5 Low-Cost Ways To Green Your Kitchen

by heather

When I think the word “kitchen”, I automatically envision warm, crusty bread, bright yellow paint, and looking out my back window at the birds while I’m doing the dishes.

What I don’t think, however, is “pollution”. And yet, our kitchens are, on average, the biggest energy hogs in the house.

If you’re looking for easy, low-cost ways to green your kitchen, then you’re in luck; I’ve got some eco-friendly strategies you can use.

1. Green Your Dish Routine

According to the California Energy Commission, dishwashers use, on average, 37% less water than handwashing.

If, however, you fill up one sink with wash water and one with rinse water (versus letting the water run), then you’ll use half the water a regular dishwasher uses.

If handwashing doesn’t appeal to you, then purchase an Energy Star dishwasher when your old one goes out. EnergyStar.gov reports that an Energy Star dishwasher uses 41% less energy than regular models, and far less water.

If you want to save energy with the dishwasher you currently have, then take the advice of the California Energy Commission: don’t heat-dry your dishes. If you use the air-dry setting, you’ll save 50% more energy. If your dishwasher doesn’t have an air-dry setting, then simply turn it off after the wash cycle is through and let them air-dry with the door open.

And, fill that baby to the brim; washing a full load is far more efficient.

You can also save energy with your current dishwasher by using the “short wash” cycle for your normal loads. Unless your dishes are insanely dirty, the short cycle or “quick wash” works just as well as the longer wash.

Another way to green your dish routine is to use an eco-friendly dish soap. Regular dish soap, including what goes into your dishwasher, contains petroleum and phosphates. These wind up in our local lakes and rivers and wreak havoc on the environment. The most pressing problem is the algae blooms caused by phosphates, as this great article from the Shannon Fisheries Board explains.

Buying plant-based dish soap like Method, Seventh Generation, or Mrs. Meyers can help reduce your impact on the environment.

2. Learn To Love Your Microwave

Did you know that using a microwave uses two thirds less energy than using your oven? Yep. If you can cook something in the microwave instead of your big oven, then you’ll save energy.

You can also save energy by using your microwave to defrost frozen foods as much as possible, and then sticking them into the oven. The less time your oven is actually on, the more you save energy.

3. Green Your Cookware

Most of us probably use pots and pans coated with Teflon. But according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Teflon may be far more harmful to us than DuPont (the main manufacturer) would like to admit.

EWG recently conducted a study on Teflon and found that the coating heated up quickly to a temperature that caused the chemicals to begin breaking apart. I know this quote from their study is a bit long, but it’s very sobering and highly worth the read time…here’s what EWG discovered (you can see the full study here):

In new tests conducted by a university food safety professor, a generic non-stick frying pan preheated on a conventional, electric stovetop burner reached 736°F in three minutes and 20 seconds, with temperatures still rising when the tests were terminated. A Teflon pan reached 721°F in just five minutes under the same test conditions, as measured by a commercially available infrared thermometer.

DuPont studies show that the Teflon offgases toxic particulates at 464°F. At 680°F Teflon pans release at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens, two global pollutants, and MFA, a chemical lethal to humans at low doses. At temperatures that DuPont scientists claim are reached on stovetop drip pans (1000°F), non-stick coatings break down to a chemical warfare agent known as PFIB, and a chemical analog of the WWII nerve gas phosgene.

For the past fifty years DuPont has claimed that their Teflon coatings do not emit hazardous chemicals through normal use. In a recent press release, DuPont wrote that “significant decomposition of the coating will occur only when temperatures exceed about 660 degrees F (340 degrees C). These temperatures alone are well above the normal cooking range.”

These new tests show that cookware exceeds these temperatures and turns toxic through the common act of preheating a pan, on a burner set on high.


I’ve begun shopping around for some eco-friendly pots and pans for myself; my pots and pans are old, and frankly I’m alarmed at the information coming out about Teflon (isn’t it always like that?)

Most of the green pots and pans that are out right now use a hard-anodized aluminum surface. Hard-anodized means that aluminum goes through an electrical-chemical process that hardens it 30% more than stainless steel. It never chips or peels, and won’t leach chemicals into your food because its melting temperature is over 1,220 degrees (versus the 440 degrees of Teflon).

In fact, Calphalon says that anodized aluminum is what they use to protect the satellites from the harsh elements of space. Neat.

If you don’t want to shell out for hard-anodized cookware (which will run you at least $150 for a full set) then use cast iron. You can usually find cast iron pots and pans at any thrift store or garage sale, and they’re very safe to use.

I have a full set of Lodge cast iron, and I love it. It heats evenly, and as long as I rub it down with oil after I’m done cooking it never rusts.

4. Green Your Fridge

Your refrigerator is one of the biggest energy hogs in your home. Want proof? Then check out this enlightening graph from the U.S. Department of Energy:

Courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Energy

Courtesy of U.S. Dept. of Energy

See the refrigerator? Its energy hog-ness is only topped by the pool and spa hogs. And unlike a pool or spa, we do need our fridge.

So, how can we make our fridge more eco-friendly?

Well, the obvious step is to have an Energy Star fridge. But if you don’t have one, and don’t want to shell out the dough for a brand new one if you don’t need to, then make sure you keep your fridge as full as possible. Sounds a bit backwards, but a fuller refrigerator actually uses less energy than an empty one.

The reason is because the cold food in there helps the refrigerator come back to temperature faster after the door’s been opened.

Another thing you can do is make sure the coils on the back are free of dust. The refrigerator will cool more efficiently if the coils aren’t caked with grime.

