Life's Little Details: Knitting, Sewing, Green Living, Frugal Living and Cooking In A Little Corner of Southern French Countryside.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Little Dirty Laundry

I know you're hoping for some juicy secrets or something kinky, but come on, I'm married - with two kids (and let's not forget that I'm over 6 months pregnant). So, obviously, and perhaps pathetically, I am going to actually talk about laundry... again.

Nonnahs asked for more specifics on the eco-friendly laundry stuff. So, here are some recommendations and recipes I've come across in the past couple of years of trying to find things.

Vinegar does so many good things, but here are a few I've tried and liked the results of:

* fabric softener (those goopy liquids and the dryer sheets are bad for the environment as well as your dryer - after you stop using them, clean your lint screen with a toothbrush (preferably not the one you're currently using) and warm, soapy water to get the residue off. The machine will work much more efficiently, saving time and money in energy costs): Add a couple of drops of essential oil (lavender or citrus is nice) to a liter bottle (or whatever size) of white distilled vinegar for a nice smell. Add this to your wash instead of fabric softener. It won't work for static cling, but I don't really mind that much, since most of our clothes are cotton. The reason this works is that vinegar is good for cutting calcium deposit in water. That calcium is what is in hard water that makes it hard. The vinegar keeps it from layering itself on the clothes and inside the machine.

* reduces the size of acne boils when applied with a cotton ball (stings, though)
* works to remove greasy grime from stovetop.
* removes hard water deposits from water pitchers and tea kettles
* a liter in the washing machine on its hottest cycle cleans out the machine's drum and pipes
* I'm also thinking of trying vinegar in the dishwasher instead of rinse liquid once I run out of the one I purchased last.

There are tons more things to do with vinegar that I haven't tried but will once I receive this book.

Then, there's baking soda, which whitens laundry and makes a great scouring powder when used with something acidic like vinegar or lemon juice. One great trick for whitening a dirty sink without using bleach is to rub a used half of a lemon (or however many used halves it takes) on the sink. Let sit. Add baking soda. Scrub with sponge. Works pretty well for something so cheap and so environmentally friendly (it's actually edible, though I wouldn't recommend licking it off the sink - rinsing would do fine). I'll also be learning more about the many uses for baking soda when this book, also by Vicki Lansky, arrives.

To replace your automatic dishwasher soap, use straight borax if you have soft water. If you have hard water, add some washing soda (not to be confused with baking soda) into the borax until you get the right mix. I haven't tried this one yet, since I still have a bit of my pricey, store-bought, eco-friendly stuff left, but I will when it runs out.

Then, really quickly, before I take the little Lambchops outside, here is a link to some recipes for your own powdered or liquid laundry detergent. Just a little warning: the bar soap they use is apparently pretty harsh on skin (but you can use milder soaps, if you want), so careful with that, and the borax and washing soda are caustic (can cause chemical burns), so I suggest using gloves and doing your mixing outdoors to avoid breathing in the powder (I even wore a little dust mask just in case). Then, when using the powdered detergent, I'd recommend a scoop with a handle so you come in contact with it as little as possible. Don't be freaked out, though, because at least these ingredients are fine for the environment, and if you look at the box of detergent you usually buy, you'll most likely find it's labeled as an irritant, too.

As a side note, there is a little work involved in mixing up the detergents (like grating a bar of soap), but to me, it's worth it for the economizing you're doing (notice you use less because it doesn't have a bunch of fillers like the store-bought kind often do) and the fact that it's not bad for the environment. Also notice you can add essential oils to the liquid soap, if desired.

If you're like me, you've never actually thought to purchase some of these ingredients before, but they are most likely in your local grocery store (if you're in the US) at a really cheap price. They say you can find the borax and the washing soda (Arm and Hammer brand, apparently) in the detergent aisle somewhere. The Fels Haptha soap, I'm not sure about, but it'll be with the regular bar soaps or with the detergents.

Have fun playing home-chemist, and happy Spring cleaning!