Look at Me! I'm Chemical Free!

We spent New Year’s Day in Manhattan, figuring it’d be a good day to go, since most everyone from the night before would be asleep or already left, and, my daughter had never seen the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. Getting up early and driving in, we headed to Times Square. Hours before, there’d been millions of New Year’s Eve revelers, and several tons of paper confetti had dropped on the crowd. When we arrived at 10:00 AM, there was not a scrap of trash to be seen! The only shred of evidence of the celebration were a few sanitation trucks parked at the end of the street, and the lit “2012” lights where the Ball had been dropped at midnight. Talk about efficient post-holiday cleaning! While many do “Spring Cleaning”, the weeks after New Year’s are a good time to clean and organize. Packing away holiday decorations leaves open table tops and spaces, and it’s too cold to do much outside. With indoor pets and a busy family, I have a lot to keep up with. We’ve already “gone organic,” getting chemicals out of our foods, now my New Years’ resolution is to “cleanse” us of the rest of the chemicals in our lives!

When I first became the “Suburban Farmgirl,” I chuckled when I saw the icon of the happy woman with the vacuum.  I love to vacuum! Because I have pets, it’s the chore that’s got the most dramatic end result. It’s also great therapy…I vacuum when I’m nervous or worried. It helps me “think”. (Perhaps that’s why when I’m at my most stressed, I have the cleanest floors)! The last vacuum I bought is a greener choice, with a clear dispenser cup for the dirt, saving the planet and my wallet from having to buy bags. A good vacuum also means I don’t buy those perfumed powders for the carpet. If anything extra is needed, pure baking soda works just as well. Vacuuming makes me happy…what’s your “favorite” chore? Is there one that makes you feel better?

For hard surfaces, in the past, I’ve spent countless dollars on all types of cleaning products. I probably could’ve gone on that dream cruise and hired a cleaning team to handle the housekeeping to boot! Now my favorite money-saver is my “All-Purpose Vinegar Spray”. I keep a spray bottle filled with two-thirds water and one-third vinegar, and use it for everything. I spray my countertops, cook top, and appliances in the kitchen with it, and use it to keep the inside of my microwave and shelves of my fridge clean. I used to use anti-bacterial wipes. They’re pricey, and come with a warning to rinse with water any surfaces after using that could come in contact with food. Vinegar’s a natural antibacterial agent, and will not induce armies of antibiotic-resistant germs in your home. The vinegar scent dissipates quickly. It’s great for glass, too. You can also add a little rubbing alcohol or a teaspoon of your favorite dish soap to the bottle. For windows, try vinegar and water and use newspaper instead of paper towels. You’ll get streak-free results! Pure vinegar works to neutralize urine odor, as well. We recently had a cat with a UTI. Thank the Lord for vinegar! For blood, nothing beats pure hydrogen peroxide worked into the stain before laundering. (Just check that the fabric is color-fast).

In my laundry, I use vinegar in the fabric softener cup. My clothes are softer, whites are whiter, and my towels smell fresh. This week, I made laundry detergent. I’d previously switched to a dye and fragrance-free version, but am excited to take the next step with my own homemade detergent (and look forward to earning a new Merit Badge).

I recently made my own laundry detergent and love the results! There are many variations to the “recipe” to be found, but I used 1 cup Borax, 1 cup Washing Soda, and 1/3 bar of Fels Naptha Laundry soap.I use 1/4 cup detergent for normal to large loads, and 2-3 TBSP for small ones.

My grandpa, Rayford Waggoner (above, in the 1940’s) wore a crisp, white shirt everyday, even after he retired.  My grandmother always had them looking like new with bluing, which I recently found at a grocery store, and a hot iron. 

One chore I find tedious is ironing hubby’s dress shirts for work. Unfortunately, he can’t use dry-cleaners because of his sensitive skin. Even asking for no starch, the residue of the chemical starch in the machines they use can irritate him. We’ve been to the emergency room because of an allergic reaction to a starched collar! Instead, I use a steam iron, or for really stubborn wrinkles, make my own spray starch using 1 TBSP cornstarch to 2 cups water.

