One Small Step: up your laundry game

20200126-_RJW1172For challenge 8 in One Small Step, let’s dig in and make small changes to something nearly all of us do every week (if not almost every day!)–laundry.

Whether you wash your clothes at home or at the laundromat, in a modern, high-efficiency washer or a well-loved top-loader, chances are there’s still a little room for improvement. (I’m certain there is at our home.)

Read on to find suggestions for a more sustainable wash day–including better detergent options, tips on reducing drying time and saving energy, and more.

Plus, I’m sharing my tried and true HE-compatible DIY laundry powder recipe. We’ve used it with great results for over a decade!

Read on, then share your own ideas in the comments below. I can’t wait to hear your additions!

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Five easy tips for a more sustainable wash day

1. Do less laundry.

Let’s start with the most radical (yet simplest) item on my list: wash your clothes less frequently.

I know. Radical.

But it makes sense that when we do less laundry we save resources. We can reduce wear-and-tear on our clothing (too-frequent laundering wears them out in a hurry), save water, use less soap or detergent, and save electricity. And all it takes is washing our clothes a little less frequently!

No, I’m not suggesting you show up for work next week wearing a balsamic vinegar spattered top. But how about wearing the same spot-free shirt on Friday that you wore on Monday, or the same pants you’ve been rocking for most of the week?

Indeed, many clothes stand up to multiple wearings without looking any worse for the wear! So look over your clothing and linens before dropping them into the hamper to make sure that they really need to be washed (wool in particular is a wonder at staying clean without frequent washing).

And the next time you pick out new or upcycled clothing to add to your wardrobe, seek out clothes made of natural fibers, which wear better and require less frequent laundering. If possible, avoid white, which is the least forgiving of all (and most prone to a short life due to staining).

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2. Swap out your liquid liquid.

While there are a few notable exceptions, most liquid laundry detergents are packaged in plastic. We’ve already discussed how all too often plastic “recycling” is really a one-way trip to the landfill, so the less plastic the better.

Finish up your current plastic jug of liquid laundry detergent, then upgrade to something more gentle on the earth.

Upgrade to what, you ask? There are loads of great options (see what I did there?). 

  • Find a liquid in a cardboard container. It’s still not perfect, but it’s leagues better than a plastic jug. Check your natural foods store if your grocery doesn’t have options.
  • Try a purchased powder. There are lots of great brands out there making fragrance-free, phosphate-free, environmentally sustainable powders. But read those labels. Because what’s in the detergent matters as much as the packaging material.
  • Make your own laundry powder. My DIY recipe (below) costs just 25¢ per load. We’ve been using it for over 10 years it in our HE washer with excellent results, despite our extremely hard well water. And it’s been trouble-free for our plumbing and septic system. You can find my recipe at the bottom of the post.
  • There are other low- to no-waste options out there, including “Sheets“, “Dropps“, and even homemade horse chestnut laundry liquid. Don’t discount Soap Nuts either, despite a bit of questionable press recently regarding their sustainability. Soap Nuts are still an excellent, sustainable option to keep on the table!

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3. Replace your synthetic fabric softener with vinegar.

A generous splash of white vinegar in the fabric softener cup of your washing machine can make all the difference in your laundry load (with none of the toxins found in conventional fabric softeners).

Vinegar helps remove detergent and soap reside, and results in brighter, cleaner laundry. Vinegar also helps to soften clothes, brighten whites, and reduce odor and stains. We keep a gallon in the laundry room and add it to nearly every load.

4. Give dryer balls a spin.

Ditch the toxic dryer sheets, and toss in a set of reusable, wool dryer balls instead. Wool dryer balls can reduce drying time by up to 25%, by helping fluff your laundry while it tumbles. 

Years ago, my kids and I made our own using a retired wool sweater cut into scraps, bundled with waste yarn, wrapped in wool roving, then felted. We’ve been using them for more than a decade, and they’re holding up brilliantly.

You can find a simple tutorial online, or buy wool dryer balls by the set. (4-6 is a good number to start with.)  Or go quick and dirty (er, clean), by washing and repurposing a few old tennis balls from your garage.

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5. Better yet, line dry.

If you can swing it, give line drying a go.

Full transparency: I can make some huge improvements here. I depend on our dryer nearly every day, even when line drying would be a more simple and sustainable option. We can all do better, myself included.

