We got home from our trip late last night. Found a kazillion sugar ants in the house when we arrived. We had them coming in before we left and had put out a few of the ant traps that take poison back to the nest . . . and it didn’t stop them from moving inside en masse. Do you have any healthy solutions? We’ve put sweet pantry items in the freezer and have been spraying Windex on the ones in the kitchen as that kills them (ammonia) and is not toxic. I don’t want to call pest control but I may have no choices left. It is bad.
~Susan, via email
Sounds like you’ve got a good start on cleaning them up. In addition, you can try some ideas (below) from a natural gardening guide which I have on hand. (Also available for download at oregonmetro.gov .) Using silicone sealant at entrypoints seems like an excellent solution in your case. Remember to be patient with the problem; you may be able to irradicate them in a few days with just these simple measures and that would be so much healthier for your family than exposure to chemical killers. Prevention
Store food in tightly sealed containers. Keep all kitchen surfaces clean and
free of food scraps and standing water. Physical control
If a line of ants is marching across the kitchen, find the point of entry and
seal it. Use a silicone seal. Use petroleum jelly for a short-term fix until you
have time to do a better job. Remove what the ants are eating and mop
them up with soapy water. Some have found that sprinkling red chili pepper
at the entry point helps discourage ants. Wrap a band of tape, paper or
cotton coated with a sticky substance such as Tanglefoot around the main
stem of outdoor plants to trap ants. Biological control
Birds, bee flies, humpback flies and thick-headed flies are natural predators
outdoors. Least-toxic chemical control
Diatomaceous earth, silica gel, boric acid and pyrethrum can be effective.
Diatomaceous earth and silica gel are dusts that kill insects by drying them
out. They are dangerous to breathe, so if they must be blown into wall
spaces, a professional should do the job. Pyrethrum can be combined with
silica gel to give a faster effect; one form comes in a non-aerosol squeeze
dispenser that allows for application in cracks and crevices to minimize
human and pet contact. Boric acid can be used in cracks, but only in areas
not accessible to crawling children or pets. Prepare 1 percent boric acid
solution by mixing 1 teaspoon boric acid, 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
and 2 cups warm water. Store in a clear container. Use on cotton balls
placed in the bottom of a plastic cup or tub with holes cut for ants to enter.
Recharge each week. After three to four weeks, use 1/2 percent solution
for continuous control. You can also use insecticidal soap to drench an
ant colony outdoors or in a crawl space. More than one treatment may be
My first two children spent all their diaper years in paper diapers, and even though I felt small bursts of guilt when I thought of our contribution to landfills, I didn’t consider cloth diapers an option. I mean, cloth is so yukky and hard to do, right?
Wrong. But it took two cloth diapering friends to debunk my myths.
Myth 1. Washing Cloth Diapers is a lot of work.
It’s work, but not a lot of work. Like 2-3 small loads a week, and I don’t even fold, I pile. It’s also a little work to keep up a stash of paper diapers, and this is eliminated.
Myth 2. Cloth Diapers are uncomfortable to the baby/ aren’t as healthy as paper.
Maybe vinyl pants are uncomfortable, but not the new laminated or fleece cloth covers (which there are dozens of choices on). Paper diapers do tend to wick away better, keeping baby dry, but then mommies tend to rely on that and not change the paper diapers as often as they should (this was me!) and that paper diaper can heat up. Some people think hot paper diapers are associated in male infertility when those baby boys grow up. Whether or not this is true, I’m just glad to avoid those clear bead things (chemical absorbants) which are use in the paper diapers and the bleach in the paper which is a known carcinogen.
Myth 3. Cloth Diapers are ugly.
Oh, they are so cute, with colors, patterns . . . whatever your flair. What’s ugly is a plastic bag of cartoon printed paper diapers, and later a pile of soiled paper diapers.
Myth 4. Cloth Diapers and hard to put on.
