How to Clean Green in Your Toronto Condo

How to clean green

Toronto’s become more and more environmentally conscious—and when you’re twenty floors up, and it’s that much harder to vent chemical fumes out the windows, a commitment to green and non-toxic living can become that much more personal.

While you’re lowering your carbon footprint, raising your walk score, and otherwise living a sustainable lifestyle, drop these green cleaning tips into your routine: They’ll make sure Chore Day is easy on your sinuses as well as the finishes and materials in your rental condo.

Embrace the household products of our ancestors

Vinegar is magic.  Your grandparents had a big bottle of it under the sink for a reason.  It’s acid enough to kill germs dead, and gentle enough to not wreck the place while you’re at it.  You can use plain distilled white vinegar—the cheap kind you find in your neighbourhood grocery store—for everything from cleaning windows to unclogging the showerhead to getting rid of that bathtub film.  It’s good to check first how much—or if—you need to dilute your solution, and getting your measurements right might take a try or two, but a surprising amount of household cleaning tasks can get done chemical-free with a little patience and a two-litre jug of white vinegar.

Likewise, when it comes to those tougher jobs, baking soda is your new best friend.  A mix of baking soda, vinegar, liquid soap and water will beat the pants off of most commercial bathroom cleaners when it comes time for scrubbing the shower walls, and baking soda in your drain, rinsed through with hot water, can stop clogs before they start.  It’s also great in a paste to remove grease stains from fabric, instead of chemical spot cleaner.

If you need an all-out scour?  Head to the grocery store, put down a couple bucks, and bring home a large cardboard box of Kosher salt.  The crystals are big enough—and abrasive enough—to get dirt right off of tricky, hard-to-clean spots like your bathtub drain, and dissolve absolutely harmlessly into the rinse water when you don’t need them anymore.

There are buckets (literally) of ways to use basic household items to clean without too much fuss—and without smelling chemicals in your bedroom all night.  The David Suzuki Foundation is, unsurprisingly, a fabulous resource for green cleaner recipes.

Get a source

If you’re more of a buy person than a brew person, there are lots of Toronto businesses ready to supply you with tough-but-gentle green cleaning products.  Brick-and-mortar storefronts like Grassroots or The Big Carrot have racks of cleaning products and will refill bulk containers, and online, local startup Greater Goods pre-vets all its products for greenwashing, toxic ingredients, or other unpleasantness, and will deliver your order by bike anywhere in the downtown core.

If you’re buying from a more standard retailer, make sure you check the ingredients lists for any chemical ingredients—or look up that brand with the word “greenwashing”—before you buy.  Unfortunately, green cleaning products is a growing market, and growing markets mean not everything that’s labeled as environmentally friendly actually checks out.

Reuse, reuse, reuse

One of the excellent benefits of that ensuite washer and dryer is that it lets you ditch the J-cloths, paper towels, and disposable sponges—and do easy cleaning with another mainstay of chore days past, the reusable rag.

All it takes is finding a tee-shirt that’s outlived its usefulness, and once you’ve given it last rites, cutting it into comfortably sized squares.  The cotton in most tee-shirts are soft enough to wipe down delicate materials without scratching them, and the fabric is made to get dirty, be washed, and keep on trucking.  Tee-shirt rags are free, reusable, absorbent, easy to clean, and drop your Chore Day trash bag to almost nothing.

When it comes to sponges, it’s not hard to find a reusable, non-synthetic sponge that’ll save you waste on both the manufacturing and the usage end.  Brands like Twist offer plant-based sponges that’re not just chemical-free, but clean so much more easily than your average scrubber: a little hot water and vinegar and they’re back in action.

When it comes to hardwood or linoleum floors, trade in that Swiffer’s disposable sheets for a microfiber mop or dusting pad.  They’re just as easy to use as the disposable dry mop refills, work dry or wet, and are will stand up to hundreds of machine washes.

Swapping in just these few small changes—one every week or two, to ease yourself in—is a great way to save your wallet and your nose when it comes to cleaning house.  And it’s an even better way to keep the chemicals off your surfaces—and make sure they last longer.

Greening Your Move

Greening your move

Moving means a lot of work, and it also usually means a lot of waste: cardboard boxes, tape, newspaper—and that’s on top of all the things we throw out.  But moving green doesn’t have to take a lot of work.  Here are a few ways to keep your move carbon-low, clean, and eco-friendly without breaking your back or the bank.

