Archive for the ‘cleaning’ Category

announcing my new body care & cleaning CSA

January 19, 2011

I’m very excited to tell you about something I’ve got cooking. It’s a CSA – community supported agriculture – but it’s not for food. It’s for my natural body care and cleaning solutions. I’d like to think of it more as a CSB or Community Supported Botanicals program. This is how it works:

1. You sign up to be a member of the CSB

2. Each month, you’ll pick up a whole new batch of body care and/or cleaning solutions (made with the best organic botanical ingredients available) from a conveniently located pick-up point (in Brooklyn or Manhattan)

Benefits of membership

  • Every month you’ll get a fresh batch of organic botanical products with ingredients you can recognize (no artificial fragrances or preservatives)
  • You’ll also get free bonus samples of new products I’m working on, and other free goodies
  • At the time of pick-up, I’ll be available for free tutorials and advice on how to get the most use out of the items in your share
  • Discounts on my private healthy home consultations

Right now I’m recruiting members and asking for some initial input, mostly on the most convenient pick-up locations and times and which products they’d most like to see in the share. In the 3-month beta version of this CSB, members will also provide valuable feedback so that I can shape the program to best suit their needs.

Interested in joining? Contact me via email liz (at) raganella (dot) com and I’ll send you an application form.

committed to a non-toxic lifestyle

June 10, 2010

I urge you to watch this series of important videos by Dr. Sanjay Gupta about how toxins are pervasive, persistent, and impacting us all, everyday.

An initial reaction to this might be easy to become paralyzed and perhaps feel helpless. But I see this as an opportunity to highlight the importance of our choices, especially what we choose to surround ourselves and our loved ones with. We all have the power to make these choices:

  • Choose organic and sustainably grown food and fibers
  • Opt for non-toxic cleaning supplies, beauty products, and furnishings
  • Advocate for improved energy efficiency, for alternative non-polluting fuels, and against the burning of fossil fuels
  • Support local businesses who source their goods responsibly
  • Buy used goods and think before purchasing new ones (whether they are really ‘needed’)
  • Help others find non-toxic solutions for their home and self care

Collectively, our actions have the power to shape our world. As the oft-quoted Gandhi said,

Almost anything you do seems insignificant. It is very important that you do it.
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I’m taking this opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to act as responsibly as I can to protect myself and others from toxic pollutants by making these choices. Are you with me?

maggie’s nuts and nellie’s balls

September 25, 2008

Hey, keep it clean!
We’re talking laundry here.

Maggie’s Soap Nuts

Wait a minute. Nuts that clean laundry? Well, almost — the nut in this case is actually the dried fruit of the Chinese soapberry tree. The fruit contains saponin, a natural cleaner that’s been in use for millenia.

Soap nuts contain no additional ingredients (just nuts!). And if used in cold water, they can be re-used multiple times before discarding (you can throw ’em in your compost pile!). Your box of nuts also includes a cotton wash sack and a pair of seed earrings made by Balinese artisans. Read all the FAQs about Maggie’s Soap Nuts here.

Get a 50-load box of soap nuts here.

Eco-bonus: In suffering rural economies Soapberry trees are cut down and sold as lumber and firewood to feed hungry families. Maggie’s Pure Land reserves the Soapberry harvest years in advance, providing families with guaranteed income from living Soapberry trees.

Nellie’s Dryerballs

I came across Nellie’s Dryerballs on a website the other day and I can’t keep my mind off of them. These nubby little things actually reduce dryer time by up to 25% while acting as a chemical-free fabric softener. They also reduce lint and wrinkles as they speed up the drying process. Oh, and they have a two-year manufacturer’s guarantee. I need to get some of these!

UPDATE: I’m not sure I’d recommend these, now that I know they are made of PVC. I also don’t know if I’d recommend tennis balls, because of the potential for residual smell on your clothes. But I just found these wool dryer balls on Apartment Therapy, and a DIY version here.

(Surprisingly, Maggie and Nellie are not in cahoots.)

dust bunnies, beware!

