Home and Garden, Natural Cleaning

A Plastic-Free Cleaning Hack (No Vinegar Required!)

plastic-free cleaning hack

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Who Loves A Plastic-Free Cleaning Hack?

I certainly love a good plastic-free cleaning hack.  I make most of my own homemade cleaning products, a lot of which are made without plastic.

Then there are the cleaning products that are made with vinegar.  Now, I love white vinegar and buy my vinegar in bulk, but of course, it comes in a five-litre plastic carton.

I use white vinegar a lot in my cleaning and laundry, so for me, it’s good environmental practice to purchase bulk white vinegar rather than individual plastic bottles of chemically dubious shop bought cleaning products.

However, I have had people ask me if there is a plastic-free way to buy white vinegar in large volumes. The simple answer so far is there is no way to buy white vinegar in bulk sizes in anything but plastic.  Vinegar corrodes metal, and a five-litre glass bottle would be difficult to transport and prone to breakage.

Even if you buy vinegar from a packaging-free shop, that vinegar probably arrived at the shop in a five-litre plastic carton because there’s no other easy way to transport 5 litres of vinegar in anything but plastic. Plastic it is, sadly.

However, I recently discovered a clever plastic-free cleaning hack from Dri-Pak that acts as a brilliant white vinegar substitute.  It also had the added benefit that it doesn’t smell like vinegar if you or a family member is a little nose sensitive to white vinegar.

What is it?  A humble £2 cardboard box of Citric Acid*.

plastic-free cleaning

With this little plastic-free box of wonder, you can create vinegar-free cleaning sprays for your home, or use it in place of vinegar in most natural cleaning recipes that call for vinegar.

What is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is an acid compound found naturally in citrus fruits, particularly lemon and limes, but can also be formulated by fermenting sugars. Visually, it looks a lot like sugar.

Its name sounds a little scary, but it’s actually a key component in home-brewing beer, and in bath bombs.  Because it’s naturally found in food; used in food and drink production; and also easily biodegrades, then it’s 100% safe to use around the home in green cleaning with a few caveats for safe making and usage, of course (see below).

How to Make a Plastic-Free Vinegar Substitute

cleaning with citric acid

Ingredients & Equipment Required

  • 500 ml hot water (boil first, and then allow to cool for 10 minutes)
  • A measuring jug and spoon
  • 2 tablespoons citric acid – I buy my boxes of Dri-Pak citric acid online from Big Green Smile* – they conveniently arrive in plastic-free packaging.  The citric acid box is even wrapped in a compostable bag, in case of spillage in transit, that I then use for kitchen scraps.  Alternatively, for a local supplier, try homebrew shops, Asian supermarkets, chemists, or hardware shops.
  • 500 ml spray bottle – recycle an old glass or plastic bottle – glass vinegar bottles are ideal –  and spray nozzle, or you can purchase a glass spray bottle here*.
  • Optional: a few drops of your favourite essential oil


Pour the hot water into your measuring jug.

Stirring well, dissolve the citric acid in the hot water.

Add 20 drops of essential oil if required.  I went for 10 drops of lemon essential oil* and 10 drops of rosemary essential oil for a Mediterranean scented cleaning spray but feel free to use what you have to hand.  Lavender essential oil and tea tree essential oil are both great anti-bacterial options, for example.

Decant the mixture into your spray bottle and off you go!  How’s that for a clever plastic-free cleaning hack?!

What Can You Clean With Citric Acid?

Citric acid is a great all-round cleaner.  It kills bacteria, mould, and mildew, and is brilliant for general disinfecting and cleaning.  Where it comes into its own is that it’s really effective at removing soap scum, hard water stains, calcium deposits, lime, and rust.

I cleaned my glass shower screen with the cleaning spray and a cloth so you can see for yourself how effective this citric acid cleaning spray can be – I know I love a good before and after:

before and after cleaning with citric acid

Left – shower screen before cleaning; right – shower screen after cleaning with citric acid spray.  

You can clean all surfaces with citric acid with the exception of stone, marble, and granite.  You’ll want to make a stone-safe cleaning spray for this job, the recipe of which can be found on page 34 of Fresh Clean Home.

Safety First

Whilst Citric Acid is a natural ingredient, it is still a chemical, and the powder can still cause damage and irritation if handled incorrectly.  I prefer to use it in a well-ventilated area – breathing in citric acid can cause respiratory symptoms, such as a cough, shortness of breath, and a sore throat.  Citric acid can also irritate your skin and eyes, so take care when handling the powder not to spill it or rub your eyes before washing your hands.

And, as with any cleaning product, homemade or otherwise, always keep both the citric acid, and any homemade cleaning spray, away from curious pets and/or children.

weekend links

Ten Things

flowers in greenhouse

Hello! This week’s Ten Things, my roundup of the week’s environmental news, is, I feel, a particularly good one. There’s a plethora of positive news this week, but also lots of scope for inspiration and action.

This week’s links:

1. Some great news to start with: on Wednesday the EU Parliament voted to ban single-use straws as well as single-use plastic cutlery, stirrers, plastic plates, balloon sticks, and cotton swabs in all EU member states by 2021.

Meanwhile, products such as wet wipes will have to be labeled that they contain plastic and can therefore be fatal to marine life. Campaigners have asked that policies make exceptions for those who rely on plastic straws, for example. Whether it will apply to post-Brexit Britain is anyone’s guess.

2. In other great news, according to research the secondhand fashion industry is booming and could soon overtake the fast fashion market. When asked what would encourage UK shoppers to buy more secondhand clothing, 90% of respondents said that friends or family doing so first would encourage them to make the shift. So come on, let’s start talking more about our secondhand finds!

3. Coal is officially on the way out: a study has found that the fossil fuel is now pricier than solar or wind power 75% of the time. The coal industry will be out-competed on cost in just six years time.

4. Liz Pape, founder of ethical fashion label Elizabeth Suzann, on why we shouldn’t treat sustainability as a trend:

“Convincing customers to buy more shit in the name of sustainability is the biggest scam of our generation. We all know this, but it bears repeating: Buying nothing at all is the most sustainable thing any of us can do, and when you must buy or want to buy, then use that opportunity to shop responsibly. Treating sustainability as a trend is the biggest threat to it being taken seriously, and to take it seriously it has to be more than surface level”.

5. For city dwellers at least, owning a car may soon be as quaint as owning a horse.

6. The Wind In The Willows has been updated – it’s now set in today’s times, with Sir David Attenborough, Stephen Fry, Catherine Tate, Alison Steadman and Asim Chaudhry providing the voices to this Wes Anderson style animation.

The twist? This Kenneth Grahame classic set in an idyllic English countryside has now been ravaged by bulldozers and climate change. Sounds grim, but there is a message of hope. The Wildlife Trusts, who commissioned the animation, hope that the short film will inspire a massive call for change at the highest level.

7. An interesting read for a Sunday morning from The Ecologist- why do environmentalists disagree about food?

8. I love this lady – telling it like it is, as always.

9. A jury awarded $80 million in damages to a Californian man whose use of Monsanto’s Roundup Weed Killer – a weedkiller linked to a decline in bee and butterfly populations – was directly attributable to causing his cancer.

Bayer, the company that owns Monsanto say that the verdict in this trial has no impact on future cases and trials, as each one has its own factual and legal circumstances, but Bayer and Monsanto face hundreds of other Roundup lawsuits in the San Francisco federal court and perhaps it could spell the end for these types of weedkiller that are harmful to wildlife and humans.

10. Finally, I’ll leave you with this beautiful story that will make your heart sing.