My Favourite Reusable Grocery Bag Solution

Hi friends! This is a super-quick post I’ve been meaning to share since the spring.

I just wanted to tell you about a cool product I’ve been loving. No one asked me to write it or gave me anything for it. I just bought something I loved and wanted to tell you about it.

In my quest to live simpler and produce less waste, I’ve switched to reusable products as much as possible. One of the first and easiest transitions I made was to get reusable grocery bags instead of using single-use plastic bags.

Reusable grocery bags and tote bags have become very popular, at least where I’m from. Most stores sell them for a dollar or two, and some even give them away for free occasionally. Everyone has a stack of these totes by now. I collected a good stash a couple of years ago. It takes a bit of effort to remember to take them into the store with you every time you shop, but after a few months I was pretty good at remembering.

But the problem with these cheap totes is that they are extremely bulky. And ugly. They take up a bunch of space in your trunk or your mudroom or wherever you keep them. And you have to keep them handy so you can easily grab them before you walk into a store. So they’re always laying all over the place. They’re usually a bunch of different sizes and styles so they’re hard to consolidate into a tidy stack. Am I right? Do you struggle with this, too?

My stash looked like the pile on the left:

grocery bags, before and after(OK, you can already guess from the photos where this is going.)

That big ugly pile had to be moved from the trunk of the van to the kitchen to the front room, and back to van. It was always in transition. Always in the way.

I kinda hated it.

But I owned one really cool little bag. I’d received it as a Christmas gift a few years back. It was attractively designed, durable, and best of all, it folded neatly into a cute little package that fit in my purse. I always had it with me, because after I emptied it I could just fold it up and tuck it back into my purse.

All of a sudden it hit me that I could replace all my mismatched tote bags with a small collection of these little foldable bags.

They’re quite a bit more expensive, of course. I bought mine at a local gift shop for $7 each. But they’ve been so worth the investment.

Look at the difference:

grocery bags, old vs newWould you rather have that pile of assorted tote bags scattered all over the trunk of your car, or that little handful of cute bags in your purse? The latter makes my minimalist heart happy.

You only need a few because they hold so much. They’re so strong and roomy. I can fit my entire week’s grocery haul in four bags. See?

grocery-bags-in-cart

As soon as I’ve emptied the bags and put away my groceries at home, I take a minute to fold them all back up and stick them in my purse. It literally takes about 60 seconds and they’re ready to go, no matter how spontaneous the shopping trip. I almost never get plastic grocery bags anymore.

The bags I have are made by Envirosax. You can get a set of 5 from Amazon for about $30-35. Take a gander at all the adorable patterns you can get. Sweet, right? I especially love this set. I’ve had my first bag for at least five years and it gets used at least once a week — usually stuffed with heavy groceries — and it’s still in perfect condition.

I highly recommend them!

(PS: The links are affilate links, so if you click through and make a purchase I get a small commission. Thanks for your support!)

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Nontoxic Laundry on the Cheap: Green Virgin Products Review and Giveaway (Soap Nuts Liquid and Prespotter Bar)

Green Virgin Products Review and Giveaway. Green, safe, nontoxic laundry care on the cheap!

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about my experience using soap nuts. I’ve been a happy user ever since.

Like many people, I started out wary: using nuts to wash your clothes? What’s that all about? It sounded too weird and too different from the conventional detergents I was used to using. But I gave them a try and then never went back. (Well, okay, I’ve gone back to using homemade detergent here and there, just because the ingredients are so cheap and easy and to find locally; but I’ve gone back to soap nuts full time ever since I started to suspect the Borax wasn’t helping my hormonal imbalance problem. More on that later.)

Anyway, here’s a recap of why I love soap nuts:

1. In my experience, they’re just as effective as commercial detergents.

2. They’re inexpensive. Depending on the size of the bag you get, it’s possible to spend half as much on laundry with soap nuts as you would conventional detergents. Many people think safer alternatives have to be more expensive than conventional ones, but the opposite is actually true!

3. They’re environmentally-friendly. All you’re using is the lightweight shell of the soap berry, found primarily in Nepal and India. They are easy to grow organically. So basically you’re throwing organic fruit into your wash, which you can then compost. How is that not awesome?

4. With soap nuts, there are no worries about toxic chemicals. I’ve discovered that my hormones are very sensitive and easily disrupted by certain chemicals commonly found in cleaning and household products (to the point where I have trouble getting pregnant.) I do NOT want to mess with my hormones (or those of my family members), and soap nuts are the safest option I’ve found.

5. They leave no smell on our clothes. My husband and I are pretty sensitive to scent, especially synthetic ones; but soap nuts leave absolutely no smell on our laundry, which we love.

So now you’ve heard why I love soap nuts…

Green Virgin Products: Soap Nuts Liquid

Green Virgin soap nuts liquid -- natural, nontoxic, convenient and inexpensive alternative for laundry

Recently, a representative from Green Virgin Products contacted me, asking if I’d like to try their soap nuts liquid and offer a review.  He also offered to let me try their all-natural pre-spotter bar, too. (Side note: the company also sells my beloved soap nuts — all organically grown and for a great price.)

A chance to do my laundry for free and try out some wonderfully natural cleaning products? I took it.

Basically, the soap nuts liquid is just the extract from soap nuts that has been boiled out of the shells with water. So it’s still totally natural and non-toxic. Normally, soap nuts liquid has a very short shelf-life, so it’s not feasible to sell commercially; but the folks at Green Virgin Products found an amazingly safe preservative, allowing them to produce and ship it to us. (Learn more about the product here.)

To use it, you just use the pump dispenser to pump 2-3 squirts of liquid into your laundry, just like regular liquid detergent.

I love this product! It’s every bit as safe and effective as soap nuts, but with these added advantages:

1. There’s no need to keep track of how many times you’ve used a bag of soap nuts. (With raw soap nuts, you can re-use them 4-7 times, depending on the temperature of your water and how dirty your clothes are. We keep a white board above our machine where we mark down every time we use a baggie of nuts until they’re ready to be composted. It’s not a big deal, but it’s nice to not have to worry about this. With the soap nuts liquid, once you squirt it into your laundry you’re done thinking about it.)

