Tips & AdviceSpring Cleaning: How to Responsibly Replace Household Items

Spring Cleaning: How to Responsibly Replace Household Items


As the city thaws from its wintry slumber, New Yorkers take advantage of the mood-boosting spring temperatures to do some long-neglected tidying up—and empty as much junk as possible from their apartments in the process. Still, the environmental impact of tossing bag after bag of trash to the curb, as well as purchasing replacements for the items you’ve had to throw out, can leave your environmental conscience twinging. If you’ve found yourself torn over what items to dispose of during spring cleaning and wondering how to responsibly replace them afterward, read on for some handy tips and tricks.

Properly Replace Towels

Towels have a shorter shelf life than many might expect: it’s recommended that you replace all towels every two to five years. A major warning sign is when your towel begins to smell after only one or two uses, which means that bacteria may have become embedded within its fibers.

If you’re worried a towel is contaminated beyond salvaging, it’s generally safest to simply throw it away. Towels with just a bit of cosmetic wear and tear, however, can be repurposed in a number of ways. One trick is to cut them into strips that serve as cleaning rags or dish towels. Another is to donate them to a local animal shelter, which are almost always in need of extra bedding.

When it comes to replacing your towels, try looking for options made with organic cotton to reduce the amount of chemicals and pesticides released into the environment during manufacturing. Hemp and bamboo towels are another good choice, as both crops have a much smaller water footprint than cotton.

Carefully Dispose of Expired Cleaning Supplies

Before digging into the “scrubbing and scouring” part of your spring cleaning, it pays to double-check that your supplies haven’t expired. Multi-surface sprays start to degrade after about two years, while dish detergent lasts approximately a year and a half and bleach begins to lose its potency after just six months. These products don’t really spoil so much as they become gradually less effective—but, in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is generally better to err on the side of replacing any questionable sanitization products.

When disposing of unused cleaning products, first check the packaging for labels warning of corrosive contents. If no such warnings are present, it is generally safe to pour any remaining cleaner down the drain and recycle the bottle along with the rest of your plastics.

To avoid wasting cleaning products in the future, be sure to only buy what you know you can use up within a year or two. Also, to further mitigate the environmental impact of your cleaners, be sure to buy from brands bearing the EPA’s “Safer Choice” label.

Replace, Resell, Rehome Old Clothes

Spring cleaning is also an excuse to refresh our wardrobes by getting rid of clothes we no longer wish to wear. If there are items in your closet that you haven’t worn in over a year or no longer fit you comfortably, you are entirely within your rights to replace them. Same goes for stained, torn, or otherwise damaged garments.

The world is currently in the throes of a textile waste crisis, so throwing away your clothes should always be a last resort. Instead, consider donating them to your local homeless shelter or Goodwill or reselling them online. Hosting a clothing swap with your friends can also be a good way to get rid of unwanted garments.

Clothing swaps also allow you to replenish the gaps in your closet in an extremely eco-friendly manner, as does buying secondhand from thrift or consignment stores. If you absolutely need to purchase brand new clothing, the best way to avoid ecologically damaging fast fashion trends is to buy from eco-conscious clothing brands and to only purchase garments that you know you will get good use out of.

Compost Dead Plants

If you’ve been holding out hope of resurrecting the desiccated succulents sitting on your windowsill, spring is as good a time as any to give up the ghost. Trying to revive long-dead plants only wastes water and resources.

Instead of chucking your dearly departed ficus in the trash, try composting it instead in order to return its nutrients to the earth. As a bonus, you can also compost the potting soil it was planted in. Hold on to the pots themselves to reuse them for future planting.

When replacing your plants, be sure to buy from local, sustainably-focused nurseries to cut down on the environmental impact of having your plants shipped to you. Neighborhood plant swaps are another sustainable way to find new plants without burning gas to bring them home—and, as a bonus, you won’t have to dispose of the plastic packaging that comes with purchasing a new plant.

Dispose and Replace Old Appliances

The turn of the season can also be a good time to evaluate whether any of your household appliances need replacement. Strange noises, odd smells, power surges, frequent breakdowns, and a general decrease in efficiency are all signs that your fridge, washing machine, or air conditioner may be reaching the end of its lifespan.

To safely dispose of larger appliances, you must set up an appointment with the Department of Sanitation either through their website or by calling 311 so that they can come by and remove hazardous components such as CFC gas. Once this has been taken care of, you will be able to leave your appliances outside to be picked up—though you will unfortunately be responsible for transporting them to the curb yourself. Smaller appliances such as toaster ovens can be regularly recycled without additional appointments. If you are replacing functional small appliances for purely cosmetic reasons, it’s worthwhile to try donating them to your local Goodwill before attempting to recycle them.

Be sure to keep energy efficiency in mind while shopping for replacements. Energy Star appliances are always a safe bet. While energy efficient options can be slightly pricier than some of the alternatives, they ultimately offer a better value because they will save you money in the long run. Depending on the appliance, Energy Star models conserve 10-50% more energy than competitors and pass the savings directly to you by greatly reducing your electric bill. Nothing feels better than swinging into spring with a clear conscience and a bit of extra dough in your bank account.

Sophie McIntosh
Sophie McIntosh
Sophie McIntosh is a Brooklyn-based writer and dramaturg hailing from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Her plays have been produced by Imaginarium Theatre Company, Platform Production Company, and in the Boston Theater Marathon. Check out more of her work at!

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