Reduced plastic packaging for household goods
Updated: Feb 5
We've taken a look at all the supplies we buy that come in plastic packaging, and are working to find non-toxic, zero-VOC, pleasant, effective alternatives that have reduced packaging. We have to use all unscented products because of Ota's chemical injury, and because our house is so airtight. A bonus is that most of these products are far cheaper than the advertised toxic petrochemical-based ones sold in plastic bottles! Here are the safe, climate-friendly cleaning and personal care supplies we have found so far (we get zero kickback from the vendors of these products):
Bathroom cleaner - "Sal suds" from Dr. Bronner's - concentrated biodegradable cleaner that does a great job on the bathtub, and, combined with baking soda, the toilet. It won't damage the ceramic finish like harsher cleaners can.
Disinfectant for surfaces and hands - Ethanol (Vodka or Grain Alcohol) is a scientifically proven non-toxic disinfectant that doesn't stink! And is available in glass bottles. We refill small glass spray bottles and keep them in the car for spritzing hands after shopping. Adding a little aloe helps moisturize hands, but even straight vodka doesn't dry our hands or stink like the commercial disinfectants.
Scouring cleanser - "Bon ami" - mild scouring cleanser for cleaning stainless steel pans, kitchen sink, and anything ground into a tile floor. It is non-toxic (unlike Barkeeper's Fiend), doesn't stink, and comes in a cardboard can.
Odor absorbing - Baking soda. You can sprinkle it into kitty litter or on stains on the garage floor. To remove petrochemical fragrance residue from hard surfaces, make a baking soda and water paste, slather it on, let it dry, and then scrape it off. We did this to remove the fragrance from a stove we got second hand. (Don't do this on wood -- it will work, but it can dry out the wood and remove the finish).
Degreaser - "Citrasolv" concentrated orange oil cleaner - works great on greasy residue like the layer that deposits on the vent hood above the stove.
Dish soap - "The Earthling Co" Solid dish soap - works better than the liquid that comes in plastic bottles! It's non-toxic, doesn't leave a soapy smell in your mugs or on your hands, and takes grease off pans like nobody's business. It comes in a metal can and refills are available. They also sell a stiff wooden dish brush that is very comfortable and effective and fits right in the can. Since your hands aren't in the dishwater, there's. no need for gloves!
Dishwasher detergent - "Seventh Generation" or "Biokleen" powdered unscented dishwasher detergent -- both come in cardboard boxes. If you run out, Oxiclean and Borax makes a good substitute.
Cleaning hard water deposits out of the bottom of the dishwasher - run a cycle with no dishes and citric acid instead of soap. (Citric acid is sold in the grocery store with canning supplies.)
Laundry detergent - "Biokleen" fragrance-free laundry powder is our favorite. It comes in a cardboard box and works great in our high efficiency washer. We do not use fabric "softeners" (they are a big source of air pollution and we like our towels crispy and absorbent, rather than covered with wax, thank you!). We stopped dry cleaning anything decades ago. We wash our wool sweaters and other delicates in cold water with the other clothing, zipped into mesh bags to keep them from getting snagged.
Kitty litter - We've dispensed with the plastic box liner in favor of clumping litter. Tidy Cat lightweight unscented clay litter works well and comes in a cardboard box. If your cat will tolerate it, pine pellets are great (available for next to nothing in 50# bags at the hardware store). The corn and wheat litters are sprayed with herbicide and are contaminated with mites that can cause allergic reactions in cats.
Glass cleaner - I must admit that a solution of distilled vinegar and water does work on windows, while vodka streaks. I find the smell of vinegar nasty myself, particularly in an air-tight house, but have not yet perfected an alternative. It's fine for cleaning the outsides of the windows. I've tried a bunch of the online recipes for window cleaner that involve baking soda, but they all streak. I'm thinking I'll try apple cider vinegar next time.
Disinfecting cleaner - Hydrogen Peroxide is an inexpensive, non-toxic, unscented disinfectant. It is great for cleaning the nasty scum around the rim of the bathroom sink drain, and for pouring down laundry sink and floor drains to kill odor. It can also be misted into the air to sanitize rooms, ventilation, etc.
