Try an earth-friendly spring cleaning. Start by ditching the paper towels.
Think: reusable, washable, biodegradable, and nontoxic. One dish cloth can replace up to 17 rolls of paper towels.
For many people, spring means cleaning — and not just the quick dust and vacuum variety. We’re talking a thorough, top-to-bottom scrub, targeting those hard-to-reach places you clean infrequently.
For Sharon Morgan, who runs S&B Organic Cleaning Solutions, that includes moving furniture to get underneath and behind, windows inside and out, light fixtures, and the inside of refrigerators and ovens. Kitchen cabinets are also wiped inside and out.
Morgan has been cleaning houses for 35 years, often with her sister, Becky. In 2007, after both siblings were diagnosed with different forms of cancer, they created S&B Organic Cleaning Solutions, a company that uses only natural products. They realized they had been spending the bulk of their days around toxins and sought a safer way to clean.
“At that time, there weren’t many products out there, so I had to do my own research to figure out what I was going to use,” said Morgan, whose company is based in South Philadelphia. She relied heavily on vinegar, baking soda, water, and an orange citrus product, all of which cleaned just as well without toxic chemicals.
Some of Morgan’s customers choose her specifically for organic cleaning, she said, though the majority just want their homes cleaned. Her company offers weekly visits, but about 30% of her customers request a deeper clean in the spring. According to a study released in February by Statista, a global business data platform, 69% of respondents partake in spring cleaning every year; 10% said they never do spring cleaning.
Morgan tackles any area that shows fingerprints, including walls, doors, door frames and handles, washes all bedding, and either vacuums or flips mattresses and box springs. Draperies are washed, vacuumed, steamed, or sent out for dry cleaning, and blinds are cleaned in a more detailed way than during a weekly cleaning. She also offers closet reorganization.
Costs vary depending on the size of the home and requested services, but range from $175 to $225 for a one-bedroom home up to $500 to $700 for a four-bedroom house.
Whether hiring someone to help or tackling the job themselves, many people are thinking about environmental and health concerns as they choose cleaning products, supplies and containers. Many also consider the three R’s: Reduce, reuse and recycle.
Melanie Berliet, senior vice president and general manager of the Spruce, an online lifestyle site based in New York., says traffic to its Green Cleaning Library has increased 40% year over year..
The easiest way to start, she said, is by ditching paper towels for cloth rags. Swedish dish cloths are her favorite because of their absorbency and durability. More hygienic than a sponge, the cloths won’t crumble or pill, and air dry quickly so they don’t breed bacteria or smell.
“Just one of these dish cloths can replace up to 17 rolls of paper towels,” she said. “They are reusable, washable, biodegradable, affordable and highly effective.”
She also encourages using multipurpose cleaning products rather than several specialized products to reduce the number of single-use plastic containers. You create your own solution and store it in a reusable container. The internet abounds with recipes for nontoxic, environmentally friendly cleaning of everything from stove tops to brass fixtures.
“People are sensitive to the smell of chemicals nowadays,” Berliet said “What used to be considered a clean smell now smells artificial. By leaning on the natural scents of essential oils like lemon, orange, pine and eucalyptus, you can bypass the issue of harsh, unappealing odors."
Berliet urges upcycling — an especially fun thing to do with kids — such as turning an egg carton into an indoor container garden, or a tin can into a planter. Small jars can be repurposed as drinking glasses. Instead of buying plastic storage bins for organization, use a cardboard box from a recent delivery.
John Cunningham, principal of the Birdsnest Group, a boutique real estate investment and development company in Philadelphia, has recognized the value and importance of cleaning since getting into the Airbnb rental business in 2016. Especially since the pandemic, customers want to feel confident that they are staying in a clean home, he said. He employs S&B Organic Cleaning Solutions, in part for its environmentally friendly approach.
“Cleaning is the heart of our business,” said Cunningham, whose company is based in Rittenhouse Square. “I pay close attention to my reviews, especially the cleaning reviews."
Between the time of year and the pandemic, Morgan is busier than ever. “We are getting a lot of calls for a deep clean,” she said. “People want to keep out as many germs as possible."
Spring cleaning is a good time to clear out things you haven’t used over the last year, though the pandemic may change how you decide what to give away. After a year without new style trends and most clothes never leaving the closet, it may take some time to decide what to keep. For the things that find their way to the discard pile, remember that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Consider donating, rather than tossing out.
Christine Jefferson of Queen Village is a big fan of the Buy Nothing Project. The international organization has local Facebook groups that encourage neighbors to share things they no longer need. Jefferson is one of 1,700 members of the Washington Square West/Queen Village/Bella Vista chapter.
“Spring cleaning is also about going through the clothes, and the things I’m not using anymore,” said Jefferson, a Queen Village resident. “What I’m not using may help someone else."
Jefferson has seen items go through the group several times, perhaps a baby toy still in great condition. She got a Keurig for her daughter and a beautiful antique mirror. She has given away a pair of rarely worn Hunter boots and tins of gourmet food.
“Having lived in Queen Village for 30 years, there’s always been a sense of community, but this kind of caring and sharing I haven’t seen before,” said Jefferson, who joined the group last summer. “You get inspired. They have Wishful Wednesday where people list things they wish for and Thankful Thursday. The exchanges are so friendly.”