Tag Archives: clean

Money (Saving) Laundering

This is not an article about how to make your own laundry soap. There are lots of blogs and posts out there that cover this.  I looked at one or  two, or a dozen, and have since made my own laundry detergent for over a year.  Not surprisingly, I have saved a lot of money–even if I spring for the more expensive Castile bar soap. In this time, the basics for me have remained: grated bar soap, super washing soda and a lot of water (my laundry soap version is liquid-ish–or, really, goopy-ish.)  I have made a few tweaks along the way depending on what I had on hand or what I have learned.  For example, I am having a love hate relationship with Borax.  Yes, it is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay.  I mean, asbestos and cocaine are natural.  Apparently Borax is really bad for your respiratory system, though I am not sure in what form it is damaging.  In any case, I am currently hating Borax and not using it. Also, sometimes I will sell my soul a bit and use left over deodorant bars from hotels or vacations instead of buying the Castile soap from the store.  But, hey, they’re free and would otherwise just be thrown away.

But, again, this article is not really about how I make the laundry soap.  Though, really, it’s so easy I can tell you in a few words.  Fill big pot with hot water; grate and stir one bar soap into water until it melts; add one cup of super washing soda and bring to boil for a couple of minutes; let sit until cool enough to not melt the container you will pour it into.  Seriously, that’s it.

But let’s move on.  What this article is actually about is how to adjust to those more challenging aspects of making your own detergent. First of all, it just doesn’t smell clean.  Store bought detergent is not only full of harsh chemicals, but also full of fragrance.  It’s that fragrance that is not only missed, but iconic and associated with times and places in our lives–and sometimes socio-economic status! Lisa Bronner in this article entitled Changing the Smell of Clean discusses the challenge of overcoming how we associate smell with things being clean. It is so ingrained that we do not identify that something is clean unless it smells like those trademarked brands.  At first, it really bothered me that the clothes just didn’t have a smell.  And I have to admit that when I go to yoga and grab the little white towels to wipe my sweat on, they smell like really awesome laundry soap.  And I was just at my mom’s this weekend and her sheets and towels smelled amazing.  Since I have started making my own laundry soap, I have wasted lots of essential oil–and consequently money–on trying to make the laundry smell my own kind of awesome– like lavender or rosemary or something.  In fact, this was truly the most expensive part of each batch of laundry detergent–the essential oils.  The rest was really pennies worth or washing soda and about a dollar’s worth of a soap bar.  At some point, adding more essential oils just became cost prohibitive–and in any case, it never worked. Whatever amount of essential oil I applied was washed away by the actual soap in the detergent. Which makes total sense.  (So just think about what must actually be in laundry detergent to get that smell to “stick” to clothes in the wash.  If you don’t believe me, just just out your favorite product’s grade on the Environmental Working Group’s website.)

I soon hit upon a solution to the problem.  Rather than focus so much on adding the essential oils to the detergent or the wash, I would focus instead on adding it to the drying part.  At this point, I was no longer using dryer sheets, either, so again, that fresh laundry smell reminiscent of a snugly little bear was missing. But when you consider that the dryer sheets were just applying scent to the drying clothes, you realize that you can do the same thing.  So, I mixed up a solution of water and essential oils in a small spray bottle and spritzed the clothes a couple of times before they were fully dry. It works! The smell lingers well after they are put away on the shelves and drawers.  And it has the added benefit that it cuts down a bit on the static.  You don’t need a lot of essential oils, either. In fact, you need to use them sparingly as the oils are often quite dark… and, well, they are oils–you wouldn’t want them to spot something.  So shake up your little bottle before spraying the clothes! As a bonus, you can change up your scents quite often and make it unique to you! My laundry room is right off the garage entrance and I love coming in the house and smelling this month’s or week’s herbal blend.  And, as a holy-crap-people-are-coming-over-and-I-haven’t-washed-couch-pillows-in-I-don’t-know-how-long option, you can use that same spray on your couch, pillows and rugs to freshen things up.

