/Home

The grass will always be greener with these non-toxic alternatives!

How to Keep Your Lawn Happy Without the Use of Harmful Chemicals

Home

Even though it's still spring, we are already dreaming about summer lawn games, BBQs, and playing catch with the kids outside. And for many Americans, a nice blanket of green grass in the backyard is just the perfect setting for all these summer memories. If your lawn is looking a little worse-for-wear after some cold winter months, then you may want to pay attention because spring is the time to start getting your lawn ready! Spring is the perfect time to reseed, add compost, fertilizer, water, and get all your equipment in order. But how about pesticides and herbicides? Should you be adding them to prevent weeds from ruining your lawn? Are they the only solution if you want the perfect backyard for summer fun? Let's take a deep dive into what pesticides are used in lawn care and how to get the lushest, greenest grass for all your summer backyard picnics without using harmful chemicals.

What are pesticides and why are they harmful?

Glad you asked! Let's dig into what's hiding underneath the lush green lawn. Did you know that an astonishing nearly 80 million pounds of pesticides are used on U.S. lawns annually!

Pesticides are toxic substances that are designed to kill any living organism perceived as a pest, which intrinsically make them harmful. (2) These pesticides can be found in grub control, weed killers (herbicides), fungus treatment (fungicides), and insect spray (insecticides). The most common pesticides found in lawn care are two herbicides, glyphosate and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D for short). It's no surprise most gardening sheds will have products containing pesticides, as most people rely on these chemicals to treat their lawn and keep the weeds away.

Most weed killers contain 2,4-D and are oftentimes a part of "weed and feed" products. (2) "Weed and feed" products are a combination of herbicides and fertilizer (oftentimes synthetic fertilizer), that are designed to kill weeds and provide nutrients for the grass, all at once. These are one of the most toxic substances, as they are loaded with pesticides to accomplish both these tasks at the same time. Most synthetic fertilizers rely on pesticides to provide nutrients to the grass. (17) Studies have found 2, 4-D to be a carcinogen (cancer-causing), linking it to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, childhood brain tumors and soft tissue sarcomas. (15, 5) It's also been linked to Parkinson's disease, immunosuppressive effects, hormone disruption, and thyroid problems (hypothyroidism). (6) And it's also been found to affect reproductive functions, and cause neurotoxicity (nervous system damage).

Glyphosate, the most widely applied pesticide in the world, has also been found to be a carcinogen and is found in many lawn care products. These products are commonly known as RoundUp. (3, 4)

Yikes! That's a lot of RoundUp (a picture personally taken while at Home Depot).

As with 2,4-D, scientific studies have shown glyphosate to also be linked to immune and nervous system disorders, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. Glyphosate has been shown to increase the risk of asthma, infertility, and birth defects. (15)

How do these pesticides harm our health?

Pesticides can harm adults, children, and pets, through the skin, inhalation and ingestion. The most common type of exposure is through the skin. For example, a person can be exposed to a splash or mist when applying product to the lawn. A person can also be exposed by inhaling airborne droplets. Pesticides can even get into our waterways by seeping into the soil and can be brought into the home through clothes. Children are particularly vulnerable due to their size (they take in more pesticides relative to their bodyweight), rapid development, and hand to mouth behaviors. Pregnant people are also a vulnerable population to pesticide exposure. (2, 7, 12) Pets are exposed the most as they spend more time outdoors and some pets tend to eat grass, directly ingesting the pesticides. For example, cats regularly lick their paws, which means they could easily ingest pesticides that way. (2)

So how can I maintain a nice looking yard, while avoiding pesticides?

There are safer ways to get a "perfect" lush lawn. Plus, did you know applying pesticides on your lawn just creates an unhealthy chemical-using cycle? (9) It's simply a band aid solution, as it's a fast approach but doesn't target the root of the problem, which is the lack of healthy and rich soil. Applying pesticides tricks your grass into thinking it needs to rely on synthetic fertilizer to look and feel fresh, instead of actually drawing nutrients from the soil. However, here are some safer alternatives that will grow the greenest and healthiest lawn on the block while keeping you, your family, your pets, and friends safe.

Try some DIY lawn care tips:

Follow a yearly schedule to prevent your grass from needing toxic chemicals. It's recommended to start your lawn care in March. But no matter the time of the year, it's not too late to apply organic fertilizer. Check out these simple homemade and store bought organic fertilizers. Or better yet, use grass clippings as fertilizer (recycling and non-toxic? That's our kind of thing!). Add corn gluten meal to prevent weeds from sprouting. Corn gluten dries out the emerging plant's initial root, preventing a new weed from growing. Keep in mind, this will also prevent grass from growing, so only apply where there are emerging weed seedlings. Then, after fertilization (through the months of April - October), be sure to dethatch (remove the dead layer of old grass) and overseed (spread grass seed over existing lawn to fill bare spots) in September. Weekly tasks throughout the year include watering only when the lawn starts to show signs of dryness, and mowing. Be sure to set the mower 3-4 inches high to get rid of any weeds and then don't forget to leave your clippings around for fertilizer (extra nitrogen)! Here are some organic tips for common lawn problems:

  • Have brown spots? This is likely due to too much nitrogen (usually from pet urine). Water the grass right after a pet urinates to dilute the nitrogen.
  • You see brown tips on your grass? This is probably due to dull mower blades, be sure to sharpen your blades each Spring!
  • Are their patches of dirt, where grass didn't grow? Be sure to add compost and grass seed, then water the area!
  • If you have yellow grass, this most likely means your grass is low in nitrogen or may be over-watered. Dethatch or aerate lawn before applying fertilizer.
  • If you start seeing dandelions or crabgrass (or other weeds for that matter), cut off the heads of the weeds to prevent the seeds from spreading and then spread corn gluten meal in the Springtime to prevent weeds from popping up.
That sounds too time consuming, what are my other options?

