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How To Make Your Own DIY Household Products

From toothpaste to cleaners and more, you can ditch wasteful packaging and save some cash with these directions for DIY household products.

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by Susan BrackneyDecember 8, 2020
PHOTO: xbqs42/Pixabay

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Growing up, I’d heard this Great Depression-era slogan routinely from my grandma. That period left an indelible mark on her.

Thanks to her, it indirectly affected me, too.

Now I DIY many household products rather than buy them. This saves a surprising amount of money and reduces packaging waste. I also enjoy the creativity and control choosing my own ingredients affords.

Give some of these projects a try and you just might find a few of your own reasons to DIY!


Laundry Detergent

Fed up with the expense—not to mention lugging those heavy plastic bottles home—I began making my own laundry detergent years ago. The DIY version costs a fraction of what most commercially prepared laundry detergents do, and it works.

What’s more, you can choose to make an unscented version or you can play with all sorts of scents.

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This recipe is based on “All-Purpose Laundry Soap” from Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills. If you have a high-efficiency washing machine, check your owner’s manual to make sure you can safely use this powdered detergent.

Also, washing in warm or hot water will ensure that this DIY mix dissolves completely. If you want to wash in cold water, allow the washer to fill part way, add the detergent, then hand-agitate the mixture to help it dissolve.

Ingredients & Supplies

  • 1 cup grated all-natural, vegetable oil-based bar soap. When my bath soaps become too small to use, I set them aside for a future batch of laundry soap. (If you do this, let them dry completely before trying to incorporate them into your laundry detergent.) To get started, you might need to buy a few new bars of plain castile soap.
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1⁄2 cup washing soda
  • 1⁄2 cup borax
  • essential oils (optional)
  • cheese grater or food processor
  • 1 or 2 large, airtight containers
  • protective gloves (optional)

Directions

Using a cheese grater or food processor, finely shred your bar soap until you have at least 1 cup. Because this is the most time-consuming step, grate more than you need and keep the shredded soap in an airtight container. That way, if you run out of laundry detergent, you can very quickly make a new batch.

Next, combine baking soda, washing soda and borax with your shredded soap. Mix well. (So that my ingredients are uniformly blended, I typically run the mixture back through a food processor.)

Once all ingredients are thoroughly mixed, add essential oils, if you wish. I like to combine 15 to 30 drops of rosemary with another 15 to 30 drops of lavender, but sometimes I also add peppermint.

Just be careful: Essential oils such as lemongrass can cause staining when used in large quantities. You can experiment with different scents and strengths with every new batch of laundry detergent you make.

After adding essential oils, I run all of the laundry detergent through my food processor one last time. Again, this blends everything together and ensures my essential oils are evenly distributed.

Store your laundry detergent in a large, airtight container
at room temperature. I use 1⁄2 cup of my DIY detergent per average-sized load of laundry, but I add more for really soiled clothing or large loads.

DIY home products
Susan Brackney

Hair Coloring Conditioner

As a graying brunette, I like to punch up my hair color occasionally. Hoping to avoid harsh chemicals, the expense of the salon and the extra trash that comes with store-bought color, I make a deep brown dye from fallen walnuts.

This DIY dye works best when applied semi-regularly via hair conditioner in a hot shower. (The heat of the shower helps to naturally open your hair’s cuticle, thereby allowing more of the color to stick.)

Ingredients & Supplies

  • 20 to 30 black walnuts. I collect these in late fall or early winter after the walnuts’ thick, green husks have naturally thinned and turned dark brown.
  • heavy saucepan
  • canning jar or similarly heat-safe container
  • slotted spoon
  • strainer or cheesecloth
  • rubber gloves. Walnuts can stain your skin and clothing, so handle with care.
  • coconut oil or conditioner of your choice
  • airtight container with lid

Directions

Rinse walnuts to remove any worms, insects or debris.

Place walnuts in heavy saucepan, cover with water, and put on medium-to-high heat. Keep uncovered, stirring occasionally. Allow the walnut mixture to boil softly until the husks further deteriorate and about half of the water has evaporated.

With slotted spoon, remove any loose walnuts and set aside. (You can crack these open later as a snack or toss them back outside for the squirrels to enjoy.)

Pour walnut liquid through strainer or cheesecloth into canning jar or other heat-safe container. If you like, save what’s left of the husks and allow them to dry, then grind them into a powder which can later be reconstituted into dye.

Mix equal parts liquid dye with coconut oil or your favorite conditioner and store in an airtight container with lid.


Read more: Like doing it yourself? Check out this guide to natural pest control!


Multi-Purpose Cleaner

This DIY homemade cleaner is good for kitchen sinks, countertops, floors, bathrooms—pretty much anything that isn’t wood or glass.

Ingredients & Supplies

  • 1⁄4 cup grated all-natural, vegetable oil-based bar soap
  • 2 to 3 cups boiling water
  • 1⁄4 cup borax
  • 1⁄8 cup white distilled vinegar
  • lemon, grapefruit or similarly citrus-y essential oils (optional)
  • cheese grater or food processor
  • protective gloves (optional)
  • spray bottle

Directions

Using a cheese grater or food processor, finely shred your bar soap. Dissolve the grated soap in 2 to 3 cups boiling water. Stir well.