2. No need to fish out the baggie of soap nuts before tossing the clothes in the dryer or taking them outside to hang on the line. This is so nice when you’re used to playing find-the-soap-nuts after every load.

Effectiveness?

I guess the Green Virgin folks had some Science performed on the liquid to determine that it’s even better at cleaning laundry than raw soap nuts, but I confess I didn’t notice a difference . . . both do a great job getting out body odour, toddler stains, and everyday messes from our laundry. I am not missing my store-bought detergent one bit.

hanging laundry indoors to dry(This is how we dry our laundry indoors, FYI).

Cost?

Unsurprisingly, this awesomely-convenient liquid does cost a bit more than raw soap nuts. But as you will see, it’s still a very economical choice compared to its major competitors.

With a top-loading machine, like I have (where you need to use a little more liquid per load), the cost is comparable to the leading toxic brands (about 23 cents a load); but with an HE washer it’s significantly cheaper (about 16 cents a load). And that’s only if you get the small bottle — larger-sized bottles are even more economical. (Here’s a chart outlining competitor prices to get an idea what we’re looking at.)

Moreover, soap nuts and soap nuts liquid naturally soften clothes, so you don’t need fabric softener. I haven’t used it in years. There’s more cost savings!

So if the choice is between Tide and GVP’s soap nuts liquid, it’s still a no-brainer: soap nuts liquid is a much safer, healthier, greener choice, that is every bit as convenient as the competition, and for similar or slightly lower cost! It’s a great option for those looking for natural solutions but who are not quite ready to throw bags of nuts in their laundry.

But if you want all the goodness of soap nuts, don’t mind the minor inconvenience of counting nuts and keeping track of washes, and want the most economical option, raw soap nuts are probably your best best. Either  way, give Green Virgin Products a visit!

Green Virgin GVP Formula 433 Non Toxic Solid Stick Prespotter

Green Virgin Prespotter bar review. Great for removing stubborn stains! Inexpensive, all-natural, non-toxic

Green Virgin also sent me one of their all-natural prespotter bars to try. Luckily, I have a three-year-old, so it wasn’t hard to find an item with a stain that would need some special treatment.

Stained dress before using Green Virgin prespotter bar

This dress came out of the wash with this orange stain still on it. Not sure what it came from . . . I think it was pumpkin risotto. So I followed the instructions provided on the website for treating stains: I moistened an old toothbrush, rubbed it against the bar, and applied it to the stain.

scrubbing 3Then I ran it through the wash again.

After using Green Virgin Prespotter bar: stain gone!

All gone! (Well, a TEEEEENY bit of residual colour, but come on. Pumpkin risotto. They didn’t send me a magic wand.)

Test #2: I’m also expecting a baby in the next few weeks, and wanted to get some newborn clothes ready for  the big day. Naturally, I only want the cleanest, safest things against my new baby’s skin. But all of my old onesies were disgustingly stained — all yellow and gross from spit-up. (Thanks, Baby #1). I didn’t want to use bleach or anything harsh on them. In fact, I was tempted to toss them out and just buy new ones. But I decided to try a few different stain removers on them.

See how nasty they look?

Stained baby clothes

On the first item pictured, I used the Green Virgin Products prespotter bar. I had to use a big scrubby brush because a toothbrush just wasn’t going to cut it.

Green Virgin Prespotter bar

I used other stain removers on the other items to compare. (On the second, I used a homemade detergent; and on the third and fourth items, a homemade stain remover using Dawn dish soap that has proven effective in the past.)

After treatment, I threw them in the wash with soap nuts liquid. I also poured some hydrogen peroxide into the bleach dispenser for good measure.

This is them after:

Green Virgin Products prespotter bar for removing set-in baby stains

Nice and white! Not brand-new sparkling white, but very acceptably white.

(Forgive me — the lighting is different because they’re taken outdoors at different times of day. But you can still see a HUGE difference.) The all-natural prespotter was every bit as effective as the Dawn dish soap version. But it’s cheaper and non-toxic.

The Verdict?

This bar is just under $7, and I can see it lasting a zillion years.  So if you’re placing an order for one of their soap nuts products anyway, I’d say it’s a no-brainer to toss in a prespotter bar and you’ll be set for years to come.

Wanna Win Some Free Soap Nuts Liquid?

Give it a try yourself . . . just leave a comment telling me why you’d like to try Green Virgin’s Soap Nuts Liquid, and you will be automatically entered to win one 8oz bottle! Giveaway ends November 19, when I will randomly select a winner. (*Update: Giveaway is over. Thanks for your interest!*)

Bonus: If you sign up for Green Virgin Products’ newsletter you can get exclusive coupon codes each month. The sign up is at the bottom of their home page.

What Does Jesus Have to Do With the Environment? 3 Reasons Christians Should Care About the Planet

what does jesus have to do with the environment? Why Christians should care for the planet

Sometimes I find it useful to remind myself why I do the things I do — why I go through the effort of hanging my laundry, turning off the A/C, and refraining from constantly updating my gadgets. Other times, I find I need renewed motivation to take on new practices and habits that will help protect the environment. That’s why I’m revisiting some of my earlier thoughts on Creation Care.

In my About Page, I explain that one of the key things I want to explore on Becoming Peculiar is creation care. Some Christians might find it odd to place so much emphasis on caring for the environment, so I thought I’d devote a post to explaining why it’s central to my theology.

In recent years, the term “Creation Care” has begun to pop up and grow in importance in some Christian circles. But until recently, talking about the environment hasn’t been high on most denominations’ priorities list. After all, what does saving the rainforest have to do with the Great Commandment (“Love the Lord you God…”) and the Great Commission (“Go and make disciples…”)?

For some Christians, protecting the environment seems like an obvious element in following Jesus. For others, though, it’s an irrelevant distraction from the important work of evangelism.

Here are just a few reasons why I believe protecting the planet is vital to a Christ-centered life.

