Over the years I have experimented with various green cleaning options and wanted to share some of what I have learned.
The criteria I try to stick to are that whatever cleaners I use are green, non-toxic, simple and cost effective. Green and non-toxic are non-negotiable in my book, I simply refuse to have cleaning products in my home that are going to have a negative impact on the environment or be toxic to my kids or pets - these two go hand in hand as I have yet to find a product that is safe for kids (really safe, not just pretend safe; which means no sodium laurel sulphate, and other unpronouncable chemicals) and truly green (again truly green, and not just green-washed). Biodegradability is particularly important since we have a septic tank / french drain system in our home and essentially everything that goes down the drain ends up in the soil.
Before we moved I had all sorts of different cleaners for different applications and it seemed to work, but our new housekeeper just got confused with the array of vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, spray bottles etc so I decided to simplify things. AND since I haven't earned a proper income since moving house in September last year, cost effectiveness has become more and more important. I have basically narrowed it down to soapnuts, Triple-orange (for occasional greasy, tough cleaning), vinegar and bicarb.
Soapnuts - I use these for 99% of my laundry, including cloth nappies. Occasionally do a load with Triple-Orange (when there are stubborn / greasy stains). I also use these for household cleaning (see recipe below) and in the dishwasher - which hubby kindly bought me for christmas - a couple of soapnuts in the cultery basket and everything comes out spotless. Having done quite a lot of research into dishwashers before deciding I actually wanted one, I discovered that they not only clean better than hand washing, but use less water and energy too. My biggest concern was the lack of green dishwasher cleaners in SA, until I read about using soapnuts.
Vinegar - for windows, mirrors etc (dilute 1/2 cup in a bucket of water) and in the all purpose cleaner (see below). Can be used as rinse-aid in the dishwasher, but I find that I don't really need it when using soapnuts.
Bicarbonate of soda - I use this instead of scourers like Vim; works just as well and isn't toxic. Great for cleaning the oven and burned on pots; a regular occurence in my house. Just sprinkle some in the oven or burned on pot, spray soapnut soap on and let it stand for 20 minutes before cleaning.
It is also a great odour absorber, I keep some in a bowl in the fridge, chuck a spoonful in the bottom of the nappy bucket and sprinkle onto cats littler box.
I even wash my hair with it on days when my hair is extra dirty; other days I use the soapnut liquid and always rinse with a rosemary infusion.
Soapnut all-purpose cleaner recipe ~ I use this to clean my whole house.
Add about 30g (about 1/2 handful) of Soap Nut Shells and the peel of one orange to approximately 1.5 Liter of water. Bring to boil, and simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Be carefull, this boils over easily if not watched, but it does superclean your stove-top in the process. The boiling process extracts the saponin from the nut shells and the essential oil from the orange peel. Lemon peel should work just as well, though I haven't tried it yet since I had oranges left over from last season; which while no good for eating were great for this.
Add a table-spoon of salt (disinfectant & preservative) while the liquid is still hot. Let it steep overnight. Strain and compost the remaining shells. Add a cupfull of vinegar. I sometimes add a few drops of essential oils when I don't have oranges. You can also save up soapnuts used in your washing machine and use them to make the liquid – there is still a lot of saponin to be extracted by boiling after they are no longer useful for laundry.
I put this in a spray bottle and use it for everything from washing bathrooms, kitchen counters...everything else around the house, including dirty little hands.
This is a concentrated, chemical free detergent that can then be used as a laundry detergent, shampoo, all purpose cleaner, car wash, liquid soap, pet shampoo, washing up liquid or any other things you would normally clean with a liquid.
Rosemary infusion for hair
2 sprigs fresh rosemary (about 10cm long), alternatively a tablespoon of dried can be used
2 cups water
Bring water and rosemary to the boil, let it simmer slowly for about 10 minutes, remove from heat and allow to cool.
Strain and pour onto hair as a rinse after washing, do not rinse out.
This infusion is great as it makes hair soft and manageable. Your hair smells great too.
My sister told me about the benefits of using rosemary many, many years ago and I have used it instead of conditioner since.
A sprig of lavender can also be added to give that lovely lavender scent.
Coming soon, some personal care recipes...