Ditch the cardboard for green moving boxes

Sourcing your moving boxes from an eco-friendly company can actually save you a lot of time and labour. Instead of hunting for cardboard boxes at your local stores or LCBO, companies like FrogBox, GreenBoxRental.ca, or CityBoxes will deliver twenty to thirty solid plastic moving boxes right to your door, for fees ranging from $80 to $109 to start.  Eco-friendly moving boxes are designed to be reusable, sturdy, and to close tightly and stack with ease, making your actual moving day that much less stressful.  And even better, green moving box companies will just pick up the boxes from your new address once you’re moved in, which means no need for the awkward balancing act of making a good impression on your new neighbours while clogging their recycling room with your endless cardboard.

As well as the social benefits, the green benefits here are multifaceted: no one needs to pulp trees for more cardboard box production, nothing ends up in a dump site, and the #2 plastic currently favoured for plastic moving boxes is recyclable, too.

Swap your cleaning chemicals for the non-toxic solution

Green cleaning products are more and more available in Toronto.  When you’re doing that last big scrub of your old place—and that first, pre-move clean of your new one—swap out the bleach and chemicals for a more eco-friendly version.

Local stores like Grassroots, with both an online store and a Danforth storefront, have whole sections for biodegradable cleaning products that work hard and smell pretty great, too, and will do bulk refills for your existing containers.  Look for brands like Nature Clean, and especially check out Twist sponges, made of natural cellulose, which last longer than any regular sponge I’ve ever had.

If there’s no time to go shopping, brand-new west-end outfit Greater Goods has a selection of greenwashing-free cleaning products that they’ll deliver to you by cargo bike, thus cutting the carbon out of your purchase entirely.

But if you’re hoping to get a professional clean, there are still lots of options to keep that green: services like EnviroMaid and Good Karma will gladly provide move-in and move-out cleaning from $25 per hour.  They both use eco-friendly, biodegradable products only, and can be booked up to the day before.

Save space, save paper

Packing your fragile goods such as plates, glasses, and jars means insulating them against bangs and breaks—and a lot of recyclable, yes, but still messy paper.  There are more efficient packing solutions, though: your own towels, clothes, and sheets.

Wrapping those fragiles in your extra washcloths and bath towels, packing glasses with winter socks, and securing dry jars with scarves not only provides insulation that’s much softer, stronger, and just all-around better than using paper, but cuts down considerably on the amount of space your move is going to take up.  The boxes—and weight—you save will mean being able to hire or rent a smaller moving truck, which will use less fuel and leave a smaller carbon footprint.  And save you money; did we mention saving money?  You’ll unpack to boxes full of your own stuff, not tumbleweeds of random waste.

And besides, this method keeps you from spending your first week in your new home washing newsprint smudges off every glass you use—a definite plus.

Take what you need; need only what you take

Starting to think about your move early—and taking that time to pare down your belongings into only what you’re going to use in your new home—is key to making your move environmentally friendly.  Extra weight takes extra boxes, uses extra fuel in the moving truck, and takes extra time for your movers or friends to handle.

Use our Decluttering Tips well in advance of your move to find new homes for anything that won’t be making the trip: charitable donations, sales on Craigslist or Kijiji, repurposing, hand-me-downs, Freecycle, and more are ways to make sure none of that extra weight ends up in your truck or in the garbage.

Best of luck!

Five Energy Conserving Tips for Your Toronto Condo

Energy Conserving Tips

Green building design is one of the best trends to hit Toronto in the last two decades.  Whether it’s solar panels on the roof, the Green Bin program branching out to high-rises, or current plans to expand the Deep Lake Water Cooling System, it’s getting easier and easier to keep your carbon footprint small in the GTA.

But with so many tips for the energy-conscious being directed to that rarest of Toronto creatures, the detached home you own (and can renovate!)—and many condominium units in Toronto’s newer developments allowing owners and tenants to meter their hydro separately—we’re hoping to present a few tips to conserve energy in your condo.  Whether you’re thinking of your own utility bill, keeping your overall condo fees low, or keeping things green, here are a few energy conserving tips to make an impact in your space.

1) Not using it? Don’t plug it in

It’s what they told us in grade school—if you’re not using it, turn it off—and it’s still the cornerstone of good energy conservation.  Getting into good habits with your light switches, television, radio, computers, and other appliances saves not just power, but the wear and tear on your electronics.

