Category: Green Home


Organic Soy Candles. Ok. Here’s the Deal.

March 23rd, 2010 by

Organic Soy & Vegetable Wax Candle. Isn’t it pretty?

I love candles. A lit candle at my desk has a very calming effect on me. Suppose, for instance, I get a crappy email for whatever reason, all I have to do is look at my lit candle — day or night — and I’m like… “aahhhhh.” I also like to have one lit while I’m getting ready in the bathroom, even combined with the regular lighting. It’s a spa-girly thing. And, of course, candles are always nice for romance in any room. ;) All it takes is a little theatrics to lend a touch of the exotic to everyday life. Let’s hear it for mood lighting, every day! … Right?

Well, turns out, maybe not every day. Here’s the thing… wait, back up a moment…?? I’m definitely not an expert in all things green (I’m learning more every day), but, on my journey toward living more sustainably, I’ve been wondering lately, “Are candles eco-friendly?” I mean, I frequently see black smoke coming from them, and what’s with those soot stains on the wall near where the candle was burning?! Breathing that can’t be good. Because candles were part of my daily ritual (as opposed to an occasional treat), I decided I needed to find out more about them. The last thing I wanted was to feel guilty for using candles — or worse, anxiety — when their very purpose for me is to create an atmosphere of relaxation.

Here’s the skinny: I’m at a candle crossroads.

Basically, it turns out that candles are not particularly eco-friendly, because of what can be released from them when they’re burned (carbon dioxide and multiple toxins). Crap. It’s not black and white though. Some candles are very bad for both the environment and your health, while other candles are not nearly as offensive. And, like most things, there are some candles that fall in between.

Let’s start with the pure evil candles: Paraffin wax candles with nasty wicks. These are the standard candles you find at most stores. These nasty muthers produce a number of by-products when they’re lit — hence the black smoke and soot stains if burned too close to a wall. As you might expect, the soot is not healthy to breathe. But it’s actually worse than you probably expected: The smoke from paraffin wax can contain up to 11 toxins, three of which are freaking carcinogenic!… formaldehyde, toluene and benzene.??Paraffin wax candles are made from petroleum (derived from crude oil), a non-renewable resource.

And that’s just the wax. There is also the wick to watch out for. Some wicks are made with additives such as lead and zinc. You know, LEAD?!?? … the stuff we don’t let them put in paint because it’s poisonous? Yes, that lead. Unfortunately, even though it’s not supposed to be there, it can be because it’s not always easy to regulate this.

And, finally, there’s the packaging. Many candles come packaged in wrap that isn’t biodegradable, which just adds to our landfills. Granted, lots of things — most things — are packaged, so this isn’t a candle-specific gripe so much as a general gripe about unnecessary consumption. Little things like candle wrappers add up when you use a thing every day. So the more often I use candles or any other consumable, the more determined I am to source it from someplace that uses minimal and eco-friendly packaging.

Next up: the in-between candles: These are candles that are on the road to becoming environmentally friendly, but they could still use some help. For example, beeswax candles might sound like a great alternative to petroleum-based candles, but I don’t want to take anything from bees so that’s not an option for me.

And then there are soy wax candles, most of which are made from regular (conventional) soy. The good news is that soy candles are better for the environment (and your health) than paraffin; in the way that they burn; the bad news is that most of these products use GM (genetically modified) soy, which I avoid whenever possible. There is also the whole issue of using pesticides in growing non-organic soy and, frankly, I’m not into supporting Monsanto in any way, shape, or form.

Which brings me to what I deem are the best options for candles… “mostly good” candles: I write “mostly good” because in most cases, even the best candles are still not a truly eco-friendly option. But if you’re going to use candles, this is the way to go. I will point out that, yes, there are potentially cases where using candles could actually have a positive effect on the environment, such as using candles instead of electrical lighting (this depends on many factors however, such as the source of the electricity and amount needed — I don’t recommend doing surgery by candle light, haha!). Also, the cost of manufacturing and shipping the candles needs to be considered in the equation.

So what are the mostly good candles? These candles are made from healthier materials such as organic soy and vegetable products (there are some made from hemp, too) – YAY! They usually include a wick made from things such as organic cotton, hemp, etc.??Some companies boast that their organic candles are 100% biodegradable. The candle you see pictured above is from Lumia (offering organic wax candles).

Other things to consider for eco-friendlier candles: I try to buy from companies that use organic or healthy essential oils to scent their candles and use packaging that can be recycled or reused. The nice thing about soy (and vegetable wax) candles is that the container they come in usually cleans easily with soap and water so you can reuse it.