1. Saving the planet means saving human lives.

I’ve heard Christians scoff at those who concern themselves with “the environment,” as if “the environment” was some lifeless, abstract thing distinct and separate from us humans. But the truth is, “the environment” is (among other things) the place where other humans live. It’s the air we breathe, the water we drink, the plants and animals we eat, and the ground on which we build our homes. As E.O. Wilson writes, “Only in the last moment in history has the delusion arisen that people can flourish apart from the rest of the living world.”

Taking care of the planet, then, is the same thing as taking care of other people’s homes, and keeping their food, water, and air safe.

One thing that all Christians can (hopefully) agree upon is that we’re called to care for one another. Jesus teaches us to love our neighbours. Our neighbours include the people who live downstream from our water pollution, downwind from our air pollution, and downhill from our soil erosion. I submit that our neighbours also include our descendents and the descendents of our neighbours.

Caring for the planet is perhaps one of the most important ways, then, we can care for our neighbours. As Wendell Berry says, “It is impossible to care for each other more or differently than we care for the earth.”

Another way of looking at the issue is to acknowledge that Jesus doesn’t want us to poison or starve one another. But that’s essentially what we’re doing – indirectly — when we drive our cars, buy things made in factories, and eat industrialized food: we’re filling the air, water and soil with hazardous toxins that make people sick.

Followers of Christ must work hard to live lives that do not contribute to the pollution of our planet — and even work to reverse the damage we’ve already done.

2. God made and loves the world, so we ought to, too.

God declared creation good before we humans even entered the scene.

Christianity is unique in that unlike other religions which deprecate matter as inferior to spirit, the Bible celebrates matter: the sun, the moon, the earth, the water, and everything else in the universe is good, without or without us.

The earth is so important to God that his very first commandment to us humans includes taking care of the earth and animals. It’s of central importance to him, and therefore ought to be to us, too.

When we care for God’s creation, we express our love for him, because we’re loving what he loves.

3. Jesus died to save all of creation.

As we read in Colossians 1:19-20, “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (emphasis mine).

In Mark 16:15, Jesus tells his disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul says that “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:21-22). And in Christ’s future Kingdom the rest of creation will be transformed into a new earth (Rev. 21:1).

If Jesus died for all of creation, I think we can trust that he wants us to show as much concern for the rest of the world, too.

* * *

So a key part of my Christianity involves driving my car less and riding my bike more. It involves growing my own food rather than buying processed, packaged food shipped from overseas. It involves shopping at thrift stores rather than the mall. It means using cloth diapers and line-drying my clothes.

These are all ways that I attempt to love my neighbor, show God that I respect and value his beautiful handiwork, and participate in Jesus’ reconciliatory work between God and creation.

I feel like I’m still forgetting a whole bunch. What’s still missing from my list? In what other ways is planet-care relevant to following Jesus?

*Reposted from the archives.*

Image courtesy of David Ohmer.

How to Raise and Care For Tadpoles Through Metamorphosis

Raising Tadpoles: how to care for tadpolesI’m not even gonna pretend I’m not a huge nerd. I LOVED raising tadpoles this spring, and watching them transform into tiny little toadlets! It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve done all year! I also learned a LOT. So if you’re interested in taking care of tadpoles, I’ve got some tips for you!

(These tips are compiled from my one year of experience . . .  I’m sure I still have more to learn. Most of the original information I gathered on caring for tadpoles came from here and here.)

An acquaintance helped me figure out that the babies I’d raised were probably American toadlets. (I’m calling them “toadlets” because they’re still not fully mature — they will grow much bigger in the coming weeks).

They took about four weeks to complete their metamorphosis (from mid-May to mid-June). When I first collected them, they were probably about 1 centimeter (less than half an inch) long, from nose to tail; and by the end of it, they were still about the same length . . . but completely different creatures! A quick Google search suggests that by the time they reach maturity, they will likely be 5 to 11 cm long (2″ to 4 ½”).

Ostensibly, this was supposed to be a learning experience for Lydia, who’s turning three this summer. It was a chance for her to learn about caring for tiny creatures, and to witness the amazing transformation from tadpole to toad. I want her to experience wonder at God’s marvelous creation, which will hopefully encourage her to be a good steward of the earth as she grows up. And it’s true that she really enjoyed watching them and feeding them, and notifying me when a new toadlet had emerged.

But in all honesty, it was mostly for me from the start. I find the whole process of metamorphosis absolutely astonishing.

These creatures go from limbless, herbivorous, underwater creatures that breathe through gills, to little hopping, insect-eating creatures with full skeletons and lungs. Amazing!

Here’s how they looked when I first got them. Basically, like little black sperms. (Come on. You were thinking it, too.)

Tadpoles

Tadpoles - first weekBy the next week, they had little leg buds sprouting. And by the third week: legs!

tadpole - third week

Tadpole - third week

Their arms appeared very suddenly and without warning, at the beginning of the fourth week.

Tadpole with arms and legsI learned that their arms actually develop under the skin, and then pop out, elbows first. Hence the suddenness of their appearance. Who knew?

I first read it online, and then saw it firsthand. Here’s a little tadpole I caught with only one arm out. The other is just about to pop out:

Tadpole with legs and one armSee the little elbow just coming through? The rest of the arm was out a few hours later. Neat.

And by the end of the week, fully-formed little toadies were hanging out on the rock. Their skin changes colour and their tails shrink rapidly once they have all their limbs. Awesome! We spent a lot of time examining them before letting them go, one by one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHolding toadlet with tail

American toadlet

American toadlet being released

I’ve always wanted to keep tadpoles to get a chance to see this metamorphosis up close. This just happened to be my lucky year: my parents’ pond happened to contain thousands of little tadpoles, and my mom said I could help myself one afternoon when I was visiting.

I borrowed their old fish tank, too. That same day, I found a big old (dirty) bucket, scooped up some tadpoles and pond water, and took them home. I just put the bucket in the back of my van and let them sit on the porch until the next morning when I was able to deal with them.

And the next day I learned that I had made my first mistake.

Following are my tips if you would like to raise your own tadpoles through metamorphosis:

Plan Ahead.

Before you get started, consider how many tadpoles you can reasonably house. Think about what you will feed them, and whether you’ll be willing to change the water every day for a month.

