• Natural Cleaning Methods

    The smell of a clean house is something that should be associated with good things like cleanliness, health, and productivity.  Since I have come to discover the myriad of harmful chemicals contained in most store-bought cleaning products though, I now associate these smells with toxicity, respiratory problems and waste.  There are some wonderful ways to clean your house using all-natural non-toxic products you may already have in your kitchen.  Not only does this charge the house with a good clean energy, but it also is quite economical and resourceful.  I also love the ability to incorporate aromatherapy in to the cleaning.  Here are some of my favorite homemade cleaning products:

    P1010582

    Counter: Simply mix up a mixture of distilled water (or boiled and cooled) and essential oils with antibacterial properties in a spray bottle.  I am always saving old spray bottles for this purpose.  My favorite mixture for the kitchen is water with tea tree, lemon and grapefruit.  I also like the mixture of peppermint and vanilla or of lemongrass and coriander.  The bonus to this cleaner is you don’t have to worry when spraying near food or on a surface that you might later make a sandwich on.

    Foaming Hand Soap: Using an old foaming hand soap dispenser, add about two tablespoon of castile soap and a teaspoon of oil (almond, olive or jojoba all work well) to distilled water.  Be sure to add the soap and oil after the water so it doesn’t get all bubbly.  Drop in about 15 drops of essential oil of your choice.  I initially bought foaming hand soaps at Whole Foods and used the bottles to make a homemade mixture once these ran out but you could also buy empty foaming soap dispensers.

    Floors (wood or tile): In a bucket mix a couple gallons of hot water with a generous squirt of Dr. Bronner’s (or any castile) soap, along with essential oils (about 30 drops) of your choice.  I really like to use the peppermint castile soap and change the essential oils depending on the season/mood.  One of my favorite mixtures is Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap with tea tree, lemon, eucalyptus and cinnamon essentials oils added to the water.  If floors are greasy or you need to cut scum, ¼ cup of distilled white vinegar can be used instead of the castile soap but don’t do this too often or you may strip the wood floors of the wax or oils they are coated with.  And do not mix the castile soap with vinegar.  They will essentially cancel each other out.  You can read more about that here if you’re interested in the details.  A little bit of olive oil added to the floor washing will help seal and shine wood floors.  Sometimes I like to rotate cleaning with castile soap, then vinegar, then oil on different weeks.

    Disinfecting: Spray hydrogen peroxide (an effective bleach alternative) on surface .  It also whitens and helps remove stains, especially in grout.

    Mirrors/windows: Use a mixture of distilled white vinegar and water (approximately one quarter cup of vinegar to each gallon of water).  I keep one pre-mixed in a large household spray bottle.  Just spray and wipe.  I have found that using old newspaper or making use of the flyers that come in the mail in place of paper towels works really well for preventing streaks and reducing waste.

    Carpet deodorizer: Sprinkle baking soda on rugs and carpets before vacuuming.  The baking soda can be left on the rugs overnight for extra freshening.  This could also be used on cloth furniture to combat odors.

    Bathtub/shower/sink: Squirt a generous dollop of Dr. Bronner’s soap across the surfaces, and then sprinkle with baking soda.  Scour away.  The baking soda has a mild abrasive action.  The thing I like about this mixture is that these two things are often ingredients I put in homemade baths so if any gets left behind, it’s no problem at all.  If you have areas of mold or mildew growth, spray undiluted white vinegar on the areas and wipe after fifteen minutes or so.  Baking soda will help if you need scrubbing action.

    Toilets: To wipe the rims, I just use a simple mixture of peppermint and a generous amount of tea tree oil with distilled water.  My homemade disposable baby wipes actually do this job really well too in between cleanings.  For the basin, scrub with Dr. Bronner’s soap mixed in a small squirt bottle with distilled water and lots of tea tree oil.  Again, the added benefit here is if the cat ends up drinking from it later, she is safe.  Or at least only threatened by Chief’s disgust, hee hee.  I also like to put a few drops of a favorite essential oil inside the toilet paper tube to freshen the bathroom without chemicals.  The toilet could be sprayed with hydrogen peroxide and then wiped for further disinfecting.

    Litter box: Remove the litter and spray with the same solution used for toilets above (a mixture of peppermint and tea tree oil with distilled water).

