As an avid do-it-yourselfer, I returned from the grocery store a bit discouraged the other day. Increasingly, it is becoming tougher and tougher to justify making many things when their store-bought counterparts seem cheaper and easier. Why spend the time and money it takes to make my own glass cleaner when I can buy a can for less than $1? The debate gets even fuzzier with the bevy of “green” products on the market. These items tend to be chemical- and phosphate-free and are better for the environment than their traditional counterparts, but most come with a higher price tag. Sometimes it just seems as though it is easier, cheaper or better for the environment to buy something rather than make it. As someone who wants to live right, keep excessive consumerism in check and keep my carbon footprint as low as possible, I struggle with this every time I visit the grocery store. But walking that fine line between over-consumption and hyper do-it-yourselfism can be tough. Below is a list of things that no consumer needs to buy as making them yourself is always cheaper and always better for the environment.
Soap and related soap-items: Making soap at home is fun, easy and a true bargain. From one batch of homemade soap you can make bars of chemical-free soap for bathing, laundry,dish washing, shampoo and other soap-based item that are expensive to buy. The best news is that you can make soap in your kitchen with or without lye. Scents can be easily tailored to what you have growing in your garden, whether its lilac, oleander or jasmine. As any chemistry buff knows, soap calls for only a few inexpensive ingredients. Books dedicated to the art of soap-making are easy to find and many websites offer tips and recipes for wannabe soap makers.
Glass/stainless steel cleaner. A simple solution of white distilled vinegar and water, kept in a spray bottle is a chemical-free and cheaper alternative to any store bought version.
Air Freshener. With three kids and three dogs, I can understand why people feel the need to buy these chemical concoctions. Sure, they smell good and most do a great job of covering up odors (or even eliminating them for the time being). But the price tag for these items, whether you buy them in a can or a spray bottle, can hover at $3 to $5 depending on the brand and where you buy. To make matters worse, these surfactant-based products can cause eye irritation if a few stray drops land in your eyes. The packaging of these products warn consumers to avoid inhaling the mist. They have to be kept out of reach of children and pets because they are poisonous. The simple vinegar-water solution that you use on glass can easily double as an air fresher when spritzed on furniture, carpeting or in the air. Yes, vinegar spray smells like vinegar, but only temporarily. After a few minutes the vinegar smell will disipate, taking nasty odors with it. If the smell of vinegar is truly offensive to you, light a soy-based candle or add a few drops of lemon juice to the mixture.
Fabric softener. Whether you buy the sheets or the liquid, products that promise to eliminate static cling from our lives are expensive and contain perfumes and chemical-based softening agents that can aggravate asthma and allergies. A chemical-free alternative is simple vinegar. Add about a quarter cup to each load of laundry during the final rinse cycle. The vinegar will act as an all-natural fabric softener, and no, your laundry will not smell like vinegar.
Disinfecting cleansing wipes. There are a variety of cleansing wipes on the market that promise to help us keep our homes clean and sanitary by killing germs and disinfecting. Although many of the brands do not contain phosphates, most do contain chemicals hazardous enough to warrant a “caution” warning on the label. They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritations and are not safe to store around animals or small children. Instead of reaching for these disinfecting wipes, reach again for the vinegar water spray. It’s safe for just about any surface that you would clean with disinfecting wipes. And refrain from using paper towels to clean your counter tops. Instead, use rags. I keep a bucket of bags underneath my sink. Often, I’ll throw the rag away after using it, but often, I’ll simply launder the rags (in homemade laundry detergent and vinegar) and reuse them.
Bathroom, kitchen and multi-purpose cleansers. I picked up one bottle of lemon scented multi-purpose cleanser in the store the other day, flipped the bottle to look at the warning label and read: “Causes moderate eye irritation. Harmful if swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Avoid contact with eyes, skin or clothing. Do not mix with oxidizers, anionic soaps and detergents.” Most of your house, including your bathroom, kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, etc., can be cleaned with simple baking soda and vinegar.
First aid ointment. These ointments can be expensive and often work with mixed results. As well, most contain alcohol and chemicals that really do nothing to take the sting out of an insect bite or a minor scratch. Opt instead for a cutting from an aloe plant or a simple solution made of baking soda and water. A drop of pure honey can also be soothing to a cut, scratch or insect bite.
Hand sanitizer. Every year when the schools send around their back-to-school supply list for parents, I have this same conversation with the teachers. Most hand sanitizers contain triclosan and/or a host of other chemicals that have not been tested beyond how they they effect the skin’s surface. Yet, studies have shown that triclosan can be absorbed through the skin into the blood stream. Opt instead for a home-made hand sanitizer made from equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water. Mix in a spray bottle and spritz as you would any hand sanitizer. Rubbing alcohol can be substituted for hydrogen peroxide.
Bath salts. This is another product that can be pricey and chemical-laced. If you like to add skin-softening salts to your bath, opt instead for all natural Epsoms salts. They cost mere pennies per pound and have more uses than traditional bathing salts. They can also be colored easily at home too.
Canned biscuit dough. In the time it takes to wrestle that can open and break apart the dough, you can mix together flour, milk and pure butter (or olive oil) to make your own biscuits free of dubious ingredients. Baking time and versatility is the same for canned dough and their homemade counterparts.