Speaking of steam, I switched to a steam mop for my tiles. The only expense is a yearly replacement of the filter.

My house smells fresh without the headache-inducing, heavy perfumes and bleaches from conventional cleaners. I do love scented candles, though. Last year, my mom sent me some soy candles fragranced with essential oil which are healthier to burn than conventional candles.

I dislike using gloves when cleaning, and have suffered for years with peeling, brittle nails that break. One surprise after switching my cleaning products is the fact that my nails are now long, strong and healthy.

The hardest part of “going all-natural” has been personal care products, which are chock-full of tongue-twisting synthetics and chemicals. I’m an outdoor girl, but also a girlie-girl who loves a little glam! I’ve happily found all-natural or close-to-it products, and many at main-stream stores. My new favorite cosmetics are Physician’s Formula Organics mascara and Gentle Concealer, and Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmers and glosses. Meeting MaryJane, I was in awe of her complexion. Complimenting her skin, she answered back, “Organic food.” My family’s skin has changed, too, since going organic, and I find that I use fewer products because I simply no longer need them. Did you know that your body absorbs a large percentage of what you put on your skin? I have a friend that won’t use anything on her body that isn’t safe to eat.

The inside of my vanity with a few of my favorite cosmetics.  As I  run out of something, I try to replace it with a “natural” version.

I know it’s almost impossible to cut our exposure to everything chemical, but my thought is that it’s got to be better to limit that exposure as much as possible. I’d love to hear from you. What all-natural (or close to it) products do you use or make? Do you have any penny-pinching, natural cleaning or beauty tips? Post me a comment and let me know. I hope I’ve inspired you to try at least one natural alternative to something chemical. If so, it’s a start, and I think every little bit helps.

  1. Shery says:

    Great article. Ok, I’m going to make my own laundry soap. Been thinking about it anyway. My mother and grandma always swore by vinegar. I got out of the habit of using it for as many things that it is good for. Thank you for the reminder. I like the smell and love to eat it on many things. I’ve got a’ways to go toward being all organic, but I’m working on it. Thanks for another nudge :o)

    Thanks, Shery!  You will love the laundry soap.  My husband is amazed at how wonderfully clean, white, and soft his dress/work shirts are.  Good luck! -Nicole

  2. Mari says:

    I was told by a neighbor woman to add white vinegar to my laundry. I have been doing this for several months and LOVE the results!!! The laundry smells fresh and clean. I would love to find a natural option to replace fabric softener but I don’t think there is one. I noticed you add your vinegar in the softener dispenser, I just pour mine into the tub itself.
    I also started making my own cake mixes and cookie rolls, both store in the freezer until it is time to use them. (the cake mix stores in the freezer but need the liquids added when you are ready to mix and bake).

    Hi Mari.  Making your own cake mixes is a great time-saving tip!  Thanks for sharing.  By the way, do you still feel the need to use a fabric softener with the vinegar in your laundry?  The vinegar should work as a softener.  Maybe you can try adding it to the rinse cycle, or use a bit more.  Let me know how it goes.  -Nicole

  3. Janice K. says:

    Thanks for the great ideas!
    I use plain baking soda for scouring out the marks in my kitchen sink and the food spatters on my appliances. I just sprinkle it on and use a damp towel to apply pressure.
    After reading an article on facial cleansing oils, I have started to use grape seed oil to remove my makeup and cleanse my face in the evening. I placed the oil in a small atomizer bottle and then splash a bit of warm water on my face. I place 3-5 squirts of oil in my palm and then massage it over my face. After running warm water over my wash cloth, I use it to remove the oil/makeup residue. Makes my face feel wonderful! I think that any organic oil would work well.

