Cloth Diaper Wipes – one of our easiest sustainable living changes, money saving too

If you have basic sewing skills, cloth diaper wipes are very easy to make.  You will need terry cloth and flannel fabric.  I bought mine as remnants at the fabric store.  You could also buy towels and receiving blankets at discount stores or better yet buy used at a yard sale or thrift store.

Here are the steps for making the wipes:

  1. Wash the fabric first.
  2. Place the flannel and terry cloth wrong sides together (I don’t think terry cloth has right/wrong sides so just worry about the flannel – you want the pattern facing out)
  3. Cut the fabric into pieces the size you would like your wipes to be.  Ours average about 4×6 inches though they do vary since I had remnants and didn’t want to waste fabric.
  4. Serge or zig-zag stitch around all four sides of the wipe.  I rounded my corners but that is optional.
  5. Stitch two straight lines through the cloth from the long side to the other long side.  This keeps the cloth from becoming strangely shaped when washed.

That’s it.

These cloths wear well and become super soft over time.  The terry cloth side is good for dirtier jobs while the flannel side is nice and soft for a quick wipe.

We wash them the with our cloth diapers so they get the same treatment.

You can use water on them for cleaning or a wipe solution.  What we found to use as a wipe solution is water mixed with Punkin Booty Bits which can be purchased here.  We use half of a booty bit dissolved in a Ball pint jar full of hot water.  This is half of what the directions say to use, but we find it is still as effective and the Booty Bits go twice as far.

We use a plastic jar cap on top of the Ball jar and keep this solution on the nightstand next to the bed where we change our children.

This solution is inexpensive, gentle and does a great job of cleaning up a baby’s bottom.  Our favorite scents are the mild ones like vanilla and oatmeal, milk and honey.

You could use a small piece of any mild soap mixed in a large amount of water – like Ivory or another handmade soap.  We just really liked these.

Air Fresheners – a waste of your money and full of chemicals – think sustainably and drop the plug-ins

Air fresheners are big business and some people spend big money on them, but should you be buying them and what are some other alternatives to the manufactured air fresheners?

There is still a lot of controversy on whether or not air fresheners are dangerous. Many of them have health warnings attached to them. To check out the contents of your air freshener, look it up in the Household Products Database.  See a sample entry for Glad Plug-ins Scented Oil here. http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/household/brands?tbl=brands&id=19001101

If you are an air freshener person, you need to ask yourself why you buy them. Do you really like the scents or are you trying to hide something?

If you are trying to hide something, then it is time to get a professional in to clean up whatever it is you are trying to hide. This might be costly depending on what your cause of odor is, but you will save in the long run by not having to buy products to hide the source.

If you really like the scents, perhaps you could switch to something like a dish with sliced lemons or a pot on the stove with some cinnamon sticks in it?

If you like floral scents, purchase a bottle of essential oil and put a drop on a cotton ball. Place the cotton ball in some inconspicuous spot in your home. The oil can stain both wood and fabric, so some sort of glass or ceramic container works best. A baby food jar works well or a custard cup or glass votive holder.

Yes essential oils are expensive, but they go a VERY long way and you can be guaranteed you are getting the real thing, not some chemically made replacement.

Homemade Laundry detergent or soap

Hunter in the Snow

We have been making our own laundry soap for two years now and I absolutely love being able to walk right past the laundry aisle at the grocery store for months at a time. What a money saver and it’s a way to make sure we have an adequate supply of laundry products with limited running around.

Many people ask for the recipe, but I doubt many actually get around to making it because it does take a little work. Not much, but more than picking up a bottle of Tide at the store.

I also hear that some people can’t use it because of allergies, sensitive skin, they have kids, babies, etc. If that is your case I highly recommend you still give it a try. My husband has sensitive skin and we always had to use the free and clear brands which were getting harder and harder to find. He has no trouble with this soap and neither do our toddler or infant who have their diapers washed in the stuff. Here where we live your first batch will cost under $8 so you won’t be out much. And if it works, great! If it doesn’t, donate the makings to a friend who wants to try it – or freecycle it or whatever.

The first ingredient is Fels Naptha Soap.  You can find this in the laundry aisle of many stores for between .89 cents and a dollar. 

The second ingredient is Washing Soda.  The only locally available brand is Arm & Hammer.  I don’t know if anyone else even makes it. It comes in a yellow box and it will cost you less than $2.

