unpaper towels & cloth wipes | going green

I’ve noticed a lot of people are making efforts to ‘go green’ this year, so I thought I would share one way we have!

We are about just about a year into this ‘unpaper towel’ journey, and I’ve had lots of questions! So I thought I would do a little blog on what shape/materials/uses/etc I have found work best for unpaper towels and cloth wipes!

It all started with these puppies: cloth wipes for my oldest! You can check out my cloth diapering post to find out more about how I use and wash these. I made them with two layers of cheap flannel baby blankets cut into squares about 5inx5in. They are turned and top-stitched because at the time I did not have a serger. You can google videos on how to do this, but basically you take two pieces of fabric, put them right-sides together, stitch all around the outsides leaving a 2in opening in the middle of one side. You clip the corners and pull the two fabrics inside out. You should now have the right-sides of the fabrics facing out and no visible raw edges. Now you sew all along the outside (fairly close to the edge) and close up the opening you used to flip inside out.  Need more? Send me an email or google for a video!

room-6

After those cloth wipes saw much use, I decided to branch out into cloth paper towels, or unpaper towels. I used the same turn and topstitch method and two layers of flannel (this time bought by the yard) but I made 9×10 rectangles. I made 30 of these.

I use these just like paper towels- single use only. I wipe up a mess or clean the counters and then toss it in the dirty bin. They get washed with our clothes whenever we are running near empty. I use them as hand wipes, counter cleaning, dish drying, holding a quick snack, covering food when reheating, basically everything. I use them for everything when cleaning the bathroom except for the toilet, where I use harsher cleaners- for that I use regular paper towels. I also use regular paper towels for anything involving large amounts of grease (draining bacon, etc) because it is not safe to put anything that was soaked in grease in the dryer! If it’s just greasyish cleanup on the stovetop, these have worked fine.

They are VERY absorbent and have held up very well to lots of repeat use and washing. I have only had one fray and develop holes, and that was because my husband used it to wipe up bleach. Don’t do that 🙂 They are stained from various things like finger paint and food. We have tried vinegar washes and other natural things, but none of the stains have really come out. It doesn’t bother me that much because I KNOW they are clean, but if you want to avoid that, use a darker fabric.

10

After making my set, I made my mom a set. We picked out Monk’s cloth, which look absorbent but it did not work out very well! It wasn’t very absorbent and the open weave of the cotton hasn’t held up too well to frequent use. I don’t recommend it.

5

On a related note, we made the switch to cloth tissues as well. I did not make these but purchased them off of etsy. They are made from birds eye cotton and serged. If you wish to make your own of these, I highly recommend a serger as the single ply functions better as tissues than a double ply would! I purchased 50 of these, and that ended up being a bit excessive. I would say a normal household would be good with 30. I keep them stacked in a couple of areas around the house and the dirty ones go in the dirty unpaper towels basket. (I still keep a box or two around for company, but I find I rarely buy them!)

2

Shortly before the twins were born, we found we were in need of more cloth wipes. This time I made a double ply wipe with one piece of flannel and one piece of minky. We have really liked this combination for cloth wipes. The minky is soft and washes very well and the combination of the two allows for an excellent cleaning option depending on what you need them for! haha!

8

We have been using the blue flannel set of unpaper towels for a while and I decided to use some fabric I had laying around to make a new set! This time I went with canvas and minky. I like the absorbency of the minky and the canvas has some awesome scrubbing power! I chose NOT to serge these because I like the double layer and I feel turning and topstiching is the most durable for lots of washing. However, you could serge if you would like!

As far as our system goes, we keep a one wire basket with clean cloths and another next to it where we put the dirty ones. I have tried an enclosed bin but I found that they tended to get mildewed in there. An open basket prevents this.
6f1806f25c1711e2aa5e22000a1f96ec_7

So the big question, is this worth it?? Depending on your household, your paper towel consumption, and the type of paper towels you buy, this will likely only save you $50-$150 a year. That may or may not be worth it to you. However if you factor in the plastic the paper towels are packaged in, by products as a result of production and waste created or tossed from production, you have to consider the impact on the earth and not just a financial impact.

Now before I go and get all hippy on you, going green to me is most importantly about sustainability. And in my mind, the more waste we create and pack into plastic bags that aren’t biodegradable and pile onto usable farm land, the less land we have to create food. It’s simple. We have not been able to get rid of all of our waste, and unfortunately recycling is oftentimes inefficient, but this is one easy way for me to reduce the amount I toss into a trash bag! (Another way- composting! But that’s another post on it’s own! coming soon!)

 So to recap, what you will use the unpaper towels for primarily will determine the fabrics you choose. We use ours for wiping little hands and faces as well as counters, so for now, minky and canvas are working out very well!

Need absorbent and budget friendy? Go with flannel
Need softness and absorbency? Go with minky
Need an ability to scrub? Go with terry cloth or canvas
Need them all? Try a triple layer with canvas, flannel in the middle and minky
Need something thin and flexible but absorbent? Go with birds eye cotton

Or grab any fabrics you have hanging around and give them a water test! Remember, all fabrics come out of production with a certain amount of chemicals and need to be ‘conditioned’ so give them a couple of washes before you expect to see full absorbency.

Any questions?? Best of luck going green!

Trash To Tresure: Citrus Peels

Jace at the controls of the blog again, this time it’s to share with you an awesome cleaner, candy, and sauce all from something most people throw away: citrus peels! The best part is you don’t have to choose one of these things to make, you can do all three with the same peels.