September 17, 2008

I’ve been rearranging some things in our apartment, finding new uses for existing furniture. But I’ve discovered something in the process — man, this place is dusty! I’d like to chase away the dust bunnies, but I don’t want to grab chemically fresh Pledge or any of its kin — that stuff gives me a headache. So I’m whipping up some natural furniture cleaner.

[Image: Lisa Martin, Dust Bunny Challenge]

I did a little research and all it takes is a simple salad dressing. Really. All you need is some vinegar (distilled white works just fine, apple cider works but might stain) and a touch of olive oil or jojoba oil (it keeps longer ’cause it doesn’t go rancid). Or some lemon juice and a bit of olive oil if you prefer the lemony fresh scent. Just dip a soft cloth (I used a thick cotton t-shirt rag) in the mixture and wipe on wood furniture. Works like a charm.

Here’s a simple recipe using lemon oil, courtesy Annie Bond of Care2:

Lemon Oil Duster
Make sure the lemon oil is pure essential oil and doesn’t contain petroleum distillates.

10 drops lemon oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
A few drops olive oil or jojoba

Dip a soft recycled cloth, such as one of flannel, in the lemon oil mixture, and wipe furniture.

you don’t need green to be green

September 6, 2008

The other day, a friend of mine brought up the common misconception that in order to be eco-friendly, one needs money. There’s really just one thing that I practice to live a sustainable lifestyle: mindfulness. And I think mindfulness in this case can be broken down into 3 actions: a) plan ahead, b) consume less, and c) do your research. Here are a few guidelines that I live by…

Plan ahead
(or, be prepared)

1. BYOE: Bring your own everything, everywhere

  • This includes, but isn’t limited to: reusable utensils, reusable drinking containers, shopping bags, and lunch
  • You don’t have to go out and buy special portable utensils, just borrow some from home
  • Buying a $20 reusable water bottle and filling it at home or at a water fountain is a heck of a lot cheaper than buying a $1 bottle everyday (or even every week if you’re one of those people who refill disposable bottles).
  • Same goes for coffee and tea — brew it at home or at the office and drink it in a mug
  • Your shopping bags don’t have to be anything fancy, most of our bags were giveaway totes. Even just reusing plastic grocery bags will keep the garbage out of the waste stream for a little longer

2. Plan meals

  • If you know what you’re going to eat ahead of time, you’ll buy only what you need
  • If you go to the supermarket on a full stomach, you’ll be less likely to buy stuff you don’t need
  • Plus you’ll keep food out of the landfill where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change (according to the EPA, methane is 20 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide)

3. If you can grow it yourself, do

  • You’ll save money, fuel, and carbon output
  • Plus, you’ll know where your food is coming from
  • If you don’t have your own garden, try a community garden

4. Compost if you can

  • You’ll keep food out of the landfill (see item number 2) and create rich food for your vegetable garden
  • Learn how here

5. Keep your car maintained, and hypermile

  • If you have a car, keep it clean and the tires full — both of these simple things can help save gas
  • Hypermiling is a tactic people use to save fuel. Find out more here

Consume less, live more

1. Buy less stuff

  • Especially new stuff, or stuff made overseas
  • I promise, life will be just as fulfilling without that 5th pair of sneakers or giant flatscreen TV or beauty product, or whatever it is you’re thinking of buying. I know, I’m a recovering shoe addict and impulse buyer myself
  • Of course there are times when you need stuff, or maybe you like collecting stuff as a hobby. Just use your judgment and buy used whenever you can. Shop at eBay, craigslist, or FreeCycle (this one’s free!)