    That pretty much covers all the surfaces in your house!  To summarize, I have created a shopping list below:

    • Distilled white vinegar
    • Castile soap
    • Hydrogen peroxide
    • Baking soda
    • Essential oils.  Refer to the aromatherapy post for a more detailed list but great, inexpensive ones to start with for cleaning are as follows: peppermint, tea tree, clove, lemon and eucalyptus
    • Household spray bottles
    • Oil (olive or almond)

     

     

  • Cloth Baby Wipes System

    I decided early in my pregnancy that I wanted to do cloth diapering.  Chief was very supportive of my plan, even though a few others looked at me like I was crazy.  That made me nervous, but after speaking to a few mommas that were cloth diapering and reading various blogs, the most common sentiment that I heard was that it was a lot easier than most people think.  Most moms who began cloth diapering after the first child or when their child was older only wish they would have started earlier.  I have been loving it thus far.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to do cloth diapering and then have wipes that need disposing of though, so here I have a recipe for cloth wipes that can just be thrown in the wet bag and washed with the diapers.

    P1010576

    Even if you don’t cloth diaper, these wipes could also be used to wipe up a child’s face or body.  And, let’s be honest…I admit that sometimes a quick scrub to myself with these in the morning is the closest I get to a shower before I head out of the house!  I also like using these wipes to get in to the little rolls of chub that milk likes to get stuck in.

    I watched a number of YouTube videos and read a number of blogs and then did some trial and error to come up with my favorite method and recipe for these wipes.  I made my own video here.  As with all these kitchen beautician recipes, don’t become hung up on acquiring exactly what is listed but just jump in and do a few tests with whatever you have on hand and I promise you it will quickly become second nature and you’ll find your own tweaks that you’re happy with.

    Cloth wipes

    First of all, you will need wipes.  I ended up buying some unbleached organic cotton ones from OsoCozy.  A number of other moms just used cut up old t-shirts or receiving blankets so you could do that if you want to save money or if you are handier with a sewing machine than I am.  I usually fill the wipes warmer with about 30 wipes but you could do less depending on how often you need them.

    Solution

    There are a lot of recipes out there but my favorite mixture is below:

    • Boiled then cooled water (or distilled water)
    • 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
    • 1 Tbsp. castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s unscented)
    • 1 Tbsp. witch hazel
    • 1 Tbsp. aloe vera gel
    • 10 drops essential oils.  My favorite is a mixture of tea tree, lavender, and vanilla essential oils.  Other good options are chamomile or tangerine.  You could also make a big batch of chamomile tea with the boiled water to incorporate it that way.

    I think the water and oil are the two most crucial ingredients because they are what really clean and soften the skin, respectively.  Coconut oil could always be substituted with almond oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil, or whatever else you have on hand.  Go ahead and try a batch with just these two things if you need time to acquire the other items listed in the recipe.  The witch hazel adds astringent properties and the aloe vera gel soothes skin.  The essential oils provide a nice scent, allow for the incorporation of aromatherapy and many have antibacterial and antifungal properties.  Baby shampoo could be substituted for the castile soap.

    Method

    You could also use distilled water but I usually just boil a full teapot of water when making my tea or coffee in the morning and then set the unused water aside.  Boiling it will ensure you have killed any bacteria that could foster mold growth, etc.

    In a large bowl or casserole dish, I put in the oil, castile soap, witch hazel and aloe vera gel and then pour the warm water over it.  I then drop in the essential oils.

    On other blogs or videos I watched, moms rolled up their little cloth wipes.  Bless them but I really don’t have the time to spare.  I just fold mine in half and it takes about 1 extra minute for every load of laundry.

    I take the stacks of folded wipes and dip them in to the solution until they are saturated but then squeeze them out so they are wet but not dripping.  You generally don’t want them too wet or baby’s bottom will stay wet after wiping and could result in yeast, etc.

    I then place mine in a special wipes warmer made for cloth wipes and I really love it.  It is by Prince Lionheart*.  I know that wipes warmers aren’t really necessary but it’s kind of a nice treat and my little one loves having her diaper changed.  I like the way it opens up fully and the wipe doesn’t need to be pulled through an opening.  It’s very easy to do one handed.  I have heard of some other ones that work well for cloth wipes including the OXO brand, but haven’t tried it so I can’t speak to it.

    For travel, I place about 5 wipes in to a Buti-pod that I really like.  Again, as a mom it’s nice to have little emergency showers in your handbag!

    If there is any extra solution left in the dish you dunked the wipes in, you can set it aside and add it to the next bath.  Another option is to put it in to one of the perineal irrigation bottles you might have leftover from your delivery.  These things are the best for a number or purposes.  I sometimes use it to soak cotton balls that I use to clean in crevices or you can squirt the solution on to a dry cloth wipe and wipe baby up that way.