If you don't have the extra time for DIY care, but maybe have the extra money to invest in lawn services, try integrated pest management (IPM). IPM is an organic based lawn care management that provides for better and safer methods to control insects, weeds and diseases. Find more information here.

FYI - If you plan on looking into non-IPM lawn services, there's a chance they may claim their services (which may include the application of harmful pesticides) are safe to use. While this may seem like a good thing, it can actually be a red flag, as the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibits manufacturers from making safety claims, even if the product is used as directed. Just because a chemical is used as directed, does not mean it is safe to use. If you're ever unfamiliar with a product used or recommended by lawn services, you can look up the toxicity of the product at www.pesticide.org.

I'll stick to products from my local home improvement store.

Or if you still prefer to stop by your local home improvement store for nutrients to use on your lawn, that's fine too. But please just be sure to read the label before purchasing. Avoid ingredients such as 2, 4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), and glyphosate. This does not mean all other pesticides are safe to use, in fact, most (if not all) pesticides are harmful. As mentioned before, you can check the toxicity of a product here.

Please take note: many pesticides and other chemicals used in lawn care persist in lawns and soil long after the posted 24-72 hours. If treatment is absolutely necessary, make sure to wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and stay off the lawn for a few days after application. (19)

Although the use of harmful pesticides is widely used and this information can be overwhelming, we hope these safer alternatives will serve as a start to avoid these harmful chemicals. Suspending the production and use of these chemicals by manufacturers is a bigger problem that may take a while to resolve. However, the good news is, we can do our part by doing the following: taking the time to take lawn care into our own hands (DIY gardening and lawn care), placing it in the hands of a trustworthy IPM service, or by reading the label and avoiding toxic chemicals when purchasing products.

If you're interested in other pesticide related topics, such as pests in your home or why going organic is beneficial to your neighbors and planet as a whole, check out these other Because Health articles:

Struggling With Pests at Home? Here's What To Do

Going Organic: Why it's Worth it for Your Neighbors, Animals, and the Planet As a Whole.

References:

  1. https://www.ehhi.org/lawnpest_full.pdf
  2. https://www.ehhi.org/pestBroFINAL.pdf
  3. https://www.ehn.org/monsanto-papers-2650517822/hazardous-chemicals
  4. https://www.ehn.org/monsanto-papers-book-2650597124/i-dont-really-know-what-this-is
  5. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news-release/dow-crop-chemical-labeled-possibly-carcinogenic-humans
  6. https://factor.niehs.nih.gov/2019/12/science-highlights/parkinsons/index.htm
  7. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25662648?casa_token=IG4zGhg0l58AAAAA%3A1kvIzhF4Xblg9lpTu7zCPIPDCPADQoCqzwnSeQFrDHyoZY0KgghDDg0zjtgHG5eND42hjPbLcz6fRazmUGcb_sRkZhhFrQRLVZvGuNF5KMSQ-P8vWyX_&seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
  8. https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/6-reasons-to-...
  9. https://www.nanaimo.ca/culture-environment/environment-and-sustainability/pesticide-use
  10. https://naturalawn.com/meaningful-differences/why-is-ipm-important#:~:text=IPM%20is%20a%20complete%20lawn,Monitoring
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1128552/
  12. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/pesticides/index.cfm
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19752299/
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24064777/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26339156/
  16. https://www.saferbrand.com/articles/do-it-yourself-organic-lawn-care
  17. https://www.schilllandscaping.com/blog/reasons-to-...
  18. https://www.thespruce.com/best-weed-killers-4173508
  19. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/chemical-...
Home

Starting a new garden? How to Test Your Soil for Lead

Soil contamination is more common than you think

Starting a new garden comes with such a sense of excitement. It can brighten up the landscape, promote a healthier lifestyle, and become a lifelong hobby! But before you hit your local nursery, you might want to consider the soil contaminants. It's always a good idea to check if the soil on your property might contain harmful chemicals like lead. What do you do if you suspect your soil may be contaminated? And how do you check? We've got you covered!

How lead can get into your soil

Lead can occur in soil naturally around a rate between 10-50 mg/kg, but because of past reliance on leaded products, contaminated sites may have lead levels anywhere from 150 mg/kg to 10,000 mg/kg (1). Although the widespread use of lead had been phased out over the years, lead does not break down over time so it's still the most common type of soil contaminant in urban areas (2).

The main ways lead can contaminate your soil is through lead paint or leaded gasoline. Until the 1970s, lead paint was commonplace indoors and outdoors in both residents and commercial properties. It was basically everywhere! As paint ages, it can flake off and leave behind tiny debris that can integrate into soil. Car exhaust from leaded gasoline could have also contaminated soil with lead, especially if the soil was located next to a particularly busy road (2). Even though lead gasoline was phased out in the 1980s, lead can still be present in the soil.

While lead does not bioaccumulate in plants, it does hold very tightly onto clay or organic matter and, unless disturbed, is found in the top 1-2 inches of soil (2). This means that produce that grows lower to the ground, like root vegetables or leafy greens, might be covered in lead-contaminated soil.

How you can test your soil

Even though it's a little more time consuming, testing your soil is definitely worth it for the peace of mind. Although you can buy soil testing kits at a home improvement store, they don't test for heavy metals. To test for lead and other heavy metals, you'll have to send your soil to a laboratory for more extensive testing. Luckily there are many laboratories that offer easy testing, like this one available to purchase on Amazon The EPA has also put together a list of labs for their National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program that offer lead testing. You can also check with local universities or labs to see if they offer heavy metal soil testing- some good options include Perry Laboratory,Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment at UMass Amherst, or the Cornell Nutrient Analysis Laboratory. Tests usually cost between $15-100 and offer a detailed look at your soil and any contaminants.

