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Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent for Pennies a Load!

I’ve been tweaking our family recipe for homemade laundry detergent since I published the powder recipe some time ago.  We have a new HE machine now that uses WAY LESS WATER and the powder would not have a chance to dissolve completely during the regular wash cycle.

In this variation I am using Castile Bar Soap which dissolves quickly in a pan on the stove and is decidedly cheaper than the Fels-Naptha Laundry Bar Soap that I had been buying with equally good results.

For folks who can find Borax at their local grocery mart and Washing Soda (which is not the same as Baking Soda!) at one of the discount stores you can make this recipe for just over a penny per load!

Here is an example breakdown:

Cost estimates for buying locally

(prices obtained January 2011)

  • Borax at KMart = $2.50 for 76 ounces = 3 cents per ounce = 1 cup is 24 cents
  • Washing Soda at Ace Hardware = $3.79 for 55 ounces = 7 cents per ounce or 1 cup = 56 cents
  • Castile Soap $1.00 (couldn’t find at a local store but only a buck on the web)

Total cost for 2 Gallons = $1.80

With 128 loads (2 ounces each) the cost = 1½ Pennies per Load!

What if you can’t find the items at your local stores?

Frankly, because of my own chronic illness and inability to get out and shop, I buy the bulk of our groceries and household products online and I still save money over buying commercial detergents.

Cost estimates for buying online

(prices obtained January 2011)

Total cost for 2 Gallons = $6.07

With 128 loads (2 ounces each) the cost ~ $0.05 Pennies per Load!

Only a thin nickle a load even if you had to buy everything online.

But does it work?

Well that depends on what your criteria is.  It certainly works well for me since I put a high value on eco-friendly and when you are on a fixed income cost savings are key.  So yes, it saves money and it is better for the environment with no harsh chemicals, dyes, fragrances or new plastic bottles each time we buy detergent.

Does it get clothes just as clean as commercial stain-lifting — de-greasing — whitening products?  Nope, that is not my experience.  But none of us are working on a farm and we don’t have really small children smashing tomato-puree into their clothes.  So it works just fine for us.

Recipe from the video above:


Place unwrapped bar of castile soap in a pot on the stove and add 8 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes stirring occasionally until the bar is completely dissolved.

In a large bucket (we use an old five gallon paint drum), add the solution from the stove and mix with one cup each Borax and Washing Soda.  Stir gently until the powders are dissolved.

Add 1½ galons of water to the bucket (24 cups) and stir again.

If you are using the aromatherapy blend (see my Youtube video on making this medieval oil blend for use around your home) you can add about a half cup.  This step is optional.

Pour your mixture into storage containers and use only TWO OUNCES per load (that is ¼ cup).

Better for you, better for the environment and better for your budget!

DIY Potholders

When I was little, one of my favorite toys aside from my Etch A Sketch® was a plastic potholder maker.  I would spend hours weaving scraps of fabric on this small toy loom.  Yeah, this is what passed for entertainment in the 60’s and 70’s before social networking became our most cherished hobby. 😉

As I looked at my dwindling supply of store bought pot holders that had decidedly seen better days and considered whether I should darn the thread barren places or bite the bullet and buy something NEW (gasp!) oven mitts, I remembered how easy it was to make potholders as a child and became inspired to make my own make-shift loom.

Our garage has so many spare parts it would make MacGyver proud.  So it was easy to find some old wood strips to use as my frame.  With a hand saw and plastic miter box I cut four equal lengths of 2 inch wood strips  (I made two looms that day, one was 12 inches and one 8 inches in order to have two sizes for my potholders.)  A staple gun made fast work of fastening the sides together at the corners.

I tapped finishing nails into the boards at half in intervals making sure I had the same number of pegs on each of the four sides.

For material, I used scraps from old tee shirts, leggings and other cotton interlock or stretch material.  I measured a strip that was twice as long as my loom and doubled it over.  With my sewing machine, I made a stretch straight stitch along the unfinished hem until I had one long “tube” of fabric.

