Archive for the ‘frugal living’ Category

So What Exactly Is Toilet Bowl Cleaner Supposed to DO?   Leave a comment

It’s not a rhetorical question, but something that I really want to figure out. Why? So that I can replace store-bought cleaner with something homemade and get the same results. My success at homemade cleaners over the last 15 years has been entirely hit-or-miss. Well, the only real success has been glass cleaner, actually.

As a kid I would have answered that the job of the toilet bowl cleaner is disinfection, duh. But that seems silly now. Why would I want to disinfect the toilet bowl? No one drinks or even touches the water, and I’m not about to advocate scrubbing the bowl after every use.  If/when Conan were to/does reach into the toilet water he’d get a good washing after regardless of whether it was dirty or freshly cleaned. So, disinfection isn’t the answer.

How about gunk removal? But isn’t that the job of the scrub brush? As an experiment, for a few weeks I’ve tried using nothing but the scrub brush. One thing that I’ve learned is that there is a reason toilet bowl cleaners are so heavily scented. (I HATE scented cleaners and soaps.) It’s not that there’s an offensive smell, it’s really just kind of watery smelling, but in our perfumed world I can see others disliking it. But the other thing is that the brush alone just doesn’t cut it. The brush does a fine job of gunk removal, but apparently toilet bowl cleaner does actually do something.

So now I’m on to film removal on the theory that toilet bowl cleaner is really just fancy scented-up soap. I think I’ll try a few different things for a while and see what I like. This week I started with a sprinkling of washing soda. I’ll try that for a bit, then maybe I’ll try baking soda, vinegar, or a simple squirt of plan liquid soap. So far, based on one trial, washing soda seems better than nothing, which lends credence to the idea that toilet bowl cleaner really doesn’t have to be some magical brew of ingredients concocted for an impossible task.

I have looked around the internet a bit at alternative cleaners. Can’t say I’m impressed. Partly because I’m an engineer so I want to know how/why they work. That’s why I washed dishes with nothing but baking soda before I washed my hair with baking soda. I needed to actually see that baking soda cuts grease. But also the most popular alternative seems to be baking soda and vinegar and then let it sit. Um, explain to me how a little fizz around the water line will do anything to help clean the rest of the bowl. Individually these are great cleaning agents, but together won’t the chemical reaction eliminate the individual cleaning powers? It also seems that there lots of people who are obsessed with needing to disinfect the toilet bowl, but as previously discussed, that seems silly to me.

My follow-up question in case it turns out that commercial toilet bowl cleaner can actually be replaced with a single simple household ingredient (ok, two for those who need to add a drop or two of essential oils for scenting purposes): If you can clean your toilet bowl just as well with a scrub brush and a squirt of the hand soap on the sink next to the toilet, then how did we let marketing people convince us that a cocktail of fancy-named compounds is necessary?

Posted April 12, 2015 by mayakey in cleaning, frugal living, home, unshopping

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A Weird New Goal of Zero Bottles in the Shower   Leave a comment

Not very long ago I was looking at my bottles on the shelf in the shower and realized that I don’t actually think I need any of them. For a long time I’ve been on a slow progression of simplifying my personal care routines (not that I was ever the stereotypical 20-bottles in the shower/over an hour to get ready in the morning woman), and it seems like I’ve reached a point where most of the rest of my products just seem pointless.

When I say slow progression, I do mean that. This story starts over a decade and a half ago, when I stopped shampooing my hair every day and switched to every other day. Over the years that became more like a couple times a week, then once a week. Then a few years ago I decided to try going shampoo free, using the baking soda and apple cider vinegar method. I had to switch back to washing my hair every time I showered (which was so hard as I had gotten so lazy about washing my hair!). Then gradually I was able to BS/ACV my hair only a couple times a week, and then weekly, while just rinsing with water in between. I’ve now reached a point where I don’t actually remember when I last used the BS/ACV, so I’m guessing I use it a couple times a year or so. When I last cleaned the shelf in the shower I realized that there’s really no reason for me to be keeping bottles of the baking soda and apple cider vinegar solutions in the shower, as I can easily mix up “single serve” batches when I feel like using them. Plus then I can customize the essential oil blends mixed in if I feel I need anything. I’ve also got a bottle of conditioner from back in my shampooing days, which I only use after getting a hair cut to make it up to my hair and restore a coating on the follicles. It’s going to take me another decade to finish that bottle, but there’s no reason it can’t join the extra bottle of shampoo for guests in the hall bathroom. So hair care: 0 bottles, 1 natural bristle brush.

