A Woman of the Cloth

Some of my cloth cocktail napkins. Cute, no?

Sometimes this “going green” thing is overwhelming. I have so many habits that need changing. Some changes require new skills, some take a little extra time out of my day, some replace the trusted staples I have used for years. It requires me to change my mindset, to care a little more, to expand my worldview. I know the changes I’m making are worthwhile, but sometimes I don’t know where to begin or where to go next. It takes effort I don’t always feel like putting forth.

On the other hand, it’s very satisfying to learn something new and put it to use. I’m proud of how much safer I’ve made my home and that I’ve branched out to try new things, successfully and unsuccessfully. It’s also fun to have something to show for my effort, whether it’s simply a “green” clean house, a cabinet full of homemade cleaning products, or what I made this week–cloth napkins. What I like most of all is the the thought that I might be inspiring others to do the same, and that all of our small changes together can compound into a meaningful difference to our families, our communities, and our earth.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by trying to go green, here’s what I can suggest from my experiences so far:

  1. Look at your every day practices and identify the key areas that need improvement. Narrow them down to just one or two areas that you can change fairly easily. Once you get into a good routine with those changes, add another. If you’re like me, you’ll feel more inspired to tackle a new area and more ready to make a bigger change once you have a few wins under your belt.
  2. My recycling sorting and storage system--so simple, it works!

    Design a system that makes your new practices work smoothly. What you don’t need is more clutter in your life. If you don’t have a working system, your new habits will fall apart. For instance, when we decided to become better recyclers, I knew I would never make it to a recycling center to drop off our junk. I also didn’t want to have piles of recyclables sitting around. We hired a recycling service to pick up our stuff once a month, then I designated a hidden corner of our house to sort out and store the recyclables until pick-up. The basement stairs are just beside our kitchen, so I installed hooks on the stairwell walls to hold plastic bags (which are being reused and recycled in this capacity) to sort what our recycling company requires, labeled the hooks, and put a skinny trashcan beneath them to hold items that can be mixed. When the bags are full, we tie up the handles and toss them into the larger receptacle outside. The trashcan is also emptied into the large receptacle when it is full. This system works well for us at controlling the recycling clutter and ensures that we actually do recycle.

  3. Choose one or two areas to focus on overall, and do them well. Make as many small changes as you see fit, but focus your passion and energies into something that you feel makes the most difference. In my case, I’m using cloth grocery bags, CFL light bulbs, and natural household cleaners–small, yet important changes. But anyone who knows me sees that I am passionate about cloth diapers (a subject for another post.) I see what a difference they make for my daughter, how much waste would be created if I didn’t use them, how seriously CUTE my daughter looks in them, and how much money I save. I feel compelled to spread the word about them. Seriously, I take every chance I get to tell people how much I love cloth diapers. Using cloth diapers has helped me make other changes, like using more earth-friendly laundry detergent and line-drying my clothes. My daughter wears cloth diapers everywhere she goes. The only times I ever use disposable diapers any more are when we are traveling and I know I won’t be able to do laundry, and then I use a chlorine-free brand. I am passionate about cloth diapers, and I go all the way with them. This may not be an area that so inspires you, but I encourage you to find something that you really find interesting and exciting and do it all the way. Be an advocate for it. It will be so satisfying. You will really begin to see the difference you are making.

With all this in mind, I decided I was ready to go paperless in the kitchen. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to go paperless in other some other parts of the house (i.e. the bathroom), but the kitchen I could do. Specifically, I traded paper towels and napkins for their cloth counterparts. I rarely use other common disposable kitchen products, like paper plates, plastic wrap, or sandwich baggies, but I use far too many paper napkins and towels.

I had a few cloth napkins on hand for impressing company, but I wanted to keep them nice and didn’t have enough of them for daily use. I could buy more napkins, but I didn’t want to spend that much money. So, I decided to dust off my sewing machine and make them myself. I made three kinds of napkins to suit different needs:

  • No sew: I’m not very good at sewing, and I wasn’t sure my homemade napkins would be more than a pretty addition to my rag bag.