    Janice, thank you for the tips!  Sounds good! -Nicole

  4. Christi says:

    I love your ideas! Does your vinegar formula work on soap scum or do you have something else for cleaning up showers and tubs?

    Hi Christy!  I use my vinegar spray in my bathroom, as well, on the sinks and mirrors.  For my tub and showers, I do use Bon-Ami for scouring.  However, you know those daily "spray and walk away" cleaners for shower doors and surfaces?  I use a bottle of vinegar and water instead.  We have very hard well water.  After showering I spray all the surfaces, including the tile and glass door.  I "squeegee" the door, but leave the rest "as is".  This seems to cut down my work on "cleaning day", and works just as well as the commercial shower cleaners.  Thanks for asking!  -Nicole

  5. Joan says:

    Super article – I have done many of the chemical free living items for well, some,  most of my life – grew up making much of what we lived with – got lazy started using prepared products – going to get back to the good life and make products myself. Thanks for the ‘push’ – I am getting right on it. Happy New Year – love Time Sq. – hope y’all did too.

    Thanks, Joan!  I think the pendulum is swinging, and people are getting back to the basics.  I find making my own products to be more convenient – when I run out of something,  I can quickly make it again, and with far less expense.  New Years Day was fun, the weather was wonderful and the crowds low.  Thanks for commenting, and happiest of New Year’s to you, too!  -Nicole

  6. Yes, it’s time to bite the bullet … really great ideas. I’ve cut back on commercial products in my own life, but our business (a busy inn)has been hard to switch over completely. Years ago I developed a reaction to all those perfumes and chemicals … I avoid the detergent aisle in the grocery store like the plague now; my eyes would water as soon as I approached. That can’t be good!! Keep up the good work; love reading your blogs,
    Your Farmgirl sister, Cathi

    Cathi, thanks for reading.  I hear ya!  It seems now that I have cut out chemicals and perfumes, I am much more sensitive to them, as well.  My sense of smell is sharper!  Take care! Farmgirl Hugs, blogging sis! -Nicole

  7. Adrienne Kristine says:

    If your drains aren’t doing their job in a timely manner, pour 1 cup of baking soda into the drain followed by 1 cup of white vinegar. The drain will foam like the science experiment volcano you made as a kid, but the drain and pipe will smell fresh and clean.

    Adrienne, great tip!  Thanks for sharing!  -Nicole

  8. Pam C says:

    I use vinegar in my rinse cycle, too. I have wool dryer balls for the dryer. The dryer balls help tremendously.
    Too many skin-care products contain perfumes and alcohols. Thank goodness there are more and more honestly healthy products out there for us now.
    Mari – check out the brand Melaluca. You might like their fabric softener but I do find that vinegar in the rinse water and the dryer balls combination works as well. Good luck!

    Pam, I have seen those dryer balls and wanted to get some.  Thanks for the reminder!  How long do they typically last for you? -Nicole

  9. Tami says:

    Great article.
    I have just started using a steam cleaner on our tile and wooden floors, and its great.
    I’m going to try the vinegar in the wash. I was just wondering where do you find the products you listed to make your own detergent and how much of each do you use? As for the skin and what you eat, my daughter has recently gone to college and unfortunately she lives in the dorm and has a meal plan, her face has broken out badly so I can see the connection about what you eat and your skin.
    Thanks for the great information.

    Thanks, Tami.  I have found all three ingredients to make the laundry soap in both my local Shoprite Grocery and Big Y Grocery chains.  The Fels Naptha bar soap ran me about $1.39/bar.  If you don’t use laundry soap, you can use regular bar soap of your choice, but increase it to 1 whole bar.  Check your local stores laundry aisle, as well as the soap aisle.  Big Y grocery chain here has Mrs. Stewart’s bluing.  If you are still unable to find any of the items listed, all are available at http://www.lehmans.com.

    I feel badly for your daughter!  I guess your care packages to college will be stocked with organic goodies! 