The next simplification was a couple years ago when Conan was born. In the days/weeks after his birth I could find the time to splash my face with cold water every day, but not to use the cream cleanser that I’ve been using for years. After a while I realized that not using a cleanser and/or warm water on my face was not causing any breakouts. So why keep buying/using a cleanser? Then I started wondering if I really needed a moisturizer, and found that even my dry skin doesn’t generally demand a moisturizer if I’m only rinsing with cold water. At that point I started wondering about using oil, not a commercial moisturizer. Shockingly, when I switched to using grape seed oil on my face after showers (i.e. rinsing my face with warm water), I didn’t start breaking out. So facial care: 1 small jar of grape seed oil (the bottle lives in the kitchen for cooking), 1 facial brush.

The only thing left in the shower is the shave gel. I wax my legs, so it’s just for my underarms. Now I want to find out if we really do need special shave products as opposed to soap to shave. I suspect that it may be true for those who shave daily, and for legs, but for underarms that get shaved 2-3 times a week I suspect soap will be fine long term. If true that would mean shaving: 0 bottles, 1 razor.

Don’t worry, I’m keeping the soap.

Posted February 21, 2015 by mayakey in frugal living, goals, personal care, simple living, unshopping

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Keeping Cool Without Breaking the Bank (Or Not)   1 comment

It’s been a hot summer here in Sacramento this year. I don’t know if it has actually been hotter than normal, but it seems like there have been more no-Delta-breeze nights with subsequent day temps near or above 100 degrees. Keeping cool has been a priority.

A few years ago I posted about some of my strategies of keeping a house cool (here and here). The first strategy is to block the sun from shining in/on the windows and exterior walls. Curtains will block sun from coming in the house but the windows and walls still heat up. Shade trees, awnings, or extended eaves keep the sun off the windows/wall so that they don’t heat up. We’ve got awnings over all of our east and west facing windows, and tall rosebushes in front of the south facing windows. The shade trees on the south side of the house aren’t yet big enough to offer shade.

The second strategy is to take advantage of breezes. At night, the breeze coming in through open windows may be able to cool the house down sufficiently to delay or prevent turning on the A/C the next day. (This strategy works great in Sacramento…when there’s a Delta breeze.) When there’s no breeze or it’s hot as blazes outside, though, fans can serve in some situations to help you cool off.

There’s a third strategy that I use but haven’t written about before and that’s to not heat the house. Sounds obvious, right? But as my husband has pointed out, most people don’t really think about it. Is it summer and the forecast says it’ll be around 100 degrees? Then don’t run the dishwasher, stove, oven, or vacuum during the day. It’ll just heat up the house and make the A/C turn on earlier. Even TVs, computers, and any other electronic appliance will generate heat. The TV on in our house for long enough for my husband to get in a game of Battlefront can raise the temperature by a couple degrees. A computer? I’ve worked from home and watched the temperature tick up as I sat in front of the thermostat (in the office) working on my laptop. Even when the A/C turns on, unless the room with the heated appliance is next to the thermostat and therefore controls the thermostat, it will still be warmer and less comfortable than the rest of the house.

We’ve managed to have a couple days early this summer when it reached 100 degrees outside and our A/C didn’t turn on because we were out of the house part of the day, didn’t turn on the TV or computers until later in the day, and moved the toaster outside for breakfast. (There are many more days when we’ve added plenty of heat load to the house, but small victories, right?) I should also mention that in summer our thermostat is programmed to 83 during the day, and my husband usually turns the cooler on manually at around 79 or 80 degrees.