    Folded no-sew napkins in a napkin holder

    I needed an extremely easy solution. So, I simply bought a yard of no-sew fleece for $5, trimmed the edges, and cut 12 rectangles out of it. I used pinking shears on the edges to give them a finished look. They aren’t fancy, but the fabric is stain-resistant, easily cleaned, and fairly durable. They don’t dissolve like a paper napkin when you wipe up sticky fingers, and my daughter doesn’t mind when I wipe her goobery face with them after a messy meal. If my napkin doesn’t get very dirty during a meal, I can keep it at my seat and use it again later so I don’t have so many to wash (this really isn’t gross, trust me,) but I have plenty ready so I won’t run out of napkins if I do use a new one for each snack and meal. The fleece works great for every day use. The only downside I see with them so far is that it is a little weird to use something so fuzzy while you’re eating. Because of this I don’t use these to hold snacks, just for wiping my fingers and face. These napkins cost $.42 each.

  • Casual dining:

    Pretty flannel napkins to match my dining room

    I made 12 more napkins out of two yards of flannel I bought on sale for $6. I cut 24 even rectangles, put their “right” sides together, and sewed around the edges (wrong side out) leaving a small hole to turn them right side out. Then I sewed up the hole and used a decorative stitch setting on my machine to make seams around the edges so the napkins lay flat.

    Flannel napkin detail

    They actually turned out very cute and make great napkins. I might even use these for company! They only cost $.50 each, but similar items cost $1-4 each (or even more) in stores.

  • Cocktail napkins: We go through lots of paper napkins when we have a party, so I made a set of small napkins to set out with drinks and appetizers at our next soiree.

    A closer view of the cloth cocktail napkins

    I found a package of 30 brightly-colored quilting charms (5 in. x 5 in. fabric squares with sheared edges) on sale for about $5. I put them together with their printed sides facing out and sewed a zigzag stitch along the edges. Then I dabbed clear nail polish around the edges to deter fraying. This made 15 napkins at $.34 each. Now I have to throw a party so I can show them off!

After using my cloth napkins for a week, I don’t see a need to go back to paper ones. I hardly missed using paper towels, too. The times when I might have missed paper napkins or towels were when I had a snack (using a napkin for a plate) or when I cleaned a particularly germy mess and didn’t want to deal with a yucky towel. For snacks I got used to reaching for a plate or a (non-fuzzy) cloth napkin, and for germy messes I came to terms with rinsing out a yucky towel. Easy peasy. Sometimes when you replace paper with cloth you end up with extra laundry, but in this case it wasn’t an issue. The extra napkins and towels fit right into my existing kitchen laundry system (a mesh hamper on a hook near the recyclables), and hardly made a dent in my overall laundry loads this week. The work of making my own napkins wasn’t bad, either. I did most of the cutting and sewing with a stubborn toddler on my lap. I won’t be winning any blue ribbons for my craftsmanship, but I did create a functional product that actually looks decent.

The only one in our house who will be missing paper napkins is our dear beagle. Napkins are his favorite snack. If he spots a napkin in your lap he will stalk it as if he were hunting wild prey…and just when you let your guard down…he pounces! He snatches it out of your hand and gulps it down before you know what hit you. Yes, yes, our dog has issues, but I know he’s not the only beagle that does this. However, all this paper can’t be good for him so our switching to cloth will be better for him, too. Unless he takes up eating cloth.

This turned out to be a fun project that I may continue experimenting with in the future. I am looking forward to trying different fabrics and making napkins to match special occasions.

Next week I will make homemade air freshener. What are your tricks for making your home smell like, well, home?

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Lotion in Motion

Ingredients for homemade lotion. I used pure almond extract and orange oil for fragrance.

Now that my house is squeaky clean and on its way to earth-friendliness, I decided it was time to switch gears and begin work on my personal habits. Over the past year or two I have switched a few hygiene items with all-natural, non-animal-tested products. But when I started asking for tips on how to live a greener lifestyle, a friend suggested I begin by cutting out products containing petroleum.