    Thanks again for reading! -Nicole

  10. Linda says:

    Dishwashing causes my brittle nails. What can be used for dishes? Or is there any substitute for dishwasher detergent?
    Love your blog!!


    Thanks, Linda!  I’ve been using a more natural one by Seventh Generation.  They are out there.  Watch out especially for dishwasher detergent that say "antibacterial".  Another tip I like to do is to rub some Burts Bees Hand Salve on my cuticles and nails before I do dishes.  -Nicole

  11. Kimberly says:

    Yeah! I love the Burt’s Bees lip balm so much that I started making my own. I even made some with color this last time. You can do all sorts of all natural things: olive oil/castor oil for face washing, coconut oil for moisturizing, baking soda instead of shampoo, vinegar instead of conditioner and even make your own deodorant from things probably in your kitchen cabinet! Let me know if you want links/recipes for any of these. Also, I do the same for laundry detergent and found that you only need a teaspoon for a load. 🙂

    Thanks, Kimberly! For the laundry detergent, factor in how hard your water is and how large a load. The ratio I use works for perfectly for me, but I tend to do very large loads and have very hard well water. For occasions I do delicates or smaller loads I use my smaller amount. 

    I’d love to check out those links!  Thanks so much for reading and commenting.  Making your own lip balm – awesome!  -Nicole

  12. Kathy Davenport says:

    I’ve been using olive oil as my facial moisturizer for almost 3 yrs. About 2 yrs. ago, I started using it as my nightly makeup remover. I’ve been meaning to try using vinegar and other natural cleaners more and more–after I finish up the "modern" chemical cleaners; didn’t want to be wasteful. Now, I’m thinking it might be better just to chuck all of the chemical offenders and expand my use of more natural products.

    I understand that, Kathy!  We changed the bulk of what we use gradually.  As we used something "conventional’ up, we changed it to all-natural.  2012 is my year to go completely (or as close to it as possible) natural.  It does become a fun challenge to replace things, and makes you so aware of what is in everything we use.  Good luck and Happy New Year! -Nicole

  13. Mary M says:

    I have spray bottles of white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in my kitchen and in both bathrooms. To clean mirrors without streaking, spray hydrogen peroxide on a clean cloth, then wipe the mirror. This also works great on stainless steel sinks and fixtures. To clean toilets, put 1/4 cup of borax in the bowl, swish with a toilet brush, and let it stand for 30 minutes or more, then scrub. Borax is also good on fiberglass or porcelain (baking soda also works) if you sprinkle it on a damp sponge or cloth and wipe. I use vinegar in the rinse cup of my washer, too. Haven’t used fabric softener for many, many years. I had migraines set off by scented products so eliminated them long ago.

    Here is the Laundry Soap recipe I use to make my own: You need: a 5-gallon bucket with a lid (mine is an old kitty litter container I bought for this), one 5-oz. bar Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap, 1/2 bar Fels Naptha, and 1 cup Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda. To make: shred both soaps into a large bowl. Boil 4 cups water and mix it into the soap. Pour all this into the 5-gallon bucket with a lid and add 3 gallons hot water from the tap. Add 1 cup washing soda and mix well. Let sit for 48 hours, stirring once. To use: For a large load put 1/2 cup into your washer when the water starts, stir, then add clothes.

    I also spray any non-organic produce I buy with white vinegar then with hydrogen peroxide (order can be reversed). Then rinse well. Removes much surface pesticides.

    Thanks for reminding me of that.  I use my spray with the vinegar and water to wash off my produce as well.  I haven’t used hydrogen peroxide in it before.  Thanks for the info, Mary!  -Nicole

  14. Barb Sanders says:

    I use virgin coconut oil on my skin after my shower instead of lotions. Makes the skin nice & soft and I have no allergic reactions to it.

    Barb, thanks for the tip.  I just saw Coconut Oil in my grocer’s the other day.  I bet it smells nice, too!  -Nicole

  15. marci says:

    I have been making my own cleaning products for almost 2 years but I have not figured out how to clean glass without streaking–thanks for the tip!

