This is a “Part 2” to my previous post “What Fair Trade Looks Like

When you buy Fair Trade, you are not only supporting all manner of good things for the employees of that company, but you are also contributing to the community surrounding it.  With Fair Trade, a fund is set up specifically for the support of community programs.  Again, let me show you what this looks like for Serendipol, who supplies Dr. Bronner’s coconut oil, based in Kuliyapitiya, Sri Lanka.

One of my favorite parts of my week in Sri Lanka was visiting several of these project sites.  There are many projects that the company supports, so I’ll focus on the three I got to see.

Project #1: Tank Cleaning

First, a bit of history that is relevant in Sri Lanka today.

Sri Lanka is an ancient land that has been peopled by advanced civilizations for several thousand years.  This is readily apparent in their complex irrigation systems of canals and reservoirs, which they call tanks.

These tanks are ubiquitous and impressive.  In the area of Kuliyapitiya alone, there are more than 4000 tanks, ranging in size from a couple acres, to many hundreds.  Crucial for the optimal growing of rice, a staple food, these tanks allow farmers to grow two full crops of rice every year.

That is to say, when the tanks are clean.  Which they’re not.

tank infested with invasive water hyacinth

“Ooh, what pretty water lilies!” Yeah, no.  This is a tank infested with invasive water hyacinth, an all too common site driving around Sri Lanka.

During World War II, Sri Lanka was a British colony and was base for several Allied operations.  For this reason, it was also a target of the enemy fighter pilots.  A plan was hatched to fool the enemy into mistaking water for land by covering over all the tanks with plants so that if a plane attempted to land on one, it would crash into water instead.  An invasive non-native species of water hyacinth was introduced into all the tanks.  The water hyacinth thoroughly covered over the tanks.  They do indeed look like cleared land, a perfect spot to set down a plane.  Except none ever did.  In my less than exhaustive research, I still couldn’t find evidence that this scheme ever caught one enemy plane.

At the end of the war, no effort was made to clear the hyacinth from the tanks.  And though nearly 70 years have passed, the tanks are still infested.

The hyacinths consume so much of the water, they reduce the available water to the farmers by at least half.  Farmers who used to be able to grow abundant rice, two full crops a year, now can only grow one.

Enter Serendipol

Serendipol has set itself the goal of cleaning up 10 of these tanks every year in the Kuliyapatiya area, where the factory is located. They’ve done 20 so far.  To clean a tank, Serendipol partners with the neighboring farmers who use the particular tank.  The farmers provide the labor, Serendipol provides the funds for the necessary equipment.  Serendipol is careful to ensure the farmers have a sense of ownership of the project so that they maintain the tank after the initial clean-up.

I had the honor of attending a ceremony commemorating the completion of one of these tank clean ups.  The tank was absolutely beautiful.

Serendipol Clean Water Tank

Not only will this tank now provide twice as much water for the farmers, but also, since the water level in the tank has risen, the water levels in the surrounding wells (which most houses have) have risen. I partially understand the physics of it, but not enough to explain here.  Someone can have a go at it in the comments below.  But I can totally grasp the idea that having more water in the wells is a very good thing.

fair trade programme of serendipol

Another awesome benefit from these tank cleaning projects is that the removed water hyacinth mass provides the necessary nitrogen matter for Serendipol’s organic compost production.  So it’s finally good for something.  Which leads into my next project…

Project #2: Organic Compost

This one is hard to pinpoint whether it benefits Serendipol most or the community or the earth… Which I guess is the best kind of project of all.  Serendipol has an organic compost making facility.  It sells the compost to its coconut farmers at a rate subsidized by the Fair Trade fund so that it costs the same as the governmentally subsidized petrochemical fertilizer available.

And here’s the part I absolutely love – it brings so much of what they do full circle. (I am restraining myself from adding exclamation points here, because I really do believe this is very exciting.)

The compost is made out of – get this:

Coconut husks (from Serendipol’s coconuts)

Water hyacinths (from Serendipol’s tank cleaning projects)

Chicken litter (organic)

Cow manure (organic)

fair trade serendipol compost pile

There is so much life in those piles of composting materials! So much potential! I enjoyed my tour there.

