My green cleaning journey so far
Me and my husband:
It worked! I made dishwashing powder!
No – I need a high five for this. I’m AMAZING!
Yeah, well done.
I’m not getting enough enthusiasm here.
I think it’s amazing that you make dinner. Food that we can put in our mouths. That’s amazing. This is good, too, though.
I’ve been gradually greening up my household for years now, one small step at a time.
I’m keen to reduce the (overwhelming) number and volume of chemicals in our daily life. If you add up the ingredients on the back of your household cleaning and personal washing (shampoo, soap, etc) products – it really is a huge ranger of stuff, and many are relatively new compounds, in terms of human history.
I’m not professing to have strong or even particularly well-informed opinions on how harmful any of them might be, but it seems like a huge difference in environmental exposure compared to even two generations of humans ago, and that concerns me. It’s a lot for a species to adapt to.
Also, of course, it’s miles cheaper to use white vinegar and hot water to clean your floors than to buy a special floor cleaner, for instance. In fact, every ‘green cleaning’ recipe I’ve seen works out as substantially cheaper than commercial products, even without buying from special bulk supply shops.
I have no doubt that the environmental impact of our household is substantially reduced every time I take another step, too. The waste-water system in our city – and the sea life around it – can cope much better with baking soda and lemon juice than the long list of ingredients on the back of the Spray and Wipe bottle.
My story so far includes these changes from conventional, supermarket-bought cleaning products. I use:
- Soapnuts and tea-tree oil for washing clothes instead of laundry powder (particularly good for avoiding detergent build-up on nappies, or for people with sensitive skin)
- A spray bottle of white vinegar (a strong antibacterial) for most surface cleaning, including in the bathroom.
- Just plain hot water for most kitchen surface cleaning.
- Bars of soap from Trade Aid with a small list of simple ingredients, for hand-washing and in the shower and bath. It comes in recycled paper packaging and means the people in Southern India who make it can make a decent living.
- A paste of baking soda and lemon juice for heavy-duty scrubbing in the bathroom.
- White vinegar and boiling/hot water for floor cleaning
- White vinegar and newspaper for (very rarely done) window-cleaning.
- White vinegar for descaling the shower head
- Baking soda and white vinegar to clean out drains in the bathroom and kitchen. Shake down some baking soda, then wash it down with white vinegar so it fizzes (fun for kids to help with). Repeat as you like – I usually alternate shakes of baking soda with glugs of vinegar for a few minutes while doing other things. After a few minutes, pour boiling water down.
[cat cat horse (this is a child insisting on contributing to my blogging)]
If you Google any of those things with the phrase ‘green cleaning’ you’ll find millions of recipes and tips (or I’m happy to answer questions below about what works for us). Bin Inn has a handy list of recipes here.
So I’m used to buying huge amounts of white vinegar and baking powder from Bin Inn, and ordering soapnuts once a year online.
Chemistry experiments have been in the too-hard basket though, UNTIL NOW!
Making my own dishwasher detergent
Lots of green cleaning recipes call for things I don’t have at home, like washing soda and borax.
Mixing such things up has been far over the horizon for me until this week. We ran out of dishwasher powder, and had a huge empty bottle of it. Bin Inn, our only bulk-bin shop – twenty minutes’ drive away – didn’t seem to stock any kind of dishwasher powder, let alone an ‘eco-friendly’ version, which is what we have been (optimistically and ill-informedly) buying.
I couldn’t bear to just throw out this big plastic bottle and buy another. So I finally took the mad scientist plunge, and it turned out to be pretty straightforward.
I looked online for a few different recipes and basically went with the easiest looking one.
Lots of green cleaning recipes call for borax, but I saw a few links to studies raising concerns about borax as a skin irritant and hormone-disruptor, so thought I’d just do without, since I’ve never used it before anyway. I’m not passing judgement on it, just taking the path of least resistance.
Home-Made Dishwashing Powder Recipe
1 cup washing soda
Also known as sodium carbonate. Three supermarkets I checked stock it in 1kg containers for $3-$4, or you can get it at Bin Inn in bulk (not sure of the price, but probably cheaper) to reuse packaging.
1/4 cup citric acid
I found it in small 100g bottles in the baking section at the supermarket, but I’m sure it will be better to buy in bulk next time I’m near Bin Inn.
1/4 cup coarse salt
Lots of sites say don’t used iodised salt, but no one knows why they say that :). I couldn’t find any non-iodised so went ahead and used the iodised rock salt I had in the cupboard, at least for now. (New Zealand soil is low in iodine, so salt here is routinely iodised as a public health measure.)
Few drops of essential oil
The idea is to use something like orange or lemon oil which are good for cutting grease.
Optional, and I’ll probably not bother next time.
Mix the washing soda, citric acid and salt together well.
Add the oil if you’re using it and mix again.
Store in an air-tight container.
Use 1 tablespoon per load, with white vinegar in the rinse aid compartment.
Don’t worry if the mixture fizzes (almost certain, as the washing soda reacts with the citric acid).
The mixture might go pretty hard after a while and can be broken up with a spoon. (Mine went hard, then after breaking it up and leaving it out overnight it’s all smooth again.)
Someone suggested putting it in ice-cube trays in 1 tablespoon lumps, which sounds like a great idea.
Notes from my uncle, the professional detergent chemist
He says skip the essential oil, and he’s not sure why the salt is there. He encourages proper rinsing and scraping of the dishes before loading, and says any vinegar will work as a rinse aid (to prevent scale build-up), though white vinegar is probably best.
So most importantly: IT WORKED! I did my first load of dishes last night and they look just as clean as with a commercial powder. I’ll update this post with more info if I find the mixture isn’t working on some kind of stain, or there’s anything else to say.
I’m keen for feedback of all kinds here. What kinds of things do you clean with? What green cleaners are easiest to use in your life? What things are most important to you to tackle next if you are gradually greening, like me?
I haven’t mentioned personal hygiene or ‘beauty’ products, which is a whole nother topic. If you’re interested in that stuff immediately, check out Lulastic and the Hippyshake for heaps of ideas, especially, of course, for going no-(sham)poo.
[Update: I’ve ditched shampoo and conditioner, too! Thanks, Lulastic!]