    I started making my own lotions this last year. I use coconut oil, beeswax and honey. I did not write down the recipe and last time the lotion was kind of sticky because too much honey. Honey is a great moisturizer.

    Thanks for reading and for the tip Marci!  Sounds good!  -Nicole

  16. Nella Spencername says:

    Hi, I’ve been transforming myself and home to become more organic also. What has me totally hooked are essential oils. Because they have antibacterial properties and smell great, I use them in just about everything. I keep a small spray bottle on my kitchen sink with distilled water and lemongrass oil (4 oz water/40 drops oil) and spray my counters, sponges and dishrags. I also found that rubbing alcohol removes soap scum on tiles and shines up fixtures, mirrors, like nothing I’ve ever used. Also, for those of us who have to use hairspray, it removes the tackiness that can be left on the counter. I sometimes use it alone or mix it with water and lemongrass oil to spray larger surfaces like kitchen tiles. Hope this helps.

    Nella, awesome tips!  Thank you so much!  I have not done much with essential oil yet, but will be looking into it.  I also heard that you can add some to the homemade laundry detergent if you do wish to scent it.  The goat milk soaps I love so much that are homemade by a friend are scented with essential oils.   I also love the rubbing alcohol tip!  Thanks so much! -Nicole

  17. Hope says:

    Hi! I just started using vinegar for cleaning last year. It cleans, disinfects and it’s cost efficient! My tip is that I rub olive oil on my cuticles after I wash dishes. It softens and soothes sore cuticles and it’s convenient because it stays in the kitchen. Also, my husband just bought a ionic washing ball a few days ago on e-bay. It works really well. I’m not sure what the ball is made of ( maybe a durable foam ) but it has natural minerals in it. You just toss it in the wash. You don’t use any soaps or detergents. If you are interested or want to learn more, just google "ion washing ball". There are several kinds and all are priced differently. They also all have different usage dates, but ours said it’s good for two years with just washing once a day. My husband said he bought an off-brand and it works great!! Farm Girl Hugs to you! I hope this helps!

    Hi Hope!  Thanks for the tips!  I’m definitely going to try out the olive oil!  Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  18. Nicole Christensen says:

    I’d like to add something. When going chemical-free, don’t forget your pets. I have a close friend who is a vet, and she has always told me not to use plastic water bowls for my furry friends. The plastic can leach chemicals into the water, and cause rashes around their nose and mouth, cause allergic reactions, and more. Try to use glass or metal. My water bowls for my dog are stainless steel. I can’t use glass because she chucks them at me when they become empty!  -Nicole

  19. lee says:

    I use emu oil on my cuticles at night and after being in a lot of water. I also use emu oil lotion for the softening effect on my hands and feet. It is all nautural and can be gotten online from various sites. I use one in Idaho but there are several. An added benefit is that it is a natural pain reliever for those with arthritis in the hands. Just make sure that the online site does not add any additional chemicals to the oil. Mine is pure emu oil.

    Thank you for the tip, Lee!  I will also pass that on to some fellow knitters I know!  -Nicole

  20. Karin says:

    I use sweet almond oil on a natural cotton pad to clean eye make up. For cleansing my face I use one part castor oil and one part extra virgin olive oil combined in a small dark bottle. Do not wet your face first just slowly massage it into your skin and then I put a hot (not scalding) washcloth over my face and REST till the washcloth is cool. (takes less than 5 minutes but it is my time) Then rinse the washcloth in hot water and wipe off the excess oil. Feels great!!! My daughter uses some type of cloth from a home party and no longer uses soap at all. Her skin looks great and My granddaughters eczema has completely gone away. I almost have my husband (when he goes to Boy Scout camp he takes a case of Clorox) convinced to just use vinegar and water. Not there entirely but still working on him… The boys would be happy since they complain he gets up early and uses so much Clorox on the bathrooms they can hardly stand to go into them… I am sure they are exaggerating (maybe).

