Frugal Tips, Safe Cleaning

My 3 Favorite Green Finds

If I had to choose one green item to take with me to a desert island, I’d choose white vinegar. My kids joke that our house runs on vinegar, because we use it for cleaning, as a fabric softener, to unclog drains (with my second favorite green item, baking soda), as a mild disinfectant and probably several other things that escape me at the moment.

It’s wonderful for removing that overpowering smell you get from new clothes. It cuts down on static cling and wrinkles if you put it in the final rinse in your washer. It removes the smell of smoke from clothes, curtains and even hair, although we use apple cider vinegar as a hair rinse and detangler.

There’s nothing better than vinegar for washing windows and getting greasy counters clean. Put a handful of baking soda in your drain, add a cup or two of vinegar all at once, and you get a mini-Vesuvius that powers away clogs and soap scum.

Next to vinegar, I’d have to opt for baking soda as a favorite green find. It’s as good as scouring powder for getting soap scum off the tub without scratching. Put it in your water-pic and/or brush your teeth with it. (I add a drop or two of peppermint oil for flavoring.) Put it in the tub to soften the water. Use it as a poultice for insect bites and stings. You can even throw it on a grease fire to smother the flames.

Third on my list of green essentials is Sal Suds. I use Dr. Bronner’s brand and I use it for everything. My son even used it to remove permanent ink from a rug. It’s dandy for deodorizing and cleaning stinky things like diaper pails and cat boxes (after you tip out the litter and any resident cats, of course) and great for toilet bowls. We leave some in overnight, brush and flush the next morning, and avoid the buildup that our hard water causes.

Because we don’t use bleach, we pour a capful of Sal Suds into the whites every so often and it works just as well at getting the gray out. It cleans our wood floors, painted walls, and everything else that’s washable. It is strong, though, so it might be a good idea to wear rubber gloves. I don’t, but I do rinse my hands well afterwards.

So those are my three green stalwarts. There are other things like liquid castile soap and essential oils that are part of my green toolkit, but they’re minor players. The big three take care of 90% of the household cleaning and maintenance chez Hawkins. Best of all, they’re really inexpensive, which is part of being green to me. If it doesn’t save money as well as save the earth, it’s not really green.

Eco-Conscious, Frugal Tips

It’s Spring! Time to Think About A Greener Winter

I’m just back from my spring vacation and feeling refreshed and ready to tackle all the things I’ve been putting off. At the top of my list is Winter. That might sound a little odd considering that the leaves are unfurling on the maple where a pair of cardinals hunt for buds and bugs outside my window, but stay with me here and I promise it’ll make perfect sense.

As I’ve said before, we live in a drafty, old house whose saving grace is that it’s in the middle of sixty private acres of woods and fields. Also on the property is a small building with two studio apartments in it, where my late mother lived until October of 2005. Now, we use it for storage and for a guesthouse, mostly in the summer. Although we installed a pellet stove three years ago, and although we keep the heat down to 68 in the daytime and 55 at night, and even lower at the apartment house, our oil bill is enormous and getting bigger with each winter.

Every winter, we resolve to do something about it and every spring, when warm weather comes, we promptly get sidetracked by gardening and outdoor pursuits. Then, before we know it, it’s fall and we’re scurrying around, trying to weatherstrip and figure out how to cut down on heating costs. This year, it’s going to be different. This year, we’re going to prepare for winter during spring and summer.

While we were on vacation, the kids and I brainstormed and came up with several ideas to save money and help the environment next winter. First on our list of things to do is weatherstripping. Our doors and windows are old and we can’t afford new ones, so we need to do more than stuff the cracks with plastic bags, like we did with the door in the basement. The frame is so warped that no amount of weatherstripping completely fills the cracks, so in desperation one cold winter’s day, I shoved supermarket bags into the cracks around it with a piece of old wire. It worked, somewhat, but it wasn’t pretty.

Next week, a local carpenter is coming over to give us an estimate on weatherstripping all the doors and windows – the right way. In our windy, top of the hill location, we need more protection from the winter blasts than just shopping bags can give us, that’s for sure. If the frames need to be squared, he’ll be able to do it so that the weatherproofing will work.

In order to pay for the carpenter, we’ll be saving money by hanging the clothes outside to dry. In the warmer weather, this is easy, but we’re going to continue to do without the clothes dryer even when it’s cold. Of course, in Maine, hanging out clothes in the winter can mean frostbite and frozen clothes, so we’ve come up with another idea.