I was so eager to get started I didn’t take the time to think through what I was doing. I ended up taking way too many tadpoles home — probably about a hundred! — and half of them died the first night. I’m not sure if it was overcrowding, or too much heat, or what; but whatever it was, it was not good.

I had to spend the next morning separating the dead tadpoles from the live ones. It is smelly, tedious, time-consuming work. And I felt awful. I was an ignorant tadpole killer.

Again: plan ahead.

For future reference:

With bigger tadpoles, a good rule of thumb is one tadpole per liter of water (or 4 per gallon). Since mine were so tiny, I’d estimate that 2-3 per liter (8-12 per gallon) would be fine. My fish tank held about 2 gallons, so a safe number would have been 16-24 tadpoles max. NOT a hundred.

Water

It’s a good idea to start with the original pond water. I also kept a few plants (duckweed) in there to replicate their original home. But the water needs to be replaced often, because it gets dirty very quickly. (Though not as quickly if there aren’t so many tadpoles!)

Tadpoles need non-fluoridated, non-chlorinated water. This might mean you’ll need bottled/filtered water, depending on your tap water.

Luckily, our water is not fluoridated. And to get the chlorine out, you just have to let it sit in an open container overnight. Every day, I filled a gallon ice cream bucket with tap water and let it sit until the next day, when I would replace half the tank’s water.

Changing the Water

Since my tadpoles came from stagnant water, I decided that it probably needed to stay that way — that’s why I didn’t install a filter/aerator. But that also meant I had to change the water every day, in a way that wasn’t too disruptive.

First, I used a turkey baster to remove about half the old water from the tank. (After a few days I got pretty quick at this.) I then used the dechlorinated water described above. I usually just trickled in the fresh water over the rocks as gently as I could. The water stayed kind of murky, but I could still see to the bottom.

Temperature

The temperature of the water affects how quickly the tadpoles mature. So you don’t want it to be too chilly unless you want them in your house forever. But you also don’t want to let it get too warm. A good idea would be to keep the tank in a place where it gets a few hours of sunshine, but no more.

I left the tank out in direct sunlight for an entire (HOT) afternoon near the end, and a few toadlets died from the heat. Please don’t make the same mistake!

Feeding

After searching the Interwebs,  I decided the best/easiest/cheapest food for my taddies would be boiled lettuce. (Luckily, it was in season and readily available from my parents’ house). It needs to be soft and finely chopped for their tiny mouths.

So ever week I’d cook up a big handful of lettuce, chop it, and freeze it in a thin layer on waxed paper. At feeding time, I could just break off a chunk and toss it in the tank. (They really do not eat a lot. But as they got bigger, I could see that they loved it.)

Tadpoles eating lettuce.

Rocks

In the beginning, the tadpoles liked to rest at the edge of  the rocks I kept in the tank.

However, rocks that come out above the surface of the water are especially important in the later stages of metamorphosis. New toadlets need to be able to crawl out of the water — their gills stop working shortly after they have all four legs, and they can soon drown in the water that was their home just yesterday!

The final stages happen rather quickly, so it’s important to have rocks in there ahead of time for them to climb. I was shocked to see little toadlets sitting on the rock the day after they started sprouting arms.

Release

Tadpoles go from plant-eaters to bug-eaters in a matter of days. And they only eat live bugs. I wasn’t about to catch live insects for my tiny froglets (what kind? How big? HOW? ) so I decided to release them as soon as they had all four legs and started hopping.

There you have it! Raising tadpoles is fun and rewarding! Have you ever done it?

Reusable Disinfectant Wipes for your Purse or Diaper Bag

Homemade reusable disinfectant cloth wipes for your purse or diaper bag

A while back, I decided I needed to keep some wet wipes in my purse.

I’ve slowly been replacing all disposable paper products in my home with cloth. We use cloth napkins, cloth toilet paper, and cloth feminine hygiene products. (Well, I use them as backup with my fabulous Diva Cup). I used cloth diapers and wipes on Lydia when she was a babe.

So of course it only make sense that I would carry cloth wet wipes with me now.

I’ve never used commercial disposable wipes because I find them incredibly smelly and gross (not to mention toxic). I took cloth wipes with me in Lydia’s diaper bag back when we used diapers (though I rarely needed them since we practiced elimination communication). But I don’t take a diaper bag with me now (hooray for EC!), and I find that I still often need a damp cloth when I’m out and about with my two-year-old.

Several months ago I had the brilliant idea to just pack a few cloth wipes in a small Tupperware container, dampened with some water and liquid soap. I used them once to wipe down her sticky hands while at the park, and then kept them in my purse for a week or two. I was going to tell you all about my brilliant idea until I took them out and took a whiff.

HOLY ALASKAN ASPARAGUS TIPS.

The stench emanating from that Tupperware container was worse than Death. I think it may have been the smell of Greed or Lust. I couldn’t believe what I had done. I threw the rags into the garbage, tied the bag tight, and took it outside. I soaked the container overnight in vinegar, then baking soda, then vinegar again, and then contemplated throwing it out because it still reeked.

Let me just say: it does NOT work to keep sealed wet cloths in a container with just soap and water. DO NOT TRY IT.

After that fiasco, I went online and searched for a proper recipe for antibacterial cloth wipes.

I came across this recipe/tutorial for Homemade Natural Cleaning Wipes that Disinfect, which used vinegar and essential oils. I luckily had all the essential oils already on hand, so I immediately gave it a try.

Since I wanted just a small container that was easily transportable, I had to adapt the recipe for a much smaller batch.

I’ve been using these wipes for months and am very happy with them. They have a pretty strong (clean) scent, but at least it’s not a toxic one.

Remember that if you carry reusable cloths, you’ll need something to put them in when you’re done with them, so you can take them home and wash them. I keep a small “wet bag” in my purse (i.e. a waterproof bag, typically used for storing used cloth diapers), along with an extra pair of pants in case Lydia has an accident. (She is barely two, after all.) I can just slip a used cloth into the wet bag to launder later.

