July 30, 2016

Analyzing My Current Cleaners: How Greywater Friendly Are They?

Continued from part 1 "Of Soap, 
Detergent, & Greywater"

My recent greywater research is part of a homestead greywater feasibility study and focuses on two things: analyzing the greywater safeness of the products I currently use, and looking for locally available, affordable alternatives if needed. In this post I'll share what I've learned about the products I use. I try to be conscientious about what I use, so I was hoping they'd also be safe for greywater usage.

I focused on my three main concerns: pH, sodium, and boron (although read part one to see why I'm only nominally concerned about pH and boron.) There may be other problems with these products, for example health and environmental concerns, but in context this post only focuses on those three because of how they effect my greywater.

The biggest problem with analyzing cleaning products is ingredient labels, or rather lack of. Very few manufacturers give a detailed list of actual ingredients. Mostly they use advertising terms instead, things like "natural," "biodegradable" or "phosphate free." They rarely tell what's actually in the product. Thanks to the internet, I found much of this information online.

Following is a list of the products I use, their ingredients, anything else I learned about them, cost per use if applicable, and any concerns I have.

Laundry. I use either homemade laundry detergent or Charlie's Liquid Laundry Detergent. I don't use laundry softeners, stain removers (other than rubbing the stain with a bar of soap), or bleach.

Homemade laundry detergent: 
  • washing soda (sodium carbonate)
  • borax (boron)
  • and either Fels-Naptha laundry bar or Zote bar soap
  • Fels-Naptha 
    • sodium tallowate (beef tallow), sodium cocoate (coconut oil), sodium palmatate kernalate (palm kernel oil), and/or sodium palmate (palm oil)
    • water
    • talc
    • dipentene coconut acid, palm acid, and/or palm acid
    • peg-6 methyl ether
    • glycerine
    • sodium chloride (salt)
    • pentasodium pentetate and/or tetrasodium etdronate
    • titanium oxide (whitener)
    • tricloroban (antibacterial agent)
    • fragrance
    • acid orange 24 and yellow 73
  • or Zote 
    • Sodium tallowate
    • Sodium cocoate
    • Fragrance (citronella oil)
    • Optical brighteners
    • Dye (pink and blue bars only)

Cost per load: about $0.10.

Laundry water pH - I'm out at the moment so I don't know. Probably basic because based on what I read, liquid soaps and detergents tend to be neutral, solid soaps (bars and powders) are alkaline.

Concerns: Even without knowing exactly what all these chemicals are, I see "sodium" popping up everywhere, plus the boron. The whiteners, antibacterials, and coloring agents in the bar soaps are also a concern. If I do continue to make homemade laundry powder, I'll likely switch to homemade soap.

Charlie's Liquid Laundry Detergent
  • Water
  • Sodium carbonate (washing soda)
  • C12-15, Pareth-2 (biodegradable vegetable and mineral sourced surfactants)

Cost per load: for the 1-gallon size, less than $0.13

Laundry water pH - 7 (neutral), although the straight product is highly alkaline.

Concerns: The sodium of course. Also, there is some argument around the internet about the C12-15, Pareth-2. These are used in some Seventh Generation products which might lend a sense of credibility, but, on the other hand, Seventh Generation products are not considered greywater safe. I would like to further investigate the criticism over the surfactants.

Dishwashing. I've been using old-fashioned non-concentrated, Simply Clean original scent Dawn. Dawn is made by Procter & Gamble, who boast that "Dawn helps save wildlife," because it is used to safely bath animals rescued from oil spills. (Click that link for more information.) Sounds good, but does being safe to bath animals mean Dawn is safe to feed plants?

Finding an ingredient list was not easy. The only thing the label tells me is that it contains biodegradable surfactants and no phosphates. I finally tracked down a P&G MSDS for Dawn Simply Clean Original and discovered it contains this:
  • Sulfuric acid
  • mono-C10-16-alkyl esters
  • Amine oxides
  • C10-16-alkyldimethyl Poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl)
  • alpha-sulfo-omega-hydroxy-
  • C10-16-alkyl ethers
  • sodium salts
The hazard warning on that safety sheet is that it can cause eye irritation.

pH - neutral

Cost per use - I haven't tried to figure that one out

Concerns: although the amount of sodium appears to be small, my biggest question is whether these chemicals are petroleum based (as are many synthetic chemicals).

