Does homemade laundry powder do the job?

I switched to making my own homemade laundry powder in a May in a real effort to cut costs and chemicals from our lives. Four months on and my recipe has been well and truly tested so how did it do?

First the recipe.

I used two parts of each of washing soda and borax to one part of soap flakes and whizzed it together in the food mixer to blend it all together.  I used just one tablespoon in the machine so although weight for weight the powder didn’t cost much less, it worked out considerably cheaper per wash.

So how did it do?

The honest answer is ok but just ok. I played around with the measures and the amounts per wash but it didn’t cope too well with things that needed a wash rather than just a freshen up. I’m disappointed because I’ve read rave reviews including people who have successfully washed cloth nappies! We did really test it though. With the renovation in full swing our work clothes get covered in a fine layer of dust which the powder didn’t cope too well with. It also struggled with our holiday clothes which were a bit sweaty and smeared with suntan lotion – to explain we were away for two weeks in a very small campervan so our small wardrobes got well worn!

After having to rewash a few loads I decided enough was enough and have switched back to Ecover. To keep packaging down I bought a massive 5 litre refill pack and decanted it into an old squash bottle. So far it is working much better and the nice smell is a bonus.

At the same time I also tried making my own fabric softener. This was more about saving money and using up a glut of toiletries than cutting out chemicals. I did a clear out of my bathroom and discovered that my kleptomaniac tendencies towards toiletries for hotels had got out of control….


I’m ashamed to say that this isn’t all of it! So when I saw a recipe for homemade fabric softener using vinegar and hair conditioner I jumped at the chance to use up some excess.

This seemed to work well although it uses a lot of conditioner so to make it cost effective you would have to buy some really cheap stuff.

I wouldn’t deter anyone from trying to make their own washing powder but sadly it didn’t work for me 😦


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Can you do an Eco renovation?

My long break from blogging can largely be explained by the picture! That’s me looking very unglamorous. 


 The hubby and I have taken on a massive renovation and build project to build what we hope will be our long term family home.  It’s a beast of a project and we’re trying to imagedo as much as we can ourselves to keep costs down. I think most of our friends think we have gone a bit crazy but we’re determined to keep plugging away slowly but surely and to do it responsibly. 

I read somewhere that for every five new houses one house worth of waste is generated! Trying to keep it to a minimum is a struggle but here’s what we’re doing.

The place is an old church an has suffered badly from neglect so the whole thing needs stripped of lath and plaster.  It’s a shame to pull it all down but do much is rotten and safe that there is no real alternative. We’ve done all the stripping manually, I’m an expert with a crow bar 😉 As far as possible we have separated all the waste and taken it for recycling or gifted it. It’s the right thing to do but it is painstaking work. Apparently the lath makes great kindling so we’re making friends with the neighbours by sharing it out! 

All the tongue and groove panelling has been saved so it can be reused or sold on and we’re really hoping we can lift and reuse the old floor. The building was last used as a community hall so we have a full badminton court marked out on the floor! 

The building has thrown up some interesting finds. When it closed for use it was juimagest abandoned so it was full of discarded items from various groups. This guy really made me smile. We found a whole puppet theatre with puppets and a homemade set that we’re trying to find a home for. In the meantime the puppets are providing some light entertainment. 

A more useful find was an old apple cart and it has been a godsend for ferrying stuff too and from the building to the car to take for recycling. It’s a bit rickety but takes about 5 times as much as a wheel barrow. 

We have also managed to save all the old doors to reuse and were lucky enough to find more on Gumtree. They all need stripped back but they should look beautiful once they’re done. 

The whole process has been a huge learning curve in many ways. When you read about Eco builds the focus is largely on materials and heating, not waste reduction and recycling so we’re just doing what we can. I would be hugely grateful for any tips. 

It has also been a lesson in what is possible. Six months ago I had a desk job, now I spend most days at the top of a scaffold tower! I’m pretty proud of that because I cried the first time I had to climb down ……… I’m going to bed properly tired and a huge plus is,  I have arm muscles for the first time in a very long time. There will be a point soon where we have to hand over to a skilled builder but for now I’m challenging myself to learn new skills and it’s a good feeling. 

I’d love to hear your tips on Eco renovations, is it really possible?! 








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Shopping plastic free, or trying to!

