Scour Power! (Or, how to get away – or not – with bathroom murder)

Carrie has finally done it.  After all I did last week cleaning the bathroom, she’s turned me over to the authorities.

I’m writing this from a maximum security prison.  They don’t usually let you have laptops, but the guards are MNM fans.  I keep asking myself how I ended up in the joint.  And then I ask myself if prisoners even call it “the joint” anymore.  And then I remind myself to toughen up, because these ladies all probably want to shiv me in the yard.  And then I ask myself, again, why I’m here when I clearly don’t even know the correct prison slang.

It started last week.  I came home one day to find the police waiting for me.  They told me I was under arrest for a Psycho-inspired shower killing.  As they dragged me away, I screamed: “But I didn’t do anything!  What is this about??”

“I know what you did!” Carrie cried.  “You murdered Janet Leigh in there!”

“Janet Leigh died in 2004!” I yelled, struggling against my handcuffs.  “And why would I murder her?”

“Why else would you clean the bathroom?” Carrie shouted back, pointing a defiant and accusatory finger toward the upstairs lavatory.  “You psycho!!”

Despite the fact that I’m now in prison, I call this a win.  Who knew that my homemade bathroom cleaners would be powerful enough to create a shine so spotless that it looks like Norman Bates took a stab at our shower curtain and then covered it up!  I have to tell you, I certainly didn’t.  Homemade scouring powder is all fine and dandy, but it definitely doesn’t pack the same punch that Comet does.  Here’s my recipe:

  • 1 cup Baking Soda
  • 1/2 cup Borax
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 pack sugar-free lemonade mix (optional)
  • 2 Dandelion flowers, crushed (optional)

Although the lemonade mix creates some fizz, this recipe doesn’t foam up like a conventional cleaner, and it took more than a little extra elbow grease to bring out the same shine in our tiles.  It also was missing some grit.  With Comet, I can rough up the bottom of my tub like I’m scrubbing it with sandpaper, but my homemade cleaner just doesn’t seem abrasive enough. I kept dumping more in to feel like I was getting a true clean, but, really, I just ended up in a sandbox of miscellaneous white powders.  I used up almost an entire batch of this stuff in my first go-round.  Clearly, some changes are in order.

First of all, I think I’ll swap the Baking Soda and Borax amounts.  Borax is grittier, and I think it would do the job better.  I also want to add a higher salt ratio to the mix and use a coarser product.  The reason I added the salt was for abrasion, but it was obviously too fine to do its duty.  If you want more scrubbing bubbles, I’ve read that a grated bar of soap mixed into the recipe can make all the difference.  I skipped this step though, because, frankly, I was just too lazy to grind another bar of soap down to the nubbins with our vegetable peeler.

All in all, I’m giving Scour Power a half-win.  It did clean the bathroom eventually…with a lot of manual labor.  I think my proposed changes will make Scour Power 2.0 a much more satisfying and easy-to-use product.  However, if you like to exercise in your bathroom, I think I just invented your next workout.  You’re welcome.

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Turn down for bathroom cleaners!

How I feel when I have to clean the bathroom

I can see where this is going: I’m going to have to clean the bathroom today.  I’m not really a fan of cleaning, but sometimes you just have to do it.

For example, you do it when your mother is coming over to visit.  Or, you do it when…well, actually, I can’t think of any other reason why you would clean your bathroom.  Maybe if you’re bored and you can’t get an appointment for a root canal?  Nah, I think I’d keep pressing for the root canal, rather than tackle the bottom of our toilet or our clogged bathtub drain.

But today we tackle them both.  Is my mother coming over?  Probably not (unless it is to drag me back to the country in case more rioting erupts in Baltimore in the next few hours).  So why go digging through the toilet bowl tonight when I could be catching up on Preacher’s Daughters?  Because Mother Nature is a slave driver, that’s why.  Apparently, it’s not enough that I have to suffer through making her products – she wants me to do work to test them out!  How is that fair?  I’m trying to do her a solid by cutting out chemicals, and all she does is make me clean the bathroom.  She’s ungrateful – full stop.  But tonight, I press on anyway, probably on all fours on the bathroom floor with a sponge in my hand.

Last week, I tackled all-purpose cleaner and scouring powder; so, basically, I tackled bathroom cleaners.  And, as I’m beginning to realize, the only way to test a bathroom cleaner is to actually put on your giant clown gloves and clean your bathroom, and, so, I prepare.  The all-purpose cleaner, which should take the place of a Lysol-type product, is made from a recipe I found on Learning Herbs.  It is basically vinegar, dried thyme, and (I added) some tea tree oil.  The mix makes a natural disinfectant, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial surprise and can, supposedly, be used on just about anything – from the windows to the walls.  Clearly, I listen to Lil’ Jon while I clean; talk abut inspirational!

