Tag Archives | baking soda

Homemade laundry detergent

homemadetergent

I recently ran out of the powdered laundry detergent I buy in bulk at my local co-ops, so I decided to make my own. An internet search for homemade laundry detergent usually yields a wide variety of sources for a basic recipe that calls for washing soda, borax, and grated bar soap. But there’s also quite a debate raging online about the potential health risks of using borax for home and body care. Some sources adamantly claim that the median lethal dose of borax is no higher than the median lethal dose of table salt (about 3 grams per kilogram of weight), making it a perfectly safe laundry detergent ingredient. On the other side of the argument, studies indicate that borax powder is a skin, eye, and lung irritant and if ingested it could cause vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and lethargy. There is also concern that high or prolonged exposure to borax can lead to infertility and damage to an unborn child.

While wading through some of this information, attempting to sort out factors like the credibility of sources and the dates of each study, it occurred to me that perhaps I was barking up the wrong tree. At some point I realized that I’d rather err on the side of caution and I refocused my energy to try to find some recipes for homemade laundry detergent that didn’t include borax. As it turns out, there are indeed several borax-free recipes floating around on the web and many are just variations of a few basic elements. Baking soda, washing soda, grated bar soap, citric acid, epsom salt, table salt, and white vinegar were the ingredients I came across the most. I’ve begun experimenting to see what mix I like the best, based on what I’m able to acquire within the package-free parameters of my project. For this particular venture I’ve decided to make an exception for products packaged in paperboard or paper bags that are compostable. But to start I did manage to make a completely package-free batch of detergent from one cup baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), one cup washing soda (sodium carbonate), and one grated 4oz bar of unscented glycerin soap.

washingsoda

I was unable to find boxed washing soda on any local store shelf so I decided to make my own. In my research of each ingredient listed above, I discovered that it’s easy to make washing soda at home by simply heating baking soda in the oven. Baking soda’s chemical makeup is NaHCO3 (one sodium, one hydrogen, one carbon, and three oxygen molecules). Washing soda’s chemical makeup is Na2CO3 (two sodium, one carbon, and three oxygen molecules). When heated, the glistening, grainy baking soda gives off water and carbon dioxide, leaving dull, powdery washing soda behind.  I spread a thin layer of bulk-bought baking soda in a shallow pan and baked it at 400 degrees for one hour. I agitated it about a halfway through the bake time. I’ve only done a couple loads of laundry with my baking soda, washing soda, soap mix, but so far my clothes and linens have come out clean, odorless, and not too stiff. An there doesn’t seem to be any soapy residue left on my fabrics. I should mention that I’ve not yet tested this mix on any tough stains, though I’m sure it won’t be long before an opportunity arises.

epsomsalt

I saw some recipes for soapless detergents, which call for baking and washing soda, epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), and table salt. Epsom salts are a natural surfactant—a wetting agent that reduces the surface tension of a liquid, allowing it to better penetrate solids. Today, surfactants made from a variety of petrochemicals (derived from petroleum) and/or oleochemicals (derived from fats and oils) are used in generic detergents to render water less likely to stick to itself and more likely to interact with greasy, organic soiling. Considered non-toxic, epsom salts are commonly used in homemade beauty treatments and cleaning solutions. Magnesium sulfate is also used in organic gardening and farming as a soil conditioner/fertilizer. Magnesium helps strengthen cell walls and improve plants’ uptake of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfer. And sulfer is critical to production of vitamins, amino acids (therefore protein), and enzymes. The other day while I was in the grocery store, I spotted some epsom salts in a paper carton and decided to purchase them. I transfered the salts to a glass jar, then shredded and composted the packaging. I’m looking forward to experimenting with them in my homemade detergent concoctions and I will post about my findings.

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My bathroom

bathroom1

I live in a beautiful space. I smile most times I enter my home. The apartment is located on the second floor of a house that was built more than 220 years ago. Of course there are many features throughout that are more modern, but some of the original details remain intact. It’s easy to see where the building has settled over time and the crooked lines give each room so much character. This place has great bones and shows signs of the many who have loved it before me. The few carefully curated things I’ve chosen to fill it with make it mine for now.

