My Cloth Revolution

Over the past year and a half, I have been a Cloth Revolutionary at my house.  Little by little, disposable paper items are disappearing from our landscape, only to be replaced by colourful, reusable Cloth replacements.

The first step in our Cloth Revolution was the switch to cloth diapers.  We did this when our daughter was 11 months old, after visiting with some friends whose daughter was using cloth. The cloth diapers seemed so cute and cozy, and more “natural” than the crinkly perfumed plastic ones we were using. I was nervous about the workload, but found them not to be that much work. We have a small washer that plugs into our sink, and we dry them (as pictured) on our collapsable drying rack.

The main benefit I saw right away was cost. We went with cotton prefold diapers, which are about the cheapest you can go, and we used some high-tech fleece-lined, microfibre-insert pocket style diapers for night time.  I think the four night time diapes cost around the same as our two dozen prefolds with four or five covers.  It has been great not to worry about having to drive out to Costco to get the best deal on diapers.

My next Revolutionary Act was to replace my tampons and pads with a set of beautiful, comfortable, reusable Lunapads.  This was after doing some reading about how tampons have dioxins in them left over from the bleaching process, which can then be absorbed into your body when you use them.  Also, after having my baby, I found them uncomfortable to use.

As the stickers say, “I ♥ my lunapads”! They are so comfortable and beautiful. The nicest thing about them is that I never run out! I had bought myself an “Intro kit”, and then after using them for a couple of months, I got another kit to round out my collection.  It has a good selection of sizes, thicknesses, etc. for different stages of my cycle. My only disappointment is that I got pregnant again right after my second kit arrived! At least I know they are waiting for me when I start my cycle again.

Next I replaced paper towels with cloth napkins. On a trip to Sudbury to visit my parents I stopped into an adorable new store called Mimi & Lulu. They have all sorts of beautiful handmade clothes, aprons, bags, toys and crafts, as well as a selection of fabrics so beautiful I thought I was looking at a magazine or something. I honestly don’t think I’ve seen such gorgeous fabric in stores, ever.

The best thing (for me) was their remnant bags, a bunch of colour-co-ordinated fabric bits from their collection, mixed with some cute vintage finds, all for $13.  Inside was enough fabric (in the right size) to make more than 10 napkins, some of which I kept & use, and some of which I gave away as gifts.

It’s so nice to use cloth napkins, especially ones in such cute fabrics. They seem to add a touch of class to every meal.

Home-Made Toilet PaperThe next item is a bit more . . . unusual, and I hesitate to mention it in my first post on the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op, but here goes: the next paper product I replaced was toilet paper.  Well, not entirely, but I made some lovely wipes that my daughter and I use for #1. Being pregnant and having to drink a lot of water, this saves me a huge amount of toilet paper. I just throw them in with the diapies and wash them often.

Moving on, my most recent Revolutionary change was to make some cloth kleenex (tissues). Once again, so cute! Once again, so comfortable! I made them from some cloth I had in mystash, so I consider them basically free to me. We haven’t yet been through a major cold or flu with these, but I will report back on how they fare. I just throw them in any wash I’m doing (except for darks!) and they stay nice and absorbant.

Besides these recent changes, I have always used cloth rags for cleaning rather than paper towels or even J-cloths. It’s a great way to re-purpose old towels and t-shirts, and if a rag gets too dirty, I just throw it away.

For me, this process has been about saving money, being green, and more importantly, finding a better product to replace the cheap disposables in my life. If you have replaced something I’ve missed, please let me know! I’m always open to making more frugal & green changes in my life, and sharing them with the world.

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DIY Deodorant

I’ve been reading so much lately about commercial deodorants and antiperspirants: how bad they are for you, how many nasty chemicals they contain, how blocking your sweat glands is actually a bad idea, and how easy it is to delete it from your life.