There are several methods of diapering (inserts, all in ones, prefold plus cover, etc.) but each is pretty easy to learn. With the new Snappi fasteners, it’s easy to secure the cloth diaper without pins, and most covers velcro on like a paper diaper.
Myth 5. It’s better to throw away the mess.
A (non-stinking) diaper pail which is dumped into the wash is so much nicer than a trash can of diapers stinking up the garage every week. And, ever thought of all the poop entombed in the landfill forever? That seems like a ecological nightmare.
Myth 6. Paper Diapers are a pretty cheap luxury.
Huggies from Costco was costing us about $40/mo. That’s times 30 months or so (if they potty train early). I think I can get more fun out of $1200 than buying diapers. 🙂
Myth 7. It’s All or Nothin’.
Even doing cloth diapers, I still use paper when we travel. And now on my 2 year old who is potty training (fingers crossed) and keeps the paper one dry a lot (Seventh Generation: no bleach in the paper diapers).
How To Start Cloth Diapers
There may be better ways to start cloth diapers, but I gave myself a challenge to spend about $80 and try it for 2 months. That way, if I hated it I could resell the diapers on diaperswappers.com and still be ahead money-wise.
I started reading some diaper websites, and was amazed at all the options (it can be overwhelming). What I finally settled on is the most simple, cost effective, and easiest method I know.
Thirsties cover from babyworks.com to cover; reuse all day long unless a blowout. Fits well, few leaks, cute, good price. (Started with 3, but quickly had to buy 3 more so I could get through at least 2 days.)
5 Gallon Bucket with lid which I had on hand; for throwing the soiled/wet diapers in (breastfed baby; but for baby eating food, the poop gets flushed down the toilet first). No solution in the bucket, I just dry bucket. When the bucket is full, I do laundry.
Laundering: dump bucket into washer, rinse bucket with 1 cup white vinegar which I then pour into wash. Rinse cycle on cold with vinegar. Wash cycle on hot with tiny bit of Bioclean soap and scoop Oxyclean. Second rinse in warm, no soap. Line dry the covers, send cloths through drier on hot (or line dry in summer).
It’s doable, cheap, and soft on my baby’s bum. What’s not to love?
More on re-using items in decorating: old art (frames, canvases, etc.) can get a new life if you have an artistic streak, or are pretty handy with spray paint.
Here is a large framed printed canvas that I bought about 7 years ago at an auction for $5.
I had thought that I’d like to use the frame someday, probably repainted. It’s been in the attic all this time. Now 7 years later, I’m OK with the gold frame and the canvas itself gave me inspiration. I know the painting in there is a reproduction of something famous, but it doesn’t go in my house.
So I painted over it.
First, I masked off the frame from the canvas and applied a coat of Gesso (it’s like primer for art) that I got at Michael’s. Then I used oil paints to paint my picture (I was visiting my sister who is taking lessons and has a whole set of oil paints).This is my first dabble at oil painting.
The picture I painted is of my two boys playing outside in the early spring. I wanted something personal: it isn’t fine art, but I love it because it is meaningful. (And, to be honest, I’m delighted that the subjects even look human, and like my sons! Thanks, Mom, for all those art lessons years ago!)
Of course, my boys didn’t sit in that positions as models for hours so I could get the shadows right; so I snapped a photo to refer to as I painted. Here is my photo.
First I sketched in the main parts of the picture with pencil, then painted it in. You can see that I changed some of the elements in the photo to be more elegant (no crabby fence). Also: I painted in a well drafted room with the windows open.
Novice that I am, I had no idea that oil paintings can take weeks, even months to fully dry. I had to come back home before that time, so we very carefully wrapped the frame in paper and placed a board over it to survive the trip home.
Then my new “art” got a place of honor on my mantel.
Here it is at Easter time with some spring moss, lamb, and bird.
Have you kept an item out of the landfill by repainting or re-purposing it in your home?
OK, so I don’t really think you should eat or breathe your dish detergent, but you could be doing so already.