I love my bathroom. I love the old built-in medicine cabinet and the large 12 pane window. It looks out over a small alley and across to the siding of my neighbors’ house. None of their windows are visible from this spot so I don’t have to hang any curtains or blinds and all the natural light that reflects off the pale yellow clapboard floods into the room. My plants love it.

bathroom2

I’ve written a lot about how beautiful food looks when it’s stored in glass or stainless steel. I think the same is true for personal hygiene products. Bulk shampoo, liquid castile soap, baking soda, and package-free bar soap sit on the shelves of my shower. My linen bath towel and hand knitted hemp washcloth hang beside it.

bathroom3

In my medicine cabinet I keep my homemade spray deodorant, bulk carrier oils (sweet almond and grape seed) used as skin moisturizer and hair conditioner/detangler, homemade salve, bulk cornstarch for sockless sneaker wearing, bulk body lotion, an eyelash curler, a terra cotta body buffer, and bar soap. A ceramic dish holds my barrets, bobby pins, new razor blades, and a spool of floss that was once in a paper box dispenser—but the box got a little crushed and ended up as firestarter for the wood stove. The floss is wound around a small plastic spool, which will become landfill waste. The paper and cotton swabs are leftover from before the start of this project. I use them very seldomly because I just use gentle soap and water to clean my outer ears.

bathroom4

A cup of grooming tools (my toothbrush, gum stimulator, safety razor, tweezers, cuticle trimmer, and nail brush) sits on my windowsill next to the jar of baking soda I use to clean my teeth. I use the small stainless steel spoon to scoop a tiny bit onto my compostable toothbrush.

It has taken me some time to pare down the products in my routine to a few package-free essentials that work for my individual skin, hair, nail, tooth and gum care needs. But my space has become very functional and I love my daily rituals.

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Spray deodorant

In September I posted some thoughts on chemical-free and package-free personal hygiene options, including baking soda and cornstarch deodorant. I’ve been using the powdered blend for nearly two months and it works really well. The active ingredient is the baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), which works as a deodorant, not an antiperspirant. Antiperspirants inhibit the body’s physiology by clogging pores, blocking the natural release of sweat. Baking soda neutralizes odor-causing bacteria that live on the surface of the skin and hair. Some information on the controversial health effects of antiperspirants and deodorants can be found here.

As I mentioned before, I’ve never been someone who perspires heavily, but I appreciate some odor control, especially in the dog days of summer and on days when I’m particularly active throughout the rest of the year. Now that we’re into the heating season in Northeast, I’m readjusting to familiar challenges in temperature control as I move between the crisp outdoors and overly heated University buildings at work. Applying and shedding several layers of clothing throughout the day is a dance New Englanders are adept at. But there are many occasions when I enter a building and start to sweat before I can remove my mittens, scarf, coat, and sweater (usually in that order).

While the powder has indeed been very effective, I find it’s a little messy transferring it from the salt shaker to my hand to my underarms—especially when I’m in a rush (most days). Also, cornstarch is more difficult to find in bulk than baking soda and I’m always interested in using the least amount of ingredients necessary for any job. So I’ve decided to give a baking soda and water solution a whirl, which I’ve read works well for many people looking for a safe alternatives to aluminum and parabens. To start, I dropped a quarter teaspoon of baking soda into a 4 oz glass spray bottle (I could only find one with a plastic spray nozzle), filled it with water and shook it well until the baking soda disolved. Finding the right ratio might take some experimenting—too much baking soda will likely cause skin irritation and too little will be ineffective. I used it today and so far it seems to be working well! I will be sure to post updates.

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Co-op bounty

Today I made a trip to the Alternative Food Co-op to restock on some goods. It’s been almost exactly two months since the last time I visited, which seems to be close to the average time between my trips. It was a beautiful day and the drive was nice—still, I wish the shop was closer to my home! I can’t say enough good things about the co-op’s staff and their bulk goods selection. I came home with package-free olive oil, canola oil, turmeric, curry powder, chili powder, chocolate energy cubes, dried mission figs, baking soda, natural bar soap, and conditioner.

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Hygiene

It’s no secret that maintaining cleanliness supports health. Being clean is considered virtuous–cleanliness is the tenth of Benjamin Franklin’s thirteen virtues to live by. Hygienic standards and practices vary across cultures and have changed throughout history. The Romans had their bathhouses and scented oils. Soapmaking became a popular trade in Spain and Italy during the Dark Ages. The toothbrush as we know it today was invented in China in the late 1400s. Before that, chewing the twigs and leaves of plants thought to have antiseptic properties was common practice.