One cloth goes a lot further than a paper wipe, so you don’t need to carry as many.

Ingredients

1/4 cup vinegar

1/4 cup water

5 drops lemon essential oil

3 drops lavender essential oil

1 drop bergamot essential oil

*I’m guessing you could play around with the essential oils, omitting one or two, but since I had them all, I use them all.

Directions

Stuff about 4 small cloths into an airtight plastic container. (For the cloths, I use old baby washcloths. I would recommend darker cloths, since they tend to get stained. Old cut-up t-shirts would be perfect. For the container, I use a small, flat, thrifted Tupperware container.)

making homemade wet cloth wipes

Mix the liquid ingredients together in a measuring cup and pour onto the cloths.

making homemade cloth wipes

Seal container, shake it up a little, and stuff it into your purse, along with a reusable wet bag for storing used cloths. (I found a really small bag at a lingerie store, meant for storing wet bathing suits. Perfect!)

homemade cloth wipes for purse

reusable cloth wipes for purse

To Use:

Remove a cloth and wring it out slightly if necessary. After use, put in wet bag. It can stay in there for a while until the rest have been used up, but you probably want to rinse or machine wash it as soon as possible. Cloths can be washed and reused indefinitely.

Easy peasy. They clean effectively, leave a nice clean smell, and best of all, DON’T GET STINKY.

Our Switch to Cloth Wipes (a.k.a. Cloth Toilet Paper)

 reusable toilet paper

The other day I noticed we were on our last roll of toilet paper, so of course I added it to the grocery list on the fridge.

(What an exciting lead for a blog post, amiright? Last roll of toilet paper? I’m on the edge of my seat! Tell me more!)

Once at the grocery store, I scanned the aisle (half an aisle — both sides — in our local superstore is devoted to throwaway paper products) for whatever was on sale. Half off on Charmin? Sold. I hoisted the enormous cellophane-wrapped package — the size of a small treasure chest — into my cart, cringing at the additional $13 on our grocery bill, and the fact that there is no dignified way to buy toilet paper. You simply have to manhandle a ginormous, crinkly, saggy package of toilet paper rolls and wheel it around the store with you. There is no other way.

Once at home, I had the task of removing all that superfluous plastic packaging and stacking the rolls in our closet. But I discovered, to my dismay, that Charmin double-wraps its toilet paper: there’s the main packaging around the whole thing, but then inside, each pair of toilet paper rolls is also wrapped in another layer of plastic to hold everything together more neatly.

By the time I was done unwrapping everything, I had a huge pile of cellophane on my hands, which I had to stuff into my kitchen garbage can.

And more than ever before, this just did not feel right to me.

Respecting the Toilet Paper

I wrote recently about how I feel called to respect the material world around me. For me, this means eliminating disposables from my life as much as possible.

Respect means to look back or to look again. I talked about how using disposable items seems disrespectful to me — we buy things with the intent to only see them once.

Among other things, I’ve recently become troubled with our use of toilet paper. It just feels so wasteful. So . . . disrespectful.

We buy it, all wrapped up in plastic, and carry it into our bathrooms with the sole purpose of throwing it out. Just so we can go out and buy more of it.

(If you want more specific info about the environmental cost of toilet paper, check out Crunchy Chicken’s Post).

I know there are probably lots of other practices I engage in which are more wasteful and disrespectful of the earth’s resources, and I’m working on those, too; but this one seemed like a pretty quick and easy thing to change since we already use cloth diapers. (Actually, we just finished with diapers. HOORAY! But that’s another blog post.)

(I also want to briefly reiterate what I said in my last post: I am not assuming that this lifestyle change is realistic for everybody. It might not be an option for you right now. That’s okay. Guilt has no place in the Kingdom. I personally first read about cloth wipes a couple of years ago from SortaCrunchy Megan, and I filed it away in the Maybe Someday compartment of my brain. Until now.)

Anyway, we’d already been using cloth wipes on our babe, and it didn’t seem like a big adjustment to change all our personal hygiene items to cloth. We already had the lidded garbage cans hanging aroung and were used to throwing a load of smelly cloths into the wash every other night; we could totally handle this.

So here’s how we did it.

[Side note: one dear reader pointed out to me that since we already have a diaper sprayer attached to our toilet, we could use that as a bidet and forgo wipes altogether, like they do in countries all over the world. I thought that was a brilliant idea . . . until I let one drop of water from the sprayer drop onto my bare thigh. HOLY ICICLES! At least during a Canadian winter, I’m afraid that’s not an option. Perhaps I’ll try again in the summer.]

Our Switch to Cloth Toilet Paper

I’m finding that with all non-disposable items, the most difficult thing is putting a system in place that allows for easy/frequent laundering. Here’s how we’re tackling that.

You may recall our bathroom setup for cloth diapers, which included a second garbage can with a step-opening lid near the toilet. Even though we were just transitioning out of diapers with our little one, I decided to leave it there.

cloth toilet paper setup bathroom

Oops. Someone doesn’t think she’s getting the appropriate amount of attention.

There’s still regular TP and a normal waste basket for guests to use (and for ourselves, at times).

I put a small basket on the toilet tank to hold the wipes. I’m sure there’s a more discreet approach, for people who don’t necessarily want to advertise their unconventional ways in the bathroom, but I already had this on hand.

toilet

I started out using Lydia’s old cloth wipes (which were just cheap baby wash cloths) to try out, but they were too big. I dunno – I just didn’t like the feel of a big 8×8-inch piece of fabric, folded up several times, to do such a small job. You know?

So I made my own.

I just took an old flannel receiving blanket and divided it into 25 or so 5½ x 5½–inch squares with a ruler and pencil. (One blanket was all I needed, since you only need one sheet per use).

I borrowed my mom’s serger, which cut and serged the edges so they wouldn’t fray in the wash. I believe pinking shears would give similar results.

making cloth toilet papercloth toilet paper

cloth toilet paper

I put them in the basket on the back of the toilet. Done!

toilet

When I’m done with a wipe, I just toss it into the garbage can with the lid. The inner pail can be removed and brought down to the laundry room.