    That’s it!  It sounds like a lot but, as you can see from my video, each batch takes about three minutes to make once you get the hang of it.  It’s so nice not having to buy wipes and not even needing a rubbish bin in the nursery.

    * As far as cleaning your Prince Lionheart warmer, I wipe it out every time I change out the wipes.  I remove the Everfresh replacement pillow, rinse it and wring it out.  While it is removed, I spray the inside of the warmer with a vinegar and water solution and wipe it out.  The replacement pillow needs to be replaced once every three months.

  • Energy Bars Recipe

    I like these all-natural energy bars because they only contain a few easy-to-find ingredients and allow you to get protein and a burst of simple sugar while also satisfying a chocolate craving.  They’re great to have during endurance training or when setting off on a hike or bike ride.  The recipe below calls for cocoa but use carob powder instead if you are sensitive to the effects of the caffeine or theobromine found in cocoa.

    P1060339

     

    Ingredients

    • 1 cup local, raw honey
    • 1 cup organic peanut butter (or mix half cup peanut butter and half cup almond butter)
    • 1 cup cocoa
    • 1 cup sunflower seeds
    • 1 cup sesame seeds

    Directions

    In a saucepan, heat the honey over low heat until warm.  Slowly stir in the nut butter until it is mixable.  Remove from heat and add the cocoa and seeds.  You can substitute with pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, etc. or add some additional nuts but just be mindful you don’t put in too many seeds/nuts or use something that would affect the cohesiveness.  For example, use slivered nuts instead of big whole nuts.  I have accidentally gone a bit nut crazy at times and they were sort of crumbly.  Feel free to add other dried fruits like blueberries, cherries, cranberries or goji berries.

    Spread mixture in to an oiled (I use coconut) 8 x 8 inch pan.   Dust with coarsely ground sea salt and cinnamon and allow to cool in the fridge for a few hours.  They will keep in there for about a month and can be frozen indefinitely.

    Cut in to squares of 25 or 16 depending on the size you prefer.

    I like the health benefits of the almond butter but I think they make them a bit more gooey, especially if using the freshly ground stuff.  You may want to initially try them with just peanut butter if you eat peanuts.

    After the first night in the fridge, I like to remove the squares and individually wrap them in cling wrap and put half in the freezer.  They make great on-the-go breakfasts in a pinch and Chief loves bringing them to golf.  I also think they would make a great snack for a child’s sports match when feeding the team.  If primarily serving these to kids, it might be a good idea to use the carob powder I mentioned earlier (because of the caffeine factor).  Carob powder is not quite as chocolately tasting but has a similar look and texture to cocoa.  It can be found in the baking aisle of a natural grocer.

     

  • The Oil Cleansing Method For Clear, Radiant Skin

    Oil cleansing is a way to cleanse your face with oil.

    Wait…what?

    Yep, that’s right…problem skin can be combated with oil whether the problem is acne, sensitivity, or dryness.  I have been wanting to write a post about the oil cleansing method for facial cleansing for a long time.  I was determined to make it work because I love how natural, minimalist and organic it is.  Plus, I had heard amazing things about how it left skin clear, radiant, and dewy and got rid of acne.  I tried this method for a few weeks a couple years ago and it didn’t work very well during that first attempt, so I gave up.  I was really excited about it though, so I knew I needed to try it again and troubleshoot because I felt confident this was the best method/product out there.

    P1060348

    Why?

    My favorite thing about this method is how simplified the routine is – it eliminates the need for eye makeup remover, toner, moisturizer, and cleanser.  That translates to a lot of dollars saved and a lot of steps eliminated.

    My skin has always been pretty normal.  I have gone through some periods where I was really prone to spots, generally during times I was under a lot of stress or my hormones were haywire.  I blogged about that in this post.  I finally used Accutane (isotretinoin) to clear it up because I was so fed up but if you’ve read any of my blog, you know important natural methods are to me.  I kind of wish I would have tried the oil cleansing method as a last-ditch effort before doing Accutane.

    How does it work?

    So the premise behind using straight oil to cleanse your face is pretty simple.  The idea is that by using harsh and artificial cleansers to clean out your pores, you basically just end up stripping the skin, making it produce more oil to compensate, setting up a negative feedback loop. A person then tends to wash even more and be more harsh on spots or conditions that result from these methods.  The abrasiveness of some of these usual facial cleansing products (whether chemical or physical) can also aggravate skin.

