I haven’t always been good about taking care of my clothes. When I was a kid, it felt like clothes grew on trees—they just seemed to magically appear (thanks in part to the steady stream of hand-me-downs from three older siblings)—so why think too much about them?
Big huge reason one: buying new stuff all the time keeps you in a wasteful cycle (and keeps you sad, more on that later).
Big huge reason two: Keeping demand of cheap, hastily made “fast fashion” means companies are more likely to exploit their cheap labor, use cheap and gross chemicals and fabrics, and pocket all your money with one of those big fat cat moneybags laughs (I assume).
Laundering your clothes with care includes folding, using the right temperature (always cold, my dudes), and line drying the fragile stuff. Taking the time to fold well and hang what needs to be hung also gives you a chance to inspect clothes for tears and loose threads. And of course, always mend when you can versus throwing something out.
But there’s another big huge reason to look more closely at how you’re cleaning your clothes. Most detergents are terrible!
Commercial detergents often contain synthetic chemicals, dyes, and fragrances. Water from our washers and dishwashers gets dumped into the river, which ends up in the ocean. Detergent chemicals help overload water with nutrients that skew the balance in aquatic ecosystems and cause increasingly problematic dead zones for marine life. You want a non-hippie reason? Fishing and other river, bay, and ocean-related industries make up a lot of our region’s economic livelihood.
But it works so well on my clothes!
A lot of that is weird trickery. Many commercial brands of detergent use “optical brighteners” on fabric that makes our eyes see brighter colors. Repeat after me: synthetic chemicals aren’t good for your clothing, the planet, or your skin.
What does one do about this?
I got into biodegradable Charlie’s Soap Powder when I was using cloth diapers for my infant. You can’t use detergent on those because all those dumb chemicals make the fabric less absorbent. Not good for diapers. I eventually started using Charlie’s for every type of laundry and quickly figured out that my clothes felt better, got just as clean, and I saved money and reduced waste in the process.
Here are some solid reviews of other legit detergents or, and you knew this was coming, you can make your own!
Cheap, green, effective, and dead easy laundry powder
I found a million recipes for homemade laundry powder and they were almost all the same:
1 bar unscented castile soap
1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda (aka sodium carbonate)
Grate the bar of soap on a grater. Mix with other ingredients. Add a couple drops of essential oil for scent if you like (I prefer to let my perfume do the talking, thank you very much).
Mix it all up very well. Use a teaspoon per full load, and don’t be tempted to use more. You won’t need it.
I put mine in my old Charlie’s bag, with its existing handy scoop. Then I tried to do a cost analysis...but I’m not a mathematician and I had so much washing soda and borax left, that I can only say it was “extremely cheap.”
The only waste I generated with this particular batch (since I bought in bulk for the other two ingredients). No good, Kirk’s! Make it paper!
To the test
If you’re aware of six-year-old boys, you might be aware that they are constantly covered in dirt. I have one of those, so I tested out my new powder on his grimy clothes. Voila, it worked like a charm. Ditto for my delicates and towels.
I’m giving everyone homemade laundry powder for holiday gifts and I will lose a bunch of friends but save so many fish. You’re welcome, fish.
Next time: What to do about dry cleaning!
Plastic does not budge.
We all know deep down in our hearts that the great majority of the plastic we’ve used in our lifetimes is still sitting around somewhere, but we keep buying it and buying it and throwing it out and throwing it out, and because it’s out of sight, it’s also out of mind, leaving us free to want more plastic.
Let’s leave landfills out of it for now (although new evidence says that America’s could be full in 13 years, great!), and talk about the ocean.
A plastic bag was just found in the Mariana Trench, aka the deepest point in the world. Millions of us could literally assemble on the giant islands of water bottles and drinking straws that float upon the sea—and I assume once we assemble there we would just...stand around and cry?
Sure, you can (and should) recycle some kinds of plastic but what about the other stuff that you can’t recycle? And the plastic you use at restaurants? Stores? Packaging? And how much plastic actually turns into useful things?
If you simply bring less plastic into your world, you don’t have to worry about it ending up in the stomach of a doomed dolphin. And as cute as dolphins are, it’s not just about them. Destroying marine eco-systems affects us like crazy.
Here’s my list of ways I’ve reduced plastic in and out of my home. I didn’t do it overnight, but after every step, it felt easier and easier.
