Make cheap dish soap

Some time ago I made some dish washing tabs, but everyone except me refused to use them. I am trying again with a liquid version. After watching a video that featured this recipe, I decided to make a liquid using most of the ingredients, but slightly different proportions. My recipe is below;

Dish soap

Dissolve 1 cake of soap in 1 litre of hot water.

Store this liquid in a sealed bottle for future batches. Now mix;

2/3 cup soap liquid

1/3 cup vinegar

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 tblspn bicarbonate of soda

1 tblspn washing soda

All my ingredients gathered on my messy bench (I spilled water on it while making my coffee)

The mixture will froth, but subsides quickly. When it has finished frothing, store it in a sealable bottle. This mixture is used at a rate of 1/4 cup per sink full of water.

This is the mixture frothing up. I make it straight into the bottle. It is best to sit your container in the sink for this bit. Please excuse the coffee grounds in the sink.
The final product. This lasts us for about a week, but it is so simple to make, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t last that long.

So far everyone is using the liquid. I am getting grumbles about the low froth, but it works to clean the dishes, except that it doesn’t remove the oil on baking trays very well. Using an extra splash of the soap on the trays solves that problem though.

Make foaming hand soap

Due to not being able to work on anything at the moment, I am looking for things I can do. For a few years now, I have been buying Tirtyl foaming hand wash tabs. They certainly have saved a lot of plastic bottles in our home. I am the sort of person who will just use a cake of soap to wash my hands… but my partner is not. He prefers to use a foaming hand wash, and will go against explicit orders and buy it. That means I have to learn to make it. I looked around and found this recipe, I can use as a starting point.

First I grabbed all the small bits of soap left over from the shower and a lump of soap from the soap cache. I put a litre and a half of water in a pot with the soap and let it melt down and heat.

It is then just a simple matter of filling up the foaming hand wash bottle with 1/3 water and 2/3 soap liquid.

It works really well, and cost hardly anything to make.

Washing up Injury

I am laboriously typing this with one finger on my left hand. Six days ago now, I was washing up and being inattentive (as usual) when I washed a small bucket we use for cleaning around the humpy. The washing up was almost done and I was looking forward to getting into some spinning of avocado dyed fleece I had prepared. I reached into the bucket with my right hand and swirled the water around. When I pulled my hand out, the water was weirdly red. I didn’t feel any pain for several seconds, and then a tsunami of sensations hit my distracted mind; pain, and a searing heat, along with a sense of panic because I could not piece together what had just happened.

It turns out that someone had left the lid of a tin in the bucket and I had managed to run the very sharp edge of that lid over the first knuckle of my little finger on the right hand.

I yelled for help and we were soon on our way to the emergency room (after my partner sorted the car and changed his clothes). The finger was still bleeding when we got to the hospital, despite the efficient dressing job my daughter did on the wound. The emergency room doctor stuck some needles in the finger and poked about a bit, then she announced that she couldn’t see the tendon in there and I would have to go to our regional Base hospital to see an orthopedic surgeon. She sent me home with pain killers until the next day.

Once it was cleaned up, the cut seemed tiny and I couldn’t believe how much it bled. I could not bend my fingertip at the first knuckle, which rattled me quite a bit. I went home and returned to Lismore Base hospital early the next morning. Eventually, the surgeon came and poked about at my finger, which made the whole hand scream. He stated that I needed to have the hand operated on to fix the tendon, which he thought was severed completely. The operation was scheduled for the next day and I decided to stay in Lismore for the night (in a hotel room).

The next morning, I presented my fasted and medicated self to the hospital and waited, and waited, and waited. Eventually I was taken in to the operating theatre, and off I went to unconsciousness. I woke up, some four hours later, was given coffee and a sandwich, told to keep the cast on and handed a sheet of information with more pain killers. I left, not knowing the details of my operation, medical staff are so busy.

So now I am stuck at home, not being able to use my right hand. I am bored and frustrated, as well as worried that my finger may not heal properly and I may be left with a stiff finger. I have decided to catch up on some posts here, to keep my mind busy, if not my body. So look forward to some historical posts, some left field posts and some not-strictly-necessary posts.

I will be stuck in front of a screen for several more weeks.


A banana circle/transpiration pit hybrid

The photo below may not seem like much, but it is a HUGE leap forward for us. Please excuse the finger in the shot, I was in a hurry to get back to filling the trench. This photo represents a change in our water harvesting and disposal system.

Previously, our waste water from the kitchen ran out of the humpy into a trench in the soil and was allowed to spread out randomly from there. You can see the big clump of iris and weeds against the wall of the humpy which marks the start of the previous trench. This system created a mess of muddy trench and water sitting on the surface of the soil. I put in a lot of work, with help from family and friends, to dig a drain trench and put in some actual plumbing. While I was at it, I dug a trench for the effluent from the biogas unit too. This effluent previously went to a transpiration pit near the unit, but I wanted to extend the pit, so decided to plumb all our kitchen and biogas overflow into a banana circle.

