We are creatures of habit, and nowhere is this more true than in our homes. You might be following in mom’s footsteps, emulating the way your college roommate handled domestic chores, or listening to the advice of one too many TV advertisements, but it’s possible that some of your cooking, cleaning, and shopping practices could be dumping money and toxic chemicals down the drain. With a few simple changes, you can save a few bucks and be a little bit kinder to the planet.
Ditch the cleansers that come with bleach.
Many types of bathroom and kitchen cleaning fluids and powders include bleach. Even though bleach costs next to nothing, when mixed with cleansers, it seems to double their price. Using cleansers sans bleach is usually just as effective, not to mention easier. You don’t have to worry about damaging your skin or clothes or be concerned about fumes. That said, there are times when no amount of scrubbing will remove the smudges on the bottom of the bathtub. In that case, keep a bottle of bleach handy. Spraying or pouring bleach—brand name or generic—on the stains will be far more effective than a diluted cleanser. Plus, a large bottle will last for months, if not longer, and cost $1 to $2. (Don’t forget to wear gloves and clothes that would embarrass you if you donned them in public. And make sure to ventilate the room.)
Make peace with the bacteria in your household.
Just remember, in your body, bacterial cells outnumber your own cells, so you have no choice but to coexist with them. Antibacterial soaps may be de rigueur, but they don’t work. They cost more, are no more effective at killing the most harmful strains of bacteria, and studies suggest that they may be harmful to the environment. In addition, scientists warn that antibacterial soaps may lead to a rise in antibiotic-resistant super germs. Save the money and buy regular bar soap instead.
Ease up on the dryer.
While every woman knows better than to put her prettiest panties and bras in the dryer, don’t forget about the not-so-nice stuff that you can’t imagine living without. The t-shirt from your favorite concert will last (almost) forever if you hang it to dry every time. Second hand garb, apparel from cheap chain stores, the top you still have from high school—let them dry as nature intended. Air-drying will even help retain the downy softness of a new hooded sweatshirt. By using the dryer less, you’ll cut back on your energy bill, reduce your carbon footprint, and extend the lifetime of your clothes.
Embrace the cold.
Just like the dryer, the washer can wreak havoc on clothes. Hot water is particularly rough on clothes, weakening the fabric and fading the color. We justify using hot water to get tough stains out of our clothes. But unless you’re an auto mechanic, a really messy eater, or someone who plays in the dirt often, your clothes will come out just as clean washed in cold water. With oil stains, the clothes washing experts do recommend warm water, but I have found that if I apply stain remover and let it work its magic, the grease vanishes regardless of the water temperature. And just like with air-drying clothes, cold water washes will save money on your energy bill and reduce your carbon footprint.
More water. Less soap.
If soap is good, then more must be better, right? Wrong. Soap works by attracting dirt. But if you use too much, it becomes difficult to wipe away the residue. So the remaining soap sitting on your glistening counter tops and floors is actually going to make them dirtier quicker. The worst time to use too much soap is exactly when most people tend to go overboard—when there’s an accident on the rug or a stain the couch, we douse it in stain remover. The problem is that the residue clings to the material and collects dirt, making the fabric or carpet look dingy. By using soap and cleansers sparingly, you’ll save resources—and money.
Re-use it and then use it again.
The kitchen is a place for creativity—with not only food preparation, but also food storage. If you are constantly buying food containers and wondering why you can never find the tops, start reusing the “free” plastic containers that come with your food. Whether it was filled with sour cream, pasta sauce, or hummus, it doesn’t matter once it’s washed. Save the plastic bags that you put your produce in at the grocery store to wrap up cheese, sliced vegetables and fruit, or anything that needs a quick wrap. Wash and re-use resealable plastic bags. It’s hard to recall how we preserved food without Ziploc bags and the like, and I would never suggest going without. But since they are made with thick plastic, they have several lives. Just handwash the bag, turn it inside out, and let it dry. If you become more resourceful, you will notice that you buy far fewer bags, plastic wrap, and food storage containers, which is good for the planet and your pocketbook.
Greens for less.
The temptation to buy pre-washed greens is hard to resist. But if you are looking to stay healthy while trimming your grocery budget, it’s time to go analog. If you don’t have a salad spinner, invest. They are inexpensive and will ultimately save you money. Take a head of lettuce, tear off the leaves, put them in the spinner, fill it with water, drain, and then start spinning. Drain again and spin some more. The drier the lettuce, the longer it will last. Then put it in a sealable plastic bag or a container. If you really want to get ahead of the curve, make enough salad for two days and leave the dressing on the side. Loose-leaf greens use less packaging than the bagged type and are a much more cost effective way to get your veggies.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that we’ve been doing for years that are the hardest to change. Paying attention to where we can cut costs and streamline our cleaning and cooking will save us time, reduce the amount of chemicals and plastics we use, and keep some leftovers in our wallet.