The Best Refillable Minimalist and Zero Waste Cleaning Products (seriously)
Thank you to GoodHands for sponsoring this post. All opinions and thoughts are my own.
Pretend you’re at the store, in the cleaning aisle, and looking at the hundreds of products in front of you. You’re looking for ones that match your eco-minimalist values, but there are just SO MANY. And which ones are actually sustainable? Which ones are greenwashing? Are there any that are plastic-free or refillable?
If you can relate to the above scenario, you’re not alone. It can become overwhelming quickly! Luckily, as someone who has tried a ton of different zero waste cleaning products the past 5+ years, I’m here to help you once and for all.
But first, let’s break down the question of whether green/sustainable/zero waste cleaning products are actually better for the environment or not. I also explore some other common questions and myths regarding zero waste cleaning products. If you just want to skip to the best refillable minimalist and zero waste cleaning products, you can find them listed by specific area via the table of contents below.
Are green cleaning products better for the environment?
Let me start off by saying that everything contains chemicals, so if you’re looking for a post that talks about how horrible chemicals are and that we should completely stay away from them, this isn’t it.
That being said, there are obviously some chemicals (or the concentration of certain chemicals) that can be harmful to our health and our environment.
Going into a lot of details about this topic could be a whole other post, so I’m just going to give some general themes and resources if you want to learn more.
The main concerns of conventional cleaning products and the environment are:
- Potentially harmful chemicals being released into the air
- Potentially harmful chemicals getting into bodies of water (including drinking water)
According to the EPA, there are two main types of ingredients that can be harmful to the environment: surfactants and builders.
Both of these ingredients can break down and affect our waterways, aquatic life, and other life on land. You can read more about these types of ingredients here. Luckily, there are other ingredients (like ones used in green and zero waste cleaners) that are better for the environment in that sense.
Of course, there could be more, but these are two of the main concerns. Unfortunately, concerns about harmful cleaning products in the environment aren’t the only negative components to worry about. Impacts on our physical health are worth noting as well.
What are some potential health risks of (conventional) cleaning products?
If you look at the back of most cleaning products, you’re going to see a number of different warnings:
“Don’t ingest”, or “rinse if there is eye irritation” or “ventilate properly when using”.
As I mentioned before – everything is a chemical or has chemical makeup. Vinegar may be a less toxic chemical to use for cleaning, but you’re not going to want to drink a gallon of it.
That being said, there are some ingredients used in conventional cleaning products that are toxic in small quantities, or can cause irritation to skin, eyes, lungs, throat, or cause headaches if you come in contact with them. Also, people react to and are allergic to different ingredients, so it’s great that there are other options to fit our needs. If you’d like to learn more, the EPA has a piece on how some cleaning ingredients can impact our health.
And if you’re cleaning around your pets, some ingredients can be harmful to them as well. Here is some information on pet health and conventional cleaners. As someone who has had to make an emergency vet run due to our cat having a bad reaction to a cleaning product, I’m super cautious about this. (Psst: GoodHands is pet and kid and adult-friendly.)
Are companies required to include the ingredient list on cleaning products?
No, companies are not required to include ingredient lists. But, there are some out there (like GoodHands), that do include the ingredients for all their zero waste cleaning products.
GoodHands also goes one step further and includes the safety data sheets (SDS) for each product so you know exactly what the potential impacts are for each ingredient.
I’m a person that would sit and look up ingredients that companies listed on a particular product, which is time-consuming. Having that information easily available is something really appreciate.
How do I know if a company is greenwashing?
Greenwashing can be hard to avoid when it comes to cleaners, because there are no regulations on terms like “non-toxic”, “all-natural”, “biodegradable”, etc. This means a company can use them in many different contexts.
However, it’s important to note that just because a company uses these terms doesn’t mean they’re actually greenwashing. This can make it really hard for us as consumers to know what’s true or not.
There are third-party certifications (including one through the EPA) that a company can apply for. However, these can be expensive and not feasible for a new, small business (just one example). So while these can be a great identifier, it isn’t the only one. If you want to learn about the three certifications, you can find more information here.
One way I try and identify greenwashing is by how much detail the company provides. Ideally, any ingredient, safety, and other relevant information are readily available on a company’s website. If not, an email to their customer service team or the business owner should come back with lots of information (and not vague responses). If you can’t find any specific information about a product, and/or the company isn’t willing to disclose information, it may be a sign that they are just making “green” claims.
