Spring cleaning

Let's stop shipping water

One of the crazier things mankind does is ship large quantities of water around the planet, to places that already have water. The most egregious example you’re probably familiar with is Fiji Water, one of America’s most popular brands. Every year, they buy over 130 million liters of water from the government of Fiji. (For around a decade, that was a military junta, but the company didn’t let that spoil business.) The water is packaged into plastic bottles which are manufactured in China, and then distributed to your local mall, airport and convenience store.

It’s a pretty good business model. The Fiji Water company pays around F$22.6 million for the water — which is about $12m USD. After shipping and repackaging, that $0.10 per liter water sells for $12 per liter. And if you think that’s a good markup, prior to 2010 the company was only paying F$0.5m a year for the water rather than F$22.6m.

The company has engaged in some careful greenwashing in the past, purchasing carbon offsets and noting that 75% of the carbon footprint of the bottled water is the fault of the companies it does business with. Right now, though, they seem to have nothing about green issues on their web site. That’s probably wise, because literally nothing about their business makes any kind of rational sense, ecologically or otherwise. Unless you live in Flint, Michigan or Detroit, your tap water is probably at least as good as the water in the Fiji Water bottles. In fact, in 2010 tests showed that Cleveland tap water was cleaner. So we have millions of liters of water being shipped 8,800km and placed in bottles, then shipped across the USA by truck, and sold at a massive markup to people in cities that already have plentiful water. Meanwhile, around a quarter of the actual population of Fiji lack access to clean water. All of which is why every time I see a bottle of Fiji Water, I get very angry. I’ve gone thirsty in airports rather than contribute a single penny to the pockets of the evil fucks who run that company. Sure, the entire bottled water industry is an environmental disaster, but Fiji Water is particularly bad.

But of course, Fiji Water is far from the only company paying to ship water around.

A couple of weeks ago I saw an online ad, and I actually clicked through and read about the product, and then after mulling it over for a couple of days I ordered it. Since I block tracking cookies, I’m not sure if Zuckerberg or Dorsey will get any commission, but if they do then I’m sincerely sorry.

The ad worked because it put across a straightforward business proposition: pay less money, get simpler and better products, cause less environmental damage. The company is called Truman’s, and I’m going to state right now that I have no commercial relationship with them other than as a customer spending my own money on the product.

Here’s how it works: You pay a small up-front cost. They ship you four empty plastic spray bottles, and a set of concentrate packs. You fill the bottles with water to the marked level, drop in the concentrate packs, and screw on the spray heads. This releases the concentrate into the bottles. You now have four (4) bottles of cleaning spray. One for glass, one for the bathroom, one for the floors, and one for the kitchen and pretty much anything else. All four are non-toxic, color coded, and only faintly perfumed. Each is also labeled via the concentrate cartridge, and there’s a web page if you need more guidance on which spray to use on which surfaces.

Each time you use up a bottle of a cleaning spray, you refill the bottle with water from the tap and drop in another cartridge. You get the cartridges from the company for $3.75 each in packs of 4, which is less than you’d pay for the equivalent volume of (say) Formula 409 in the stores. The cartridges use less plastic than buying bottles of cleaning spray, and much less water is being shipped around.

What they’re actually doing — they’re quite up front about this — is taking already available commercial bulk cleaning solutions, and packaging them cleverly so that your average consumer can dilute them properly, use the right chemicals on the right dirt, and not spill concentrate on the cat. I thought it was a genius business idea, so I ordered a starter kit and decided to give the four cleaners a try.


First up, glass. The glass cleaner has a bit more surfactant in than I was expecting. It does a better job than Windex Multisurface with Vinegar, but isn’t quite as good as Invisible Glass at producing a completely streak-free finish. On the other hand, it cleans a lot better than Invisible Glass and is a lot less finicky. I’d say it’s a good general purpose glass cleaner, but you might want Invisible Glass and a microfiber cloth for a final pass.


Next, I tried the floor cleaner. We’ve been using an eco-friendly hardwood floor cleaner derived from coconut and corn. The Truman’s floor cleaner does a much better job than that. In particular, it’s impressively good at removing parakeet droppings and coffee spills without my needing to apply downward pressure on the mop. The floor had less streaking afterwards too. Consider me completely satisfied. (I realize that not every house has to deal with free-flying parrots, but I imagine children and puppies produce similarly nasty dirt.)


The bathroom cleaner is formulated to remove soap scum, mineral deposits and mildew. It does an OK job on shower doors, but if you want the shower to really gleam you’ll need to follow up with the glass cleaner. It cleaned up the bath and the surrounding tiles nicely. There were a couple of really dirty tiles that it didn’t instantly clean, but in combination with a melamine foam pad (aka Magic Eraser) even those got clean with no effort. Definitely better than the Scrubbing Bubbles branded bathroom cleaner I was using before.


The kitchen cleaner is presumably designed to remove grease. I don’t think I’ve ever had a decent kitchen cleaner before, because the metal splash panel behind the oven burners had years-old grease patches which lifted right off with no scrubbing or scouring.


Chemical cleaners often set off my eczema, but I bravely (or perhaps foolishly) decided to try cleaning the house with the Truman’s products without wearing rubber gloves. Cleaning done, my hands didn’t itch, so I think I believe that the chemicals are non-toxic.

Overall I’m completely satisfied, and I think I’ll probably keep using Truman’s cleaners, as long as the company stays around. There may be better cleaning products out there, but these are amongst the best non-toxic ones I’ve encountered.

The only change I’d strongly advocate for is making the spray nozzles on the pump sprays more clearly labeled. They are embossed with “OFF”, “STREAM” or “SPRAY”, but it’s translucent white on translucent white and almost impossible to see. I’ve written on the spray setting with a Sharpie, hopefully that’ll stick.