Posted in Family, Home

The Shampoo Manifesto

Our sons Christian (11) and Kapena (16) introducing the chickens to Kapena’s girlfriend Rachel

When our son Christian started Kindergarten, the school called me up within the first two weeks to ask if they could move him to second grade. Eep! We compromised at the halfway point, and he skipped just one grade. I had no question that he could handle the academics, but I had fears for junior-high years, and how tough it might be socially for a kid to be two full years younger than his classmates when everybody else hits puberty. And I confess I wasn’t wild about having him graduate high school and leave home just a month after his sixteenth birthday…

He’s younger than classmates and teammates, but he holds his own—on the soccer field and elsewhere!

I was also guessing at the time that he might end up small for his age—his dad is Filipino and not much taller than I. As it turns out, though, Christian has stayed near the top-end of the growth charts for his age, and holds his own physically even with a year’s difference from his classmates. He and Keoni were running errands recently and ran into the father of one of Kapena’s football teammates; the guy asked Christian his age and then commented, “You Hawai’ians sure do have size!” My bemused guys didn’t correct his assumption about heritage (Christian refers to himself and Keoni as “peas in a pod,” but there’s not a genetic link there) but at least we can say that Christian passes for “Hawai’ian size”…

I’m glad of that, because here we are in the Junior High years I used to worry about. Christian commented casually a few weeks ago that he’s figured out how to deal with bullies: laugh at them. I’m tickled that he’s exhibiting more wisdom at eleven than I could have claimed even in college—but there’s also the Mama-Bear stomping around in my head with her hackles up, growling “Bullies?!”

Comfortable in his own skin! Christian goofing around in a pair of my heels…

Christian has an understanding sympathizer l in Keoni, whose comparative age relative to grade-level was almost exactly the same. Keoni really was big for his age (Hawai’ian size?)–by ninth grade he topped six feet and weighed in at more than 200 pounds. But he says his athletic abilities took a while to catch up to his size. In high school he was All-American on the football field and League Champion three years running for wrestling–but in junior high teams would pick him for his size and then leave him on the bench because of his lack of coordination or skills. Junior high was a pretty miserable time for him, and he remembers unpleasant social run-ins characterizing those years when classmates were ahead of him in everything but size…

Christian is remarkably solid in his sense of self, comfortable in his own skin, and unconcerned with what other people think—a combination of traits that’s truly a blessing at Junior-high age—so when he shared with me that his scalp has been really itchy and his curly hobbit-hair haunted by dandruff, he’s really much more bothered by the itchiness than about the “social ramifications” of dandruff. (At the same time, though, I’m thinking of my own 7th-grade dandruff issues, and particularly the locker-room bully who made sure everybody heard her proclamations that I was “dirty”… To her way of thinking, dandruff was an indication that I must not be showering.) No need to burden Christian with my baggage—but happily I think we can take care of both the dandruff and the itching. Time for DIY-Mom to re-open the shampoo factory!

We’ve been making our own shampoo for this household, so I asked Christian if he’d like me to research anti-dandruff ingredients and make a special batch that he could take to his dad’s house. He answered with a resounding “Yes, please!”—so here’s our first recipe… We’d already harvested the lavender we grew this summer, so I started by stripping a couple stalks of their flowers and using a mortar and pestle to smash them up in order to release the oils. I gathered the mashed blooms into a coffee filter tied up with a rubber band (my home-made version of a tea-bag), which went into a cup of water in a small pot, brought to a boil before I turned off the stove and let the lavender steep for thirty minutes.

home-grown lavender

Half a cup of the lavender-water went into the shampoo bottle (an old hand-soap bottle with a pump), and I saved the rest for conditioner. The remaining shampoo ingredients: half a cup of Castile soap, and 13 drops each of tea tree oil & rosemary oil. Tea tree oil acts as both an anti-fungal and an anti-bacterial agent, and has been clinically proven as effective in treating dandruff. Rosemary and lavender are also included on almost every list of natural remedies for dandruff; lavender is said to help balance the natural oils on the scalp, and both plants contain compounds that relieve itching. I’m not sure on the amounts with the oils–10 to 15 drops seemed to be a common recommendation, so I went with our lucky number 13. We’ll see how it works, and go from there!