One great thing about the strategy of reducing heat load is that it’s double $ savings. You’re saving money by not using electricity to power the heat-generating device(s) and saving money by reducing energy spent cooling the house. However, as we learned this year, casual applications of these strategies aren’t enough to “tunnel through the cost barrier” to borrow a phrase from Amory Lovins. I was sorely disappointed early this summer when our A/C died and had to be replaced. For a while I forgot about all the monthly savings these strategies have netted us as I stewed about having to spring for an expensive new A/C. As much as I would have loved to be able to live without heating and cooling, we’re not there yet and the new system has won me over with its super-efficiency and quiet operation.

Posted August 17, 2014 by mayakey in conscious living, energy use, frugal living, home, simple living

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My Deodorant Journey, So Far   Leave a comment

I’ve been meaning to write this post for months, and figure that I really need to do it before life turns upside down and I forget everything that I tried on my “deodorant journey”. This journey really started several years ago when I realized that I no longer needed to use an antiperspirant. I was also starting to wonder if there might be subtle health effects from preventing the skin (and major lymph nodes?) from detoxing through the underarm. I was putting a lot of attention on how to best support my body’s natural detoxification systems, and at the best antiperspirant didn’t seem to be something that would be helpful. So I switched to deodorant, buying it at the grocery store. At first I liked the variety of scents much better than those available for antiperspirants, and I found that for the most part deodorant was really all that was needed. But as time went on, I got tired of paying what seemed like a lot of money for these products that have really long ingredient lists and really only provide marginal utility. Plus I was tired of being stuck in between the “feminine” scents and the “masculine” scents.

So a year and a half ago I started a new journey: making my own deodorant. Here’s a list of what I tried and how it worked.

  • Nothing (a la “European”). Hey, it’s a baseline. And you know, some days (especially calm days in winter) I found that bare underarms made it through the day just fine.
  • Straight baking soda. As far as prevention of odor goes – baking soda is amazing! It worked successfully through a hot July day at the State Fair. It’s cheap and readily available, and doesn’t leave any markings on clothing (as long as it is applied first). It is not, however, easy to apply. I tried dusting it on with a facial powder puff over the sink, but there was no way to not make a bit of a mess. The biggest problem? After a while one of my underarms turned dark pink/purple, started to ache a little, and then the skin peeled off.
  • Straight essential oils. Works great, for about an hour. I would put a drop of a safe essential oil (like lavender) directly on each underarm and then rub it in. Smelled great at first, but then wore off and by the end of a work day I think it was worse than nothing.
  • Essential oil in a carrier oil. Same problem as the straight essential oils: wears off quickly and then it seemed like the underarm smell was worse afterwards. I was worried that the oil would start to stain my clothes, but that never happened, at least not that I noticed.
  • Oil and baking soda. Almost a winner, almost. This was an attempt at combining the benefits of the baking soda and the essential oil in carrier oil. I would apply a layer of oil on the skin first, and then dust on the baking soda. It worked great for odor (courtesy of the baking soda), and the oil prevented the baking soda from making my skin peel off. But there’s still the messiness of applying the baking soda. And turning the application of deodorant into a two-step process is annoying.
  • Homemade coconut oil deodorant. I sort-of tried a recipe for homemade deodorant that calls for mixing baking soda and corn starch into melted coconut oil, and then pouring it into an old deodorant stick. I didn’t measure, though, and went purely by consistency. I also left out the corn starch, maybe it would have worked better with the corn starch. There were three problems, all of which could possibly be remedied but I’m not planning to try. (1) The coconut smell isn’t really strong, but it is there, and as I was trying this remedy at the beginning of my pregnancy that was a problem. (2) At temperatures above 70 degrees F coconut oil liquifies and starts to seep out of the bottom of the deodorant tube, making an oily mess. I thought about trying it in old toilet paper rolls with some kind of cap on the bottom where you just tear the paper down from the top. But I got tired of the smell first. (3) After a bit, my underarm peeled again. Apparently mixing the baking soda into the oil isn’t as effective as using the oil as a barrier. Maybe the corn starch would help? I gave up before doing a Take 2.
  • Homemade beeswax deodorant. I didn’t actually try this myself since I already discovered years ago that my skin gets red and itchy when beeswax products are applied to it. My friend Brown Thumb Mama tried this, though. If I remember correctly she did encounter some staining on clothes, though.
  • Crystal. Jury’s still out on this one. I used to think the rock crystal deodorant was a ridiculous idea, but since baking soda was so successful I figured that maybe the crystal would work. I’m not overwhelmingly impressed, but it’s also not worthless. It didn’t fare quite so well through a day at the State Fair, or stressful days at work, compared to the baking soda. But it works fine on normal days. It really only works when applied on fresh clean skin, though, which is a problem after shaving: it stings! The rock is supposed to last over a year, and I haven’t yet seemed to make a dent in it, so I’ll keep using it. I’m saving a final verdict for when I’m not pregnant, in case that changes things.

