With the theme of World Water Day this year being wastewater, let’s focus on the waste water that’s flowing out of our kitchens and bathrooms as greywater to pollute water bodies. It’s harder to recycle greywater if it’s full of noxious chemicals that are hard to remove and treat. Plus we wouldn’t want to give the earth something it can’t digest, right?
Most conventional cleaning agents are highly corrosive and their labels carry ambiguous terms such as: 'scented', 'anti-bacterial' and 'germicidal'. 'Parfum’ is a mystery ingredient and its contents are never clearly spelt out. Anti-bacterial washes can be dangerous and if you wash your hands properly with any soap, germs won’t survive.
Here are some simple and quick recipes for DIY cleaning products (and believe me when I say they’re simple) that I use all the time. If we all used these safe, natural alternatives, Bengaluru's lakes wouldn’t be frothing and catching fire, and the little water we have left wouldn’t be poisoned.
You know, they come in little plastic tubes and have a whole lot of chemicals that ‘kill germs’ (Killing germs is fine, but you don’t want it to mess up your hormones, pollute waterways and add to landfills while you’re at it.) Instead of buying toothpaste, you could use:
1. Umigiri (paddy ash) and neem twigs are really good for cleaning teeth. Have you noticed that some people from villages have really great teeth although they’ve never been to a dentist or used fancy toothpaste? See how to make this here.
2. Mix baking soda and coconut oil to a paste and store in a glass bottle (don't worry if it smells funny), take a bit daily and use as toothpaste. Just be sure not to brush for as long as you do with regular paste, it could take the enamel off your teeth. You could also add clove oil and stevia to it for better taste and flavour. Baking soda is a great deodoriser so it’ll do its job well!
If you’re using baking soda and coconut oil as a toothpaste without clove oil and stevia, you can also use it as a body scrub. Or you can do what our grandparents did and use gram flour (besan) or sugar and oil as a scrub. The Internet is full of recipes for DIY natural body scrub.
Shampoo and conditioner
I personally love soapnut shampoo. If you try using it too, make sure not to get it in your eyes. Soak 4-5 deseeded soapnuts overnight and blitz them the next day in a blender. You can also boil them for a few minutes if you’re short of time. Soapnut has many devotees in the West – they find it reduces hairfall. A few drops of coconut oil in a mugful of warm water works wonders as a natural conditioner.
Use coconut or sesame oil to moisturise dry skin. If you don’t like the smell of coconut oil, add a few drops of an essential oil of your choice. Just be careful not to immediately put on delicate clothes as they may stain.
With just a lamp, a cotton wick and some ghee, you can make your own kajal. Here's how: Fill a lamp with ghee and place the cotton wick in the ghee, making sure it is soaked. Light the cotton wick. Cover the lamp with a lid and leave it burning for a few hours. Remove the lid. The fumes from the lamp accumulate as lampblack on the underside of the lid. Extract the black deposits from the lid. Store it and use when required.
A mixture of apple cider vinegar and water makes a great toner, especially for acne-prone skin.
Use coconut oil and a cotton ball to wipe off makeup naturally.
Dishwash and detergent
Use the water that the soapnuts have been soaking in for dishes, you can also use this liquid to wash delicate silk saris the way your grandmom did – the colours and cloth are brighter after.
If you’re washing a bunch of light coloured fabrics, use washing soda instead of detergent.
Toilet and wash basin cleaner
For sparkly clean loos and basins, skip the harsh toilet cleaners and use washing soda instead.
The water that goes down the drain after you rinse utensils, grain, soapnut-laden mixie is all perfectly safe, biodegradable and good for plants. Water your plants with this water instead of pouring it down the drain.
Ierene Francis is the founder of Corvus Bags, an enterprise making cotton bags that look great and can be washed, ironed and reused for years. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram (@corvusbags) or check out their website.