Any result that shows lead above 150 mg/kg means you have high levels of lead in your soil and you should take action before planting and new plants. One of the easiest solutions is to switch to only gardening in raised garden beds with soil you bought at a nursery. If you'd prefer to plant in the ground and are able to, you should remove the top 4 inches of soil (just to be on the safe side) and replace it with store bought soil. It's also a good idea to only plant ornamental plants instead of edible produce.

There are also a lot of small, easy changes you can make if you suspect your soil might have high levels of lead. Thoroughly washing and peeling produce before eating it is a great way to limit your exposure. Since lead doesn't bioaccumulate in plants, getting as much soil off of your produce as possible will make it a lot harder to come into contact with lead. Always make sure to wash your hands and remove your shoes before entering your house. This is especially important for kids playing in soil, since their little bodies are more susceptible to lead poisoning but they also love putting their hands in their mouths and rolling around in the dirt!

Citations

  1. https://www.soils.org/about-soils/contaminants/lead/
  2. https://extension.psu.edu/lead-in-residential-soils-sources-testing-and-reducing-exposure
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL
Home

How Safe is Borax?

A common non-toxic cleaning ingredient that may not be so harmless

For years people have recommended Borax as a safe and natural cleaning solution as an alternative to harsher traditional cleaners. It's also used a lot for other things like a non-toxic pest solution, to clean carpets, and even as an ingredient in slime for kids(1). But is Borax actually safe? Some say it is completely safe and others swear you should never use it. So we decided to do the research and figure out if Borax is a product we should be using in our everyday lives. We found that there are some issues associated with it, but there are ways it could be used safely in particular circumstances with the right precautions.

Keep reading to learn more about Borax and it's safety, as well as some alternatives you can use instead!

What is Borax?

Borax, or otherwise known as sodium borate, is a natural mineral mined from the Earth that is most commonly found as a white powder. It's most notably characterized as being a good emulsifier, preservative, and buffering agent (2). It's also known for being a great disinfectant, getting rid of stains, whitening clothes, and neutralizing hard water (2, 3). Because of these properties Borax is often found in common household products like laundry detergents, soaps, and degreasers. It's also found in topical medicine, food preservatives, pesticides, and other industrial uses because Borax can inhibit the growth of bacteria and mold, increase resistance to heat and chemicals, kill insects, and helps balance acidity (4).

Is Borax safe?

Since it is considered a natural product, it pops up in a lot of DIY recipes for various tasks around the house. However, just because it is deemed as natural that does not mean it is considered safe. Borax comes in many forms but you're most likely to handle it in its powder form for cleaning or for doing laundry. As a powder, borax has been known to be a skin and eye irritant because it can easily travel through the air and be inhaled or get in the eyes of anyone close by. Borax has also been associated with reproductive issues, endocrine disruption, and developmental issues from exposure to any of its forms (3). It's worth noting that most of these health problems were found in rats that were exposed to pretty high doses of Borax (2), so this probably means that the average person won't come into contact with enough Borax to be very dangerous, but you should still take caution when handling it in your everyday life.

It's also important to look at some of the other uses for a product when determining it's safety. In the case of Borax, one common use is as a pesticide. To kill certain pests, Borax is found as either a powder, which sticks onto the insect's body and then they ingest it from cleaning themselves, or it is mixed into food bait that the insects ingest directly. The Borax will build up in their system inhibiting their metabolism and reproductive system causing them to die. Borax is also really good at breaking down and destroying the exoskeletons of some insects because the powder is very abrasive to them (5).Obviously insects like ants are much smaller and more fragile than us, however, it is slightly concerning that Borax, a product we use relatively often in our homes, has the ability to be used as a pesticide as well.

Not only is Borax used as a pesticide, it is also used as cooling agents, adhesives, anti-freezing agents, building materials, and so many other industrial uses (2). Most of these chemicals and products are usually not associated with good human health so it is something to keep in mind when using Borax to clean around the house.

How to use Borax safely

Borax has been known to have some negative health consequences when exposed in high levels over time and lethal if ingested at high doses in animals and humans (6). Because of this it is best to limit our exposure which means that it's probably okay to be using it every once in a while, but we do not recommend using it for all of your cleaning and household purposes. If you are planning to use Borax for different tasks around the house, we found some ways you can stay safe and avoid any health issues.

  1. Keep the area where you are using Borax well ventilated by turning on a fan or opening a window.
  2. Wear long sleeves and pants to prevent any Borax from getting on your skin because it could cause irritation.
  3. If you spill any Borax on your clothes make sure to take them off right away and wash them. This goes for spilling Borax on anything, clean it up right away!
  4. Use glasses or even goggles to prevent any Borax dust from getting in your eyes.
  5. Try to keep the Borax far away from your face so you don't breathe it in. Avoiding dust is the best thing to do!
  6. Keep the Borax container tightly closed when you're not using it.
  7. Try to not use it everyday, just every once in a while.
  8. Vacuum up the floor of anywhere you used Borax in case any dust settled onto the ground.
  9. Do not ingest any Borax because it can be lethal at certain doses. This goes for children as well, keep the box out of their reach at all times (2).

Alternatives to Borax

As we mentioned, a lot of DIY cleaners and laundry detergents call for Borax. Because it can be a skin and eye irritant we wanted to give you some alternatives you could use instead if you are concerned about using it in your homemade products. We included some other homemade cleaners you can use instead, as well as some store bought all-purpose cleaners that we love!