Pet stains - "Anti-Icky Poo" unscented enzymatic cleaner comes in large reusable bottles and doesn't stink.
Cleaning tools - instead of paper towels, we use torn up old sheets and towels, and wash them. We use long-lasting natural brushes instead of sponges and gloves. And we have an old-fashioned broom that has lasted decades. We use a steam cleaner with distilled water to clean our tile floors and upholstery. A nylon scraper is great for scraping food off dishes. A single-sided razor blade will remove adhesive from glass. A metal "TubShroom" collects hair before it can clog up the shower drain.
Bottled water alternative:
"Berkey" water filter or similar ceramic under-the-counter water filter, and reusable stainless steel or glass water bottles. Berkey-filtered water tastes better than bottled, and you can take your filter with you while camping. It also provides a clean drinking water supply if your water is ever temporarily cut off.
Personal Care Products:
Moisturizer - Ota makes her own moisturizer we call "Ota butter," which works better, is cheaper, and is more pleasant to use than any store-bought product we've tried. It is a combination of shea butter, avocado oil, and vitamin E. The recipe is super simple: Melt 8 oz of organic shea butter in a double-boiler, add 3 oz of organic avocado oil and 1/2 tsp vitamin E. You can add a few drops of essential oils if you'd like, or leave it unscented. Cool it in the refrigerator, and then whip it using the whip attachment in a stand mixer. Scoop it into recycled glass jars. This combination doesn't go rancid like some other homemade moisturizers that use almond oil do, and it doesn't dry out your skin like coconut oil does. It doubles as an effective lip balm!
Deodorant - Magnesium hydroxide works wonderfully, is cheap and incredibly easy to use.
To make your own roll-on, get the store brand of liquid magnesium hydroxide sold as a laxative and make sure it doesn't have bleach in it like the name brand "Milk of Magnesia" does. One of the bottles of magnesium hydroxide goes a long way as deodorant. You can make your own roll-on by simply refilling a screw-top roll-on bottle with the magnesium oxide solution. Et voila! A deodorant that works better than store-bought for 12 hours. Add essential oils, or leave it unscented. I like a woodsy scent -- a couple drops of cedar, a drop of lavender, and a drop of clary sage. My kid likes 2-3 drops of lavender for a floral scent.
For a paste deodorant, simply add magnesium hydroxide powder to your favorite moisturizer. This is now my favorite recipe -- 2 Tb of Ota's homemade moisturizer mixed with a half teaspoon of powdered magnesium hydroxide, 3 drops of cedar essential oil, 3 drops of rosemary, and 3 drops of clary sage. It works so much better than store-bought and doesn't irritate my very sensitive skin! Just a dab on a finger rubbed into my pits moisturizes this delicate area and what's left on my fingers can be rubbed into my hands for extra moisturizing.
Soap - we make our own goats-milk castille soap, and it is easy to do once you've bought a few supplies. Our recipe came from a farmer's market vendor in LA named Rosa who published it with complete instructions (here's a link). Like the deodorant, you can have fun adding essential oil scents, or leave it unscented. We like to add activated charcoal and a few drops of lavender oil to make swirly black and white bars that our college student kid loves. For face-washing, Dr Bronner's liquid castille soap is great, especially for acne-prone teens with oily skin.
Toothpaste - honestly, now that I've tried toothpaste bits, I have no idea why we have been struggling with toothpaste in a tube for so long. The tablets are so easy, effective, and convenient! They do the job of cleaning teeth and preventing morning breath better than any natural toothpaste in a tube I've found, and you don't aspirate them, like the powders. The brand we like best of the ones we've tried ("Hello") comes in a small metal can, and is available online or at Whole Foods.
Shampoo and Conditioner bars - One of us (fine hair that needs body) has found a brand of unscented shampoo and conditioner bars that works well (Apple cider vinegar shampoo bar by "Alo Goods," available at Nude Foods in refillable glass jars). The other (curly hair that needs conditioning) likes the shampoo and conditioner bars from "The Earthling Co" ("simply fresh" shampoo lathers well, is scented with mint essential oil, and rinses clean and the unscented conditioner smells like the fresh ingredients and leaves hair smooth, soft, and fluffy).