What is a banana circle? It is a hole with bananas and other useful plants growing around the edge. Banana circles usually have a water source and the centre is used as a compost pile. This provides nutrients and water to the hungry crops and makes a little island of fertility.

Below you can see the beginning of my banana circle. The plumbing is in and I have dug a hole about a metre deep in the centre and piled the soil up around the edge. My circle is in a low place in the yard, so it will also channel rain water into it. Because it is being used as a transpiration pit, I was careful to dig the hole deep enough to (hopefully) prevent overflow during rain events.

I piled logs and sticks into the hole to provide something to soak up all that water and nutrient and hold it in dry times. I also added a layer of compost over the trench to give the bananas a fighting chance. I edged the piles with big pieces of branch to make an edge to mow against and to hold in the compost and mulch.

I planted my banana suckers (only two so far), some cassava cuttings and about 100 comfrey roots. Then I started to trim and weed the garden and pile up the centre of my circle. I will continue to pile up cuttings and garden scraps in the middle of the circle. The water in the pit should be covered by material at all times, so it will be a race to keep enough composting material in there as it breaks down (it might encourage me to weed more).

This little project has solved a problem (sloppy trench through the yard) and provided a place to grow food and medicine (bananas, cassava and comfrey). It also used up one pile of sticks and wood from the sheep paddock that needed to be cleared. I am very satisfied with my results on this project.

Building a toilet – a new biogas unit

Some time ago our biogas collector tank… burst. It was a smelly and distressing event. The tank had developed a small hole in the corner and the leak burst in a rush one afternoon. The smell was unbelievable, for an hour or so. The miracle of anaerobic digestion means that the digested material left in the tank, really didn’t smell once it was exposed to the air. Our lawn was very green for a long time too.

We hosed the liquid in to the lawn well and avoided the entire area for a week or so. We had to drag the old unit out of the yard using the farm ute, and bury it in a hole in the bush. I emailed the company and reported the incident and they emailed back with an explanation; apparently some of the tanks were stitched with a non-UV resistant thread, which would give out over time. They replaced the unit (for free) and we decided to upgrade the toilet situation.

My tired and reluctant partner built a toilet shed from scraps of metal and tin we had laying around. It took three days to build and is a lovely addition to the humpy (although it is square and has no lopsided walls, so it looks out of place).

We then dug out a level pad for the biogas unit, a piece of carpet supplied by a friend was laid out as a base and the tank was assembled and filled.

Then came the long and tedious wait for the unit to activate. I added horse manure and cow manure to the water and… waited. After a month or so, the biogas began to do it’s thing and we now have an active unit.

You may ask what we were doing for a toilet while this building was going on. We used the toilet as usual, but it fed into a bucket that was emptied every few days into a hole in the bush (then covered in soil). We soon grew tired of carting a bucket of poop into the bush and waited for the unit to activate eagerly.

Now it is time to upgrade the transpiration pit.

Making a tissue system – single use handkerchief

We use a combination of handkerchiefs and tissues (well toilet rolls really) here at the humpy. When we have an outbreak of colds we tend to use disposable paper to blow our noses and burn the bacteria straight away. Handkerchiefs are used to wipe sweat and clean grease or other yucky stuff off your hands while out and about. In my quest to reduce single use everything, I was thinking about how we can replace paper tissues with cloth alternatives.

I remember my mother and my grandmother washing handkies in a big pot on the stove when I was a kid. They were washed outside first in cold water (I think, I didn’t pay much attention, I was a kid), then boiled on the stove to kill the bacteria. So now I’m wondering if I could make up a system where we could use cloth ’tissues’ and instead of throwing them into the fire or the bin, we throw them into a container until wash day. Vinegar would kill any virus or bacteria load they carry and begin the cleaning process, so I could pre soak them in diluted vinegar before washing them. The hankies would need to be washed in their own water and probably rinsed well too, which would be an investment of water and time, but we really only use them when we have colds or flu (not a common occurrence at all). I could possibly make a portable carrier to hold clean and dirty hankies separately while we are out and about (like these ones I found).

Time to give it a go…

I found a couple of beautiful old cot sheets in a second hand shop while I was out last week. They were made from 100% cotton and felt beautifully strong and smooth to the touch. I paid a grand total of $2 for the set and bought them home to make reusable tissues (“Hankies”, my Nanna mutters in the back of my mind). I cut one of the sheets into 32 equally sized squares, overlocked around them and called it finished.

I now have a pile of neat and beautiful hankies in two little boxes, and a sweet glass jar to collect the used ones in until washing day.

