Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages
The bathroom is the room where we begin and end each day, with a variety of cleaning routines designed to help keep us healthy. Odd then, that the room in which we clean our teeth, our skin and the rest of our bodies (not to mention dispose of our waste) is often filled with toxic chemicals, and, even then, not very clean itself. So, how do you stay clean, promote good health and go green in your bathroom?
As with many sustainable lifestyle subjects, when it comes to going green in the bathroom, one hand washes the other. Eschewing excessive water use—and thousands of gallons of wasted water—avoiding a deluge of disposable trash and a myriad of toxic cleaners supposed to make the room "safe" for your use, all can come from a few simple steps that combine to help you live greener in the bathroom.
So, to make your bathroom a greener place, we've compiled a bevy of tips to help clear the air, go with the low-flow and keep the toxics out of your way. Changing up your habits and greening your bathroom will help make the planet greener, your home healthier and your personal health more robust.
There are a trifecta of water-saving opportunities in the bathroom. By installing a low-flow showerhead, a low-flow faucet aerator and a dual-flush toilet, you'll save thousands of gallons of water each year.
The first two are easy DIY jobs—learn how to install a low-flow faucet—and a toilet can be done with a little homework. To really go for the gusto and go for a water-free toilet, check out composting toilets.
When it comes to using the toilets themselves, be sure you're reaching for toilet paper created from recycled sources—remember, "rolling over" is better than "rolling under"—and avoid using products made from virgin boreal forest trees. The Natural Resources Defense Council has a solid list of recycled paper sources, so you aren't literally flushing virgin trees down the toilet.Get the NRDC's list of recycled paper sources
And when it comes time to flush, close the lid before hitting the button to prevent the spread of bacteria around your bathroom. Ready for the next step? Install a dual-flush toilet or dual-flush retrofit on your current toilet.
Toilet paper is about the only "disposable" product allowed in your green bathroom, so when it comes time to clean up, avoid the temptation to reach for disposable products. That means paper towels and other disposable wipes should be replaced by reusable rags or microfiber towels for mirrors, sinks and the like. When it comes time to scrub the toilet, don't even think about those silly disposable one-and-done toilet brushes.
In the same vein, more and more cleaners are being sold in refillable containers, so you don't have to buy so much packaging and can reuse the perfectly-good spray bottle, instead of buying a new one each time you run dry on glass cleaner.
Once you have your low-flow faucet aerator installed, your behavior can also help keep water flow down. Be sure to turn off the water while you're brushing your teeth—some dentists even recommend a dry toothbrush. You'll save 6 gallons of water each day, assuming you're diligent about brushing twice a day.
Boys: If you shave with a wet razor, put a stopper in the sink and don't leave the water running. Half a sink-full of water will do the job.
Bathrooms are notoriously small and often poorly ventilated, so, of all the rooms in the house, this is the one that should be cleaned with green, nontoxic cleaners. Common household ingredients, like baking soda and vinegar, and a little elbow grease will do the job for most everything in the bathroom.
If DIY isn't your style, there are a bevy of green cleaners available on the market today.
Doing it yourself is a great way to insure that you're going as green as possible, since you know exactly what went into the products you're using. A few reliable favorites: Spray surfaces that need cleaning—sinks, tubs and toilets, for example—with diluted vinegar or lemon juice, let it sit for 30 minutes or so, give it a scrub, and your mineral stains will all but disappear.
Getting lime scale or mold on your showerhead? Soak it in white vinegar—hotter is better—for an hour before rinsing it clean.
And to create a great tub scrub, mix baking soda, castile soap (like Dr. Bronner's) and a few drops of your favorite essential oil—careful, a little bit goes a long way here.
Anything that's a struggle to say three times fast doesn't belong in your bathroom, and that certainly goes for personal care products like soaps, lotions and cosmetics.
For example "antibacterial" soaps often include endocrine disruptors, which, in addition to breeding "supergerms" resistant to these cleaners, may be doing your body serious harm and are wreaking havoc on fish and other organisms after they escape into the water stream after you flush.
That's just one example. Remember, the rule goes like this: If you can't say it, don't use it to "clean" yourself.
When it comes time to dry off, towels made from materials like organic cotton and bamboo are the way to go. Conventional cotton is one of the most chemically-intensive, pesticide-laden crops on the planet—to the tune of 2 billion pounds of synthetic fertilizers and 84 million pounds of pesticides each year—causing a whole laundry list of environmental health problems for those who apply the pesticides and harvest the crop—not to mention the damage done to soil, irrigation and groundwater systems.
Bamboo, in addition to being a fast-growing sustainable alternative to cotton, is also reputed to have antibacterial qualities when spun into linens.
If your shower has a curtain, be sure to avoid polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic—it's pretty nasty stuff. The production of PVC often results in creating dioxins, a group of highly toxic compounds, and once in your home, PVC releases chemical gases and odors. Once you're done with it, it can't be recycled and is known to leach chemicals that can eventually make their way back into our water system.
So be on the lookout for PVC-free plastic—even places like IKEA carry them now—or go for a more permanent solution, like hemp, which is naturally resistant to mold, as long as you keep your bathroom well-ventilated.
Once you go green, you'll want to keep it that way, so remember to do regular light maintenance—unclogging drains, fixing leaky faucets, etc.—with green in mind.
More great ways to show how much you care about our planet