health, and for the planet’s health, that again in circular fashion eventually impacts your own health. And to a lessor extent, because natural products just naturally look nicer than plastic stuff. A varying factor may be that zero-waste cleaning works out more economical than conventional cleaning, exactly because of the aim to reduce consumption, make it last, and reusing / repurposing (thus avoid buying) – although these ideals are not necessarily suitable in all situations.
In terms of direct health impacts, many synthetic cleaning tools shed chemicals, whether it is micro-plastic or other commercial toxins. Being of synthetic or artificial descent, these chemicals are typically not the types you want to inhale, and can exacerbate skin or nasal allergies and head aches. Although not the biggest contributor to air pollution in the home (which is typically attributed to the oven, braai, curtains and upholstery), it certainly does not improve air quality when your cleaning tools themselves are shedding unwanted chemicals! This is especially of concern with synthetic cloths, sponges and dusters.
In terms of environmental impact, the most obvious problem is that synthetic cleaning tools are often made of plastic, which when passing their useful lifetime, takes centuries to break down in landfills or in natural sites. As synthetic waste, it contributes to the vast increase in micro-plastic particles in our water supplies, choking hazards to wild-life, destroying wild-life habitat in the mining and production chains, contributing to ozone layer destruction, and global warming, and general decay of natural eco-systems. Sure sure, artificial cleaning tools are probably a smaller environmental problem than say fast fashion addiction, but it is a problem nonetheless, and one that’s generally very easy to solve.
So what natural and less wasteful alternatives are there for cleaning supplies in the home?
First, let’s distinguish between “natural” and “zero-waste”. With natural, we mean products that generally made from naturally occurring, renewable and biodegradable resources, typically consisting primarily of carbon bindings. They can be found in nature without human intervention, and will break down to organic soil matter usually in 6 months or less without human intervention.
Here are some examples of the natural materials we mean:
Zero-waste tools on the other hand, do not need to stem from nature, but rather aims to reduce waste that gets sent to landfill. This is because whatever gets sent to landfill, whether it be synthetic or natural, usually does not break down to organic soil matter in decades or centuries, because the compacted structure of landfills do not allow the necessary penetration of oxygen and water to facilitate natural decomposition. Zero-waste tools typically aim to upcycle materials already in the human usage streams, or aims to provide such longevity to items that they may last decades before needing to be retired to landfill.
Here are some examples of zero-waste materials, as used for home cleaning accessories:
It’s important to note that even though zero-waste thinking encourages reuse and repurposing, there should be no mixing and matching to reuse household cleaning accessories on your body and vice versa. Just like you should not share your toothbrush with your partner, you should not share your foot scrub loofah with your dishes! Cross-contamination of germs is real, yo!
Which, where and how to use eco-friendly, natural and zero-waste cleaning tools in the home?
Eco-friendly, natural and zero-waste tools for washing dishes
List of best eco-friendly, natural and zero-waste dish washing tools
Surprisingly, dish washing options abound in natural, biodegradable, eco-friendly and zero-waste materials. I say that’s surprising because it seems there are even more sustainable alternatives than general commercial / synthetic alternatives!
Here are some of our favourite picks, with permission from, and credit to, Mrs Chetty Life for some usage and care descriptions:
Natural, long bamboo scrubbing brush with coconut fibre bristles
As Mrs Chetty Life puts it:
“I use this brush to clean forks, kettles, teapots, jars with a large opening, wine glasses, bottles, food processor, oily dishes, small bowls and pots, cups, mugs, glasses, vases, flasks, French press, milk bottles, sauce bottles etc.
I found that the many brittles on the bottle brush helped release stuck on junk. And cleaned in between flat small holes.
It replaces plastic bottle brushes.”
Bamboo Ring Scrubbing Brush with Natural Sisal Bristles
According to Mrs Chetty Life:
“Useful for bread bins, corners around the stove, fridge, tiles and grout, cupboard doors, outside toilet bowl, corners of the hood, stove, fingernails, square tins, bowls, oven trays, squared cornered skillets, pots, pans, trays, and baking tins.
Also, for small spaces between the fridge, the wall, and the stove. Fruits and vegetables. Great for removing stubborn dirt and grease. Hard to reach corners. My hand fitted inside the ring for easy grip.
It replaces plastic general scrubbing brushes.”
