Homemade Non-Toxic EcoLogical Cleaners

The weather is slowly starting to feel like spring, and with all of April’s shower’s on their way, so is spring cleaning!  Recently a thought struck me: despite what’s advertised as the header of this blog, I never did upload any how-tos for homemade cleaners.  Well I’ve got some time tonight, so here goes!  Oh, and please note: I do not make my own soaps.  I buy biodegradable, non-toxic soaps that I can find on the cheap.  If you’re looking for soap recipes, I am too!!  I’m still looking for some that I can A) afford all the ingredients and B) are not oil based.  If you have a good recipe for homemade soaps that don’t use single-use ingredients (as in, stuff I have to buy just for making soap) let me know in the comments please!!

Why making your own cleaning products is green:

  • They’re non-toxic, and part of being environmentally friendly means keeping your immediate environment people-friendly.  Filling your home with caustic and flammable agents that may be lethal to people and pets doesn’t sound like a very friendly environment to me!  Please do your research on prolonged exposure and possible effects of latent toxicity before wiping down your dinner table with bleach and other products!  I won’t get on a soap box here, but as a Psychology student, I care about brains.  And the effects of environmental neurotoxins is scary, especially considering the heightened susceptibility of certain groups, like children, women of reproductive age, and the elderly.  Just say “No!” to toxic cleaners!!  Toxicity is avoidable!!
  • After scrubbing your shower with whatever noxious substance you’ve chosen, it doesn’t go away once it goes down your drain.  If it’s hard to stay in the confined space of a shower with those fumes, imagine how the creatures in your local watershed feel when that stuff inundates their habitat!
  • How many cleaning products do you own?  Remember my mini-rant about the treadmill of hair-product production?  Apply the same logic here.  Doesn’t it just make sense to use one or two products to clean everything you own rather than buy a specific cleaner for each thing you own?

Why making your own cleaning products $aves green:

  • Buy 4 items (all under $2), make enough cleaners to last you at least 6 months. Less than $8 for 6 months.  Where’s the question???

I borrowed this book from my mom. It's my new favorite book! Oh and, Mom, if you're reading this, I don't know if you should honestly expect to get this back.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 gallon white distilled vinegar
  • 1 lb. box baking soda
  • 1 Liter bottle of club soda
  • Salt

Other stuff you can add:

  • Lemon juice
  • Essential oils (for more pleasing smells)
  • Borax (for the really tough grime)

**A quick note about vinegar-based cleaners:  You absolutely will get used to the smell!!  You had to learn to associate the smell of bleach and other toxic products with “clean” and they don’t actually smell good either! Also, unlike the store-bought versions, once the vinegar has evaporated, the smell is gone!**


All-purpose surface cleaner: Fill a spray bottle with equal parts tap water and white vinegar.  Add lemon juice for extra disinfecting power (or increase vinegar concentration) or essential oil for scent if desired (applies to all vinegar-based cleaners listed).  Safely cleans glass, stainless steel, wood, painted surfaces (like walls) and plastic laminates.

Floor cleaner: 1 cup white vinegar to 1 gallon tap water.

Stainless steel surface cleaner:  Spray a mist of undiluted white vinegar and then buff with a cloth.

Teapots: Boil equal parts vinegar and water.  Let stand an hour and then rinse with cold water.

Drain cleaners: Pour 1/2 cup of salt and then 2 cups boiling white vinegar down the slow, stinky, or clogged drain.  Flush out with hot then cold tap water.

Bathroom scrubber/mildew remover:  Spray a light coating of the all-purpose surface cleaner.  Then sprinkle on some baking soda and scrub until clean.  Rinse with cold water.  For tough stains, try mixing 3 Tbsp white vinegar, 1 tsp Borax, and 2 cups of hot water and scrub in your solution.

Sticker and other goo remover:  Apply white vinegar directly to the sticker.  Let soak in 30-60 seconds and then scrub with steel wool.  Let soak 10-15 mins if removing tough stickers like bumper stickers from cars.  Soaking a spot will also work for residue-free sticker removal from clothing!

Window Cleaner:  Use a recycled spray bottle to mist windows and mirrors with club soda.  Wipe clean with crumpled newspaper for a streak-free shine!

Windshield wiper cleaners:  pour some undiluted vinegar on a cloth and wipe down your windshield blades to clean away built up dirt and extend the use of your blades.

Toilet cleaner:  Pour 2 cups of white vinegar in your toilet bowl and let it sit over night to remove spots and rings.

