Thursday, April 30, 2009

a wild hair: hair, laundry, and the environment

One of the reasons why I cut my hair (much to the shock and dismay of Matthew) was because I got to thinking about water use. It took a long time to get all that hair wet in the shower, especially when it is so thick and kinky as to be nearly waterproof - even when fully submerged in a bath. After the chop, showers became easy and not just another tedious chore. (Although this may mean that I will take more of them, which might not be a water-savings in the long run. So far, though, I have not suddenly become a cleaner person.) The next reason was that after I grew out my Pequot idea (where my forehead and temples were shaved to the crown of my head and then transitioned from there to long down the back and sides) so much gray had grown in that it was hard to adjust to. I tried black henna: what a pain in the butt! Plus the color falls out of my hair in just a few days. Then I flirted with dyeing, but that, too, required way too much maintenance for this slacker, and I the environmental impact was eating at me. So, okay, off it all went.

I'm adjusting. Now, thanks to my friend and one-time housemate Megan, I've become more aware of the environmental costs of shampoo, too, even the "nice" basic ones. Megan told me how she was scrubbing her hair with a paste of baking soda and water and following it with a vinegar rinse. I tried it, and it works great. For me, I have one more step, but it's not so bad. After the shower I rub my hair through with a little olive oil, usually scented with something interesting: lemongrass, frankincense, rose, whatever is the cheapest essential oil I can find. This tames it down for several days and also keeps it from freaking out when exposed to humidity or rain.

What are the environmental costs of baking soda? I doubt it's pretty. I may do a story on the whole process sometime from when it comes out of the earth to when it returns through a leach field, since a leach field is what I have. Our ground is quite acid, so adding a base substance in the leach field might be a good thing, although I wonder about the sodium part of the sodium bicarbonate. You might say, "Oh, it's only a little bit! Chill." But I also make batch after batch of mozzarella and feta cheeses and each of them (or at least the mozz) requires swirling a significant amount (half a cup or more) or salt down the drain every time. I would think that it's got to add up over time. Having just written a part of a novel where the main character visits the salt flats left behind by the agricultural practices of the Sumerian Empire, I can't stop thinking about salt that easily. I really want to write that article. Finding the time ... finding the time ... and add another story on what really all is in shampoo. And hair dyes. I know many of my friends do not want to know what its those temporary wild-colored dyes, but I do.

Where I am actually going with this post, though, is to another great tip from Megan. Really. Despite what I just said about baking soda, I think it is a big step up from shampoo. She also gave me a recipe for laundry soap that I can't wait to try, especially now that she found a source for washing soda. I buy my Natural Value laundry soap by the case and it lasts a good long while, but Matthew, Ronan, and I are pretty good at getting things dirty and none of us are all that great at getting things clean. Our current laundry soap works as long as nobody is interested in whites being white, or even off-off-off-white. Thus, besides wanting to be able to make my own laundry soap cheap, and be easier on the environment, I am certainly not attached to the cleaning power of the soap I currently have.

Whether you want the recipe or not, you should check out Megan's blog. Here is your entree:

Take some time. Wander around. Don't just stop with the soap.


  1. hey thanks for the name drop. i, too, have been wondering about the environmental impact of baking soda...hopefully you'll get around to figuring it out before i have to...and for the record, my laundry soap recipe works about the same as the "natural" kind--maybe slightly better, but it's no tide (if you believe the commercials)...i'm perfectly happy to settle for clean without blinding whiteness if it means i'm not using any step is finding a decent dish soap recipe, then i'll be totally detergent free!
    and for those interested, i'm planning on posting a DIY piece soon with shampoo methods, laundry soap recipe(s), deodorant recipes...and what ever else i can come up with that we like to have around the house and can make in a better way.

  2. been doing some research on baking soda...can't find much that's really helpful to me, but get the feeling that it's a matter of scales of evil--not cleaning at all on one end and clorox on the other...even i (if you've seen my house you know what i mean!) can't bear the idea of not cleaning at all, or only cleaning with water, but anything above that step is going to have a negative impact on the environment. even when cleaning my house/laundry/etc with just baking soda and vinegar i contribute to the imbalance on the planet. the main downsides i can find to baking soda is that the mining process (while relatively clean compared to one's notion of the word "mining") uses up A LOT of water, and, the saltiness left over causes problems for the wildlife, and i'd assume, the earth itself and all the delicate microbia/wormlife/etc. more details when i do my DIY post.