The last ingredient is Borax, the 20 mule team variety.  Yep, there is only one kind.  It is a green box, sometimes short and squat and sometimes it is tall like the Washing Soda box.  Or you may see their new box they just redesigned.  I think it is blue.  This will run you from $2.50 to nearly $4.

So here’s the recipe:

  • Grated Fels Naptha Soap – 1 part
  • Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda – 1 ½ parts
  • Borax – 1/2 part

Hubby uses a microplane grater to grate the soap. Leaving the soap out of the wrapper for few days causes it to dry out and grate a little better so we unwrap ours as soon as we get it home.

We use an old Italian ice cup as a measuring cup, but you can use whatever you want – just so long as you use the same thing for each item.

Mix the 1 part soap, 1 ½ parts Washing Soda and 1/2 part Borax in a large container. Shake until mixed.

That’s it.  Some people make a liquid version of this but we prefer the dry for its keeping qualities and that it is less messy to make and use in the dry form.

We use a ¼ cup or less of this soap when we do laundry and everything comes out clean. Depending on how hard your water is you may need more or less.

Some things to note:

  1. Any laundry cleaner that uses Borax as an ingredient is going to be hard on the fibers of your clothes. Over time you will find holes forming in your towels and lots of lint coming off of other things.   For delicate items I recommend using a Woolite type cleaner to preserve your clothes longer.  Since we shop at the Salvation Army we don’t mind that things wear out a little fast since it doesn’t cost much to replace them.
  2. We have noticed that this mix will leave a white powdery residue on dark clothes. Two things to try are an extra rinse cycle and mixing the powder in a jar with water before adding it to the laundry.
  3. This cleaner does not remove odors well. We have a lot of milk/formula stained laundry and to remove the sour smell we add ¼ cup baking soda to the water and put vinegar in the rinse. This works great for removing odors.
  4. Yes, you can use this on diapers.  We have with both our kids and neither one had issues with it.  We do use a presoak and an extra rinse to make sure all of the detergent is out. 
  5. Fels soap makes some people (like me) sneeze A LOT! I’m not allergic to it, but I can’t grate it or even be on the floor of the house when it is being grated. I am the only person in the house that has this problem but I wanted to warn others.

When you need children’s programming, think VHS not BlueRay or DVD to save money and resources

Farm Show Ducks

I made a trip to the Salvation Army yesterday and picked up some great stuff including two new VHS videos for our two year old. 

If you are trying to find good educational viewing material for children or grandchildren, consider buying VHS tapes rather than DVDs.  While it is true that VHS tapes are no longer made, there are a ton of them still out there and players to play them on at places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army.

Why VHS? 

Well, first of all it’s a green choice.  Buying materials second hand rather than buying new materials saves natural resources and reduces the amount of trash that gets dumped each day.

Second, price.  I pay less than $2 for any tape – even Disney ones.  You can’t get a new BlueRay for that price.

Third, selection.  Tons of children’s videos were produced and since most people have made the move away from VHS you can find the tapes at second hand shops, yard sales and library sales everywhere.

Fourth, and most importantly, quality of programming.  The videos that were produced in the 1980s and 1990s were made prior to computer animation being the norm.  You have lots more live action characters and good, simple cartooning in videos from these decades.  Sesame Street in particular has a very good series that was put out that features the skits I watched back in the ’70s.  Children of this decade have never seen programming like this and all of ours love it – including the teenager. 

But I don’t have a VCR anymore you say, what do I do?  Go to the second hand store and buy one.  Our VCR died and we replaced it with a far better model for $4.99.  Yep.  $4.99.  There was no remote or instruction booklet but the instructions can be found online and a universal remote works wonders.

So, if you have kids to entertain try moving back in time to VHS.  You will make good use of available resources, save a ton of money and give your kids a truly “new” experience from the computerized programming of today.

Never buy a dry Swiffer cloth again – make your own reusable ones

Ronnie sinks the Pirate Ship

Last night I took a look at our kitchen floor and went EWWWWWW….. 

We have two kids 2 and under so there is a lot of food that leaves the table one way or the other.  Walking on Cheerios is a way of life.

I had to do something so first I pulled out my old fashioned broom and dustpan and got the Cheerios and rice and peas out of the way.  (I know, lots of people don’t have brooms any more – they are essential!)

Then I pulled out my Swiffer (I have the plain dry one, not the mop – the mop takes batteries which I don’t like) and put one of our home-made cloths on it. I “swiffered” up the dust and cat hair.  And then I put a wet washcloth (plain water) on the Swiffer to clean up some of the stains and general gunk. 