So, what’s a Green Mommy to do? I’m sad to say, after all of my research, I’m not as stoked about using candles as I used to be. After weighing the pros and cons, I have decided to use them less. I have also been searching for a suitably mood-inducing replacement for them… something soothing, romantic, zen, and warm that would help me kick my daily candle habit. I came up with two ideas: crystal salt lamp or LED candles. I haven’t researched the eco-friendliness of these yet, or figured out if they rate better than candles. That’s my next project. Until then, I’ll enjoy the organic soy candles I have, but I’ll limit my burning of them to special occasions, and over time, they’ll play less of a role in my life.

UPDATE: {03/18/11} We now use both salt lamps and LED candles and love them both! They give the perfect lighting… soft, romantic, beautiful. I could go on and on. And, I love that I don’t have to worry if I fall asleep with them on. Salt lamps and LED candles ROCK!

What do you think?

Green Cleaning Products to Dazzle Up Your House

March 7th, 2010 by

The time is coming… for Spring Cleaning! Does anyone get a little bit excited about that like I do? When spring comes, I think we can’t help but to bust open the windows, air out our living quarters, turn our smiling faces to the sunshine, walk barefoot, and clean our houses. After that… cleaning doesn’t always sound so fun to me – lol. However, it must be done. On a regular basis. As a result, it’s imperative that we use non-toxic, green cleaning products so that our earth is happier and our health isn’t adversely affected. So, I have some non-toxic, safe for family and environment tips and ideas to share with you. Some of these are ready-to-use products that you can buy in health food and specialty stores, and some of these you can easily make at home (which usually saves money!).

Here are some of the things I’m doing to keep my home clean:

LAUNDRY

Dr. Bronners – For a long time now, I’ve used 1-2 caps of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap for our family’s laundry. I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing this for my future baby’s clothes (the unscented version) when the time comes as well. It’s important to stay away from normal commercial clothes soap when washing your baby’s clothes because their skin is so delicate. There are some natural brands on the market just for baby’s, such as Seventh Generation (I think), and I might try those, too. I can’t imagine it getting any simpler than Dr. Bronner’s unscented soap though.??Note: for extra brightening power, you can add 3 oz of??chlorine free bleach by Seventh Generation as the water fills up (before adding your clothes) – you may want to test laundry soaps before using on a whole load to make sure they don’t alter colors or materials.

Soap Nuts (option: liquid or actual nut-things) – I have not tried these options to give a review of them but I plan on doing so soon. When I do, I’ll update this post to reflect that. Basically, soap nuts are made from the fruit of the soapberry tree and supposed to be a great, natural way to clean clothes. According to the bottle, this soap is vegan, pure, hypoallergenic, low sudsing and good for sensitive skin. I’m looking forward to trying these two items.

ALL-PURPOSE CLEANING These recipes can be used for counters, bathrooms, tile floors, walls, etc. However, test an inconspicuous area first.

  • Recipe #1: Get a 32 oz spray bottle and put in the following: 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar, a small squirt of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, 1/2 cup chlorine free bleach by Seventh Generation (or there’s another brand… Ecover, I think), and fill the rest with water. Optional: add 10-20 drops of tea tree oil (and/or 10-20 drops lavender oil).
  • Recipe #2: 1/2 cup of Borax and stir it into a gallon of hot water. This can be used for general cleaning.
  • Recipe #3: Get a 32 oz spray bottle and put in 1 cup distilled white vinegar, a small squirt of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, and fill the rest with water.
  • Recipe #4 – Some people call this a heavy duty cleaner recipe. Get a bucket of hot water and add a squirt of Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap, 1/2 cup baking soda, 10-15 drops tea tree oil and optionally, you can add 5-10 drops lavender oil.??Note: It can be important to avoid essential oils when you’re pregnant, so wear gloves when using this solution, if you’re pregnant, or leave out the oils all together – or, better yet, get someone else to do the cleaning! haha

Scrubbing – Baking soda does a great job (it’s also a great deodorizer). Or, another good one is Bon Ami Polishing Cleanser.

No Bleach – Instead, mix 1 teaspoon of Borax powder with 1 quart of water and 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar. Or, use Seventh Generation (or Ecover) non-chlorine bleach.

Distilled White Vinegar – You can use this lovely liquid in various ways, as noted throughout this post.

  • Another way it can help is with hard water stains on dishes that come out of the dishwasher. While I haven’t tried this myself, I’ve read that you can put of splash of vinegar in the bottom of your dishwasher before starting the cycle. UPDATE: I have tried it and holy cow! It works wonders!!!!!!
  • Vinegar can also be used as a produce wash. Just get a spray bottle and fill it with 3 parts water, 1 part vinegar. Spray on produce, rub/scrub, and rinse.

FOOD GRADE HYDROGEN PEROXIDE Warning: Do not use this full strength. In most cases, it’s used in a 3% solution that is made from 1 part food grade hydrogen peroxide and 11 parts water. In its undiluted strength it is a strong oxidant and highly corrosive.

