When it comes to cleaning products, natural alternatives have only just begun to gain mainstream popularity. For a long time many of us didn’t question the need for chemicals in our cleaning solutions, and they seemed like the only option to ensure good hygiene.

But people have been cleaning their homes since long before we normalised the use of toxic chemicals, and once you start to think about it, it seems contradictory to be using hazardous ingredients to try to make our homes safer. Many of the products which are commonly used contain incredibly harsh chemicals which are dangerous if ingested, touched or even breathed in.

Many of these chemicals are not only potentially dangerous to us but can also end up in our waterways, becoming extremely damaging to the environment. And it’s not just the seemingly endless liquids we are sold which can cause problems. Many of the items we use to clean – from washing up sponges to window squeegees – are made out of and packaged in non-recyclable material. 

For people who want to be more mindful about the environmental and health impact of cleaning products, we tested a range of products on the market, judging them based on efficacy, price and environmental credentials. Here are some of the best natural alternatives out there to get the job done without any of the problematic side effects.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent. 

Method antibacterial all-purpose cleaner: £3, Ocado 

Method is one of the best known green cleaning brands out there. It was founded by two childhood friends living in San Francisco who were looking for an industry to disrupt. In 2000, the idea was born to combine sleek design with environmentally friendly non-toxic cleaning products. The all-purpose solution was their first product, and it still stands up today as one of the best products of its kind out there – the natural credentials are just a bonus.

It kills 99.9 per cent of all bacteria and can be used basically anywhere. We tested it on kitchen counters, wooden dining tables, showers, stainless steel cupboards and mirrors, and it worked on all surfaces to provide a clean, shiny appearance when wiped away with a damp cloth. It comes in three scents (wild rhubarb, sunny citrus and lemon mint), which are all pleasant and don’t smell artificial or chemical. Unlike some of their other products, they don’t offer refills, however the plastic bottles are not only recyclable but made out of recycled bottles themselves.

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LoofCo washing-up pad: £2.75, Ethical Superstore 

Most people have never considered switching up their washing-up sponges, but doing so could make a difference to the carbon footprint of your cleaning routine. Many mass-produced sponges actually contain non-biodegradable plastic, not to mention non-recyclable packaging, and they usually only last a few weeks before we need to replace them. This washing-up pad solves all these issues and more.

A loofah is a naturally grown vine which is part of the cucumber family. LoofCo harvests them and manufactures the product in Egypt under fair labour conditions. The sponge starts off scratchy but expands and gets soft when wet. Because of its porous texture, it creates satisfying soap suds and cleans the dishes just as well as any other soft cloth or sponge. It is important that it’s hung up to dry completely between each use as otherwise it can get mouldy, but when looked after correctly it can last up to three months. It’s also a lot more aesthetically pleasing in your kitchen.

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Bio D floor cleaner with linseed soap: £4.05, Ethical Superstore

This product is vegan, cruelty free, made in the UK and its natural ingredients are all biodegradable. It works to clean wood, vinyl and laminate ceramic tiles, and is hypoallergenic, making it a great option if you like to walk barefoot or have children who crawl on the floor a lot. We found the non-abrasive formula great for delicate wooden floors as it leaves a nice shine and doesn’t risk damaging the floorboards.

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Dr Bronner’s pure castille liquid soap: £15.59, Ocado

This is slightly pricey but you get almost a litre of concentrated product which can be used for a variety of purposes. It works for hair and body, as well as pets, plus household cleaning for laundry, dishes, floors and kitchen surfaces – and a little goes a long way. It comes in eight different scents, and we tried peppermint, lavender, citrus and tea tree, all of which smell pleasant and non-chemical. The natural ingredients are biodegradable and the packaging is completely recyclable. It also comes in a small travel size which is great if you want to test it out before committing to a larger bottle.