Bamboo Pot Scrubbing Brush with Palm Fibre Bristles
Mrs Chetty Life describes it as follows:
“It is an abrasive scourer. Great for burnt pots, grills, ovens, mold from walls, baked on gunk from plates, goo, or stickers on glass or ceramic or stainless-steel containers, oven racks, roasting trays, and greasy pans. Not ideal for glasses as it was too short to hold onto.
Gentle on pots as it is non-scratch. Can clean cast iron pots. I usually add some baking soda and lemon juice to burnt pots, black soot from cooking on the outside fire and greasy pots, leave to sit for 10 minutes and then scrub.
It replaces plastic scrubbers, scouring pads, steel wool, mess wool, etc.”
Bamboo Long Dish Brush with Natural Sisal Bristles
Mrs Chetty Life says:
“It is comfortable and lightweight. Easy to use. Used for daily dish scrubbing, especially flat or slightly curved plates and trays. The long stainless-steel handle ensures you can scrub those dishes without getting your hands dirty.
Also ideal for washing serving dishes. Recycle the metal piece separately. The brush head is removable, replaceable and compostable. Not ideal for glasses, pots and mugs nor square dishes as the brittles don’t reach far corners.
It replaces plastic sponges, plastic dish brushes, etc.”
Mrs Chetty Life advises:
“Although the loofah is hard and brittle when dry, it softens when you soak it, before using it to wash dishes. Soak for a minute or two in a cup of warm water and dish soap to soften it for wash.
Squeeze lightly occasionally while soaking to foam bubbles so you can easily wash your dishes. You will notice it will start to foam better when soft. I also noticed it foams better when washing dishes with warm water.
Good for cleaning square and round dishes. Washes all dishes except inside long, narrow bottles. It can also be used on your body for a good daily scrub and exfoliator (but don’t use the same loofah for your body and your dishes!).
It replaces plastic sponges.”
When buying a whole loofah for the kitchen, it’s a great idea to cut it in half, then it fits snug in your hand and fits into more shapes and sizes of dishes.
Hemp and Jute Dishcloth Scrubbie
A fantastic, economical all-rounder dish scrubber. It has a rough enough texture to clean most dishes, but mild enough to not scratch non-stick surfaces. It’s small enough to scrunch it up into glasses, and wipe inside tricky shapes. Also great for scrubbing stoves, ovens, etc.
It replaces green synthetic scrub pads and microfibre dish cloths.
Available in different degrees of thickness and roughness, these hemp dishcloths provide enough grit to rub off tough and sticky gunk, but again is gentle enough to not scratch non-stick surfaces.
It replaces green synthetic scrub pads and microfibre dish cloths.
List of best general purpose household cleaning accessories that are eco-friendly, natural and zero-waste
Knit Cotton Cleaning Cloth
Mrs Chetty Life says:
“This is an all-rounder. I use it to wipe everything except for the microwave and fridge door. It cleaned the stove and soaked up oils. Cleaned tiles and walls. And the crocheted ends acted as a grip for slightly stuck on gunk. It works better when damp. And I use another for drying dishes.
It can replace microfibre if you are not so comfortable using it.”
Pure Cotton Dust Cloth
Mrs Chetty Life advises:
“Unbleached cloth doesn’t contain any chemical dyes that poison our environment. I use it for polishing and dusting. It left no streaks nor marks. Its so soft to touch. I use it on my electronics, glass table, fragile ornaments, brass ornaments, glass, stainless steel and ceramic ornaments.
I use it to clean the fridge door, microwave door, outside of the toaster and they were bright and shiny. Very effective and didn’t shed (lint free). I also use it with just plain water or multipurpose cleaner. I didn’t need a polisher.
It replaces all chemical products for polishing and dusting and cloths.”
Bamboo Household Cleaning Brush with Sisal and Palm Bristles
Mrs Chetty Life describes it as follows:
“It is dual sided: Use the soft side for scrubbing hard veggies and fruit like carrots, cucumber, oranges, tomatoes, apples, potatoes, and use the more abrasive side for general household scrubbing. The tough side if for scrubbing the sink, tile, bathrooms, walls, floors, carpets, tires, cupboards, pool surfaces, stovetops, outdoor furniture, barbeque equipment etc.
It replaces plastic scrubbing brushes.”
