Saturday, December 22, 2012

Homemade Laundry Soap

When I quit my teaching job to become a stay-at-home mom about 6 years ago, my husband and I found ourselves struggling to make ends meet, as we had literally cut our income in half.  I eagerly tackled the job of finding ways to squeeze the life out of each one of our pennies.  I reevaluated everything we bought and cut out any non-essential items.  For those items that were essential, I scoured books and websites to find ways to acquire these items for less.  Along the way, I discovered that making my own cleaning supplies could really help the budget. 

Money is not quite as tight these days, but I still make almost all of our cleaning supplies.  Now, instead of being concerned about money, I'm more concerned about what is in my cleaning supplies.  I discovered the companies that make cleaning supplies are not required to list the ingredients on the label.  I had no idea what toxic cocktails I was using.  So, once again, I decided to take matters into my own hands, since it seems there are few companies out there we can trust.  Commercial brand laundry detergents are often full of synthetic chemicals and fragrances, which can cause a host of allergy problems. Children's sensitive skin is often irritated by these detergents. 

I also started to think more about not only how the toxins could effect my family, but also how they effect the environment.  Think about this for a second - everything you flush down the toilet or wash down the drain ends up in our water supply (and then we wonder why we're all getting sick...).  When I lived in the city, it was easy to ignore this fact.  I would put whatever I wanted down the drain and let someone else deal with it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  But now, we live in the country.  Everything I put down my drains ends up on my land and I personally have to deal with the effects of whatever toxins I allow to accumulate there.  It's sobering.  We reap what what we sow on our land.  Now I am very careful about what I allow into my house and down my drains.  I wonder how different we would live if there were no landfills, no sewers or waste water treatment plants, if we had to take personal responsibility for ALL our waste, instead of letting someone else handle it... But I digress.

I discovered this laundry soap recipe and have been using it to wash our clothes for the last 5-6 years. It's simple, inexpensive and effective.  I make a batch of laundry soap about every 3 months.  With our dirty lifestyle (the kids are constantly covered in dirt, mud and manure... and I'm not much better), I end up doing about 10-12 loads of laundry a week.    I don't have the exact math figured out, but the bar of soap costs $4, the borax costs about $4 and the washing soda is about $4.  The soap will make nearly a years supply of laundry soap and the borax and washing soda will last about 2-3 years.  So that makes a whopping total of about $6-8 for a years worth of laundry soap.  Not bad, if you ask me!

This laundry soap could not be easier to make!  For years I followed online directions that told me to make a liquid laundry soap - grate the soap with a cheese grater, then dissolve it in water, boil it, add the powders, blah, blah, blah.  One day it occurred to me that I was making this a lot more work than it needed it to be.  Why not just use a powder laundry soap instead of liquid?  It's the same ingredients, just more concentrated.

You will need 3 ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup Washing Soda:  This product can be found in the cleaning/laundry aisle of most grocery stores. 
  • 1/2 cup Borax:  Also found in the cleaning/laundry aisle.  Most stores put washing soda and borax right next to each other.  Note: Borax is not the same as boric acid.  Check out this post here by Crunchy Betty for the lowdown on borax.
  • 1/3 of a bar of Soap:  You can choose what ever soap you want, as long as it's actually soap (check that label and make sure it says "soap", not "body bar" or something like that).  Many homemade recipes call for Fels-Naptha soap and that is what I used for years, until I began to question the safety of it.  I still think it's fine to use, but some other soaps might be a better choice for the environment.  I've tried using Ivory soap and Dr. Bronner's bar soap as well.  Dr. Bronner's is my favorite so far (and as bonus, Dr. Bronner's soap is available in all sorts of scents). 

Cut the bar of soap into thirds and place 1/3 of the bar in your food processor (perhaps a blender would work too?  Have not tried it...).    Now measure out 1/2 cup of washing soda and 1/2 cup of borax.  Dump those into the food processor as well.

Pulse the food processor to break up the larger chunks of soap into smaller chunks like this:

Now run the processor for about 30 seconds until you have a mixture that looks like fine cornmeal.


Done!  Wasn't that easy?!?  Now pour your laundry soap into a container of your choice.  I like to write the instructions right on the jar so I don't have to take the time to look them up.  This recipe makes about a pint of powder (I store it in a quart sized jar).  You could easily double or triple the recipe.

