Perhaps it’s because I first started making natural skincare products about 8 years ago, or maybe I just run out of cosmetic products earlier but I’ve definitely made more progress switching my skincare over to natural products than household cleaning products.
So far, we are now using homemade handwash, bodywash, deodorant and toothpaste.
I did, once upon a time, also make my own cleanser, toner, moisturiser and lip balm but these take considerably longer and many of the recipes I’ve used in the past (particularly for toner) need to be kept in the fridge. So it’s going to take me a little longer to switch over to those.
So today I’d like to share recipes I’ve used for hand wash and body wash, and a couple of tips for using them.
Recipe #1: Handwash
1/2 cup castile soap
1/2 cup filtered or distilled water
1 tbsp vitamin E oil (optional but highly recommended for its antioxidant [=anti-ageing] & moisturising properties)
1 tbsp sweet almond or jojoba oil (in a pinch, or if you’re just getting started, you can use olive oil but make sure it’s extra virgin and high quality)
15 drops tea tree essential oil
5-10 drops lavender essential oil
Combine all ingredients in a foaming pump bottle. It’s important that you do get one of these (I bought mine from Biome eco stores) because the soap is very liquid, When you use a foaming pump bottle, it does the work for you, so the soap comes out in a nice little white fluffy foamy puff on your hand. This has a few beneficial consequences: it has a much soapier texture than the liquid on its own, you get a better lather, and you use less of the product.
You’ll probably need a funnel to get the ingredients into the bottle easily. Add the water first so it doesn’t froth up.
The essential oils aren’t just for smell. Tea tree and lavender both have antiseptic properties.
Recipe #2: Body wash
In reality, you could use exactly the same recipe as the handwash (with the option of switching out some of the essential oils for your favourites) but I made the below recipe as a gentle baby wash and shampoo, and I really like this as a body wash. It’s pretty similar!
1 1/2 cups castile soap
4 tbsp vegetable glycerine (this is important as I’ve recently learned glycerine can be made from animal fat)
2 tsp almond oil or jojoba oil
1 tsp aloe vera juice (optional: aloe is a great ingredient for sensitive skin)
10 drops of an appropriate essential oil (if making for a baby be sure to check which ones are safe to use and which age you should use them from)
2 tbsp filtered or distilled water.
Again, combine all ingredients as for the hand wash in a self-foaming bottle, adding the water first. Shake to combine, and give it a little shake before use.
A note on costs:
Most of these ingredients can be bought from healthfood shops but they tend to be fairly expensive. If you are planning to make several things yourself, I recommend you list everything you will need and buy them online from an Australian provider (e.g. Biome) as most ingredients will be cheaper online.
However, the initial cost can still be expensive, particularly if there are lots of different essential oils you need, as some of these can cost upwards of $20 a bottle.
At a guess, the ingredients for the hand wash would cost about $60… but you will have enough ingredients to make many, many batches. And the castile soap, which you’ll run out of the fastest, is reasonably cheap to buy.
Prior to making my own handwash, I would buy Thank You brand hand wash, which costs $7.50 a bottle. Except for the castile soap, each of the ingredients will easily make more than 10 bottles of hand wash that lasts about as long as a Thank You bottle.
So, without doing any calculations whatsoever (sorry!) I would guess that you end up spending about the same amount of money. But, the more products you make at home, the more you save, because you can use your essential oils across multiple products.
A final note: essential oils have a surprisingly short useby date. Usually a couple of years. If you don’t use them within that date, suppliers recommend you throw them out. Personally, I don’t. I keep them and keep using them and have found no problems arising. I think the point is they aren’t going to do any harm (that I know of) but they just lose some of their aromatherapeutic (is that a word? It should be!) properties, or, I think, some become stronger. I certainly wouldn’t recommend using any expired oils in toothpaste, lip balms or face products, and definitely not for anything you might use on a baby. But for your run of the mill hand wash or body wash, I don’t see why it would be a problem.
Let me know if you decide to give one or both of these recipes a go!
One of the first things I encountered when I first became concerned about landfill was an infographic that showed how long various items take to breakdown in landfill. Disposable nappies were listed at 500 years, so obviously, before even becoming pregnant I had already decided to use cloth nappies.
While pregnant, I ordered various ‘trial’ packs from a range of Australian cloth nappy companies, as well as a pack of disposable nappies (as environmentally sound as I could find but unfortunately there are no truly biodegradable disposable nappies available in mainland Australia) so that I could try out a few different types and make a choice shortly after our baby was born. If you decide to do cloth nappies, I definitely recommend you try a few types before you buy a whole set (though this poses problems if you want to avoid disposables altogether).
