Make your own: Eco-friendly household and cleaning products

Ellen Tout experiments with home-made, environmentally friendly and zero-waste household detergents to see if she can come clean


Make your own: Eco-friendly household and cleaning products

3 minute read

A truckload of plastic – from bottles to microbeads – enters the ocean every minute. During beach cleans, I’ve found everything from sponges to old bottles of bleach. I’ve greatly reduced the plastic I use but feel unsure where to start with household cleaning products. On top of their plastic, closer inspection reveals a list of ingredients I’ve never heard of – why would I want to splash them around my home and wash them into our waterways?

First, I try soap nuts – an amazing berry that naturally contains the cleaning agent saponin. They can be boiled to make liquid soap, but I try the simpler method of placing seven in a muslin bag and throwing them in the washing machine with my clothes. I’m happy to see that everything comes out clean, even my muddy walking gear. My clothes smell fresh, but not scented – add essential oils if you prefer. Each batch of ‘nuts’ can be used six times and then composted. I love these but, for heavy-duty washing, like my dog’s towels, I add a splash of Bio-D conditioner or detergent. The packaging is recycled plastic, but the range is often available as a refill from zero-waste shops. Another easy switch is to use a Guppyfriend washing bag. I zip my load into the bag and place it in the washing machine as usual. It traps microfibres and microplastics to stop them entering our waters, then you throw them in the bin. Microplastics were found in every lake, river and reservoir sampled in recent research by Friends of the Earth – in part shed by synthetic clothing. I’m surprised how much is collected, and it’s such a simple way to make a difference.

I’m keen to try a natural, home-made multi-purpose cleaner, but don’t want to spend ages making it. I find a recipe that’s one cup of distilled white vinegar, one cup of water and the juice of a lemon and lime. I’m unconvinced but fill an old bottle and attack my bathroom. The results are brilliant and it’s nice not to have a chemical odour. I then discover I can microwave the used citrus halves for 15 seconds and sprinkle with baking soda. These remove soap scum and grease with literally no effort. My bath is sparkling, and it took less time than traditional products. A win for the planet and for my weekend!

Eco finds: Make a house a plastic-free home with simple swaps

  • Bio-D makes natural, vegan cleaning products in recycled packaging – often available at zero-waste shops. Try its cleaning range, from £2.40. 
  • Soap nuts are non-toxic and great for sensitive skin. Actually a berry, they clean naturally and effectively. Grab a handful to try from your zero-waste shop or market such as Peace With The Wild.
  • Switch to a plastic-free washing-up sponge. Washable alternatives are available, as well as coconut fibre scourers. Try Tabitha Eve None Sponges, £7 for two.

An eco change for good: You can take action and pledge against plastic pollution at

Read more from Ellen on her eco journey in the magazine each month and follow @Ellen_Tout

Image: Getty