- Drinking straws are almost always unnecessary. Ask for no straw with your water, and use the magic of your elbow and wrist joints to put the drink to your mouth. Or, carry a stainless steel straw around with you if you must. A growing tide of people refusing straws not only means that a restaurant will have to order straws a lot less, but also they’re hearing a powerful message.
- Carry a reusable water bottle with you and avoid idly accepting plastic water bottles at parties, meetings, and other functions.
- Swear off plastic wrap. This one actually was tough for me because I cook and bake incessantly, but I found Bees Wrap and so far, so good
- Swear off Ziploc bags. But before you do, wash and reuse the ones you have—the big gallon freezer ones can be used like a thousand times before they bite the dust. Use glass, not plastic, storage containers and you’ll never look back.
- Think hard about packaging. It takes extra work to find alternatives to products that come in plastic packaging, but the internet is a wonderful place. Here’s a shop that gave me some good ideas, and a lot of the brands they carry are available in other places, too.
- Get a fountain pen. Bear with me, but they make you write beautifully and I’ve had the same one for 30 years, because I was a strange child and enjoyed things like this.
- Make a no plastic bag vow. My partner and I did this a couple years ago and it was way easier than we thought. Buying things at CVS? No bag, please. Here for groceries? Got my own bag, thanks. It becomes second nature, and hopefully it’ll stop cashiers from automatically putting the one greeting card you just bought into a useless bag.
- Buy the right fabrics. Synthetic fabric is basically plastic (not to mention bad for your skin and the environment, it’s uncomfortable and often super ugly). Spring for organic, natural fibers like cotton, take care of your clothes, and watch your sartorial world change.
- Get used anything whenever possible. The best way to get a new thing without being wasteful is to get a thing that already existed for someone else. It saves you money, feels super satisfying, and keeps them from throwing it away. Learn the ways of eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace (a new goldmine), and the like. Sell your own stuff on there, too.
- Do research. There are so many non-plastic or reusable alternatives that more often than not, work ten times better than the cheap stuff you’re used to and in the long run, cost you less money. I found the following just from asking around: These sponges, compostable dental floss (yes!), and, a thing we should not be afraid to talk about, products for healthy, happy female bodies.
- Regarding kids, just...do your best. This is the toughest one for me, as my child’s extended family loves to shower him with items. I try to get used when possible, drag him to scary exhibits about plastic in oceans (thanks, Science Museum of Virginia! That one that time really made an actual impression), and talk a TON about the environment in my house. Sometimes it still feels like I’m fighting a tidal wave of colorful plastic from the world outside my immediate environs, but I hope I’m setting an example of someone who buys quality things only when they need them and lives a life without tiny tchotchkes, stocking stuffers, and party favors.
If you’re looking around your house with dismay, do not panic. Doing these things one at a time is the way to go, and soon it’ll be second nature. Use up the stuff you have, dispose of it as best you can, and try to keep that dolphin—or, you know, future generations of humans—in mind.
Living Green Values
The first thing I’ve learned from the folks at World Class Cleaning is how much I hate cleaning. When Stephanie first came over to check out my house, I kept apologetically explaining that I’m just really busy, and she kept (politely) telling me to chill. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing something that you’re not good at, don’t feel like spending your weekends doing, hate nagging your family about, and generally never want to have to think about ever again.
But the second thing I learned was the value of a green clean. Not just from Stephanie, who believes it’s not just good for the planet, it’s good for her employees, and good for her clients, but the constant reading and writing I do in my profession, media. Sure, I recycled and tried to buy organic, but if I’m being honest, that was the extent of it. But that twinge of satisfaction in knowing that you (or, sometimes, the person you have carefully chosen to do the thing for you!) have done just a little extra to make the world better—frankly, it’s addicting.
Friends, my addiction has taken over. I started looking at other parts of my life—the things I buy, the things I make, and, most importantly, the things I throw away. And without even realizing it, I was slowly, one step at a time, changing aspects of my lifestyle, and clearing a lot of mental clutter in the process. Yes, I still vote my environmental conscience, and yes, I am aware that it’s going to take huge societal and legislative actions to make a significant difference in the health of humanity. In the meantime, though, there’s absolutely no excuse for not living my values.
Plus, it’s super fun, as I am about to demonstrate.