The second challenge to using your own laundry soap is that once you strip all that cloying scent from your heavily soiled items like bathing towels and sheets, you start to wonder about whether they are truly clean.  The home made detergent does a good job on normal clothes, but not these. That moldy wet smell just does not disappear from towels, and that sweat smell (from my husband–not me) never goes away from the sheets.  Of course, these are thing you can’t just bleach. And, yes, I know that bleach is really bad for, well, everything, but I just can’t find a good substitute yet! Anyhow, moving on.  In researching options to clean sheets and towels, I came across this solution: soaking the items in hot water for a couple of hours in a vinegar and washing soda solution.  I put in about a cup of vinegar and a half cup of washing soda. Then, rinse, and do a normal laundry cycle with soap–again with hot water. Since I started doing this, I have truly felt that my towels and sheets were fresh and clean.  Plus, drying them in the dryer and using the essential oil spray makes them smell even better! Keeping the sheets and towels apart also helps cut down on the amount of washing soda and vinegar you use.

The third challenge is that you can’t rely on one detergent to do everything–though I don’t know if you ever really could.  Or, you can’t reach for that chemical stick you bought at the store.  My husband usually presents some interesting challenges–ink on work shirts, stained collars, and grease spots. Each of these issues means giving individual attention to the clothes, i.e., you really have to figure out how to attack that stain–but that’s what the internet and elbow grease are for.  For example, on grease or oil stains, a little dab of dish washing detergent is a marvel.  I just let it soak for a couple of hours before throwing it in with the regular wash. For the ink on the clothes, I don’t use a special chemical-laden product.  I have found that rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab works amazingly well.  And finally, having the basic ingredients for making your own laundry detergent means you always have something on hand to deal with tougher stains like ring around the collar–I just make a paste with the washing soda, apply it to the material, fold, and rub the two pieces of material together.

I am sure other adjustments will continue to be made as I try to transition more fully to non-commercial products.  For example, right now I still buy soap to grate for the laundry detergent. It’s a fairly basic Castile soap though it does have some fragrance combo that is not identified.  I would like to wean myself away from that and I will be exploring making soap exclusively for the laundry detergent.  I would love to hear about your experiments and experiences, so please share!

Oh–and no women’s rights were harmed in the making of this blog post.  I may wash the laundry–which my husband swears he still can’t do because there are too many options on the machine–but he folds it.  And we all know that folding is the worst part of laundry!

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Can’t Touch Dish

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I have been experimenting quite a bit with making my own products, mostly for cleaning, though I have ventured into beauty products. Some projects have been a huge success, some have been failures (big ones), and others… I can’t figure out and have no scientific proof that it’s working or not working–though everyone on the internet seems to say it is. In a previous post,  I went through my odyssey to create a safe, cheap, green alternative to expensive and chemicall-y all-purpose surface cleaner.  That was one of my huge successes, by the way. I absolutely love the solution I have created.  If you missed that article…well I just linked to it like five times, so go read it!  As noted above, though, other experiments have been a little less successful, as you will see below. 

In this post I want to talk about the dishwasher and my quest for the right detergent. Let me begin by explaining that while I am sometimes motivated by avoiding harsh chemicals, in this product that was not my primary motivation. I mean, you don’t ever really handle dishwashing detergent, so it is hard to get a sense for its harshness.  It was different with the all-purpose surface cleaner where I was concerned about what was remaining on surfaces, what I was inhaling, and what might unintentionally get on food.  Also, I don’t have allergies, and quite frankly, have never even heard of an allergy to dishwashing detergent like you would for laundry detergent.  It wasn’t so much the chemicals in my dishwashing detergent, it was the cost. The stuff is expensive!  When my husband and I finally committed to our weekly grocery budget, I decided staying out of the household cleaners aisle completely would go a long way towards staying under budget. 

However, I put off trying to make the detergent for a while because my sister-in-law assurred me it wouldn’t work.  Shaking her head in her been-there, done-that wisdom, she said, “no, it leaves stuff all over your dishes.” In the end, it’s not that I didn’t believe her. It’s just that I had decided my situation was different. Maybe it was her hard water, I thought. (honestly, I don’t even know if they had hard water… that just seems to be the go-to excuse with things being washed or rinsed.) Or… maybe she had a different recipe. Plus, I had already purchased Borax and Super Washing Soda for Laundry Detergent, so I pretty much already had all of the ingredients.  And all these people on the internet said it was soooo easy and perfect. So, why not!?