Compost is fabulous because it takes what would otherwise be considered waste and turns it into something essential.  The compost is bagged up into 25 kilo bags and sold back to the farmers who grow the coconuts whose husks go back to produce more compost which grow the coconuts….  I love that!  It’s so tidy!

Project #3: Vocational Training

This project is truly beautiful partially because it directly improves human lives that would otherwise have little opportunity to thrive.  Near Serendipol is a government-run home for girls.  As in the U.S., when the girls turn 18, they graduate out of the home.  They often leave with few employable skills.

Serendipol has purchased 12 industrial sewing machines and provided the salary for an instructor so that girls ages 14-18 learn an employable skill to use once they graduate. The class is in its second term and was preparing for an exhibition when we visited.

I was blown away by the skill of these girls.  I can sew moderately well, which means I can follow a pattern as long as it has mostly straight lines.  These girls not only could operate these lightning fast machines with accuracy, but their handwork was astoundingly intricate.

vocational training fair trade program

I could have used a lesson or two from this talented teacher and her students!  

adorable toddler pajamas

Here’s an adorable set of toddler pajamas.

intricate embroidered infant dress

Astoundingly intricate hand embroidery on an infant dress.

These are only three of the many Fair Trade projects that Serendipol has done.  Others include digging wells and installing bathrooms at schools, providing medical equipment for a cancer treatment center in wartorn Jaffna, connecting villages to the power grid, and renovating bridges.

And this is just one of Dr. Bronner’s many international Fair Trade projects.  Check out more of what’s going on at our dedicated website, Serendiworld.  When you purchase a Dr. Bronner’s project, you too are contributing to these excellent operations.

 

 

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How Do You Get Your Water?

July 28th, 2014

It’s funny how something I take for granted sounds utterly bizarre when I explain it to someone else.  Case in point: a conversation I had in Sri Lanka about water where I learned I take the entirety of populated southern California for granted.

In Sri Lanka, water falls from the sky.  Water also bubbles up from the ground.  Houses have wells.  Rivers are numerous.  These are concepts that are pretty foreign to my desert mind.

So here’s the conversation:

“How deep do you have to dig a well before you hit water?” I asked.

“About 20 or 30 feet.”

“Wow! That’s really shallow.  Where we live you would have to dig about 6 or 700 feet before you hit water. And then it would be too alkaline to use for irrigation. And it would cost about $20,000, so individuals don’t have them.”

“Do you have lakes?”

“Manmade ones, but they don’t provide enough water.”

“Do you have rivers?”

“No”

“Does it rain?”

“It hasn’t for many months now.”

“Then where do you get your water?”

“Well, we build aquaducts through the desert to bring water from hundreds of miles away from the Colorado River and northern California.  A lot of it evaporates along the way.  And a lot of it mysteriously disappears.  We also desalinate the ocean, but that’s still pretty expensive.  There’s a lot of arguing about water rights.”

“Why was the city built where there was no water?”

—- Long pause —-  “Well, the weather’s nice.”

 

I was feeling pretty confounded by this point.  They didn’t really have anything to say about that either.  We changed the subject.  But I still don’t know why we built a metropolis in the middle of the desert.  But then, Las Vegas is even more unlikely, so that makes me feel a little better.

All in all, though, this is one of the fabulous things about travel.  I get a whole new perspective on my own way of life.  I see that the way I do things is not the only way to do things. Sometimes I see a better way, sometimes not.  Most of the time I find that there is no better or worse.  There’s just different. And that’s the best of all.

Water Well in Kaliyapitiya

Here’s the well at our bungalow in Kaliyapitiya. 

 

River in Kaliyapitiya

A wealth of rivers crisscross the island fueling every shade of growing green imaginable.  