How much laundry soap do you need to use?  Well, that completely depends on your washing machine.  I have a front loading HE machine that uses minimal water, so I only use about a teaspoon or two of laundry soap.  That's right - a teaspoon.  I've always been convinced that soap isn't what actually gets clothes clean - it's the agitation that cleans them.  Using too much soap just causes soap build up in the clothes (and it's a waste of money).  If I have a particularly stinky or dirty load of wash, I'll add about a 1/2 cup of baking soda to the wash. 
I've been very happy with this soap overall.  But in the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that I have had odor issues with some synthetic fabrics.  All of our cotton and natural fiber clothes come our smelling fresh, clean and lovely.  I wish I could say the same about polyester clothing.  Sometimes the kids fleece pajamas get stinky, unless I wash them in super hot water .  I'm not sure what the issue is.  Makes me wonder if my kids fleece pajamas were always stinky when I used regular detergent, but the odor was masked by the heavy synthetic "mountain fresh" scent.  Anyway, it's not a big deal for me and if anything, it makes me realize that I probably should not be dressing my kids in synthetic fabrics anyway.  We're slowly trying to make the transition to all cotton/natural fiber clothing. 
So there you have it, folks.  If you're like me, always looking for a way to save a few pennies and make the earth a safer place for our children, then maybe you could give this a try!  If you discover you don't like the laundry soap, you can use the rest of the bar soap on your own body and the washing soda and borax can be used for all sorts of cleaning uses. You've got nothing to lose.  Happy laundry washing! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Love Does No Harm

"Love does no harm to it's neighbor" - Romans 13:10, NIV

When I set out to begin this blog eight months ago, I had thousands of ideas swirling around in my head. I was told by several sources that a blog should have a niche or specific topic.  This made sense to me, but I was confused.  How would I ever choose a theme and narrow my focus?  What did I want to write about?  Farming?  Homesteading?  Sustainable living?  Environmentalism?  Healthy living?  Stewardship?  Nutrition? Animal Welfare?  How could I choose just one?  As I tried to sort out the ideas in my brain and put them into neat little categories, I began to see that all these topics are intricately tied together.  Try as I could, there was no way to separate them from the tangled web they formed. 

But I began to see a common theme for each topic - they all focus on love.  Each one of these topics is dear to my heart because they reveal to me ways I can express my love for God, for my neighbor and for His magnificent creation.  Love is what holds everything together.  Love is what motivates me to "live well, live wisely, live humbly".  Love is the greatest.  God IS love.

Lately,  I have found myself constantly meditating on these words of Jesus found in Matthew 22:36-40:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

It was with great grief and sadness that I realized I have failed to follow the second commandment.  Wrapped up in my own selfish world, I repeatedly fail to love my neighbor... and in doing so, I also fail to follow the first commandment.  How can I love the Lord with all my heart, all my soul and all my mind when I'm so wrapped up in myself?

For the past few months, I have been living in a state of  deep repentance.  God has opened my eyes and allowed me to see how I was really living.  He revealed to me my selfishness, my lack of concern for the needy, my pride, my foolishness in seeking trivial, worldly things.  He crushed me, left me raw and ragged, stripped down to nothing.  Everything I once thought true was turned upside down.  All I knew was this - GOD alone is unchanging.  GOD alone is my firm foundation.  GOD alone brings life.  I clung to Him like a drowning woman.   

He ripped out my old, hardened selfish heart and replaced it with a new heart, a heart the breaks for what breaks His heart.  It hurt. Badly. This process has been awe-inspiring, gut-wrenching, breathtaking and painful all at the same time.  I've been a wee bit of an emotional wreck as I've sorted through these intense feelings.  My eyes have been opened to the suffering of those around me, the suffering of all of God's creation as it groans in pain, awaiting the return of Christ.  I've slowly begun to realize that every choice I make throughout the day can either heal or harm.  What I buy, purchase and use each day directly impacts others around the world. Did this $5 shirt I just bought cause harm to the person (child?) that was forced to make it in a sweatshop in a third world country?  Did that bag of apples contribute to increased cancer risk in the farmer who had to spray toxic chemicals on the apples to make them look pretty enough for me to buy?  Will my grandchildren's generation struggle to find clean water because my generation has polluted the waterways with all our trash and toxic waste?  It's enough to make your head spin, people. 

No longer am I living a life blissfully unaware of these truths.  No longer am I wrapped up in my self-centered, self-serving, me-first world.  No longer is life easy and carefree.  No, life is more difficult and complicated then ever.... but strangely enough, I feel truly alive for the first time.

I want every choice I make, big or small, to reflect my love for God and my neighbor.  And that,my friends, is why we at Third Day Farms choose to live with way we do.  Everything we seek to do is a tangible reflection of love - recycling, gardening, choosing to support organic agriculture, seeking out fair trade goods, treating animals with dignity and respect, striving to be careful stewards of what God's abundant blessings, being thoughtful about what we purchase and eat, attempting to keep our bodies free of harmful toxins.... all this and more, we do as a reflection of love for our God and our neighbor (and the future generations of neighbors).  "Love does no harm to it's neighbor".  Each act we perform each day can be a statement of social justice.  Each choice we make, each purchase we make, can help to bring God's kingdom to earth now, to display His goodness.  Each day we have the opportunity to live intentionally with purpose or to live carelessly, habitually and inattentively. 