The conditioner I made for Christian is a variation of the one Keoni and I have been enjoying for a few months now. Christian actually likes the smell of vinegar (a quirk we probably owe to his taste for salt-and-vinegar chips)—which is a good thing, since most of our home-made household cleaners have a vinegar base! It also helps here, since he doesn’t mind coming out of the shower smelling rather strongly of vinegar. (Keoni and I usually rinse it out when we use it, but it’s also effective as a leave-in conditioner.) This one is easy to make; I used the remainder of the lavender-water, mixed in a one-to-one ratio with apple cider vinegar, and poured into a spray bottle (recycled from its original incarnation as a hairspray spritzer).

And finally: the scalp scrub! This one is similar to the body-scrub I like to use on my arms & legs, but here I used coconut oil because it is not only a deep moisturizer, but also has natural anti-fungal properties. Coconut oil can be a little tricky to work with, because it’s solid at “room temperature,” but liquid in a warm room. My home-made deodorant, for example, has a coconut-oil base, and it’s much easier to apply it now than it was in the summer when our hot weather turned it liquid… In this case I wanted the oil to be somewhat liquid, to get that crumbly-wet consistency that’s easy to scoop out and apply, so I went half-and-half with coconut oil and vegetable oil.

“Hobbit shampoo”

I melted the coconut oil in the microwave so it would be easier to mix (I didn’t want to heat it after mixing in the sugar, because the sugar would start melting and lose its “sharp edges”), then stirred together the two oils and the brown sugar. I didn’t measure amounts for this one, just kept adding brown sugar until it had the consistency I wanted—clumping together in a crumbly mixture. The pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, & allspice) is just to make it smell yummy.

The brown sugar acts as an exfoliator, scrubbing away dead skin cells and semi-solid sebum (scalp-oil) build-up. Christian had showed me the white crud that collected under his fingernails when he scratched his scalp—and he commented that he’s glad he has a mom “who doesn’t get grossed out easily!” His comment brought to mind our recent trip to the dentist—Keoni needed a tooth pulled (Medicaid’s only dental “coverage” is for pulling a tooth when it gets too infected to leave in a mouth) and I asked the dentist if I could see the extracted molar. He hesitated, then asked if I get “squeamish.” I was about to answer that I was a biology major (thinking of all the dissections I used to do), but Keoni beat me to the punch with a more pertinent answer: “She’s a mom!”

When the kids arrived for their weekend with us, I had “Hobbit shampoo,” “Hobbit conditioner,” and “Hobbit scalp scrub” ready for a test run, and labeled with the nickname I’ve used since Christian’s curly hair first grew in. I suggested that he hop in the bathtub with his swimsuit on, and I’d give him a thorough scalp massage with his new scrub (and the additional tool of mom-fingernails!)

We’ll have to wait and see about long-term use, but the initial report on the test-run is positive—the gunky build-up was gone after scrubbing, his head wasn’t itching or flaking over the weekend, and even the scabbing seemed to be on its way to clearing up. When he headed out the door to his dad’s truck at the end of the weekend, he thanked me for his home-made hair-care products, and also for the head-rub. “I needed the Mommy-ing,” he confided as he hugged me. That’s definitely my favorite new word.


Dr. Bronner’s soap[box]… a bizarre pseudo-religious manifesto in tiny print, interrupted only by the small central section of actual shampoo-labeling
And on the topic of interesting words… We were quite bemused by the labeling on the Castile soap. I’d ordered the most inexpensive version I could find—“Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps” unscented baby-mild Castile liquid soap. The center of the label contains the usual ingredients and information: the soap is made primarily from olive oil, hemp oil, coconut oil, and jojoba oil; it’s USDA-certified organic,  entirely biodegradable, vegan-friendly, packaged with 100% recycled materials, and Fair Trade certified by IMO….

So far, so good. But that information takes up a small central section of the label, and the entire remainder of the bottle is covered in tiny print that has nothing whatsoever to do with shampoo—except, perhaps, for the maxim that “cleanliness is next to godliness”… I hardly know how to describe the rest of the text. It’s sort of religious, sort of a social rant, sort of incoherent, and sort of a bizarre writing-style, liberally sprinkled with exclamation points and incomplete sentences and repeated phrases and long runs of words strung together with hyphens…

The opening to one long section first caught my eye with its reference to my totem, the owl:

Arctic White Owls by Birth-Control survive: the female does not go into heat until she sees three full months of frozen food for her young ones to survive! Putting to shame our welfare-state, with its untrained masses, enslaved by Marxist half-true hate!

