How To Keep Your Spring Cleaning Green

Updated: Apr. 14, 2024

It's liberating to clear the clutter, especially without harsh chemicals or feeding the landfill. Here's how to keep your spring cleaning green.

Spring! A time to reassess priorities, ditch what’s no longer needed, vacuum out the cobwebs and make room for a year full of promise. For me, spring cleaning feels extra satisfying, like a giant refresh button on life — and it turns out I’m not alone.

According to a 2024 Nextdoor survey, nearly nine in ten people participate in the ritual of spring cleaning. And nearly everyone agreed it puts them in a better mood.

“Spring cleaning can be hard work, but also very satisfying,” says green-living author and advocate Stephanie Miller. “As you sort and set aside things you no longer want, it opens up the possibility of using your space differently— or maybe just enjoying the pleasure of a decluttered room.”

But, it’s also tempting to get a bit lazy by tossing old items in the bin and reaching for harsh cleaning chemicals — both of which only deflect the problem away from your house and onto the planet. So, here are some green spring cleaning tips to dodge those pitfalls.

Repair, Repurpose and Upcycle

Whether it’s a broken table, toaster or bicycle, there’s probably a place for it other than the trash can — and repairing or repurposing items (or giving them to someone who will) saves immense resources over manufacturing new ones.

“Nowadays, my clients want to declutter responsibly, and so we work closely to recycle, re-gift, donate, sell and compost as much as we possibly can,” says certified life and decluttering coach Julie Leonard. “Spend a little time researching where items can go and always check ahead, especially with charity shops, to make sure they will take all your items to avoid anything ending up in a landfill.”

Gift Good Clothing

The average American throws away more than 81 pounds of clothes every year. To avoid being part of this problem, Miller recommends first sending pictures of clothes you don’t want to family members who might be interested. Also, look for charities that accept specific types of clothing, such as professional workplace garb or gowns, then list other items in Buy Nothing groups or Facebook Marketplace.

Recycle Clothing That’s Beyond Repair

Many organizations can help you in your green spring cleaning efforts by responsibly disposing of worn-out clothing, towels and bedding for you. Outdoor manufacturers, like The North Face and Patagonia, will take back their used-up gear. Others, like For Days and Retold Recycling, will send you a shipping bag to fill up. Earth911 also has this helpful recycling locator.

Sort Specialty Items

With a bit of online searching, you can find places to get rid of most other old household items. For example, electronics can go to e-waste recyclers and electronics stores like Best Buy, Staples and Apple.

As for paint, give those half-empty cans to local schools and charities, says Miller. Or, if they’re too dried up to use, contact PaintCare or check whether your local paint retailer will accept them. “Before you go, check with your neighbors and friends to see if they would also like to get rid of theirs,” says Miller. “They will thank you!”

Switch to Plant-Based Lubes and Degreasers

When tending to bicycles, lawnmowers and squeaky doors, opt for plant-based products over petroleum-based ones (especially those containing PTFE, a forever chemical). Around 60% of the 2.5 or so billion gallons of petroleum lubricants used by Americans each year wind up in our groundwater, contaminating soil and harming ecosystems, wildlife, people and pets.

Gear Hugger makes a green lineup we’re particularly fond of, including a multi-purpose lube, a water-based heavy-duty degreaser (great for cleaning the grill and garden tools) and a rust protection/remover (for cars, boats and beyond).

Ditch Sponges and Plastic Cleaner Containers

“A year of plastic kitchen sponges will lie in landfills for up to 52,000 years, so instead invest in a few reusable cloths,” says Leonard. “Better still, repurpose old towels, linens, and T-shirts as cleaning clothes to declutter at the same time.” Also, choose refillable cleaning products to help end dependence on single-use plastic bottles.

DIY Cleaning Products

All of our experts advocated for DIY cleaners as a key to green spring cleaning. “Making your own cleaning products is easier than it sounds, and you can do it with products that are already in your pantry,” says award-winning environmental toxin expert Tonya Harris. “It also saves a lot of money, and you can control the ingredients to know exactly what’s in it. DIY cleaners are safer around kids and pets!”

Typical DIY ingredients include white vinegar and soda crystals (or bicarbonate of soda or baking soda), combined with lemons or essential oils for a fresh scent. “Not only are these ingredients generally affordable and natural, they typically work just as well as conventional cleaners, without the risky fumes or toxic chemicals,” says writer and environmentalist Ben Hardman. They’re also easier on the environment, from manufacturing through disposal.

Avoid Overusing Bleach

“Bleach is a powerful disinfectant, but isn’t without health risks,” says Harris. “It is corrosive, harmful to the respiratory system, and it can damage/discolor surfaces.” Instead, try isopropyl alcohol or hydrogen peroxide for disinfecting (but don’t use them together!).

As alternatives, Harris recommends rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, both of which are listed on the EPA’s list of N products.

Freshen Naturally

Instead of using air fresheners with synthetic fragrances, many of which use ingredients that can cause health problems, open windows and incorporate lots of plants into your home. “Plants are natural air fresheners,” says Leonard. “Your home will not only look great but plants lift your mood and your home will smell fresh too.”

To further absorb and neutralize odors, you can try banking soda, cornstarch or coffee grounds. “Unlike traditional plug-in or spray air fresheners that just mask odors, these household staples can actually absorb and neutralize odors, getting to the root of the scent,” says Harris.

About the Experts

Stephanie Miller is the author of Zero Waste Living, the 80/20 Way and founder of Zero Waste in DC. She spent 25 years at the International Finance Corporation, where she was director of climate business, leading teams in finding innovative solutions to climate change. She reaches a wide audience through keynote presentations, learning events and household consultations.

Tonya Harris is an award-winning environmental toxin expert, the founder of Slightly Greener and author of The Slightly Greener Method, which offers busy moms simple solutions to reduce toxins. She holds a master’s degree in holistic nutrition and multiple certificates in the environmental health field, and has been featured on numerous national TV shows.

Julie Leonard is a certified life and decluttering coach with more than 30 years of psychology, mental health and coaching experience. She is the creator of the Simplify Your Life coaching program and The Intentional Happiness Circle, and author of Intentional Happiness: The Life-Changing Guide to Being Happy and Staying Happy.

Ben Hardman is a writer, environmentalist and the creator of the website Tiny Eco Home Life, a platform that helps people live more sustainable lives and reduce their impact on the environment. His business has been featured in outlets like The New York Times and BBC Radio 1.