Next, I carefully cut the fabric into one half inch strips to use for my weaving.

To set up the loom, place one fabric loop on each of the pegs running in one direction.

Then take the first peg in the opposite direction and slowly weave it over and under each of the planks.  Start your next weave on the opposite pattern, for instance if you began on an OVER cast, then place this next loop UNDER to start your run.

When you are finished filling up all the nails you need to finish the edges, by carefully taking off ONE LOOP at a time and threading the next loop into it.  That is to say you take one of the edges off, hold open the loop with one hand and then carefully slip the next loop off and insert that loop through the open loop you are holding.  Once through, you open up that loop and start again with the next loop on the loom.

When you come to the last loop, you can tie a knot in the last ring to secure all of the edges in place.  Saved a few dollars and passed down a family tradition to my own kids. :)

Make Your Own Aromatherapy Hot/Cold Pack

My homemade hot packs provide much needed pain relief throughout the day.  Whether I use one from the freezer or microwave a couple to soothe my shoulders, these small satchels of healing grains and pulses are always close at hand.  They make an heartfelt gift for family and friends and can be as simple to make as putting a knot in an old sock filled with rice, or placing a finishing hem on a scrap of fabric filled with left over lentils.

You can use a few drops of essential oils or even a tiny bit of vanilla extract or a few coffee beans if that suits your senses.  In the slide show below I have some examples of how to combine various beans and rice for unique combinations that can relax your mind and body.

Depending on your own personal preference you may enjoy the feel of a whole bean, like navy or kidney.   Or you might prefer the touch of tiny grains of rice.  Lentils hold heat very well and sometimes you can find very cheap split peas on sale in bulk at the super market.  You can even use a variety of grains that you have left over in your pantry.  I often like to add a few special items in each of my packs — Two halves of a split pea inside a rice packet can often be a symbolic metaphor for some part of our healing journey that we want to affirm.  Or sometimes I will place nine small beans inside for a bit of feng shui good luck.

The color you choose to make your hot pack may also provide you with another way to warm yourself.  An old pair of jeans makes for an excellent and sturdy hot pack.  While a soft tee shirt feels nice to the touch and may have cellular memories that make you smile.  In the photos below, I used a variety of fabric scraps as well as different fillings.

To assemble the hot pack, turn your two fabric scraps inside out and sew along three edges and partly up the fourth edge until you have a gap that is 2-3 inchs.  This will be the hole you need to fill the grains.  Turn the casing right side up and get your fillings ready.

For ease of pouring, I place my grains or beans inside a large plastic yogurt container.   And if I am scenting my hot pack I will place  a few drops of essential oils directly on top of the rice (or beans) before I fill the fabric.

I use a makeshift funnel by rolling a sturdy piece of paper and placing it into the two inch gap in the fabric and then carefully pour the scented grains and pulses into the pouch until it is about 2/3rds of the way to the top.

To finish it off, I fold the remaining raw edges over and hand stitch the last two inches.

Here are my notes from the packets I made last year that were pictured below just as an idea of the different combinations of scents you may want to consider.

Bay and Sage with Split Pea and White Rice and Brown Rice
Sweet Orange 9 drops, Lavender 5 drops / (9) Split Pea in white rice
Lemon and Peppermint oils in brown rice with one yellow split pea
Lavender – 1 pinto bean in brown rice
Lemon Grass ; Lavender ; Sage (small pinto beans)
Eucalyptus ; Bay / All Split Pea
White and Brown Rice (2) Split Pea – Eucalyptus
Lavender with Lentils
Lime and Eucalyptus with brown rice and (2) Split Pea
Lemon ; Sweet Orange ; Clove in brown rice with (9) Split Pea
Ginger and Peppermint with white rice and (9) Split Pea
Lavender and Sage with white rice and (9) split pea
Eucalyptus; peppermint – Split pea and brown rice and white rice
Lemon and Clove with white rice
Ylang Ylang in small beans

When I give these as gifts, I always include a note about what grains I used and the name of the oils that I specially selected for them.  You should also add a note about using CAUTION while heating these in the microwave.  All ovens are different and you should stop and check your hot pack after 30 seconds and then ever 15 seconds there after until you can determine how long is safe to heat one in your oven at home.