Shower heads: Soak your shower head in a bag filled with white vinegar for an hour (tape the bag up so you can leave it while it soaks).  Wipe the shower head clean with a damp cloth.

Brighten yellowed clothing: Dilute 1 cup vinegar to 1 gallon warm tap water.  Let the clothes soak overnight and then wash the next morning as usual.

Stain treatment:  Most stains can be removed by rubbing the spot with undiluted white vinegar before washing (including yellowing from deodorant and perspiration).  If the stain is really bad (like from hair dye or wine), treat the spot immediately, wash immediately, and add 1-2 cups of vinegar to the wash cycle.

Electronics cleaner: Make sure your appliance is completely turned off.  Lightly dampen a cloth with equal parts white vinegar and water.  Be sure not to completely saturate the rag (or if you do, wring it out well) because you don’t want any excess water or dripping!

Dingy carpet brightener: Spray the worn carpet with 1 cup white vinegar diluted in 1 gallon of tap water.  Scrub the solution in with a clean stiff broom or sponge mop.  Let dry.

Carpet spot remover: Dilute 2 Tbsp salt in 1/2 cup white vinegar.  Apply the solution to the stain, let dry, and then vacuum.  For really tough stains, mix 1 Tbsp cornflour with 1 Tbsp vinegar and scrub the paste into the spot.  Let it sit for 2 days to ensure it’s thoroughly dried and then vacuum.

What are you waiting for?  Get cleaning!! 🙂


Leftover Champagne = Free Champagne Vinegar!

I know, before you say anything – it is sometimes possible to end up with leftover champagne!  Seeing as I have about 2 cups of the bubbly sitting around after our New Year’s festivities, I thought I’d make my triumphant return to the blogosphere with a brief post to help us all be greener in 2012!

Interested in a way to reduce alcoholic waste without feeling like… well, an alcoholic?  Make  specialty vinegars!  Leftover red wine, white wine and champagne can be easily convereted when left uncovered in wide-mouth mason jars.

Yeah, it's really that simple.

If it’s warmer where you live (or not the middle of winter when you’ve got the leftover drinks), then cover with a coffee filter or parchment paper to prevent attracting gnats.  Let the alcohol sit a few weeks and voila! You’ve got yourself a fancy vinegar that works wonders in homemade dressings, marinades, or a fresh french potato salad.

It feels good to be back! Enjoy!!

A Complete Guide to Going No ‘Poo (aka Never Pay for Hair Products Again!)

Total Amount Spent on Hair Care for 6 months = $3.06 <– This long read is worth your time.

If you search “No ‘Poo Movement,” you’ll find a variety of methods for ridding yourself of a daily dose of scalp toxicity.  Over the past 5 months, I’ve guinea-pigged myself and figured out what works, what doesn’t, and I now understand why many fail in their attempts to leave behind shampoo.  Below, I’ve compiled the very best advice from the interwebs and beyond of how to go about ridding yourself of shampoo and conditioner, but first…

Nothing But Tears (thanks to The Onion for this add)

Why going No ‘Poo is green:

