In 2016, fewer than half of the plastic bottles sold were collected for recycling, and only seven per cent of those found further life as new bottles, according to Euromonitor data for The Guardian. The damage that such plastic waste does to the planet, particularly waterways and marine life, is hard to ignore.
Household cleaning products contribute hugely to the plastic problem, with tens of different bottles around the house for different cleaning jobs – from laundry detergent and hand soap to antibacterial spray and toilet cleaner – many of which are thrown away rather than being recycled.
There’s also the carbon footprint of your products to consider, from the chemicals used in manufacturing to the transportation of these heavy bottles, and the potential harm that such chemicals may do to the environment and our bodies (this last one is a little contentious).
Refillable cleaning products can vastly reduce the amount of packaging waste, or even recycling, that you generate each year, and it’s now accessible to all thanks to plenty of innovative, internet-based brands that mean you don’t have to rely on living near a refill store.
Many brands offer sachets that are dissolved into or mixed with water at home, rather than being delivered as liquids (around 90 per cent of normal cleaning products is simply water), which reduces the carbon footprint of delivery.
Many such brands also have a focus on transparency about ingredients, from minimising irritation for those with allergies, to only making 100 per natural, “non-toxic” products. Each brand will have a different interpretation of what they mean by that, so we recommend consulting their websites to discover which ingredients – such as sodium lauryl sulfate, ammonia and chlorine bleach – they do and do not include, and whether that suits your personal preferences.
Many also have schemes by which you can return any waste created (such as empty sachets) to the brand for recycling, and subscriptions for regular delivery so you never run out.
Refillable products are now just as diverse and efficient as standard supermarket cleaners: in testing, we’ve found brilliant replacements for everything from glass cleaners to drain unblocker. We’ve tested them head-to-head with popular, non-refillable household products to ensure that our picks are just as strong at lifting marks, scum and grime.
We can’t deny that most are more expensive than your usual products – and some will find them prohibitively so – but there are a few more budget options in our round-up that work out at less than £2 per refill.
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.
Clean Living the complete cleaning kit
This cleaning kit covers all possible bases, including the usual suspects such as multi-purpose cleaner and glass cleaner, as well as a few products we’ve not found elsewhere with refills, such as limescale remover, drain maintainer and carpet cleaner. It also contains three microfibre cloths and a soft bristle brush, and comes in a sturdy but cardboard (and therefore recyclable) caddy.
Clean Living’s bottles are aluminium and are delivered empty, along with a sachet; simply add water to the bottle, followed by the sachet, and you’re good to go. Empty sachets can be returned for recycling. All products are 100 per cent natural, as effective as anything you’d buy in the supermarket, and many contain live cultures that naturally break down dirt. Our favourite is the biological bin odour eliminator.
Buy now £43.99, Clean Living
Bower Collective grapefruit washing up liquid refill
Bower cleaning and laundry products (the website also sells other eco lifestyle products such as beeswax food wraps and toothpaste tabs) come in soft plastic pouches that you decant – either into containers you already own or into Bower’s reusable bottles, sold separately. Once you have built up the recommended four empty pouches, post them back using the prepaid envelope included in your order and the brand will sanitise and then refill them for other customers.
The brand is committed to reducing its carbon footprint by using UK-based suppliers wherever possible, all of which must meet the Ethical Trade Initiative code. Our favourite is the citrusy fresh and grease-cutting washing up liquid.
Buy now £3.99, Bower Collective
Homethings keep it clean kit
Homethings will appeal to those who find an endless variety of different cleaning products overwhelming or even wasteful. It produces just three cleaners, “Allthings” (multi-purpose), “Shinythings” (glass, mirrors, etc) and “Baththings” (self-explanatory). Start by purchasing the entire kit, which includes three reusable glass bottles with silicone sleeves, and three dissolvable tabs.
You simply add water to each bottle, followed by the tab; for future refills all you need to purchase is the tabs (around £1.65 each), which can be bought individually or on subscription. Allthings was our favourite – an effective all-rounder – but we found the glass cleaner a little smeary compared to our usual. Homethings is committed to offsetting the carbon produced by each product and by its staff, partnering with Inhabit.
Buy now £28.00, Homethings
Faith in Nature wild rose hand wash
If you frequent a refill store, you’ll likely have come across Faith in Nature’s personal care products such as body wash and conditioner, but our absolute favourite is the brand’s hand wash, which we keep in refillable bottles by our kitchen and bathroom sinks.