Like always, I hit the internet and found a recipe for the kind of detergent I could mold into shapes.  These recipes were essentially the same as the powder detergents, but added a bit more of a wet ingredient to allow it to clump together.  Recipes on-line were all very similar. They all pretty much used borax and super washing soda and some thing for an acid–vinegar, lemon juice, kool-aid (yes, kool-aid). 20131101-130614.jpgSometimes recipes also used regular baking soda, essential oils, and castille soap. I went with borax and super washing soda, vinegar, and a dash of Sal’s suds–not castille soap because we all learned from my eco-heroine, Lisa Bronner,  in this amazing post that vinegar and castille soap do not mix. I mixed everything up until it clumped like sand for a sand castle and then pressed it into my little molds.

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I have these nice silicone cupcake cups that I used, though I have also used plastic candy molds. Both work well, because the little guys can be popped out when fully dry.  Depending how wet the mixture was, it would take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days to dry. Like usual, my science wasn’t exact, so it varied a lot. Sometimes I had a sloppy mess from trying to remove the wet detergent from a mold too soon, or when I put in too much Sal’s Suds. More often than not, though, the stuff hardened up and I could place them individually in a re-used jar. And voila! I had loads and loads of detergent for mere pennies.  

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I was so proud of my self.  I felt like I was single-handedly saving the planet and our budget.  But I was pre-maturely smug.  And this is where I feel the internet and many blogs often lead us astray.  They don’t really honestly explore the question about how well something works after someone brilliantly, cheaply, and easily makes something with their very own hands in their very own kitchen for the first time.  You can often get a better sense of how something actually works from the comments to post than from the post itself.  

In my different batches, I would make little changes here and there…more vinegar, less vinegar, added vinegar to the wash cycle, or sometimes vingear soaked in citrus peels for some additional essential oils. I also added sometimes added essential oils, reduced the borax, etc. It really didn‘t matter what I did, my dishwasher left most of my dishes clean, but also left a white deposit on many dishes. It wasn’t necessarily a film (thought sometimes it was) it was more like these white Rorschach-test splotches on some of my dishes that I would have to scrub off before the next cycle or it would get caked on. Was I putting in too much detergent? Or was I putting in too much of one ingredient into the detergent, Borax or Super Washing Soda? I put in less… made adjustments to all of it. I still had the same problem. I don’t have hard water or soft-water, so I couldn’t figure it out.

Still, I was stubborn. I convinced myself, and my husband, that it was not my beautiful, little, pressed pods that were a problem, but our dingy 15 year-old dishwasher. I felt sure that once we got a new dishwasher, everything would be spotless. So, we bought a new dishwasher (Aside–this was not as flippant a decision as it sounds. The dishwasher had not been performing well, was staring to leak, the nozzles were not nozzling and every cycle was leaving behind a lot of dried food particles. Plus we gave it away for free, so it lessened the guilt a bit about replacing an appliance.) We did not buy a top-of-the-line dishwasher, but solid, inexpensive one. I remained in denial for four cycles. And then had to admit that my dishwashing detergent was still leaving white stuff all over everything–though all the other problems were solved. We received two little Sample liquid pods of a name brand detergent that clearly did not leave the same residue behind.

I admitted defeat… except, that I still have some thoughts about this. Perhaps the trick is to make my detergent liquid–or buy a Bosch, which we did not do, by the way. Sadly, I will not buy a Bosch but I will continue to try to experiment with the detergent…partially out of stubborness, but also because the stuff I am now using isn’t perfect, either. I actually switched to store-bought dry detergent (previously I used a name-brand or store-brand gel detergent). The store-brand I now have is fairly inexpensive per wash. However, I have noticed that while it does not leave large white splotches like my home made cleaner did, it does leave a white, cloudy layer on certain items. Especially over time and on plastic.

So I am going to keep experimenting with making dishwashing detergent. I am not defeated.  I am going to look for a liquid recipe. I even bought some citric acid because it was super cheap and is apparently the magic solution to crystal clear glasses. Meanwhile, the little pods I made are actually great for an all-natural scrubbing agent, kind of like a substitute for Comet. In fact, I just used it today to clean the shower.  It worked beautifully.  I also use some as an abrasive to get the tea and coffee stains out of our mugs–because no matter how good the dish washer or the detergent, those do not come off unless scrubbed!