What are the benefits of using green cleaning products?
By now, you can probably guess what most of the benefits to using green/eco-friendly/zero waste cleaning products are (and minimalist too!), but in case you want an easy breakdown, here are some of the benefits:
- Better for our health
- Better for our kids health
- Better for our pets health
- Better for the environment
- Can be more cost effective
- Reduced plastic and other packaging
- Less carbon footprint through transportation (if using a refillable product)
- Less carbon footprint through manufacturing, storing, etc.
When GoodHands first contacted me with an interest in collaborating, I approached their cleaning products as I do with any brand that contacts me – with skepticism – because unfortunately, many companies do greenwash (hey, I’m a super fan now but I have to be honest!).
While there are a lot of great zero waste cleaning (and regular) products out there, there are so many that just don’t align with my values of:
- being truly sustainable (in a variety of different ways)
- being a company that gives back
- being a company that creates products that are accessible to as many people as possible
I was pleasantly surprised when I researched GoodHands and found that they matched the above criteria:
- They offer sustainable (and minimalist), zero waste cleaning products such as general cleaners, bathroom cleaners, floor cleaners, laundry soap, and hand soap.
- They give a portion of each sale to different charitable organizations. You can select which one you want the money to go towards if you want.
- A lot of zero waste cleaning product companies make you buy kits, or a membership, or months worth of product at a time. And while in the long run that may be more budget-friendly, the upfront cost can be a barrier to some. Plus, you may not need everything that comes in the kit!
GoodHands sells their zero waste cleaning products in tablet form with the option to buy the containers – allowing you to dissolve the tabs into your own container if you already have one. AND, they sell JUST THE TABS!
- Speaking of the tabs – once you have your container for each cleaning product (they have general bathroom cleaner, general cleaner, foaming hand soap, and floor cleaner), all you have to store is the tablets.
I went from having an entire shelf designated to cleaning products to a small section for the bottles and a small box for the tabs.
5. Ok – one more: the ship in zero-waste packaging (all recyclable), and their tab packaging? Compostable.
What’s so special about zero waste cleaning tablets and just add water products?
There are many benefits to using refillable, zero waste cleaning tablets/just add water products.
“According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, more than 90 percent of a typical bottle of cleaning product is simply water.” (source)
If we just take a second to think about that, when we buy pre-made cleaning products (even if they’re zero waste cleaning products), we’re paying for:
- Water as part of the finished product
- Transporting the water as part of the finished product
- Emissions created
- A larger amount of packaging (often plastic) needed for the full, finished product
One interesting piece is that:
“An estimated 20 percent or more of global disposable plastic packaging by weight could be replaced by reusable packaging if we only shipped active ingredients.” (source)
So, what are some of the benefits of using refillable, ‘just-add-water’ cleaning products?
- Less plastic and other packaging
- Less shipping “footprint” to your door
- Less transportation “footprint”
- Less manufacturing needs
- Less carbon emissions
- Less storage needs for you!
“According to Unilever, asking consumers to dilute the product at home means 97 percent less water being transported, 87 percent fewer trucks on the road, and less greenhouse gas emissions.” (source)
The best zero waste cleaning products (in my opinion)
I was fortunate to be able to try out GoodHands cleaning products and compare them against the many, many other zero waste cleaning products I’ve tried over the past few years. This came at a really good time, because shortly after receiving the products, my family and I had to prep our house to sell. That meant LOTS of deep and frequent cleaning.
General bathroom cleaner
The cleaner is said to be good for all types of bathroom surfaces and for getting rid of soap scum buildup, and I found it to be true. It does come in a lavender scent which I like because it’s not super strong. However, if you’re not a fan of lavender, you may want to look for a different product.
GoodHands sells just the cleanser tablets to use as a refill if you already have your own container, otherwise, they sell glass bottles as well. After you have your container though, all you need to do is use the tablets! Talk about cleaning like a minimalist (and a budget-conscious being).
I was having a really hard time finding an eco-friendly and zero waste toilet cleaner, until I found these toilet bowl bombs in the Tiny Yellow Bungalow shop (psst: you can get 10% off your order using ReduceRenew in the TYB store).