  • Vinegar: Distilled white vinegar is a great disinfectant and deodorizer, making it a great alternative to Borax's disinfectant qualities. (7)
  • Baking soda: It is a natural and safe deodorizer, as well as, a mild abrasive that can help scrub off tough messes and stains. (7)
  • Non-chlorine bleach: Non-chlorinated bleach is a much safer alternative to the traditional bleach and is a great disinfectant.
  • Washing soda: Washing soda is a popular cleaning additive that is great for removing stains, dissolving grease, softening water, and getting rid of unpleasant smells.
  • All purpose cleaners: Instead of making something at home, check out some of the eco-friendly all purpose cleaners we love!
  • Here is a great recipe for kids slime without Borax!

Sources

  1. https://www.onegoodthingbyjillee.com/uses-for-household-borax/
  2. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/1303-96-4#section=Uses
  3. https://pharosproject.net/chemicals/2006849#hazards-panel
  4. https://www.borax.com/boron-essentials/shelter#:~:text=U.S.%20Borax%20products%20increase%20building,railway%20ties%20to%20automobile%20frames.
  5. A. Fotso Kuate, et. al. Toxicity of Amdro, Borax and Boric Acid to Anoplolepis tenella Santschi (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) 109-152. International Journal of Pest Management. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/18234674.pdf#page=109
  6. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/archive/borictech.html#fate
  7. https://www.zmescience.com/medicine/what-is-borax-and-is-it-safe-432432/
Home

A Guide to Non-Toxic Laundry Stripping

For truly softer and cleaner laundry

By now, you've probably heard of laundry stripping. With a viral TikTok video and lots of articles and videos showing the dirty water that gets left behind, we were ready to give it a try! But, most of the laundry stripping recipes call for ingredients that have synthetic fragrances, dyes, preservatives, and fluorescent brighteners. Not only are these chemicals unnecessary, but they can be irritating to the skin and disrupt your hormones. That's why we decided to come up with a non-toxic and natural laundry stripping recipe that doesn't negatively affect our health and will still give us that satisfaction of seeing all of the dirt coming off our clothes and towels!

What is Laundry Stripping?

So why do we need to strip our laundry? Over time our clothes and linens can get buildup from things like hard water, detergents, fabric softeners, body oils, and sweat that don't wash out completely in a normal washing cycle. So the process of laundry stripping aims at removing all of those built up residues and reviving your laundry so that it's softer and actually clean. Have towels that feel crunchy and not as absorbent as they used to be? That build up that is potentially the reason why! If you have had your towels for a while, you may not even realize how much crispier they have gotten!

In order for laundry stripping to be effective there are key ingredients you need to have. The first is washing soda, which is not baking soda, but it is a popular cleaning additive that is great for removing stains, dissolving grease, softening water, and getting rid of unpleasant smells (1). The next ingredient, hydrogen peroxide (in liquid or powdered form), is a great disinfectant, brightener, and deodorizer that gets rid of all of the bacteria that might be stuck in between the fibers of your clothes (2). And if you have hard water, sodium citrate should definitely be added to your recipe because it is great at dissolving minerals and other build up from hard water (3). Finally you need powdered laundry detergent which contains surfactants and other enzymes that help break down most residue that is left on your clothes (4).

Based on our laundry stripping tests, we highly recommend you try it out! Doing this didn't get rid of the slight pink tinge on one of the towels from when I washed it with something red, so it's magical abilities are limited. But the water was completely filthy, just like in that viral video, our towels and sheets were softer and more absorbent, almost like they were new again! It definitely gave them a refresh and extended their life. So try out these different recipes to see which one works best for your laundry. We promise seeing the dirty water in your tub is totally worth it!

Keep reading to check out some of the recipes we tested for non-toxic laundry stripping!

Laundry Stripping recipes

For all of these recipes you want to fill your bathtub or top loading washing machine with the hottest water possible, just enough to cover your clothes or whatever else you may be stripping. Once the clothes are covered with water, mix in all of the ingredients until they are fully dissolved. The next step is to wait! After adding the ingredients, come and check on your clothes every hour and give them a little stir. Most people leave their clothes in the water until it gets completely cold, but if you have really dirty clothes you may want to leave them in the water for about 5 to 6 hours. Finally once you take your clothes out, the last step is to give them a wash in the washing machine!

Laundry Stripping with Borax

¼ cup borax

¼ cup washing soda

¼ cup sodium citrate (optional for hard water)

1 scoop non-toxic laundry detergent powder

There are a lot of conflicting opinions on whether or not Borax is a non-toxic ingredient. Check out this article on Borax to judge for yourself if you want to use it!

Laundry Stripping with Brightening Boost

1 cup hydrogen peroxide or ¼ cup Branch Basics Oxygen Boost or Molly's Suds Oxygen Whitener (both contain sodium percarbonate, which is like powdered hydrogen peroxide)

¼ cup washing soda

1 scoop non-toxic laundry detergent powder

Some powdered laundry detergents we recommend

Since the regular powdered laundry detergent that gets recommended for stripping is full of harsh chemicals, we wanted to recommend some cleaner options that you could use instead!

a) Molly's Suds Laundry Powder b) Grab Green 3-in-1 laundry detergent powder c) Charlie's soap laundry powder d) Seventh Generation Natural Laundry detergent powder e) Meliora Cleaning Products Laundry Powder f) Biokleen free and clear laundry powder

Sources

  1. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/10340#section=Uses
  2. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Hydrogen-peroxide
  3. https://thechemco.com/chemical/sodium-citrate/
  4. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/laundry-stripping-recipe-borax_l_5f72566dc5b6e99dc3310b4a

Laundry isn't our favorite thing to do, but unless you're super fancy and have someone else do your washing, it's just a part of life. The one good thing about doing laundry is that fresh laundry straight out of the dryer. The smell, the softness, the warmth… it's basically happiness in fabric form! The many different types of laundry detergent scents like spring meadow and mountain breeze seem like an added bonus too. But, have you ever wondered how companies actually make these scents? It turns out laundry detergent scents can have hidden health hazards. Read on to learn more about laundry fragrance and our non-toxic alternatives!