It is common for some residue to be left on dishes coming from the dishwasher, and while the dishwasher is running, a great deal of steam is being put out into your home environment. If there are toxic ingredients in your detergent, guess what you’re ingesting and inhaling?
I switched from “standard” Costco brand dishwasher detergent to a natural one a few years ago when I read that cancer patients should have their dishes run through the cycle without detergent to avoid the tax on the immune system. Well, I didn’t think taxing the immune system was a good idea for the rest of us either. So I tried a dish powder from BioKleen. It worked OK. I switched to the Trader Joe’s brand for a better price, and I think that it may be the exact same product (TJ’s uses other manufacturers in some of their private label goods).
After months of using these cleaners, I noted a few things:
Pro: there was no bleach odor coming from the dishwasher while it ran.
Con: the glasses began to have a white residue build up on the outsides (bottoms), and sometimes had small granules of white powder on the inside.
I could scrub that white film off by hand (totally planning to do this when the kids leave for college . . .) but the granules inside? We might be eating that if I don’t wipe each time. So recently I switched to liquid dishwasher soap.
A friend who had just switched to the BioKleen liquid dishwasher soap warned me that it wasn’t getting her dishes clean, so I bought the Seventh Generation product which smells like grapefruit.
I think it is working well, although I noticed that I have to rinse and brush my silverware clean of stuck-on food, as there are no granules to act as an abrasive for scrubbing them off.
It also looks to me like this detergent may be slowly removing some of the white film from my glasses, but I may just be imagining it.
When you look for a detergent, make sure it is free of chlorine bleach, phosphates, and EDTA. All are toxic, both to your home environment/family and to everything living downstream from you.
Dish Liquid (for washing by hand)
Here’s some good news: of all the soaps and cleansers in our homes, the liquid dish detergent we use for washing up by hand is likely the least toxic if it does not have Triclosan in it (the FDA just recently stated that, based upon animal studies, there is valid concern that Triclosan can have an impact on the endocrine (hormonal) system). Otherwise, this can happily wait for replacement until you’ve run out of your current soap.
I have been quite happy with the BioKleen Dish Liquid. Lovely fragrance, cuts grease but doesn’t strip my hands, and foams up well. Get it at 15% off from iherb.com; I get mine through my local food co-op/drop for greater savings.
Tip: In addition to washing up dishes and other kitchen surfaces, dish soap works well to get oil stains out of clothing (think butter and peanut butter stains on kid clothes). Dawn detergent is the BEST for this, as it is an awesome grease cutter, but it’s not a natural product, so if you use it avoid touching it to your skin. Use your dish liquid full strength on the stain, let set for half an hour, rinse in the sink, then launder. Dish liquid is far too foamy for washing machines, so never add it to your load or you may have a huge mess on your hands!
I love it when my carpets are freshly vacuumed, and my hard floors are freshly mopped (as they are right now!). Bliss to my feet!
Clean floors are an important part of home health, especially if there are babies in the home who spend a good portion of their time on the floor. Those sweet little hands that crawl on the floor. . . they go right into the mouth, don’t they?
In addition to keeping floors much cleaner through the week, shoe removal contributes to a healthy home. Most parents are aware of the hazard of lead from paint, and its toxic effect to children. Since I’ve only lived in homes built after 1978 since becoming a parent, I did not pay much attention to these warnings. Then I learned that children can still be exposed to lead through roadside dirt that has been tracked into the home (roadside dirt generally has a high concentration of lead from exhaust residue which came before lead was banned from gasoline).
Of course, I don’t do a lot of walking along major roadsides. But it did get me thinking about what else might be coming in on my shoes. From the grocery store, and occasional public restroom, to the library and local farm for eggs and milk, my shoes go many places and must have an entire mini ecosystem of bacteria and filth living on them.
And so I began removing my shoes when I enter my home, and requiring my children to do the same. It did help that we moved to a home with new carpet around that time, and the No-Shoes-on-Carpet rule became so ingrained into my children that they are now self-appointed Shoe Police, ordering all to drop their dirty duds.