Going No Shampoo – Part 3

Going No Shampoo — Part 2

Going No Shampoo

In this vlog I discuss my experience with the “No Poo” movment.  After seven months I can say with confidence that my hair is fuller, has more body and is easier to manage than when I was using shampoo, conditioner and other hair care products.

For those just learning about this daring experiment I would suggest you take a Google at the pioneers who have paved the way for us to challenge the mass media marketing campaign that insists we need detergents, chemicals and perfumes in order to have clean, healthy hair.  Nature Mom’s website has an excellent introduction from the health benefits and thorough explanation of the chemical content in most commercial products to trouble shooting tips that can help you get past the adjustment phase.

There is also a large No Poo forum were you can read about others experience and even post a question of your own.

For me, part of the experiment was finding out what ratio of baking soda to water worked best for my long hair.  Most people recommend 1 tsp baking soda dissolved in one cup of water.  Other folks use baking soda dry directly on their hair.  During that first month of adjustment I tried everything under the sun from an occasional egg rinse, lemon wash and even olive oil — DON’T PUT OLIVE OIL ON YOUR HAIR!!!  It absolutely will not rinse out with shampoo!!

For my hair, for now, what works best is 2 TBL baking soda mixed with 2 cups of water.  I actually pour this on my scalp before I get my hair wet under the shower.  Fingertip massage is an important part of the regime and necessary to break up any dirt or oils that your hair has collected during the day.  I rinse with a dilute vinegar solution.  Most people use Apple Cider Vinegar, but when I am on a very tight budget I find that even plain distilled white vinegar works just fine.

Combing with a fine tooth comb or using a boar’s hair bristol brush (fellow vegetarians, you can find these in synthetic fibers too!) is another step that is important to distribute the natural oils that our scalp produces down into the length of the hair.  By not stripping away our natural hair protectants the result is fuller hair with more body, bounce and brilliance.

But don’t take my word for it … this is one of those unquestioned beliefs that you can check out for yourself.

Solar Powered Clothes

clothesline (2)

About the time we switched to making our own home made laundry powder, we also decided to unplug our machine clothes dryer – for good!  A few well placed ropes alone with a folding wooden clothes rack is all we need to harness some solar power for our clothes drying needs.

Growing up in Belleville NJ, I seem to remember everyone had a clothes line in their backyard and another line set up in the basement for snowy days.  Didn’t matter if you lived on the second floor of a duplex, Italian mammas were hanging their heads out third story windows with clothes pins clasped in their teeth and braziers in their hands.  From Grandpa’s boxers to baby’s bonnet everything was on display and nobody paid mind to anyone else’s dirty laundry.

When my daughter spent a semester in Italy last year, she was thrilled to see that everyone hung their clothes in the breeze – even in the freezing cold!  Not so today for us in the U.S.  Many cities and most neighborhood associations have bans on hanging clothes out to dry.  Somehow the conventional cellular memory of the old-fashion clothes line carries with it the notion of socio-economic differences.  Or put another way … folks think you are either poor, a hippy or by any other means a trouble-maker and you are certainly bringing down the housing market for the entire cul d’sac if someone can see your skivvies in the backyard.

But you don’t have to wait for local ordinances to catch up with earth friendly practices, there are scores of indoor portable clothes racks that you can purchase, build or jury-rig so that you can embrace this energy saving angle.  Sure, the kids will have to plan their fashion statement in advance – blue jeans take several hours to dry on a line and remembering you just have to wear your skinny leg Levis on Tuesday means you had better get your dungarees in gear before Letterman Monday night.

It’s not every day, that I can put the clothes up on the line myself – but with a family of helping hands our clothes line is always in high demand.