Cleaning. I use vinegar, dish soap, elbow grease, hydrogen peroxide, and a DIY scrubbing powder that I've really liked. Unfortunately it contains equal parts of:
  • table salt (sodium chloride)
  • washing soda (sodium carbonate)
  • borax (boron)

All huge no-nos! While small amounts of the washing soda and borax may not be too bad, pouring table salt on my garden doesn't seem like a good idea. The other scrubbing powder I keep on hand is Bon Ami Powder Cleanser. It contains:
  • Limestone
  • Feldspar
  • Surfactant from coconut and corn oil
  • Soda ash (washing soda or sodium carbonate)
  • Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)

Concerns: Soda ash and baking soda are listed last on the label, so at least I know they contain less sodium than my homemade scrubbing powder.

Bath Soap. I've used Ivory bar soap for a long time, recently found Clearly Natural bar soap, and also use some homemade soaps.

  • sodium tallowate (beef tallow) and/or sodium palmate (palm oil)
  • water
  • sodium palm kernelate (palm kernel oil), and/or sodium cocoate (coconut oil)
  • fragrance (in the aloe scented bars)
  • sodium chloride (salt)
  • glycerin
  • coconut acid
  • palm kernel acid
  • tallow acid
  • palm acid
  • citric acid
  • sodium citrate
  • tetrasodium (water softener)
  • aloe barbadensis leaf extract

Clearly Natural Soap
  • Glycerine
  • sodium stearate and sodium oleate (saponified coconut, palm and/or palm kernel)
  • decyl glucoside (vegetable-derived surfactants)
  • propanediol and sorbital (humectants)
  • sodium citrate
  • Fragranced versions contain a blend of natural aromas and essential oils

Homemade soaps - These basically contain fat and lye, which undergo a chemical process called saponification to make what we know as soap. According to the Caveman Chemist (interesting article here) saponification produces fatty acids, the names of which are all sodium somethingorotherate. The bottom line is that homemade soaps contain sodium and are alkaline (although aging the bars has something to do with how alkaline).

Concerns: are the same as for everything else, but honestly, I don't think I'm doing terrible bad on this one.

Shampoo - I just buy the junky stuff for dry hair because it's cheap. Ditto for conditioner. Shocking, I know.

Miscellaneous - Then there are all the little things that go down the drain, which may or may not be of concern. I'm not listing all of them, but am discovering that once I started analyzing this way, I realized that anything that goes on our bodies, ends up getting washed off.

  • Body care: Things like facial care, salves, and lotions. I have very dry skin so I like to keep lotion around. I make some of my own but also buy Burt's Bees products (of which some are considered greywater safe by the experts).
  • Deodorant: Yeah, even that gets washed off with a residue going down the drain. I've been using a deodorant stone for years. These are made of mineral salts (back to the salt again), although the synthetic ones are not pure.
  • Toothpaste: Another one I wouldn't have thought of. My current toothpaste is also homemade. I got the recipe from this website
    • 1/4 cup eggshell powder (I use shells from hard boiled eggs, drying thoroughly)
    • 2 tbsp coconut oil (which is liquid in summer and solid in winter)
    • 1 tbsp baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
    • a few drops of essential oil if desired (usually peppermint)

All in all, I'd have to say I don't think I'm doing too badly. One thing I'm learning is that there are no perfect cleaning products.

Interested in seeing what's in the products you use? You can either try to track them down with numerous searches like I did, or try these sites (which I discovered after all my research).

They don't contain some of the newer natural products that are out, but they're a good starting point for doing your own research.

July 28, 2016

Of Soap, Detergent, & Greywater

It's been a tough summer for gardening. We've been in the upper 90s since the beginning of May, with a stretch of 8 weeks and no rain. Even with heavy mulch and rainwater irrigation, my poor garden shifted from production mode to survival mode.

I took my garden soil's temperature the other day - 94°F (34°C)!
 What can grow in that! No wonder my harvest has been so poor.

By the time we'd emptied the last of our rainwater tanks, I couldn't help but think of all the water we're wasting as it goes down the drain to the septic tank.