Posted November 21, 2012 by mayakey in frugal living, personal care, unshopping

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Clothesline, Finally   Leave a comment

This past weekend, with the impetus of spring cleaning, we finally finished our clothesline. It’s been on the wish list since we moved in, but we just didn’t get around to it, until this year. We started putting in the posts in winter, after weeks of dry sunny weather, and then it started raining. So this weekend we finally got up the crossbars and lines so that we could dry the comforter, mattress protector, and pillows way way faster than a dryer can do.

Disclaimer: This was another one of our cheap, winging-it DIY projects; we weren’t designing/building something to last 20 years or more. We started with a couple 4×4 posts that came from the makeshift awning the previous owners had on the side of the house. There was some discussion over where to put the line, taking into account sun exposure, wind direction, clothing flappage allowance (no lines located inches from the fence), fruit-tree access, prevention of knocked foreheads, and the as-yet-unplanned layout of play and gardening space when we get around to ripping out concrete. Then we  hand augured a couple holes through the hard clay (good thing Mike has good upper body strength or it might have taken me all day!). We dug down roughly 2-feet, giving us about 6-feet aboveground, and then filled the holes with concrete around the posts. As I mentioned before, then it started raining so the concrete cured for at least 4 months before we moved on to step 2.

For our crossbars we used a 2×4 from the old awning, cut into roughly 3-foot lengths. It’s an arbitrary length, picked because we had one piece of wood that was 70-inches long, and everything else was much longer. With eyebolts spaced at just under 1-foot we have 4 lines plenty long enough for a couple loads of laundry, with space to move between them while hanging/removing clothes. We’re both most familiar with plastic coated metal lines, but at the hardware store all we found was nylon clothesline so we’re giving it a try. I’m assuming we’ll have to tighten the lines at least a couple times in the first month as it stretches.

The clothesline withstood the first weekend of laundry, and it was so nice to hang up the comforter and come back a couple hours later to find it dry rather than repeatedly have to reposition it in the dryer. We’ll see how this goes in the future, and how long the lines last. I did a search and found a Mother Earth News article that recommends using 8×8’s buried to 4 or 5-feet with knee braces.

Posted May 15, 2012 by mayakey in energy use, frugal living, home, simple living

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Do Environmentalists Wash Their Cars At Home?   Leave a comment

According to most of the propaganda: no. And yet, weekend before last I was outside washing my car at home. In fact, I wash my car at home as often as I can. Eco-sin? No, I don’t think so.

Water conservation and pollution is the major reason that commercial car washes are touted as the more environmentally friendly option. Commercial car washes can filter and reuse water so that they use less water per wash than if you’re using potable water from you hose. A car does not need to be washed with potable (drinkable) water, and not doing so reduces the energy required to treat water to drinking water standards. Additionally, car wash waste water is discharged to the sewer where it goes to a wastewater treatment plant for treatment before discharge to whatever water body. The wastewater from a typical home car wash runs into the street into a storm drain where it discharges directly into whatever water body, without any treatment to remove oils, metals, or particulate matter. So from a water perspective the commercial car wash wins out compared to a typical home car wash.

But what if you don’t discharge into the storm drain at home? When I wash my car I pull it onto the lawn first. This way the lawn soaks up the waste water, preventing non-storm water discharge to the storm drain. The oils, soap, and any other organic compounds will biodegrade in the ground. Any heavy metals will not degrade, but I figure that the trace amount of heavy metals in the waste water is probably comparable to what deposits from the air (from exhaust and dust raised by cars in the street).