There are heaps of guides to the various types of cloth nappy online so I won’t repeat information you can easily find yourself. What I will do, however, is give you a breakdown of how this has worked for me as a first-time mum.
Firstly, it is really lucky that I bought some trial packs and didn’t just go blind and choose what looked the best online. Not only because the one I was least convinced by online ended up being the one I bought 22 more of, but also because two of the nappies I bought were too small to fit my son even from birth. (Yes, he was quite big, apparently, but not ridiculous!)
In the hazy first week after birth, I allowed myself to be convinced to use mainly disposables to make it easier for myself and for my husband… I was shocked – after 3+ years of only one tiny bag of landfill going out in an average week, we had suddenly added a (small) bag of nappies a day to that. Disgusting. Fortunately (or unfortunately) we ran out so much quicker than I thought we would, so we had to start using the trial cloth nappies I had bought after 3 days.
Please remember at this point that disposable nappies take about 500 years to break down.
Now for the honest assessment of how much extra hassle using cloth nappies is.
Yep. In comparison with disposable nappies, it is a fair bit more work. I pre-wash the really soiled nappies and cloth wipes by hand with a probiotic soap that I bought to clean my cloth pads with, which takes about 15 minutes, depending on how many there are, then I wash them in the machine according to the instructions from the manufacturer, which in my case are to do a hot pre-wash without detergent (on my machine I do 20 mins at 40 degrees), followed by a main cold wash with detergent (to which I add any other laundry).
It takes me about 10 minutes to hang out the washing. So this probably adds about 30 minutes of active work to my day, in total (not including the wait time for the machine’s cycles, obviously).
Half an hour per day, to me, is a small price to pay for the knowledge that I am not contributing hundreds of nappies a year to landfill.
And if you are thinking something like, ‘But… Eww! It must be disgusting washing those pooey nappies,’ then my response is yes. And no. To me, it’s no more disgusting than letting pooey nappies sit in a bin and start stinking.
Finally, having just come away from a fortnight using exclusively disposables (I hated doing it, but the rotavirus vaccine can shed live virus into the poo so I made a choice that weighed up a whole bunch of factors including how difficult I perceived it to be to sterilise the nappy covers appropriately when they are supposed to be washed in cold water), I can say another big difference is the number of changes needed. Honestly, I wish I didn’t care so much about the waste, because the type of nappy I chose (towelling) stays wet against the skin so I go through more cloth nappies in a day than I did disposables.
There is of course another factor that deserves discussion: cost.
Most cloth nappy manufacturers will tell you that using cloth nappies will save you hundreds of dollars a year.
I did the maths, and this is not strictly accurate. Of course, it depends on the brand of disposables you are using as your comparison, as well as the type of cloth nappy, how many you buy, and how long your baby fits into them.
If you go for the one size fits most nappies and just deal with a couple of months of a really big nappy on a really small baby, then cloth nappies will work out way cheaper than disposables.
However, if, like me, you preferred a newborn size nappy, then you will need to fork out for 2 sets of nappies. I compared the cost of a supposed ‘eco’ disposable brand with a full set (24) of newborn sized cloth nappies, which apparently last until 4 months odd (8kg). If getting 3-4 months out of those nappies, they work out about the same or a little cheaper than ‘eco’ disposables.
If cost is a factor that contributes to your decision between cloth and disposable nappies, do the maths yourself by comparing which brand of disposables you would buy against the cloth nappies you would use.
I would also like to point out that the commercial nappies (Huggies etc) are filled with things that I don’t particularly want on my baby’s skin… but, again, there is heaps of information online that you can read.
Check out what Hello Charlie has to say on disposable nappies for a starting point if you want to do your own research.
At this point, here are my two cents on the type of cloth nappy you might want to consider buying, having now myself bought the nappies that will see us through to toilet training. If I were doing it again, I would skip the newborn-sized nappies, because depending on how quickly your child grows, you may only get a couple of months’ wear out of them, and spending $300-odd on nappies for 2 months works out considerably more expensive than disposables. Unfortunately, at 9 weeks, my son is already pushing the size that I consider a good fit on those nappies, and a newborn sized all-in-one would have stopped fitting him weeks ago.
I honestly don’t think it’s worth getting a ‘newborn’ size nappy (unless you have a premmie perhaps), because they will grow to fit the ‘one size fits most’ nappies perfectly within a month or so and they are quite adjustable to work (albeit a little awkwardly) from birth for most babies.