They’re super concentrated, are good at getting the bowl clean, and all the ingredients are listed on the website. The ingredients do say it includes essential oils, but I honestly can’t tell they have a scent.
The only con is that they are kind of expensive, but since I’m saving money using GoodHands for other zero waste cleaning products, I’m fine spending a little more on the toilet bowl bombs.
I always had a separate cleaner for “general” cleaning and “mirrors/glass”, because I never had great luck using just one for both things. However, GoodHands has a great all-purpose cleaner that truly works for general cleaning and your mirrors! It has a light apple rose scent which is nice and like others in the GoodHands family, not overwhelming.
Minimalist and zero waste cleaning for the win!
For floors, I’ve always been super cautious about what we use because of having a young kid and three cats. Plus, our home had old hardwood floors and many conventional floor cleaners weren’t safe to use on them.
Luckily, GoodHands offers a floor cleaner (that is of course refillable with their tablets) that’s safe for all types of flooring. It comes in a lemon scent, but like their other cleaning products, I don’t find the scent to be overwhelming at all.
They do have a mop kit (more on that under cleaning tools below) available, otherwise, you can use a regular spray bottle and a mop you already own!
I’ve tried a number of different zero waste laundry products including “green” detergents, powdered detergents, soap nuts, Dropps Laundry pods, and laundry “sheets” – all with different results. My family has to be selective about the type of laundry detergent we use because we all have sensitive skin prone to eczema.
I was pleasantly surprised with GoodHand’s laundry sheets and found that they not only work on stains and smells (remember, I have a small kid and three cats), but are also keep laundry feeling fresh – all without fragrance. And, it’s been super gentle on our skin.
For heavy stains, I like this zero waste stain stick which you can find in the Tiny Yellow Bungalow shop (remember, you can get 10% off using code ReduceRenew).
Kitchen / Dishes
Let’s bring back the good ole GoodHands general all-purpose and glass cleaner for all your basic kitchen cleaning needs. I’m guessing if you’re like me, this will become your go-to cleaner. As mentioned above, it has a light apple rose scent which I don’t find to be overwhelming or “too sweet”.
You can use any squirt bottle that you have on hand, or you can buy one of the glass containers that they sell.
When it comes to dish soap, my family and I have tried a few different eco-friendly and zero waste options. However, we haven’t found a true zero waste cleaning product that we like for hand washing our dishes. The closest was this dish soap cube, but ultimately my husband was not a huge fan. At this point, we’re still on the hunt, and just use whatever eco-friendly dish soap is on sale.
Ah, the dishwasher. In our old house, we had one, and I loved it because I’m not a fan of dishes. But at our new place, we don’t have one! That being said, I absolutely loved using Dropps dishwasher pods and if I had a dishwasher now, would still be using them.
For dusting, I don’t use any products. Truly. All I use is an old, single sock, or a cloth with maybe a little water added (if it’s been a while since things have been dusted – IYKYK). Minimalist and zero waste!
Now that we’ve covered the best minimalist and zero waste cleaning products, I’m sharing some of my favorite cleaning tools for the above areas. These are items I consistently use and love. Of course, in order to be super eco-minimalist, use what you already have! That includes cleaning products. Rags, towels, old blankets, and old shirts can all make great cleaning tools.
(Remember, you can take 10% off your Tiny Yellow Bungalow purchase using code ‘ReduceRenew’. )
- Plastic free toilet brush
- Bamboo pot scrubbers (these things are seriously the best)
- Unpaper towels (or you can use cut up towels, blankets, old burp cloths, etc)
- Plastic free dish brush (my favorite dish brush ever)
Mop and reusable pads – if you’re in need of a mop, GoodHands sells one with their refillable cleaning container, as well as reusable mop pads. While these are washable, I don’t love that they are microfiber, which can break down into tiny pieces of plastic. To help combat this, you can air dry, which helps slow the breaking down of the fibers.
If you’re looking at this list and feeling incredibly overwhelmed, I get it. The good news is that you don’t have to make all these changes at once. My best advice is to slowly change your cleaning products over as you finish up the ones you already have on hand. That way, it’s much more manageable, you’re not wasting products you already have, and you can really take the time to use it and make sure it works for you.
Want to learn how to adopt a reduction based lifestyle (through mindfulness, minimalism, anxiety management, and zero waste living but not sure where to start?