2. Eat less meat

  • It’s pricey, has a huge impact on the planet, and isn’t all that healthy in large quantities
  • Greens and grains are healthier and generally cost a lot less (they also taste good once you get used to them — especially the fresh ones)

3. Eat and drink less junk

  • Junk food is highly processed, so a lot of energy and resources go into making it
  • And it’s full of bad stuff
  • Trust me, you’ll feel better in the morning if you don’t reach for that jumbo bag of Doritos and 32 oz Gatorade. It may seem cheap and tasty now, but just wait ’til you get those medical bills in 20 years

4. Think before you…

  • Print or copy: Can you read it on the computer? Can you copy double-sided?
  • Purchase: See number 1
  • Toss: Can that thing you’re about to throw away be reused or recycled? Maybe somebody else could use it if you don’t want it anymore. If it’s toxic, dispose of it properly (find out how at Earth 911)
  • Drive: Can you walk, bike, or take public transportation instead?

5. Use less water and energy

  • You’ll end up saving money if you conserve
  • Find 100 ways to save water, specific to your region, here
  • See my tips for summer energy saving

Do your research
(Find out where stuff comes from and what it’s made of. Here are a few things I’ve learned…)

1. Health and hygiene

  • Ingredients to avoid: parabens (methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, butyl-), synthetic fragrance, petrolatum, diethanolamine (DEA), triethanolamine (TEA), sodium laurel sulfate (read more about ingredients to avoid)
  • Not sure if your products are harmful? Check the Cosmetics Database

2. Cleaning products

  • You can make your own non-toxic cleaning supplies with inexpensive household products, like white vinegar, washing soda, hydrogen peroxide, lemon, and oil (learn more at The Green Guide)
  • Use rags (old t-shirts and towels work well) instead of paper towels

3. Food

  • Eat whole, minimally processed foods
  • Read the label — avoid ingredients that you can’t pronounce or that have many qualifiers, like high-fructose corn syrup or enriched bleached white flour

4. Furniture and homegoods

  • Avoid furniture and paint made with off-gassing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals like formaldehyde
  • Skip products made with PVC, like shower curtain liners — opt for cloth instead
  • Choose napkins, paper towels, toilet paper, and tissues made from paper, not from trees. Go with these brands that are both high quality and environmentally friendly (Marcal, Seventh Generation, Green Forest). AVOID: Bounty, Scott, Viva, Kleenex, Puffs, Charmin, Cottonelle (they’re all made from trees!)
  • Buy in bulk to save money and packaging

Keep it simple…

Another simple way to live green is to heed the 3 Rs: reduce consumption, reuse what you can, and recycle what you can’t.

Find more eco on a budget tips at The Budget Ecoist

Why bother?

the amazing power of vinegar

September 3, 2008

I keep a gallon bottle of white vinegar in the house at all times. Not because I only eat salads all day long (I have balsamic for that). Vinegar has an astonishing array of uses. And of course, the regular household version is non-toxic (it’s edible for goodness sake!). It’s also really cheap (shouldn’t cost more than a couple bucks for a gallon — in your face Clorox!). Here are just a few ways vinegar works its magic:

Fabric Softener
Add about 1/4 cup of vinegar to your laundry load. Your clothes will be soft and won’t smell like a salad.

I can attest to the power of vinegar as a deodorizer — I use it to get the stink out of my yoga mat after Bikram class. I just put the mat in a bath of water and about 1/4 cup of vinegar and presto, chango — no stinko!

Glass Cleaner
Who needs Windex? Just mix 1 part vinegar with 5 parts water and spray. It works on any glass surface.

Multi-surface Grease and Grime Remover
Use vinegar on greasy countertops, stoves, and even walls. It naturally breaks up the nasty mess. You can also use it to clean the floors. Add about 1/4 cup to a bucket of water and clean the whole house.

Mineral Deposit Remover
Wipe vinegar on the sink or bathtub to break up mineral deposits.

Weed Killer
I generally think lawns are a waste of good food growing space, and I actually like crab grass and so-called weeds like dandelion (it makes a yummy salad!) and clover. But if you’ve got a lawn and hate the sight of invasive plants, vinegar can kill them. The regular 5% acetic you can find in the supermarket should work, but you may have to apply more than once.

