Can simple ingredients like neem powder and sikakai solve all our home woes, save money and resources?
Diwali is less than a month away and it is time for spring cleaning and an overhaul of the home. While not a common practice in South India, the festival season can provide all of us some much needed some motivation to examine some traditional practices and to change them for the better.
In the past few articles we have taken a close look at several toxic chemicals that enter the home through a wide array of products. Today it is time to see to how these can be politely shown the door to make way for safe, natural, plant based materials.
Through a few simple substitutions around the home, it is possible to create a wonderful ripple effect across the home and health, and use precious resources like water wisely.
In a recent report in this newspaper it was estimated that Chennai requires around 140 liters per person per day (LPPD) and receives only 114 LPPD in the main metro area and in slums and suburbs a mere 25 LPPD and 40 LLPD respectively. A small portion of this water is used for cooking and drinking but a majority goes towards bathing, laundry, cleaning and flushing. Most citizens in urban India are now resigned to paying for drinking water and in tough times like these, for the entire running water supply. This can be avoided.
A few tweaks is all it takes
We have read about the alarming effects of common chemicals like Triclosan, formaldehyde, SLS and parabens and how major companies that manufacture these are being forced by governments to phase out these toxins.
My recommendation for the clean, healthy home is start with a few natural ingredients like soapberry powder, neem powder and oil, shikakai, lemon grass oil and citronella oil. These herbs can completely replace all the chemical cleaning products at home and combinations can be used for laundry, dishes, floor and tile cleaning. They are easily available and cost much less. Let’s look at laundry first. Laundry can consume nearly 100 litres of water per day for a family of four running a washing machine. If we use a chemical detergent powder, the toxic wash water from the washing machine must necessarily go down the drain and then in to the sewage system.
All of us have learned about eutrophication in our high school botany textbooks. Many water bodies in India undergo eutrophication when phosphate laden detergent residue enters them from our homes through the sewage system. Eutrophication is caused by the high amount of phosphates typically present in synthetic detergents and causes a dense algal bloom in potable water bodies rendering them undrinkable.
Sapindus Trifoliatus or Sapindus Mukorossi, the Soapberry, which contains natural surfactants can substitute synthetic detergents. Depending on the level of saponins present in the fruit, just 1 – 2 tablespoons is enough to run a full load in your washing machine.
Importantly, the entire 100 litres from the washing machine can be directly connected to the rain water harvesting channel. The soapberry is a fruit, grows on trees and therefore will biodegrade completely and therefore the wash water is safe to re-use inside the home. This simple solution can instantly save 20-25% of our daily water supply from getting wasted. The icing on the cake is of course the fact that soapberry is hypoallergenic and very safe for our skin and hair.
This series will continue to discuss how the natural ingredients I have listed above can safely and effectively clean our homes and save resources in the process. I hope that when it ends, these natural products will bring energy and life to your home.
The writer is an environmentalist and CEO of Krya, a company that deals in products for sustainable urban living. Mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org