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

How Safe is Borax?

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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/
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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
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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!
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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/
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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/
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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.

The holidays are right around the corner, which means we're on the hunt for cool and unique gifts! That's why we've put together gift guides for everyone on your list. Looking for non-toxic, sustainable, eco-friendly, and fun gifts for someone's home? Look no further! These are perfect gifts for all the homebodies in your life.


non-toxic and sustainable gift guide for the home

Non-Toxic and Sustainable Gifts for the Home

$: Under $50

Graf Lantz Round Felt Coasters

These wool coasters from Graf Lantz are as beautiful as they are functional. We love that they are made from a renewable resource and protect tables from unslightly stains. A perfect stocking stuffer!

Heath Ceramics Bud Vase

This sweet little ceramic bud vase from Heath Ceramics will add a fun pop of color to any room. This vase looks so good you don't even need to add flowers!

Cora Ball

Protect your clothes and the environment with this Cora Ball! Simply throw it in with your next load of laundry to catch and prevent microfiber pollution.

Branch Basics Concentrate and Glass Bottle Set

Plant-based cleaning that really works! Branch Basics concentrate is a multi-use cleaning product that is free of any harmful chemicals. Pair it with the glass bottle set for a beautiful gift as the perfect introduction to green cleaning.

$ $: Between $50-100

Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America's National Parks

This beautiful coffee table book brings the gift of our National Parks into the living room. There are photographs of all 62 National Parks, including maps of each park and details of where the photographs were taken. This is a must have for any nature lover.

Cocktail Collection

It's always 5 o'clock somewhere, so why not up the cocktail game with Bloomscape's potted cocktail collection! This trio sage, mint, and rosemary are perfect for garnishing or muddling and come in beautiful ceramic pots.

goop Beauty Scented Candle

Give the gift of hygge with a luxurious scented candle from goop. These candles are made with soybean wax, natural fragrances, and smell absolutely divine!

Chilote Salmon Leather House Slippers

Cool meets cozy with these Chilote House Slippers. The combination of knitted sheep wool and salmon leather (yes, salmon!) are sure to delight. Each pair is crafted through a network of independent artisan women in Patagonia and all carbon is offset supporting the Cordillera Azul National Park in Peru.

The Little Market XL Friendship Bowl

Support artisans in Rwanda with these sisal and sweetgrass Friendship bowls. Hand woven in beautiful designs, these bowls will look great perched on a shelf or nestled on a coffee table. The Little Market is our go to for fair trade and quality gifts.

Levoit Air Purifier Core300

Give the gift of clean indoor air! Banish dust, pollen, and pet dander with the Air Purifier Core300 from Levoit. The unique filtration system removes 97% of fine particles and allergens, and a streamlined design will look great in any living room.

$ $ $: Over $100

Citizenry Mercado Lidded Storage Basket

The Citizenry Mercado Lidded Storage baskets offer a chic storage solution for all of life's clutter. These baskets come in three different sizes, two colors, and are hand woven out of locally-sourced palm leaves by artisans in Mexico in a fair trade environment.

Bearaby Cotton Napper Weighted Blanket

De-stress and relax with the Bearaby Napper Weighted Blanket. Long-staple GOTS-certified organic cotton means this blanket is heavy but breathable! We love this sustainable weighted blanket and love how they don't use synthetic fibers.

Avocado Natural Latex Mattress Topper

Give the gift of better sleep with this Natural Latex Mattress Topper from Avocado! GOLS organic certified latex and GOTS organic certified wool provides incredible comfort and will upgrade any sleeping experience.

Home

Is Vintage Dishware Safe to Use?

Why you should think twice before busting out your collectibles for the holidays.

Are you someone who collects antiques or enjoys scrounging local flea markets in search of the perfect vintage collectibles? Or perhaps you keep ceramic dishware or crystalware in your kitchen cabinets that've been passed down from previous generations and get dusted off for the holidays. While retro touches in the kitchen are fun and budget-friendly, you might want to think twice about using your family heirlooms or other collectibles when preparing, serving or storing food or drinks. Vintage dishware (which technically means older than 20 years) can potentially expose you and your family to poisonous lead. We break down what vintage and ceramic items might have lead, why it's important, and what you can do about it.

