Sustainable cleaning basics

The majority of the time, I clean things (wipe surfaces, hand-wash dishes, etc.) with a wet dishcloth and soap, if needed. It is rare that I need anything else.

More specialized cleaning tools (in no particular order):

Kamenoko tawashi – Japanese vegetable scrubbing brush, but really good for getting stuck-on food off of pots and pans. Do not use these on Teflon or soft plastic; it is incredibly stiff and will scratch delicate surfaces.

Baking soda – Good for removing stains (apply to surface with some water and let sit for 15 min) and odors, good for scrubbing. Can also use it for deodorant, toothpaste, and shampoo.

Salt – Good for removing ground-in dirt, but very abrasive.

Vinegar – Takes off limescale, can be added to baking soda to unclog drains. Can also use as a conditioning hair rinse.

Soap – J and I use Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap. We bought a gallon of it – the biggest size available! – since we anticipate using it for all of our liquid soap needs. We use it for hand-washing dishes, for example.

A scrubby brush, rag, or cloth (sponges not recommended because of low durability and unsustainable materials). Loofah is a good sponge-like sponge substitute.

You might want a toilet brush, although old toothbrushes work fine for cleaning toilets. LifeWithoutPlastic has a plastic-free option.

Plunger – J and I use our plunger to unclog the shower drain (I’m not sure why it gets clogged in the first place, but it happens regularly).

Broom, dust mop, vacuum come in handy occasionally.

Advanced cleaning tips

I don’t know any, ’cause I don’t clean that much. I just google when I need a fancy solution, like what to use to get blood or tomato stains out.

The 47 most effective ways to shrink your carbon footprint that you won’t believe, especially number 7 it’s so cool

I came across a super cool infographic and article (based on this research paper) ranking different actions by environmental impact. You know those things that people always say to do – recycling, washing your clothes in cold water, changing lightbulbs? They don’t do that much 🙁 Too bad, since those are some of the easiest and least controversial changes to make.

Pretty infographic from

The article says that the most effective things you can do (if you live in a developed country) are:

  • Don’t have kids (The study attributes 1/2 of your children’s emissions, 1/4 of your grandchildrens’ emissions, etc. to you)
  • Don’t use a car
  • Don’t fly
  • Buy green energy (This is easy to do!!!)
  • Don’t eat animal products (The study actually specifies no meat, with no mention of other animal products, although dairy in particular has a large carbon footprint.)

Less effective actions include:

  • Recycling
  • Doing laundry with cold water
  • Hanging laundry to dry

There’s a table with a bunch more actions listed. Improving home insulation and producing no food waste are both moderately effective; composting is listed as not very effective, but no carbon footprint reduction estimate is given so maybe they just couldn’t find any data on it.

The less effective actions are obviously more attractive; after all, they don’t require major lifestyle changes. This may be why “textbook and government writers intentionally [promote] low-impact actions,” following a ‘foot-in-the-door’ approach, “a type of positive spillover where encouraging small actions is hoped to lead individuals to take more substantial behaviours later”. It’s unclear if this actually happens, though… Man, behavior modification is hard.


Draining fried food

Many people rely on paper towels to drain excess fat off of fried foods, like bacon, tempura, and fried tofu (the fried things that we make!). However paper towels aren’t ideal because they’re disposable, and must be purchased again and again. Instead, J and I drain fried food on a cooling rack, like what you would use for cookies. We place the rack over a pan or a plate to catch the drips.

Our cooling rack looks a lot like this and is ~12″ across.. $2 at Goodwill! Image from

Bonus tip: The cooling rack is just the right size to fit into our wok, so we can use it as a steamer insert too! I love items that do double duty.