Personally, having now tried ‘fitted’, ‘all in one/all in two’ and ‘pocket’ style cloth nappies, I prefer the pocket. The absorbent pad sits inside a pocket in the nappy cover and the fleece inside the nappy cover sits against the baby’s skin. When wet, the moisture wicks through into the absorbent layer much like a disposable, leaving far less moisture on the baby’s skin than a ‘fitted’ style. The ‘all in one/all in two’ styles are somewhat in between in terms of dryness, but they take so long to dry that they would be a considerable hassle during the winter months.
Having researched the cost of multiple nappy options, and with my preference for the pocket style nappy, I decided to get a full set of Hippybottomus nappies and I love them!
Now, I have to admit, I’m not getting away with completely waste-free nappy changes. Yet.
We have opted to use the biodegradable disposable bamboo liners to catch most of the solid poo (let’s be honest, you’ll never catch it all even if you duct tape your baby from the waist down). While in theory this could then be composted, you are not allowed to put human excrement in your local council’s green bin, which means you would have to compost it yourself.
While there are safe ways to do this to ensure the poo won’t transmit any viruses or parasites to you or your family, it is not a particularly easy or cheap task. I have compromised on the ‘zero-waste’ nappy change and ended up with a ‘minimal-waste’ nappy change. I use a homemade newspaper bin liner because the contents are entirely biodegradable and send this to landfill. If I didn’t have a dog, I would probably feel comfortable burying my newspaper and poopy liners in the back of the garden.
If you want a truly zero-waste nappy change, the only feasible way to do it (in my opinion) is to use entirely washable nappies, wipes and liners.
Now, onto the wipes. Using cloth wipes is easy, as you just wash them with the nappies. They can be quite expensive to buy but if you have even basic sewing skills and a sewing machine you can make your own really easily.
Hemmed handkerchief-sized squares of flannelette work exceptionally well and dry fast. My wonderfully crafty mum made me some wipes that have muslin on one side and flannelette on the other, and these don’t seem to become quite as stiff when they dry. However, as you need to wet the wipes anyway, the stiffness is a non-issue.
What to use to wet them with? Plain water. When he has a particularly pooey nappy, I use a homemade wipe solution containing water, apple cider vinegar, castile soap and chamomile and lavender essential oils and then wipe over the area again with water so the solution doesn’t stay on his skin.
I have a squeezy tomato sauce bottle full of water on the nappy change table to make it easy for myself, and two bins next to the change-table. One lined with newspaper for my nappy liners, and one for the cloth nappies and wipes. These cloth wipes wet just with water do not irritate my son’s skin like the commercial wet wipes do. (I can’t wait until my Aloe Vera plant is big enough to start picking the leaves to wipe on his skin instead of nappy rash cream, but in the meantime Gaia brand is my favourite so far).
Overall, while it may seem like significantly more work to use cloth nappies and wipes, I found I got into the swing of it very quickly. The one major difference this makes is that washing the nappies and hanging them out is a non-negotiable task that I must get done every morning – I have to do this first thing when I get up after my son’s first morning feed. If he’s unhappy, I put him in my baby carrier and bop around and sing to him while I wash the nappies. He can have my full attention as soon as I press the start button on the machine!
So, the take away from this post is that I wholeheartedly recommend cloth nappies and wipes. It needn’t be any more expensive than using disposables, adds maybe a half-hour to your day, and clearly makes a HUGE difference to your contribution to landfill.
One more thing: If you think you’ll use cloth nappies and not disposables, and if you’re happy to plunge into a full set of a particular type based on your research or someone’s recommendation, I recommend trying to use them straight away and avoid using disposables even for the first week, if possible. I really don’t think it makes that much difference and it’s probably better not to get used to the speed of a nappy change with disposables if you’re going cloth later.
This is, in my opinion, a fairly small step towards living more sustainably, but drastically reduces your potential landfill waste.
It may be a controversial topic, but in this post I am going to explore ditching toothpaste and commercial toothbrushes and tooth floss.
It’s all things oral hygiene, and I think you may be surprised by some of my recommendations.
Firstly, and perhaps least controversially, is to share with you how easy it was to switch from plastic-handled to bamboo-handled toothbrushes.
I signed myself and my husband up with toothcrush, and we receive 2 bamboo-handled toothbrushes every 2 months. Since we don’t tend to replace our brushes quite that frequently, we will be able to stockpile them and delay re-subscription for next year to save a little money. However, it’s a fairly cheap service. We are paying under $50 for the year, which works out to 12 toothbrushes. Roughly $4.15 per toothbrush.
While pregnant I told my dentist that the mint toothpaste was making me feel really ill. His response was to brush with just water, and said the action of brushing is more important than using toothpaste. This has given me the confidence to ditch commercial toothpastes altogether in favour of a homemade product, which I can’t really call a ‘paste’. I used the recipe available on Biome Eco Store’s website, (with the addition of cinnamon essential oil for taste) and, while it’s slightly more effort to get the product onto the brush and then into the mouth, the relief at no longer using toothpaste tubes (not to mention the questionable ingredients in them) seems worth it.
