Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rachel's Guide to Cleaning Naturally for Less

            If your house is anything like mine was when I first had my own household, your cabinets below the sink are full of expensive bottles of 409, Windex, Lysol, Kitchen Cleaner, Bathroom Spray, Toilet Gel, Grout Whitener, Your Brand Laundry Detergent, Blue Fabric Softener, Dryer Sheets, etcetera. That’s over $50 of smelly, clutter-y bottles full of chemicals, some of which are deadly toxic! I quickly tired of using my inhaler every time I cleaned, breaking out in rashes from the harsh detergents, and spending so much money to keep my house germ-free so my baby didn’t get sick. But, you might ask, how can I do without my cleaners? I LIKE a fresh smelling house, I don’t want germs all over! Although, I could do with saving a little money… and I know toxic chemicals can’t be good for my family.

            I like a fresh smelling house too. Obviously, sterilizing your entire environment isn’t too great for you because then you’d never get immune to anything, but having it relatively germ free is a good thing, and I definitely like saving money. So, below I will give you a list of non-toxic ingredients that will change your cleaning experience forever. These 11 things will clean every part of your house for far less money than you’ve ever spent on cleaning supplies before.

            First you’ll need a few things to hold your ingredients and apply them. I suggest picking up a few one quart plastic spray bottles, my local $1 store carries them for, you guessed it, $1 each. You’ll be reusing these, so think of them as a one-time investment. Also, you will need a medium sized plastic bucket with a lid, reusing a cat litter bucket (you know, the one it comes in) is perfect for the job, and if you have a cat, is free. An old large Tupperware tub will do for this also. Snap up some old plastic measuring cups, or any dry measure that won’t corrode. Let’s pretend you don’t have any lying around, so again back to that $1 shop for measuring cups. You’ll need old jersey cotton t-shirts too, ones you don’t mind ripping up into cleaning cloths. Old terry towels will also work.  Hang on to your weekly newspaper, and that old Downy Ball? We’ll be using that too. You’ll also need your assortment of scrub brushes, sponges, and old toothbrushes. You may also consider picking up a wool dryer ball, which can be found on Amazon.com.

            Now, we’ll move on to the actual components of your new cleaners. You will need:

A box of 20 Mule Team Borax

Baking Soda

Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (laundry aisle)

Lemon Juice or Whole Lemons

Table Salt (preferably not iodized)

White Vinegar


Olive Oil

Your Favorite Essential Oil such as Thyme, Lavender, Lemon, etc. (optional, NOT “fragrance oil”)

12 ounces bar Castile soap, such as 3 bars Kirk’s All Natural Castile body soap or 2 bars Fels-Naptha Laundry Bar (made by Dial) which is in the laundry aisle (but any soap bearing the word soap on the label will do. Do not use detergent bars or beauty bars)

Liquid Castile Soap such as Dr. Bronner’s Lavender or Peppermint

            First, let’s begin in the kitchen.

All Purpose Cleaner for Kitchen/Bathroom:

1/8 cup Borax

20 drops essential oil of choice (optional)

1 scant Quart HOT tap water

A quart sized spray bottle

Funnel Borax into empty bottle. If desired, drop in about 20 drops of your preferred Essential oil, give or take 5 to your liking. After adding oils to Borax, fill the bottle with hot water from the tap, as hot as it goes, to within 1 ½ inch from the top. Cap tightly and shake until the Borax completely dissolves into the water, this may take a few minutes due to the oils. The order of ingredients is important to suspend oils in solution. Lemon or orange oil are great choices for this disinfecting cleaner. Now you are ready to label and use or store! This also cuts grease nicely. Spray, wipe with sponge, wipe dry with clean cloth rag for streak-free shine.

To disinfect a cutting board:

Wash cutting board like any other dish, then rub half a lemon vigorously over it, let set one minute, rinse. If wooden, re-oil periodically.

Sink/garbage disposal scouring/deodorizing:

Sprinkle baking soda generously on countertop/sink/down garbage disposal, fill clean spray bottle with white vinegar, spray onto baking soda. The fizzing action does wonders for stubborn odors and stains. Scrub if desired, wipe away with sponge. This also deodorizes your sponge! If using in garbage disposal, let set a few minutes then run hot water after while disposal is on. You can also run lemon segments through it for extra freshening.

Dish Soap for Handwashing:

Liquid Castile Soap

Favorite essential oils

Add a few drops of your preferred oils to a 16 oz bottle of liquid castile soap. This will not be quite as bubbly as those harsh detergents, but works well. Using lemon oil will add disinfectant properties.