Reasons to Avoid Fragrance

One of the best parts of laundry detergent is it's smell. That clean, fresh scent is so popular that people try to recreate it in candle form! As much as we love scented laundry, traditional products can be pretty harmful. Companies can use dozens (or hundreds!) of different chemicals to create their fragrances. According to the International Fragrance Association's Transparency List, there are approximately 3,000 fragrance ingredients that can be used in consumer goods worldwide. And since the FDA does not require approval before a chemical goes onto the market, it's impossible to say that all of these fragrance ingredients are safe to use. Oftentimes some of those chemicals are phthalates. Phthalates can help fragrance last longer but they're also known endocrine disruptors with harmful health effects.

Companies also don't have to tell you exactly what goes into their fragrance formulations. Since fragrance is considered a trade secret, companies can hide the exact chemicals they use. You'll only see "fragrance" listed on the ingredient list, despite there being tons of chemicals that go into it. Luckily, some states are taking steps to undo the mystery around fragrance ingredients. In California, manufacturers will soon have to disclose all fragrance and flavor ingredients in their products and any known health hazards associated with those ingredients.

On top of everything else, some fragrance ingredients can trigger migraines or skin irritation in people with sensitivities or allergies. They may not even know which specific ingredient they're sensitive to because of the trade secret rules! Babies and children are especially susceptible to fragrance sensitivities.

Non toxic Ways to Get Clothes Smelling Fresh

First off, we really need to redefine what "clean" smells like. All our lives we've been trained to believe that clean = really strong fragrance. Who else has been overwhelmed by scent when they walked down the laundry aisle?! Clean clothes can be clean and just smell like warm clothes without the super flowery scent. And all those synthetic fragrances are often there to just cover up odors. They don't actually remove funky smells and grime on your clothes.If you're looking for a way to really deep clean clothes, check out our laundry stripping article.

That's a good place to start to get really clean clothes without funky odors.

If laundry stripping seems like too much work, there are also a ton of easy ways to help your clothes smell fresh without added chemicals. Below are some of our favorite ways to add scent to your laundry that are natural but also smell amazing!

  1. Create a mixture of 2 cup of salt with 20 drops of essential oil in a jar. Scoop 2 tbsp directly into your washing machine with your laundry and run the cycle like normal.
  2. Add a drop or two of essential oil to a wool dryer ball. This will help keep clothes soft and smelling fresh! If you don't have a dryer ball you can also use a damp washcloth.
  3. Vinegar is a great way to neutralize odors! Just put some vinegar into your fabric softener tray and it'll work to remove any funky scents.
  4. Switch to non toxic laundry detergent, dryer sheets, and fabric softeners that use safe scents. Our roundups offer a ton of product recommendations!
Home

How to Naturally Deep Clean Your Laundry Machine

Non-toxic cleaning methods for different types of washing machines

Have you been noticing that your clothes smell a little funny or there is a bad smell coming from your laundry room? Or maybe there are some green spots around the door of your washing machine? Well it might be time to clean your washing machine! If you search up conventional ways of cleaning your washing machine, many times those methods call for bleach and other harsh chemicals that can cause harm to our environment and our health. Instead of using harsh chemicals to clean your washing machine, try out a few of the methods we recommend that use safe and natural cleaners!

Three ways to clean your washing machine

1. Vinegar and baking soda

Vinegar is a strong acid that works really well to dissolve mineral deposits, dirt, grease, grime, and can even kill bacteria. And baking soda is a great deodorizer and works as a gentile abrasive to help get rid of hard water grime.

Top loader:

  1. Turn your washing machine to the hottest and longest cycle. Then add four cups of distilled white vinegar and let the cycle run for about a minute.
  2. After a minute or until the vinegar is mixed with the water, stop the cycle and let the water sit for about an hour.
  3. While you wait, it's time to tackle the rest of the washing machine. Take a cloth and some vinegar and wipe down the lid and the outside of the washer.
  4. It's also a good time to clean the seal if your top loader has one. Take some straight vinegar and pour it directly into the seal and scrub until all the mold or mildew comes out. For some extra disinfection and a great smell, you can mix 10 drops of an essential oil, like lemon or eucalyptus, with the vinegar to clean the seal.
  5. Once that first cycle is completely over, restart the cycle and pour a cup of baking soda into the drum. Once the second cycle is complete leave the lid open to completely dry the drum (1).

Front loader:

  1. Start by cleaning the seal using straight white vinegar. Feel free to add drops of essential oils like lemon or eucalyptus oil for a great smell and some added disinfection.
  2. Scrub all of the mold, soap scum, and possibly hair out of that seal. Make sure you pull it all the way back so you can clean every inch!
  3. Start your hottest cycle and then pour 2 cups of vinegar into the detergent dispenser.
  4. Once that cycle is finished start another cycle by putting ½ cup of baking soda in the drum and running the same hot water cycle.
  5. Finally wash the outside of the washing machine with vinegar and a cloth and use vinegar to scrub and clean out the detergent tray (1).
  6. Leave the door open to let the drum fully dry out.

If you are concerned that vinegar can damage the seal of your washing machine, you can either dilute the vinegar or completely rinse off the seal with a wet cloth to avoid any potential corrosion. If you are still not sure about using vinegar, check out one of the other methods we recommend!

2. Non chlorinated bleach

Non-chlorinated bleach is a much safer alternative to the traditional bleach. It doesn't contain chlorine which can irritate the skin, eyes, and lungs (5). This type of bleach is still a great disinfectant so this might be a great solution if your washer has a lot of mold or mildew buildup. We love the brand seventh generation non-chlorine bleach!