Now, I’m not talking about quitting cold-turkey and walking around reeking like a hippy.  Not for me, thanks.  But perusing my favourite blogs over the last few months, I have found several diy options that the blogger claim work miracles:

Cheaplikeme has a recipe that includes cocoanut oil, baking soda and corn starch, scented with essentail oils

– a very fancy one on Angry Chicken that contains shea and cocoa butters, vitamin E capsules, baking soda and corn starch, scented with essential oils

– and somewhere, in someone’s comments feed, I saw that someone, somewhere uses just a dusting of baking soda.

So, I’m starting an experiment.  This morning in the shower I shaved my arm pits, which was a mistake.  Normally I only shave in the evening so that I won’t be applying deodorant to broken skin.  So with freshly shaven pits, and a humidex of 28 and long walk ahead of me, I went with the simplest of my diy options and dusted on some baking soda.  It’s also the most frugal choice, and the only one I had on hand at the time.

And what happened?  Well, I’ve been smelling fresh as a daisy the whole day.  I re-applied in the mid-afternoon because I was a bit sceptical, but it may not have been necessary.

So easy.  So cheap.  So non-toxic I even let my little daughter try some on herself after she saw me applying and wanted to do it just like mommy.

I’ve read in some places that people’s bodies “get used to” their natural options, so I might end up trying Cheaplikeme’s recipe too.  Especially seeing as I’ve already bought the cocoanut oil and all.

I was going to use up what I have before starting on this experiment, but since this morning’s first foray, I’m going to stick with it and see how it goes.  I’ll report back soon but so far I’m optimistic.

But don’t worry about bursting my bubble.  If you see me and I’m smelling something fierce, please let me know!

Frugal, Green & Clean

baking-sodaYou’ve probably heard all about the 1001 uses for baking soda.  You probably know that vinegar is a natural antibacterial agent.  You’ve probably even used the two together to create a volcano or a volcano-like effect.  But did you know that you can replace most of your household cleaners with baking soda and vinegar?

The number one tool in my house cleaning toolchest is my spray bottle filled with vinegar.  This guy cost me all of 99 cents at the grocery store, and holds about 250 ml of vinegar.

And what do I clean with it?  Nearly everything in the bathroom:

– sink: spray vinegar around the sink, and wipe with a cloth.  You don’t even need to rinse.

– toilet: spray all the sprayable areas, and wipe down with a damp cloth. Then dump some vinegar in the bowl–around 1/3 to 1/2 cup–and scrub until clean.

– taps and tub: vinegar leaves it sparkling

– floor: use a strong solution of vinegar and hot water.  No rinsing required.

– mirror: straight vinegar, sprayed on, then rubbed off with a dry lint-free cloth.  Actually, plain hot water would also do a fine job here.

For more stubborn things like bath crayons and soap scum, baking soda does a fantastic job due to its mild abrasive quality.  Baking soda requires a lot of rinsing though, so it’s easiest to use on a surface that will handle a lot of water.

Simply google baking soda or vinegar and you will find dozens of blogs and websites containing tips for cleaning with these two powerful agents.

The benefits of switching from chemicals to these guys are many:

– they’re way cheap!  You can get 2 L of vinegar, or 2 kilos of baking soda for under $4.  No other cleaner is so inexpensive.

– they’re multi-purpose! Instead of needing a different spray, cream or foam for kitchen, bathroom, toilet, floors, etc. you’ve got just two products that can handle almost any job.  This is great news for my fellow apartment dwellers with limited storage space.

– they won’t kill your toddler!  Or your pet!  Or you by inhalation of fumes . . . you get the idea.  They are both very benign substances.

– you don’t even have to wear gloves when using them.

– and finally, while baking soda is a mined product, it is still much less harmful to use baking soda and vinegar than it is to use highly processed, perfumed, chemical concoctions to clean your house.  Nothing is perfect, but these guys bring you closer to nature.