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It’s almost noon.  Do you know where your Dr. Bronner’s hand sanitizer is?  Yesterday, mine accompanied me to the top of Sri Lankan landmark Sigiriya, the Lion Rock, atop which sits the ruins of a magnificent palace.

the top of Sri Lankan landmark Sigiriya Dr Bronner Hand Sanitizer There’s a fascinating story about this place with an extremely abrupt ending.  Around 473 AD Prince Kassapa, jealous of his half-brother Moggallana’s claim on the throne, walled his dad the king up alive and then chased his half-bro out of the country.  Fearing Moggallana’s inevitable return, he moved his royal headquarters to the unassailable top of the 1000+ foot Sigiriya Rock. In just 7 years, the palace up there was built and I can only imagine the talk around the water cooler by the workers that had to haul the bricks up there piece by piece.  And I got jittery using the steel steps with sturdy railings carrying nothing.  Anyhow, in only 7 years they built this stunning palace that even included an enormous water tank whose means of filling is still under debate. The king and his entourage are all installed up there, when Moggallana returns with an army of mercenaries.

Lisa Bronner in Front of 1000+ foot Sigiriya Rock

Here’s where the story takes an unexpected left turn.  It seems to me, now I’m no military tactician, but it seems to me that the whole idea of setting up shop on top of a 1000 foot rock is so that when the enemy comes, they can’t get you.  However, if you don’t stay on top of the rock, the rock can’t protect you.  Nonetheless, when big bro returned with his army, little bro K went down the rock and rode out in front to meet the oncoming troops on an elephant.  Due to some serious miscommunication, K’s troop’s thought he was retreating, and they themselves scurried back up the rock, leaving K to face his bro’s attack alone.  K promptly fell on his sword and died.

As I said it ended abruptly.  And because on top of a huge rock is a fairly inconvenient place from which to rule a kingdom, Moggalana moved the capital back to the ancient city of Anuradhapura.  So all that work was only royally useful for about 15 years, but it left behind what are now astoundingly splendid ruins.

Going Down is Dangerous

This is my favorite sign on Sigiriya.  It’s at the top.  It seems like it would have been much more useful at the bottom.  Once you’re at the top, there’s no help for the fact that you have to go down.  And it doesn’t offer any advice – “hold the handrail”, “go slow”, “don’t look down”.

Back to the hand sanitizer. 

This has been a great companion in all my traipsing around Sri Lanka.  Because of it, I’ve been able to enjoy a mango from a roadside stand with nary a washroom in sight.  I’ve been able to have a snack atop Sigiriya after clinging to the steel railings all the way up, right behind all 20 million people ahead of me that day.  (There aren’t sinks up there, either.)  And on the airplane, I was able to settle my tummy with a little bite to eat while we were jouncing along over the Atlantic making the bathroom inaccessible.

Other ways the hand san has come in handy:

  • A quick clean of my camera lens – I sprayed the edge of my shirt and wiped the lens.  (I probably just made some true photographers faint.)
  • Spraying a public toilet seat that looked, um, well used.
  • Quick relief from a mosquito bite before the itching set in too badly. (Quick Plug – I didn’t get many bites, thanks to my All Terrain Herbal bug repellent.  Good stuff!)

Best of all, since the sanitizer comes in a 3 oz. bottle, you can take it through security with your carry-on, no problem.

So when your deciding what to take and what to leave behind, the hand san has an excellent size:functionality ratio. In addition to the germ killing on hands, it has all the other little uses I’ve mentioned before that help reduce the number of miscellaneous products you’ll need to pack.

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A Closer Look at Fair Trade

July 16th, 2014

The Bronner Mom is far from home.  In fact, I could hardly be further.  Kuliyapatiyia, Sri Lanka.  A 12 ½ hour time change.  Site of Dr. Bronner’s Fair Trade coconut oil project Serendipol.  And before you go off thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Sri Lanka.  I bet she does that all the time”, let’s get one thing straight.  I don’t.

I am learning firsthand what Fair Trade is all about.  In a nutshell (coconut shells, to be exact!) Fair Trade is a certification that verifies all the practices you hope your favorite companies already do.  Fair Trade is about people – paying living wages and providing community benefits for farmers, workers and their families.

“I buy organic.  Doesn’t that mean it’s all good?”

Organic means a lot of good things: no petrochemical pesticides, no synthetics, no GMO’s to name a few.  But Organic is completely silent about the issue of labor.  While it is better for laborers not to be exposed to all that, they could still be paid pittance, work in slummy conditions, and live in near poverty while providing us with our organic goodies. This is where Fair Trade comes in.  Organic certification is a pre-requisite for Fair Trade certification.