This idea stumped me. Why should I get rid of my petroleum products? Most of the skin care products I’ve ever used are mostly made from a petrolatum or mineral oil base. Petroleum is in almost every lotion, chap stick, ointment and diaper rash cream on the market. It can’t be that bad, can it?

What I’ve discovered is, it is that bad, and it isn’t. Actually, it was hard finding much information about this issue from unbiased sources, but the sources I did find are passionate about it. (A pretty good article about this can be found at Best Health Mag online.) The worst and most conclusive issue with using so much petroleum is that it is, in fact, petroleum. Da da da DUM! Shocker! When I thought of it this way, it seemed so obvious that I should stop using petroleum-based products. Our skin care products are made from the same substance that fuels our cars. I felt quite foolish that I hadn’t quite made that connection before. I mean, the name should have tipped me off, but I figured it had to be a different kind of petroleum. Because real petroleum, the kind motor oil and gasoline is made from, is made from crude oil, and crude oil is very toxic. And they wouldn’t put that stuff in my favorite lotion, would they?

They would. However, the petroleum in cosmetics is highly refined and is considered perfectly safe by most experts. Some of it is even diluted with a vegetable replacement. In certain grades of petrolatum, though, cancer-causing chemicals may still exist. These grades are not approved for use in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and foods. For the most part, you can rest assured that your cosmetics are safe, but I will always wonder if any toxins were missed in the refining process.

Grating the beeswax.

More pressing than the small possibility of using impure petrolatum is its environmental impact. By now, most of us are becoming more mindful of the oil we use through watching our gas consumption. We’ve seen the effects of oil spills and the pollution caused from constantly burning fossil fuels. We understand that there is a finite amount of crude oil in the world and that someday we’ll need to figure out a new way to keep our busy world turning. Our dependence on oil goes way beyond what we put in our cars. If we want to reduce our oil consumption, we must take a look at the other places where it impacts our lives. Including our cosmetics.

With this in mind, I swapped out my favorite toiletry–body lotion–with a natural alternative. This was a difficult change for me. I have very dry, sensitive skin that nearly guzzles up moisturizers. A long time ago I found the perfect lotion for my skin and have used it all over my body, every day, for years and years. Since I go through so much of this petrolatum-based lotion, I realized changing this one habit would make the most impact of all of my practices.

The beeswax, coconut oil, and olive oil melt together.

I was afraid the natural lotions would not work as well for my dry skin as my former product did, but I have been pleasantly surprised. I have all the moisturization with the added benefit of breathability on my skin. The downside to the natural lotions is the cost. My new products cost $.50-$1.00 per ounce, which is at least twice more than my old favorite. The benefit to my health and the environment is worth the change, but it does make an impact on my budget.

The best thing to do, it seemed, was to try to make my own lotion at lower cost. I searched for homemade lotion recipes and found a good, basic one in Happy Living Magazine online. (Isn’t that fun?) The ingredient list required me to venture out beyond the grocery store, but it was time for me to explore the natural goods store anyway. I bought beeswax, coconut oil, and vitamin E oil. The rest of the ingredients I had at home.

Molten beeswax and oils

The lotion was surprisingly simple and quick to make. After grating the beeswax (the tedious step of the process), I melted it with coconut and olive oils in a double boiler. Next I added boiling water mixed with a tiny amount of borax (a natural preservative) and mixed with my hand blender. Then, voila! I had creamy, emollient lotion. It was amazing. As soon as the hot water combined with the liquid wax and oils the mixture turned thick and white. I felt so science-y and was very impressed with myself. When it cooled, I added some vitamin E and essential oil and poured it into a clean jar.