Is this a lot to think about?  Yes.  Is this overwhelming?  Of course it is.  Do I make mistakes?  You bet I do.   Friends, I am far from perfect.   Am I hypocritical?  All. The. Time.  I can't help it - I'm a sinful human.  But my God is a God of grace, mercy and forgiveness.  He loves me just the same, regardless of my successes and failures.  All He requires is that I do my best and seek His will in all things.  There is no need to feel guilt, but I believe we should embrace conviction - it is good, it drives us to change.  Guilt paralyzes.  Conviction empowers.  We live in a world where we are told we should seek happiness at any cost... but I think we're short changing ourselves if we fail to grapple with the "hard stuff", those convicting moments.  Pain encourages forward movement.  Pruning results in increased and stronger growth. 

The verse below has become my mantra that I repeat several times each day.  I want to live well.  I want to live wisely.  I want to live humbly.  God has revealed to me that actions truly speak louder than words.  I'm sick of talking the talk, but not walking the walk, if you will.   Change is not easy, but nothing is impossible with God. 

"Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that matters." -James 3:13, The Message

So, what is the theme of this blog?  I wish I knew... all I know is there are several topics I feel called by God to speak about and it would be foolish of me to try to put them all in their separate boxes.  It's not possible.  So, perhaps this is simply a blog about.... living.  Thanks for joining us along the way.

Monday, December 10, 2012

My M.V.P.'s

It all started with a bottle of Windex. My son was about 18 months old and like every good parent, I kept all cleaning supplies locked up with the child-proof latches on my cupboard doors.  My son was a bit mischievous and I was taking no chances. 

One spring day, I decided to wash the windows.  I sprayed the windows with my trusty bottle of Windex and started tackling the dog slobber and sticky toddler hand prints.  Immediately, I heard a sucking sound behind me.  I whirled around to find my son with the Windex bottle nozzle in his mouth, eagerly trying to sucking it down.  A few weeks back, we had bought him a squirt bottle and filled it with water for him to play with - he liked to suck the water out of the spray nozzle.  Apparently, my son thought the Windex was a water bottle too.  I rushed over to him and snatched it away from his mouth... and to my relief saw he hadn't actually swallowed any.  Whew.  So fast.  I had turned my back for 2 seconds.  What if I had walked out of the room for more than 10 seconds?  What would have happened?  What if I had done the same thing with toilet bowl cleaner?

I'll admit it.  I freaked out.  It terrified me that something so commonplace could seriously injure and sicken my child.  I vowed right then and there to rid my home of these horribly toxic cleaning supplies.  Reading the warnings on the back of the bottle made me cringe.  WHY had I never considered this before?  Why did I wait until it was almost too late?  And WHY in the world do we think we need these horrid concoctions to have a clean home?  Our cleaning products are harming us!  This is ridiculous!

After some basic research, I learned that making your own cleaning supplies is incredibly simple, easy and cheap!  It made me feel stupid for believing all those advertisements for cleaning products in magazines.  The cleaning aisles are filled with hundreds of different types of cleansers, but in my opinion, almost all of them are totally unnecessary and some are downright dangerous.  After ditching store-bought cleaning products, I've become very sensitive to the toxic chemicals in them.  Just walking past the cleaning aisle (I can hardly make myself walk down the aisle - I actually hold my breath and walk as fast as I can) makes my eyes water, my nose burn and my head hurt.  And good grief,  please, please, PLEASE ditch the air fresheners, especially in bedrooms.  The last thing we need is constant exposure to nasty toxins in our homes.  I used to put them in our bedroom and wondered why my husband's asthma would suddenly worsen and he would get headaches.  I was poisoning him in his sleep!  Get rid of them.  Even the cute little plug-in ones from the cute store in the mall (I can't even walk in there anymore either...).  They are toxic.  They are hurting you.  Out, out, out!  If you want your house to smell nice, try some essential oil diffusers.  Ok..... rant over.  Where was I?

Anyway....over and over, these homemade cleanser recipes called for baking soda and vinegar.  And thus, my love affair with these two wonderful ingredients began to blossom.  Imagine my delight when I discovered that baking soda and vinegar have thousands of uses!  I began to call these two items my M.V.P.'s.  I want to tell you a little bit about the role these items play in our household.