  • This is one of my favorite ways to clean. It can be used on its own to help disinfect areas like the kitchen, bathroom, tile floors, etc.??I also use this as a veggie wash.??Check out??this website for more information, tips, and uses.

BATHROOM POWER

  • Mirrors Power – Get a 32 oz spray bottle and fill it halfway with water and top off the second half with distilled white vinegar. How easy, safe and great is that? Some people use newspaper instead of paper towel, but I don’t get the newspaper. So, in order to not use paper towel wastefully, I use rags for this.
  • Toilet Cleaning Power – Baking soda and distilled white vinegar. Scrub away the germs and enjoy a shiny toilet bowl. Or, you can just go the vinegar route and pour in 1-3 cups of distilled white vinegar, let it set overnight if you can, and scrub the following morning. Or, there are some good eco-friendly cleaner companies that make toilet cleaners.
  • Shower Power – There is one product that I love for cleaning the grime and junk from my shower. It’s Ecover’s Ecological Limescale Remover. This is a magical product to me in how efficiently it cleans my shower door! Then, to upkeep my shower, I use the mirror recipe above in the spray bottle (simple vinegar and water)
  • Unclog Drains – Sprinkle about a 1/2 cup of baking soda down into your shower drain. Follow that with about a 1/2 cup of distilled white vinegar. Cover it if you can, and allow it to sit for about 3-4 minutes. Run hot water into the drain to flush it completely. Note: I’ve read that this should not be done following any commercial drain opening solution.

Dishes – I love washing dishes by hand because it’s relaxing to me. And, with raw food, washing dishes is a snap! However, I’ve read that it’s more environmental to use a dishwasher. For this, there are various companies at the health food store for dishwasher soap that I’ve tried and liked. I can’t think of any in particular that didn’t do a good job. If you have hard water stains, you might try the trick noted above under Distilled White Vinegar to help with that.

Ant Deterrent – Put??peppermint scented??Dr. Bronner’s soap in a spray bottle with some water and spray along windowsills and cracks.

Update: here is a link to another online article with some suggestions.

WIPING MATERIALS

  • Of course, re-use towels for wiping (paper towels are wasteful) or tear up some old t-shirts.
  • Another option: there is a company called SKOY that offers an earth-friendly cloth that can be used in place of paper towels and sponges. It’s 100% Biodegradable and Natural. They claim that one SKOY cloth saves 15 rolls of paper towels. Now, they’re made in Germany, so I think that should be taken into account as to how “green” they actually are, but it’s not a calculation I’ve figured out. ;)

What are some of your favorite eco-friendly cleaners?

Eco-Friendly Gifts for Kids

March 3rd, 2010 by

Ahhh… the thought of children squealing with delight while they open gifts (well, fun and cool gifts that is – no underwear or socks – lol)… well, it brings me such a smile as I witness their excitement. It doesn’t get much better than happy children, eh?

When I buy gifts I buy them with real intent. My goal is to make the child happy, of course, but it’s also imperative to make the earth happy with my selection. To do this:??I pick out environmentally friendly presents not only because it’s better for the environment, but also because it’s healthier for the kids! Most conventional toys these days are hard on our environment because of the amount of petroleum used in their production, the toxic ingredients included (BPA, phthalates, etc that can be harmful for health reasons), and the way they’re filling up our landfills is ridiculous. Plus, over the years, it’s been scary to read about the various recalls for toys coming out of China due to lead content.

Fortunately, there are sooooo many green toy options these days and they’re getting increasingly easier to find (even walmart.com, target.com, and toysrus.com have growing selections). From BPA/phthalate-free plastic toys, to beautifully crafted wood toys, to organic cotton and bamboo toys, the choices are plenty. Basically, when you buy eco-friendly toys, you’re supporting toys made from materials that are bio-degradable, natural, recyclable, or recycled. This is literally voting with your dollars… you’re not only supporting eco-friendly manufacturing, you’re also voting against environmentally harmful products. As more and more people do this over time, more manufacturers will respond to the demand by shifting toward making their products more sustainably. And when you talk to your children about it, it’s a great opportunity to teach them about why we need to help the environmental. It’s never too early to start teaching this important lesson.

And of course, there is the idea of moderation. Reducing the overall number of things (including toys) that you buy has much more impact than merely buying green toys. If your child will get wide-eyed and squeal with delight over a new toy, then one toy is better than two or three.

Over the holidays, I gave family members the toys pictured above, and let me say… they were a HUGE hit! I was extremely impressed with not only the toys themselves, but also the packaging. Check them out!

The Sand Play set is available here. And, the frisbee is available here. Some of the cool particulars about these two products:

  • They are made from curbside collected milk containers
  • Safe and no phthalates or BPA
  • Recycled plastic saves energy and reduces greenhouses gasses

Now that I’m pregnant and getting ready to have my own children, I’m super excited to have a house that only has toys like these. I want to feel at peace if my child chews on a toy!?? :)