The scouring powder was a bit more difficult to make – and by difficult I mean way, way easier.  I thought these herby mixtures from The Nerdy Farm Wife were just the bees knees (probably because she puts them in cute jars with ribbons on them), so I decided to mimic it in my own style, with the addition of Borax and dandelion flower.  It could be the easiest concoction I’ve ever made.  But will it clean?  We shall see.

I’d actually be really excited to try these out, if only cleaning the bathroom could be more fun.  Maybe I’ll turn out the lights and put on our psychedelic, colorful showerhead, and it’ll be all like, “turn down for what” in there.

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Get Ready for Business

IMG_20150422_211949940 (1)Dishes collect some nasty stuff.  Sitting in our dishwasher right now are multiple pieces of dinnerware, saucepans, and utensils that are covered in dried yogurt, crusted oatmeal, mashed potatoes, pasta sauce, burnt cheese, peanut butter, regular butter, dehydrated lettuce, cereal, and stuck-on jam.  Clearly, we eat a lot of breakfast foods, and we need to pre-rinse our dishes a little better.

Now, I know all that stuck-on food sounds concerning, especially if you remember that I gave up commercial dishwasher detergent this week.  Yikes – sounds like a tough cycle for our little Whirlpool, not to mention my Petrified Lemon-Soda Dishwasher Detergent Tabs.

A dishwasher detergent tab is a small amount of solidified dish cleaner that fits directly in the soap receptacle of your washer and slowly dissolves throughout the cycle.  Sounds kindof difficult to make from scratch, right?  I definitely thought so, but thanks to these wonderful recipes from the Happy Money Saver and  Pins & Procrastination, the homemade dishwasher detergent tab became a piece of cake.  Here’s the recipe I worked up for myself:

  • 1 Cup Super Washing Soda
  • 1 Cup Baking Soda
  • 3-4 packets Unsweeted Lemonade Mix
  • 1/2 Cup Kosher Salt
  • 2 Tbsp Water
  • 1/2 Cup Vinegar
  • 1 tsp Castille Soap

IMG_20150423_204233053Basically, you just mix all the ingredients together and then knead them gently and thoroughly into an ice cube tray. I filled the tray up all the way to top, but this made the tabs too large for our dishwasher, so I’ve had to cut them in half.  The tabs are fairly easy to chop up, but if you want to avoid this whole dance, just don’t fill the ice cube trays up so far.  After you let your mix cement for about 24 hours, the tablets will slip right out of the trays in dried-up, formed cubes.  Chop them up, put them in a container, and you’re ready to put on your blazer, because it’s business time.

Wondering what business time will look like with Petrified Lemon-Soda Dishwasher Detergent Tabs?  I was, too.  I woke up early one morning before work, specifically to turn on my dishwasher.  Unfortunately, I still had to leave before the cycle was done – I can never wake up early enough!  I got to work and texted Carrie immediately, demanding information about our dishes.  The verdict?  Success!  The dishes came out clean!  Carrie said there were a few particles left behind on utensils (probably something that traditional dishwasher detergent would cure), but that was about it – she hadn’t even noticed that I’d put the cycle through with my homemade tabs!

That’s what business time looks like – clean dishes…with only tiny particles left behind.

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And, just like that, Mother Nature and I are on again

IMG_20150422_212045768We all have one of those people in our lives.  You know the kind: The on-and-off.  That person that you can’t make up your mind to love or hate.  That person who’s gossiping with you one day and then about you the next. That person who always bails on your dinner plans, but then moves heaven and earth to pick you up when your car breaks down on the side of the highway.  You know who I’m talking about – that person who’s the best and the worst friend all at the same time.  For me, that person is Mother Nature.

Consider this – just last week, Mother Nature had me agonizing over the gassy wool dryer balls.  Then this week, she turns around and bends over backwards to make dish soap the easiest effort of my life.  It’s like being back in middle school and first period is a pop quiz and second period is a Bill Nye The Science Guy special.  Talk about an emotional roller coaster.

So I got this dish soap recipe off of the Hillbilly Housewife.  I was looking for something pretty simple and, with only three ingredients, this one fit the bill.  Here we go:

  • 2 cups Castile Soap
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tsp white vinegar

I mixed all the ingredients together and put them in a spray bottle.  Both Carrie and I are happy with the way this recipe cleans our dishes, but when I mix it again, I’ll definitely make some tweaks.  No, I’m not a glutton for punishment and fixing something that’s not broken.  I’m just taking a perfectly good recipe and changing it a little so that… Ok, I’m a glutton for punishment, but I honestly think I could make this recipe just slightly better for our needs here at the cottage.