I couldn’t wait to try it, so I jumped in the shower to create a clean slate for my new product. Then I towled off and smoothed on my homemade product. The lotion was a little thicker than my normal brand, but it was so creamy and fragrant and felt good on my dry, itchy skin. (You can control the thickness of your lotion by using lighter or heavier cooking oils). My skin still felt healthy and moisturized many hours later, when my regular brand would normally need a refresher. My hands especially felt the difference. My mothering duties require frequent hand-washing, which does a number on my knuckles and fingertips. Within a day of using my homemade lotion, there was a noticeable improvement in how my fingers looked and felt.

Hot water blended with the liquified wax and oils. This is when it starts to look like lotion.

I am definitely satisfied with my homemade replacement for my petroleum-based lotion. I am already looking forward to playing with different scents and oils and making this concoction for my friends and family members. (My husband has already requested a “manly” lotion.) As much as I enjoy my homemade lotion, though, I have to ask myself

whether it is realistic to switch from my store-bought brand to my homemade product. The answer lies in the cost of production.

Here’s my cost breakdown:

Coconut Oil: $7.50 for 14 oz, $.54/oz, $1.08 per batch

Viamin E oil:  $3.75 for .5 oz, $7.50/oz, $.63 per batch (this ingredient is optional)

Beeswax: $5.49 for 4oz, $1.37/oz, $1.37 per batch

Olive Oil: $5.49 for 17oz, $.32/oz, $.64 per batch

Ingredients of inconsequential cost:

Water: 2 oz
Borax: 1/8 tsp
Essential Oil: 5 drops

Total Ounces per batch: 7 oz
Total per batch: $3.72

Total per ounce: $.53

Voila! It's lotion!

The cost is the same as the cheapest store-bought natural lotion I tried, but I might be able to lessen the cost through experimenting with cheaper ingredients or purchasing ingredients in bulk. As easy as it was to make, I can see this becoming my primary moisturizer from now on.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to not only find a way to improve my environmental impact, but to also solve my dry skin problem. I am learning so much from these “go green” experiments, and I hope you are, too.

Next week I’m going paperless in the kitchen. No paper napkins, no paper towels. I’m so dependent on paper goods that I’m pretty skeptical that this is going to work, but I’ll give it my best shot. How many paper goods to you go through in the kitchen? Leave a comment and let me know! And be sure to tell me your ideas for future posts or experiments you’d like to see me try.

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Vodka tonic to clean what ails ya

The other night as I lay dreaming about the promises of spring–rhubarb at the Farmer’s Market, the fresh scent of a morning rain, warm sunshine kissing my cheeks–I awoke to realize it wasn’t warm sunshine I was feeling on my face. It was warm, moist dog breath from our beloved beagle, Bailiff. A rude awakening, indeed.

Bailiff makes himself at home on the couch

We had forgotten to put him in his kennel before we went to bed, and during the lonely hours of the night he found his way to our room and wedged himself between us. Bless his doggy heart. The problem with this isn’t that he’s terribly unclean or that he’s diseased. We bath him regularly and keep him up-to-date on all his shots. The problem is, he smells like a dog. He sheds profusely. He slobbers. And he has bad breath and dirty paws. So he must stay off the furniture. But as any dog owner knows, keeping a dog off the furniture is a losing battle. No matter what we do, Bailiff gets the better of us and finds his way onto to our bed, or the couch, or any upholstered surface that can’t easily be cleaned. The bigger problem with waking up to him in our bed that particular night was that we had just changed the bedding without putting the cover back on the duvet. The duvet is “spot-clean only,” so getting the doggy smell out of it was going to be an issue. Until I discovered the cleaning power of vodka. Yes, vodka. The powerful potion that goes so well “shaken, not stirred,” can clean nearly any surface in your house, including no-wash fabric.

I began my vodka experiment at–where else–the liquor store. I’ve never been much of a drinker, so I’ve always felt uncomfortable at liquor stores. I never know what I’m looking for or how to navigate the endless choices of vintage, proof, and foreign-sounding names. Honestly, my husband and I completely gave up drinking a while ago, so I didn’t think I’d find myself in this situation ever again. But this time I actually knew what I wanted: vodka as cheap as it comes. (The cheaper the vodka, the better the cleaner.) I marched into that liquor store, ID in hand, and found a 750 mL bottle for about $5. Perfect. The clerk poked fun at me for selecting such low-brow fare, but I didn’t care. This vodka was for cleaning, not drinking.