Large metal bins, placed both near the front and back doors, help contain the pile of little shoes and boots that now reside near the doors.
Carpets:vacuum with a strong vacuum. For spots, first blot or scrub with plain water and a terry cloth rag (old wash cloth). If it doesn’t release, use a soap-based non-aerosol carpet/upholstery shampoo. I have had good results on both carpet and upholstery with Howard Naturals Upholstery Cleaner. Equal parts vinegar and water can neutralize urine odors.
Hard Floors: Sweep all loose debris from floors, then mop and wipe dry.
For vinyl, tile, and varnished wood floors,use 2 gallons warm water and 1 cup of vinegar.
For Linoleum floors, use 1/4 cup vegetable oil based liquid soap in 2 gallons warm water.
I put the solution in a bucket, and wash the floor with a rag while on my hands and knees. I use an old bath towel to dry behind as I go. More difficult than a mop? Absolutely, but a mop is really just a filthy sponge that gets used and reused on floors without cleanings in between. If you have a mop where the cleaning rag can be removed and laundered between use, awesome! Since mine was the old sponge type, I chucked it in favor of a truly clean floor. I always have a laundry load of rags to launder together in hot water and oxygen bleach at the end of cleaning day.
Plastics are really convenient, especially in the kitchen. However, there has recently been a lot of question about how safe it is for them to be in contact with so much of our food. The nation of Canada recently banned the use of PVC in baby bottles/cups, making it the first nation to officially acknowledge the growing body of evidence that shows plastics are making their way into our bodies.
Human hormones are nearly all manufactured (in our bodies) using fats, so it should come as no surprise that the addition of synthetic oils, such as plastic residues, can interfere with normal hormone processes. We would be wise to avoid these toxins much as possible.
Plastics of all types seem to leach into foods more when they are heated, subjected to harsh cleaning agents, and left in contact with wet or oily foods for extended periods. Some safer ways to use plastics:
Never microwave. Ever.
Don’t place in the dishwasher, rather hand wash with warm water and mild dish soap.
Limit exposure to wet and greasy foods. Remember, plastic is made from oil (petroleum), so food grease becomes like a solvent for it, with the residue entering the food. Refrigerate/freeze wet or greasy foods in glass containers, rather than plastic bags.
When using plastic wrap over a dish, don’t allow the wrap to touch the food inside.
If you can “smell” plastic, you are actually smelling it off-gas. Avoid using actively off-gassing plastic with food, even dry foods.
Don’t store drinking water in a plastic bottle. Choose stainless steel or glass for your sports bottle.
Best Choices for Food Storage
The safest material for food storage is glass. Virtually non-leaching, it has stood the test of time. Fortunately, it is readily available, and inexpensive. Canning jars are an easy, flexible solution for pantry, fridge, or freezer. There are also several lines of glass products made specifically for food storage, some with snapping plastic lids (choose from the “safer” list on the lids, and avoid letting the food touch the lid).
Purchasing food canned in glass jars, rather than tin cans, is the best choice when available. Although tin is not considered toxic to humans (it’s a trace mineral we actually need in small amounts), most people in developed countries have elevated levels of this mineral, likely from tin cans. Of even greater concerns is the plastics used to line/seal tin cans; whether they are on the “safer” or “to avoid” lists below, it is likely that there was heat involved in the processing and the food has absorbed some amount of plastic.
Safer Plastic Choices:
Select safe plastics that use polyethylene (#1, #2, and #4) and polypropylene (#5), which require the use of less toxic additives. They also are non-chlorinated. Where do you find these numbers? Turn the item over and look for the symbol.
Plastics to Avoid:
Avoid choosing products that use polyvinyl chloride (#3), polystyrene (#6), and polycarbonate (#7) which often are found in baby bottles or sippy cups.
What to do with these unsafe plastics? If the containers are useful for storage elsewhere (garden shed, etc.) consider reuse, otherwise recycle before they can be accidentally returned to use in the kitchen (baby cups).