Next on my list to add to my cleaning arsenal: pure vegetable soap.  Clean and green, and apparently it marries well with baking soda and vinegar to expand your cleaning power even further.  I’ll let you know when I try it!

Shampoo-Free Final Analysis?

I’ve been shampoo-free for almost a month now (see my previous posts here and here) and I think I can officially give this one a thumbs up! Here’s the run-down:

Pros:

super, super cheap; much more environmentally friendly; non-toxic for me and Tiny Baby; I always have baking soda and vinegar on-hand and am unlikely to run out; hair looks shiny and is easy to manage; I seem to be able to go longer and longer between baking soda “washes”, using a vinegar rinse in between; did I mention it’s incredibly cheap?

Cons:

the vinegar does smell a little bit, though the smell evaporates completely once my hair dries; connected to that, my hair does not get that nice perfumey shampoo smell; also, it’s a weird thing to tell people . . .  Can’t think of too many other cons.

So, the final analysis is that it works pretty good!  I’m going to continue with my regime, which is to use the full baking soda and vinegar treatment about every 4-5 days or so, with a vinegar rinse in between.

As I mentioned previously, my hair might be a little different right now because I’m pregnant, so I’ll probably do a post-partum shampoo report if things change.  But for now, consider this the final word on the subject!

Laundry–final analysis?

So, after posting at least twice about how I make my own laundry soap, and it’s super environmentally friendly, and super cheap, and totally just as good as regular store-bought laundry soap . . . I broke down today and bought some regular ol’ detergent from Superstore.

What changed?  Just last week or so, I was posting about how great things were going: I made a new batch of goop, and getting my money’s worth out of my washing soda / borax purchases.

Well, the final straw was the tea towels.  It could be the humidity, or possibly my imagination, but my very best tea towels that I used to prize as being the very absolutely best tea towels one could ever hope for (from the now-long-defunct, but oft-mourned Caban), started to “smear” the water in a wet dish rather than soak it up lickity-split like it used to.

Also, though I very recently posted that the diapers were getting super clean and smelling like a fresh spring morning and all that, I’ve recently detected some odour emitting from them, especially when they are, ahem, freshly wetted.  They didn’t used to make that smell, but maybe some detergent residue has built up in them.

Some other things I noticed: the collars of a couple of my partner’s white shirts were still quite besmirched after washing; things have been seeming a little extra “stiff” on the line lately; and our colours seem to be fading a little more quickly than I feel comfortable with.

So I broke down and I bought a big box of Tide Free.  It wasn’t even on sale, but I had a ride to the grocery store, so I could bring it home without lugging it on the bus.

And how do I feel?  I’m glad I did the experiment.  I’m disappointed it wasn’t the magic bullet I believed it was for the last few weeks.  I feel a bit guilty about not even getting an eco-brand of detergent (next time!!).  But I’m also relieved to be back on a more normal track for laundry.  I was ignoring some of these failings for awhile now, so I’m glad to face and accept them.

I still have 90% of the last batch I made.  I think I will continue to use it, perhaps alternating with the regular stuff to reduce buildup.  But I will definitely avoid using it for my nice tea towels.

Re-Usable Toilet Paper

Home-Made Toilet PaperMy husband thinks I’ve lost it.  He says I’ve crossed a line.  The line between “frugal eco crafty mom” and “I raise my own pigs and recycle my grey water.”  Frankly I would LOVE to be the latter, but maybe that makes him uncomfortable.  If there is a line, I think I crossed it long ago.  But this?  This is just a natural extension of some other trends in my life.

First trend, cloth diapers.  We started using cloth when our daughter was almost a year old.  Our reasoning before that had been that we don’t have a dryer, and we don’t have a house with a separate laundry room so it seemed inconvenient.  But when I saw a friend’s baby with her bum hugged by soft cotton instead of scratchy noisy plastic, I was touched, and inspired to go cloth.  I’m so happy we did!  It’s been amazingly easier than I thought it would be, and it has saved us SO much money (not to mention environmental karma!).