While researching this home remedy I found that vodka has lots of unexpected uses around the house. Its purity, high alcohol content and lack of odor make it the perfect solution for disinfecting and refreshing almost anything. It also evaporates quickly, which makes it especially apt for cleaning fabrics and shiny surfaces.

I first tried the vodka in the shower. Not on the shower, in the shower. (However, this is not to say I drank it in the shower.) I read that vodka makes your hair shinier when mixed with shampoo, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I poured what I estimated as half a shot into my half-full bottle of shampoo, shook it up, and applied it to my hair. I could tell as I rinsed that my hair was coming out very clean, and once my hair was dry it was noticeably shinier and softer. I’ve had similar results doing much the same thing with vinegar, but the vodka didn’t have the tangy smell. I also applied straight vodka to a cotton square and used it in lieu of my regular facial toner, also with pleasing results.

Later I continued my vodka trial by mixing a solution that would work on every surface I wanted to clean. I poured one cup of vodka into a 16-ounce spray bottle, added about 30 drops of eucalyptus essential oil, and shook it up. Then I filled the rest of the bottle with filtered water and shook again. You can use any essential oil you like, but I chose eucalyptus for its antiseptic properties, fresh scent, and cleaning potency.

Then it was on to the doggy duvet. If the weather was nicer, I would have hung the duvet outside on the clothesline to air out. Instead, I wiped a damp cloth on the dirt smudges and used masking tape to pick up all the fur. I then sprayed a light mist of the vodka cleaner all over the duvet, concentrating on the area where the dog slept. I turned on the ceiling fan to help it dry out, and moved on to the living room where I sprayed the solution on all the upholstered furniture and rug. (This is like a homemade version of Febreeze.) Then I grabbed a rag and moved on to cleaning my hard surfaces. The vodka tonic worked like a charm on my windows, mirrors, and chrome bathroom fixtures. I went back to check on my duvet. The liquid had evaporated, living a light scent and no trace of doggy odor. My couch and loveseat were also smelling much better.

Stuffed animals hang out while the vodka spritz dries

It didn’t take me long to find other uses for the vodka spray. My daughter is just getting over a cold, and I’ve been puzzling over how to clean her unlaunderable stuffed animals. This cleaner was a great solution. I sprayed each of her fluffy friends and set them aside to dry. Doorknobs, light fixtures, pillows, and curtains all got a dose of the eucalyptus mist. My wedding ring even got a nice bath in a dish of straight vodka (minus the eucalyptus oil), which made it gleam. (I actually could hear the “bling! bling!” coming from my wedding band.)

The final use for vodka I tried was the toughest–a patch of mold on a wall in my basement. We don’t use the basement for much yet, but there is an area with drywall that will be a great family room once it’s finished. The removal of some plastic wall coverings left by a previous owner revealed some small areas of mold that would have to be addressed. The mold is not extensive or serious, but I did want to make sure it was gone before we do any work on the room. I read that vodka can be used to remove mold in the bathroom, so I decided to try it in my basement. I soaked the affected areas with the vodka solution and let it sit for about 20 minutes. Then I used a scrub brush to remove the mold. The mold stains came off completely and the wall dried quickly. I’m pretty sure the mold is gone, but I will have to consult someone who knows more about home improvement to be sure it won’t be a problem in the future.

All in all I am dazzled by this vodka remedy. It worked beautifully on everything I cleaned. However, vinegar can easily be substituted for all the same purposes at an even lower cost. If the smell of vinegar is an issue for you, you might consider using vodka as an eco-friendly cleaner. If not, you might be better off using vinegar. Leave a comment if you try either of these ingredients and let me know how it works, and be sure to leave suggestions if there is something you’d like to see me try. I’m always looking for new ways to go green!