“Arctic White Owls by Birth-Control survive”…

The text goes on to describe (sort of) the “God-Inspired Moral ABC of Mama Cat,” a list of 13 items introduced as the lessons every mother cat supposedly teaches its young. Who knew that our cat was such a complex creature, not to mention religious! Here’s #13, just to give a sample:

13th: Free, brave! No Marxist slave! Mama Cat’s ABC of Love and the Swallow’s Song inspired by the Kingdom of God’s Law! All-One! Above! Above! All swallows evolve united to perfect pilots by full-truth, hard work, God’s Law, trained brave! No slave! Brave! Always evolving-united, free in All-One-God-faith! Hardworking, self-disciplined, no parasite-blackmail, welfare-slave! Therefore, brave we live to teach-work-love-inspire-unite! All-One! Win Victory! Help get it done! Teach to unite All-One! All-One! All-One! For these are the days my friend, we know they’ll never end! We’ll work-sing-dance-love marching on! Marching on! We’ll teach how to Love God’s Way! We’ll fight for it, OK! For we’re young and sure to unite All-One! All-One!

I read the whole bottle in fascination, and there’s an underlying theme of love and inter-connectivity, both among humans and between humans and God. God would probably approve that message—but it’s a message that’s nearly buried in eccentric ranting and inexplicable tangents. I was curious enough to look up Dr. Bronner on Wikipedia, and wasn’t surprised to read that he’d been committed at one point to a mental institution, which he “escaped” after receiving shock treatments. (I wonder now if he wrote this before or after shock-therapy…)

His story is kind of a sad one—he was a third-generation Jewish German soap-maker who left Nazi Germany and tried unsuccessfully to convince his parents to do the same. The last he ever heard from his parents, before they died in a Nazi death camp, was a postcard from his father saying simply: “You were right.” Soap-making, to him, was secondary to spreading his “philosophy.” He lectured all over the United States (his sojourn in the mental institution followed an arrest for public speaking without a permit), giving away soap samples pretty much as an afterthought. When he realized people showed up for the soap and didn’t stay for the lectures, he started printing his message on the soap bottles themselves.

It seems that in some ways he acted on his love-messages with generous charitable donations from his soap company… But it also seems as if he only acted on a “big-picture” scale, rather than in his personal interactions—when his wife died, he put his kids in foster-care so they wouldn’t interfere with his lecture circuit.

Our Hobbit (hopefully dandruff-free!) with his owls. No word on whether they “by Birth-Control Survive”…

Inc. magazine ran a fascinating article on the business, now being run by Bronner’s grandson David, who is described as “a ponytailed marijuana activist who drives a rainbow Mercedes that runs on French fry grease.” (“The Undiluted Genius of Dr. Bronner’s,” April 2012.) It’s a fascinating story of family and philosophy and marketing—and not a little madness.

Regarding our own soap-making, one of Christian’s bright ideas for our proposed Hawai’i Bed & Breakfast is a gift shop, where our guests could purchase items like our specialty home-made soaps. I think, though, that we’ll keep our labeling a little simpler!

Posted in Family, Home, Idaho

Shakespeare with a Pre-Teen (& a dab of Kitchen Chemistry)

fool squad
The warm-up Green Show–Idaho’s “Fool Squad” in its 20th year

The warm-up “Green Show” before last night’s production of Romeo & Juliet let slip a spoiler about the ending: Romeo & Juliet end up dead.  “Oops,” the Fool-Squad fool exclaimed. “If there’s anyone here who didn’t pass ninth grade English, we just ruined the surprise.” I had a laugh at that, given that I was sitting at the time between Keoni, who (though not born before Shakespeare, as he jokes) did go through high school before R&J was required reading, and Christian, who’s a couple years shy of reaching ninth grade.

romeo & juliet
Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s 36th season under the stars

Christian saw a few scenes of Hamlet at school a couple months ago, and came home chattering about the satisfying carnage at its end. His enthusiastic verdict: “They putteth on a good show!” Fueled by his interest, we got online to see what offerings would be found in this year’s season at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, and he expressed an interest in Romeo & Juliet. “Yeah, it’s a love story—but it’s also a tragedy, so that’ll be okay.” With the proceeds from an e-Book on vitamins I was writing that week, we purchased three tickets for the show.  (Elena Grace, at 8, is too young; Kapena, at 16, is uninterested. The two of them stayed home and had a movie night.)

