Starting to run out of some of your household items? Don't panic, you can make most everything you need with just a few basic ingredients that you may already have on hand, such as:
- Sea salt
- Lemons (can chop and freeze)
- Baking soda
- Washing soda
- Soap nuts
- 0% Superfat soap bars
- White vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Fresh/dried herbs/hydrosols (lavender/mint/thyme)
The last time we bought laundry detergent was over a year and a half ago. We’ve been using soap nuts instead, even throughout cloth diapering and ranch living! They're an ultra cheap alternative that you can buy in bulk on Amazon (and it’ll last you years and is super easy to travel with). To help you overcome the slight learning curve, here are our top tips.
Tip 1: Keep at least 4-6 little muslin bags on hand with about 4-6 soap nuts per bag. We just throw a couple in the washing machine and they inevitably always end up in the dryer (if we’re too lazy to dig around for them) so this lets us always have some on hand. We find that they have a way of escaping the bags and ending up in the lint catcher, so we just occasionally stuff them with a few new nuts.
Tip 2: Add washing soda to every load to help soften the water and get clothes cleaner.
Tip 3: Spray stains (and cloth diapers) with hydrogen peroxide as you add them to the load.
Tip 4: Wash on the hottest setting any time you can to help eliminate odors. If we do a cold load we almost always add a cup or two of white vinegar to kill off odor-causing bacteria (since our “detergent” is truly unscented and won't mask these odors). This was probably the biggest area of frustration for me. Having towel loads and dark loads that smelled musky, especially in winter or during damp months. Sometimes it took a couple thorough washings with vinegar to kill off those pesky bacteria for good (and I hear wiping down your washer and dryer with vinegar helps too). It’s also why it’s important you dry your clothes as quickly as possible and don’t let them sit in the machine wet for too long.
Tip 5: If you have a load that just won’t get clean and needs a little more stain-lifting power, or if you’re washing brand new clothes and trying to get the chemicals off, you can grate up some 0% superfat soap and add it to the wash for a little more sudsy action.
0% superfat means that all the oils in the soap have been saponified, so they won’t leave any greasy residue. Most soaps are closer to 6-8% superfat so they won’t dry out your skin, but they don't work as well for laundry. I’d recommend trying to get your hands on at least a few 0% superfat bars, since you can also use them for dishes. If this is something you’d like me to make available in the shop, leave a comment below and I may make a batch to add.
As I explained above, 0% superfat soap bars don’t contain the excess fats and oils that most soaps do, so they work well for dishes, since they won’t leave a greasy residue. Use a 0% superfat bar soap and lather up your dish sponge or brush on it and it will last much longer than a bottle of dish soap.
I also recommend using all natural loofahs (also called lufah) for dishes. They’re super easy to grow, then just dry them and peel. You’ll end up having a huge stock of them and they don’t fall apart like commercial sponges and plastic dish brushes do. Plus, they’re compostable and contain none of those blue dyes!
We use a homemade formula of lemons, salt and white vinegar and find that it cleans just as well as the Seventh Generation powdered dishwashing detergent. However, if you don’t strain your mixture well enough, you may find a little lemon residue on some of your glasses.
I’ll admit, I’ve never been a fan of household cleaners. I hate chemicals and strong aromas, I usually just wet a washcloth and get the job done, but if you need a little extra power here are some useful items you may already have lying around for stains, odors and disinfecting:
- Soap nuts: If you’re using these for laundry already, just grab a few, add some water to a pot on the stove and let them steep for 10-20 minutes. Then drain and use the leftover tea as you would a normal countertop, bathroom or floor cleaner. I don’t believe it keeps very well, unless maybe you refrigerate it, but you can always use the leftovers as a natural shampoo.
- Baking soda: I’m sure you’re already aware, but baking soda is a magical stand-alone stain fighter. We love sprinkling our damp sinks, showers, bathtubs, counters, etc. and letting them sit then scrubbing away all the built-up grime. We brush our teeth with bentonite clay tooth powder, so our sink can get pretty stained, this always takes it out!
- White vinegar: Great for window cleaning, floors, carpet stains and wood furniture (mix it with olive oil). Helps kill odors, bacteria and cut grease.
- Hydrosols: If you need some disinfecting power, all-natural hydrosols are a great option (especially now that stores are all sold out of Lysol). Plants like lavender, thyme and peppermint have natural antimicrobial power, and are naturally scented if you like that extra boost of freshness. You can even use older hydrosols that are starting to go bad as a way of putting them to good use. Learn how to make your own hydrosol using basic kitchen items and your stovetop here.
- Loofahs: Again, we use our loofah sponges instead of commercial sponges and brushes. We don’t feel bad about throwing them out after one use since they’re sustainable to replace and compostable, but if you just use them on counters, you can keep using them for awhile.
- Brooms: This may seem obvious, but don’t overlook those old school cleaning tools. A simple broom, duster and Swiffer are all the cleaning tools we really use. We have a small, cheap vacuum that we use on our rugs, but most of our house is wood floors so we just sweep once a week and pull out the Swiffer for any serious floor gunk. An alternative to a Swiffer would just be putting a wet rag under your shoe and rubbing it out (a trick I learned from working in a restaurant kitchen). For everything else we just use old washrags.
I hope this helps you simplify your household shopping! What are your go-to DIY household solutions? Share them in the comments below and stay tuned next week to learn our tips for sustainable personal care items.