After a week of using the cloth wipes, I discovered that I preferred to line the garbage can with an old pillowcase. It felt kinda gross to toss damp cloths into a sealed plastic can for some reason. And with the pillowcase, I don’t have to see the cloths again until they’re clean. I can just throw the whole pillowcase — with all its contents — into the wash.

Right now, we’re still using that same garbage can to hold any wet training pants when Lydia has an accident, and we wash everything every 2-3 days. As her accidents get more infrequent, we’ll probably stretch that out to about once a week.

After washing, I hang them up in our laundry room in the basement with this handy-dandy tool from Ikea. Quick and easy! They dry super-fast.

drying cloth toilet paper

FAQ’s and Notes for the Crazy Courageous

(Note: Not for the Faint of Heart)

Can I just use cloth part-time?

Absolutely! We’re not completely committed to using it 100% of the time, but it’s at least available for when we want to use cloth.

If using cloth for #2 seems too much, you could use them just for #1. That’s what we’re doing for now.

What about That Time of the Month?

As above: you don’t have to use cloth 100%. You totally can use it throughout your cycle — especially if you already use cloth pads — but if you don’t want to stain your cloth, or for whatever reason, you can use regular toilet paper during that part of your cycle. Also note that if you’re using a Diva Cup or tampon, there’s not that much blood to clean up.

How does it work with natural family planning / fertility awareness?

I confess, this has given me a little bit of trouble. Many women use toilet paper to help them observe cervical fluid. Since cloth is more absorbent, this might make it a little tricky.

Since I also rely on my basal body temperature to pinpoint ovulation, and since I’m not trying to prevent pregnancy, it’s not that big a deal for me. I’m just doing my best with the cloth. Others might have to improvise.

I won’t go into any more detail.

* * *

So, what do you think? Too gag-inducing? Seem to complicated? Have any questions? Am I forgetting any important details?

Shared on Your Green Resource with SortaCrunchy.

My (Other) Word for 2013: RESPECT (Or, Why We’re Ditching the Disposables)

mother wearing toddler

Before the new year rolled in, I spent some time reflecting and asking God what word should guide the year before me. While I eventually settled on Holy, the runner-up – which I almost chose – was Respect.

I felt – and continue to feel – an increasing pull to honour every living soul as well as the material world in which we live. To recognize the incredible value not only of the people in my life but every speck of God’s beloved creation.

We need the material world to live, after all. God made us out of earth, and our bodies are sustained by the earth. I want to respect the home that God allowed me to share with the rest of creation.

Respect

The word “respect” comes from the Latin, meaning to look back or to look again.

In our fast-paced, throwaway culture, we have a hard time looking at things twice. We don’t have the time or the desire. Once we’ve used something, we throw it into a trash can with the intent  never to see it again. We imagine it simply disappears after that. (It doesn’t, of course. It just goes somewhere else where we can’t see it — in somebody else’s back yard.)

The use of anything disposable is, to me, the height of disrespect.

I’ve felt God calling me to look at things more than once – to respect the resources he’s given me.

For that reason, I’ve been slowly working towards replacing everything disposable in my home with reusable items.

I feel like this is one of my missions for 2013.

(Please note that I don’t assume this is a reasonable mission for everyone right now. You might not be at a place in your life where this is realistic. There is no need for guilt. Maybe someday, this will be something you feel called to as well).

We’ve already switched to reusable grocery bags, napkins, and paper towels, and I’ve started with feminine hygiene. We still have a long way to go, though. We still bring way too much packaging and other stuff out to the curb for someone to take out of our sight.

I wanted to document and share our journey here. Ditching disposables in favour of reusable items isn’t particularly hard or expensive, but it does require thoughtful planning. It goes against our cultural norms. Sometimes, we just have to see someone else do it to realize that it’s even an option.

A few items on my list include toilet paper, feminine pads, and plastic wrap. Posts to follow.

Have you made any changes to a less disposable life? What have you tried? What were some of your challenges?

Soap Nuts in the Dishwasher?

soap nuts dishes[UPDATE, July 2013]: I must confess that since writing this post, I’ve gone back to using a commercial detergent. The thing is, the soap nuts didn’t ALWAYS work as well as they did the first few times. Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t, and I was mystified as to why they sometimes didn’t. I will do some more experiments and update this post.]

In my last post, I told you about my experience using soap nuts to wash my laundry.

Prior to using soap nuts, I’d used a homemade liquid detergent for my laundry for several years, which I was also happy with. The homemade detergent — which uses Borax, washing soda, a grated bar of soap, and five gallons of water — is amazing: it’s crazy-frugal, hypoallergenic, all-natural, and, according to the David Suzuki Foundation, eco-friendly to boot. (I got my recipe here, though I sub out the Sunlight bar for an unscented vegetable glycerin bar, which I get from Whole Foods). I’m equally happy with either the homemade detergent or the soap nuts for my laundry, and will probably continue to use both.

As most of you know, I make most of my other household cleaners and body-care products, too, from deodorant to toothpaste to glass cleaner. (I do this because I think it’s important, as a disciple of Christ, to take care of both the home and the body he gave me. And also because it’s frugal and fun.)

I’d never found a satisfactory solution for the dishwasher, though.

I’d seen homemade granulated recipes out there, but I knew that the use of Borax on dishes was questionable. Moreover, I knew a couple of people who’d tried these recipes and found them severely lacking.

Until now, I’d just used an eco-friendly commercial detergent. I felt okay with that, but it’s kind of pricey, and I felt I could do better.

So I was delighted and surprised, when I received a second bag of soap nuts from a friend, to find that they included instructions for use in the dishwasher.

Soap nuts in the dishwasher?! I’d never heard of this before. If this worked out, I may have found my solution!

So I thought I’d give it a try and let you guys know how it went!

I’ve actually tried it twice now, and documented my second attempt. So here goes!

A Note Before I Begin:

I don’t pre-rinse my dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. In fact, I feel there is something fundamentally wrong with people who pre-rinse their dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Why go through the trouble of loading the dang thing if you’re planning on running them through the sink anyway? I just don’t get it. (If this is you: sorry. I think you’re weird.)

