Try out these natural cleansers that are easy to make, toxic-free and pocket-friendly

...And clean up your act with non-toxic cleansers that are good for you and the environment

Updated - June 10, 2019 01:04 pm IST

Published - June 10, 2019 11:08 am IST

I remember my grandmother using soapnut to wash her nine-yard silk saris that she would then fastidiously hang on the clothesline. I also remember weekly oil baths with a robust hair wash made of shikakai (acacia concinna ). Coconut shells with besan (gram or chickpea flour) would be kept handy to be used as soap in the bathroom where a wood-fired copper drum yielded piping hot water.

Sangeetha Subash and the tools of her trade

Sangeetha Subash and the tools of her trade

Those memories and practices were elbowed out by detergents in colourful packaging, shampoos and conditioners that promised me Rapunzel hair, and geysers. Funny, I was now back at a workshop after all those years trying to relearn what my grandmom already knew and practised.

Making bio-enzymes
  • Mix three parts fruit peel (preferably citric, like lemon, oranges or sweet lime), with one part brown sugar and 10 parts water.
  • Store in an airtight plastic container for two to three months. (Plastic because glass containers may explode.) Stir the contents every day, to release gases formed by the fermenting peels.
  • In two months, a multi-purpose liquid cleaner is ready. (It has a very long shelf life, and can be kept at room temperature, but away from sunlight.)

“Even now it is not too late. Learn the old practices from the elders in the community, before they are lost to us,” urges Gauri S of the Seeragam Native Store, Coimbatore, where she has invited Sangeetha Subhash to speak about natural cleansers. Sangeetha will share how she has made the crossover from commercially available, chemical-riddled detergents and vessel/floor cleaners to home-made, toxic-free and economical alternatives for a clean life. Gauri introduces Sangeetha as someone who walks the talk about green living.

“I took time to get used to the idea myself,” starts Sangeetha disarmingly. Unlearning old habits is the hardest thing, she admits. But concern for her children persuaded her to make the change or at least try to. Pointing to the table laden with bottles and jars, she says, “It is not difficult at all. Five years ago, a friend introduced me to soapnut and there has been no looking back. Even if I was convinced, there was resistance from the family. So I decided to have a toilet competition at home.”

Great cleansers in the kitchen
  • Lemon juice with salt
  • Besan with bio enzymes/orange peels powder
  • Coffee grounds
  • Vinegar and baking soda
  • Dosa batter
  • Sour buttermilk, after removing the butter (works well with salt water stains)
  • Wood ash with shikakai powder
  • Gooseberry juice for hair (Soapnut soaked overnight in an iron vessel, also makes hair strong and shiny)

Sangeetha said she decided to clean her toilet with natural cleaners while the other toilets continued to be cleaned with the usual strong chemical cleaners. Everyone was surprised to see her toilet cleaner and fresher than the others. “I used besan to clean my toilet,” she says.

Sceptical, I look around me and, to my surprise, many present are nodding in agreement. There are other people here who have also cleaned their toilets with besan ! “From just besan , I graduated to adding powdered orange peel and soapnut powder to my cleaners,” continues Sangeetha, who decided it was a good time to banish chemicals altogether when she and her husband built their own home and moved into it with their children.

Make your own cleaners
  • Laundry liquid: Soak two handfuls of soapnut in two to three litres of water overnight and boil for five minutes. Allow it to cool, squeeze out the pulp from the soapnut, discard the seeds and filter the liquid.
  • Mix it with bioenzymes in the ratio of 2:1. It can be stored for a week at room temperature, but it would be better to refrigerate larger quantities, and use as and when needed. (One machine load of clothes needs around 100ml.)
  • Dish wash: Plain wood ash works fine for non-greasy dishes. For greasier vessels, mix wood ash with shikakai powder/dosa batter/bio enzymes. For ceramics and glass, use a combination of gram flour with laundry liquid/bio enzymes.
  • Hand wash: Try a dry powder mix made with a combination of 1/3 gram flour, 1/3 green gram flour, 1/3 dried citrus peel powder.

So how tedious is the process of making all these magic cleansers, I ask her. If it means going on interminable hunts to procure the raw material and then slaving over them instead of just snipping open a package or unscrewing a lid, I am out. Sangeetha asks me, “Have you ever stood in a line at the beginning of the month at a supermarket? It takes at least an hour to buy stuff, bill and pay for them. I spend that same hour at home making the cleansers and have enough for a month not just for myself, but also for my friends and family,” she says. There is great satisfaction that she is not adding to the landfill. She wants no part of that guilt. “When I walk into a supermarket today I look around me and I know for a fact that I do not need over 90% of the items on the shelf.”

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