I must admit I was skeptical as I extracted four funny-looking, gummy round seedpods from a drawstring cotton bag. These, so-called soap nuts, were supposed to clean my laundry? I poked around in my laundry basket. Blueberry juice. Fry grease. Chocolate. How on earth was a lowly imported plant-part going to handle all this? I sighed, cranked the dial on my washing machine, and started the load. There was only one way to find out.
Trial One: Cold Water Wash
After pulling my clothes out of the wash, I was impressed at how clean they smelled. They didn’t smell like Tide, mind you, but they did smell pleasant and fresh. Not won over just yet, I checked on the stained spots. The grease was still there. The chocolate was still there. The blueberry juice, happily, was gone. I sequestered the still-stained items, and began trial number two.
Trial Two: Hot Water Wash
The hot water very obviously boosted the soap nuts’ cleaning power. The chocolate was gone, and the grease stains were definitely diminished. Willing to give it one more try, I decided to cheat a little and employ some chemical warfare on my stains: namely, Shout.
Trial Three: Hot Water Wash with stain spray
Trial #3 did the trick, the stains were gone. Grease is a tough customer. Even commercial detergent needs a boost from stain spray– and soap nuts do, too.
The Verdict: Soap nuts are powerful deodorizers and are surprisingly good at removing dirt. They definitely work best in hot water, but are not very good at removing grease. They are natural, economical, renewable, and 100% compostable. I like ’em. I’ll definitely be using them again, but I think I’ll save the grease stains for more aggressive detergents.
How to Use:
Put four soap nuts in a small drawstring bag (provided with the soap nuts) and toss into the washing machine. Begin filling with hot water. Add clothes, and run the load as usual. Do not let the soap nuts go through the dryer. Soap nuts can be used at least four times before they’re ready to be composted. When the nuts are gray and mushy-looking, they’re worn out and ready to go.
Formulas for basic cleaning products have been around for hundreds of years. Before capitalism got involved, people kept clean houses using mostly soap and water. The companies, of course, would have you believe otherwise, trotting out commercial after commercial featuring the desperate wife (never husband) trying the new and improved Scrubbing Swiffer or Magic Spray-bottle of Sparkling Cleanness. The truth is, of course, that there’s no magic to cleaning at all. A few basic formulas and some grocery store ingredients are all it takes. Read on.
The universal appeal in making your own cleaning products is that you know exactly what ingredients are going into the mix, like when you cook your own meals. There’s also the pleasure of self-reliance, and the ability to customize your cleaners with essential oils. They’re also a big money-saver. Once you realize how inexpensive homemade laundry detergent can be, you’ll never go back to jugs of blue goo.
To keep my countertops sparkling, I use mostly plain soap and hot water. It’s nothing fancy, but it does the trick. Many commercially sold counter sprays, like Fantastik and 409, are also anti-bacterial, which raises its own set of issues. Triclosan, the compound typically used to make something anti-bacterial, is a pesticide and possibly an endocrine disruptor. If I need a little abrasive action, I use a shake of baking soda, let it sit for a minute, and scrub out with a sponge. Clean as a whistle!
For my stove, I make a thick paste from baking soda and a splash of water. I rub it on and let it sit for a minute, then scrub away with some steel wool. I use baking soda paste on the end of an old toothbrush for other gunked-up areas, such as behind the sink.
A spray bottle filled with half white vinegar, half water is great in the bathroom. It makes excellent mold and mildew-killing tile spray, and is an effective deodorizer as well. It also makes a fine substitute for Windex.
Calculating your carbon footprint: The first step in understanding your impact on the planet
Practically all of our daily activities affect the environment, from the consumption of natural resources to the disposal of our household waste. By now we all can agree that there has been a marked increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide as a result of human activities. For example, the burning of fossil fuels for home heating, transportation, and electricity production generates a large percentage of our personal carbon dioxide emissions. The atmospheric concentration of carbon is causing our planet to warm at an alarming rate and is commonly known as “Global Warming”. The perils of global warming are many and we are seeing them play out across the globe in alarming fashion. We all need to do our part to stop or slow global warming, and the good news it that it’s not difficult to lower your emissions, but first you need to know how much you’re producing—your carbon “footprint.” This figure represents both the amount of carbon dioxide you generate each year and the lifestyle choices that contribute the most to your total. The average American’s carbon footprint is 20 tons. To put this in perspective, this is approximately the same amount of carbon dioxide emitted each year by three new cars. With nearly 300 million people living in the United States, these numbers quickly add up. There are several interactive calculators available online to help you estimate your carbon footprint. Each takes home energy use and transportation into account, since a significant portion of our annual carbon dioxide emissions is derived from these two activities. Some calculators factor in additional items such as waste generation and water consumption, and others consider footprint-shrinking actions you may already be taking, such as recycling or purchasing “green” power (electricity generated from renewable sources including wind and solar). While your total carbon footprint will actually be larger than what these calculators compute, they will help give you a sense of just how significant your impact on the environment can be.