picking up our tickets at Will [Shakespeare?] Call
Christian has always been an interesting challenge when it comes to matching him with reading material. He reads at a post-graduate level, but he’s still an eleven-year-old boy, with the interests (and aversions) attendant on that particular age. Along the same lines, he’s a kid who has no trouble following the flow of Shakespearian English (because he often thinks in that kind of language in his imagination, he told me), but whose pre-existing knowledge of the plot-line comes from Disney’s Gnomeo & Juliet (in which the cartoon-bust of Shakespeare holds forth on how the story is supposed to end)…

Shakespeare picnic
arrived early to picnic

Several times during the play when the lovers went into their monological rhapsodies on each other’s perfections, he rolled his eyes and jokingly mimed hitting an imaginary “fast-forward” button (eww, mush!)—although when Juliet dissolved into very real sobs upon hearing of Romeo’s banishment, he leaned over to whisper the solemn observation, “She’s good!” (I’ll be curious to see if he has any interest in the Drama Club, now that he’s heading into Junior High.)

He’s wise enough to follow not only the language, but also the humor—he leaned over after one of Mercutio’s bawdier riffs of sexual innuendo and confided cautiously, “I probably understand more of this than I should.” And I’m okay with that. Yes, Shakespeare should probably carry an “R” rating–but then, so should some conversations among eleven-year-old boys, as I know perfectly well.

enjoying Shakespeare
I forgot to “warn” him that Shakespeare had a NAUGHTY sense of humor!

Last night I had as much fun watching Christian watch the production as I did watching the show itself. And I did enjoy the show. One of the dangers, I think, in a too-well-known story, is forgetting that it’s full of very real moments of emotion. (Just as with clichés in language—when a phrase becomes too familiar, we forget to notice the cleverness or evocative power of a word-combination because it has become too familiar…) Juliet’s agonizing imagination of what might await her when she awakes in a tomb, for example, is nothing less than heart-wrenching (when performed well—as this was) and her determination to overcome those fears for the sake of the chance of a happy-ending… Wow.

“All the world’s a stage…”

Christian didn’t have the tears on his cheeks that Keoni and I did at the end of the final scene, but he was fully absorbed. And (as always, with him) I got a kick out of his peculiar mix of kid-ness and adult-ness. At intermission he offered some insightful philosophical observations on the characters (in particular, drawing parallels between Friar Lawrence and myself) and then withdrew, turtle-like, into the depths of his oversized hoodie for “some alone-time with Dragon,” re-emerging briefly to announce with delight that he could see inside the sweatshirt because of the glow-in-the-dark jellyfish on his T-shirt.

I love this kid.

itch remedy
baking-soda paste for bug bites

Unfortunately, so do mosquitoes. The outdoor amphitheater by the river does come with a side-serving of bugs, and Christian woke this morning wondering if we had “anything for itches.” Not in the medicine cabinet, but… “Mom’s doing a Kitchen Chemistry series on her blog,” Keoni told him, “and I bet she can come up with something.”  A little research, and here we are: simple baking soda mixed with water to form a paste. Our victim guinea-pig reports that  his new itch-paste works just as well as “Dad’s pink stuff” (Calamine lotion), so I’m declaring this one a Kitchen Chemistry win!

Shakespeare tickets
a worthwhile extravagance!

Of course, the absence of “pink stuff” in our medicine cabinet is directly related to the general paucity of “green stuff” in our bank; it goes without saying that in the context of our uber-frugal budget, these three tickets were an extravagant expense.  But… so worthwhile!

Nor was it squandered on an unappreciative audience. Christian enjoyed having “his grownups” all to himself for an entire night. He asked if he could keep his ticket as a memento, and he buried his nose in the fifty-page program. He enjoyed Keoni’s picnic of chicken katsu and fresh strawberries and chocolate pie. He pointed out the first few stars becoming visible above the stage as dark dropped its blanket over the amphitheater. He chattered all the way home about the staging and the fighting and the characters and the plot and the Green Show jokes… And he is thoroughly pleased that the expedition arose from an interest HE had expressed. He was wired and wound up about Shakespeare—and his English-teacher-mommy was loving every minute of his enthusiasm.

I don’t yet know if we’ll be able to splurge twice this summer, but I’m keeping in mind that The Winter’s Tale is being staged in August—and that Christian wants to go. And that if we do manage to return, I’ll go prepared this time with some preventive Kitchen Chemistry in the form of some insect repellant! (Stay tuned—I’ll let you know what I find.)

summer solstice
Summer Solstice in the Sun

If a second Shakespeare-excursion doesn’t happen—well, that’s part of the Balance in our family life. A main contributing factor to the scarcity of “green stuff “was the decision (voted unanimously by the three kids) that having Mommy with them throughout the summer was preferable to having Mommy in the entrance-booth of the nearby State Park (last summer’s seasonal job, which I was offered again this year), even though Mommy-in-the-booth would have meant more resources-in-the-bank. When Christian observed at seven this evening that the weather was perfect for a walk to the lake, we were free to grab our towels without a second thought and stroll (past the unoccupied-by-Mom park-entrance-booth) to the beach, where the kiddos spent the last couple hours of this longest-day in the water and the sunshine.