American-made bedding options

My parents wanted new sheets, so, of course, I wanted them to buy the most sustainable option! So I ended up doing a ton of market research to find the best option. Here is the answer:

Native Organic

They sell sheets, bath towels, kitchen towels, and aprons. The cotton is organically grown in the US (in Texas). The fiber is milled, spun, and woven in a historical water-powered mill in Mexico (source). Their products are colored through a combination of low-impact dyes and color-grown cotton. The prices are on par with other mid-tier bed and bath products not made sustainably and not made in the US (so I hope that Native Organic makes a profit!).

My parents went with Coyuchi, not a bad choice. They are also organic and, I believe, use low-impact dyes, but their products are mostly made in India (and, surprisingly, are more expensive). The balance was swayed in Coyuchi’s favor because they have sateen sheets in white (the closest Native Organic has is “natural”).

Red Land Cotton is another good option, although I know less about it. They grow their cotton in the US (in Alabama), and make all their products in the US. Their cotton is not certified organic, but the About Us page states that they dry-farm the cotton (no irrigation!) and use sustainable practices.

On a similar note, KellyGreenOrganic and Holy Lamb Organics are cool sustainable bedding companies. They sell mattresses, pillows, sheets, blankets, other home goods, and craft materials. DIY Natural Bedding is the mecca for bedding-related craft materials. They are amazing!! Most if not all of these companies’ materials are organic and sustainably sourced, and made in the US.

Next time you need to buy bedding, support one of these amazing companies! They appreciate it 🙂

A step forward in haircare

I only wash my hair with water (and scrubbing!), which works well with soft water. If you have hard water, though, dissolved minerals bind to sebum in your hair to form a weird sticky white residue. Super unpleasant! It makes your hair oddly stiff. The only solution I’d found in the past was to occasionally (maybe once a month) wash with normal shampoo.

But I just had a breakthrough! Some people claim that washing with cold or cool water keeps your hair nicer (for unknown reasons). Between this and the fact that cold hard water in particular should have fewer dissolved minerals, I decided to try washing my hair with cold water (but take an otherwise hot shower). I wash my hair as the water is warming up.

It works amazingly well! The cold water even reversed previous mineral buildup. My hair is silky and soft without being greasy. It’s not stiff, it’s not sticky. Even my skeptical mom says that it feels nice!

Speaking of food waste…

If you have food that’s going to go bad or that you think you won’t use, what do you do with it?

If you want to eat the food yourself:

  • Eat it before it goes bad, quick!
  • Ignore expiration dates! They are unregulated except on medication and baby food (and even then don’t mean much. 90% of medications retain nearly their entire efficacy 10 years after the expiration date. Even the military ignores expiration dates to save loads of money!). If it looks fine, smells fine, and, finally, tastes fine, then it is probably fine.
  • Freeze it. Many things can be frozen without harm to their taste or texture. This includes raw and cooked meat, purportedly hard cheeses (never tried this myself!), tomato sauce, broth, cooked beans, whole and sliced bread and other baked goods, dry goods (flour, dry beans, spices, etc if you’re worried about rancidity or loss of flavor), and more! Many veggies can be blanched and then frozen.
  • Preserve it. There are many preservation methods to try! You can can, dehydrate, salt, ferment, smoke, or pickle. For example, turn milk into kefir or yogurt. Ferment cabbage into kimchi or sauerkraut. Smoke fish. Make jam.

If you are sick and tired of a particular food:

  • Take it to work to share with colleagues! Alternatively, share with friends and neighbors. This works especially well if you’re trying to get rid of desserts and snack foods.
  • On a similar note, have a potluck.
  • Give it away! You can do this on Freecycle or Craigslist (there is an area for free things under the sale section). There is also Olio, a food-sharing app for smart phones, soon to have a web app as well. Unfortunately, it isn’t as widely-used as Freecycle and Craigslist. I believe Olio is European in origin, so it is widespread in Europe. Amazingly, people also use it in Northern California! Lucky!
  • Feed it to pets. My grandparents always fed their cats table scraps.
  • Feed it to animals you’re going to eat (e.g. pigs or chickens).
  • Feed it to wild animals. Although not good to do frequently, at least some living being gets to eat it.
  • Compost it and use the compost to grow something else!