Homemade Laundry Powder

When you look at your grocery bill, the giant bottle of Tide (perfume free Cheer, Seventh Generation, or your favorite brand of choice) is a pretty big ticket item.  Finding an alternative to store bought laundry detergent can be both budget wise and earth friendly.

laundry powdersMy first forage into the land of laundry soap alternatives was floating ceramic discs. At first these magical ionic disturbers seemed to work well but after a while our clothes just didn’t look as clean as they had been before we ditched detergents.

One of the reasons I believe these and other natural laundry solutions– like magnets or other rock-sock variants – is that when people switch over from traditional surfactant laundry soaps the residue left on your clothes alone will last for several washings!  So for a time you think that your new gadget is cleaning just as good as your old supermarket brand – because the carryover from the chemicals left in your clothes IS still cleaning your wash for several more spin cycles!

Learning that I could make my own laundry powder at home at a fraction of the cost and additives, I made the switch back in 2007 and have not been down the laundry aisle since!

Making your own powdered laundry soap can be as simple as 1, 2, 3!

  1. Bar Soap
  2. Washing Soda
  3. Borax

fels-naptha soapFor bar soap, I favor Fels Naptha.  I buy it in quantity on line when I find a sale on free shipping.

This soap dissolves well and is specially made for the machine.  However, I have also used bars such as Ivory, Dove and even some glycerin bars with good results.  You will need to grate the bar either by hand or in your heavy duty food processor.  I like to place the grated soap flakes in my processor with the blade and whiz them around for a few minutes to create a very fine powder.

Both washing soda and borax may be available in your mainstream supermarket.  Note:  Washing Soda (sodium carbonate) is not the same as Baking Soda (sodium bicarbonate) although Arm and Hammer is a popular brand for both.  If you have trouble finding Washing Soda at your local megamart you may want to try shopping for it online.

The ratio for mixing your three ingredients is 1 part grated bar soap to ½ washing soda and ½ borax.  So if you are making a large batch you might use 2 cups grated bar soap, 1 cup washing soda and 1 cup borax.

You only need a single tablespoon of this homemade suds alternative.  If I am washing really grimy clothes I may use a bit more and on rare occasions even a splash of bleach.

How to Make Your Own Cloth Napkins


When I saw my friend using cloth napkins, in an effort to green her kitchen table, I thought — Why buy? A quick Google-and-glance at a few DIY sites and I was off on a new green adventure!

I tried several designs, from square corners to finished zig zag edges before settling on a simple mitered corner for our family laptops..  Looking through my linen cupboard it was easy to find an old flat sheet that was decidedly too scratchy for sleeping but perfect for my first prototypes.

I decided on two sizes, a petite napkin for everyday use and a larger lap mat for more formal occasions.  I began by making my own napkin pattern template from a section of poster board left over from a school science project.  But you can use cardboard from an old box if that is what you have on hand.  I traced a 14 inch square on the poster board and cut it out carefully with scissors.  Then I used my poster square as a sewing pattern to cut out the napkin swatches from our old (freshly laundered) sheet.

I also made a second tiny template that would serve as my pattern for the mitered corner.  The right angle triangle is 1 1/16th inches across the bottom and ¾” inch on both sides.  Once I cut my squares I used my triangle template to clip off the four corners of each napkin.

A quick press with an iron to make sure the fabric is flat and I can begin ironing down my seams.  Start by folding the edge of the fabric down about 1/3rd of an inch from the edge and use your iron to press down this seam.  Continue to fold and press all four sides.

To make your final mitered corner, carefully fold the side down again by the same amount and press with the iron.  If you have measured well your two edges should fold down to make a perfect angled match in the middle of your corner point.  Press all four edges into perfect mitered corners with your iron and you are ready to sew!

Using a straight stitch on your sewing machine start from the seam of one of your corners and run the stitch down one side until you reach the seam of your next mitered edge.  With the needle still down into your fabric, lift the foot and rotate your napkin 90 degrees and place the foot back in place.  Continue your straight stitch down sides two, three and four in the same fashion.

A final press with the iron and you have your first energy efficient reusable napkin!

Not only are cloth napkins wonderful for everyday use but they make wonderful holiday gifts!