  • Out of sight, but still physically on your mind: We all know how harsh shampoos often need the help of other products, otherwise you may find your hair feeling stripped, dry, and damaged.  After those chemicals are done reeking havoc on your hair, they run straight down the drain and reek havoc in your local watershed (unless you’re willing to cough up the major bucks needed for biodegradable, cruelty-free, SLS-free shampoos).
  • Unruly hair?  We’ve got a product to fix that!: The ensuing dryness caused by regular shampoos causes curly hair to frizz and straight hair to never hold a ‘do.   They’re designed so you need to follow up that chemical follicle stripping with lots of other chemical greases, waxes, mousses, and sprays – and those products require straightners, special brushes, curlers, and driers – and those products further damage your hair so you buy hot oil treatments and expensive conditioners – but you have to wash the treatments out or your hair will go limp… This is what is known as the Treadmill of Production.  Notice the cyclical nature?  You buy a product to compensate for the short comings of another product, and eventually all of these products end up in a landfill or go directly into the air and water supply.
Why going No ‘Poo will save you green:
  • Zero Maintenance = Zero Cost: See all those products listed in the second bullet?  Yeah, I used to own those products too – and I used to have to replace them when they failed/emptied.  Not anymore!! The less you own, the less you have to spend to maintain that ownership.
  • Don’t waste money on greenwashed alternatives: I don’t buy fancy biodegradable shampoos either (well, I did buy one bottle, just so guests would have a “more traditional” option, but that 16 oz bottle shampoo will likely hold me over for the next few years).
Other Perks to losing the ‘Poo:
  • My real GTFO moment: I looked in the mirror the other day and thought “Holy crap.  I have the hair I’ve always wanted!” My hair used to be pin-straight, colored beyond recognition, and wouldn’t hold a hair style other than pin-straight.  Now that my hair isn’t weighed down by artificial conditioners or practically melted from colors and harsh shampoos, I have long, manageable hair that curls in defined ringlets toward the bottom.  My hair is always light, looks great, and I never worry about it!
Sold?  Cool, let’s do this.  Below is a list of tips to get off the treadmill of hair product production and have the best feeling and most manageable hair you’ve ever had!
The transition time tips:
  • I never liked the idea of going 6 weeks without washing my hair in order to break my hair’s oil cycles.  That sounded like a nightmare to me, and by most accounts from those who had done it, it really is dreadful.
  • Instead, I decided to gradually space out the frequency of my hair “washes.”  I used to have to wash my hair every single day, because like clock work, my thin, straight hair flattened from grease after just 12 hours.  So, I would space out my washings one day at a time.  I know that the baking soda and vinegar treatments can dry your scalp if used too frequently (more notes on that to follow), so I wanted to try to stick as close as possible to the recommended 2-3 washes a week without letting my hair get so greasy that I gave up right away.  So, I would wash my hair first thing in the morning on Day 1 and then skip a day.
  • After about 2 weeks of every other day, I noticed that my hair had easily made the adjustment.  That’s when I slowly started to space out the washes further and further.  I’d started skipping 2 days, and then I would skip 2.5 by washing my hair early on Day 1 but at night on Day 4.
  • I’ve now established a washing cycle that I’m very comfortable with: Day 1, shower with hair wash.  Day 2, no shower just wash my face and freshen up.  Day 3 shower, but only water on my hair.  Day 4 is the same as Day 2, no shower but face wash and freshen up. Day 5 = Day 1.
  • It took me longer than 6 weeks for my oil cycles to get fully adjusted to this schedule (probably closer to three months, but that will vary person to person).  However, I never felt I was depriving myself of washing my hair, especially to the point where I felt like I couldn’t go out in public or had to cover my head (as I’ve seen others report), and I never felt so disgusted that I gave up (also a common occurance).
The cheaper, greener ‘poo replacement – tips for your baking soda and apple cider vinegar washes:
  • I’ve seen different reports on how much you should or should not dilute the baking soda (some say it should be a paste, others a watery-wash).  I’ve found that most folks who claim to use a 1-2 Tbsp water and 2-3 Tbsp of baking soda (making a paste) haven’t been using this method more than a week or two.  If this concentration works for you, then have at it, but for me (and many others out there) this is just way too strong and will almost certainly lead to the most common complaint in this process: dandruff.
  • Grab an old glass out of your cupboard that you know you won’t miss and a big soup spoon (Tbsp) from your utensil drawer.  These will now reside in your shower 🙂  The best ratio I’ve used for this is 1 Tbsp of baking soda or apple cider vinegar to about 1 cup (8 oz) of water.  Keep a bottle of vinegar in your shower.  Before you get in the shower, scoop yourself a Tbsp of baking soda and put it in your cup, then hop in the shower and add 1 cup of warm water, stirring with the spoon to dilute.