Keoni and I were just reflecting that we’ll continue to enjoy whatever adventures and experiences do come our way. Writing the “Vitamins” e-Book not only paid for the Shakespeare tickets, but provided us with some informational resources for family health. When Elena Grace arrived this week with a mouth full of canker sores, we knew that those might be related to stress (their dad’s wedding last week?) OR might be due to vitamin deficiency. With the knowledge I’d gained in vitamin-research, we evaluated and switched the kids’ multi-vitamins. (Some things you don’t skimp on, even with a tight budget!)  And the Evening Out that was funded by the vitamin book led, in its own turn, to a little more Kitchen-Chemistry wisdom. As the kids say, “That’s how we roll!” Or, as Christian said this morning—stretched out beside me with a good book and no schedule-obligations marring the day ahead of us—“THIS is Summer, the way it should be. Family family family!” Even Shakespeare couldn’t top that wisdom.

Posted in Home

Kitchen Chemistry #2: DIY Household Cleaners

Here we are—the second installment of do-it-yourself products on my money-saving mission for the household… We got off to a small-scale but sparkly start the other day with DIY jewelry cleaner, which did an amazing job without the gagging sulfur-smells of commercial cleaners. And that actually raises a point I hadn’t addressed before. I’ve been focusing on the money-saving aspect, but the products we’re starting to make for ourselves are indisputably healthier to have around the house, and eminently more ecologically friendly than the chemical compounds we’ve been in the habit of buying before.

toxic household cleaners
We’ve been “cleaning” our home by saturating it with potentially harmful and hazardous chemicals… And paying MORE money for the privilege of doing so. Brilliant.

If we handled our household cleaners with the same care with which I was trained to treat chemicals in a microbiology lab, we’d have a thick notebook of MDSD (Material Data Safety Sheet) information, and the number of Poison Control programmed into our phones! “Harmful if swallowed,” “Irritant to Eyes,” “Corrosive,” “Flammable,” “Harmful Vapors,” “Possible Carcinogen”…  This is the stuff we use to keep our home clean and healthy?  Well that’s embarrassing.

In contrast, most of the DIY recipes I’m about to share are concoctions you could safely drink. Not that you’d want to, by any means, but from a health-and-safety standpoint (or from a Mommy-standpoint), that’s a striking difference!

By the same token, these toxic chemicals in cleaners (often even more hazardous when they combine with one another–which inevitably happens after we’ve washed them down the drains) are polluting our water and air and the ecosystems around us. The more I’ve researched this week, the more I’ve realized that my brain has been far more thoroughly “washed” than my bathtub all these years… In short, the “down sides” and disadvantages of DIY household-cleaners add up to a total of… ZERO.

cleaning supplies
My two main cleaning supplies: Vinegar & Baking Soda

If you’re looking at a switch to economical and un-harmful household cleaners, your two largest-quantity investments will be vinegar and baking soda.

Vinegar is actually a mild acid with antibacterial properties, recommended medicinally by such notable folks as Hippocrates and the prophet Muhammed. (A fun historical-trivia side trip… It’s said that during the Black Plague in fourteenth-century Europe, a quartet of thieves made a good living robbing the homes of Plague victims while protecting themselves with vinegar and garlic. When they were finally caught, the judge is said to have offered to let them off the hook if they’d reveal the “secret” of how they’d stayed Plague-free…) From a scientific standpoint, a solution of 5% vinegar (diluted with water) has been proven effective 90% of the time in killing fungus, and 99.9% of the time in killing bacteria. It’s less effective than bleach at killing viruses, but it also doesn’t pose the dangers of acid-burn or inhalation-injury which are common household occurrences with bleach. And it’s cheap! (And attainable with food stamps.) Good stuff!

Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, also has a long-established history of medical and cleaning uses. (More history trivia… A couple decades ago Arm & Hammer donated enough baking soda to clean the Statue of Liberty! No word on how much that project took…) The powder itself can serve as an abrasive for scrubbing and is often used to absorb bad odors, and its chemical reaction with vinegar makes this combination rate as a super-power cleaner.

