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All-Natural Laundry

4 Jul

In my previous post about family skin care,I shared a little bit of my opinion on the issue of separate “non-toxic” stuff for the little people. If you’re spending a boatload of money on some high-end fragrance-free detergent for your little people so you don’t irritate their skin, or if you’re having to use a separate detergent free of optical brighteners for your husband’s military uniforms, you’ve got two problems:

  1. You shouldn’t need artificial fragrances on ANY of your laundry, and it’s not good for ANY family member, and
  2. That’s too much work!

And as I showed you before, it’s not that hard to make non-toxic, non-irritating laundry stuff to keep your clothes looking nice that’s also FRUGAL!

Laundry Detergent

I like to mix up a big batch of this stuff and this is pretty much all I use. Here’s my recipe:

  • 1 bar Castile soap (I like Dr. Bronner’s Lavender for laundry.)
  • 3/4 c. washing soda
  • 3/4 c. borax
  • 1/2 c. Oxi-Clean

Now the Castile soap & Oxi-Clean can be a little pricey, but this is still a pretty cheap recipe. I put the Oxi-Clean into my food processor, add the Castile soap (you may have to cut it in half to get it fed into the machine), then the washing soda & borax. Easy peasy!

Pre-Treating

Let’s start with one very simple thing: There is no pre-treater that will get out EVERYTHING. But any time you spill something or get something on your clothes that is likely to stain, there are a few rules to follow:

  1. Don’t get it hot until the stain is out. If you’re going to use hot water, make SURE it’s okay for the stain. Hot water will set some stains (like blood).
  2. Take it off and treat it immediately. The sooner the better!

Basic Stain Removal

There are hundreds of different types of stains, but most stains fall into one of four main categories: protein, tannin, oil, or dye.
Protein stains include a LOT of common household stains: milk, baby formula, blood, cheese sauce, mud, eggs, pee, poop, vomit, etc. Do NOT use hot water on these! When you think of protein stains, think of raw eggs. If you have raw egg on your countertop and you use really hot water to try to clean it, it will get kind of sticky and thicken up. What’s happened is that the hot water has “cooked” the egg. The same is true with protein stains in your clothing: If you “cook” the proteni, it will be harder to remove.
If a protein stain is new, try rinsing in cold water to get it out. If it’s old or dried, soak it in cold water. You might want to try adding a little detergent to the water to let it soak, depending on how bad the stain is. After treating the stain, wash it in cold water and check it.
Tannin stains include most of your alcohols, coffee, tea, juices (including tomatoes), berries, and so forth. Wash these in HOT water; usually you won’t even need to pre-treat it. But if you’re using a homemade laundry detergent or a detergent that includes a soap, you’ll need to use a pre-treater.
Oil stains can be a pain! Whether it’s automotive grease, butter, lotion, cooking oils, or whatever, oil can be hard to get out. Stains caused by sweat (ring around the collar, underarm stains, etc.) are also oil-based. There are three ways to get oil out, depending on the severity of the stain. The easiest way (which works best for smaller stains or for stains without much color to them) is to use a pre-treater. The slightly harder way is to use dishwashing soap and wash the garment like you would wash your dishes! This tends to work great on most automotive garments.
But if it’s something REALLY intense, you can pull out the big guns (but I caution you that this is NOT natural. Or safe! Be forewarned!). You can use gasoline to remove the stain. The problem is that you’re really not supposed to rinse gas down the drain because it will get into the water supply, and you absolutely MUST rinse & hand-wash the garment perfectly before laundering it. AND you have to launder it separately from everything else and make sure that you can’t smell any gasoline vapors before drying and if you DO smell any vapors you have to wash it again and again until you get it because if you try to dry it without getting all the vapors out, it’ll catch fire. Look – don’t go the gasoline route. Seriously. I know it’s technically an “option”, but it’s an “option” like mastectomy is an “option” to prevent breast cancer. It causes way more problems than it solves. I mention it ONLY because at some point, somebody will recommend it to you. Don’t do it.
Dye stains are the hardest to get rid of – even worse than oils! Cherries & blueberries leave dye stains, as well as grass, ink, paint, magic marker, and drink mixes (like Kool-aid). Pre-treat with a pre-treater, then soak the entire garment in a solution of about 1 tbsp. hydrogen peroxide to 1 c. cold water for 15 minutes, then check to see if the stain is gone. And good luck!