The hankies are washed in cold water with one cup of vinegar, two tablespoons of washing soda and a little bag of soap nuts added to the water. They are then rinsed in cold water and hung out to dry in the sunlight. That is probably enough to kill any bacteria and virus’ clinging to them (I hope).

So we are one step closer to being sustainable, a tiny step, but progress is progress.

Flooded in – and loving it

This and every other photograph in this post is taken from a Facebook page called Tabulam Community Noticeboard.

The above photo is one of the many causeways we need to cross on our way to work each day. Three weeks ago, when most of South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales were flooded, we were flooded in and unable to get to work (or anywhere). This happens every once in a while and is to be expected living in the bush, but here we are three weeks later, in the same situation. The creeks are high, all the bridges are under water, the causeways are under, the roads are shut. We are home.

Yet another bridge on my way to work.

I love being home, tucked up all safe and warm while the world goes on without me. This time however, these rains have done so much damage to so many people, I feel guilty to be safe, dry and warm while so many have lost so much.

Nature can be unforgiving and She seeks to balance herself without noticing all the little creatures in the way. We are little creatures to Nature, we don’t count at all in the big scheme of things. I think it is time for us (as a species, as a community and as a family) to get our bottoms in gear and get ready for some really hard times to come.

Making dish washing tabs

It is time to try to eliminate the detergent bottle from the landfill contribution we make. We use about one bottle every three weeks, which may not sound like a lot, but it still contributes to our local landfill and costs us a fair amount of money. Also, I am never really sure if the claims of ‘eco-friendly’ displayed prominantly on the bottle are true or not. So…….

I found some blogs about making dishwasher tabs (I know… we don’t have a dishwasher and are not really interested in getting one at this stage) and began to think about the differences between hand washing and dishwasher washing. Hand washing uses both chemical and mechanical means (the kind of mechanical force you apply when scrubbing that burnt pot while listening to M&M) to get the dishes clean, while a dishwasher relies on mechanical force (the pressure applied by a stream of water against the surface of the plate, while not listening to M&M) and heat to clean. So dishwasher tabs don’t have any detergent in them, they use chemicals to adjust the pH of the water to make it easier for the water and heat to do it’s job and anti-streak chemicals to make sure the dishes dry shiny and streak free. Therefore dishwasher tabs will need to be slightly different to hand washing tabs.

The dishwasher tab recipe I found is a simple combination of 1 cup washing soda, 1/2 cup citric acid, 1 tablespoon of detergent and essential oils. I decided to start with half this recipe and adjust it after testing.

I just tipped the lot into a bowl and mixed it up well.

It sort of foamed up and became light and fluffy. Apparently that is what it should do.

Then I poked a few teaspoons full into ice cube trays and pressed them down really well.

They apparently need to dry for four hours, but I found it was a lot longer than that. I left these for a day and a half.

Now for the first test! I ran some water into the sink and added a cube.

The final result; clean dishes! The cube doesn’t foam up at all, but it is easy to wash with it and the plates seem to have an extra shine on them. I will try using them for a week and see if there is any taste residue left. Maybe I won’t have to change the recipe again.

If everyone likes this option, we can go from buying one bottle of detergent every three weeks to only one a year (the recipe only uses a tablespoon per batch). I am very pleased with this project! I might go and dirty a wine glass.

Making unpaper towels

With a new puppy (sometimes two) and a permanent house goose living in the humpy, we have a lot of use for cleaning rags and products. The state of our floors is a constant worry for me as the dirt, hair and feathers seem to collect into drifts in corners and into dust devils under cupboards (dust bunnies is too tame a name for the tumble weeds of waste we collect) if we skip a day of sweeping. Washing the floor is a full body workout achieved by scrubbing the floor with bicarbonate of soda and vinegar and a broom, then sweeping up the leavings once it is dry. At the moment, we use a paper towel to soak/wipe up puppy and goose mistakes, then give the area a spray with my special cleaning fluid (a mixture of vinegar, peroxide, essential oils and a squirt of detergent). I want to move away from using paper towels to reduce our carbon footprint and save some money, so I decided to swap to unpaper towels.

Unpaper towels are a much more upmarket version of my counter wiping rags. At the moment I use an old rag (usually from a sheet torn into squares) to clean the kitchen counters in conjunction with my cleaning spray. The rags are changed often and I usually have a pile of them to wash with my vegetable bags every week. Unpaper towels are just a hemmed and pretty version of these. I have historically not been worried about things being ‘pretty’, but I am finding that as I age the impulse to include appearance in my considerations is increasing.

My current cleaning rags are somewhat past it (whatever your definition of ‘it’ may be)

I decided to make two sets of unpaper towels; one for the kitchen and one for the floors. The kitchen towels will be made from a pretty flannel fabric and the floor towels will be from a plain colour to allow for vinegar soaking to sterilise. Both sets will be stored in a roll popped into a glass jar with a lid (to keep them dust free and mouse safe). I will hang two lingerie washing bags (two different colours to avoid confusion) in the kitchen somewhere to hold used towels and I can wash the floor towels with the other pet cloths and towels, and the kitchen towels can go in with the tea towels. Now I have a plan set in my mind, it’s time to find some fabric.

