Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sustainable Living in August - Natural Cleaners at Home

A realization long overdue - lots of things bought in the store out of habit and tradition can be made at home, from scratch - from pancakes, to cosmetics and cleaning products. The benefits? Better quality, fresher product, control over the ingredients and, to some degree, over their manufacturing process, reduced costs, reduced ecological footprint (less transportation, less packaging, less dependency on someone else for basics) - and the intangible joys of participation in your own life, more fully. The last one, of course is something very subjective, after all we all derive joys from very different things, and give Meaning on very different activities as well.

Washing clothes by hand, in a shady spot in a lovely garden, with water draining to a native plum grove and with home-made lavender-scented washing soap.... hmmm.... sounds good enough. The clothing is much cleaner, by the way, when it is washed the old-fashioned way, with lots of scrubbing. Washing machine is really just an agitation device which shakes your laundry in a bucket of soapy water. Without some very heavy duty cleaning agents, this is a very sketchy method for getting laundry clean.
The next step in taking your laundry outside is to tackle the issue of detergents and other cleaning products used in the house. Plastic bottles cluttering the landfills galore, plus very questionable mixes inside of those bottles make purchasing cleaning products an activity that I would like to give up as much as possible. Regardless of how green the manufacturer wishes to appear, the fact remains that even most ecologically sound cleaning products arrive to our doorsteps with a very heavy embedded energy (i.e. the energy it takes to produce, store, distribute, sell, and deliver these objects to their destination - our toilet bowls, sinks, washing machines, counter tops etc). There is also a waste stream of packaging, and pollution of our water tables and rivers to consider. But for me it is not the logic of cutting down on costs, waste, or driving to town, it is also a realization on how silly we have allowed ourselves to become, to depend on some manufacturer in Belgium (which is just about as far away as you can possible get from the US) - to mix "Plant-derived substances" to make a dish soap, as it is the case with EcoVer.....

Recycled plastic bottle (shampoo etc), vinegar and washing soda are what is needed to begin. Baking soda works too if you can find it. When soapiness is desired, liquid or hard soap can be mixed with water and vinegar. Best soap to use is castile soap (Dr. Bronner's or other). There is nothing else needed to meet your cleaning needs. Essential oils impart good smell, but so do herbs if you have latter but not the former. 

Even if first steps on the road to making your own natural cleaners allow you just to make it last longer, it is good already. Making soap at home is possible but it is not for everyone. But mixing store-bought soap with warm water and vinegar is much simpler and doable. 

I am not including recipes here for several reasons. There are many of them on the internet, for every occasion, ranging from simple to complex, from laundry liquid to your own shampoo and conditioner - and there you can find what you need for your specific needs and wants. Another an important consideration is using up what you have in your home already, which may not be what the recipe calls for. A treasury of things can be found in every bathroom - all those unfinished shampoos, conditioners, small bars of soap etc, etc, etc. Not for washing dishes for sure, but quite adequate for cleaning toilets, shower stalls, countertops and more. Add soda if scrubbing action is needed, add vinegar to give things some fresh look and shine.  Things with harsh chemicals (scale removal, or lime build-up removal, or de-greasers) - those are a no-no and must not be used no matter what, as they pollute, corrode, damage your skin, enter your body through inhalation. They must not exist, and the best way to assure it is to quit buying pre-fab cleaners and start making your own, today. At least they will cease to pollute you, your home, your life and your kin, and maybe this will spread far and wide!
Good luck.


graceonline said...

Absolutely. I've found a number of easier, less costly, better solutions to plastic-sheathed bottles of cleaners, personal care products and processed foods.

So far, I'm using baking soda and vinegar in place of shampoo and conditioner, vinegar and water in place of no-wipe shower spray, home-baked bread in place of plastic-wrapped commercial, and the easiest, most delicious whole wheat pancakes in the world--made with my homemade sourdough starter.

I found a terrific recipe for homemade laundry soap. Alas, our granddaughter is allergic to one or more of the three simple ingredients, so I use it only for items she never touches.

I'm looking for a good homemade alternative to Bon Ami and dish soap and a glass-sheathed version of the organic jojoba oil with which I've replaced my much more expensive-per-use facial lotion.

If you've found any, let me know!

Arina said...

Pancakes are indeed the best! I use Sally Fallon's cookbook now and soak all my grains (flours) overnight, for added health benefit and taste.

graceonline said...

I don't soak my grains yet, but I have soaked lentils and beans in whey from my homemade yogurt. Delicious.