    Thanks, Karin for reading and  the great tips!  Chuckling at the story of your husband and his bleach use…poor Boy Scouts!  That used to be me!  Now I can’t stand the smell of bleach.  Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  21. Brenda says:

    Thanks Nicole for all the tips. There are some that I am sure to try. I have used rubbing alcohol for cleaning the bathroom and really like it. The laundry soap I am going to try as soon as I can. Thanks again.

    You’re welcome, Brenda!  Let me know how it goes with the laundry soap.  I really love using it, and am so pleasantly surprised at how clean my laundry gets and for so much less money than ready-made detergents!  Take care, Nicole

  22. debbie says:

    Hey Nicole!
    I really need to try your homemade laundry soap recipe.. Our teenaged daughter does laundry every day and I need a cheaper alternative. Plus, I’ll earn a new merit badge!
    cool! Thanks for such a great post.. Oh, we got a new bag free vacuum last year too. Love it! Happy Cleaning sista!
    Deb ( your beachy bloggin’sis )

    Hey Deb,
    If you find the ingredients at the same price I have, it’s estimated to run less than five cents a load.  Plus, the Borax has so  many other great uses, too.  I’m still amazed at the difference in my hubby’s work shirts.  The older ones look brand new! 
    Farmgirl Hugs,

  23. whittney says:

    That is awesome .  I’ve been wanting to change everything over as well.  I also use organic wear, but its hard to find. Where do you buy yours from?

    Hi Whittney,
    Thanks for reading.  I have bought the Organic wear at Target, CVS, and most recently at Rite Aid Pharmacies.  Good luck!  -Nicole

  24. Beryl says:

    Hi Nicole, this is my first time reading your blog. I am a 43 y.o. stay at home mom in a suburban NJ town. I have been feeling more and more of a pull toward a healthier lifestyle. I buy more organic foods and try to stay away from products laden with chemicals. After reading your blog, I am more motivated to try even more natural products. Any suggestions for facial care for sensitive skin that breaks out easily? Also, I am going to try the laundry soap recipe. Thanks for a great blog! Very inspiring!


    Hi Beryl!

    I’ve tried a lot of both natural and conventional products over the years.  Right now I am really happy using the Burt’s Bees skincare.  I am using "Radiance Day Lotion" as it is the only natural one I can find with sunscreen, which is important.  It has SPF of 15.  I use their "Naturally Ageless" night cream and (sometimes) their anti-aging serum.  I am most happy with a new product they recently came out with, which is their cleanser for sensitive skin.  It lathers and cleans my skin without stripping it, but also gets it clean.  Finding a natural cleanser I liked was hard.  So many natural ones have menthol in them, which makes my skin burn and red.  I like this line because it has the exact percentage of how natural their products are (97% – 100%), and my skin is not red anymore, or broken out.  (I have dry skin but can break out with the wrong product) and I can find their line just about anywhere.  There’s another line at Whole Foods that I do like, too, called "Aubrey Organics".  They have a rosewater cream that I like, as well.

    Thank you for reading!  Hope this advice helps.  -Nicole

  25. Amy says:

    Hi Nicole. Love all the tips. I have done so much research on petroleum based products and their other name "mineral oil" . It is horrific for our body and has over 30 other names in products. I love the laundry detergent recipe, but found that Fels-Naptha contains petroleum as well. I did find a similar recipe using castile soap instead, with excellent results. I’m going to give it a try.

    Amy, thanks so much for the tip! I didn’t know that about Fels-Naptha. With the recipe I have, you can use "regular" soap as well.  If you do, increase the amount of soap to a whole bar.  -Nicole

  26. Jenni says:

    Great, great article. We’ve been replacing all out household items with natural makings. Seemed like the next logical step after no/very little restaurant or processed foods! =-)

    Thanks, Jenni!  It really does make a difference.  Thanks for reading.  -Nicole

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