Now, before anyone rushes to hit the comments to tell me I can't put greywater on my garden, please read the rest of the post. Dan and I have Art Ludwig's book and I highly recommend both his book and web page on greywater errors. Actually, I'm thinking more along the lines of modifying one of our original ideas for greywater use.

sketch of ideas for utilizing greywater
Sketch from "Homestead Master Plan, 2012 Revision."

That is, to use the water from the wetland filtration bed for some areas of the garden, and save the rainwater for root veggies and things we eat fresh.

I did my initial research on greywater while I was working on chapter nine of 5 Acres & A Dream The Book - "Water Self-Sufficiency." From that I still had unanswered questions; not so much the how and why, but the what. What products could I use in a greywater system that would be safe for plants?

Some things make sense to avoid and are fairly easy to do so by reading labels: chlorine bleach, anti-bacterials, synthetic colors and fragrances, whiteners, softeners, enzymes, and artificial preservatives. Other ingredients are pretty ubiquitous in cleaning products and more difficult to avoid, especially borax (boron) and sodium. My other concern is pH, because soaps and detergents make greywater alkaline.

Boron. In cleaning products, borax is the source of boron. Found on the laundry aisle at the grocery store, borax (sodium borate) is 11% boron. As a laundry cleaning booster, it cleans and whitens by converting some of the water molecules to hydrogen peroxide. Borax is also used as a boron supplement for boron deficient soil. Boron is an essential nutrient for plants, however, it can be toxic to them if allowed to accumulate. My soil is boron deficient, and it shows up as a clicking sound in my goats' knees. So in some ways, borax is not a major concern. This link to the Agronomic Library can give you details on boron if you're interested.

Sodium. Look at any ingredient list for soap, detergent. and cleaning products, and you'll find many a sodium something or other. Excessive soil sodium interferes with plants' ability to take up water so that they dry up. Plants can also experience toxic effects by accumulating too much sodium. Some of my soil tests have indicated high levels of sodium. What's the answer? According to Neil Kinsey, "An open soil with plenty of calcium and plenty of water will not permit sodium to accumulate." [Hands-On Agronomy, page 23. He has an entire chapter on soil sodium which is informative reading.] So even though there's somewhat of an answer for sodium, it's still something I would rather avoid.

pH. Almost all the products we tend to use as cleaners: washing soda, baking soda, soap, borax, etc. are alkaline. This can kill acid loving plants. My soil is actually quite acidic, so slightly alkaline water would offer some benefit and is probably the least of my concerns.

Ways to manage these problems in greywater systems include periodic flushing. Even better is to use pH neutral products that are not high in boron and sodium. This was the motivation behind this round of research.

I had two research goals. The first was how greywater friendly my current products actually are. I believe that we humans are intended to be stewards of the earth, which means we are responsible for what we do and how it impacts the earth's health. Consequently, I try to make conscientious choices in the things I use, but since I hadn't aimed for products that are specifically greywater safe, I wanted to know if I needed to make changes. This points to my second goal, which was to research what I could buy locally that would fit the bill. Putting everything I learned into one post made it too long, I thought, so I divided my results into two posts. Next I'll share what I've learned about the products I currently use.

Happily, it started raining again so my garden is back in production mode. Unfortunately so are the weeds, but that's another story.

July 25, 2016

3/4 Jars

A couple times a year my Dad sends me a box of empty canning jars. Most of them were sent by me to him and my stepmom, full of jams, jellies, and figs. They send them back and include any other jars they have saved, as long as those jars can be fitted with a regular-mouth canning ring.

All the commercial jars they send are made by Mason, and of course I want to reuse them. However, they have been downsized: the pint jars are actually 15 ounces and the quart jars only hold a pint and a half.

Camera doesn't do it justice!
This tendency to downsize seems to be across the board. We all know 2x4s are no long two inches by four inches. And does anyone else remember when cans of tuna fish contained 6 ounces? Or when they went down to 5.5 ounces? Now they're at 5; what next? There's hardly anything that can be purchased as a pound anymore, 16-ounce jars and cans now range from 14.25 to 15 ounces, and "quarts" are now 12 ounces. Instead of raising prices, they whittle down on what they give you. Makes more than one of my favorite recipes torn from old ladies magazines slightly off kilter.