We already use clothes racks in the basement near the furnace for delicate items all year ’round. Why not add some more racks and a retractable line or two and use them to dry all the clothes when it’s too cold to hang them outside? That way, the humidity from the clothes will also add moisture to the dry winter air that bothers us all winter. The exercise from hanging them and retrieving them won’t hurt my winter weight gain either, let me tell you.

With the dryer shut off and saving us about $60/month, we’ll be able to turn our attention to another big utility hog – the room over the garage. It’s zoned with our bedroom, bathroom, living room and study and it’s not very well insulated. Of course, the unheated garage beneath it doesn’t help and then there’s the fact that it faces northeast, where most of our windiest, coldest weather comes from. So, we’re going to get rid of it.

No, not by hiring a demolition expert. We’re going to have a heating technician cap off the pipe to the baseboard heater that goes to it. That way, we can just close the door to the room’s stairs and keep the heat in the rest of that zone. We don’t use the room in the winter anyway, only in the warmer months, so the cold won’t hurt it.

We’re going to do the same thing on a more drastic scale to the apartment house. We’re having an expert “weatherize” it by draining the pipes, filling them with food-grade antifreeze and doing whatever else needs to be done to get it through the winter without heat. Because its oil tank is outside, we have to use a higher grade of fuel for its furnace, so this should save us a bundle.

I’m sure there are other things that we’ll discover while we’re waging our campaign to make next winter less costly than this winter was. I’m thinking we could paint the outside of the basement wall black instead of white and get some passive solar heating going and Son is thinking of making a solar window heater he’s seen plans for.

What about your house? Did it cost you a bundle this winter because it isn’t weatherized? Are there things you could do, like drying clothes on a line instead of in a clothes dryer, that would help the environment as well as your budget? Or do you know someone who could use your help with projects like these? Maybe an elderly relative or neighbor or a single mom or dad who’s struggling to make ends meet. Whether you do it for yourself or someone else, it’s never too early to prepare for winter.

Authors bio: Brooke from, Spokane has the potential to offer a special quality of life offered no where else on earth. Our story is one of unwavering enthusiasm, and belief in the transformative power of Spokane’s continued redemption and rebirth.

Eco-Conscious, Frugal Tips

Green and Frugal Home Furnishings

Is your sofa a little worn? Has your recliner declined? Does your coffee table look like it’s been attacked by a family of beavers? Maybe you need to redecorate, but that doesn’t mean you have to fill your living room with toxic chemicals or spend a fortune. If you’re willing to be flexible and a little creative, you can furnish your living room with cozy furniture that won’t outgas and doesn’t cost a fortune.

Do a search for patio furniture. That’s right. Find furniture that’s green, made of sustainable materials and sturdy enough to stand up to the elements – or your hyperactive toddler and Black Lab. Whether it’s made of bamboo, “polywood” which is a recycled material made from milk jugs and other plastic, eucalyptus or another sustainably harvested wood, patio furniture can be used to decorate a living room, den or even a dining room

Add some cushions to a wooden couch. Use a bookcase for a bedside table or divider. Put a bamboo lounger in front of the TV and really relax. Hey, there are no rules anymore. Anything goes, as long as you like it and it’s comfortable. Of course, if it’s eco-conscious and fits into the budget, it’s even better.

May I suggest that you investigate making your own cushions with kapok or natural latex rubber filling and cotton or wool coverings? If you’re not into sewing, maybe you can find some cotton slipcovers at Goodwill or have someone run you up some for a small fee. Or maybe you can barter. If there’s something that you have that a seamstress wants, you’re in business.

I once traded some healthy strawberry plants for a dining room table. There are all kinds of possible deals if you talk to people wherever you go. Let people know that you’re looking for a sustainable wood kitchen island, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly one will turn up. Start looking at patio furniture as less expensive eco-furniture for the living room and you’ll be sitting pretty in no time.

Eco-Conscious, Frugal Tips

6 Simple Ways You Can Save Money On Utility Bills

Utility bills are a big part of our budgets. Gas and oil prices are rising everyday and electricity is expensive. Trying to keep up with rising prices is hard enough without wasting money on energy thieves. Are you guilty of these cleaning mistakes that waste energy?