What Fair Trade looks like at Serendipol

A witness to worker well-being at Serendipol is the employee retention rate.  Workers stay.  They don’t find better work elsewhere.  What they have at Serendipol is very good.

Guaranteed year round work.

Annual bonuses

Daily production incentives

Fixed monthly salaries

Direct deposit bank accounts

Eye care and medical benefits

school books , uniforms and shoes annually for all employee children

Grants for employee personal home improvement projects.

There’s also a physiotherapist on site twice weekly to assist workers in worker-related muscle fatigue or strain.  There are morale boosting annual family celebrations with cricket, badminton, and other competitions.  There are educational opportunities for workers and farmers to provide advancement or increased yield.

Here’s one evidence of the improvement in the socio-economic well being of the workers:

Dr Bronner Employee Bike Shed

Initially, the factory provided a shed for all the employees’ bikes.  Now, more space is needed for their motorcycles.  Some employees already have tuk-tuks (local three wheeled vehicles) or even cars.  Gordon de Silva, Serendipol’s Managing Director,  joked, but seriously, that he’s soon going to have to buy additional property for employee parking.

Serendipol is a state of the art facility whose goal in 2014 is to process 20 million coconuts.  They’re on track.  They receive 17 truckloads of nuts every day.

The Gleaming Silos

These gleaming silos hold the oil before final filtration.

Dr Bronner Coconuts

That’s a lot of coconuts!

Dr Bronner Vegetable Garden

Here’s an on-site vegetable garden whose produce is all given to employees.

Dr Bronner Building in Serendipol

The buildings at Serendipol are beautifully constructed.

grounds are lush and manicured with landscaped paths flower beds

The grounds are lush and manicured with landscaped paths, flower beds, and even a badminton court.  There is also an employee canteen to provide a comfortable place for them to eat their meals.

I’m going to stop here for the day and I haven’t even gotten to the multitude of Community Improvement Projects Serendipol has funded.  Stay tuned.

Fair Trade is not as widespread as it should be.  It’s a concept many consumers as well as suppliers and manufacturers are still finding out about.  You won’t find all your products available with Fair Trade options.  But the ball has started rolling.  Help it pick up speed by

Asking companies to pursue Fair Trade certification

Buying products from companies with strong Fair Trade certification

Educating friends and associates about what Fair Trade is and how much it does.

 

Check out more information about Serendipol on the Dr. Bronner’s website, www.drbronner.com, including the Coconut Rock video.  Also, our Serendiworld site shares about all of our Fair Trade operations worldwide.  

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Six legged stowaways are a possibility on any produce.  Yes, I mean bugs.  Are they toxic?  Not usually.  Do I want to eat them?  Not personally.  Even without the critters, produce just needs a little bath.  And even moreso, non-organic produce that might be waxed - such as apples or cucumbers - definitely need a scrub.

Once again, enter Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soaps and Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds.

Bug Elimination

As I’ve established before, critters with exoskeletons perish in the presence of Castile soap and I still don’t know why.  However, it is a great help with buggy leaves.  Here’s a fabulously effective remedy when you come across a head of lettuce or bunch of kale with some tagalongs:

Needed:

1 or 2 big bowls filled with cool water

Castile soap (I use the Citrus in the very off chance that it doesn’t get fully rinsed.  A little citrus would blend right in, where eucalyptus or tea tree might not.)

Process:

Squirt the castile soap into one of the bowls of water.  (I don’t measure this, but I would guess about half a tablespoon.  And it doesn’t get bubbly, but it might get cloudy.) Separate the leaves from the head or bunch and plunge them whole into the bowl of slightly soapy water.  You can put many leaves in at a time as long as there’s still room for swishing the water around them.  Swish, swish, swish the leaves.  You’ll notice a lot of floaters in your bowl. Then, take the leaves out, shake the water off a bit and plunge them into the bowl of clear water.  (Or if you only have one bowl, dump the soapy water and add clean water and do the same.)  Dry the leaves however you prefer.

“But Lisa, that’ll take FOREVER!”  Honestly, it’s taken me much, much longer to write this description that it takes me to wash a head of lettuce.  Once you’ve identified the bowl and grabbed the soap, it’s really a quick thing to do.