Reuseable Bamboo Cleaning Wipes
Reusable towels / wipes are a great sustainable replacement for an assortment of household disposable wipes – everything from kitchen towels, to napkins, hand wipes and even baby wipes! The motto is: make laundry, not landfill! These wipes can be washed alongside your normal washing, and each sheet can be reused up to 85 times, saving waste and money!
Durable, Reusable Cleaning Agent Dispensers
Sometimes, you may choose to buy cleaning agents in bulk, to buy concentrated versions that you can dilute yourself, or to mix some of your concoctions (be that with vinegar base, boerseep base, or Castile soap base, doesn’t matter), and for that, you’d like to have a sturdy dispenser that you can reuse for many years to come. The options are endless, from reusing empty cleaning containers you already have (or got for free from friends, family, colleagues etc.), classy glass containers, or alluring aluminium.
The best option is to use what you already have!
The second-best option is to buy something plastic-free, like glass, aluminium or stainless steel.
The downside of glass is that it can break easily, and for something as portable as cleaners, ideally you don’t want it to break! It can also get quite heavy. On the plus side, it is endlessly recyclable, and not chemically reactive (i.e. you can put high and low pH substances in it and it will not alter the container or the substance).
The upside of aluminium is that it is lightweight and doesn’t break easily. The downside is that aluminium reacts with low and high pH substances (but stable enough for most mild household cleaners). It is mostly recyclable, but not to the extent of glass.
Stainless steel addresses the shortcomings of both glass and aluminium, but it comes with a hefty price tag and it is not easy to find dispensers in stainless steel.
Durable, Plastic-Free Cleaning Caddy
It’s useful to keep your cleaning accessories and cleaning agents organized in a way that is easy to carry around the house… Which is why we suggest investing in a caddy. Just imagine… 6 sigma for home cleaning! “A place for everything, and everything in it’s place”… Optimal organization and productivity, leading to better and faster cleaning, so you can get on with life! And doing so in an attractive, plastic-free, environmentally conscious way just scores bonus points.
Top tips to care for your natural zero-waste cleaning tools
When you make the switch to natural tools, you have to keep in mind that wood and other plant-based fibres will bio-degrade eventually – that’s the whole point! Avoiding centuries worth of piles and piles of plastic!
But uh-oh… how do you prevent your cleaning tools from becoming compost too soon? By caring for it the right way!
Here are some great tips to extend the lifetime of your natural cleaning accessories, from Mrs Chetty Life:
How to extend longevity of natural loofah
The loofah should also be air dried and stored in a place with less water splashes. Soak to disinfect in vinegar or hydrogen peroxide or lemon juice (microwave in the jar of vinegar and lemon juice) every two weeks.
How to extend longevity of natural pure cotton
If very dirty, hand wash with a natural soap such as “boerseep” (tallow soap), Castile soap or a natural laundry stain remover soap. Do not to bleach (nor use harsh chemicals) because that will degrade the cotton! If you struggle with lingering smells, soak for 30 – 60 mins in a bowl with 2 tablespoons baking soda and a cup of warm water or diluted plain vinegar. Otherwise, just wash it with the rest of the laundry using a gentle natural detergent.
How to extend longevity of natural plant-based cleaning brushes
Don’t soak brushes in water. Hand-wash only. Avoid storing inside the shower or on splash-prone areas of the kitchen sink.
Clean your wood dish brush after each use by holding the dish brush under warm running water to remove loose particles. You may also use a fork to dislodge any stubborn pieces when needed.
Ensure they air dry completely, you may hang on your windowsill or the sun or dry with a towel. This will help delay cracks and splitting in the wood. Store bristle side up so that the bristles can receive optimal airflow.
Occasionally, disinfect by soaking it in a cup of vinegar and a little dish soap or Castile soap. Put the dish brush, bristle-end down, into the solution. Swirl and let it soak for about an hour.
Remove your brush and rinse in hot water and air dry. Wood has natural antibacterial properties (bamboo more so than most wood), so it doesn’t harbour bacteria or offensive odours and don’t need to be disinfected that often.
To wrap up the natural zero-waste accessories low-down…
Using plastic-free, biodegradable, natural and zero-waste cleaning tools and accessories are not only more sustainable for the sake of the planet, it is also healthier for you, your family and pets, and is easier and more affordable than you think! So why not give it a go, and let us know what you think in the comments!
A special word of thanks to Mrs Chetty Life for permission to use some product reviews and usage notes.