This series will focus on practical steps to reduce your footprint—stuff you can truly do without too much of a financial investment. I’ve found that steps are the most important concept. Try to do it all at once, and you’ll just frustrate yourself and empty your bank account, but one little part of your life at a time, and progress is made.
Episode 1: Composting Is a Whole Lot Easier and Less Gross than You’re Imagining Right Now
Food, when it’s dumped in a landfill, sits and rots unhelpfully and releases methane, if it can even get to oxygen at all, what with its normal prison of plastic garbage bag (we’ll get to those in another article). Yard waste, too, doesn’t help a landfill much. Paper, when recycled, loses a lot of its integrity and can only be made into inferior products (fun fact: if you want a 1:1 recycling ratio, you’d pretty much have to get everything in aluminum).
But all of these things mixed together in a dark, opaque container with holes in it, turned occasionally (or even just left alone), can turn into something magical—more food.
And listen, you don’t have to garden. I fail spectacularly at gardening about 50% of the time because it takes a lot of effort and I have all these books to read instead. But like me, I bet you know someone who gardens. Even better, I bet you know someone who vegetable gardens. Keep a compost pile going and all the food you eat and leaves you toss and papers you shred could be harvested for their nutrients, stuck on someone else’s garden bed, and turn you into the grateful recipient of an armload of kale, squash, tomatoes, or whatever your green thumb pal is getting into this year. Did I mention, that armload will most likely be free? All because you kept your trash in a holey bin.
About that bin:
Here is the cheapest idea I could come up with, and I adapted it from one of the books I read instead of gardening.
- Go to a hardware store and buy a big black opaque plastic trash can with a lid. If you don’t have one already, get some sort of bungee cord or rubber strap with S-hooks that you can use to hold the lid down so small animals don’t move in. Then, do yourself the ultimate cool favor and buy a small pitchfork. You will learn to love this pitchfork, and wielding it will make you feel powerful and earthy at the same time. Trust me.
- Put a big bit on a drill (I had to get help with this because I also don’t know about tools—I promise I am good at some things, but so far we have mentioned none of them). Drill holes all over the trash can, underneath it, and in the lid.
- Put the whole contraption somewhere outside on a couple of bricks or stones so air can flow underneath it—if you plan on turning your compost regularly with your new pitchfork (I’m so excited for you) it probably won’t even smell much. And since you won’t be putting animal products in it, it doesn’t really attract flies and other bugs I hate.
- Throw some soil in there, maybe some dead leaves lying around, and/or your shredding.
- Simultaneously, you’ll need some sort of bin for your countertop. I like this one because it’s not too heavy and a four-billion-pound ceramic one I had for awhile taught me that I value light things. But you can use a tupperware container or anything, really. Airtight is best, because ants are real.
- Start collecting all your compostable trash with this handy list
- Food scraps that do not include animal products unless those animal products are eggshells, which are fantastic for soil.
- Dryer lint (yes!)
- Paper napkins and paper towels (we’ll stop using those in another episode as well, but sometimes these things gravitate into your house unavoidably).
- Cotton pads (like the kind you use for applying or removing beauty products, but only if they’re actual cotton and not polyester—guess what! This will be in another episode too.)
- Parchment paper (but not waxed paper)
- Bits of cotton string, silk or cotton dental floss (yet another episode, and I’m not joking), that kind of thing
- When it’s full, take it outside, throw it in the mothership container.
- Turn with your new best friend the pitchfork every few days. As it all breaks down in the middle of the pile, the gases released by the bacteria get everything really hot at the core, so you can turn it every couple of days for speediest results and get those cooler outer layers in on the action. Or don’t turn it at all—if you don’t mind waiting a year for compost. I have done this, too, and it still works.
- Continue adding “brown” stuff (that’s dead leaves and uncoated paper or bits of cardboard preferably treated with only natural dyes). Ideally, brown stuff should make up a larger percentage, although I never pay attention.
- Bask in the glow that comes from patching up a couple of little holes in the leaking sieve that is our culture of wastefulness. If anyone tries to give you grief, please show them the latest pics of the Great Garbage Patch, which is roughly twice the size of Texas and made up of what appears to be trillions of Aquafina bottles and the wasted dreams of our grandchildren.
Extra credit: Go down the vermicomposting wormhole. Worms are, they say, a very fast and efficient way to turn garbage into healthy dirt. I am not there yet, but I have a feeling based on my internet search history that I will not be able to resist the call for long.