We have a traditional wet mop but I didn’t have time to pull it out so this was a good alternative.  The results were pretty good for about 5 minutes of work and no expense.

So how do you make your own reusable Swiffer cloths you ask?  Very easy – no sewing required, just scissors. 

We use fleece for our cloths since it picks up pet hair and dust really well, but flannel will work too.  This is a good use for fleece blankets or garments that have “pilled” and don’t look good any more.  Never throw that stuff away!

When we made ours we had some leftover fleece from a cloth diaper project and used that.  If you don’t have any fabric to use just go to Joann’s or another fabric store and search their discount fabric or their remnants and pick up some fleece – any kind will work.  You can also sometimes find fleece blankets at dollar stores.  It doesn’t have to be pretty since it’ll be used on your floor – ours is a camo pattern. So stylish.

When you get home take out one of your disposable Swiffer cloths and use it as a pattern to cut the fleece.  Just cut around it or if you want to draw around it with a marker first you can do that too. Get as many of those cloths out of the piece of fabric you bought as possible since sometimes you need more than one for the job.  (Use leftovers as dusting cloths for furniture.)

That’s it!  You’ve just made reusable Swiffer cloths.

Fleece does not fray so there is no need to sew or hem or pink or anything.  Just use the fleece cloth as you would the disposable kind, but instead of throwing it out throw it in the wash!

Keep one of your empty Swiffer cloth boxes to store the fleece cloths in and you are in business.

As I mentioned I also use a wet washcloth on my Swiffer in place of buying the mop and it works pretty well.  Plain water does a great job of cleaning.  Again, just throw the cloth in the laundry when done.

No need to buy replacements, no adding garbage to the landfill, same ease of use.

It is a win-win!

If you microwave, you should be using glass containers

No Plastic Here

Do you microwave a lot?  If so, you should consider switching from plastic containers to glass.  Why?

  • Plastic containers stain.
  • Plastic containers lose their shape when heated.
  • Plastic containers retain food odors.
  • Plastic containers should not be heated in microwaves for safety reasons.  (See details here.)
  • Plastic containers are more expensive over time.
  • Plastic containers are harder to recycle than glass.

We’ve moved away from plastic containers for all but items that won’t be heated and even then we are VERY careful about the type of plastic the containers are made of.  Not all plastics are food safe or are made to be used more than once.

One misconception is that glass containers are expensive.  They really aren’t when you compare them to plastic ones that must be replaced frequently. 

Here is a set of 8 for under $20 from Amazon that would be great for lunch side dishes.  You can find others by searching for glass bowls with lids, or Pyrex with lids.  I’m partial to Pyrex because they can go in the oven as well so they are really useful.

I love that I don’t have to worry about cooking foods with tomato sauce in the microwave.  I also love that I can put garlic butter or italian dressing in a small glass container and the smell is completely gone when I clean it.

We switched last year and I wouldn’t go back for a second.

2011 Women in Agriculture Conference

On January 11, 2011 I attended the PA Women in Agriculture Conference at the Farm Show.  This is a free event for women who are involved in agriculture in this state sponsored by the PA Dept of Agriculture.  It was a full day of speakers from many government programs and also a keynote speaker – this time Richard J. George, Ph.D. from Saint Joseph’s University Department of Food Marketing at Haub School of Business.

Small Group

The first thing that struck me about this conference was the low attendance.  The morning started off with less than 20 people and more showed up around lunchtime, mostly because FFA students were in attendance and a free lunch was being given.

Seems to me if such a Conference is being offered somebody should take advantage of it.  Women are an increasing part of agriculture in our state and the information presented was certainly of value.  Perhaps next year more advertising will be done.

The first part of the day dealt with the various parts of the PA Dept of Ag and what they did and could offer.  In some cases the speakers chose to talk about specific topics instead.  I was very disappointed in this section because due to time constraints we were not allowed to ask questions and were told to catch up with the folks at lunch.  Well the person I wanted to speak to was not present at lunch so I lost a valuable opportunity to ask my question.

I really hope next year they can keep their speakers on schedule so questions can be asked – or perhaps they should work in a question and answer section for all speakers to make sure attendees can get their questions answered.  A conference like this is a great way to speak to someone without being put on hold or having to leave a message.  That is the whole point of things like this so hopefully things will change.