  • Just like the baking soda in Alka Seltzer, the baking soda will collect at the bottom if you let it settle.  Just give it another stir to keep it suspended.  Pour the watered-down baking soda around your hair line in small doses (not all at one place), and concentrate it around the entire crown of your head (where the grease collects most).  This is not shampoo. It will not lather.  You’re getting away from shampoo, so don’t expect the same behavior as shampoo, right?
  • Using your fingers, massage the baking soda water into your scalp for 30-90 seconds, making sure to work it in and not miss any spots, including the back and base of your head (enjoy the scalp massage too!).   Rinse thoroughly.  If you have soft water, the baking soda will leave a nice slick clean feeling after you rinse (but if you have super hard water like me, then sorry, it just feels like hair).
  • Rinse out the cup with a few swishes of water, and then pour 1 Tbps of apple cider vinegar into the cup.  Dilute the vinegar in 1 cup of water, just like the baking soda.  Pour the vinegar wash around the scalp line and crown, just like you did the baking soda, and try to make sure you get the entire length of your hair with the vinegar wash (the acid makes an excellent conditioner even when not preceding with the baking soda wash).  This is different than most sites suggest, but it is vital for long-term success and to avoid getting dandruff!!  Massage the vinegar into your scalp about 30 seconds, and then work it into the rest of the length of your hair (I usually use a brush I keep in my shower for the ends – you’ll see the vinegar also helps fight tangles!).  Rinse thoroughly.
  • Why massage in the vinegar?  You must neutralize the baking soda.  (Pardon the non-scientific explanation that follows) When you apply the baking soda wash to your scalp and work it in, yes it is a mild cleanser that is cleaning your hair without stripping it, but it also triggers a reaction in your hair follicles.  When your scalp feels the baking soda (a base/alkaline), that tells your oil (sebaceous) glands to stand up away from the hair shaft.  This means that if you don’t tell the oil glands to relax and lay back down onto the hair, then the oil they release won’t be properly distributed on your scalp, causing dryness, itchiness, and often dandruff.  The quick massaging in of vinegar (an acid) neutralizes the effects of the baking soda by telling the oil glands to lay back down and simultaneously conditions your hair.
  • If you find the vinegar weighs down your hair (could be an issue for different hair types), then try a milder acid like lime/lemon juice diluted in water.  If you’re still having serious problems with dryness, I’ve heard that a few drops of honey mixed in with the baking soda wash works wonders for soothing the scalp.
Other tips and tricks you really oughta know before you start:
  • Baking soda is often an ingredient in hair color removers.  I was incredibly happy to see the return of my natural color after more than a decade of dyes, streaks, and treatments (this time 6 months ago, I wasn’t totally sure what my natural hair color was anymore!).  But! If you like your colored hair, then this might not be a good strategy for you, and I suggest looking up the version of No ‘Poo where you “wash” your hair with store-bought conditioners (something that gets excellent reviews from those who stick with it).
  • Brush your hair with a wash cloth!! Yes, I’m serious!  I found this trick on only one or two of the forums on No ‘Poo, and it was truly the secret weapon for my success in this process (especially since I didn’t attempt the traditional transition).   Every night before bed, I comb my hair to remove knots from the day, but I also stroke my hair with a washcloth (old, natural, soft-bristled brushes work well too, but they’re damn expensive if you didn’t get a hand-me-down from your grandma).  This is apparently a trick that has been used by Mexican grandmas and Native Americans for generations.  “Brushing” your hair gently with a washcloth moves the oil that is concentrated at the scalp down along the entire hair shaft, causing your hair to become softer, shinier, thicker, and repair itself faster from a lifetime of ‘poo-induced damage.  This same mechanism also allows you to go longer in between washes, because it prevents the oil from staying built up around the crown of your head.
  • Massaging your scalp regularly will make your hair grow faster.  Have you ever heard that old-lady aphorism that your hair seems to grow faster after a trip to the salon?  Well, it’s true!  The thorough stimulation your beautician/you give your scalp when you wash gets your follicles all excited and your hair grows faster.  Good to know if you get a less than stellar cut!
  • Don’t fret about the vinegar smell.  As soon as your hair is dry, it won’t smell like anything.  Some like to sprinkle a few drops of lemon or lavender essential oils on their brushes and brush in a scent after a shower.  I don’t personally because I like feeling fresh rather than scented, but of course you always have options!
Best of luck in your ‘poo-less adventures!!
Money spent on hair care (for 6 months) =
     One 32 oz. box of baking soda @ $1.12/box
 + Two 16 oz. bottles of apple cider vinegar @ $0.97/bottle
  = $3.06 Total