If anyone has any suggestions or comments, I would be happy to hear them! And I will keep you posted on my future experimentation. 

Take Your Stuff and Shove It

This weekend I had a powerful lesson reinforced: No matter how good a deal something is, if you forget you have it or fail to use it, it’s just a waste of money.

This lesson was not relayed in a subtle manner.  Someone who shall remain nameless is contemplating moving, you see. So some of us helped her clear out the kitchen cabinets. We had to throw away a huge quantity of unopened and expired items. Don’t misunderstand, we’re not squeamish. We all seemed to agree that many items could be consumed past their expiration date. But when things expired almost a decade ago, we drew the line.

This unnamed person grew up dirt poor just after the depression. She didn’t gather and forage in the wild in order to have free fruit to add to her daily protein shakes.  She didn’t gather dandelion greens to try the trendy new superfood.  Rather, her family canned in order to have food in the winter.  I can acknowledge that the projects that I smugly post about “sewing”are style over substance. And that the latest, newest up-cycle I pretend to have invented are likely things that this person did out of necessity. If and when I ever get around to canning, it will probably be so I can try to create a gourmet fruit butter.  I get that I am not coming up with new ideas. I do things because of the luxury I have to choose to do them.  This person and her family did things because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t eat.

It is perhaps with this mentality–the one that feels compelled to gather for future stores–that would lead a person to have accumulated so much stuff, particularly food. When I joked with her that she should open up a convenience store on her block, well… it wasn’t a joke.  She had enough inventory. She had so many cans of beans and tomatoes that she could easily have made chili every day for a month without running out of either. Yet, I bet this poor soul still buys a couple cans of each when she finds them to be on sale. I mean, how else did she end up with over 50 cans of beans and tomatoes. And at least 40% of the cans had expiration dates of more than a year ago– many more than five years ago. And here it was–the height of irony and quite a bit of dismay–rather than being the frugal shopper on a fixed income that she thought she was, she was really just wasting money.

We made an interesting discovery this weekend, too.  Over the years, she kept filling up her kitchen with cabinets and refrigerators…saying she needed more storage.  It got to the point where every surface of every wall had a table, cabinet, refrigerator or shelf on it.  Her kitchen had two full sized single door refrigerators, plus the freezer in the garage.  There were two elderly people living in the house.  Two.  That’s all.  Just two.  What they had started doing when they ran out of room in the pantry and cabinets and shelves was store stuff in the fridges.  There were several boxes of pasta in the refrigerator and several boxes of Jiffy Cake mix and corn bread mix in the freezer.  I’m sure there were other things in there that should have been in the pantry, but I was a bit stunned.  Mostly by the eight packages of american cheese singles that were blocking my line of sight.  Meanwhile, dozens and dozens of cans of vegetables and chicken stock were shoved forgotten in other cabinets.  Along with jars and jars of tomatoes and venison that were canned.  She later admitted that it has been years since she has canned (yet she still held on to four different pressure canners, too!)

What this person had been doing was extreme, but it is something that so many of us are guilty of.  We buy these houses that have an extra bedroom, or a basement or an attic–or even all three– and then we proceed to get so much stuff that we fill up each space until it overflows and we create a new space until it overflows and we finally declare that we don’t have enough room.  The truth is that our houses are not too small.  They are just too full of stuff.

I’ve written about this before.   You are not a store. You should not have inventory.  Whatever your shopping obsession, the first thing you must to is just stop.  Stop buying more stuff.  See what you have and get it organized.  Many people buy double or triple an item–or if you’re the person above, nonuple the item–simply because they don’t realize they already have one, or several. The next step is to start using your stuff.  Once you use your stuff, you will be conscientious about what you have and what you need.  Then, if you realize you have no need of it anymore, sell it.  Your stuff is just money waiting to be made. Once you start to get rid of your stuff, not only will you realize how much money you wasted by buying it in the first place, but you will realize that you don’t want to keep wasting your money in that way.