It has to be the mother of all earth-friendly mantras. The idea of leaving less trash behind you on the earth, and using fewer resources, distilled down into three words. Reduce, reuse, recycle. It seems like we’ve seen it printed on the backs of natural products and the front of waste receptacles for years. But do we ever think about what it would look like in our daily lives?
I, for one, used to think only of the last word, recycle. Growing up in CA, recycling meant getting money back for aluminum cans. As an adult, the local residential recycling program raised my awareness that glass and plastic should also be recycled. Oh, and paper and cardboard too. My family is now using the third size/type of curbside recycling container supplied to us by our waste management company in the last 8 years (I hope they recycle the other plastic ones!), and it’s certainly the largest, coming in one third larger than our garbage can. But I’m actually proud to say that we don’t even fill it half full each week (same as with the garbage can). And I’ll tell you why.
I’m proud we don’t fill the whole bin because we are doing more of those two first words in the 3Rs: Reduce and Reuse. Recycling is only the last ditch effort to not let something go into a landfill. Before you relinquish it, think of all the ways you might use it. You might call this thinking like Grandma.
I have one great-grandmother who immigrated as a mail order bride from Switzerland (she and Grandpa had known each other as children) just before the Great Depression. My grandfather, her son, told me he didn’t think she noticed the depression much since poverty had always been her way of life. When I knew her, she was elderly, but still cultivated every square inch of their city lot for fruit, veggies, poultry, or flowers, and hung out each load of laundry, including carefully rinsed paper towels. Her clothes were patched, and repatched; clean of course. I’m sure she boiled into soup every bone that came across her table (see Bone Broth). Her back porch was filled with glass and plastic jars and newspapers which she kept for reuse in food storage, gardening, and then would give her overflow of newspapers to the church for fundraiser recycling. She did not see these “reuses” as a sign of poverty, rather as a sign of the great wealth (no hunger) which she and grandpa had been blessed with through their hard work in this land of opportunity.
Of course, my other great-grandmothers and grandmothers all lived during the Great Depression, and I can think of ways in which they all were, and those living still are, frugal in their daily habits, including reusing and recycling. Necessity made them reduce, and reusing and recycling were the natural results.
As my family has had reduced income in the past year, reducing has become a necessity. It’s exciting to think of all the ways we’ll be making better habits, just like my grandmothers. Here are some ideas to get you started:
We purchase milk and eggs directly from the farms; the egg cartons we return to the farmer, and the glass milk jar is in continuous-loop reuse.
I don’t plan to rinse out my paper towels for line drying, but have switched over to cloth rags for most cleaning jobs. They’ll be hung to dry as soon as we can get the lines installed (and the weather accommodates).
I have switched to cloth diapers; they also will get line drying soon. However, when traveling I do use paper diapers. I just keep positive by rejoicing about all the waste I’m avoiding during the majority of the time! Even if you aren’t ready to take the plunge into cloth diapers, I highly recommend cloth wipes for use with your baby (see my post on Cloth Wipes for Diapering). Traditional disposable wipes are often laced with dangerous chemicals; going to cloth means you get to choose what cleanser is being wiped onto your baby’s bottom each day.
We buy most of our children’s clothing, and some of mine, at resale shops; and I enjoy resaling our cast-offs for credit.
I made a patchwork quilt out of a number of old plaid shirts of my husband’s. It turned out so cute that I gave it as a baby gift, and have cut out another from the rest of those shirts to make one for my baby boy. You would be amazed at how much fabric is in a man’s shirt.
I’ve been reading about using newspaper for starting a garden bed by covering the sod, then piling it with compost. What a great way to reduce (the need for weed cloth), and reuse (the newspaper). Since there seem to be moisture concerns with weedcloth (and it’s expensive), this seems like a win-win idea for the perimeter beds I’m planning in our yard.
We compost all our veggie scraps, non-meat/dairy table scraps, and egg shells. Better dirt, less garbage.