What do you do when your pile has transformed from a slippery mess to dry, crumbly, beautiful dirt studded with bits of eggshells, supposing you don’t want to bestow it upon some lucky garden-friendly friend? Mix it in the soil of whatever you’re planting, and use it as mulch when your plants are established to add crazy good nutrients, keep in moisture, and discourage weeds. Or, you can even steep some in a bucket of water and make “compost tea,” which you can use to give your plants a drink of the healthiest water they’ve ever tasted—after you’ve finished grossing out your partner by pretending you’re going to drink it yourself.
And if you learn some easy vegetable gardening tips in the meantime, by all means let me know. Even just so I can drop off my compost. My tomato seedlings are, predictably, looking fairly unwell.
As the days grow longer and warmer, it's time to consider what you can do now to make your home more enjoyable during the spring and summer seasons. We've got some really quick, really easy tips for you to consider for your mosquito-reduction mission.
- Reduce breeding sites
It's spring, it's been raining... any empty buckets, wheelbarrows, anything that can collect water has definitely been filling up over the course of the last few weeks. In short, this is where mosquitoes lay their eggs. Standing, still water is the perfect home for mosquito larvae, who live off the algae and other tiny organisms that are creating their own miniature ecosystem in that empty five-gallon bucket sitting next to your compost heap. It's time to dump all the water out!
- In case you need to keep standing water around your home...
...In that backyard birdbath, for example, then be sure to change the water weekly. Or consider enlisting the aid of microscopic friends, such as Bacillus thuringiensis serotype israelensis (Bti) -- a group of bacteria used as biological control agents for larvae stages of certain dipterans. Bti produces toxins which are effective in killing various species of mosquitoes, fungus gnats, and blackflies, while having almost no effect on other organisms. Just search Google for "bti bacteria" and click around and you'll find what you're looking for!
- Try essential oils
Consider making your own spray to use when you're sitting out on your front porch, or even consider making a fragrance blend specifically for you to wear when you're going to be outdoors in mosquito-infested areas. Essential oils such as citronella, peppermint, lemon, eucalyptus, basil, clove, thyme, lemongrass, geranium, rosemary, and lavender have been proven to repel mosquitoes.
- Make mosquito predators at home in your yard
Bats and birds LOVE to eat mosquitoes! A lot of people are afraid of bats but they are harmless to you and actually quite helpful if you factor in their tremendous appetite for mosquitoes. Less than 1/2 of 1% of all bats are likely to contract rabies, so that's not a legitimate fear, either. So consider installing bat and bird boxes around your home!
- Get a little help from your friends!
A mosquito, in its lifetime, is likely to travel as far as 2 miles from its point of hatching -- even further in cases of strong wind. That's a far way for them to go but it's not much for you -- if you're able to recruit your neighbors and friends to follow some of these practices.
So go forth, and spread the word!
Four reasons to consider joining the green cleaning movement. Let's take a look!
- Better Air Quality
As mentioned in our last blog post, according to this EPA article, not only are people [these days] spending about 90% of their time indoors, but indoor air pollution is often 2 to 5 times worse than what we experience outside our homes -- and a lot of this is due to built up residue from toxic conventional cleaning products. Go green and keep your air clean!
- No Questionable Antibacterial Products
Do you really need to look for products that say "antibacterial"? In this article, the FDA states that washing with antibacterial soaps isn't any better than regular soaps, and the American Medical Association (AMA) says that the frequent use of antibacterial ingredients can promote bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Triclosan, a common antibacterial agent found in many soaps, may mess with your hormonal system and thyroid.
- You're Helping Advance the Green Cleaning Revolution
By purchasing green cleaners, the ingredients to make green cleaners, by hiring World Class Cleaning to do the green-cleaning for you, you're voting with your wallet. Voting a big YES to the Green Cleaning Revolution. And your vote shows that people do care about their environment, their planet, and the life that inhabits it. THANK YOU!
Non-organic cleaning products contain ingredients that are non-biodegradable or take time for degradation due to which they cause water and air pollution. Every ingredient used for preparing natural organic cleaning product is biodegradable in nature and considered safe for the environment.
All good reasons to join "the movement!" Give us a call and let us do the cleaning! Think of the free time you'll have, and think of how much nicer your home will smell without the airborne presence of conventional toxic cleaning products. Give us a call and take back your weekends!