I found some smallish pieces of flannel fabric and some promising YouTube clips (I used this method to make the wipes).

The printed flannel is for the kitchen counters and the plain grey is for the floors.

I cut off about a metre of the fabric and folded it in half and cut up that line. I continued to fold and cut pieces in half until I had a pile of wipes the same size.

The first fold and cut.
The end result; there are 24 of each fabric.

From that point it is a simple matter of overlocking around the edges of each one; a monotonous task, but very satisfying.

Hemming each wipe took a long time.

Then the towels where rolled into a roll like paper towels and I tested whether I could pull wipes from the middle (I could). I found an empty jar of the right size and popped the roll into it.

Then I just had to try out my new toy! I used one as a wipe for the kitchen counters with my spray and dropped it into the waiting washing bag. A very satisfying experience; I do love using my projects.

I am hoping that this project will be as successful as the bidet and family cloth system. We no longer need to buy toilet paper (except for visitors and my less adventurous daughter) and hopefully we will no longer need to buy paper towels either. I am dropping out of shopping, one item at a time.

Of course the overlocker broke a needle and I did not finish the floor cloths. Oh well… tomorrow is another chance to make stuff.

Update: I managed to fix the overlocker (and gave it a good clean while I was there) and finish the floor cloths. While I was in the mood for sewing, I also made a couple of small bins for the car. I need a rubbish bin in my car desperately to help keep the rubbish in one place. Maybe I need to make some wipes for the car too.

Weaving rag rug bath mats

I don’t buy clothes often, I don’t even have clothes given to me often, so where do the overflowing cupboards and draws come from? Do my clothes meet mates and start a family? Producing new, aged looking tshirts and jeans. Do the Fair Folk steal clothes from other people’s lines and use my cupboard as an off site storage for their stolen goods? Or does my daughter secretly buy clothes and sneak them into my cupboard? Who knows?

Every six months or so, I go through my clothes and give away a box or bag of things I don’t wear, but there are always clothes that are too far gone to be passed on. These stained, torn and stretched items of apparel go to a variety of places; they become cleaning rags, animal bedding or rag rugs. Every now and then I take a load of frayed and stained cleaning rags, worn too thin from multiple washes and soaks, to the massive hole where we throw our paper, old furnitire and other biodegradable items. There the cloth joins the rest of the compost in waiting, slowly turning back into valuable top soil.

Making rag rugs uses up a lot of the extra fabric in our house. I cut the cloth into strips and wind the strips into balls to be woven at a later date (when the draw I store them in begins to overflow). Now that we have an indoor bathroom, I can make a few new mats to use as bathmats, whereas previously they would be used as animal beds and floor rugs beside the bed (my vain attempt to keep our sheets clean).

The process of making some rag rugs is simple;

Cut your old clothes and cloth into strips;

Tshirts- I use this method to get the most from my tshirts. I’m not usually so careful about cutting the seams off though.

jeans/pants- I use this method to turn pants into strips.

leggings or tights- I use this method to cut up leggings. This is roughly the same as for pants, but it is important to keep stretch fabric seperate from woven fabric. Stretch fabric will pull the warp in and make a smaller mat than woven fabric (see the photo of all three mats at the end of this post; the smaller mat is made from stretch fabric)

Warp your loom;

I use a cotton warp thread and double the warp in any size heddle I use (this one is 12.5 dpi). The size of the heddle (the thing with slots and eyes that warp is threaded through) doesn’t really matter with rag rugs, but I do find that the more warp threads I use, the stronger the rug is when it is finished.

Weave the rugs;

I weave an inch or so with an acrylic yarn before I start the rag section. This gives the mats a firm start and finish and also gives me a nice, neat indicater of when one rug finishes and another starts.

The bottom section of the weave in this photo is done with acrylic yarn, the top is rags.

Take them off the loom and finish the ends;

I just cut them off the loom and overlocked the ends. This makes for a neat edge and it seems to stay strong for a long time.

Use the new rugs;

These rugs are nice and big, they are very absorbant and they use up cloth that would otherwise go to landfill. Each mat will last for years. I have five year old rugs that are only just beginning to show wear. The warp threads seem to go first and the rag pieces pull out. I will try to save the rags from these older rugs to be re-woven into new mats in the future, and then I will feel like a super recycler!

Weaving is such an enjoyable hobby. I am thankful that I don’t have to weave cloth for the whole family, I would never get off the loom and the spinning wheel, but I do love that a lot of our cloth items are now handmade. I try to add a new item every year. By the time I am 90, we should be using only handmade cloth.