Last summer I spent a week in San Francisco and stayed in a hostel run by a bunch of hippies.  The dish soap provided in the kitchen was mixed with water in a squirt bottle.  Totally cheap and ineffective, right?  Wrong.  Turns out regular dish soap is incredibly concentrated, and squirt bottle soap works great, even when mixed with a large amount of water.  About a month ago, I instituted the practice here at The Newport House, and it went over like a pack of chocolate chip cookies in our cupboard; the only difference is that the soap lasted way longer than any cookie ever has a chance to do.

The point is, we’re used to watered down soap, so the 2 cups of Dr. Bronner’s in this dish soap is a little strong for us.  It may depend on which Castile soap you use, but Dr. Bronner’s is pretty concentrated, so I think even a 2:1 ratio of Castile to water would be more than enough suds for us.  So the next time I make this soap, I’ll cut the Castile in half and at least double the vinegar to get a cleaner that’s cheaper but still strong.  Win-win!  After my difficulties last week with the dryer balls, I can barely contain my excitement about the dish soap success!  Talk about an emotional roller coaster.

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The place where sustainability and trepidation meet

Up until a few days ago, I’d only been brave enough to try my homemade laundry detergent and homemade dryer balls with loads of sheets and towels.  It’s not that I don’t trust myself, but after last week’s tiny hiccup with the gaseous wool dryer balls, you can understand why I had been waiting to throw my whole wardrobe into a homemade cycle.  As with every natural experiment I conduct, I knew there was going to be some horribly negative side effect, and I just had to wait for it to present itself.  After the passing of the gassy blue wool balls, I knew I had landed safely away from the smelly and the nasty.  At least I hoped so, but I had to press on anyway.  Despite turning my underpants inside out, Febreezing the pits of my shirts, and wearing sweatpants and a blazer to work several times, I eventually did run out of clean clothes.

With much trepidation, I did a load of laundry that contained more or less everything in my wardrobe.  The wash cycle was a huge success, but I wasn’t fazed; I still had to deal with the dryer balls that smelled like….well, you know.  Luckily, the purple dryer balls didn’t seem to present signs of gas, so I only used those and set the odorous blue ones to the side (probably never to be touched again, regardless of how their open-air recovery goes).  Lo and behold, my clothes came out of the dryer fresh and clean and without any lingering intestinal air scent!  I know it may not sound like much, but I’m going to take it as a win.  For even more freshness, I’m going to add a few drops of essential oils to my yarn balls next time.

The second plus for dryer balls – aside from sustainability – is that they are supposed to drastically cut down on drying time.  Unfortunately, I have no conclusive evidence of that at this time, but I plan to conduct one of my good, old-fashioned, not-at-all-doomed-to-fail experiments to test this theory, so there’s more to come on that front.  But, in the meantime, I’ve found an even better way to cut down on dryer time – something still cheaper than dryer sheets and more sustainable than yarn balls: Air.

That’s right, I’ve gone 100% old-fashioned, grandma’s podunk backyard and hung a clothes line.  I put two on our back porch and strung one down the basement, in case of rain…or winter.  Of course, nothing’s as soft as the dryer, so everything comes off the line stiff as a board – especially towels – but after dealing with No Poo hair and homemade deodorant, wooden laundry is a cake walk.  So far, I love air drying – I just can’t wait for summertime, so my clothes will have that sun and cut-grass scent!  At first I did feel a little exposed with all my unmentionables flapping in the breeze for the entire alley to see, but as Albert Einstein said, “Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, showing off your bagged underpants from Target comes easy.”

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The end:IMG_20150419_221715

When I opened up the dryer to pull out my laundry, an overwhelmingly foul scent immediately escaped.  It was the scent of a dinosaur passing gas.

How we got there:

I researched how to make wool dryer balls on DIY Natural.  A sustainable alternative to dryer sheets was the second project in the Mother Nature’s Maid Service Challenge, and these dryer balls promised to be just that.  So away I went.

I made a special trip to my local Jo-Ann Fabrics for some 100% wool yarn.  Apparently yarn is a very important material for serious crafters, because I was bombarded with two aisles and approximately 200 brands of it.  I checked what must have been 150 labels (probably more like 10…) before I found Patons 100% wool with a sheep on the front.  Sold to the gal wearing homemade deodorant!

