So, maybe this blog post is a bit out-of-season.  If September seems like the wrong time of year to discuss spring cleaning, then let’s instead call this our back-to-school cleaning post. As always, I’m going to be looking at the virtual water impact of several products, and look at the most water-savvy ways to keep your home clean.

In the past, I’ve discussed the merits of using disposable products versus reusable products.  The same principals apply when you look at paper towels and regular cloth towels.  One piece of paper takes about 2.5 gallons of water to make, and we can assume that paper towels are comparable.   On the other hand, a regular cotton towel will vary in its water usage according to the quality of cotton and size of the towel, but a regular dish rag will run around 100 gallons – which, if you use it fifty times (or once a week for one year) will amount to the same amount of water as that in paper towels.

As noted in past posts, you will most likely use a towel longer than for a full year.  Plus, you can get more use out of your towel by using it more often than once between washings.  You spill a glass of water, you’ll probably need to use a handful of paper towels to mop it up, while one cloth towel will do.  Likewise, you can use your cotton towels to clean your entire apartment or home, without needing to worry about it wearing out after scrubbing a particularly tough stain.

But, advising you to use reusable products instead of disposable products is old news by now, right?  So let’s talk about a way to cut out chemical cleaners for a far more water-safe option.

Most surfaces can be cleaned with warm water with a splash of white wine vinegar mixed in.  The proportions don’t need to be specific: use a bucket or your biggest mixing bowl, fill it with water, and add a splash of vinegar.  Let’s say you use a gallon of water, and a quarter cup of vinegar, which needs a little under half a cup of virtual water.

While each cleaning product will vary in its virtual water content, that gallon plus a half a cup of water is going to be far less than the virtual water impact of, say, isopropyl alcohol and 2-butoxyethanol (whatever that is), which are included on the ingredients list of my household cleaner I bought prior to the drought.  With your water & vinegar mixture, plus a cloth towel, you can get your whole house scrubbed using a fraction of the water you’d waste through paper towels and chemical cleaners.