If you want to make your cleaners smell better, you can add a few drops of scented essential oils. I haven’t gone this route because I’m not spending any money I don’t have to (although I am growing lavender this summer and hoping to create some essential oils of my own–I’ll let you know how that goes). In the meantime, though, adding a citrus rind (lemon peel, for example) to a bottle of cleaner infuses it with a nice citrusy scent—and it’s cheap!

As you make your new household cleaners, you can store them in the spray-bottles that used to contain your old cleaners–just be sure to wash them out thoroughly to avoid any unintended chemical reactions. (Cooking oil usually works to get the gummy label-residue off your bottles, and then you can make your own labels, or even just write on them with sharpies…) Ready to get started?

Tub & Tile Bathroom Cleaner

tub and tile cleaner

The tub & tile recipe is the only one of the household-cleaners that calls for Castile soap, although this ingredient will also make an appearance when we get to personal-care products (next installment in the Kitchen Chemistry series!)… Castile soap can be found in both bar and liquid form, and it’s the liquid you’ll need for this.

Dr Bronner's Castile Soap
Dr Bronner’s Castile Soaps

Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap is the one I saw most frequently recommended as I researched, and with a sixty-year history, Fair Trade certification, organic and all-natural ingredients, and different flavors if you want to get “fancy,” I see why it’s a favorite. Its basic ingredients include hemp oil and tea tree oil, with other essential oils for the different scents. I went with the unscented, which is considerably cheaper than the “flavored” variations.

To make your tub & tile cleaner, just measure out the ingredients into a spray bottle to keep in your bathroom.

Tub Scrub

tub scrubThe salt in this recipe (kosher because of its coarseness–or you can substitute sea salt) acts as the abrasive element to give your tub a really good scrub. Cut a grapefruit in half, put the salt on its face, and use the grapefruit itself as your scrubber. The abrasive action of the salt gets the grime off, and you’ll end up with a great fresh, citrusy smell! (And the peel can go into another bottle of cleaner to add scent after you’re done with the tub.) This also works, of course, on sinks or toilet bowls or anywhere else that you get cruddy build-up which needs an extra scrubbing.

Toilet Bowl, Drain, & Shower-head Cleaners

bathroom cleanersThe vinegar-and-baking-soda combination works its magic in various venues in the bathroom–so although I found these listed as separate recipes, you can truly just keep the two ingredients on hand in your bathroom, ready to use in various ways.

  • For use as drain cleaner, pour half a cup of baking soda into the clogged drain, followed by half a cup of vinegar. Cover the drain with a wet cloth for about five minutes, then flush with super-hot water.
  • cleaning the shower-head
    cleaning the shower-head: vinegar & baking soda in a Ziploc baggie

    To clean your toilet bowls, add a quarter cup of baking soda and a full cup of vinegar into the bowl, and let it sit for a quarter of an hour before scrubbing and flushing.

  • To clean your shower-head, fill a heavy-duty ziploc baggie with a cup of vinegar and one-third cup of baking soda, then use a twist-tie to secure the baggy over the shower-head so it’s submerged in the mixture. Leave it overnight, and run some hot water through it when you take your morning shower.

Rather than having various bottles of different pre-mixed concentrations, we’ve found that the easiest thing is simply to have a “bathroom-dedicated” bottle of vinegar and a Gladware-container of baking soda—along with a couple old measuring cups—under the bathroom sink for easy access and quick use.

Glass Cleaner

glass cleanerThis one I keep pre-mixed in a spray bottle, and it works on metal fixtures (polishing the faucets) as well as on mirrors and windows.

I follow up with the trick my mom taught me: the best thing for polishing glass isn’t a cloth (which tends to leave streaks or lint), but crumpled newspaper. It initially seems as though it will streak, but keep wiping until the glass-cleaner is no longer in evidence, and you’ll have a lint-free, streak-free, spiffy shined mirror!

Kitchen Cleaner

Kitchen messes tend to include oils–so the kitchen cleaner includes the grease-cutting element of dish soap. (You can also substitute the Castile soap for dish soap if the liquid dish soap itself isn’t something you want to purchase separately.) Measure your soap, baking soda, and vinegar into a spray bottle, and then fill the bottle the rest of the way with water. Using warm water will help the ingredients dissolve, and you might need to give the bottle a shake or a swirl before using, just to make sure it’s still mixed before you spritz your kitchen surfaces.