I bought a purple spool and a blue spool, just to make things more fun.  That night, I twisted up my yarn balls and wrangled them into an old and dilapidated nylon stocking to ensure that they would felt correctly.  Felting is basically how dryer balls are made – you roll them up, stick them in a stocking, run them through a hot/cold laundry cycle, and then blast them to hell and back on your highest dryer setting.  If they felt correctly, you should be able to run a fingernail across the surface without loosening the yarn.  Then you’re free to toss them in your dryer at will.

The very next night, I excitedly threw my dryer balls into the washing machine with a load of sheets and towels.  They came out unscathed, and I tossed everything in the dryer to finish them off.  I nervously waited.  Then came the buzz: It was time.

I ran down the basement to collect my (hopefully felted) yarn balls.  When I opened up the dryer to pull out my laundry, an overwhelmingly foul scent immediately escaped.  It was the scent of a dinosaur passing gas.  I stuffed my head in the dryer – in search of the odor – and buried my nose in my sheets, horrified that they would emit this gaseousness.  But there was nothing.  My sheets and towels didn’t smell like anything.  How were they unscathed?  The source had to be somewhere!

And then I turned to the dryer balls.  I picked them up tentatively and smelled them one by one.  Purple 1: fine.  Purple 2: fine.  See that?  It wasn’t the yarn ba– Blue 1: FART.  Blue 2: FART.  I dropped the balls like hot potatoes and shoved my face at our “Cotton Breeze” dryer sheets.  Trust me, it was terrible.  It was as if I’d wrapped the blue yarn balls around hard-boiled eggs or blocks of cheese and then thrown them through the laundry cycle.  I carried them upstairs, holding them as far away from me, my nose, and my sheets as possible, and then shoved them under Carrie’s nose.  She recoiled and threw my yarn balls across the room as if I’d just tossed a bag of thousand leggers at her (which, in the defense of my dryer balls, would have been a way worse scenario, no matter how foul the yarn smelled).

So we’re working now with two dryer balls – the purple set only, obviously.  I’m not really sure what happened to the blue – maybe it was the color, maybe it was the spool, maybe that sheep had a love of beans and leafy greens.  I will admit that much of the odor has diminished since they’ve been left out in the open, but I’m not sure whether I’ll ever be brave enough to try them again with my laundry.  Smelling like homemade deodorant is bad enough, but smelling like a gigantic fart is is definitely above my pay grade.

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MNM’s Laundry List

I have never been more excited to do laundry than I have been these past fewIMG_20150414_132643 days.  In fact, my life has been so laundry-centric, that I haven’t even had time for anything else.

On Monday, I was invited to happy hour and politely declined: “Wish I could, but I have to go home and make laundry detergent.  It’s promising to be a lot of fun, would you like to–” (No, she wouldn’t like to join me, apparently.)

On Tuesday, a friend was stranded on the highway with a flat tire, but I was, unfortunately, unavailable: “I’m so sorry, but you couldn’t have caught me at a worse time.  I’m just in the middle of making dryer balls.”  (Not to worry.  I sent Carrie instead.)

On Wednesday, U.S. Airways called with an offer on a free trip to Dubrovnik, leaving the next day, as a special offer for passengers who had ever felt pressed for leg-space on a previous flight.  Well I certainly fit that description, but: “I’d love to go, but I just don’t think I’ll get the time to pack.  I have to do my laundry tonight.”

Yea, I’ve gone overboard.  Or have I?  This is Mother Nature’s Maid, after all.  I can’t disappoint my five readers.  So I stayed in and made laundry detergent instead of heading to Dubrovnik.  And guess what?  It worked!!

The laundry detergent recipe I used, from DIY Natural, is a powder, made with three ingredients: Borax, Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, and 1 bar of soap, grated.  Easy enough, right?  Sure, when you have a grater in your house.  I had to shred my soap with a vegetable peeler and then put it through the food processor to chop it up tiny enough to dissolve in the wash.  But after the chopping – super simple.  I just mixed all my ingredients in a recycled Cool Whip container, and it was ready to use.

I was slightly nervous to use homemade detergent on my clothes – I’ve been burned by Mother Nature before, and I was not about to let her ruin my wardrobe as well as my hair – so I used it on a load of sheets and towels first.  I was pleased with how they turned out; the detergent seems to work just like store-bought, with the soap providing most of the scent.  With my nerves assuaged, I threw in a load of clothes, and they turned out just as fresh and clean as the towels with no lasting negative effects.  Success!

I think I’ve found my new laundry detergent, and the best part is that it only cost me about $10!  We’ll just have to get ourselves a grater…I wonder if I could have bought one of those in Dubrovnik.

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