To my friends who line dry everything (year round!), despite having a consistent source of grid-power: you know who you are. I am humbled by your commitment and hard work and your fresh smelling linens.

If you have access to an outdoor space (whether a giant yard or a tiny patio) there’s probably room for a clothesline. Indoor spaces are drying friendly, too–especially in winter.

But avoid buying a cheap, flimsy drying rack which is nothing more than a wobbly legged frustration machine. Instead, find something stable and solid. (We use a long ago discontinued wall-mounting metal rack from IKEA, while my friend Ginny recommends handmade Homestead Drying Racks. Search around and you’re bound to find something good.)

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While there are countless other ways to reduce our laundry impact, these five tips felt easy and accessible. I look forward to seeing what you add in the comments below!

And now, are you ready to give homemade laundry powder a go? Find my easy recipe below.

 

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DIY Zero-Waste Laundry Soap Recipe + Tutorial

We love to make this by the double or triple batch. Then we have enough to last you for many weeks of daily use. Better yet, get together with a few friends and make a huge batch to share! Each load costs only 25¢ (with optional oxygen bleach).

Pro tip: our new Zero-Waste Dish Soap Bar is ideal for homemade laundry soap! It’s our favorite soap for this to date. We often have scratch-and-dent 1 lb. bags available at a bargain, just perfect for making laundry soap, or use ordinary LüSa soap bars or Imperfect Soap Samplers.

Ingredients

  • 4 oz LüSa Organics Dish Soap Bar or Classic Bar Soap, finely grated (approximately 2 cups)
  • 1 1/3 cup washing soda
  • 2/3 cup oxygen bleach (optional)
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1 cup borax

Instructions

  • Finely grate your bar of soap on a box grater.
  • Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, being mindful to not stir to vigorously and create airborne dust that you might inhale. (Consider wearing a dust mask if you prefer your mixing on the enthusiastic side!)
  • When mixture is relatively uniform, transfer to a plastic pail or glass jar to store in laundry room.
  • To use, add 2 to 3 tbsp per load, directly into the drum of your washer. Wash laundry with warm or hot water.

How do you reduce your laundry’s environmental footprint?

You can find the entire One Small Step series here, or click through below for individual posts:

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One small step: upgrade your moisturizer (sans-plastic)

Yes, indeed, friends. I am falling a bit behind. Because life and work and holidays and homeschooling are happening over here, and sometimes even a weekly blog post feels like a lot to keep up with.

Thank you for your patience, and for joining me on this journey to greater sustainability, one small step at a time. What say you instead of calling this a weekly challenge, we call it a bi-monthly to weekly challenge? Please and thank you for your understanding. Now let’s get on with it!

~ Rachel 

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For challenge 7 in One Small Step, I want to get personal, and look at what you use to moisturize your skin. Most of us keep a big plastic pump or squeeze bottle of lotion in the house, plus a thick plastic pot (or two) of rich body cream in the bathroom or bedroom.

This week, I want to offer you a more sustainable alternative to lotions and creams: the humble and often overlooked lotion bar. (Yes, I’ll even share a DIY recipe later in the post!)

What are the benefits of lotion bars over lotions or creams? There are many!

Lotion Bar > Lotion

  • Lotion bars can be sold plastic-free: If you mindfully purchase or choose to DIY, lotion bars normally arrive without the disheartening plastic packaging. That’s an easy win in my book. LüSa Organics lotion bar tins are refillable, as, of course, are the bars you make at home.
  • Lotion bars are always water-free: When you purchase a lotion your bottle contains more than 50% water! That adds up to a higher carbon footprint, as the product is made, packaged, and shipped. A lotion bar, on the other hand, is water-free. This means they are lighter to ship, require no synthetic preservatives, and are super concentrated and long-lasting. And because cream and lotion are simply an emulsion of water and oil, you can create a similar experience with this water-free product by simply wetting your hands before application. Easy-peasy.
  • Lotion bars are preservative-free: Because there’s no water in a lotion bar, they lack a place for mold and bacteria to grow. That means no need for synthetic preservatives! A win for your skin (and for the earth).
  • Lotion bars are super concentrated: A tiny amount of lotion bar goes a very long way. That means you can buy or make one small tin, then use it for months. No need for filling your trash bin or recycling bag with lotion bottles week after week.