    The oil cleansing method is based on the simple chemical phenomena that oil dissolves oil.  For that reason, oil is the constituent used to dissolve excess oil in pores and and loosen it along with impurities from the skin in this method.  There are different combinations of oils that can be used depending on your skin type and I like the added benefit that it’s very easy to find organic oils at affordable prices.  Trying to find organic cleansers to buy is extremely expensive.

    The oil that is most often touted as the base oil for this method is castor oil because it has somewhat toning and anti-inflammatory properties.  I generally avoid this oil because it cannot be produced without workers involved in its refinement being exposed to some level of toxicity.  It also requires  chemical extraction from solvents, deodorization, stabilizers etc., which concerns me (and is the same reason I avoid canola or corn oil in my food).  I prefer something than can be processed with a simple cold-press process.

    Instead, I recommend finding an oil or mixture of oils (below) that works for your skin and is easy enough for you to obtain.  Here are generally the oils that are used for different skin types (from the Crunchy Betty blog):

    • Hazelnut or sunflower oil (for typically acneic skin)
    • Sunflower, grapeseed, or sweet almond oil (for oily to normal skin)
    • Jojoba, grapeseed, or apricot kernel oil (for normal to dry skin)
    • Avocado or apricot kernel oil (for dry skin)

    Olive oil and coconut oil are also mentioned a lot when referring to this method.  I have not carefully tested them myself but I have heard anecdotal evidence that they can be somewhat comedogenic (pore-clogging) so I have generally avoided them unless I’m in a pinch.  I would definitely recommend trying this method with some of the other oils first and then doing a more of a scientific test with these more common oils to see if changing the oil changed the outcome.  I’d hate for you to give up too soon because you started with the wrong oils like I did.

    When I first tried this method, it didn’t really work for me and left my skin prone to breakouts.  I think there are a couple reasons for this and I’m glad I went back and gave it another try.  The first was that I was using a cleansing oil I bought online – Deep Cleansing Oil by DHC.  It seemed to be good from the reviews but was an olive oil base and also had some ingredients in it that I didn’t know what they were (preservatives, etc.).  I think the other reason it didn’t work was because of the way in which I was doing it.  I was basically just using the oil to wash my face and then wiping it off.  As I later came to find out, giving the face a little steam is the best way to loosen anything from the pores after cleansing.

    So, all this background – now how is it done?  First decide which oils you are going to use.  Some people like to make a mixture in a small bottle and add a couple drops of essential oil.  I have sort of normal/combination skin so I just use whichever oil I have on hand, usually almond or grapeseed and then I add in apricot kernel or argan oil if it’s during a time of the year my skin is prone to dryness.  I also really like Jason’s Vitamin E Oil (5000 i.u.), which can be found online if you’re an Amazon junkie like me or at a natural grocers.  It is a pre-made mixture of safflower, sunflower, rice bran, avocado, wheat germ, apricot kernel, and almond oils.  It can be used straight out of the bottle for this method and travels really well.  Most people do oil cleansing as part of a bedtime routine.  I do it every night.

    This is generally the method I follow:

    1. There is no need to remove eye-make up first but if you have a lot on, you may try putting some coconut oil on a cotton ball and removing it so it doesn’t smear all over your face.
    2. Get warm water running from the faucet.
    3. Splash some warm water over the face.
    4. Thoroughly wet and mostly wring a washcloth (nothing too abrasive).
    5. Put the washcloth in the microwave for about 30 seconds.
    6. While the washcloth is in the microwave, begin massaging about one tablespoon of oil (or a quarter size amount) in upward, circular motions in to damp skin.  There is no reason to avoid the eyes like with other cleansers.
    7. While you are massaging, really take the time to envision the best skin you can imagine.  This massaging motion helps bring blood to the surface and will result in a nice glow, like after a facial.  Pay special attention to problem areas.  Use this same oil to remove any eye make-up (assuming you haven’t put in any irritating essential oils).  Try using affirmations during this part, e.g. “I deserve beautiful skin.”  “I take gentle, loving care of myself.”
    8. Remove the washcloth from the microwave and drape it over the face at the temperature at which it’s just cool enough that it can be tolerated without burning your skin.  The steam will loosen any impurities and oil from your skin.
    9. Lie down with the washcloth on your face for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  For many of you, you may find this is the first time during the day you have had one minute to yourself so use it as a minute long meditation and a chance to get off your feet and begin preparing yourself for winding down for bedtime.
    10. Once the washcloth has cooled off, gently wipe down the skin.
    11. Rinse the washcloth and repeat steaming the face (microwave again).