I collect all the glass jars which come into our home filled with jam, salsa, marinara sauce, etc. I reuse these when storing smaller amounts of pantry items bought in bulk (beans, popcorn . . . looks so pleasant on the shelves, too!) or leftovers. Glass jars can also be used for culturing dairy or storing frozen liquids, or in the garage for holding nails and screws. My collection of glass jars is beginning to overwhelm my kitchen, so this month I’m going to sort them, and store some in the garage until the summer when I can make lanterns from them to hold tea lights around our back patio.
A habit which I need to build is taking my reusable bags into the market weekly. My excuse for forgetting (three children in tow) should be my reason for remembering: start this as a habit in their lives. Nonetheless, when a plastic shopping bag does come home, it gets a second life as a bathroom garbage can liner before ending in the landfill.
Making most of our food from scratch, mainly from bulk ingredients or fresh produce, is probably the greatest means of our garbage reduction. Besides having a much greater amount of packaging, and being more costly at the checkout, prepared foods are a drain on your health.
Still need the convenience of prepared food? Prepare it ahead yourself: double the recipe size which you normally prepare, and freeze the excess for an easy reheated meal. For salad, wash and chop your salad ingredients when you get home from the market. Keep the oversized salad in the refrigerator all week long, quickly pulling out what you need for a meal, and adding the toppings which you desire on that day (tomatoes should be reserved for cutting until use; they make the salad soggy, and turn mealy in the fridge).
I recently created a place under my kitchen sink for recycles (finally!). Read about it in my post called Creating a Recycle Center.
Leave a comment with creative ways you are reducing, reusing, and recycling!
It suddenly hit me: I wouldn’t pile trash on the counter waiting for a chance to take it to the garage. I have a kitchen trash can for it. So why am I still piling my recycles on the counter?
Here’s a picture of my counter, cluttered with recycles: Root Beer bottles, newspaper, ziplocks box, butter box, vitamin bottles, etc. I hate clutter, and I too often have chucked “small” pieces of recycling (junk mail) in the trash because I just wanted to be done with it.
And here is my under-sink area, which I thought was fully used, until I realized what a necessity a recycles bin is. I was storing flower vases under there, stuffed with plastic shopping bags for lining bathroom trash cans. The vases I moved to a high shelf, and the bags I consolidated.
Then I rearranged my cleansers and garbage can, and my new recycle bin fits perfectly! The rainbow stripe decoration on the reused shipping box is complements of my two artistic children (6 and 4 years).
Here is my newly efficient garbage and recycling center! New habits, new way of life.
Reports (like this one from the EPA) are that the air inside our homes is likely more toxic than that outside; that’s pretty serious considering what attention is given to city smog reports. Also, it’s serious because this is the air we breathe at least 1/3 of our lives. Since I’m a stay at home mom, for me that’s more like 90-95% of my time.
What causes indoor air pollution?
Any kind of toxic chemical that is used in your home (think pest poisons, construction sealants, formaldyhyde off-gassing from your cabinetry, cleansers, detergents, chlorine from hot showers, paint and craft supply fumes, fumes from attached garages, fumes from gas burning appliances, etc.)
Molds, mildews (look around window, in showers, under sinks, in basement)
Dust (which mites live off of in carpets and bedding)
Yuck! And I live here? Yes, so what can I do?
Obviously, cleaning up our act in regards to chemicals, installing a CO2 detector, and cleaning up problematic mold spots and dust collectors are good starts. (Leave your shoes at the door and wet-mop the floors weekly.) And, living house plants actually clean the air around them as they “breathe.” But to quickly clean up the air in your home:
Open the windows. (Wait, it can’t be that simple?)
Yes, if we would just open the windows for an airing for a few minutes each morning, that would change our indoor environment dramatically. I don’t do this on the coldest days as I’m wary of losing the heat, but the rest of the time you will notice that a cool breeze blowing out the stale air for 10 minutes or so doesn’t make the things in the house cold, and the temperature is able to rebound quickly.