Top loader:

  1. Select the hottest and longest cycle and pour ¾ cup of non-chlorinated bleach into the drum and run the cycle for one minute. Open the lid to let the water/bleach sit in the drum for about an hour. Then complete the cycle.
  2. Clean the outside of the machine using a mixture of water and bleach or a non-toxic all purpose cleaner and use a cloth to wipe down the outside.
  3. If your top loader has a seal, pour a small amount of the non-chlorinated bleach and scrub all of the gunk out and make sure to wipe it out until it's dry (2).
  4. Leave the lid open to let the drum fully dry out.

Front loader:

  1. To clean the door seal, pour some bleach straight on the seal and scrub all of the mold and stains off. Pull the seal all the way back to get all of the gunk out!
  2. Using a mixture of water and bleach or an non-toxic all purpose cleaner, use a cloth to wipe down the outside and also scrub out the detergent tray to get rid of all of the residue and mold.
  3. Next select the hottest and longest cycle and pour ¾ cup of non-chlorinated bleach into the detergent tray and run the cycle (2).
  4. Leave the door open to let the drum fully dry out.

3. Washing soda

Washing soda is a popular cleaning additive that is great for removing stains, dissolving grease, softening water, and getting rid of unpleasant smells. It's definitely worth picking some of this up! We love the brand Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda!

For both washer types:

  1. Dissolve some washing soda in some hot water and scrub the seal if you have one. If you have a really dirty seal, try using one of the other methods after you scrub and rinse off the washing soda, which helps to loosen some of the grime..
  2. Select the hottest and longest cycle and pour 2 cups of washing soda into the drum and run the cycle.
  3. Make sure to clean the rest of the washing machine by dissolving some washing soda in water and wiping it down with a cloth (3).

Tips for keeping a clean washing machine

  1. Keep the lids/doors open always so the moisture can dry.
  2. After the seal is cleaned, you can help prevent mold growth by wiping the seal down with a non-toxic all purpose cleaner weekly. This will prevent mold and grime from building up!
  3. To clean a fabric softener dispenser, pour boiling water on it and scrub until all of the built up residue is gone. For a non-toxic fabric softener option, check out some of the brands we recommend!
  4. Switching to powdered laundry detergent has been known to reduce the smell coming for your laundry machine. Bonus, powdered laundry detergent does not contain preservatives like liquid laundry detergent. Check out some of the brands we recommend!

Sources

  1. https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/how-to-clean-washing-machine-with-vinegar
  2. https://cleanmama.com/how-to-naturally-clean-any-washing-machine/#:~:text=Add%20%C2%BE%20cup%20of%20white,a%202nd%20rinse%20cycle%20selection.
  3. https://laundrapp.com/blog/how-to-clean-your-washing-machine/#:~:text=To%20use%20soda%20crystals%20to,with%20a%20clean%2C%20fresh%20machine.
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441921/
Home

Simple Homemade and Store Bought Organic Fertilizers

How to fertilize your garden without synthetic fertilizers

Spring is just around the corner and that means it's finally time to start planting that garden you have been thinking about all winter! One of the first things you might be thinking of is sprinkling some fertilizer on your seeds and starters to get a bumper crop or some extra large blooms. A lot of people think using synthetic fertilizers is the easiest choice to help your garden thrive, but in reality it's just a quick fix that will cause a lot of long term damage to your garden and the environment. Instead of using harsh chemicals on your beautiful garden, you should make the switch to organic fertilizers! Not only are organic fertilizers better for the environment and human health, you can also use a lot of the food scraps and things you have in your home to fertilize your garden. Super cost effective and so easy!

Why we shouldn't use synthetic fertilizers

When it comes to talking about synthetic fertilizers, it's best to start with what they are and what they are made of. Synthetic fertilizers are man-made products made from byproducts of the petroleum industry. Some examples of these fertilizers are Ammonium nitrate, Ammonium phosphate, superphosphate, and so many other variations (2). Because these fertilizers are made from petroleum products it means they are super energy intensive to produce and require the burning of fossil fuels to extract the specific chemicals. So basically fertilizers = fossil fuels = climate change! Eeek! (1).

In terms of fertilizing the plants and soil, synthetic fertilizers give the plants food in a readily available form, however, plants consume this food very rapidly and that means the fertilizer needs to be reapplied over and over again (3). The reason this type of fertilizer needs to be constantly reapplied is because they do absolutely nothing to improve the quality and health of the soil. Synthetic fertilizers provide nutrients for the plants but include no organic matter or nutrients that are required by the microorganisms in the soil to remain healthy. Moreover, synthetic fertilizers are known for killing microorganisms as soon as it's applied. These organisms are highly important because they break down organic matter and make the nutrients available for the plants to take up and grow (2). Without these important soil organisms, nothing would be able to grow and our soil would become unusable.

While synthetic fertilizers are extremely damaging to the biodiversity of our soil, they are also extremely toxic when they enter our waterways and drinking water. Because these chemical fertilizers need to be reapplied so often that means there is an excess quantity of them that can runoff when the plants are watered or it rains.This fertilizer runoff contributes to a process called eutrophication, which results in dead zones in bodies of water, because there is not enough oxygen available for the plants and animals living there. (5). Not only is this super dangerous for aquatic wildlife, this can also affect us. When waterways are polluted like this it's not safe for us to play or swim in and eventually these chemical nutrients can leach into the groundwater and cause serious health effects like gastric cancer, hypertension, and possible developmental issues in children (4).

As you can see using synthetic fertilizers isn't a great idea. They are super dangerous for the health of our environment and us. Thankfully there is an alternative that doesn't have so many nasty effects. That alternative is organic fertilizers!