After my plastic audit I decided to make more of a conscious effort to avoid plastics in my shopping today. I didn’t get to plastic free but I did make some changes for the better.

Here’s how I did

Vegetables – these were all bought loose.  IMG_0197[1]The mushrooms were in a paper bag which I will keep to reuse. I used plastic bags for the carrots and potatoes but the bags were reused from my last trip, washed and dried in-between. I thought this would raise fewer questions in the supermarket but next time I’ll try some cloth bags.  By reusing them at least I’m prolonging their useful life rather than disposing of them. Annoyingly the peppers and aubergines had plastic price stickers on.

Meat – not so good here. Both the chicken and bacon came in plastic with no obvious alternative.

Milk – plastic again.

Cheese -not a wax wrapped cheese in sight so plastic crept in here again.

Honey – I dodged all the plastic squeezy bottles and bought the glass one.

Painkillers – paper packing but plastic inserts, is there a viable alternative here?

Chilli powder – this left me scratching my head a little. Refill with paper packet and plastic insert or reusable glass jar with plastic lid? I went for the glass but I’m not sure how these compare in energy terms.

Shopping bags – no plastic used here!

All in a better effort but very far for plastic free!! How do you shop for plastic free meat?




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How much energy does your home use when it is sleeping?

Lindsay at Treading My Own Path recently published a brilliant article on how the energy consumption of her fridge compared to the energy use of an average person in several African nations (based on IEA data from 2010). The fridge used more by quite a long way.  You can read Linday’s article here. 

The article inspired me to take a look at my own energy usage in more detail. I haven’t been able to get in to the back of my fridge freezer to do the same comparison but my home uses on average 0.160 KW per hour with all the things that don’t get turned off, fridge freezer, heating controls, wifi, laptop, microwave and cooker clocks. The comparison is really shocking.

Of the 6 countries featured in the study Ghana uses the most energy with the average citizen using 300 KWh per year.  My house uses a massive 1397.76 KWh and ₤349.44 a year without any additional appliances or lights being switched on. That’s 4.65 times the usage of the average person in Ghana. The scary thing is I have no idea what is eating up so much energy or whether this is average.  My next task is to start switching things off to see what difference I can make. Any information on what is normal and how this can be reduced would be gratefully received!

For the time being here are the energy use stats for the kitchen appliances that can be turned off.

The induction hob  

Uses 0.83 KWh per hour on the highest setting and 0.02 KWh on the lowest. Just one ring uses more power per minute than the washing machine in full spin!

The grill.

The double grill uses 2.51 KWh and the single uses 1.38.  Switching from the double grill setting to the single grill makes a fairly significant difference. I have to conceed that my husband did try to tell me this and I ignored him!


The Kettle 

The kettle uses a whopping 2.79 KWh. I knew it was a high energy user but I didn’t realise just how much it used.

The Toaster

Is an energy saving hero using just 0.77 KWh.

The Slow Cooker

The slow cooker definitely wins on energy efficiency. It uses just 0.07 KWh.

Here’s how the hob, oven and slow cooker compare to cook a medium chicken:

Slow cooker: 8hours cooking on low = 0.56 KWh and 8.27 pence

Oven: 3 hours on high = 6.52 KWh and 96 pence

Hob: 3 hours on a medium heat  = 0.89 KWh and 10.55 pence

Here’s what I’ve been doing to try to cut down on energy use in the kitchen

  • Use the correct heat setting on the hob as energy usage falls with the temperature.
  • Use the slow cooker or Wonderbag for cooking items that need longer.
  • Use my steamer which has multiple layers so more than one thing can cook on a single ring at the same time.
  • Reuse boiled water for cooking other veg or adding to a stock pot.
  • Use the single grill
  • Boil the kettle once in the morning and tranfer any left over after my tea into a thermos, this isn’t as much of a pain as I thought it might be and I have hot water ready for tea or cooking later on with no waiting for the kettle!
  • If I need to use the oven I try to plan around it and cook several things at the same time to make best use of the heat.

All of these things help to cut our overall energy use but I really want to know how I can tackle our base usage. How are you reducing these things?



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Plastic Free July – a quick audit and it’s not looking good in our house

Inspired by Pam at PlasticisRubbish and Westywrites, I thought I would do a quick audit of my day to see how often I use single use plastics and just how hard it would be to go plastic free in July.