Dirt elimination

If your produce just has a bit of field dust on it, either the Castile Soap or Sal Suds will get rid of it.  I prefer using a big bowl of water with either one added to it, as opposed to washing under running water.  I think it saves time and water in the long run for me, but then, I’m usually washing a lot at one time.

With Castile Soap: Fill a big bowl with water; add a small squirt of castile soap.  Swish your produce and rinse.

With Sal Suds: Add just a drop or two to a big bowl of water and swish away.

Wax elimination

The wax that is put on certain non-organic produce to make it more presentable and even preserves it a bit can be trickier to eliminate.  However, Sal Suds is the best option for this job.  Take that big bowl of water and add the two drops of Sal Suds.  Dunk the produce and take a soft cloth to rub the wax off gently.  Rinse and dry and there you go.  Check out a quick video about it here.

 

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I can always tell who has been in the refrigerator.  Its stainless steel doors keep clear record of which grimy hand closed it recently.  This is the “half-full” benefit of having all stainless steel appliances in my kitchen.  The “half empty” side points out how stainless steel mercilessly exhibits every fingerprint, water spot, grease splatter, or wayward breath that has dared come near it.

When I first moved into this house, I knew it was not built for the likes of me.  I can’t blame all the mess on my short ones.  I like to cook.  I like to cook often.  I am a messy cook.  The upside is that I have LOTS of opportunities to try out my cleaning solutions.

And so I bought countless products that were supposedly the miracle stainless steel surface cleaners.  None of them worked.  It took someone outside the family to point me back to the basics: a hot cloth and my Sal Suds All Purpose Spray.  Boy, did I feel sheepish for not figuring it out sooner!

My Sal Suds All Purpose Spray:

1 quart water

1 Tbsp. Sal Suds

In a quart spray bottle, in that order.

The video also shows my beloved microfiber cloths.  These are crucial with stainless steel because the little nubblies pick up the grease and fingerprints.  When the cloth is hot, it works even faster and more effectively.

I’m coming to appreciate the stainless.  It is pretty. And it does encourage me to clean up after myself. And someday it will go out of fashion.

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Where I live, wasting water is akin to eating baby seals. With that in mind, waiting to get hot water at my kitchen sink becomes a soul-wrenching experience. However, I need hot washcloths roughly 73 times a day.

Hot washcloths greatly decrease cleaning time while increasing cleaning effectiveness. While there are many things to do with the “waiting for it to heat” water – filling a watering can for houseplants or the dogs’ water bowl, washing a not too dirty pot – many times, my plants and dogs are well watered, my pots are all clean, and I still need a hot washcloth.

So here’s a quick tip on overcoming this existential quandary:

Plus, this gives me one of the three powerhouse tools for the safest and most effective cleaning: Heat. Attack messes with the triple punch of cleanliness: thermal, mechanical, chemical.  (Bear in mind that “chemical” means something that cleans on a molecular level, which includes Dr. Bronner’s castile soaps and Sal Suds .) What this looks like for me is Dr. Bronner’s and a hot, microfiber cloth.

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I think of myself as a blonde. In my mind, my hair looks like this:

Lisa Bronner at 6 years old

Here’s a more recent picture:

Lisa Bronner and daughter

I’m the one who is not the baby. The one who is not blonde.

Faced with this reality, I needed to change either how I thought of my hair or my hair itself, so I took the easier route. I became a highlighter. Otherwise I would have had to change my driver’s license.

Time out! Let’s step back a bit to what I wrote about my personal conversion from shampoo to soap. It ended with the somewhat devastating disclaimer that soap, due to its alkalinity, is unsuitable for color-treated hair. The higher-than-7 pH of the soap – 8.9 to be exact – causes the hair follicles where color is stored, to open up, allowing the color to escape. There has been keen disappointment in the comments over this disclaimer, and I absolutely hate disappointing people. Now I’m here to offer some hope. Hope in the form of highlights. But how can I get away with highlighting and still wash my hair with Dr. Bronner’s soaps?