Contagion and germ theories led us to the notion that we have more to worry about than visible filth. In 1854 John Snow discovered that cholera was transmitted through contaminated water. His findings led to the widespread development of sewage systems. In the twentieth century, industries sprang up to deliver products that would serve us on our quest for cleaner countertops and whiter toilet bowls. Advertisements goad us to buy products that support health and that will spare us the judgment of others about armpit odor.

The continually increasing attention to hygiene has meant an increase in pressure on the natural environment. Today we’re starting to see a push away from the use of harsh chemical cleaning agents because of growing evidence of their threat to our health and the planet. “Green” cleaning agent production is becoming big business.

I’m interested in finding ways of maintaining personal and domestic hygiene without making trash and without using any chemicals in/on my body, or on the surfaces in my home. We all have a different standard of cleanliness, so the system I’ve mapped out so far is of course personal. This zone has been slightly more complicated than the food zone, but the approach to tackling the problems is the same. I ask myself what I need. What do I need to sufficiently clean my dishes, my laundry, and my floors? What do I need to feel clean, smell good, and stay healthy?

As I mentioned in the last post, the discovery of the Alternative Food Co-op in Wakefield has helped me enormously in the No Trash Project. They encourage membership but it is not required in order to shop there. Not only is the store stocked with a wonderful bulk food selection, but they also supply many cleaning and body products in bulk dispensing systems. Below is some information about the non-food products that I buy in bulk and their important roles in no trash hygienic practice.

Baking Soda–not just for baking!

Currently, baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, has numerous uses in my home. Because it is weakly alkaline and acts to neutralize acid, baking soda has long been used for many first aid applications. It also has mild antiseptic properties. A simple paste made from baking soda and cold water can be applied to burns, bug bites, bee stings, and poison ivy. It can be diluted in water and used as an antacid.  As a mild, gentle abrasive, it can be used in place of toothpaste or as an exfoliating skin cleanser. A friend of mine recently explained how she mixes it with a bit of conditioner and uses it in place of shampoo.

For the same reasons it works to cleanse the body, baking soda is an effective household cleaner. Its fine, gritty texture works as an abrasive agent and is safe to use on most surfaces. It can be added to the washing machine to help remove stains, neutralize odor, and acts as a fabric softener for laundry.

Castile Soap

I’ve been using liquid castile soap (Dr. Bronner’s)–an olive oil based soap that is a mild but effective cleanser. I use it in place of dish soap, as a body wash, and occasionally as a surface cleaner. It’s available to me in bulk dispensers.  I fill it up in jars at the co-op and once I’m home I pour it into glass oil cruets (like the one pictured above). The soap pours easily from the metal dispenser.

Powdered laundry detergent, bleach powder, moisturizing lotions, shampoo and conditioner are also available in bulk at the co-op.

There is another natural household cleaner that I’m attached to, which I have not been able to find without packaging. White distilled vinegar is effective in killing mold, and bacteria. I find it neutralizes odors well and clears drains when combined with baking soda. I have resorted to buying it in a glass bottle. I’m careful to use vinegar sparingly and dilute it with water to make the supply last longer. Again, the system is not perfect. The vinegar bottle becomes a part of the recyclable waste I make. And I haven’t forgotten that the goods we buy in bulk are delivered to the grocery store and co-op in packaging/containers (more on this soon).

Hygiene accessories are an important part of this discussion. Many cleaning and grooming tools are made of plastic and are meant to be disposable. I’ve tried to focus on choosing tools that are made of more sustainable materials that will stand up to the test of time and use, or products that are compostable.  Microfiber cloths have replaced paper towels, plant-based compostable sponges have replaced plastic and cellulose sponges, and a high quality stainless steel safety razor has replaced the disposable plastic version.

While writing this post, I’ve been thinking about the number of plastic bottles, jugs, aerosol cans, plastic spray nozzles and pumps, sponges, and paper towels that before starting this project, I threw into the trash and recycling on a regular basis. Though I’ve only been working toward no trash for six months, today my old routines seem to be rather unnatural. It’s bizarre to package goods that may be used in one hour, day, week, or month in containers that will be on this earth for hundreds of years after they’re emptied. Stranger still is the fact that we are consistently encouraged and even pressured to take part in this unsustainable system.

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