And what if  you really restrict water use? Some people use a bucket method: one bucket for soapy water, one for clean water, and that’s it. You could use rainwater or gray water to avoid the energy cost of potable water. Since I don’t have my rain barrels hooked up yet, in the winter I use the hose with a spray nozzle so that the water is off when I don’t specifically need it. In the summer I let the hose run, but I don’t run the sprinklers that weekend and consider the car wash to also be watering the lawn (a two-birds-one-stone approach).

In my mind there are other environmental benefits to a home car wash. I use a mild vegetable soap, while I assume that most car washes use a petroleum based soap. Inside the car I either wipe down with just a damp rag, or a damp rag with the same mild vegetable soap. For the windows I use the same vinegar/water/castile soap glass cleaner that I use everywhere else in the house, as opposed to a commercial ammonia-based cleaner with synthetic fragrances and additives. Personally, I could care less about shiny tires so I don’t clean the tires with anything at all.

As far as electricity use goes, I have no idea which method wins out, although I’d guess it’s a bit of a wash. The car wash may get a per-car reduction in electricity when multiple cars are going through the tunnel together, and they may spend less time with the vacuum on then I do. But the car wash also has to keep the lights on in the attached building, run the register and the inevitable popcorn maker, and run the blower to start drying the cars. I use a chamois cloth to absorb most of the water instead of a blower or lots of towels, and I don’t think that my regular home electricity use counts in this calculation.

On a completely different level I really like washing my car at home because of the increased awareness it grants me about my car. When you are washing your own car you really notice new dings, scratches, paint transfers, etc on the outside, and you can focus your cleaning inside on the things that you care about. And for those of us who personify our cars, talk to them, and generally have a relationship with them, bathing them personally feels like a thank you treat for the friend who so reliably transports me wherever I want to go.

Posted February 27, 2012 by mayakey in cleaning, energy use, environment, frugal living, water use

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Compost Trials: Pallet Composter   2 comments

Apparently this winter is all about making changes to my compost systems. Last month I wrote about converting my failed 5-gallon bucket compost “bin” into a vermicomposter, and now I can write about transferring the Heap into a pallet composter. I guess the idea of using pallets to create a compost bin isn’t new, but either I just hadn’t seen it anywhere before or I just spaced it out until now. A couple weeks ago I went to a master gardener workshop and while wandering around afterwards I noticed some compost bins made out of pallets in the corner. Considering that I had a bunch of pallets sitting in my backyard, and they had been on my mind lately, I was immediately intrigued. The pallets are from a remediation system I am running at work that uses nutrients that ship on pallets. While pallets are valuable in bulk, when you are using 2 per quarter and they are exposed to the weather all the time, they end up just going to the dump. Unless, of course, you find a way to salvage them. Originally, I started bringing them home because I thought the wood would be great for a half-height fence in the front yard. I  soon discovered, however, that it is really hard to break down a pallet and they have been stacked in the side yard since then. Last weekend I switched gears and converted four of them into a compost bin, and then transferred the old compost heap into the bin. When needed, I have four more pallets to build into a second bin.

This seems like such a good idea because it is cheap (assuming that you can find free pallets somewhere), easy (all you need are four pallets, four hook-and-eye closures, and a drill), not ugly (at least not compared to just an unstructured pile of compost), and should really work. Since the pallet slats have space in between them, there’s plenty of aeration for the pile, and the inner volume of the bin should be large enough that the compost can actually heat up.

Pallet Composter

 

The Heap was actually working, but it was slow going. That is partially because I wasn’t trying to make it go fast, and partially because of structural problems. Without any support the pile couldn’t get very tall, so I don’t think it really warmed up properly. And of course the rose bush prunings that formed the base of the Heap were going to take forever to decompose. In the process of transferring from Heap to pallet bin, I removed all branches, so the process should go quicker now. The parts of the Heap that had kitchen waste were decomposing relatively well, and the parts of the Heap that were almost entirely yard waste were just a little moldy. Now everything is mixed up or layered in the pallet bin, and we’ll see if this really does work.

Posted February 6, 2012 by mayakey in frugal living, gardening, resource use

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