Dish Detergent: Eat It and Breathe It

OK, so I don’t really think you should eat or breathe your dish detergent, but you could be doing so already.

Dishwasher Detergent

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!

Healthy Habit Challenge, February 2010

One of my goals in 2010  is to make healthy living a habit, one step at a time. Join me as I post Healthy Habit Challenges each month this year in the following categories: Household Chemical Avoidance, Diet, Body Care, and Environment.

Included in italics are ways to take it to the next level, if you’ve already made a clean green start.

  • Household Chemical Avoidance: Remove the most dangerous plasticware from your kitchen; water bottles should be either glass or stainless inside. Learn which plastics are less of a concern, and how to treat them properly in my article Plastics: the Numbers Game.
    Next level: begin to collect better containers for food storage, such as glass. Canning jars are easily obtained, and fit well on pantry shelves and in the fridge.
  • Diet: Boost your immune system, heal your gut, and build your blood and bones with homemade bone broth. Read about my easy crock pot method for poultry and beef stocks in Bone Broth: Body Builder and related articles. Then treat your family with steaming bowls of French Onion Soup.
    Next level: research a local source for grass-fed beef; you will probably need to get in touch directly with the farmer, and coordinate the splitting of a half or quarter beef with several friends. The webite localharvest.org is a great place to search for a local farm, or contact your local chapter of the Weston A Price Foundation.
  • Body Care: Replace your deodorant with a non-toxic version. Read all my product reviews, and why this is one of the most important products for you to replace in Deodorant: Love-Hate Relationship.
    Next level: replace shower soap with a natural bar, check to see if your razor has a “lotion strip” with questionable ingredients, and suggest a better deodorant for your spouse. You can check ingredient lists against chemicals to avoid listed in my Consumer Wallet Guides (print, clip, and keep in your wallet for easy reference).
  • Environment: Rethink “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” in the article Thinking Like Grandma. Then make kitchen recycling a habit by Creating a Recycle Center like I did this month.
    Next level: in addition to recycling rather than throwing away, think of ways to Reduce and Reuse in your home. Leave a comment on the Thinking Like Grandma article with your ideas!

What I’m Working on Consistency In:

  • all of last month’s habits! (still need to locate a houseplant; I guess it’s best I didn’t get one before leaving town for 2.5 weeks!)
  • need to look through all my plastics again, and then organize my over-abundance of glass jars
  • replenishing my freezer-supply of bone broth
  • using my new recycle bin

Plastics, the Numbers Game

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).

Thinking Like Grandma

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!

Creating a Recycle Center

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.

Healthy Habit Challenge, January 2010

A fresh start is always so motivating. That must be why so many people make New Years Resolutions. One of my resolutions is to make healthy living a habit, one step at a time. Join me as I post Healthy Habit Challenges each month this year in the following categories: Household Chemical Avoidance, Diet, Body Care, and Environment.

Included in italics are ways to take it to the next level, if you’ve already made a clean green start.

Healthy Habit Challenge, January 2010

  • Household Chemical Avoidance: Switch out a bathroom cleanser for a non-toxic alternative. Read my post Bathroom Product Change-Out.
    Next level: update your whole bathroom cleaning regime. Read my post How to get a Really Clean Bathroom and my series on Washing the Bathroom.
  • Diet: Get off to a good start each morning by making breakfast nutritionally sound. Read my post Breakfast: Off to a Great Start.
    Next level: focus on the quality of the foods you buy and prepare. Is your oatmeal organic,  your eggs free range (organic if available), your protein powder low temp whey or hemp, your bread sprouted, your honey raw? Do you soak your oatmeal, can you make your own kefir from raw milk, do you put butter on your oat meal?
  • Body Care: Choose hand and body lotion wisely. Read my post Body Lotion: Quench without Consequenses.
    Next level: go through your entire lotion cabinet and pull the ones with risky ingredients. Include all sunscreens and face lotions in your detective work. (Face skin care will be discussed in a future article.)
  • Environment: Improve your personal environment by letting some fresh air into your home. Read my post Indoor Air Quality: Home Smog.
    Next level: in addition to the open-window habit, tackle the other suggestions in the article: clean up your chemicals, install a CO2 detector, clean up problematic mold spots, leave your shoes at the door and wet-mop the floors weekly, and grow house plants.

What I’m Working on Consistency In:

  • presoaking, and putting butter on, my children’s oatmeal, and having sausage for them
  • making my own kefir from raw milk (only pasteurized milk kefir is commercially available . . . this is what we’ve been using until now. Great start, but I know I can do better.)
  • opening all three bedroom windows briefly each morning
  • adding some live plants to my home (I gave up 7 years ago after killing two for lack of sun . . . now I’m ready to attempt it again, and this time I’m armed with a kitchen windowsill. To all my local friends: does anyone have a prolific indoor plant they are wanting to divide and give to me?) 🙂