Many carbon calculators also describe ways in which you can reduce your footprint, and compute how many tons of carbon dioxide you will save. These actions range from small lifestyle changes (e.g., turning off lights when you’re not using them, turning down your thermostat a few degrees, increasing the percentage of waste you recycle) to major purchases such as fuel-efficient or hybrid vehicles and, solar panels and Energy Star-rated appliances. Most people can take a huge step by replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFL light bulbs or LED light bulbs. You can also invest in zero-emission (green power) or negative-emission (reforestation) projects to reduce your footprint even further. An added bonus of reducing your carbon footprint is saving money. Energy conservation and energy efficiency result in lower heating and electricity bills, and fuel-efficient vehicles can save hundreds of dollars at the gas pump every year. Ultimately, by combining conservation and energy efficiency with carbon-offset projects, you can become “climate-neutral”: releasing a net total of zero carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now that’s a step in the right direction! Visit any one of the many carbon calculator websites to calculate your carbon footprint and find out how you can minimize your impact on the environment. Below are a few good carbon calculators to help you get started. We think you will be surprised by what you learn. Start making a difference today! Environmental Protection Agency’s website
When I think of my deodorant, I’m constantly reminded of the little 3 oz plastic bottle. I’m always aghast when I throw those empty containers away knowing that I have just contributed to a landfill. So, one day, I decided that I would no longer be contributing to a landfill– I was going to make my own deodorant! Other than saving the planet one plastic bottle at a time, one of the great things about making your own deodorant is controlling what goes into your skin. Many deodorants have so many different kinds of chemicals that we often get flabbergasted trying to figure out what they are.
So, here’s a simple recipe: Gather up: 1/4 cup cornstarch 1/4 cup baking soda A blend of essential oils: I like to use almond oil (takes the smell of the cornstarch away), lavender, peppermint, and bergamot 4 tbsp coconut oil 2-3 drops Vitamin E an empty container with lid Step One: In a large bowl, mix the cornstarch, baking soda and essential oils together. Melt the coconut oil and pour into the bowl and then add Vitamin E drops. Step Two: Mush the ingredients together until you get a silky paste. Add more coconut oil or less depending on the type of consistency that you want. I usually add more coconut oil to the mix to give it a smoother paste. Step Three: Pour paste into your container. Let it sit for a couple of hours in the container. The paste will harden. Presto! Before you can say smelly pits, you have your very own deodorant. This recipe amount should last last for well over 3 to 6 months. Keep in mind that making more of what you consume lessens the resources required for packaging, recycling and manufacturing as well as the carbon footprint required for distribution and buying from a store.
Roasting Coffee Beans at Home with Air Popcorn Popper
In this article we’ll teach you how to roast coffee at home. It’s a great way to both save money and produce a coffee to your own liking. With some experimentation you can create your own ‘signature roast’. I consider myself a coffee snob and was paying $12 a pound for one of my favorite blend and roasts. Now that I’m roasting my own I’m paying $5 a pound and have a roast which is every bit as good, if not better than what I was drinking before. I also like having the ability to create a light, medium and dark roast in the save session and have each available for the mood I’m in.
Starting out you want to locate a source for green beans. It can be tricky and we recommend Sweet Maria’s out of Oakland, California. You can order a few pounds at a time, if you consume a fair amount of coffee. They have a range of bean sources to choose from and the prices are very good. Green beans can store in a dark and cool room for up to two years without any compromise in flavor or quality.
Next you’ll need an air popcorn popper. You can pick one up at a thrift store or inexpensively at a local Target. You will only be able to roast around 1/2 a cup of beans at a time, but it only takes a few minutes, so you can roast a pound in twenty minutes or so. You’ll want to place a strainer or colander at the exit of your popper, to capture chaff and beans which escape. Start your popper and pour in the beans. You will want to cover the area where the beans are roasting to ensure they don’t pop out. You’ll begin to notice the chaff loosening and floating out. The beans should be jumping and swirling as they roast. You’ll begin to notice a smell of roasting, which has a slight burning odor. Don’t worry, just let the beans continue to roast. You’ll next notice that after around two minutes the beans begin to turn yellow.
Let the beans continue to roast until you hear a cracking sound. The cracking is called the ‘first crack’ which means that the beans have achieved a palatable roast. This is a light roast and will result in coffee which is subtle in flavor and high in caffeine. The first crack took place in the first 3 minutes. You can continue to roast for a couple more minutes to achieve a medium roast or more for a dark roast.
Most coffee consumers are familiar with medium or dark roasts. Lighter roasts are popular among coffee purists, but may not be to everyone’s taste. There is a ‘second crack’ which is typically when you achieve a dark roast. The second crack takes place around the fifth to sixth minute. You’ll notice if you listen for it and are trying to achieve a dark roast.
When you achieve a roast which you think will work for your first trial, remove the beans and shake them in a colander. This will remove the remaining chaff. After shaking them well, you want to place them in a container which can breath and allow the beans to out gas their CO2.
The next morning your roasted beans should be ready to grind and make coffee. Be sure to continue testing your roast level. Keep in mind that different bean origins and blends will give you different and unique flavors. Enjoy!