More junk mail

I’m at my parents’ house for the winter holiday season, and there’s a lot more junk mail here than I’m used to!

From CartoonStock.

Today I unsubscribed from Valpak (a bunch of coupons for items my family doesn’t buy), Shen Yun (that Chinese dance troupe that advertises everywhere), and Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer (we don’t shop at Trader Joe’s). The links I’ve included go to the unsubscribe page for each company (scroll down for Trader Joe’s. There is an “Unsubscribe” section). It could certainly be easier to unsubscribe, but at least larger companies have online tools for this kind of thing. It doesn’t take as long as calling everyone separately.

Here‘s the online form for redplum, another excessive coupon packet.

Protect your Identity with 5 Simple Steps

You may have heard that Equifax accidentally leaked everyone’s names, addresses, and social security numbers. Darn.

Here are some really easy steps you can take to protect your identity from being stolen:

Step 1. Sign up for a my Social Security account at: Signing up prevents hackers signing up for you, and getting access to more of your personal information. Unfortunately, signing up only works about 30% of the time, and you can only do it during the website’s business hours. If you fail more than twice, you get locked out forever. Sorry.

You can try calling for help, but they’ll hang up immediately for your safety.

Step 2. Set up an initial fraud alert with one of the three credit unions. I would recommend TransUnion, because they have the best web interface: It’s free and lasts 90 days (you can renew it as many times as you like). If you do this, banks will call you to confirm if someone tries to open an account in your name. They’ll probably open the account for the hacker anyway though. Can’t be helped…

Steps 3-5. These can only be addressed during the blog’s business hours, 2pm – 2:15pm on every Tuesday with a full moon.

Plastic in tap water and sea water

These plastic fibers were captured by filtering laundry water from washing a fleece jacket. From Patagonia.

There is growing concern over the presence of plastic microfibers in the environment. Here is The Story of Stuff on the issue. Basically, when you wash plastic things (clothes, sponges, plastic containers, etc) or when plastic things degrade, they shed little pieces of plastic. These end up going down the drain to water treatment facilities. Unfortunately, most water treatment plants don’t have the means to filter these out, so they get released into local bodies of water and eventually end up in the ocean.

Fast fashion, which cuts costs by using cheap synthetic materials, is a major culprit. This infographic is from a Greenpeace blogpost.

There’s a lot of worry among environmentalists and marine biologists about potential effects on marine ecosystems, upon which humans rely, and the environment as a whole. It seems reasonable to think that if humans eat fish that ate plankton that ate microfibers, humans might experience negative health effects. However, before now, no one knew for sure if people were being exposed.

A recent analysis established that most tap water contains microfibers (94.4% of all samples in the US). Additionally, another project found that sea salt from various parts of the world contains plastic microfibers.

What can you do to help?

  1. Wash your clothes less. This especially applies to those made of synthetic materials, like polyester, lycra, nylon, spandex.
  2. Buy clothes made of natural materials, like wool, cotton, linen, hemp.
  3. Wash your clothes on cold. Higher temperatures cause the materials to break down faster and shed more plastic particles.
  4. Likewise, line dry your clothes instead of using the dryer.
  5. Use liquid detergent instead of powder. Powder is more abrasive and causes clothing to shred more.
  6. Don’t litter. Plastic items, like plastic bags, break down into microfibers in the environment. While it would be ideal to not use these items at all, it’s better for them to be in a landfill than in the ocean. When throwing a plastic bag or other flyaway item away, tie it into a knot first to make it less aerodynamic.

There are other things you can do, but they require more of an investment. You can purchase a washing machine lint filter (I’ve seen this and this recommended). You can also purchase a Guppy Friend, a (plastic…) bag to wash your clothes in. They are supposed to filter out 99% of microfibers.