The second trend is my Lunapads.  I did some reading online and got scared of what they put in tampons, and what happens when you put those tampons in you.  Also, after switching to cloth diapers for the baby, I thought, “Why not switch to cloth for myself?”  I did it, and I loved it!  It felt like a little treat for myself each month.

So, see?  This is just the next step in a long progression of reusable cloth products to replace disposable ones.

I first read about cloth wipes on the Lunapads blog, where they linked back to a Crunchy Chicken article about her experiment switching to cloth.  I was inspired!  But I was also lazy, and it wasn’t until a couple weeks later, with my TP supply rapidly diminishing, that I decided to sew some up.  So yesterday, armed with a template, some scissors, my sewing machine, and some super cute flannellette I bought a few months ago, I set to work.

I wanted the wipes to be about the same size as 2 squares of toilet paper, so I made a little cardboard template in that size and drew a bunch of rectangles on the cloth.  Next I cut them out, and then I zig-zag stitched all around the edges.  I got 19 from what was left of the 1/2 yard piece of cotton (I had also made some doll sheets & pillow case out of the fabric).  And voila!  The cutest darn pile of toilet paper you’ve ever seen!  Don’t tell me it’s not!

My plan is to use these just for pee . . . at least for now.  We wash our cloth diapers anyway, so this won’t cause any extra laundry in our house.  I’ll report back once I’ve tried this out for a week or two and you can let me know if you think I’ve completely lost it!  In the mean time, I’ll be singing “You can feel the cottony softness . . . .”

Laundry

I made some more laundry detergent yesterday, my second batch.  Once again I followed the link on The Family Homestead, and made about 2 gallons of detergent.  That’s about 32 cups, or enough for up to 64 loads.  It’s dead easy, takes less than half-an-hour, and makes for really really cheap detergent.  It’s also much easier on the environment than conventional laundry detergent because it’s made of more natural ingredients (borax, washing soda, soap).

But the big question is: does it work?  Well, the fact that this is my second batch should tell you something!

At first I found it weird because this stuff doesn’t really suds up.  But if you feel the water that’s emptying from the machine, you can feel that slimy detergent feeling and you know there’s something in there.  And it’s working!  Our clothes are clean, really clean, and no longer have any detergent build-up in them.

The thing that lets me know about the build-up is our cloth diapers, or more specifically, the microfibre inserts we use with our “night-time dipes”, our pocket-style Fuzzi-Bunz.

We had a history of problems with these inserts from the beginning.  Super absorbant?  Yes.  But over time they developed a strong smell that was activated on wetting, and very very difficult to get rid of.  I have actually boiled these inserts several times to try to “strip” them of their stink.  After reading about the smell, I learned that it is not that they aren’t getting clean, or that they’re growing bacteria; it’s from a build-up of detergent in the diaper which then somehow locks in the stink of ammonia from the urine.  The sites I read recommended “stripping” the diapers by running them through hot washes with no added detergent until the water ran free.

We did this a few times and were totally amazed at how much detergent was still coming out, even after 3, 4, 5 hot rinses.  That gives you just a small idea of how much extra detergent we were using.

And how much were we using?  Less than 1/4 of the recommended amount of Tide Free.  So although the microfibre inserts were the “canary in the coal mine” for us, what they indicated was that we were sending a whole lot more detergent down the drain than we needed to, leading to waste of money and resources, and more environmental harm than we even knew about.

So, how are our little “canaries” doing with our new system?  Fantastic.  For diapers, I wash on hot, using double the usual amount of our home-made laundry detergent (about 2/3 cup), and we do a double rinse on cold, same as we used to do.  And our microfibre inserts come out smelling clean and serene, with not a whiff of either ammonia or purfume.  Just clean.

And that, more than the money-savings, is why I love my home-made laundry soap.

Oh, and our other clothes are getting clean too.