Think of highlighting as a controlled color-stripping process wherein color is strategically removed to look like naturally occurring highlights. Color is taken out, not added in. There is no stored dye to worry about. Aha! A new day has dawned!

Warning: If you never, ever venture into the world of hair color, you may want to look away from this paragraph. The world of color is no simple sphere, so let me spin your head some more. When hair is professionally highlighted, stylists sometimes add lowlighting back in. This is more subtle streaking of color that creates depth. So, if your hair is lowlighted as well as highlighted, then you’re back in the “color added” category and the soap is not for you.

Breaking this down:

  • ➢ Highlights only = Dr. B’s soaps OK
  • ➢ Highlights and Lowlights = soaps not OK
  • ➢ Color-treated hair = soaps not OK

All of this to say, Dr. Bronner’s Castile and Shikakai soaps are safe on highlighted hair. Allow me to say that again: Dr. Bronner’s soaps are safe on highlighted hair! Release the confetti.

If you have never dabbled in the realm of hair color, I probably lost you at the first “blonde”. By the time we hit “lowlighting”, you had crossed the state line. However, if you are a highlighter, or are looking for a way to change your “look” but still want to use an organic, Fair Trade soap for shampooing, Dr. Bronner’s has your answer. As always, follow up a Dr. Bronner’s Castile or Shikakai hair wash with the Dr. Bronner’s Citrus Conditioning Hair Rinse. It balances out the pH which is always necessary to keep our tresses happy. And the Dr. Bronner’s Leave-In Conditioning Hair Crème adds extra moisturizing.

And I am happy to be a blonde again.

Lisa Bronner

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Deodorizing the Garbage Disposal

February 26th, 2014

Recently, my son learned the unforgettable life lesson known as “what-happens-when-you-leave-a-hard-boiled-egg-in-your-lunch-box-over-a-three-day-weekend.” Unhappily, the rest of us got to experience the natural consequences of that lesson as well. Rotten eggs really do smell as horrendously horrible as they are reputed. Until now, I had happily never actually smelled one. But, oh my stars, now I know for sure: rotten eggs smell like rotten eggs. It knocks you flat.

Of course (and if you spend time with kids, you know this is an “of course”), at the moment my son opened that ill-fated container, my other son simultaneously knocked a shelf out of the refrigerator, (“I accidentally backed into it”) and eggnog – the alcoholic kind – was running across the kitchen floor. I sensed a theme here.

What were my options? The rotten egg demanded to be dealt with first. The dog was handling the eggnog just fine. I didn’t want to put that bomb in my trash can.  The trash truck had come the day before and if that egg waited another week, the trash can would never recover and my neighbors might seek legal action. I thought about burying it, but that would only attract wildlife. I opted for the garbage disposal.

Maybe there was a better option, but in the midst of that stench, it wasn’t apparent. Down the garbage disposal it went. Unfortunately, the stench did not go down with it.

Lemon Slices

Providentially, winter in southern California is lemon season, and I happen to have an abundance. There they were, glowing on the countertop. Beautiful, juicy, deliciously lemony Meyer lemons. I grabbed one, sliced half of it thinly and threw it down the garbage disposal after the egg. Sweet! Instantly the air cleared. The sickly cloud of green hovering over my kitchen was sucked down the drain along with those circles of sunshine. Perhaps it was an ignoble death for the lemon, but it was a worthy sacrifice.

Garbage disposals can get funky smelling under normal circumstances, so even without my extreme situation, you may find the need to freshen up your disposal. There are several lemony components at work here. First, the lemon juice is acidic, which can cut through grease in your drain. Secondly, the lemon peel wipes off the blades themselves as they’re minced. Thirdly, the oils in the peel coat the disposal and leave that awesome lemony-fresh scent behind. A trifecta of effectiveness.

Deodorizing the Disposal

Before you try this out, bear a few things in mind:

➢ Use a fresh lemon if possible which would be juicier and more tender.
➢ Cut it into thin wedges so as not to burn out your disposal.
➢ Put the lemon slices down the drain before turning the disposal. (I just feel like I need to say that. I live with kids.)
➢ Run cold water while you turn on the disposal.
➢ Let the disposal run until you don’t hear it grinding any more bits. This may take 30 seconds or so.