5. Stop Using Paper Towels

For years, I never thought about the fact that paper towels are made from trees. I’m chalking that up to the endless commercials on TV that make it seem as if American households would crumble into a bacteria-ladened mess without them

It’s easier than you might think to stop using paper towels. I know because this was one of my New Year’s Resolutions, and I’ve done it!

The key to successfully ditching your paper towels is to have a basket of “clean up rags” right where your paper towels used to be. I used my husband’s old, soft t-shirts that he didn’t want anymore; I simply cut them up into squares and threw them into the basket. After I use them, they go in the wash.

I know the thought of living without Bounty might make you break out into a cold sweat, especially if you have kids, but I promise it can be done. And, you won’t missing shelling out for those bulky paper towels any longer.

Last Word…

So, what’s next on my own “green kitchen” agenda? Well, I’m still slowly accumulating glass and stainless steel containers to replace my plastic (which is a whole other post), and now I’ve decided to send my Teflon to the Goodwill and start using my cast iron much more (while I save up for some of those luscious anodized sets…).

What savvy tricks are you using to green up your kitchen? I’d love to hear about them, and share them with other readers!

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Layla March 15, 2009 at 10:15 am

I hate teflon too!! (was always suspicious about it, especially as we had some really scratched pans at the dorm..) now even sis who was a firm proponent dislikes to use it as it’s supposed to be bad for birds (we have a budgie)

Well, about the microwave – I have to disagree here – we’ve read some really bad stuff about microwaves & their influence on food & health, so we avoid using it..
I do agree about using the oven less. and maybe combining with other baking, so it doesn’t have to heat 3 times fully from scratch..

There are other ways to green the cooking – eg turn off the gas/electric stove when not so fully cooked yet, the heat helps stuff cook to the end!! (works for pasta & rice & beans etc, you do need to figure out when to turn off so you still like the taste..)

WOW, cast iron – you’re so lucky to have this!! 🙂 Still on our ‘to get’ list…

heather March 15, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Hi Layla,

Yeah, I’ve read conflicting reports on microwaves; most of what I read said that the new ones are completely safe. There are a few dissenters, however, so I guess you just have to decide on your own.

For me, the microwave is essential!

I just donated all my teflon pots and pans today (Goodwill was very happy), and am transiting over to my cast iron. I’m originally from the South, so some of the cast iron I have has been in my family a long time. I did go out and buy one stainless steel pan, so I think I’m all set!

You brought up some great tips here too, Layla, so thanks for writing those in!

Julie Satterfield March 16, 2009 at 2:17 pm

I am a big supporter of the slow-cooker. Uses tons less energy as either the microwave or the oven, does not heat up the entire kitchen, uses only one “pot” that needs to be cleaned and can be plugged in and forgotten until it is time for a yummy supper. Anything that you can make in the oven or stovetop can be done in a slow-cooker. Love ’em, love ’em, love ’em!

heather March 16, 2009 at 2:22 pm

Hi Julie,

Yes, I didn’t even think about slow cookers when I wrote this, and just today Squawkfox.com wrote a great post, “6 Reasons To Use A Slow Cooker” (link: http://tinyurl.com/b79wno).

One thing she found was that slow cookers use 50% less energy than a full-sized oven.


I haven’t used mine at all since I became a vegetarian (lack of good recipes!) but I’m going to drag mine out and start searching again.

Thanks so much for writing in!

patty March 18, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Thank you so much, I never really stopped to think (maybe I should a
little more often),about the papertowel issue.I’ have some of those
shamie thingies,I’ll cut those up and use those aloong with my hus-bunny’s old t-shirts.thanks again.

Robyn August 29, 2009 at 9:43 pm

I’ve chimed in here before about giving up the car as a way to save money and buck our society’s conventional mantra that everyone has to have a car (I also know there are the exceptions).
But NOW I have to chime in and say that I really don’t think a refrigerator is essential — after months of deliberation and debate, I finally pulled the plug – literally – and have gone fridge-free! I sold mine on craigslist and have been adjusting my eating habits so that I am not dependent on refrigeration. It can be done. In addition to the money and energy savings – huge, as your chart points out – I am thrilled to have the physical space in my tiny kitchen.
And can you believe it – there is a whole blog on just this topic – http://ditchyourfridge.blogspot.com I found this in my research about living fridgeless.

I love to test the outer edges of “normal” expectations and this was my latest venture I had to share with you and your readers. I wrote about it on my blog in a 3-part series if you want the full story.

Then, ancy for another appliance to be rid of, I purged my microwave today. I rarely used it anyway.

I think making significant changes requires pushing the limits just a bit, then a bit more until it’s a little uncomfortable, and getting ok with that discomfort. Soon it is not uncomfortable. Then we take it to another level.
I’m still attached to some of my comforts (I do use some electicity and running water) but like to be challenged to see what I can happily live without.

Linda Gliedt May 27, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Hello Heather, I’ve just discovered your website and Bravo for GREAT ideas. I can’t locate you laundry section quickly so you may have already suggested these: 35+ years ago I looked at the dryer lint and decided it was our clothing disappearing. I dry towels and socks to the damp stage then hang on towel bars. ALL the clothes dry for 3-5 minutes for wrinkle removal then go on hangers, hung on the door frames of their owners. Saves the clothes, the dryer, the electric, time, and nasty, wrinkled folding from a basket. Sheets go on a clothes line.
Since 1972, with my first dishwasher, I have always opened the door for drying.

heather May 28, 2010 at 9:40 am

@Linda, I never thought of dryer lint that way but that’s a really great idea! You’re exactly right…all it is is parts of our clothing going out the tube. Definitely a good motivator for line drying!

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