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You can find our very own line of Lotion Bars (that we’ve been making since 1997) here, including my go-to, Unscented Calendula, or four essential oil-scented varieties from uplifting citrus to grounding patchouli, energizing peppermint to relaxing lavender.

Order one or more LüSa Lotion Bars (including our zero-waste refills) this week, and a note of “ONE SMALL STEP” to your order notes.  We’ll tuck a free sustainable gift in with your order (a scratch-and-dent, organic bar soap sample–palm oil-free, of course). 

Or DIY your own with the simple recipe I created for you. Find it below!

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DIY Zero-Waste Lotion Bar Recipe + Tutorial

While I would be most delighted if you purchased Lotion Bars, that’s not in everyone’s budget or lifestyle. So a simple DIY lotion bar recipe follows if you’d like to try to make your own!

Worth noting: the way the lotion bar feels on your skin and how quickly it absorbs after application will vary widely with the types of oils and butters you choose. I’ve listed a few of my favorites below.

Also worth noting, some skin types find coconut oil to be quite drying (counterintuitive, I know), so I have not included it on the list that follows. If you make a lotion bar using coconut oil and do find it to be drying, try again with a more moisturizing oil. Conversely, if your lotion bar is quite oily, it could be on account of your oil choice (using straight olive oil, for example), which does not absorb as readily as other ingredients. Keep experimenting until you find a formula you love.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup liquid oil of your choice (we love jojoba oil, avocado oil, and sunflower oil best, but you could even try working with the olive oil from your kitchen)
  • 1/4 cup moisturizing butter of your choice (try shea butter, cocoa butter, mango butter)
  • 1/4 cup grated beeswax

Instructions

Step 1: Combine all ingredients in a double boiler. Gently warm over simmering water until just melted.

Step 2: Remove from heat, and stir to combine. Pour into an unlined, unoiled muffin tin or small heat-proof dish.

Step 3: Allow your lotion bar to cool overnight. Tip out of the muffin tin. If it won’t release, pop into the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, then tip out. Store in an upcycled tin or other storage container.

 

Are you already a lotion bar convert? How do they compare to conventional lotions and creams in your experience?

You can find the entire One Small Step series here, or click through below for individual posts:

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One Small Step: bring your own to-go box

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For challenge 6 in One Small Step, we’re looking at where to put those leftovers when you’re dining out. I think this is a timely tip for the holiday season and for everyday.

It’s rare for my family to eat out. But if we do dine at a restaurant, we inevitably have leftovers. I always cringed at the sight of that big styrofoam or paper clamshell–destined for the landfill–landing on our table, so I would normally request just a piece of foil for wrapping up the food we took home. That worked, but was often a mess, and was still waste-generating.

But then it occurred to me that I could do better. And all it would take was a little pre-planning.

So I put together a simple take-out kit that I store in my car, to grab whenever we need it. The first time that Lupine and I ate out after we put it together, we were over the moon to dash to the car to grab it for our leftover dumplings. Even our server thought it was a great way to reduce waste.

My kit was crafted around what we had on hand, and how we dine out. Yours will certainly be different, depending on the types of food you normally need to store, and the size of your family.

(A few afflinks and some non-afflinks links are below, but I hope you “shop” your own kitchen first, then shop the thrift store before you choose to purchase new. I cringe a bit when I see empty glass jars being sold as “sustainability solutions”, while most of us toss perfectly usable jars into the recycling bin nearly every week.) 

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My kit includes:

  • Two reusable silicone bags
  • A wide-mouth pint and a wide-mouth quart-sized mason jar
  • Three sets of thrift-store purchased silverware
  • Three cloth napkins

Our kit has proven so handy when we’re away for the day, and we spontaneously grab lunch out, or when someone needs a snack from the coop on their way to a lesson or activity. We happily use both the jars and the bags for a variety of purposes at our coop’s bulk bins, hot bar, and coffee station (just be sure to weigh the bag and the jar with the lid, then jot down the tare weight before you fill up).

Aside from the jars (which I store in a bag in the trunk), everything fits neatly in my car’s glovebox for quick, convenient access. I keep it all contained in one of the silicone bags, but storing it in a cloth bag would work equally well.