And that's the problem: everything I cook is geared toward pints and quarts, because, thankfully, canning jars remain the same. A pint of pizza sauce makes three pizzas. A pint of figs is perfect for two breakfasts. A quart of soup is just the right amount for lunch. A 3/4-quart jar, on the other hand, is too much for some things or too little for others.

I have a growing number of these jars and have yet to figure out the best way to use them. Sure, I could recycle them, but I'm not convinced that the energy cost for recycling some things is really worth anything other than making us feel better for supposedly helping to save the planet. As far as glass recycling, I hear some places no longer accept glass for recycling, although I don't know what that's all about.

Do you save and reuse jars? Do you have some of these three-quarter jar? What do you do with them? What do you put in them? I'm open to ideas.

3/4 Jars © July 2016 by Leigh at

July 22, 2016


Colby, as in my newest buckling, because when I think of Wisconsin I think of dairy country and cheese. While "Cheddar" didn't seem like a good name for a goat, "Colby" seemed like a fine name. Why did I want a Wisconsin name? Because that's where Colby came from.

He arrived last Sunday, having come by way of Illinois. Last summer I bought three Kinder doelings from Kelsee and Lisa of Kinder Korner in Illinois.

When I heard Kelsee was heading my way once again to deliver more goats, I asked her about bucklings. It doesn't take long for a small herd like mine to become closely related. That means new genetics from time to time are important.

Long story short, Kelsee was heading to Wisconsin to pick up a buckling and suggested I contact the same folks to see if another was available. There was!

Colby is three months old and wondering where familiar goats and places are. He's very cautious of me but not afraid. One of my home-born bucklings (Thunder) went to a new home the next day, so Lightning is happy for the company. Clark is more interested in the does and not impressed.

My Billy Boys: Clark, Lightning, and Colby.

Some of the doelings are heading to new homes as well; it's that time of year. Soon we'll settle down to winter numbers and start planning for next year's kidding season. I love living by the rhythms of the year.

Colby © July 2016 by Leigh at

July 19, 2016

Milling the Big Ones

Some of you have asked if upgrading the goat shed was going to take the place of building the new barn. The answer to that is no, because we've always planned to build a proper workshop with storage someday. The goat shed will become that once the barn is done. So once Dan finished putting the new roof on the old goat shed, he thought he'd better finish milling the girders and posts for the new barn.

The logs were already down and sitting in the driveway, but a problem had developed which needed tending to. Plus, it was beginning to look like it's going to be awhile before building can begin, and Dan wanted all the lumber to have approximately the same curing time.

What was that problem? Pine bark beetle. Bark beetles infest the inner bark of trees and can be very destructive. They kill trees by disrupting the sap flow to the leaves. Removing infested trees is part of the management protocol, so cutting and milling our own lumber is hopefully helpful in that regard. At a certain point in the beetles' life cycle they make a curious clicking sound from under the bark of the tree, and the remainder of Dan's cut logs were clicking.

Once the new roof was secure Dan put on his lumberjack hat once again and recruited some help.

This is "Sister," the last of our Speckled Sussex
and one of our two oldest hens. She knew what to do.

Dan peeled sections of the bark off.

This exposed pine bark beetle larva.

Sister cleaned them up including the ones that fell to the ground

That was the easy part. Getting the logs onto the sawmill track was a bit trickier. How did he manage that by himself?

He made ramps of a sort with angle iron and pushed the logs up with the drawbar on the back of the tractor.

Then the milling could begin.

This presented another set of challenges because the logs are really too big for our little sawmill. Cutting down with the ripping chain was necessary.

Wedges helped.

Sister remained on duty, just in case,

but the snoopervisors kept their distance
because the whole business was too noisy.

That particular log gave Dan one 6x6, two 2x6s, and three 2x10s. He would have gotten more if the trunk hadn't been curved. From the other huge logs I showed you in the first photo, he got five 15-foot 6x12s, plus some 1- and 2-inch boards to be cut to size as he needs them.

So there it is, the bones of the new barn, all properly stacked, stickered, and covered. Summer staycation is almost over, so these will have to sit for awhile. Happily everything will be cured and ready to go when it's time to build.

Milling the Big Ones © July 2016 by Leigh