Wood Polish

wood polishThis is a recipe you’ll probably need to make fresh when you want to use it; you could keep the extra in the fridge for a while, but it won’t keep indefinitely.

Squeeze the lemon (strain the juice, or at least pick out seeds) and then add the olive oil and warm water. Put a lid on the container and give it a good shake–the water and oil will naturally want to separate, so shake it up thoroughly right before using.  A microfiber cloth with this mixture gives wood a beautiful polish, and it smells great! You could also use lemon juice straight from a bottle, rather than squeezing a lemon–although using a whole lemon gives you some lemon-peels to add to your other cleaner-bottles for scent…

Dishwasher Detergent

dishwasher detergentI’ve seen this recipe both with and without the citric acid, and with several different suggested sources of citric acid for those who choose to include it. If you have hard water, though, you’ll probably want to include the citric acid, which works to eliminate hard-water spotting on dishes and glassware.

lemi-shineFor the citric acid component, there’s a product called Lemi-Shine which gets rave reviews from users (I haven’t tried it, but it looks promising), or (the Food-Stamp kitchen-chemistry approach) you can use ten packages of unsweetened lemonade. Both the Borax and the washing soda (not to be confused with baking soda, though Arm & Hammer makes both) can be found in the laundry or cleaning aisle. You can use sea salt rather than kosher; as with the tub scrub, it’s the coarseness we’re after as a cleaning agent.

Laundry Detergent

laundry detergentTruth be told, I thought I’d be out of luck on DIY laundry detergents, because we have one of those machines that requires the more expensive HE (“High Efficiency”) detergents. This is good for both our power bill and (if we weren’t on a well) the water bill, but problematic when it comes to keeping ourselves in detergent. The appliance salesman, back when I bought the machine, was adamant that the HE detergent was not to be messed with, but I’d never looked into what, precisely, is the difference between the detergents. When it came time to look into DIY options, that was my first question–and the answer (happily!) is that HE detergents are low-in-suds (a sudsy detergent will shut off the water pump in an HE machine)–and the DIY detergent fits the bill!

Zote soapThe majority of detergent recipes I found involved “cooking” big pots of soap to make a gel-like detergent that can be poured into the liquid soap-dispenser of the machine. The version I’ve chosen to use, however, is much simpler–no cooking!–and results in a solid detergent instead. So I’m adding the detergent directly into the machine with the clothes, rather than using the liquid dispenser feature of the washer, and I’m perfectly happy to do that and save the extra hassle!

The Zote soap (along with washing soda and Borax) can be found in the laundry aisle of Walmart or a supermarket, and it’s also available in a scented pink version.

If you have a food processor with a  grater attachment, this recipe is super-easy. Without a food processor, you’ll be spending a little time to grate the soap…

A 5-gallon bucket is perfect for mixing (and storing) this recipe. We have a number of those around from the days when we used to buy soy sauce in 5-gallon installments for the restaurant. I’ve noticed that Home Depot also sells buckets this size, or perhaps you have one from a previous purchase of dish detergent or laundry detergent…

To create your detergent, grate the Zote soap, then add the Borax, washing soda, and baking soda, and make sure it’s thoroughly and evenly mixed up. A full load of laundry only needs two Tablespoons, which means this laundry detergent is going to last a long time!

Fabric Softener & Whitener

fabric softenerThis one is easy! White vinegar added to the “fabric softener” dispenser of your washer not only acts as a very effective fabric softener, but also whitens and brightens your clothes! You can use it in a color load (like “color-safe” bleach) and you don’t have the risk (as with bleach) of accidental spills and bleach-spotting, or acid-burns in clothing. A grapefruit peel added to your laundry-vinegar bottle adds a fresh scent, though I’m happy to report even the straight vinegar didn’t end up making our laundry smell like vinegar. I’ve also read that lemon juice acts as an effective brightening agent, and some people use a half-and-half mixture of vinegar and lemon juice. I haven’t yet tried this one (vinegar being cheaper), but I imagine the citrus-scent would be appealing (a-peel-ing?) as well.

pirate laundry cartoon
©Mike Bannon, image courtesy of mordant

To finish up your fabric-softening, you can substitute a couple crinkled balls of aluminum foil in your dryer in place of buying dryer sheets. The tin foil eliminates static, and can be re-used almost indefinitely.