To learn more about using vodka in your home, check out “Top 10 Weird Uses for Vodka” on The Daily Green.

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Dish Washing Part 2: The machine wins

So I had a few failed attempts at making my own dishwasher detergent. So what? I had a couple more tricks up my sleeve and was pretty confident they would work. I WOULD NOT get discouraged.  I WOULD keep trying. I WOULD find an eco-friendly dishwasher solution.

Before I tried another home remedy I decided to go back to my name brand detergent for a few days so I could restart my experiment at zero. I ran some loads with my normal detergent to make sure my machine was clear of my trials and was running properly. This led to a puzzling result–my dishes still came out slightly chalky. My store-bought detergent was hardly working better than my homemade concoctions. I poked around online to find out why.

As it turns out, at least 17 states and Canada banned the use of a key ingredient in most detergents: phosphorous. This made it necessary for all major detergent manufacturers to reformulate their products. The American Cleaning Institute says that phosphates, “helped to remove food and grease, reduce spotting and filming, control water hardness and suspend the bits of food so they were not redistributed on your dishes.” This explains why my dishes were still coming out filmy. While I was conducting my experiment, the new phosphate-free detergents had quietly been released on the market and the manufacturers had not yet perfected their new formulas. I live in a hard-water area, and phosphates were important to getting my dishes clean.

I decided to read more about phosphates to see what the big deal is all about. An article from the Stanford News Service explained: “Though phosphorus is necessary, too much of a good thing can be bad. Excess phosphate derived from fertilizers, detergents and other human sources makes its way into lakes and coastal waters by runoff, leaching or erosion, causing massive algae blooms that can affect taste and clarity of drinking water. Moreover, when algae die, thick pads sink to the bottom and oxidize, reducing dissolved oxygen and creating an environment inhospitable to fish.” Clearly, phosphates had to go. But what was I to do about my dishes?

I had two more tricks up my sleeve, and I had high hopes that they would work. The first was a recipe I found at diy Natural. This recipe combines washing soda, borax, kosher salt, and citric acid to make a dishwashing powder. (I used Lemi-Shine for the citric acid.)  The second was a recipe for liquid detergent from Tipnut.com, where I got many of my other ideas for homemade dishwasher detergent. It called for baking soda, borax, water, and lemon essential oil. (I substituted 1/2 cup lemon juice for the water and lemon essential oil.) I used vinegar in the rinse cycle for each trial. Each detergent left me disappointed. The same light, chalky film covered all the pots and pans, and some dishes were dingy with food residue. Failure again. (Cue the sad trombone:  mwaaah, waaaah!)

At this point, I just don’t see myself using a homemade remedy in my dishwasher. It seems that the best thing for the machine, is the thing made for the machine. Adding vinegar to each load with my store-bought product improves its performance, although I know there are still harmful chemicals in these cleansers. Hopefully the cleaning product manufacturers will continue to examine their formulas and look for more eco-friendly options.

If you have a suggestion for a store-bought natural dishwasher detergent that works well in hard water, I would love to hear it! You can also let me know if any of these home remedies worked better for you. If you don’t struggle with hard water, you might have better luck than I did!

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Dish Washing Part 1: Wage against the machine

Since my bathroom green clean went so well, I was eager to move on to the kitchen. Actually, I had to move on to the kitchen, because I was out of dishwasher detergent. The lemon soft scrub, glass cleaner, and antibacterial spray will work on all my kitchen surfaces, but I was kind of intimidated by the dishwasher. I mean, it’s a machine. You can’t mess with a machine. Those detergents are specially made just for those machines. Do I dare try a new method on the dishwasher?