So none of my dishes have been rinsed prior to this wash. (Except, perhaps, for a few heavily-coated pots and pans.)

So here you see my dishwasher full of dirty dishes. Yuck.

dirty dishes

According to the directions on my bag of soap nuts, you put a couple of nuts into the little cotton bag (I used four), and drop the bag into your utensil rack (NOT the detergent dispenser.)

soap nuts in dishwasher

I ran a regular wash, without the heat dry. (I always turn off the heat dry. Save money and decrease your carbon footprint!)

After the cycle had run: ta-da! All sparkling clean!

clean dishes

I was totally thrilled with the results.

I’m told you can re-use the same soap nuts 3 or 4 times. The load you see above was this bag of nuts’ second run. After that, you can just toss them in the compost. (According to this post from Crunchy Betty, you can go a whole lot of things with the soap nut flesh after it’s been used. I haven’t tried any, yet!)

I still have some store-bought detergent to up, but after that I think I’ll be sticking with soap nuts!

Update: I tried a THIRD load with this method (using the same four nuts), and still loved it!

Shared on Your Green Resource via SortaCrunchy!

Soap Nuts: How Well Do They Work?

Soap nuts: How well do they work?

Even if you’re only semi-crunchy, you’ve probably heard of soap nuts by now. If not, I’ll get you up to speed: they’re an all-natural alternative to laundry detergent. They’re technically not nuts, but the fruit of a tree that grows in India and Nepal. You can get them either de-seeded or with the seeds still inside.

Anyway, they contain naturally-occurring saponins that, when mixed with water, have the power to lift stains and grime. To do your laundry, you just toss a few nuts into a little cloth bag and then throw that into your wash, which you can use a number of times before you compost the nuts.

Can you imagine anything more eco-friendly? Washing your laundry with dried fruit that can be composted?

I’d been interested in soap nuts for at least a year or two before I finally purchased my first bag. (Again, as with the shampoo bar, despite my interest I’d been reluctant to buy them online since shipping in Canada is so dang expensive, and I didn’t know where else to get them).

So when I saw a local vendor selling them at an outdoor festival back in October, I didn’t think twice. I was eager to give them a try. They’re an inexpensive, eco-friendly, easy-to-use alternative to laundry detergent which is also completely free of harmful toxins.

So how well do they work, you wonder? Here’s my review!

(Nobody paid me to do this. I just want to spread the word!)

But first, a disclaimer: I’m pretty lazy about laundry. I just don’t care enough to be bothered with reading care labels or inspecting clothes for stains that need special attention. I just roughly sort my clothes according to colour and then toss them in the wash without looking.  I can overlook a few minor stains or tears here and there. I don’t even know the meaning of “delicates.” Almost all my clothes are from thrift stores, anyway.

Since I pay so little attention to my laundry, I might not be the best person to offer a very thorough or reliable assessment of how one cleaner/detergent works compared to another. But I’ll do my best.

Soap Nuts Review

I’ve been using soap nuts for my laundry for the last four months. (Except on diapers. I’ve continued to use my homemade detergent on those).

I haven’t noticed any change in the level of cleanliness with the soap nuts compared to when I used my homemade detergent. Our clothes come out clean and not smelling like anything. (Likewise, I never noticed a change in cleanliness when I switched from commercial detergent to the homemade stuff two years ago, either).

But I figured that alone wouldn’t quite cut it for a review. You might want a few more details than that.

So I paid a little more attention the last time I washed a load of Lydia’s laundry. Just for you guys.

She’s a toddler, so of course her clothes are always dirty. Usually with food stains, mostly. This particular load was especially yucky. I’d forgotten to wash her clothes for nigh on a week. This load included a pair of pants that had accidentally been put in with the wet diapers for a day or two and had absorbed the smell and dampness. (…And then had been put in with the rest of her laundry for a day or two, to spread the smell and dampness to the rest of the basket.) There was also the outfit in there that she’d worn while playing with water in her sensory table, and that I’d thrown into the basket all soaking wet. (See what I mean? Lazy.) All this had been sitting around, all moist, for days. And of course there were the usual food spills and stains all over the fronts of her shirts and dresses.

Without any special treatments or even separation of colours (except to remove any black or white items), I dumped the whole thing into the washing machine with a baggy of three (already used) soap nuts. I ran a huge warm wash. Once they were done, I hung them all up to dry right there in the laundry room as we usually do.

laundry hangingThe next morning when I went to gather the clean laundry, everything was clean and didn’t smell like anything. (Except for the smell of the previous owners’ fabric softener. Lydia doesn’t own a single article of new clothing, thanks to two thrift stores within walking distance of our home and some generous friends. Consequently, her laundry contains a multitude of fragrances.  Fabric softener scents take several washes to erase, I’ve found. They’re WAY harder to eliminate than diaper stink).

laundry 008See? All clean!

Two shirts had some very minor staining on the front, but I don’t think any detergent could have done any better. I don’t know how long they’d been there. One of them appeared to be tomato-based.

So there you go. Soap nuts work. They work well, in my opinion.

An awesome friend of mine recently bought me a second bag of soap nuts for Christmas, and the included instructions say that they can be used in the dishwasher, too.

PS – Southwestern Ontario locals: I got mine from these folks. Find them at the Leamington Farmer’s Market!

U.S. residents: you might want to give them a try via Green Virgin Products.

How about you? Have you used soap nuts? What was your experience? If not, wanna give them a try?

My Cloth Diapering System (Part Two of Cloth Diapering: NOT a Big Deal)

Yesterday I wrote a post explaining why I find cloth diapering to not be a big deal at all. Today, I wanted to go through my cloth diapering system, to show you just how simple it really is. There are hundreds of different ways to deal with your baby’s elimination; this is just what works for us.

The Diapers

Prefold-and-Cover; All-in-One; Fitted

I ended up trying a variety of diaper styles.

We started out with the Bummis newborn pack— a set of prefolds and covers for babies 5-9 lbs. (My Lydia was a small one, at 6 lbs 11 oz. Lots of babies are born too big for this pack!). These lasted us for the first month or so.