1.How about the baseboard heaters? When is the last time that you took off the covers and gave them a good vacuuming and then a wipe with a damp cloth? Did you know that dust build-up reduces heat output? So you’re wasting money on oil or electricity if your baseboard heaters are dirty.

2.What about your computer’s CPU? When you start thinking about places that dirt can build up in your environment, think about anything with a fan. Anywhere that a fan pulls in outside air – for instance your computer’s CPU – should be vacuumed at least every few days. When dust builds up on components inside the CPU, it takes longer for heat to dissipate, which shortens the life of the unit and uses more electricity.

3.Hairdryers also have fans. When is the last time you really looked at the intake on your hair dryer or gently vacuumed the lint and hair out of it? If you let it build up too long, it can actually catch on fire. Even if it doesn’t, just like the baseboard heaters, it has to work harder to do the same amount of drying, so keep it clean and save electricity and drying time.

4.When was the last time you cleaned your dryer vent? Especially in winter weather, many people forget to clean their outside dryer vent. Sure, the little door is supposed to open automatically and release lint into the air, but lint still builds up on the inside of the vent and even on the pipe inside the house. It’s very important that you check the vent regularly, clean the vent and as far inside the pipe as you can. There are long brushes that can do this and you can find them at hardware or home products stores.

5.Have you vacuumed your fridge lately? Not the inside; the coils. Either in back or underneath your fridge, there are coils of tubing that hold the refrigerant that cools your food. These are delicate and you have to be careful when vacuuming that you don’t break them, because the refrigerant is poisonous. Just gently vacuum the surface, because when they’re dust-covered, they don’t work as efficiently. It takes more time and electricity to cool the interior.

6.Isn’t this a bright idea? Clean your lightbulbs. When they’re off, just wipe them with a damp cloth. Dust makes them dimmer and can even make some of them overheat, which can make them fail sooner than a clean bulb.

It doesn’t take long to get the dust and dirt off these items. The time it takes is worth it when you think of the money you’ll save. And let’s not forget that using less energy is better for the environment, which is certainly as important as saving money is.

Frugal Tips, Green Consumer

I’ll Say It Again: You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Be Green

It’s summer and I’m busy, so here’s a post I wrote back in March that’s even truer today.)

Most of us are feeling the economic pinch of higher prices these days. Rising fuel and heating costs are contributing to higher prices for just about everything. So how can the average family combine cutting back on luxuries with going greener? True, many organic, natural and eco-mindful products cost more than the cheapest alternatives, but that just doesn’t mean that we have to give up and buy generic detergent at the dollar store. It means that we have to be ever more creative, innovative and clever. It also means that we might have to trade time and/or convenience for cost.

For instance, I love 7th Generation products. I’ve used them for years and I know that they work as well or better than their polluting, less ecologically sound counterparts. At my supermarket, they’re usually priced higher than the generic brands, but sometimes only a few cents higher than the big national brands like that detergent that comes in the orange package, for instance. What really helps is their newsletter and the coupons they almost always have on their site.

I signed up for their newsletter a while ago and have enjoyed several of their coupons since then. Here’s the link if you’d like to sign up to get the Seventh Generation newsletter. And here’s the link for their coupon page. Last time I looked, they had coupons for cleaning products, diapers and detergent. I really like their new 2X concentrated detergents.

Here are some other sources for green coupons: Pristine Planet always has a good selection. My favorite coupon site for everything RetailMeNot has a long list of coupons for green goods. However, be sure that you check the expiration date on the coupon you want to use. Some of them are out of date. also has a very good selection of online, offline and printable coupons.

If you can’t find a coupon, maybe you can use something else. A couple of pieces of aluminum foil for dryer sheets. White vinegar in the fabric softener ball instead of that blue softener that has formaldehyde in it. Hey, you want to soften your clothes, not embalm them, right? Ditch the paper towels and say what we do when we dust. Holey socks, Batman! (Since my only method of darning socks involves dropping them into a trash can while muttering, “Darn these socks!”, dusting with them works better than darning them.)

Use your ingenuity and figure out how to do things without all the gadgets and plastic junk they sell at Wally World. You can do it. You might even find that it’s fun to think outside the box. (And after you’re done, give the box to your kid to play with instead of buying them a lead paint covered cute little toy from the discount store. Kids love boxes.)

If you think of anything that can help save money and the earth at the same time, share it in a comment. I’m always up for new green info – and saving green too.