For stubborn pots and pans:

Scour with salt and a little water, wash. Makes copper and stainless very shiny!

Floor Wash:

1 cup Washing Soda or Baking Soda

1 gallon warm water

3 TBS white vinegar

Few drops favorite Essential Oil (optional, mix into the powder before adding water)

Mix in mop bucket, mop as usual.

For a REALLY dirty floor:

Scour with scrub brush and baking or washing soda dampened with water, rinse well with clean mop and water.


Now let’s move on to the living room.

Window/Glass Cleaner:

In 1 qt spray bottle pour ¼ cup vinegar, fill with water. 1 tsp cornstarch can be added but is not necessary. Wipe glass with crumpled newspaper (not the glossy ads)  for streak-free shine. Everclear can be used in place of vinegar, keep alcohol away from children who might drink it.

Furniture Polish:

1 cup Lemon Juice

1Tbs Olive Oil

Mix together, rub on, set a few minutes, wipe off with clean soft rag.

Fabric Refresher:

1 cup Vinegar

10-12 drops Favorite Essential Oil (good choices are Rosemary, Lavender, Tea Tree, Thyme, Cinnamon)

Mix together in small spray bottle, spot test, then mist onto fabric until slightly damp but not wet. Vinegar smell disappears completely when dry, taking odor with it!

Carpet Freshener/Deodorizer:

1 cup Baking Soda

10 drops Favorite Essential Oil (for strong odors use Tea Tree, Rosemary, or Thyme)

Mix thoroughly, sprinkle on carpet. Set 15 minutes, vacuum!

Let’s scoot on over to the bathroom. You can use the All-Purpose cleaner or the sink scrub in here, but what about that tile? There’s a solution for that too!

Grout Scrub:

1 cup Baking Soda

1/3 cup warm water

Mix into paste, apply and scrub with old toothbrush. Wipe away with wet sponge.

For Tough Mildew in Grout:

Spray on straight vinegar, set 10 minutes, then use grout scrub and rinse.

Toilet Bowl Cleaner:

¼ cup Baking Soda

1 cup Vinegar

Mix in bowl, scrub. For tough rings let vinegar set on stains 10 minutes then scrub.

Finally, we come to the last thing: laundry. The house is clean, but you need clothes, right? Throw out your ideas about detergent. That liquid you love is mostly water. If you must, you can use diluted castile soap and baking soda, but I don’t have a recipe for that. Instead, I use this fabulous stuff, which is good even in hard water.

Rachel’s Laundry Powder

3 bars Castile Soap or 2 bars Fels-Naptha

6 cups Washing Soda

6 cups Borax

2 cups Baking Soda

Finely shred or grate soap using a stainless steel cheese grater. I hear you can also use a food processor. In that cat litter bucket I talked about, mix all ingredients. Use 1/8 cup for small and medium loads or HE washers, ¼ cup for large or heavily stained loads. Place soap in bottom of washer before adding water or clothes.

Fabric Softener:

Fill Downy Ball or washer cup to appropriate line with vinegar. Don’t worry, your clothes will not smell like vinegar! You can add a few drops of essential oil at this time.

Dryer Sheets:

Use a square of wool or flannel, drop a few drops of essential oil onto this cloth, toss in with clothes. A better option is to use Wool Dryer Balls, which can be found on Amazon.com or natural household product websites. They work in the same manner, add oils and toss them in! Used in conjunction with my laundry powder, clothes are virtually cling free.


Moisten stain, rub with Fels-Naptha bar or castile soap bar. Let set for ½ hour or until you wash laundry. Wash as usual.

            As you can see, there are many inexpensive natural alternatives to commercial chemical products. I hope you found my advice useful, and enjoy your new, natural cleaning experience!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ah the Joys of Life

Apparently, I'm not so great at this blogging thing. I guess I'm more into living life than documenting it. But, here's a little rundown of the happenings on my little homestead.

First things first, my daughter finished her first semester of homeschooling. That is not the good part. This is the good part: she went from failing first grade when I pulled her out in December, to finishing SECOND grade by the end of May. You might say "oh, you're Mom, are you sure you're not biased?", and I have to say no I'm not when it comes to education, but I sure was surprised at how she progressed. We didn't go "by the book" as we learned, we just tackled all kinds of subjects, whatever struck our fancy, be it mythology, religions (plural), bugs, brains, the Mayans, maple syrup, or world history, with the necessary ones worked in and made relevant to whatever the interesting one was. As soon as she mastered a thing, I gave her something more challenging. To be honest, I was nervous. I was afraid she would fall short on something... especially in math. At the end of the year, I prepared tests for her at one day per subject, based on state standards for first grade. To my amazement, she passed all of them with 100 percent. So I thought to myself,  that stuff was what we did months ago... I wonder..., and looked up the standards for second grade. All except for cursive writing, we'd covered those subjects too, so I prepared tests for second grade level. She passed with all A's except one C, and that was math, our mutually hated subject. So much to my surprise, in September we are starting third grade, and planning to supplement the Prairie Primer with lots of extracurriculars. This should be a fun adventure!