Well, my dishwasher was full and I didn’t have any detergent. I could run to the store, or…I could begin a new experiment. For my first trial I grabbed my borax, baking soda, and vinegar. I already had a rinse agent in the dishwasher, but it doesn’t seem to do much against my hard water. So I poured a couple of glugs of vinegar into the bottom of the machine. (I have added vinegar before and come out with sparkling dishes.) Then I mixed one tablespoon each of borax and baking soda (as per the recipe) and divided it evenly between the two detergent cups in the dishwasher. Then I ran the dishwasher and waited.

The results? Clean dishes with a slight chalky coating. If you’re okay with a fine layer of chalk on your dishes, then you could accept these results and never buy commercial detergent again. But I’m not. So on my next load I tried another recipe, this time with borax, washing soda, and more vinegar in the bottom. (You can put vinegar in the opening for the rinse agent for the same purpose.) Again, the dishes were clean, but this time the plastic ones had the powdery residue. The residue is not harmful. It only feels and looks dingy. So the next time I ran the dishwasher I used a third recipe: ¼ cup washing soda mixed with 1 TBS liquid dish detergent. Same results as before. Nothing was working, and I was beginning to get frustrated.

I decided to get away from the borax/washing soda combinations for a while. I had a bar of Fels-Naptha soap grated up to try in my clothes washer. I did some reading and learned it could be used in the dishwasher. I put one tablespoon of the grated soap into the main wash detergent receptacle and poured vinegar into the bottom of the washer. As it turned out, this was a very bad idea. During the wash cycle I smelled the strong, chemical fragrance of Fels-Naptha and was curious about the progress this soap was making on my dishes. I opened the dishwasher to find it packed full of suds. I quickly closed it so I wouldn’t experience an ’80s teen movie scene. You know the kind—some kid puts too much detergent in the machine only to find later that suds have filled up the room and he has a big mess to clean up before his parents get home. Just as I was imagining losing my daughter in a kitchen full of suds, the dog barking as his water bowl disappears in the mess, and my husband coming home from work to find foam oozing out of the back door, I realized the washing cycle was over and I could observe the results.

This was the worst load of dishes yet. Thick soapy residue covered everything, and the heady fragrance emanating from the soap-covered machine was overwhelming. I had to run several rinse loads to get the soap off the dishes, and a couple of more rinse cycles with extra vinegar to rid the dishwasher of the scummy mess.

Later I read more about Fels-Naptha and found that overall it is NOT recommended for washing dishes for a number of reasons. Lesson learned.

I am not ready to give up on finding a green alternative to dishwasher detergent, so next week I will explore a couple more ways to wash my dishes naturally. Besides washing them by hand, because who wants to do that?

 

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Cleaning defenses against bathroom offenses

Today I tackled the most loathsome cleaning area of the house—the bathroom. The scummy shower doors…ugh. The soapy buildup on the fixtures…ugh. The grimy bathtub…ugh, ugh, ugh! The toothpaste-spotted mirror. The whisker-sprinkled and shaving cream-dolloped sink. And because I’m a lady, I will not mention the offenses found with the toilet! Oh, I detest them all. And yet, this is where I began my green experiment. A good place to begin, when I think of it. I probably send the most harsh chemicals down these drains. It was high time I greened up my bathroom. And cleaned it. Because, well, it had been a while.

I began by mixing some batches of homemade bathroom cleaners. I have cleaned some bathroom surfaces with straight vinegar, but my husband detests its smell. I kind of like the tangy aroma of vinegar. It’s a fresh, clean smell, free from the toxic fumes all women of child-bearing age should avoid like a man with slicked-back hair. Plus, I don’t think the oder lasts very long. My husband begs to differ.

So I searched for homemade cleaner recipes that didn’t use as much vinegar, or at least would dilute its smell. This is what I used (click links for recipes):

  • Lemon soft scrub

    Making lemon soft scrub. Just needs a bit more water.

  • Toilet bowl cleaner: a simple paste of borax and lemon juice
  • Antibacterial spray

    Homemade bathroom cleaners

  • Glass cleaner: Equal parts of vinegar and water with a few drops of eucalyptus oil in a spray bottle. (Eucalyptus oil alone is supposed to keep the mirrors from fogging when rubbed on with a dry towel. I thought I would skip that step and just spray it on with the glass cleaner. It didn’t work and smelled like dill pickles. Next time I will just use vinegar to clean the mirror.)