It doesn’t taste like much while brushing (personally I don’t find it bad at all, as the strongest flavours are salt – from the bicarb – and coconut) but when you rinse your mouth out with water you can taste the essential oils and stevia and personally I think it’s much tastier than bought toothpaste. The texture is what takes getting used to. You can feel the slight grittiness cleaning your teeth, but other than that it sort of feels like brushing with water. And it doesn’t foam up like a commercial toothpaste (but think of what they put in there to make it do so!), so if you have what I am beginning to realise is a fairly common quirk and can’t feel clean without a lather, this may not be for you.
Noosa Basics makes a charcoal and candelilla wax tooth floss, which works just as well as the commercial brands, but has the added bonus of being completely compostable. It also comes in a cardboard box – the only part of the packaging that proves slightly difficult to recycle is the metal cutter, but as per a previous post, you can put this in a tin with your metal bottle lids and recycle in your council’s recycling bin.
Okay, so most people’s oral hygiene routine probably ends there. I haven’t yet explored mouth wash, though a quick online search has yielded multiple options for a simple homemade variety (remember that commercial brands use alcohol which can contribute to mouth and throat cancer – though I would never dream of convincing you to give up drinking alcohol so maybe the amount in mouthwash is negligible when compared with my wine consumption). But I do think it’s worth sharing one last product with you, that could replace mouth wash. It’s called a tongue scraper, and no, it’s not painful or particularly gross.
Although I haven’t yet used mine enough to see whether it makes a difference, the reviews I’ve seen online indicate that it is helpful not only in mitigating bad breath but also in preventing sickness. If I manage to find the time while looking after my 2-month-old I will use it more regularly over winter and repost to tell you my personal opinion on its efficacy.
So there you have it! A complete introduction to reducing waste and unwanted chemicals when it comes to oral hygiene.
In keeping with my ‘step by step’ approach, and trying to minimise unnecessary waste, I decided to continue using any commercial products I had and to replace them one by one as they ran out. By chance, the first thing I ran out of was toilet cleaner.
There seem to be a few ideas floating around on the internet about how to clean a toilet with non-toxic DIY ingredients but they all seem to come back to good old vinegar and bicarbonate of soda.
Does anyone else have fond memories of watching or helping your parents unblock drains with vinegar and bicarb as a child? Or was your experience just the volcano science project?
Anyway, this method is slightly different and much less dramatic (sorry), but surprisingly effective.
As you may expect, you need to do a little more scrubbing (nothing beats elbow grease) than when using a heavy-duty commercial product. But, think about what you are using to clean your toilet currently (unless you’re already ahead of me) and where that goes once you flush it away.
So, it’s pretty simple. You will need the following:
Tea tree essential oil
Actually the hardest part about this was sourcing a shaker jar with holes in the lid so I could sprinkle the bicarb easily. I wanted something that would have a cap over the top to stop moisture getting in, but as I couldn’t find one easily I decided to put some dry rice in with the bicarb to hopefully stop it from clumping. A couple of weeks later and it’s still good so maybe it worked.
Fill the spray bottle with white vinegar and add a good 10-20 drops of tea tree essential oil.
To clean the toilet, spray the inside of the bowl with the vinegar/tea tree solution and leave it to sit there for about 5 minutes. Then, sprinkle the bicarb over the top (if you listen carefully you can hear a very slight fizzing sound, which is far from the frothy excitement of those childhood experiences but nonetheless satisfying) and use your toilet brush to scrub straight away.
That reminds me, I haven’t thought of a plastic-free alternative to toilet brushes yet… well, one step at a time!
Now, this worked really well for me for the usual week-to-week stains on the toilet bowl. However, one of our toilets had a longer-term stain from the water itself and I wasn’t able to remove it using this method. So in a future post when I have got around to trying out another more intensive cleaner, I will let you know how I go. In the meantime, enjoy pictures of my toilet. I thought it would be worth showing the before and after. Not perfect, but I thought there was more of a sparkle to it afterwards.
You can also use the vinegar solution to clean the seat and other parts of the toilet rather than using any other spray cleaner.
There you have it. My first home-made household cleaning product. Pretty easy, right?
So, when your toilet cleaner runs out, instead of adding another bottle of it to the shopping list, why not give this method a go instead? It even comes with a built-in 5 minutes of rest while you are waiting for the vinegar to do its thing!
One less toxic product down the drain is one more step towards a more ethical lifestyle.