My Pre-Treater (like “Shout”)

Here’s the recipe:
  • 1 c. water
  • 1/2 c. hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/2 c. washing soda

Put into a spray bottle and use like any other pre-treater.

Fabric Softener

You really don’t need fabric softener, you know. But if you DO feel the need for fabric softener, add a little bit of white vinegar to a Downy ball and throw it in the wash. I feel the need to warn you, though, that although this remedy is very popular, it’s not really that useful.

WARNING: Basic chemistry lesson to follow!!!
Distilled water has a neutral pH of 7. Solutions with a pH lower than 7 are acidic and solutions with a pH above 7 are basic. “Hard” water is water with lots of minerals in it, like iron and calcium and magnesium; this water is usually acidic (the acid in the water dissolves metals that it comes into contact with, making it more mineral-rich). “Soft” water tends to be more basic. Incidentally, if your water is very soft or you wash your clothes with a water softener, you will probably want to reduce the washing soda & borax in the above laundry detergent recipe to 1/2 c. each.

When you mix an acid and a base, the resulting compound will have a pH that will be closer to neutral. If you use vinegar and baking soda in the same cleaning product, you’re using water, and water’s much cheaper than vinegar & baking soda.

Washing Soda has a pH of 11 and Borax has a pH of 8.5, whereas vinegar has a pH of 2.4. When you add vinegar to the same wash water that you just added your washing soda & Borax to, you’re neutralizing the water.
Chemistry stuff over!

Smelly Good Spray & Wrinkle Releaser

I do keep a bottle of “smelly good spray” (as my kids call it!) and wrinkle releaser that I use on some of my garments. I do NOT use it baby clothes, but they don’t need it.

  • 1 c. water
  • 1/4 c. white vinegar
  • 1/2 c. alcohol (either rubbing alcohol or clear unflavored vodka)
  • 15-20 drops lavender essential oil (go by smell)

You use it like you would use Febreeze or Downy Wrinkle Releaser, but check it on your fabric in an inconspicuous place before using it because you want to make sure that it won’t damage your fabric. Usually it hasn’t been a problem for me, but it’s better safe than sorry!

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Why is Military Homemaking Different?

30 Mar

In fairness, this is a question I get often from civilian friends who just don’t understand what makes homemaking different as a military wife. Military homemaking combines a lot of challenges that a LOT of homemakers face, but most people only face one or two of these!