Be sure to apply the vinegar only to the unwanted plant, as vinegar is a non-selective herbicide (i.e., it will kill your grass if you’re not careful). You can paint the vinegar on with a brush or spray it directly, avoiding the grass around it. Vinegar disturbs the pH balance of the soil, but only temporarily; it should recover in a matter of days. Also, be sure to apply the vinegar to dry grass on a sunny day and reapply if it rains. There are also other household ingredients you can add to make your weed killer more effective like soap and salt (read about Grandma’s Weed Killer and this recipe from Thrifty Fun).

application of vinegar (5% acetic acid)

application of vinegar (5% acetic acid)
[Images: Todd in Texas, Garden Web]

[Sources: and Garden Web]

Jellyfish Sting Reducer
Pour some vinegar on the affected area and it will kill the sting. It worked for me when I got stung in St. Lucia (something bit me real bad!).

Check out 1001 uses for vinegar [via Mizkan]

in search of a natural deodorizer

July 24, 2008

I need a deodorizer that doesn’t just mask a smell with a lingering chemical odor. Specifically, I need something to get the stink out of my yoga mat. I’ve heard plain white vinegar will do the trick. According to the Green Goddess, a spritz of straight vodka will take care of the smell and kill the germs. She also says that 1 cup of water and 20 drops of essential oils like lavendar, tea tree oil, or lemon oil can handle it, but I don’t have any of those on hand.

Maybe I’ll try the vodka, though it does seem like a waste of good spirit. Spritz for mat, swig for me…
I’ll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE: I couldn’t bring myself to spill good vodka, so I gave my mat a bath of equal parts white vinegar and water (I happen to have a huge jug of white vinegar around just for cleaning purposes). It may have worked for now, but I fear I’ll have to repeat this little process every time I use the mat, which is 3 times a week — in a hot, sweaty bikram yoga studio. I may be investing in some tea tree oil; the spray solution will be easier and less wasteful of water.

the dirt on cleanliness

June 26, 2008

I’m not a germaphobe, but I know plenty of people who are. And producers of antibacterial soaps and chlorine bleach like to perpetuate the fears that these people have about dirtiness. Unfortunately, the chemicals that make these products “effective” can be harmful to your health.

Take triclosan, for example. This compound has been added to a lot of products in the last few years, from dish soap to toothpaste (treehugger has a good list here). Triclosan is not only a suspected carcinogen, it also can lead to antibacterial resistance. Just like with some antibiotics, antibacterials like triclosan and triclocarban work in a specific way to kill off bacteria. Over time, the bacteria mutate and become immune to the compounds. This has been demonstrated in a study examining triclosan’s effect on bacteria such as resistant E coli.

Some believe that a slightly dirty home environment is better for one’s immune system than a super clean home. There have even been studies linking overly hygienic environments to the development of allergies. And one study in rats helps support this “hygiene hypothesis.”

So what does one do to stay clean in an unclean world?
Good old soap and water is just as effective as antibacterials.

Here are some recommendations:

If your on the go and in a pinch and need a hand sanitizer, try one of these health-friendly options:

Side note: I wrongly badmouthed Purell while in Yellowstone (it was in all of the latrines) thinking it contained triclosan, but its active ingredient is ethyl alcohol (which doesn’t have the baggage of triclosan, though I can’t speak for its other ingredients).

airing the dirty laundry

June 10, 2008

One of the easiest ways to move toward a more eco-friendly lifestyle is by changing the way you do laundry. And one of the first things I did was make the switch to biodegradable, petroleum-free laundry detergent, like Seventh Generation.

Here are some other low-impact laundry tactics:

  • Washing clothes in cold water not only saves energy (in heating the water), it helps preserve the colors and fabrics over time
  • Handwashing with a non-toxic detergent is also a great alternative for your delicates like cashmere and wool
  • Replacing an old washer and/or dryer also saves energy. Be sure to get one with an Energy Star rating

Coming soon to a laundromat near you?
Check out this new washing machine from the UK that uses only 1 cup of water for a load of wash. Though it does require all these little plastic chips to do the cleaning (good for about 100 washes). What would you do with them when they need replacing? Got any ideas?