Poster sourced from PLastic is Rubbish

I think it is important to cut down on plastic for lots of reasons, it gets into the food stream and causes harm to animals, it leaches into our food but I found the image in the poster really compelling. Oil is a commodity and an expensive one at that, but we are prepared to waste it on things that we use for a second and throw away. That’s quite shocking.

So here is how my day went:


My cereal was plastic free but my milk came in a plastic carton. A quick internet search didn’t throw up any alternatives as the milk delivery service uses plastic too. Action 1 is to try to source milk in glass bottles.

My tea seemed to be fine (apart from the milk). I use tea bags from Brewhaha that come in a cardboard nix with paper wrapping. What I haven’t managed to find is what the tea bag is made of and whether there is any plastic in it. Action 2 find out what my tea bag is made of.

Washing up.

My dishwasher tablets come wrapped in individual plastic packets. I have made my own dishwasher powder in the past but I got out of the habit of using it. We’re nearly at the end of the packet so I’ll mix up another batch of homemade and try to persuade the hubby to use it! Action 3 is to make homemade dishwasher powder.


I use homemade laundry powder from Soda Crystals, Borax Substitute and Soap Flakes, my soda crystals come in a plastic bag but I try to buy big. I’m not sure if you can buy these in paper. I did read an article about heating baking powder to make soda crystals which would solve the problem as the baking soda comes in cardboard – has anyone tried this?

I use an Ecover fabric softener that comes in a plastic container, to my knowledge there is nowhere in Aberdeen that offers a refill and the Ecover website directed me to the Lake District for a refill, must be 300 miles away!!  A search gave me two options, a homemade fabric softener using hair conditioner that would save money and use up my glut of toiletries but not solve the plastic problem, or a natural solution that leaves no scent. I’m a bit disappointed by this because I like my clothes to smell fresh. Is this something I just have to give up in pursuit of a natural option? Action 4 – consider fabric softener options.


Although I mostly use homemade cleaners I do have a Method floor cleaner which smels lovely – it comes in a plastic bottle. Action 5 the cleaner is very nearly finished to I need to find a homemade floor cleaner that works well and smells nice.

Personal care.

I’m using a Clinique cleanser that comes in a reusable soapdish. I’ve had it in the cupboard for years (seriously it could be 10!) and I’m using it up as part of my No New Toiletries in 2014 challenge.  From memory the soap was wrapped in clear plastic but I’m not really sure. There is lots left and I suspect will still be using this in the new year.

I use coconut oil as moisturiser, it comes in a glass jar so it’s plastic free. I just scoop a big chunk into a smaller jar and move it to the bathroom, it works really well as a moisturiser.coconut oil 2

I’m using a natural deodorant in a glass jar with a plastic rollerball. I tried using coconut oil as an alternative and I found it great in the winter but not so good in the summer, even in Scotland! Action 6 once I’ve used this lot I will look at alternatives and try to reuse the container and rollerball.

Mail.Window envelopes, that’s all I have to say. Why can’t they print on paper?


By now the plastic tally is looking a bit grim. Bacon – came in a plastic package, egg – came in cardboard and a roll – it came in plastic. I try to buy loose bread but hubby bought these (honest !).  Avoiding plastic for rolls should be relatively easy but bacon? Action 6 – be brave enough to ask the butcher to put meat in my own containers. I’m a bit scared of doing this one!


I’m using up some sausages to make a rice and sausage casserole. The sausages are wrapped in plastic and sat on a polystyrene tray :0 My rice is in a plastic bag.  My vegetables are packing free and I have homemade stock to use so no packaging there. My spices look safe but the glass jars have plastic tops and would have had a plastic seal when they were bought.

The day isn’t over yet but I’ve recorded enough to know we need to make alot more changes if we are to go plastic free! I’m surprised at how much plastic we still use as we have already made some changes. Any and all suggestions welcome – particularly if anyone can recommend anywhere in the Aberdeenshire area that sell in bulk.




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Homemade cleaners that really work – the ultimate challenge

I’ve been using natural homemade cleaners for years but admit to reaching for the chemicals for the really tough jobs thinking that my homemade stuff might just not cut it. But I was wrong! I didn’t set out to find the ultimate challenge but it presented itself last week.