Do you need to go out and purchase fancy silicone bags to set up your kit? Absolutely not!

In the spirit of low-waste, I’m cheering for you to find something already on hand that can do the same job.

Begin by asking yourself: what else do you own that might serve the same function? (This question is a great one to ask anytime you’re tempted to purchase something new.)

An old canning jar or cast off salsa or jam jar is likely already tucked into your kitchen cupboard somewhere. Or perhaps you own a couple of glass storage container with fitted, spill-proof lids. Or maybe you purchased a bento box or tiffin that doesn’t get as much use as it could.

Think outside the take-out box, and come up with something that can contain leftovers while you’re on the go.

Even an old bread bag or two could serve the purpose for non-messy leftovers.

Whatever container you choose, make sure it’s something your family won’t miss if it permanently disappears to your backpack or vehicle for use on-the-go. Then make a habit of using it anytime you can.

You might feel a little awkward at first, bringing your own take-out kit into a favorite restaurant, but that feeling will soon fade. And hey, that’s how change happens, after all. By one brave soul questioning the unsustainable norms and doing better, one day at a time.

Do you carry take-out containers with you in the event of grabbing a snack on the road? What do you keep in your carry-out kit?

You can find the entire One Small Step series here, or click through below for individual posts:

One Small Step: a year of small actions with huge impact

Swap Plastic Bottles of Soap for Bars (plus a DIY liquid recipe)

Buy Less Stuff

Switch to Loose Leaf Tea

DIY All Purpose Citrus Cleaner

50 Ideas for More Sustainable Gifts

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One Small Step: 50 ideas for more sustainable gifts

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For challenge 5 in One Small Step, I’m turning our focus toward how (and what) we give.

Because for many of us, December is gift-giving season.

Gifts for children and parents, friends and teachers, neighbors and loved ones. But what do we give them, to express our love or connection, that is in alignment with our sustainability goals?

We dug into consumerism and purchasing habits here last month, but I thought a focus specific to gifts would be helpful for many.

Because buying less is one thing, but what about during a season when we feel inspired, compelled, or obligated to buy?

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I’m here for you.

The list below includes 50 stuff-free, sustainable, or consumable gift ideas for everyone on your list. Creative, useful, and thoughtful gifts that your friends and loved ones are sure to appreciate, and that won’t throw the planet under the proverbial bus.

Most of the items below are plastic-free, many are packaging-free, some are stuff-free (gifts of experiences). Many are zero-waste and most are tried-and-true gifts that my own family has loved.

Read though the list, get inspired, and share it with those you care about. I hope you find something for everyone on your holiday list this season!

Before we cut to the list, however I wanted to share one more thought on sustainability: where you acquire your gifts matters as much as what you choose.

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Before you shop

The suggestions below can help you choose more sustainable options before you even select your first gift. Because where you buy and who you purchase from matters nearly as much as what you choose to give.

Shop small, shop local

Locally owned, independent stores are the lifeblood of any community. Before you get online or buy from a big box store, explore the nearest downtown or corner shop to see what is available. Sure, you might find something cheaper elsewhere, but supporting your neighbors goes a long way toward building a more sustainable, stable future for your hometown community.

Choose handmade

Go out of your way to purchase locally made or domestically handmade gifts. It’s a more sustainable, feel-good option than buying mass-produced or imported products. You will certainly pay more for a handmade pair of mittens than a pair from an oversees factory, but I think it’s worth it to give less if we give better.

Avoid joke gifts

I know. I’m such a scrooge. But joke gifts are often given for the moment of unwrapping only, at a huge environmental cost. If you’re driven to give a joke gift or white elephant, pick it up at the thrift store, won’t you? If the item you are contemplating isn’t worth the mining, extraction, pollution, and human cost that it took to make it, don’t support its existence through your purchase.

Shop ethically made + fair trade

If you are shopping for imported goods, choose those with a fair trade certification. Using chocolate as an example, mainstream, conventional chocolate is often made with child labor, while fair trade-certified brands ensure ethical work conditions and fair pay. We vote for the world that we want with every purchase, and I’m sure none of us think exploitation of children and other vulnerable populations is acceptable. So don’t support it when you shop.