You might say I'm a wee bit obsessed with baking soda.  Whenever I have a problem that needs to be solved "baking soda!" always comes to mind first.  Rarely has it failed me.  Here are just a few things I use baking soda for:

  • Washing my hair.  Wait, what?  Baking soda in your hair?!?  Yup, this seemed totally wierd to me too, but now I love it.  I no longer use shampoo. A quick scrub in the shower with a tablespoon of baking soda diluted in water leaves my hair shiny, clean and oil-free.  Way cheaper than shampoo and I get to avoid the nasty toxins in some shampoos. If you are intrested in this, try searching the internet for "No Poo Method" (no sham-poo).
  • Face cleanser/exfoliant.  Mix a bit of baking soda with water until it makes a loose paste.  Gently massage into skin to rub away dead skin cells.  Rinse off.  Ahhh!
  • Cleaning my toilet.  Sprinkle some in the bowl, follow with a splash of vinegar, watch it fizz (this never gets old, especially for kids.... or 32 year olds) and then scrub away.  Ta-da.  Clean toilet.  Now go throw away that nasty toxic toilet bowl cleaner.  That horrid stuff has no place in your home, especially if you have children!!!!  If your child manages to swallow some, it would burn a hole in their esophagus.  Is a sterile toilet worth that?!?  I didn't think so.
  • Degreasing/cleaning counter tops.  No need to buy Soft Scrub (and the yucky toxic chemicals that come with it).  Baking soda mixed with a drop of dish soap will do the trick.
  • Deodorizing carpets.  Sprinkle on carpet.  Let sit for a few hours (or the whole day).  Vacuum.
  • Cleaning up stains or spills on the carpet.  For wet stains, dump some baking soda on top.  It will absorb much of the stain and then you can vacuums it up.
  • Toothpaste.  In a pinch, wet your toothbrush and dip into baking soda.  Works great!  In fact, we ran out of toothpaste and have been using this method for a few weeks now.  Not sure if we'll ever buy toothpaste again!
  • Deodorant.  You can dust it onto damp armpits right after showering (it will keep you odor-free and fairly dry) or you can mix it with other ingredients to create your own deodorant.
  • Laundry.  Add baking soda to particularly stinky loads of clothes.
  • Baking. A staple item for delicious baked goods :)

Vinegar is my other M.V.P.  There are two main types I use around the house:  white vinegar and apple cider vinegar. White vinegar is used mostly for cleaning and baking.  Apple cider vinegar is for body care and cooking.   I use vinegar for:
  • Conditioning my hair.  After washing my hair with baking soda, I pour a bit of apple cider vinegar into a small cup and dilute it with water.  Then I slowly pour it onto my hair and scalp, gently massaging it in.  Rinse and you're ready to go.  The vinegar smell completely disappears when your hair dries.
  • Facial toner/astringent.  Pour a bit of apple cider vinegar (organic is best) in a bottle and dilute with water, about 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water.  Wipe on your freshly washed face to adjust your pH (soap is alkaline, vinegar is acidic) and remove dead skin cells.  Who needs expensive alpha-hydroxy creams?!?  Vinegar does the same thing for much less.
  • Cleaning my toilet.  See instructions above in the baking soda comments.
  • Cleaning my coffee maker or tea pot. Fill tea kettle with vinegar and bring to a boil.  Dump the boiling vinegar down your sink drain (sprinkle with baking soda before hand for extra cleaning power).  For coffee makers, fill the pot with vinegar and pour it into the coffee maker.  Run one cycle with vinegar and then two cycles with water to rinse the machine.
  • Deodorizing sinks.  Pour baking soda and vinegar down the drain, followed by boiling hot water. 
  • Washing windows.  All you need for clean windows is vinegar and newspaper.  Put the vinegar in a spray bottle and go to town.
  • Washing/mopping the floor.  Fill a bucket with hot water.  Add about a cup of vinegar.  The vinegar will clean and disinfect the surface.
  • All Purpose Cleaner.  No need for that toxic 409 stuff.  Simply fill a spray bottle with 1 part vinegar, 2 parts water, a drop of dish soap or Dr. Bronner's soap and 3-4 drops of Tea Tree Oil.  You now have a bottle of non-toxic disinfecting cleaner.  I use it on everything - counters, sinks, windows, wall, carpets, bathtubs.  Hasn't let me down yet.  Sprinkle the surface with baking soda first if you need a little scouring action. 
  • Removing lime buildup or calcium deposits.  Spray area liberally with vinegar, or better yet, soak in vinegar overnight, if possible. 
  • Fabric Softener.  Ditch those nasty fabric softeners and toxin laden dryer sheets! Do you really want to be wearing and rolling around in toxins all day? Instead, add a 1/2 cup of vinegar to your wash cycle.  Dry as usual.  Or better yet, line dry/air dry.
  • Rinse aid for dishwasher.  I use a splash of vinegar instead of JetDry.
  • Culinary delights.  Vinegar adds flavor and bite to delicious dishes. 
  • Egg substitute.  You can omit the egg in many baking recipes by adding 1 tbsp of vinegar instead.  If the recipe doesn't already include baking powder or baking soda, you might want to also add a tsp of baking soda. 
These are just the few uses that came to the top of my head!  Do you use baking soda and vinegar?  Anything new to share with me?!?