If you’re not lucky enough to live near a shop that offers refills, you can buy Faith in Nature products in bulk quantities – in this case, 5l – refill your own bottle at home, and once the large plastic container is empty, return it to the brand for reuse. Just note, the pumps are sold separately (as we discovered to our messy, funnel-fuelled cost). There are plenty of scents available, but our favourite is the floral yet earthy wild rose, which has the scent of a luxury product and is minimally drying.
Buy now £49.99, Holland & Barrett
Tincture bathroom tincture
The first thing that drew us to Tincture is its chic, minimalist white bottles; these are cleaning products you’ll want out on a shelf, not tucked away in a cupboard, and therefore you’ll reach for them more often, too. On first purchase, you order the pre-filled plastic bottles for life, and after that refills (at fractionally lower prices) in glass, recyclable bottles.
Tincture products are 100 per cent natural, “non-toxic” (exactly what the brand means by this and the ingredients they avoid are listed on its website), dermatologically tested (great for those with eczema or allergies) and WHO approved. We found the bathroom tincture just as effective as our usual spray at wiping away scaly build-up around the bath, sink and tiles. Our only quibble was that its scent made us sneeze!
Buy now £4.99, Tincture
Fill clary sage scrub powder
Fill makes effective cleaning and laundry products in gorgeous (and recyclable) glass bottles and jars. You can also purchase 10l refills for many of their products, from laundry powder to floor cleaner, or refill your bottles at numerous stores around the UK and a few in Europe. Our favourite is scrub powder, which is designed for stubborn spots and grease on everything from hobs to tiles; we found it particularly effective on build-up around the edge of the bath.
Simply mix some powder with a few drops of water into a thick paste. It doesn’t take a lot so the jar is excellent value for money, too. If you’re inclined to experiment with making your own cleaning products, you can also buy base ingredients such as citric acid from Fill.
Buy now £7.32, Fill
Spruce multipurpose cleaner starter kit
Spruce’s offering is pleasingly minimalist and its beautifully branded millennial pink and grey-blue refillable bottles have proved popular on Instagram. Like Clean Living and Homethings, its cleaning products come in the form of sachets that are mixed with water from your tap, making them far lighter to ship and therefore less of a burden on the environment during delivery. The sachet packaging is biodegradable paper, which can be added to your food waste bin or home compost.
Spruce sells just two cleaners, for kitchen and for bathroom, and both cut through scum and grease, and are made from ingredients that rate highly for human and environmental safety with multiple agencies.
Buy now £12.00, Spruce
Ecover non-bio concentrated laundry detergent
An eco option you can actually find in most supermarkets, Ecover makes multiple cleaning and laundry products, many of which can be refilled, either at one of its many refill stations across the UK or at home with its bulk refill-size boxes (from 5l to 15l). Once you’re done with your bulk box or bottle, the packaging can largely be recycled.
We love that Ecover laundry refills offer more flexibility than most refill brands, with specialty washes such as wool and silk and fabric softeners, as well as other products we’ve struggled to find eco options for, such as toilet cleaner. Our favourite, though, is the non-bio laundry detergent, which washes well and has a light scent that isn’t overpowering on clothes.
Buy now £7.19, Ecover
Ocean Saver the everyday essentials starter collection
This is the best value set we trialled by far. You get five reusable plastic spray bottles and five “ecodrops”: antibac, kitchen (which has a fresh citrus scent), bathroom, multi purpose and floor. The sachets, complete with their pouches, dissolve in water, and the card outer boxes are recyclable. We particularly liked the multipurpose cleaner, which has a light lavender scent, for daily wipe-ups. Once you’re set up with your bottles, refills are just £1.50 each, which means Ocean Saver is very competitive with supermarket cleaning brands.
Buy now £14.99, Ocean Saver
The verdict: Refillable household products
For it’s great range of harder-to-find products and its cardboard caddy of everything you could ever need, Clean Living is the best place to start if you’re daunted by the world of refillable household products.
For something more minimal in both aesthetic and number of products, we love Spruce’s entirely recyclable sachets and chic bottles. If you’re on a budget, Ocean Saver is the cheapest option, at £1.50 per refill, and is still effective.
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