I have also been following both the trademark debacle and the one in Oak Park too. My veggies are in front of my apartment, even on top of walls in plain sight. In my city, people love that. Apparently in Oak Park, they are evil unless hidden in the back yard and anyone who defends them must be persecuted. I bet those city workers never ate their brussels sprouts as a kid...

As for my garden, it has grown and flourished. I have harvested 21 pounds of vegetables since March. I have a gallon bag of green (and yellow and purple) beans, a quart bag of blueberries, a huge bunch of swiss chard, a few onions and many more close to ready, more hot and sweet peppers than I can keep up with ( I have strings and strings of multicolored cayennes hanging to dry) and have been kept in very diverse salads and tomatoes all summer. The garlic is being slow, but coming along. Still no zucchini, for some reason I only ever got male flowers, and the corn didn't do so hot either. But, all in all, the big experiment went well, and now I know what does well and what will have to wait until I move somewhere else. In August I will begin constructing big cedar planters to replace some of the plastic pots, which have cracked on occasion and some proven to be just too small. Here is a view of the garden from 2 months ago, and a few more recent snapshots of tasty things nearing their peak :)

June 1st, just before it really took off.

Herbs a'dryin. I now have twice as much... I don't think I'll ever need to buy bottled ones again!

Tomatoes ripening on the windowsill overlooking my little oasis of green.

Swiss Chard, oh how I have grown fond of you! You will be tasty, I know it!

I also learned how to make laundry soap, out of necessity. My fiance and I had to use separate detergents because each was allergic, hives and all, to the other's, and it annoyed me to have to separate everyone's wash. Here is the recipe I use, and it works fantastic!

Powdered Laundry Soap
3 bars (12 ounces) Kirk's Castile soap (really any castile soap will do... I hear Fels Naptha laundry bar that Dial makes is good but I am allergic to fragrances in it, you'd use 2 of that)
6 cups Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (not baking soda, this is a yellow box and sold with the laundry additives)
6 cups 20 Mule Team Borax
2 cups Baking Soda

Using a stainless steel box grater (like for cheese) finely shred the soap bars. Mix well with all other ingredients in any medium sized plastic or glass sealable container. I personally use an empty cat litter bucket.  To soften clothes, take a Downy ball and fill it to the lowest line with white vinegar, toss in the wash with the clothes. This also helps prevent any kind of buildup from your laundry soap, and the smell does not stay on clothes. You could also add a few drops of essential oils that are safe for putting directly on skin to the vinegar ball to gently scent your laundry.

That's all I can think of for now, but perhaps I will blog a little more often from now on. I seem to update my facebook page www.facebook.com/oururbanhomestead a lot more than I do this!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Urban Homesteadin'!

Wow, it's been a wild month and a half. One of my dearest friends passed away suddenly the morning after my last update so I got a bit sidetracked. But, we're back! We've all heard the controversy about "that family" stirring up things in the urban homesteadin' community, and you know what, in a way their horribly distasteful actions have done good. It brought us all together as one united front, and introduced us all to each other. That's the only thing I give them credit for. But enough about them, we're here to talk about the latest goings on in THIS family. As usual... busy busy Turtles!
The first peapod harvested, they were delicious!
We enjoyed our first harvest, the peas bloomed and within a few weeks we had a couple pounds of sugar snap peas... they were fantastic in stir fry alongside the broccoli! Our heads were only two inches but they were flavorful.

As of this week's planting, what began as a little recycling experiment and a teeny bag of potting soil has become a full patio garden, and here's the tally of what we have currently growing:
 1 unknown tomato plant
  Celebrity tomatoes (it is the ONLY hybrid I have ever grown, and it was an accidental purchase)
 Roma tomatoes
 Orange Cherry heirloom tomatoes
 Yellow Onions
 Mesclun Lettuces
 Spearmint (we had to divide them already and repot, they are so prolific!)
Tricolor Sage
Purple, Green, and Wax Bush Beans
Purple, and Green Pole Beans
Red, Yellow, Green, and Purple Cayenne Peppers
Red, and Yellow Bell Peppers
Red, Orange, Yellow, Purple, and White Carrots
Wheat Grass for our two kittycats
and a Blueberry Bush!
I probably forgot a thing or two, I've planted so many things I'm losing track. That's a good thing I think.
All the peppers and 2 tomato plants are still in the windowsill as they are not quite ready to be outdoors yet.