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Ashley & Co in sink dish wash: £16, Amara

This is not a cheap washing-up liquid but the packaging is so pleasing it could double up as a kitchen accessory. All its ingredients are plant-based and free from sulphates, parabens, mineral oils and synthetic fragrances. It has a spicy but clean scent and manages to cut through grease with minimal product. It doesn’t give an overly sudsy effect but it works just as well, and leaves the skin feeling soft if used without gloves.

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White Space wooden dish brush: £6.50

If you’re looking to replace a metal scourer in your kitchen, a brush is a great option. This one is made from 100 per cent natural untreated beechwood and tampico fibre, meaning the heads are long-wearing and biodegradable. It works well to remove crusted food or heavy stains, and looks nice on your sink. You can remove the head from the handle, making it easier to scrub pots and pans, while the longer handle works well for things like vases or water bottles. We found the brush head lasted well, without the fibres warping too much after heavy use, but when it does need replacing you can pop it in the compost and buy a replacement without having to buy a new handle.

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Ecozone soap nuts: £5.99, Lakeland 

It seems almost too good to be true that a naturally occurring berry could work as a substitute for chemical laundry detergent, but they really work. The nuts are part of the lychee family, and contain saponin, a natural surfactant which works to clean clothes. You simply put around four of the nuts in a bag and place it on top of your laundry in the machine. You will need to wash the clothes in hot water for them to work, though, so beware of any cold wash-only items. The nuts essentially work as a very basic detergent – they will get your clothes clean but they don’t have any specific softening or whitening properties. They also contain no fragrance so won’t give you that classic laundry smell, but it means they’re perfect for people with sensitive skin, as the fragrances can often be irritating. Each nut can be used four times and then composted. This 300g bag should be enough for 100 washes, making it a cost-effective option, as well as an eco-friendly one.

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E-cloth general purpose cloths: £15 for a pack of four

The premise behind E-cloths is to “unlock the power of water”. The specific design of the microfibre means that when the cloth is damp, the water fills the microscopic voids in the fibres, so that the water molecules attract and stick to particles of dirt, grease, grime, even bacteria and mould, pulling the particles into the voids and trapping them there. You can then wash the cloth to release the particles and reuse. The cloths remove more than 99 per cent of bacteria using no chemicals at all, making them the perfect option for a more natural cleaning routine. The brand offers a number of different cloths for different areas, but these are the most versatile option as they can be used on any surface. The experience feels a little odd, but once you wrap your head around using only water you’ll find they work really well. It won’t be the best option for scrubbing encrusted grime or hard stains, but for general day to day cleaning they are a great option.

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Daylesford rosemary lavatory cleaner: £3.75

It’s true that it’s hard to get excited about toilet cleaner – it’s probably something most of us would rather avoid thinking about too much. But it is a product that needs to be used, and most on the market are full of harsh toxic chemicals that go straight back into our water system. Not so for this product though, which contains no petrochemicals, phosphates, preservatives, enzymes, synthetic perfumes or animal by-products, and is completely biodegradable. They advise using it under the rim and letting it sit overnight, and giving it a light scrub and flush away in the morning. We’d never tested this method with any product before, but it works a treat. Plus, the packaging is pretty enough that it almost feels like a pleasant task.

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Ecover multi-action wipes: £2.05 (pack of 40), Ocado

Life is tiring – sometimes you just want to take the easy way out, we get it. But even when you can’t be bothered to mess around with sprays and cloths, you can still make sure you’re using natural products. We’ve tested a lot of Ecover products and they’re pretty much all great, but this is probably the most unique because they are single-use cleaning wipes which are completely biodegradable and contain no toxic chemicals. They work well for wiping down kitchen and bathroom surfaces if you just want to spruce something up without having to give it a proper deep clean.

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The verdict: Natural cleaning products

The Method all-purpose cleaner was a winner because it did a great job on just about everything, and the Ecover wipes are always worth keeping around for cleaning emergencies when you’re short on time. If you want to cut down on cleaning solutions altogether, the e-cloths make for a great investment. 

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.