Get into the habit of shutting off light switches as you leave a room, using “task lighting”—a desk lamp in your work space, or a table lamp in your reading nook—instead of lighting up the whole room.  This is a habit where condo living has a real advantage: Big, beautiful windows on many recent Toronto condominium buildings mean great access to natural light and, depending on which direction your unit faces, potentially not having to turn a light on all day from May to October.

If you’re already doing that—and waiting for the real energy savings—unplug small electronics that draw power even when you’re not using them, such as your printer, Playstation or cellphone charger.  Only plug those in when you’re charging your phone (or leveling up, or printing those movie tickets) and you’ll see a small but steady impact on your hydro use.

2) Think fluorescent, not incandescent

Fluorescent and LED bulbs are pretty neat stuff—they’re those twisty ones you see in your local hardware store.  For a little more cost upfront, they give off much less heat, last eight to fifteen times longer, and use one third to one fifth the electricity that your old-school incandescent bulb eats up.  Since your lights are a major source of power usage, that’s a big deal when it comes to your environmental impact—and your hydro bill.

Switching to fluorescent or LED does mean a bit of an investment—they go for about five bucks a bulb at most big-box stores—but it’s an investment that pays off in the long, long time they take to burn out.  Pop ‘em in and enjoy not changing the light bulb for, oh, most of a year.

 3) Wash big—and in the evening

That condo washer-dryer unit can be one of the best parts of condominium life: liberating hours a week from babysitting loads at the laundromat (and making sure you have enough quarters).  It’s easy to go a little cigars-and-caviar nuts with your own tiny laundry room.  But it’s also a major contributor to your hydro usage.

Using your washer-dryer efficiently—full loads, washed during off-peak hours on the Toronto Hydro time-of-use system—cuts down on not just your electricity use, but how much money you’re spending on laundry detergent and time you’re spending sorting those socks.  Doing laundry on the cold water setting saves even more power, and let’s face it: that’s what your mother said to do with your bright colours anyway.

A clothesline or heavy clothes rack on your balcony can also do wonders on those warm spring and summer days, and give your clean laundry that fresh smell that dryer sheet companies pay to fake.

The same logic applies to your dishwasher (cigars, caviar, champagne cork): run it absolutely full, in the evenings or weekends when power is plentiful and cheap, and save time, money, and your little piece of the planet.  If your dishwasher takes pods, President’s Choice and other brands make a great selection of dishwasher pods designed for the lightest cycle going.  At seven bucks for 25 cycles, they’re both affordable and a great way to get the most out of the most power-friendly cycle your dish robot has.

4) End-run the AC problem

So that gorgeous glass-walled condo that’s letting you keep the lights off all spring and summer?  Problem with that: The heat it lets in, all summer long, means blasting the AC and using tons of power. Or does it?

There are reasons your condo corporation probably tells you to buy curtains that are white on the outside, and that’s because they reflect heat like nothing else.  A good set of curtains, kept drawn during the day when you’re out doing your thing, will keep the summer heat out of your condo unit and make sure it’s nice and cool when you get home—without running the AC.  If you’re renting your unit, and installing curtains isn’t an option, paper folding screens placed in front of windows do a similar trick—and create a really nice look besides.  Both these additions are easy, cheap, and also act as great insulation in the winter, when it’s the cold outside—and keeping the heat on inside—you’re worrying about.

If you get a nice cross-breeze, there are ways to use those windows in your favour, too: Forgo the AC on all but the hottest days in favour of keeping air in your unit moving.  Cracking a few windows is a free, environmentally friendly solution to beating the heat.

Sometimes, using less AC is as simple as making sure your air circulation vents aren’t blocked by furniture. Your AC will have to run that much harder if it’s mostly air-conditioning the back of a bookshelf.

5) Stay out of hot water

We might not normally think of water use when considering electricity conservation, but heating up water is one of the major ways our electricity goes to waste—making up 14% on average of a condo building’s hydro bill—and this goes double for high-rise condo units, where the water has to be brought up to the 20th floor by an electrical pump.  So if your hydro usage is too high for comfort, it’s worth thinking about hot water and how you use it.

Those 45-minute hot showers contribute to your hydro bill; so does thawing that chicken out for dinner under continuously-running warm water, instead of putting it in the fridge to thaw the night before.  Keeping your kitchen faucet in good repair, not running the water during your morning shave, and other small water conservation hacks also take you most of the way to reducing your electricity usage.

Like most of life, conserving energy in your condo is about the little things.  Phase one or two in every week, slowly, and before you know it your hydro usage will be down—and your hydro bill or condo fees will follow.