My husband and I have recently taken on a massive renovation project, a former church and hall that have been lying empty for at least five years. The plan is to turn it into a home but there is a lot to do. My first priority was to get a usable toilet and kitchen area. Hubby set about dealing with the water supply and the drains and I set about cleaning years worth of neglect. Yuck.

The property has a septic rank so I wanted to try to avoid using chemicals. I came prepared with the essentials:

  • White vinegar
  • soda crystals
  • baking soda
  • spray bottles with my homemade citrus cleaner (orange peels left to soak in vinegar, drained and the solution diluted with water)
  • heavy duty rubber gloves
  • micro fibre cloths

The before shots show the size of the task!

The toilets had been drained of water so I sprayed the bowl with a solution of one third vinegar to two thirds water and a couple of tablespoons of baking soda to wet the surface and shook a good handful of soda crystals around the bowl and into the bottom. I gave it another spray to make it stick and left it to soak in for a few hours. I sprayed down the rest of the toilet with the vinegar, water solution and wiped it down. I do admit it to using paper towels to wipe it. It was so filthy you would never have used the cloths again and there was a bit pile of paper towels left in the toilet which otherwise would have gone straight into the bin incase rats had been at them.

The sink got the same treatment. A good spray with the solution, a shake of soda crystals and some time to marinade while I washed down the walls with water and soda crystals.

After a couple of hours I scrubbed out the toilet with a toilet brush and wiped down the sink and taps. I was amazed at just how clean they came up!

Here’s the after shots.

I’m pretty pleased with that.

Next stop was the kitchen which got the same treatment.

There were some bottles of commercial cleaners left in the kitchen by the previous owners so not wanting to waste it all, I gave it a shot on the work tops. It barely made a dent in the grime and the chemical smell was overwhelming so I went back to my citrus cleaner which cut through the mess much better.

I hope this puts paid to any doubts about how effective natural homemade cleaners are! And as a bonus they are so much cheaper than commercial cleaners. 568ml of vinegar is just 48p and 1kg of soda crystals are £1. All that cleaning and I have lots left for everything else that still needs cleaned!


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Five simple tips to reduce food waste

Maybe it’s the stereotypical mean Scot in me but I hate to waste things that could be put to a better use, especially when it comes to food. According to Love Food Hate Waste, households in the UK throw away 7 million tonnes of food every year and most of it could have been eaten. Their statistic show that this us costing the UK economy £12.5 m a year!  Equally sobering is when you consider that 6% of adults in the UK had to resort to using credit to buy food in July 2013, I read these figures and I feel angry, not at other faceless people but at myself because despite my attitude to waste, I know I put more food thanks really acceptable in the compost bin and it really just a result of bad planning. Rather than looking to other people to make changes  I’ve made a concerted effort to reduce our food waste. The changes are remarkably simple:

  1. Use the whole bird.

imageInstead of buying chicken breasts I’ve been buying a whole chicken and cooking it in the slow cooker. Once it’s cooked and sliced, save all the little flaky bits of chicken and put them to one side.  The bones and carcass can go straight back into the slow cooker for 8 hours with enough water to make chicken stock. Add the little flaky bits of leftover chicken and some noodles and you have a bonus meal of chicken noodle soup 🙂 2. Save your fruit scraps. My friend makes what she calls Aberdeen jam.  Aberdonians are notorious for being tight 😉 She saves any strawberries bits or fruit that is going soft puts them in a tub in the freezer. Once it’s full she makes it into jam, and it tastes great! 3. along the same lines, save your veg scraps and peelings. image I keep a tub in the freezer for veg peelings and ends, once it’s full I throw all the bits into the slow cooker, cover with water and make a veg stock or add them to a ham while it’s cooking to give flavour to a ham stock 4. Work out your portion sizes. We ended up wasting quite a lot of food by making too much. My mum used to have a blue cup that measured out just enough rice for five. It’s taken some trial and error to find one that works for two but one and a half scoops using the small glass tub from an M&S pudding does the trick. It now lives in the storage tub with the rice. 5. Split up your meat when you get it. I’m not sure when multi packs of chicken started coming in threes but it’s a bit of a pain when there are only two of you! We ended up just throwing it all in and either eating more than we needed or wasting it. I now open the packs when I get them and split them into twos and, out them in a Tupperware and freeze them. If there are any huge fillets I cut them into smaller bits.

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