Hopefully, you won’t find yourself in my rotten egg situation. Hopefully, I won’t again either. But forewarned is forearmed, and keep those lemons handy. And my dog is fine. I don’t recommend frequent eggnog, but that once didn’t do him any evident harm.

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So let’s tackle one of the least romantic parts of housecleaning – toilet bowls.  I don’t need to tell you that these can get icky, especially if you have boys in the house.  (I love my boys to pieces, but they do – well – miss.)  Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds and Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile soap are both powerful enough to cleanse a commode.

Honestly, my conventional toilet cleaner was one of my last conventional products to give up.  There was something so confident and reassuring about the thick, beautiful blue gel with its minty fresh scent.  However, let’s just take a look at each of those features.  The reason it’s so thick is that it is supposed to cling to the insides of your toilet without dispersing in the water.  At the risk of stating the obvious, that means that it doesn’t disperse readily in water.  This means that if the gel goes down your pipes, it’s going to be in clumps.  It also means that if you or a little one gets it on your skin, it will cling and burn.  Next, I’ve already tackled conventional fragrance In “Changing the Smell of Clean” and the dye for the color is another melting pot where manufacturers can hide nasties.  Furthermore, toilet bowl cleaners are needlessly intense.  They are meant to disinfect the filthiest of toilets and then some with next to no effort from the user.  The cleaner then goes down your pipes and either into area water sources or, if you’re like me, into your septic tank and ultimately back yard.  Then what?  It doesn’t just vanish.  Conventional stuff doesn’t even break down readily.  It’ll be there long after you’ve stopped thinking about it.

Keep in mind what I’ve said about how things get clean: chemically, manually, or thermally .  If you just try to clean with one of these means – let’s say chemically, what you use is going to have to be really, really strong.  However, if you use an alternative cleaning method that combines the chemical (for this purpose, please accept that Sal Suds and soaps are technically chemicals, just not bad ones) along with the mechanical (i.e. your scrubbing) plus a little bit of time for the cleaner to sit and work, you’ll end up with just as clean of a toilet with no risk.

One of my favorite resources, the Environmental Working Group, gives over 56% of commercially available toilet bowl cleaners an “F” for safety – and some of these “F’s” have the word “Natural” in their name.  I’m sorry to pop any bubbles with that one.

What You’ll Need to Clean the Toilet

Either my Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds All-Purpose Spray or my Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile All-Purpose Spray with added pure essential tea tree oil (1/2 tsp. or 50 drops) which is a little more than what I normally use around the house.

Check out the links, but in a nutshell, the Sal Suds spray is a quart of water with 1 Tbsp. Sal Suds.  The castile spray is a quart of water with ¼ c. liquid Castile Soap.

Baking soda

A high quality plastic toilet brush (metal can scratch the enamel on the toilet and cause rust)

Method

  1. 1. Turn off your toilet water.  There is a knob on the wall underneath the toilet.  It turns.  Turn it clockwise until you can’t (don’t wrench it).  The water is now off.
  2. 2. Flush the toilet.  This will drain the water out of your bowl.  You might need to do this twice.
  3. 3. Spray down the inside of the toilet bowl thoroughly with either the Sal Suds spray or the Castile soap spray.  While you’re at it, spray down the outside of the toilet, too, just not as thoroughly or else you’ll have lots of drips on your floors.
  4. 4. Let it sit for 10 minutes.  Perhaps clean the rest of the bathroom or just sit
  5. 5. Sprinkle baking soda on your scrub brush (while holding it over the toilet bowl).
  6. 6. Scrub the toilet bowl thoroughly, making sure to get under the rim of the toilet bowl which is where minerals build up.  If you sprayed the outside of the toilet bowl, wipe it down with a microfiber cloth.
  7. 7. Turn the water back on.  Let the tank fill with water.
  8. 8. Flush the toilet.

A Precaution:  Undiluted Sal Suds is about the same consistency as conventional toilet bowl cleaner.  However, do not use it as such.  If you coat the inside of your toilet bowl with undiluted Sal Suds, you will have a toilet bowl of bubbles for a week.  If you have a toddler who already loves to play in the toilet, this will not help.

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