The most recent shot of the garden... those pots won't look empty long :) There are more plants behind me in the ground and on the wall too.

And finally, after a trip to the Arboretum's Wild Mushroom fair, we brought home a bag of Oyster Mushroom spawn. After three patient weeks, we are only a few days away from harvesting some delicious mushrooms!
Day 19... they're already over an inch wide... they should triple over the weekend. YUM!
Aside from our lovely garden we have, I have also been making clothing, and in an effort to go green and also save my feminine health and my poor sensitive skin, I began making some very stylish reusable menstrual products! I made them from super soft cotton flannel, cotton/bamboo blend batting, with a waterproof layer in the base and I was very happy with the results... I use less pads, they are so much more soft and comfortable than disposable maxi's with the plastic wings, far less odor, and super easy to manage! Just toss them in a little pail of cold water and wash them with my darks and colors respectively at the end of the week. I even made Strawberry Shortcake liners for the rest of the month! I will never go back to disposables, and I highly recommend cloth pads to all women. Here are some examples. I may begin selling them to friends and family in the near future.
Celestial Liner

Wing Closure

Super Long Extra

Roll them up and take them with!

Everyday liners

Regular Wing Maxi
Well I think that's it for this post. You can expect updates within a week or two, stay tuned!
So tell me, what's in your Urban Home-stead's garden?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Busy Turtles!

Lovely pots from Mexico, adapted by drilling holes to be a wonderful hanging planter for some calendula and alyssums!

 Apologies for the gap in time everyone, we've been some busy busy girls! From long term illness, working hard, playing hard, winter colds, epic road trips, nursing a very sick kitty, and much more, we just haven't been writing anything down at all. I also undertook a new job, as the Turtle Princess's teacher! After many instances of arguing with her public school teacher about my beloved girl's education, or the lack of it she was getting, and the teacher lying to me and not caring about the child's well being, only her own annoyance that the child did not fit a cookie cutter mold, I took it upon myself to do her schooling via a private school's home study program in which the parents pick the curriculum. She is doing much better and is a much happier girl now, and is learning so much more! But don't worry, the recycling project was not forgotten. Quite the opposite! Now we have a patio garden just brimming with beautiful lush edible greenery, most of which is in recycled jugs and yogurt containers, reused nursery pots, some altered decorative terracotta pots from Mexico, and a few repurposed $1 dish tubs from a local dollar store. I managed to at least remember photographing every couple of weeks as new bits and pieces were added. We now have over 19 types of plant life and will soon be adding more as February draws closer. From our continuing lettuce plantings to tomatoes, peas, thyme, rosemary, sage, catmint, spearmint, basil, celery, volunteer squash of some kind (which a snail has eaten off half of the first baby squash),broccoli, carrots, onions, garlic, olive tree cuttings, orange tree cuttings, calendula, and alyssums, we've been working plenty on our not-so-little-anymore project!
Our first lettuce harvest... it makes a tasty salad!

The first tomato from my rescued tomato plant that was mostly dead when I moved in.

Turtle Princess planting Catnip seeds in recycled egg cartons! Those little buggers aren't keen to sprout, we only got 12 out of the 24 planted.

The abandoned tomato plant, beginning to thrive again after some TLC.

My little Princess holding some olives she picked from a nearby tree and will be learning to brine in Home Arts class! What's that behind her you ask? Why, that is indeed a volunteer squash plant in the background!

The veggie garden as of about 3 weeks ago. It has flourished much since then!

Peas on a homemade bamboo trellis, they have grown a foot and bloomed since this pic!

I bought some planters for the onions and garlic, but the rest up here is the herb garden, flowers, celery, and broccoli. The celery has doubled in size after this was taken, and the alyssums bloomed!

Rosemary, olive tree cuttings, and wheat grass for the cats.
Orange tree cuttings from the tree that produced the tastiest orange I have ever eaten. 

That's all for this update, but there will be some more step-by-step projects coming up, as well as some related recipes and probably a craft project or two coming up in the future. Stay tuned, and the next post will definitely be sooner than the last!
-Mama Turtle