Mass Cooking Dried Beans = $avings Today, Convenience Tomorrow

There are a couple of reasons I prefer dried beans over canned: they taste better, you can easily control the sodium levels, there are zero preservatives in dried beans (I’m sorry, but why does a can of beans need an ingredients list???), properly soaked and rinsed dried beans don’t make you as musical as canned beans, and dried beans are much more cost effective.

But, I will be the first to admit that dried beans either require a pressure cooker (which is far too fancy for my budget to handle) or planning ahead for each dish (which can be too fancy for my brain to handle).  So, as part of my prep for this semester, I’ve decided to make my brain think about one less thing by spending this rainy Saturday cooking a few batches of beans and then freezing them.  I thought it noteworthy because some others out there might appreciate the idea (and I can use this post as reminder to myself to do the same next semester!).

Red beans look outside one last time before they meet the freezer (And No Ingredients List Necessary!!)

I spent about $6 on over 6 lbs of a variety of beans from a local bulk grains store: red, black, kidney, navy, and pinto.  From that $6, I got a whopping EIGHTEEN 16 oz. servings (approximately 18 cans of beans), and so, at $1.19 per can, I more than tripled my money without adding any chemicals.  And, because I chose 16 oz. containers, every time a recipe calls for a 15 oz. can of beans, I can just grab one of these bad boys out of the freezer already perfectly portioned!

Here’s what I used:

  • Medium to Large mixing bowls
  • Large stock pots
  • Large strainer
  • 16 oz. freezer-safe mason jars
  • Water
  • Kosher salt (optional)
  • Stove top
Here’s how I did it:
  • Soak beans over night in the bowls.  You can also soak beans in hot water for half the time (4-5 hours) if you want to start them in the morning and then cook them the same day.
  • Strain the beans, rinse them really well in your stock pot, strain them again, and pick them through to make sure there aren’t any pebbles or other intruders you don’t want to cook.
  • Boil the beans 30-60 mins (depending on type of bean and temp/duration of soaking) in lightly salted water (salt is optional).  Taste test to make sure they’re tender.
  • Pour the cooked beans back into the strainer.  Run cold water over the hot beans until they’ve cooled enough to touch and scoop them into your freezer-safe containers.
  • Next time you need beans, you don’t have to think about it the night before, but you’ve still done something that benefits both your wallet and your health! 😀

Why I’ll survive Hurricane Irene by being a Hippie

PLEASE NOTE: I live in Pennsylvania, so I’m light-heartedly talking about why I’m prepared for power outages and flash-flooding.  This page has gotten a lot of hits from people looking for serious help to prepare for the hurricane.  This post was more for fun and commentary on how pre-existing behaviors have prepared me for the comparatively minor storm effects – it is not intended as an actual tool to help you prepare for the hurricane.  Please consult weather.com for up-to-date hurricane information and your local county authorities for preparation and evacuation information.  Thanks!

As a citizen of the Mid-Atlantic states, I am currently spending my Friday night preparing for Hurricane Irene to rip-roar through tomorrow.

Whoops! Wrong pain-in-the-ass storm system! (Thanks to epiclolz.net for the photo)

Anyway, as I was making a list of what I would need to be prepared for, I realized that being a hippie has made this “historic” storm system kind of a non-event for me.   Why?  Well, last semester I took a very hands-on class about the psychology of fostering pro-environmental behavior.  In order to understand just how hard it is for someone else to change their behavior, we tried to change our own to an extreme degree.  Each week, we had a different aspect of our lives in which we attempted to reduce our environmental impact to zero (and then write about our triumphs, frustrations, and failures).   The categories we had to eliminate our impact for were: Trash, Consumption, Water, Transportation, Food, Electricity, and Paper.

This class required a lot of research for each week because of the hidden costs of different products (for example, I actually finally switched all the way over to vegetarian when I learned how much water I consume just by eating meat and dairy… 1000 gallons per week per person if you’re interested).  I learned a lot along the way and realized what are realistic sacrifices to ask someone to make, what changes are “green” and actually improved my life, which were cost-effective, etc. Most of the behavior changes saved me a ton of money, so they’ve stuck around.

The following lists some of the lessons I learned that will leave me sitting pretty when Irene rears her ugly face in PA:

  • No Impact: Electricity and a general desire to conserve has prepared me to endure humidity, heat, and cold, so I’ll be just fine when there’s no electricty/AC.
  • I’ve also learned the best places to put candles and oil lamps in my home to maximize natural lighting from the same week.
  • No Impact: Food taught me how to reuse and recook food that has already been prepared – originally to reduce waste, now in case flooding prevents a trip to the market.
  • My tiny organic garden has enough yield right now to feed me for 3-4 days by itself.
  • No Impact: Transportation leaves me comfortable with the idea of being stranded in my home for 48+ hours.
  • My Eco-Immersion Project (where you just sit, immersed in nature for an extended period of time) and 24 hours without electronics prepared me for a weekend without power and the internet.
  • Thanks to No Impact: Consumption, I know how to make nutritionally balanced cat food from just brown rice, evoo, and leftover veggies.
  • No Impact: Water and going no ‘poo helped me break my hair and skin’s oil cycles months ago, so I don’t need hot water to be hygenic.
It’s kind of ironic that Hippies will be the best prepared for the effects of Climate Change.  You have to wonder, when it’s all over, if a bunch of beat-nicks will be sitting around saying, “Man, we told you so, man!  You gotta, like, watch out for mother earth ‘n’ stuff, man!”

Changing what's expected of others starts with changing what you do.