Don’t buy just to buy

And finally, let’s all quit with the obligatory gifts. A thoughtful, heartfelt card or donation in someone’s name will go a long way in paving a new path toward better giving. Very few of us are wanting for more things. So let’s be the change we’re desperate for in the world.

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Sustainable Holiday Gift Ideas

Let’s get on with the list! Below are 50 ideas for a wide range of zero-waste, sustainable, or otherwise ethical gifts. Many are for giving to your favorite kids, but other are suitable for coworkers, teachers, parents, friends, and neighbors.

A quick note before we embark: I’ve included some links below. Some are to small shops, others are big box afflinks below that I really hope you don’t take me up on. Click through to see what I’m talking about, jot down some notes, then set out locally to see what you can pick up from local shops in your own neighborhood. 

  1. Gift certificates for experiences, or favorite locally owned shops (think restaurants, independent book stores, movie theaters, your local yarn shop, the skating rink, indie coffee shops, or performing arts centers)
  2. Membership (museums, maker spaces, or their favorite gym)
  3. Handmade coupons for special experience to share (ideal for family members or close friends)
  4. Zero-waste, plastic-free lip balms
  5. Zero-waste, luxury, organic bar soaps
  6. Natural perfume
  7. Music or dance lessons
  8. Tickets to a play, music or dance venue, concert, or ballet
  9. Donation to a charitable organization that your friend or loved one would value (a few of our favorite are here, here, and here.)
  10. Sparkle Stories subscription for kids
  11. Gift certificate for summer camp or a high ropes course experience
  12. Cozy, real wool outerwear (hats, mittens, scarves)
  13. Wool socks (we adore Sockwell and Darn Tough brands)
  14. Media-time tokens (if children receive limited screen time in your home)
  15. Homemade pizza party coupon
  16. Breakfast in bed gift certificate for a loved one
  17. Sustainable travel lunch kit (a zippered pouch containing a set of silverware, reusable straw, and a cloth napkin)
  18. Homemade holiday ornaments, crafted by you
  19. “Coupon” for an night at a hotel and dinner on the town, for you and your child or partner
  20. Recipe and ingredients for a special dessert
  21. Fair trade chocolate
  22. Mason jar of homemade hot cocoa mix
  23. Beeswax candles
  24. Herbal tea blends
  25. Travel cup or drinking mason jar (my DIY drinking jar tutorial is here, or I have an already made version available here with your choice of closure.)
  26. Homemade, custom spice blends
  27. Nuts in the shell and a nut cracker (we adore this version!)
  28. Cloth napkin set, homemade or purchased
  29. A homemade or purchased apron
  30. Recipe box filled with favorite family recipes and blank recipe cards
  31. Gifts of homemade food and treats, such as candied nuts, homemade jerky, cookies, bread, or other nibbles
  32. Our DIY organic Lip Balm kit (so fun, and very nearly plastic-free!)
  33. Homemade herbal balms, syrups, or other formulas
  34. Coupon for an adventure day together (exploring a city, skiing, hiking, etc.)
  35. Herbal Adventures, my herb book for families and other beginners
  36. Children’s pocket knife (we love this knife with it’s built-in fire starter, but this one is nice as well and has a blunted tip for younger kids)
  37. S’more ingredients and a winter campfire coupon
  38. Homemade bitters, shrubs, or other natural drink mix-ins
  39. Headlamp (We love this model. Unlike other brands, they last for years!)
  40. Fort-making supplies for kids
  41. Handmade wooden spoons (purchased locally or your own creation!)
  42. A tinkering kit for children–hammer, nails, screwdriver, screws, and wood
  43. Play dough ingredients, mason jars, and recipe
  44. Mending kit including this book, needles, and thread
  45. Homemade fire starters
  46. Yarn (bonus points for buying at your local yarn shop!) and knitting needles
  47. Embroidery book, needles, hoop, and thread
  48. “Spa night at home” coupon for a child or your partner, with supplies for pampering (quality/nontoxic/synthetic fragrance- and preservative-free soapsugar scrubmoisturizer, etc.)
  49. Photo album from a favorite adventure with a loved one, or a homemade book of your child’s growing up
  50. Coupon for a summer camping trip with your child, friend, or loved one

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What’s your favorite tip for sustainable, mindful gift-giving? Add your ideas in the comments below! 