Or, of course, you can save on your power bill by line-drying your laundry when the weather is dry and warm. (A clothesline is on my wish-list for this summer’s projects!) If you live in a climate like ours with strong summer sunshine (the Boise area is a “high desert” climate), you’ll want to turn any dark or colored clothes inside-out before hanging them, to avoid fading. For your whites, though, sunshine is an amazing “bleach!” My mother used to have an apron with deep pockets, in which she kept all her wooden clothespins, making it easy to pin up the laundry efficiently–so an apron like that will be my sewing-machine project when Keoni is installing a clothesline…

So there you have it!

Eco-friendly, people-friendly, and budget-friendly household cleaners… And although I embarked on this research project because of our tight financial situation, I’ll tell you right now that I won’t be going back to store-bought cleaners even when our finances improve. I love the simplicity of these, and it just feels good to do things this way. It’s a step in the direction of the lifestyle we want to be living–not because we’re crunchy hippie-types, but because health and environment matter, regardless of a person’s politics. Down the road, when our kids are finished with school in Idaho, we intend to open a bed and breakfast on our acre in Hawai’i–and one of our main goals there is to have the place be as self-sufficient and sustainable as possible! My dream is to have a grand total of two monthly bills–internet and insurance–and be providing our own power, water, food… Making our own cleaning products is just a little step in comparison to that goal–but a good step nonetheless.

children are making memories
Clean house? Yes. TIDY house? Definitely not. That’s okay–we’re busy LIVING here…

I have at least two more installments upcoming in this series: DIY personal-care products (shampoo and the like), and “kitchen gardening” (we’re starting to grow some of our own herbs, and working on a composting set-up). I’m also hoping, as I said earlier, to branch out into some “luxuries” like making essential oils from our lavender–so there will definitely be some more Kitchen Chemistry upcoming! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy some of these recipes, and I’ll welcome the addition of your own tips and tricks if you have some to share!

Posted in Home, writing

Food-Stamp Kitchen Chemistry #1: Jewelry Cleaner

tattoo commentary

I don’t know the original source of this newspaper clipping, which I found (wouldn’t you know) on Pinterest, but it speaks to some of my own feelings about tattoos. I consider my own tattoos as my permanent “accessories,” or “jewelry” with stories… Though (despite my love of sailing) I hope they won’t be put to use for “identification in case of need upon Land or Sea”…

I do wear some other jewelry, though–particularly some pieces with my children’s shared birthstone, which I’ve worn for years–and I’ve been making some jewelry of my own this week, repurposed from old pieces I hadn’t been wearing…  And that brings me, in a round-about way, to the first promised installment of Food-Stamp Kitchen Chemistry: recipes for household cleaners, made from kitchen ingredients. Although we’re deeply grateful for the state assistance we currently receive in the form of Food Stamps, we’ve found ourselves, at times in the past year or so, without items like soap or shampoo–so I’m currently on a mission to test out recipes we can make for ourselves, for those items we haven’t always been able to purchase…

Of course you needn’t be in our particular financial situation to enjoy and make use of these recipes, so I’m sharing in hopes that they’ll be useful to some other folks as well. (And I would hope it goes without saying–but to head off any potential misunderstanding, please allow me to add that the jewelry in question–and for that matter, the tattoos–were paid for at a time in our life when we weren’t in need of state assistance, and didn’t expect to be…)

Enough with disclaimers–on to the good stuff! I’m still in the testing-stages with many of those recipes, but we can start with a brilliant success in this make-it-yourself jewelry cleaner!

the ingredients…

What you need:

  • a glass bowl
  • a piece of aluminum foil, big enough to cover the bowl bottom
  • 1 Tablespoon of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 Tablespoon of dish detergent
  • 1 cup of water
  • the jewelry you wish to clean–metals, gemstones, anything goes!

What to do:

  1. Heat the bowl of water for a couple minutes in the microwave.
  2. Place the aluminum foil in the bowl.
  3. Add the baking soda, salt, and dish detergent, then drop in your jewelry.
  4. Let the jewelry soak for five minutes, then rinse.

I had an old toothbrush on hand, expecting some of the rings would need some gentle scrubbing, but I didn’t even need it. All the dulling soap-and-lotion scum was gone, and even the tarnished silver was sparkling (without that horrid sulfur-smell of the commercial silver cleaners I’ve used before).  Brilliant! Literally…

cleaned jewelry
As Rain Man would say, “Very shiny, very sparkly”…

Coming soon: laundry detergent, fabric softener, shampoo, hair conditioner, air freshener, dishwasher detergent, and more… In the meantime, Stay Sparkly!