Add borax and white distilled vinegar. Stir well, and allow to cool.

I add 10 to 15 drops of lemon and grapefruit essential oils, but you can experiment with different scents and strengths.

Shake well, and pour into a clearly labeled spray bottle.

DIY home products
Susan Brackney

Dog Biscuits

We don’t need artificial colors or preservatives in our diets, and neither do our pets. I like baking my dog’s treats because I know exactly what’s in them and I can make the DIY biscuits as soft or as crunchy as she’d like.

This recipe is adapted from The Organic Dog Biscuit Cookbook.

Ingredients & Supplies

  • 1 cup dried mint
  • 11⁄2 cups oat flour
  • 11⁄2 cups brown rice flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 cup water
  • ungreased cookie sheet
  • cookie cutter (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Thoroughly combine flour and dried mint in large mixing bowl. Add egg, vanilla and 1⁄2 cup water. Mix well. Add remaining water as needed.

Continue to mix until all of the dry ingredients have been incorporated. Dough will be stiff but workable.

If you like, create specific shapes with cookie cutters or simply hand-form one-inch balls. As you place dough balls on the cookie sheet, flatten each slightly with your hand.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until biscuit bottoms are golden brown. Allow to cool and then store in an airtight container.


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Sleepy Tea

I used to have an expensive bedtime tea habit, but eventually I realized I had a decent herbal sleep aid growing just outside. (Catnip causes some cats to hallucinate, but it’s mildly sedating for humans.)

Ingredients & Supplies

  • fresh catnip
  • tea ball or strainer
  • microwave oven
  • microwave-safe dish
  • dish towel
  • mortar and pestle (optional)
  • valerian, chamomile, mint or other herbs (optional)
DIY home products
Susan Brackney

Directions

Harvest a few stems of fresh catnip. A 1/2 cup of fresh leaves will yield enough dry material for some fairly strong catnip tea.

Remove leaves from stems, rinse well and pat to dry.

Arrange leaves on microwave-safe dish so that none overlap. Use timed defrost mode in 2-minute intervals to dry catnip leaves. After 2 minutes, I remove the dish, blot excess moisture with the dish towel, and return leaves for another 2-minute defrost period.

After about 6 minutes, your catnip should be dried.

Crush the dried catnip leaves with mortar and pestle or your fingers. Place in tea ball or strainer.

Pour boiling water over the catnip-filled tea ball. Place a saucer over the top of mug so catnip tea can steep. The longer the herb steeps, the stronger its action will be.

For an even stronger sedative effect, you can add dried valerian to the mix. To counteract valerian’s slightly bitter taste, consider blending with chamomile or mint.

Finally, whether you opt for catnip or a catnip-valerian mix, avoid driving after you’ve had these sleep-inducing brews.

Toothpaste

With countless tubes packed in shiny cardboard boxes—and sometimes even shrink-wrapped as well—toothpaste remains one of my least favorite items to buy.

Packaging aside, the product itself is filled with ingredients I can’t pronounce. So now I make my own, and my DIY toothpaste is not too shabby.

Ingredients & Supplies

  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 4 tablespoons baking soda
  • 1 to 11⁄2 tablespoons stevia
  • 20 drops peppermint essential oil (or peppermint extract)
  • food processor (optional)
  • airtight container with lid

Directions

Heat the coconut oil via stovetop or microwave oven. Once the oil has liquefied, add the baking soda and stevia and stir well. If the consistency’s too runny, add a little more baking soda. If it’s too dry, add a small amount of extra coconut oil.

At this point, I’ll use my food processor to more finely blend the mixture. Next, add 20 drops of peppermint essential oil. Alternatively, you can use peppermint extract. Stir well by hand or food processor.

Pour toothpaste mixture into a clean, airtight container.

Pepper-Pine Syrup

I don’t want to have to run to the store at the first sign of a tickle in my throat. Instead? I like to have a cup of hot tea with a splash of pepper-pine syrup and a nice nap. Usually I start to feel better.

(Whether due to the syrup or the nap, I couldn’t say.)

Ingredients & Supplies

  • 2 to 3 cups fresh, rinsed needles from a red, yellow or white pine tree
  • 2 to 3 cups water
  • 1⁄2 dried cinnamon stick
  • small handful of whole, dried cloves
  • 1 dried hot pepper of your choice (optional)
  • 1⁄4 cup honey
  • strainer or cheesecloth
  • canning jar or similarly heat-safe container with lid

Directions

Finely chop pine needles. Place in saucepan with two to three cups water.

Add the cinnamon stick, cloves and hot pepper. Briefly bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and allow to simmer.

Stir occasionally until about half of the water has evaporated.

Remove saucepan from heat, allow to cool slightly, and pour liquid into heat-safe container. Use cheesecloth or strainer to remove pine needles, cinnamon stick, cloves and hot pepper.

Add the honey to the liquid and mix well. Seal with lid and refrigerate.

This article appeared in Living Off the Grid, a 2020 specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. Living Off the Grid includes stories on permaculture, growing plants without seeds and long-term produce storage. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such asBest of Hobby Farms and Urban Farm by following this link.

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