Exploring ideas for affordable, sustainable, enjoyable living.

DIY Cleaning and Personal Care: Ingredients List

I plan on posting some recipes for cleaning and personal grooming/beauty products you can make yourself, saving yourself loads of cash and exposure to toxic ingredients. But first I thought it would be useful to give you a list of the ingredients I use for these things. Some of these items were ones I already had on hand, while others required a little capital investment. However, that initial outlay of cash was nothing compared to what I save, and since I acquired these ingredients over time, my pocketbook didn’t feel too violated.

I’ve ranked these according to how much I use them, but it may be different for you, depending on what you want to make, your level of experience, and what you already have in the pantry.

The Essentials

  • Water (I know, duh, right? But for some things I use distilled water)
  • Oil(s)
  • Beeswax
  • Apple cider vinegar (white vinegar is ok but I prefer apple cider vinegar)
  • Baking soda
  • Herbs and/or teas

With these ingredients, I can make any number of salves, balms, creams, and lotions; an all-purpose disinfecting surface cleaner; toothpaste; moisturizer; facial cleanser; drain de-clogger; and hair cleanser and conditioner.

I find coconut oil to be totally indispensable for my routine, but other oils suitable for use on skin include olive, jojoba, sunflower, and sweet almond. There are of course many others, but these are common and usually easy to obtain. Olive and coconut oil do double-duty as cooking oils. I do recommend getting the best quality oil you can afford, especially if you are going to use it on your skin, as this will ensure you don’t end up looking like you washed your face with lard pizza. Also, opt for “virgin” or “extra virgin” varieties as these contain more of the plant’s original nutrients.┬áIn particular, much of the “extra virgin” olive oil on store shelves is actually cut with lower grade oil–more information on that is here. Turns out that olive oil racketeering has been going on since the Roman Empire.

What you put on your skin gets into your body as surely as if you’d eaten it, so the general rule is if you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin.

Calendula officinalis. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Calendula officinalis. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Theoretically, you can get by without herbs, but they add so much and most don’t cost too much, especially if you grow them or gather them yourself. If you were to buy only two herbs, my suggestions would be calendula* and lavender. Calendula is an excellent skin-healer and -soother, full of antioxidants. Lavender is disinfectant and soothing to both the skin and the nerves, plus it smells lovely. I find the scent of “French” lavender to be rather unpleasantly camphor-y, and prefer “English” a.k.a. “true” lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). While you can find “French” or “Spanish” lavender in the flower section of nurseries, English lavender is in the herbs section. Both calendula and lavender are non-toxic and can be taken internally, even eaten for gustatory pleasure, as well as applied externally. Both are good topical treatments for wounds and burns. Alternatively, both green and black tea are full of antioxidants and beneficial for the whole body, including skin and hair. And if you want a free herb that’s good for your liver and digestion, you can’t do better than the humble dandelion. Just make sure any herbs you use aren’t sprayed with chemicals or subjected to lots of car exhaust.

*Brits call calendula (Calendula officinalis) “marigold,” but do not confuse it with what Americans call marigold (Tagetes sp.).

Next Steps

  • Essential oils
  • Raw honey
  • Washing soda
  • Citric acid
  • Borax
  • castile soap (e.g., Dr. Bronner’s), bar and liquid*
  • sugar and/or salt

Ready to get a little more creative? With these ingredients plus those above, you can now add laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, flea repellent, and exfoliating scrub to your DIY repertoire.

Essential oils are not truly oils, but concentrated plant extracts. They thus add powerful scent, but some (e.g., lavender, peppermint) are what’s called GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) for internal use, so you can put them in toothpaste. Washing soda is sodium carbonate (not to be confused with sodium bicarbonate, a.k.a. baking soda) and Arm & Hammer makes a version. You can often find it in the laundry aisle, but not every store carries it so you might want to call and ask first. Borax may sound like a scary chemical but it’s completely natural. Bar soap is necessary for the laundry detergent recipe I use, but liquid castile soap is useful for many things so you might as well get both. I like the unscented Dr. Bronner’s because there is no smell to clash with other ingredients, and have you read the Dr. B’s labels? They’ll keep you entertained through many a boring trip to the bathroom. (All one! All one!)

*At some point I do plan to try my hand at making my own soap, with the lye and all that, but I don’t have the supplies at this time.

For the Dedicated DIYer

  • Arrowroot powder or cornstarch
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Guar gum
  • Alcohol (preferably 100 proof)
  • Vegetable glycerine
  • Raw honey

By adding these ingredients to the ones above, you can now make your own deodorant, tooth whitener, stain remover, medicinal herbal tinctures and syrups, body wash, pet shampoo, and glass cleaner. You can also experiment with different recipes for lotions, toothpaste, etc.

I personally prefer arrowroot powder to cornstarch as I find that it’s more effective both in cooking and in my personal grooming products, but it’s up to you. Cornstarch is undoubtedly the less expensive of the two. Guar gum is a thickening agent derived from beans.

As for the honey, you can wash your face and hair with honey. Yup, just plain old honey. It’s antiseptic so can be helpful with acne and cuts, and extremely moisturizing. Wash your hair with honey and you will truly know what “body” means. All you need is warm water and a little more elbow grease to rinse it off. Plus, if you make sure to get raw honey (if the label doesn’t explicitly say raw, it probably isn’t), it is highly nourishing and can even help with your allergies. It is very important to get real, raw honey–most of what is on grocery store shelves is a sticky melange of unknown provenance made from corn syrup and water. Read more about that here.

And now you can see how with a relatively small number of generally quite inexpensive items, you can make a huge variety of things to care for you home and your body. Even better, almost all of these ingredients are useful for many different purposes, for example, cleaning, cooking, kids’ crafts, and so on.

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