  1. The Importance of Homemaking. I believe that homemaking is important for EVERYBODY, but it’s even more important for military families. It’s important for everyone to have a place that feels like “home” – a place of refuge and sanctuary when the outside world is stressful. We all can benefit by having a comforting retreat in times of turmoil. But for many of us, the “home” may be a combination of different areas & different places. The idea of “home” is larger than the house in which we live. “Home” encompasses our neighborhood, our yard, even our friends’ homes! We may feel at home in our schools or our workplaces, and that’s a very good thing. But for military families, all of these external signals of “home” can change frequently. It’s not unusual for Army families to move every 2-3 years! So when your neighborhood and the exterior of your home (and even many elements of the interior!) change, it’s crucial that the interior (the only part you can really control!) remains as stable as possible.
  2. The Importance of Homemaking, pt. 2. Children in particular thrive on stability, and the fact is that the military life is ANYTHING but stable, especially for kids! Dad’s duty hours may change frequently. He may deploy. There are frequent moves, and the keyword in military life is “resiliency”, which is really just a nice way of saying, “Quit complaining!” So a wise mom will do all that she can to create an atmosphere of stability with her children. When the same painting hangs in the front hallway of every home they move to or the living room furniture is arranged in a similar manner no matter where they go, it creates stability, which is critical for military kids. Maybe every Monday is Meatloaf Night, or maybe every night before bed is Storytime in the living room. All these little routines and household minutiae really do help children to be well-adjusted despite their frequent upheavals. These things help to CREATE resilient children.
  3. The Importance of Homemaking, pt. 3. Last one, I promise! Homemaking is important for our husbands as well. When they are away, they are thinking of home. In their down time, they re-create images of home and family based on what they remember. It can be tempting for a mom to change things while her husband is deployed, but this seldom has a happy ending. During a deployment or separation, the kids need stability more than ever, but the husband also needs to know what he’s coming home to. While it may seem like an amusing anecdote, it’s not uncommon for a man to come home, find the living room furniture re-arranged, and immediately move everything back to how it was before he left! He’s been dreaming of “home”; keep it stable for him. (Incidentally, when change can’t be avoided – like when you have to move to a new house or his favorite recliner breaks and must be replaced – take a picture of the new setup and send it to him via mail or e-mail with an explanation. It will make it MUCH easier for him to accept when he gets back.)
  4. Frequent Moves. This one, most people understand. After all, we live in a pretty mobile society, and we’re all going to move a few times in our adult lives. But many people can under-estimate the frequency of these moves and the impact that it has on us. While the average for Army families is about 3-4 years, it’s not unheard of for Army families to move as frequently as 12-18 months! Air Force families tend to have longer tours and be a bit more stable, and Navy and Marine families tend to be somewhere in between (although I hear that Marines are closer to Army relocation times). We will be moving. And even when/if we don’t move, the understanding that we WILL be moving can often be psychologically difficult to deal with. I’ve known military wives who LOVED to garden and went years without planting anything in their garden. One told me, “We’ve been here four years, so we’re overdue for a PCS (a military move). Since I know that spring and summer are prime PCS seasons, I don’t see the point in planting a garden since I’m pretty sure we’re going to move soon.” She actually ended up staying at the same base for 7 or 8 years, but the impact it had on her was significant. Not only will we be moving; we KNOW that we’ll be moving. We KNOW that we’re “short-timers.”
  5. Rental Homes. Most of us who live in the continental United States (CONUS) will be living (at least temporarily) in civilian rental homes or apartments. On-post housing is notoriously hard to get into. But the point is that whether we’re in rental homes or government quarters, we are often prohibited from making major changes to the decor or design. We often can’t paint and are very limited with what type of modifications we can make to the home. This can make decorating on a budget very difficult.
  6. Government Quarters. Clearing government quarters has a justly deserved reputation for being a NIGHTMARE! While it depends greatly on who your housing inspector is, a mostly clean house in government quarters can be cause for all sorts of problems! 
  7. Vastly Different Quarters. If I live in Columbus, Ohio, I have a pretty good idea of what sort of home I can afford. If I get a pay raise and upgrade to a nicer home, that pay raise will probably be fairly modest and any changes to my living quarters will probably be pretty minimal. The point is that my living quarters are unlikely to change drastically. If I can currently afford a 1,500 square foot 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom townhome, I might be able to upgrade to a 1600sqft/3BR/2BA townhome, but whatever I look for will be about the same. But this isn’t true for military families. In one part of the country, they may be able to easily afford a 2,500 square foot, 4BR, 2BA rental home (or that may be the government quarters they’re offered). In another part of the country, they might struggle to afford a 1,000 square feet, 2BR, 1BA apartment. If you’ve been living in 2,500 sq ft and you now have only 1,000 sq ft, how do you fit everything in? Or vice versa? How do you make 1,000 sq ft or furniture look properly scaled in a 2,500 sq ft house? If your last home had a very modern feel and this one is extremely traditional, the furniture that looked great before might look very out of place now. This sort of instability can make decorating especially challenging for military families.
  8. Tight Budget. It’s no secret that the military doesn’t make a ton of money. There are many military families that live below the poverty line, and as Congress continues to slash money-saving programs like the Commissary and MWR programs, we’re going to see a lot more military families in financial trouble. The point for the homemaker is that we have to deal with all of these challenges without the benefit of an unlimited budget. We have to find creative solutions to the problems that we so frequently face.
  9. Decorating to Please Someone who Isn’t There. For many of us, we want to please our husbands, but our husbands are seldom available to go furniture shopping with us. Maybe they’re out in the field, on a drill, deployed, or just unable to get out of work, but we have to go out and guess what he might like and then just hope that we guessed right.  

Anything else? What did I miss?

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