Why organic alternatives are better

Like we mentioned before, in order to have a healthy garden and environment we need to have soil that's full of nutrients and microorganisms. This is where organic fertilizers shine. Organic fertilizers don't contain just nutrients, they contain organic matter that feeds the microorganisms and breaks down into nutrients over time. If you switch to organic fertilizers, not only would you be reducing your impact on the environment, you could also be growing organic fruits and vegetables at home in your own garden., Who doesn't want that?! Plus it's so simple. You can buy some organic fertilizers at the store or DIY some from food scraps you have at home.

Organic fertilizers you might have at home

Organic fertilizers come in a variety of different forms. Anywhere from food scraps from your fridge to bat guano extract. Most of the time there is no need to head to the store and buy a big bag of organic fertilizer. Instead, you could try using some things you already have at home. Check out some of the items we found that are great fertilizers for your gardens!

  • Food scraps and compost: We all have food scraps from fruits and veggies we don't eat or the food went bad before we could eat it. Food scraps or a homemade compost is a great organic fertilizer that would add a ton of nutrients to your garden! You can even add broken down cardboard in there. If you're thinking about starting a compost check out this article! (6)
  • Coffee grounds and tea leaves: Coffee grounds and tea leaves are great additions to your garden soil, however, because they can often be very acidic you want to use them sparingly and on plants that love acidic soil (6). Some plants that grow best in acidic soil are azaleas, rhododendrons, and blueberries.
  • Grass clippings and tree leaves: If you don't know what to do with all of the leaves you raked in your yard or all the grass clippings from your lawn, why don't you put them in your garden! Both of these items have super high levels of nitrogen and potassium that plants love (6).
  • Banana Peels: We all know bananas are a great source of potassium and that's true for our soil too! Dry your banana peels out and sprinkle them over your garden (6).
  • Seaweed: Seaweed is packed with tons of nutrients like potassium, nitrogen, phosphate, and magnesium. You can use it in its dried form or get a liquid form from your local garden center! (8)
  • Eggshells: I think we have all joked about eating some extra calcium in the morning when we accidentally get an eggshell in our breakfast. But instead of just throwing them away like you normally would, sprinkle them in your garden for some added calcium. Calcium is an important nutrient that helps plants absorb nutrients better (6).
  • Aquarium water (not salt water): If you have a fresh water fish tank and are looking for a way to dispose of your water, look no further. Aquarium water has a lot of nutrients that are beneficial for plants and a lot of the fish excrement is just extra nutrients for the soil! (7)
  • Fireplace ash: Fireplace ash is often used when the soil is too acidic. Ash has a higher pH, meaning it's more basic which will make the soil less acidic if added. Make sure you use this ash sparingly as too much is not so great for the plants. (7)

Organic Fertilizers you can buy

We also wanted to include some organic fertilizers that you can buy at a store. This is probably necessary if you have a huge space you want to fertilize. Some items we recommend to add to your soil that you can buy at many garden supply centers or nurseries are bone meal, worm castings, fish meal, compost, and animal manure. There are even companies where you can get compost (possibly for free) when you give them your food scraps. All of these products are super concentrated fertilizers that will help improve the quality of your soil. Some brands of organic fertilizer we recommend are: biolink, Dr.Earth, Jobe's Organics, and Down to Earth. If for some reason you can't find any of these brands in your nurseries or stores, it's best to contact your local nurseries and they usually have great recommendations for fertilizers they use and sell!


Sources

  1. https://www.bloombergquint.com/onweb/synthetic-fertilizer-ammonium-nitrate-makes-climate-change-worse#:~:text=After%20farmers%20apply%20these%20synthetic,or%20N2O%2C%20a%20greenhouse%20gas.&text=N2O%20has%20a%20far%20greater,more%20by%20weight%20as%20CO2.
  2. https://www.enviroingenuity.com/articles/synthetic-vs-organic-fertilizers.html#:~:text=Organic%20Fertilizers%20are%20materials%20derived%20from%20plant%20and%20animal%20parts%20or%20residues.&text=Synthetic%20Fertilizers%20are%20%E2%80%9CMan%20made,Plants%20require%2013%20nutrients.
  3. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/heres-scoop-chemical-organic-fertilizers
  4. Majumdar, D., & Gupta, N. (2000). Nitrate pollution of groundwater and associated human health disordersDeepanjan. Indian Journal of Environmental Health, 28-39. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from file:///Users/sophieboisseau/Downloads/Nitrate_pollution_of_groundwater_and_ass.pdf
  5. https://www.organicwithoutboundaries.bio/2018/10/31/synthetic-fertilizers/
  6. https://www.farmersalmanac.com/8-homemade-garden-fertilizers-24258
  7. https://thegrownetwork.com/15-simple-and-inexpensive-homemade-fertilizers/
Home

What’s a Rain Garden and How Do I Build One?

A guide to how rain gardens reduce water pollution and how to build one

What's a rain garden? Well, we're glad you asked! Rain gardens are not very well known but they are becoming more and more popular for their ability to reduce water pollution. The basic premise of a rain garden is that a basin filled with native plants captures water as it flows through your yard and filters out pollutants through the soil and plant roots before reentering the groundwater. Rain gardens are incredible, not only for being a great way to clean our water runoff, but they are aesthetically beautiful and create habitats for so much wildlife!

Keep reading to learn more about how rain gardens can purify water in your local ecosystem and how you can build one of your very own!

How Your Home Causes water pollution

When we think of water pollution we usually think of culprits like landfills, farming runoff, and industrial chemical waste. As it turns out, the runoff from different places at our homes are also a big part of the problem! Everytime it rains, water runs off surfaces like driveways, roofs, patios, and even our lawns. A lot of the time these surfaces can carry dirt particulates, chemicals, oils, garbage, and different types of bacteria and all of this can end up in our water. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that pollutants carried by rainwater runoff accounts for 70% of all water pollution (1).