    You can skip the microwave step, but I find I like the washcloth really hot and can’t get it to the temperature I want without burning my hands when I wring the cloth.  I really like this video from Mommypotamus that describes the method.  I don’t use the two cloths likes she does just because I don’t have enough washcloths or do laundry frequently enough to warrant it (though I suspect this will change when my infant arrives in a couple months).  I just rinse and re-use the original washcloth, trying to use the opposite side if I remember.

    Your skin may go through an adjustment period when you start this method though mine didn’t.  You may be unblocking some clogged pores the first few days so if it starts with a bit of a breakout, just stick with it and see how it is working after a week or so.  Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to return to a regular cleanser during this adjustment period.

    You might be surprised when I tell you that your skin may feel dry as a result of cleansing with oil.  If so, add a good nighttime moisturizer (or just a bit of oil) or do whatever other skincare routine you follow at night.  You may not need any extra moisturizer, or can adjust to one of the less drying oils if you do.  I like to dot some organic argan oil around my eyes after cleansing as an eye cream but find I don’t need any moisturizer.

    Your face will probably be neither dry nor oily in the morning with this method so there is no need to wash it when you wake up.  Usually I just rinse my face with water and/or wipe it with the Aveda shammy cloth.

    Other resources
    http://www.theoilcleansingmethod.com/
    http://www.crunchybetty.com/nitty-gritty-on-the-oil-cleansing-method
    http://wellnessmama.com/7569/oil-cleansing-for-naturally-perfect-skin/

     

  • Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse for Hair

    To make your hair soft and shiny, try rinsing it with 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar mixed with 1 cup of cold water.  Apply the solution by pouring it over the hair after conditioning and then rinse with cold water to help seal the cuticle.  Take care to avoid your eyes.  This is a really inexpensive way to clarify the hair and make it silky-looking.  Add a few drops of any essential oil if you like to help eliminate the vinegar smell, though it mostly evaporates after the rinse.  My favorite oils to use in the solution are either rosemary, lavender, or bergamot.  Try using a few drops of tea tree oil if you have any problems with dandruff.  You may find you don’t need to use conditioner on the days you do this.

    This is a trick I have been using for some time and my mom recently told me my grandmother used to use it as well.  She would wash her girls’ hair in the kitchen sink and rinse it with a vinegar water solution.  I love hearing about these tried and true simple tricks that have been passed down through the ages.  Apparently the hair and scalp are both slightly acidic so this rinse just helps to balance the hair to its natural pH.  Not to mention, you all know how much I love vinegar for consuming and for beauty!

    While I’m talking about hair and vinegar, I’ll use this post to tell you that I did try using the whole “no ‘poo” method.  Besides the name “no ‘poo” which really annoyed me, this method just didn’t work for me.  It basically consists of washing hair with a solution of baking soda diluted in water and using a vinegar solution as the conditioner.  If you try Googling this, you will see what a craze it is.  A lot of the people that have tried the method really rave about it.

    I loved the idea and always appreciate resourcefulness and anything that applies to the whole “want not, waste not” philosophy but I just couldn’t get this one to work.  I tried tweaking a lot of things throughout the process including the type of vinegar, the ratios, and the frequency but absolutely nothing worked.

    I feel like I gave it an honest try because I spent five weeks doing the method during which time I basically looked like a greasy drowned rat.  Normally I consider natural to be beautiful, but I felt like a little misfit throughout this whole experiment.  I think the way I felt was reflected in the way I interacted with the world and I was kind of moping around.  Even my mom admitted it looked terrible!  When your mom tells you a look/practice isn’t working, listen up people!

    The whole concept still makes a lot of sense to me.  That is, our hair produces extra oil to compensate from it being stripped of shampoo and that many of the ingredients in shampoos and conditioners are bad for the environment and unhealthy for us to absorb through our skin.  But I just wasn’t looking professional or feeling like a sexy bitch walking around looking like a well-fed meth head.  I am thinking I might give it a try one of these days again, especially if I go hang out in the wilderness for a couple of months!  I suspect I would have adjusted more quickly had I just completely quit washing my hair for a month and hardly used the baking soda shampoo.

    After the failed experiment, I did go out and find some sulfate-free, all-natural shampoo with argan oil and seaweed extract by the Seawood Bath Company that has a eucalyptus and peppermint scent that I am really loving.  Actually Chief found it at Whole Foods since I didn’t have any shampoo or conditioner in the shower for him.  I don’t think my hair has every looked better since I started using this shampoo and conditioner.  Walking around with it doused in natural oils for five weeks may have helped my cause though!  I am using the apple cider vinegar rinse 1-2 times per week.