First I sprayed the glass cleaner on the shower doors. I left it on for a few minutes before I wiped it clean, thinking it would

Shower door before

dissolve the soap scum. It worked great on the lightly scummed areas,

Shower door after-much improved!

but didn’t do much for the thicker crud. Applying elbow grease didn’t help much. So, I went on to scrubbing the tub with my lemony paste. Now, I didn’t think I was starting out with a tub that was that dirty. I do give it a quick once-over several times a week before I give my baby a bath and a deep-cleaning as needed. But when I wiped that cleaner across the tub I was amazed, appalled even, at the dirt that came peeling off! Yikes. What an eye-opener. (I attribute this to my conventional cleaners leaving a residue, not to my under-par housekeeping, of course.) Next I took that scrub and applied it to the shower doors, and all the tough spots of scale, soap scum, and dingy areas where I had almost given up. Everything came sparkling clean.

Clean bathtub-you don't need to see the before

Then I cleaned the sink, countertops and exterior toilet surfaces with the antibacterial spray, and the mirror with the glass cleaner. I also sprayed the glass cleaner on the floor and mopped it with my damp cotton mop. Excellent results all around. The only cleaning method that didn’t compare with my conventional cleaner was the toilet bowl scrub. See, a used toilet brush just grosses me out. No matter how well I rinse it I never feel like it’s clean enough to sit in my bathroom. A few years ago I discovered the Clorox toilet wand and I never went back. I love its disposable head with the foamy cleaner that leaves my toilet so very, very clean…and so very, very toxic…Yes, I realize that trading convenience for eco-friendliness is well worth it. So I scrubbed that toilet with a brush and my homemade cleaner. It was effective, if not as satisfying.

Over all I am very pleased with my homemade products. My bathroom has never been so clean, but more importantly, it has never been so safe. I used to worry that cleaning product residues were never quite gone, and that they could be contaminating my daughter’s bathwater. These natural cleaners give me excellent results without polluting my home with harsh chemicals. See, going green is good for everybody!

If I were to do this again, I would probably just make two recipes to clean everything: the antibacterial spray and the lemon soft scrub. I’m pretty sure that would work. If you try it, let me know how it goes.

Next week I will be experimenting with homemade dishwasher detergents. What are your many-saving tips for getting your dishes gleaming clean without harming the environment?

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I came. I saw. I greened.

I have the best of intentions when it comes to environment care. I recycle, replace old light bulbs with those swirly-top ones, and tear paper towels in half to get maximum usage out of each one. Cloth totes replaced the plastic grocery bags in my cart long ago. I shop at the farmers’ market for local, in-season produce as much as I can, and I almost exclusively use cloth diapers for my daughter (lined dried and bleached by the blazing Kansas sun, of course.) But when it comes to eco-friendly practices, I pretty much stop there. Because, honestly, if they’re not easier, cheaper, and as effective as what I already do, I’m not going out of my way to do it. Sorry, environmentalists, I’m just telling the truth.

But the birth of my daughter got me thinking about the impact of my practices on her health and the health of the world she is taking by storm (she is a devastatingly beautiful bundle of energy). I realized I had to clean up my act. So little by little, my goal is it transform my household from a fair-weather green to an eco-friendly clean.

Each week, I will try to replace one of my housekeeping or personal habits with a more environmentally friendly remedy. I will keep track of my experiences and tell you about them in a blog post each Sunday. Be forewarned—I am not an environmental expert. My approach to trying these new ideas and writing about them is to keep an open mind and to be completely honest. I welcome your feedback and new ideas for going green as I begin my quest. I think we can learn a lot from each other!

Next week I tackle my least favorite area to clean—the bathroom. What are your easy, cheap, effective ideas for environmentally-safe bathroom cleaning?

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