You can find the entire One Small Step series here, or click through below for individual posts:

One Small Step: a year of small actions with huge impact

Swap Plastic Bottles of Soap for Bars (plus a DIY liquid recipe)

Buy Less Stuff

Switch to Loose Leaf Tea

DIY All Purpose Citrus Cleaner

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One Small Step: easy DIY All Purpose Citrus Cleanser

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For challenge 4 in One Small Step, I wanted to choose something super simple and not-overwhelming that you can set in motion now, even as the holiday season approaches. And I landed on this old favorite: citrus peel infused vinegar.

Because if your family is anything like mine, there is no shortage of citrus peels heading for the compost pail between December and February.

All Purpose Citrus Cleanser is easy to make from discarded peels of oranges, grapefruits, lemons, clementines, limes, tangerines, pomelos–any citrus fruit skins will do! And all you need is a handful of peels, a mason jar, and some white vinegar.

I first shared a recipe for this household cleanser (along with loads of other non-toxic DIY home cleansers) back in 2013. And truly, it’s been in daily or weekly use in our home for so much longer.

Currently, we clean with just this all-purpose citrus vinegar, a jar of baking soda, and the new LüSa Organics Zero-Waste Dish Soap Bar. Those three gems are all we need to keep our house sparkling clean from top to bottom. (Edited to add: when we clean, that is. I don’t want to misrepresent the state of my house here. And, well, if you know me in real life, you know cleaning is not my top hobby or priority. But when we do clean, these babies work like magic!)

DIY citrus peel vinegar is a non-toxic, zero-waste win for so many reasons. Including:

  • reducing your the need to purchase pre-made cleansers (and the packaging that comes with them)
  • reducing your family’s exposure to toxic household chemicals and fragrances
  • giving second life to a waste product from your kitchen

And while this recipe is not truly zero-waste (because it requires a jug of vinegar), it’s quite low-waste and sustainable. And if you make it with homemade apple cider vinegar, then zero-waste it is!

You can adapt the recipe as desired, adding other botanicals to your jar. Try tossing in a handful of lavender flowers, a sprig of fresh or dried sage and thyme, some pine and spruce boughs, juniper berries, or other herbal favorites like cinnamon, clove, or cardamom. (Lavender infused vinegar turns a gorgeous pink color. I love to combine it with grapefruit peels.)

The process couldn’t be more simple.

DIY All Purpose Citrus Cleanser

Ingredients & Supplies

  • 1 quart white vinegar
  • peels from 3 or more pieces of citrus fruit
  • quart-sized mason jar with nonreactive lid

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Step 1. Place citrus peels into the clean, dry mason jar.

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Step 2: Cover with white vinegar or homemade cider vinegar, filling jar to the shoulders.

If needed, nestle a very small glass jar inside the neck of your jar to hold the peels beneath the surface of the vinegar. Peels that stick up out of the vinegar can mold if not kept submerged beneath the liquid.

Tightly lid and infuse in a cool, dark place for 2 to 6 weeks.

Pro tip: If desired, leave a bit more headspace in your jar, and add additional peels as the come available throughout the month. Mixed fruit-types is fine! This is my usual method, as we normally only have one or two citrus peels at a time, rather than a quart-full at once. Don’t save up your peels to infuse later, as they will quickly mold, rather get them infusing on the day you peel the fruit.

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Step 3: After your peels have infused for 2 to 6 weeks, the vinegar will become a warm, citrusy hue, taking on the pigment from the peels, while the peels themselves become sad, pale, and lifeless-looking (like the jar above, at left). Give your jar a sniff, and it should be a lovely mix of bright acidic vinegar plus sweet citrus notes.

Now it’s time to strain! Pour your citrus vinegar through a mesh colander, squeezing to extract as much infused vinegar as you can from the fruit. Discard spent peels, and transfer your vinegar to a clean, dry jar. Lid with a nonreactive lid, label, and store with your cleaning supplies.

Transfer to an upcycled spray bottle if desired, or use my preferred method and decant directly from the jar.

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Do you make your own nontoxic household cleansers? What’s your favorite recipe?

 

You can find the entire One Small Step series here, or click through below for individual posts:

One Small Step: a year of small actions with huge impact

Swap Plastic Bottles of Soap for Bars (plus a DIY liquid recipe)

Buy Less Stuff

Switch to Loose Leaf Tea

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