I have picked on various family members–but, then again, I have the blog.  Perhaps, in way of reparation, I will admit to my guilty addiction–though I have received counseling and am in recovery.  It’s romance novels.  You know the kind, with the half-dressed lady in a gown on the front and a dark-haired stud with tanned, muscled forearms holding/capturing/abducting her (not Fabio, though, that’s, like, my mother’s romance novel).  They always have names like “Tough Rider, Tender Kisses.” Anyhow, I had hundreds of them.  I am a pretty avid reader and I read quickly, so I would simply devour these books.  I hid them all away in a cabinet and shut the door.  I wouldn’t admit to myself how many I had…or how much money I was spending on them.  Sometimes, I even bought the same book twice (even I can admit they all kinda look the same after a while). I even re-read them multiple times, but still didn’t stop buying one or two, or several, a month.

Then my husband and I agreed to purge our stuff and I made serious efforts to sell them.  Well, actually, he gave me a Nook for Christmas and strongly hinted that the books had to go.  In any case, I tried every trick in the book to make some money back on these.  For the thousands of dollars that I spent over the course of several years, I probably only made back around three hundred.  Maybe. I am, perhaps, being a little too kind to my folly. This taught me everything I talked about above. In the end,  I realized how much money I had spent in the past and I decided not to throw away that much money again.  I am now happily checking out eBooks from the library. They are free and don’t take up any space.  Plus, I don’t have to feel sheepish about reading a book with two half-naked people on the cover.

Going Paper(towel)less

I always considered myself a rebel within my family for buying cheap paper towels. My sis, for example, is a paper towel snob and always has nice, thick paper towels. My mom, while not as particular, was fanatical about keeping them in the house, always. Her day would be immediately ruined if she realized that she was out of paper towels. I was somewhere much further down the spectrum (towards the less crazy end) but sheepishly admit that I never considered giving them up–even my really cheap, thin ones.

As I assessed the paper waste I was producing, I realized that paper towels were a sizable chunk. So I decided to make the commitment to using less. The obvious solution was switching to washable towels.

I resisted this idea for quite a long time because I bought into the idea that re-used towels would just be spreading germs all over the place. Modern marketing has done its job on me. (I mean, when I saw the new disposable towels for the bathroom, I thought for the briefest moment that I had to have them. But seriously, is it that much work to change out the bathroom hand towel? And for the most part, it’s just me and my husband…and we do things a lot more personal than share hand towels, so…no, I did not have to have this new product.)

My first foray into replacing disposable paper towels was a failure. I was in a neat, little shop I frequently frequented and came upon this seemingly brilliant product: Jagneus Design dish cloths. The product came in a pack of three, was eco-friendly and a bit over-priced, so I thought, “this has to be good!” Plus, is was Swedish, and they make nice things, right? The idea with these is that you use them, wash them, and when you are done, they are compostable. They are made of cotton and cellulose.

The problem was that they were incredible stiff unless fully wet, and I was trying to avoid constantly wet towels. Even if they were supposed to dry quickly, quick wasn’t a few minutes. So you were constantly messing with a wet towel, or a stiff towel. Maybe I just didn’t “get” them, but they weren’t for me. I don’t feel bad about this. The company seems to do just fine, and they should…charging what they do for a dish towel.

So I spent the same amount of money at Kohl’s and got a pack of 12, 100% cotton towels. They were just like the face towels I had purchased a couple years before, except in the kitchen section. And from I understand, these kind of towels are bio-degradable as well. Though on this issue, I will follow up because I am a bit skeptical.

As to my transition, I have certain rules. This section is for friends that come over so you don’t think I have a gross house. I have plenty of towels so that I don’t run out before I wash the lot of them, which is about every two weeks. I basically use a different towel every day. I only use counter towels for the counter and floor towels for the floor and I don’t use them for drying dishes. If I wipe up milk or clean up after meat, the towel goes in the dirty bin right away. The towels are never allowed to sit there sopping wet. To me, wet equals a bacteria breeding ground.

The pack of twelve set me back about $10 and I had some random other small towels, though I know it can be done more cheaply with a bit more investigation and planning. I am not counting the money spent on the Jagneus product– I am going to consider that as a donation to a green company. Anyhow, seeing as how I was going through a roll of paper towels a week, at about a buck if i was lucky, and now one roll lasts approximately a month, I feel that it is a worthwhile investment and a valuable effort. I’m not down to zero paper towels because every once in a while there is the warm cat puke or gross thing that comes out of the clogged drain that I just don’t want to mess with, and I tend not to buy napkins, which my mom just doesn’t understand. I am doing better, which meets my goal: to keep improving and reducing.