The Keynote Speaker came up next (we were very late at this time) and frankly I had to leave when he was speaking.  He had an aggressive manner of speaking that didn’t sit well with me.  In addition many of his jokes and references were not to my taste and I found them off-color.  This is sad because what he was saying about marketing was very valid and of use to nearly anyone trying to sell a product, but his manner of speaking was certainly a turn-off to me.  I went out and looked at the chickens instead and came back when he was nearly finished.

We then broke for lunch and there was a pathetic milk toast by some of the dairy princesses.  This was not their fault, the problem was we had no milk to toast with.  So why couldn’t this have happened in the lunch room when we at least had glasses to toast with even if it wasn’t milk?

Lunch was wonderful though the soup had shellfish in it and was not marked and a woman I sat with ended up with an allergic reaction because of it.  The main topic of conversation at lunch was Shale Drilling and what changes the PA government will bring.

After lunch the Extension office spoke, including someone from PA-WAgN, the women’s ag network in PA.  I did stay to hear what they had to say but left shortly after that due to impending snow and, frankly, boredom.  So many people who spoke did not stay on topic, did not have a topic or did not seem to be prepared.  Not a fun day for those of us sitting in the audience.

So, I guess maybe I know why this wasn’t well attended if previous years were the same way.  This is a wonderful idea and the right players were there, but better preparation by the participants and a time keeper to keep the thing moving would make this a much more useful session.

I will give it a go next year and see if it improves.

Lower your trash output, use cloth napkins

Cloth napkins and table covers at our wedding

Buying paper napkins and paper towels is a huge waste of money and resources so at our house we almost always use cloth – even for picnics.

Cloth napkins are usually sized from 10 to 22 inches depending on if they are cocktail or dinner sized ones and they are usually square, but they do not have to be.  The great thing about cloth napkins is they can be used and then washed over and over again with the regular laundry (bleach will keep white ones white, oxiclean and pre-soaking help with tough food stains.)  We keep ours in a drawer in the kitchen to keep them handy. 

If you are not crafty, you can find reasonably priced cloth napkins at the following places:

  • Salvation Army
  • Goodwill
  • Dollar Stores
  • Restaurant Supply stores
  • Bath & Linen stores (use coupons)
  • Your mother’s attic (yes -really)
  • Yard Sales
  • Antique Stores (again,  yes, really)
  • JoAnn’s and other craft stores (use coupons and buy after a holiday, solid colors are usable year round)

But if you are able to use scissors then you can very easily make your own napkins by cutting cotton or cotton/polyester fabric into 10×10 or 12×12 inch squares with a pair of pinking shears or by using a rotary cutter.  Make sure to use a ruler and pencil to get your lines straight. 

If you enjoy sewing, check out the guide here at sewing.org for making cloth napkins.  It is a great reference for showing you how many napkins of what size you can get from a fabric yardage and several different finishing methods. 

Did you know making napkins can be a money maker?  Yep, if your church or social club has a bazaar or craft show around a holiday, making napkins from holiday themed fabric can be a good seller.  Just keep them reasonably priced.

Enjoying Ice Cream More – buy ice cream cones

Ice Cream at Hersheypark

We are ice cream junkies in my house. At some points each person has their own half gallon (well, whatever size it is now) in the freezer. We had to move to this because there was a lot of late night “poaching” of ice cream going on. Plus we all like different flavors and Scott needs gluten-free varieties.

When Breyers goes on sale for 4 for $10 I usually stock up. We don’t like eating products with high fructose corn syrup in them and unfortunately a lot of brands have switched to that over sugar to save money. Breyers so far has stuck with regular sugar so that is why we pay a little more for it.

Two weeks ago I found gluten-free ice cream cones at Giant and purchased some for my husband. I was amazed to see that both daughters also preferred the cones to the dish. This ended up stretching our ice cream much further which I was thankful for since it can disappear really fast.  It also seemed that they enjoyed the ice cream in the cone more I guess because they could savor it (and lick the drips) instead of just stuffing their mouthes with a spoon.

Now gluten-free cones will seriously dent your budget (12 cones to a box for around $3.25) but regular cones in larger sized boxes can be had for $1 at dollar general and some other stores.  I unfortunately didn’ t have regular ones on hand so every ate gluten free but it was worth the expense and still much cheaper than going to our local ice cream shop.

So if your family loves ice cream but you need to watch your wallet and have a special treat at the same time, try buying ice cream cones with your next purchase.