It's also important to mention that this water runoff from our homes and other areas can make its way into nearby streams, lakes, oceans, and even our drinking water reservoirs (3). This is a major problem for the health of the surrounding wildlife and even us humans. A lot of the pollutants that are running off our driveways, roads, and roofs are toxic industrial chemicals and heavy metals from cars, as well as agricultural pesticides and waste. When these chemicals get into our water systems and the surrounding vegetation, animals eat the plants or drink the water and are exposed to many harmful chemicals that can cause a variety of health problems (7). When it comes to humans, the safety of our drinking water is a major concern. Thankfully we have water treatment plants to clean out the harmful chemicals and materials, however, there are still some chemicals and pesticides that are tricky to remove from our water sources. Water treatment plants do the best they can to remove most of the pollutants, but it is not a perfect process (8). Because of this, we can be exposed to these nasty pollutants through drinking contaminated water or when we play in our local lakes, streams, and beaches.

The good news is that we have the power to reduce the amount of water pollution that comes from our homes by planting a rain garden!

So what exactly are rain gardens?

A rain garden is a depressed area in the landscape filled with grasses and native plants that works to collect the runoff from all of the areas on your property. Not only does a rain garden collect all of the water runoff, it also helps filter out the pollutants collected along the way. This filtration process is done by using the plants and soil in the garden. As the water moves farther into the ground more of the contaminants are removed by the soil and plant roots and eventually the water will be able to recharge ground water aquifers. Sounds like a win win situation (1)!

Some of the other benefits of rain gardens include protection against floods and the habitat they provide. Water collects in the rain garden due to its lower elevation and acts as a drainage site for the diverted water. The water is then rapidly absorbed by the plants dramatically reducing the amount of water in your yard more efficiently after a storm (3)! This is where the plants in your rain gardens might differ slightly from your average garden plants. The most common plants used in rain gardens are able to tolerate long wet periods and long drought periods to be able to survive when there is rain and when there isn't (9). The plants have an added function as habitat for beneficial wildlife such as butterflies, bees, birds, and other small animals (4). Rain gardens protect our environment, our homes, our drinking water, and wildlife! Who wouldn't want that?

So... Do you want to build a rain garden?

We know this might seem a little daunting, but we promise it's easier than it looks and will be so worth it!

  1. Find a Location

The first step in creating the perfect rain garden is the planning phase. To pick a location for the rain garden many people conduct a rainy day survey. Is there a part of your yard that always collects water after a storm or where the soil stays extra wet for longer? That's a good place to start. You can also draw a rough map of your home and landmarks like trees, patios, and driveways, as well as how the water flows through your property when it rains. Typically areas with slight slopes or near gutter drain pipes are great places to plant a rain garden.Once you have picked a location that you believe will capture the most water runoff the next step is to determine the size you want your garden to be. Most rain gardens range from 150 - 480 sq ft and are at least 6 inches deep. Rain gardens can be really big or really small; design them to fit your needs and how much space you have available.

2. Pick Your Plants

The final step for planning is to pick your plants! When picking the plants for your rain garden you want to look for native perennial flowers, grasses, and shrubs that will survive in the amount of sunlight your rain garden is exposed to and the different weather patterns of where you live. The most common layout for plants in a rain garden is to have perennial flowers and natives that can tolerate lots of water in the center. Then around the center you want plants that can sometimes tolerate standing water but usually prefer to be dry like grasses, and finally around the edges use plants that prefer mostly dry soil (12). Talking with people from your local plant nurseries or just searching for native plants in your area can help you determine which plants will be best suited for your needs! (2) Some helpful online resources for native plants in your area and good plants for rain gardens are linked here!

3. Plant Your Rain Garden

Once you have completed all of the planning and preparation, the next step is to start digging. As we mentioned, a rain garden should be at least 6 inches deep for optimal water capture and drainage. Once you dig out your area make sure to create a gentle slope from the top to the center to help hold the water in. Once the area is prepared place your plants in the soil and pack them in. After planting, it is recommended that you place mulch over the top of the exposed soil to prevent weeds and to help with water drainage. This will save you a lot of time and energy down the line! The final step is to add any design elements like rocks and stones to the garden and water all of your plants in. Voila, you have a beautiful rain garden (5)!

If you need a slightly more in depth look at how to build your rain garden and different designs, we have added some links to help you out. Check out these links:

  1. https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/rain-garden/5712.html
  2. https://www.lawnstarter.com/blog/landscaping/how-build-rain-garden/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xuqmY7wzRc

References:

  1. https://www.groundwater.org/action/home/raingardens.html
  2. https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/rain-garden/5712.html
  3. https://thewatershed.org/green-infrastructure-rain-gardens/
  1. https://www.epa.gov/soakuptherain/soak-rain-rain-gardens
  2. https://www.lawnstarter.com/blog/landscaping/how-build-rain-garden/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xuqmY7wzRc
  4. Gaffield, S. J., Goo, R. L., Richards, L. A., & Jackson, R. J. (2003). Public Health Effects of Inadequately Managed Stormwater Runoff. American Journal of Public Health, 93(9), 1527–1533. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.93.9.1527
  5. https://www.iwapublishing.com/news/distillation-treatment-and-removal-contaminants-drinking-water
  6. https://www.embassylandscape.com/blog/the-best-of-the-best-perennial-plants-for-rain-gardens
  7. https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/
  8. http://raingardenalliance.org/planting/plantlist
  9. https://www.almanac.com/content/rain-gardens-two-d...:~:text=Planting%20a%20Rain%20Garden&text=Most%20of%20the%20plants%20in,that%20tolerate%20occasional%20standing%20water.
Want an easy way to live healthier?
Sign up for our newsletter! Curated environmental health news delivered to your inbox every three weeks.
By submitting above, you agree to our privacy policy.
/ SOCIAL