From there, we scored a huge “variety pack” of used diapers from a family that we found on Kijiji — over two dozen diapers, plus accessories, for only $100. That was great for introducing us to different kinds of cloth diapers. Some we loved; others, not so much. These diapers lasted us another 6-8 months, at which point we needed to buy some bigger ones. We got the remaining diapers new, which should last her until she is potty trained.

All together, we’ve probably spent about $400 on cloth diapers. Not bad!

If we have more babies — and I hope we do — we will be able to spend exactly zero dollars on diapers. If we don’t, we can easily sell the ones we have for a decent price.

My personal preference is for prefolds with sized covers (with snaps, not Velcro). I find this to be the easiest, most cost-effective choice.

With snaps, you don’t have to worry about snags in the laundry or scratching your baby’s sensitive skin. Snaps also don’t seem to wear out the way Velcro does, and don’t come undone as easily.

Prefolds also create the least amount of bulk in the diaper pail/bag and washing machine, since you’re only washing the insert instead of the whole diaper. You only need two or three covers in any given size, which you can use over and over again unless you get poop on it (which is a rare occurrence). Moreover, prefolds dry much faster than any other type (besides flats, but who uses those?), making them more eco-friendly. You can more easily air-dry them, or, if you use the dryer, you don’t have to run it as long.

Since we practice elimination communication, I also like to use fitted diapers (without a cover) when we’re at home. That way, I can tell right away when she’s wet her diaper, without having to deal with a big puddle, and can cue her and change her immediately. (More on EC here).

The Setup

cloth diapers

Here you can see our change table setup (No, we do not keep our change table in our office; why do you ask?), with a basic lidded garbage can beside it.  It’s the kind with the foot pedal, and you can remove the inner pail, which we take downstairs to our laundry room when it’s full. (We wash them every other day.) The garbage can does an amazing job keeping the smell in: you can NEVER smell the diapers, except for a minute right when you open the can.

As you can see, I keep the diapers on the shelf below (and also her clothes, kept oh-so-tidy, on the bottom shelf). On the shelf above is where we keep the covers, cloth wipes, and wipe spray (and also her leg warmers):

The wipes, of course, go into the “garbage” can with the rest of the diapers after they’re used.

And here is our bathroom setup, which we only had to put together after she was six months old for reasons I explained yesterday:

(No, our toilet isn’t normally a snowman. Just for the holidays. It adds a little whimsy to our bathroom.)

So you can see the diaper sprayer, which I mentioned yesterday, for the odd time we need to spray the poop off a diaper. I highly recommend it. Here’s a closer look at how it attaches:

We keep another lidded garbage can nearby (marked “cloth diapers,” lest any guests get confused) to toss the sprayed diapers into. This almost never gets used, honestly. Most of the poop goes into the potty, which you also see in the pictures. The diaper sprayer comes in handy for rinsing that out, too.

Washing

Like I said, we wash the diapers every other day. So three or four nights a week, we just lug the pail of diapers downstairs, dump them into the washing machine, and run it.

Because we practice EC, there is rarely any poop involved, and each diaper has only been peed in once; so we generally don’t bother with long/multiple/hot washes. Just a normal cycle, with my normal, homemade detergent.

(Note: if you have nicer/more expensive diapers, you may want to take more care in how you wash them. Since my diapers were all very inexpensive, and since we practice EC and don’t need them to be super-absorbent, I’m not overly concerned.)

When the wash cycle is done, we just toss them into the dryer.

(I know. I’ve written about line-drying clothes before, and I feel like a hypocrite using the dryer for diapers. But I figure I’m already being pretty earth-friendly with the cloth diapers, and we air-dry all our other laundry. Diapers take a long time to dry indoors, and we usually wash them at night, so . . . this is what we’re doing for now.)

The next morning, I carry the load of diapers upstairs and fold and stack them. This takes me a total of two minutes, MAX — all I’m doing is folding them in half or into thirds, and then putting them into piles under the change table.

If you’re super-tidy, you can fold your cloth wipes as well; if not, you can just stuff them in a box. (I actually usually fold them for some reason.) In Lydia’s earlier months, we used a lot; now that she’s older, we probably have about 4 wipes in a given load.

You will note that none of this involves a whole lot of labour. It just requires one of us to remember to do it. That’s the only real added effort that cloth diapering requires, in my opinion: remembering.

Going Out

diaper bag cloth diapers

Going out with cloth diapers is not a big deal, either. We used to use disposables when going out, but found that it wasn’t necessary. We just keep a wet bag (i.e. a washable, waterproof bag with a drawstring or zipper) in our diaper bag, into which we stuff any wet or dirty diapers. When we get home, we add this to our diaper pail.

I highly recommend getting two wet bags, so you can rotate them in the wash. We have only one, and it’s kind of a pain, trying to make sure it’s always in the diaper bag when we go out.

So there you have it.

At a Glance:

Here’s my cloth diapering system in short, to give you an idea how not a big deal the whole thing is.

Total Equipment Involved:

  • the diapers themselves
  • two lidded garbage cans — a tall one by the change table, a small one in the bathroom
  • a wet bag (preferably two) for the diaper bag
  • a diaper sprayer attached to the toilet
  • optional: 20 or so cloth wipes, and a spray bottle with homemade wipe solution. (If you’re using cloth diapers, I find it’s easier to also use cloth wipes, so everything can go in the same pail afterward)

Total Labour Involved:

  • If there’s poop (and the baby’s eating solids), emptying it into the toilet; maybe spraying it off (one minute per poopy diaper). Most babies over 6 months old don’t poop more than once a day. (And like I explained yesterday, the poop of exclusively breast-fed babies is water soluble, meaning you can just throw the diapers into the wash as they are).
  • Tossing the diapers into the washing machine (30 seconds), three or four times a week
  • Tossing them into the dryer (30 seconds), three or four times a week
  • Folding and stacking the diapers (2 minutes), three or four times a week

Really: NOT A BIG DEAL!

Am I forgetting anything? Do you have any questions? If you’re a cloth-diapering veteran, what are some of your tips? Do you think it’s much harder than disposables?

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