Friday, March 1, 2013

In Support of Single Ingredients

I have found that when manufacturers combine more than two ingredients, the cost more than doubles and the quality decreases by half. That may be a bit simplistic, but for many household items, I have been much happier with the results, and spent much less $$ buying high quality single ingredients in bulk. Here are several of my favorite optimizations:

Kitchen Cleaning:
Baking Soda
White Vinegar

Carpet Cleaning:
Baking Soda
White Vinegar

Laundry Detergent:
Soap Nuts
Baking Soda
White Vinegar  (rinse cycle)

Air Purifier:
Essential oils in a diffuser or humidifier (Lemongrass, Eucalyptus, Lavender …)

Baking Soda
If I will be using it for brushing my teeth or in a bath, I prefer to use organic baking soda to be on the safe side, but for most other general cleaning (since I use so much more of it), I have been buying big bags of this from Costco. Baking soda is abrasive, so I use it for tough kitchen-related stains (even for grout). I even used it successfully to clean an enamel dutch oven that got really stained, but do be careful if you have a fine polished finish. It doesn't seem like baking soda would be abrasive just to feel it, but it definitely has a super-fine scrubbing action.

Every other day or so, I splash some peroxide on my kitchen sponge to disinfect it (scary amounts of fizz sometimes puff out of that thing). I also use it periodically as a soak for my toothbrush. I've been seeing 'food grade' peroxide more and more in stores these days (yay!). I think the brown bottles may have some sketchy processing that goes into producing it, so I would like to upgrade to the food grade peroxide as it becomes cheaper. For now, it's a split between the big brown bottles I can get at Costco and the more expensive food grade variety. Most standard peroxide is about 1.5% peroxide to water. I think the max allowed concentration for commercial food grade peroxide is 3%. (Sometimes you can find food grade peroxide in specialty stores at 32% - yes, that is extremely powerful, but I wish they would trust consumers to dilute it accordingly. It's so much of a waste to buy it diluted down to 1.5%.)

I've been very happy replacing whatever is in the commercial liquid detergents with a type of berry (of all things) from a 'soapnut' tree: I buy mine in bulk from (since I buy so many things from that site), but I see now that  Amazon also carries it. Basically, you put a few of these berries in a little cloth sack & toss it in your laundry. Reuse a couple of times & then replace with fresh berries. If I need extra cleaning action, I put in a 1/2 cup or so of baking soda in with the clothes.

If I catch the rinse cycle as it is filling up, I put in 1/2 cup of white vinegar. (I don't notice any vinegar smell afterwards.) This is also really good if you have left clothes in the washing machine too long & forgot to put them in the dryer. Just in case there might be any mold that had started to develop, I've rewashed the clothes with vinegar (I sometimes pre-soak them in pure vinegar) and they've come out refreshed & clean for me. I buy gallons and gallons of vinegar from Costco. There are so many uses for this stuff!

To help with cleaning the carpets while I vacuum, I periodically dust the carpets first with baking soda. Other days, I might first spray some white vinegar on the carpets (it doesn't stain any of my surfaces, and I don't smell any vinegar after I'm done vacuuming, but do your own checking to be sure). It seems to help freshen things up for me anyway, so thought I'd pass it along.

Air Freshener / Purifier
I've been enjoying experimenting with essential oils in my diffuser (I've been using one I bought from , but found out you could also put the drops in a standard humidifier which is something I'll also be trying). I find Lemongrass essential oil especially refreshing, and have seen a few references that it is antimicrobial as well. One thing to keep in mind: If the essential oil you find doesn't say 'theraputic grade' or 'medicinal grade', there's a chance the company is doing some tricky bait & switch. The phrase "100% pure" has very lax legal standards, and so that is not a useful phrase to me (similar to the word 'natural'). Buying Organic, on the other hand, does have legal requirements, so I restrict my buying whenever possible to this standard. (I think is very important to limit your exposure to weird industrial solvents.) I've been happy with the essential oils from (I'm really not affiliated at all with the company -- they just seem to have what I'm looking for these days.)

I have stopped buying most pre-packaged cleaning products & found I could replace almost everything more cheaply and what I think is significantly higher quality by finding individual bulk ingredients. (I'm still looking for a good dish washing detergent. For hand-washing dishes, I've been using Dr Bronner's Castile Classic Peppermint Liquid Soap, until I find a better option.) For me, single ingredient products fit in much better with my overall health strategy which is a very skeptical approach to processing. In the case of the 'behind-closed-doors' processing that occurs in factories, there is just too much pressure for high profits, and most of the cost-cutting measures that I suspect negatively impact health are not on the mainstream radar. If there's no adequate feedback mechanism, I see no choice but for companies to continue squeezing profits at the expense of consumer health until more people catch on. If the factors that I find are significant to optimal long-term health are not part of a company's business model, I choose instead to skip all of that processing, and instead buy the highest quality individual ingredients I can find. It's an investment in my health that is also cheaper!

by Laura A Knauth

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