Lead in ceramics (think mugs, casserole dishes, serving platters and more)

Unfortunately, plates, bowls, and mugs, can release lead into our food and drinks. Traditionally lead was used as a main ingredient in the paint and glaze for most ceramic dishware because it provides strength and gives the dishware a smooth, clear finish. Lead and cadmium (another toxic heavy metal) can also add vibrancy to paint colors, making it a lucrative addition to ceramics. Areas of kitchenware that might have higher levels of lead include decorative painting, especially brightly colors (think red, yellow!), and decals or logos that are added onto glazed pieces.

Before 1971, there were no limits on lead in dinnerware and ceramics, so vintage items from before then are very likely to have unsafe levels of lead. Starting in 1971, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began to enforce limits on the amount of leachable lead in ceramics and tableware. Acceptable leachable lead concentrations in ceramics have decreased since then as the danger posed by lead-contaminated ceramics has become increasingly apparent. While incredibly important, these limits do not completely get rid of lead in ceramic dishware. The current limit is 0.5 μg/mL and ceramics are tested when they are new, not as they wear over the lifetime of a product. If you have dinnerware that was made during this time, it's possible that the allowable lead limits are still above what is considered acceptable now. In fact, it's still possible to buy new ceramics that contain lead, especially if they were made in a country that has weaker lead standards than the US.

Lead in crystal (think cocktail glasses, decanters, champagne flutes)

Just because ceramics are regulated doesn't mean there are lead limits for everything. Even though ceramics have lead limits, there are no current Federal standards for the amount of lead allowed to be leached from crystal glassware. Traditional glassware contains around 50% silica (sand) and no lead content, whereas "crystal" glassware is made of silica and lead oxide and is typically used for champagne, wine, or spirits. The use of lead in crystal glassware makes it easier to work with, since it allows the glass to be formed at lower temperatures. Even though it's delicate and pretty, crystal glassware has a big risk of leaching lead. The FDA has issued warnings against giving children or infants "leaded crystal baby bottles, christening cups, or glassware" and against storing food or drink in leaded crystal containers. Many manufacturers no longer make leaded crystal, but if you have any vintage crystal, it's very likely that it has unsafe levels of lead.

Why Lead is a Big Deal (still!)

Lead risks seem to pop up somewhere new all the time, and lead in vintage dishware is not any more or less important than the usual lead suspects. Lead is especially harmful for children. Their tiny, developing bodies absorb much more lead than adults do, making their brains and nervous systems more vulnerable and sensitive to the damage caused by lead exposure. Pregnant women and women of child-bearing age are also very sensitive to the risks from lead because, over time, lead accumulates in our bodies and becomes absorbed in our bones. When a woman becomes pregnant, lead is released from our bones and can be passed on to the fetus in utero or while breastfeeding. This can cause the baby to be born prematurely, born with low birth weight, can impact the baby's growth and development, can increase the likelihood of learning or behavioral problems, and puts mothers at risk for miscarriage. There is also sufficient scientific evidence that lead exposure causes cardiovascular diseases in adults as well.

How to Avoid Lead in the Kitchen and Dinnerware

  1. Don't use vintage dishware to store, prepare or eat or drink from:
  • Don't store food in any dishes, antiques or collectibles that may contain lead, especially pieces made before 1971. Use vintage pieces for decoration only.
  • Women of child-bearing age should not use crystal to consume wine (or for any other purposes for that matter).
  • Don't store foods or beverages (especially acidic juices, alcoholic beverages, or vinegar) in crystalware or vintage dishware.
  1. Get your vintage and imported dishware tested for lead:
  • Always test vintage and imported dishware for lead or conduct a lead test yourself using a home lead test kit. LeadCheck ™ testing kits, sometimes called swab tests, are inexpensive and available in hardware stores. These kits are meant for paint and not ceramics, so they are not completely accurate.
  • Lab tests determine how much lead is present in products using acid or other dissolving agents. However, these methods can damage the product. To have your ceramics tested for lead, contact a certified lab by searching the National Lead Laboratory Accreditation Program List.
  • Your state and local health departments may have more resources and services for lead testing.
  1. Do your research to make sure your dishware does not contain lead:
  • Before buying imported ceramics to be used for food and drinks, ask the supplier, the maker, or the FDA about the product's lead safety. Ask if ceramics and glass are lead-free.
  • Before buying artisanal pieces from neighborhood or craft shows, ask the artisan if they use lead in glazes/paints.
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