The first step is to eat oranges, since we’re reducing processed snacks and trying to include fruit and veggies into all of our meals, this has become easy for us. Next of course is to save the peel! I peel into quarters, and then let the peels sit in the sunny kitchen window sill to dry out (I know this bugs Chelsea to no end, but sacrifices must be made!) You can also use lemon and lime rinds, but we don’t use nearly as many of them and they are much harder to separate the flesh from the peel. Actually lemon peels would be better for the cleaner because of their high acidity compared to orange peels, but I digress…

Window sill over flowing with peels: it’s been cloudy so they haven’t been dying out as quick

Once I’ve got a quart mason jar full of dried peels (really pack ‘em in there) I fill it to the top with white vinegar and cap it. I leave the jar in the window sill, hoping the alternating warmth from the sun and cool from the night air will draw out more of the orangie goodness (just a theory.) Once the color of the vinegar stops getting darker I pull it from the window sill, but the different places I learned this trick from said leave it for anywhere from 10 days, to as much as a month.
Next, pour off the liquid and save it, this is your cleaner, but we’re not done! Now refill the jar with vinegar again and repeat, mixing your two batches together for a more even product.
Place the finished cleaner in a spray bottle and use to wipe up tough messes. The acidity of the vinegar acts as a disinfectant (that’s why you pickle things in vinegar after all; too keep the bugs out) and the orange oils you extracted not only provide an interesting scent when paired with the vinegar, but also help cut grease and grime (think about all those orange powered commercial cleaners.)

Citrus cleaner ready to tackle tough jobs!

After you’ve used the peels to make your cleaner next, use them to make candied citrus rind! This is a candy and is not necessarily healthy, but it has a very similar taste and texture to orange slices like you’d buy at the gas station, but without the HFCS, and with natural orange, so it’s not the worst thing in the world.
To make the candy take your peels and bring them to a boil in a pot of water, this will help draw out the vinegar and any remaining oil which would make the candy bitter. Once at a boil I took it off the fire, and drained it, but if you are using fresh peels that haven’t soaked in vinegar, let them boil for ten minutes prior to draining. Boil and drain a second time, waiting ten minutes and doing it three times if the peels are fresh, but again, not if they were presoaked.
Next place your peels into a skillet and pour in three cups water and 2 cups (yes two cups) of sugar. Most recipes called for a cup of water and sugar for each cup of citrus peel, but I found this to be more than adequate for our ~4 cups of peel.
Next place the concoction on a low heat (just below a boil) and cook down allowing the peels to absorb the sugar. This will take several hours. Make sure you are stirring the pieces around and recoating them in the syrup as it thickens or else you’ll end up with an inconsistent flavor. Stirring also helps the water evaporate quicker as it gives it a higher surface area. Be very vigilant toward the end with stirring and reducing the heat or else your syrup will begin to boil and possibly burn. Once there is only about a half to a quarter cup of syrup just coating the bottom of the pan, kill the heat and start to take the peels out and coat them in sugar. I recommend placing the pan at an angle to allow the syrup to pool to one end of the pan and keep the peels on the other end. Work while everything is still warm or else the syrup will start to thicken and crystallize. With the peels rolled in sugar place them on a cooling rack to dry for a day or so. Enjoy.

Citrus candy in a jar awaitng consumption

For the final use, take the orange tinged syrup left in the pan, add some soy sauce, to taste, and thin with water. The thinner the sauce the more cook time it will allow, I ended up with about 1.5 cups if I had to estimate. As it is, the sauce will impart a very light orange flavor, but you can make it more intense by adding orange juice at this stage. Cook up some rice, and a few chicken breasts. Once the chicken is fully cooked add the sauce to the pan and let the chicken simmer, turning occasionally to coat. Remove when the sauce becomes darker and thickens to a syrup again, should take about 5-10 minutes. Serve using the remaining sauce in the pan to add to the rice if you wish.

Yummy orange chicken and rice!

I pieced this string of ideas from a number of sources, the citrus cleaner has appeared on multiple blogs and Pintrest, and I don’t know who invented it, the candied citrus rind is an old recipe I had never heard of until I saw a brief mention of it in this blog by the Green Cheapskate. Further research (simplyrecipes)showed that the candy often turned out bitter and with a less gummy texture unless the peels were soaked in salt water or alcohol. I thought that the vinegar soak might have a similar effect, and it did! Though I do plan to make that citrus infused vodka I heard mention of as an alternate precandy soak! Then the chicken I kind of made up on the spot when I saw I had left over syrup that I didn’t want to throw it out.
Now, go eat some oranges!

Jace

DIY garden projects!

Time for Jace to hijack the blog again! This time its to share some cool tips on gardening DIY stuff we’ve prepped for the coming season. 


     First up is the seed starting trays I made from some the disposable trays that folks brought us food in when the baby’s came. To make it I used two disposable cake pans, one of them deeper than the other, and the shallower one had a plastic dome. I also used some flannel that Chelsea had laying around from one of her projects. The idea is that the shallow tray sits nested in the deep tray which holds water, the flannel lays in the bottom of the thin tray and drapes down into the water drawing it up and watering the seedlings automatically so long as there is water in the lower tray. Its similar to a capillary mat system you might find at the home improvement store, but costs much less (like this one by Burpee). 


     The first step is to cut the bottom of the tray that will hold the dirt and seedlings to allow the flannel to hang down into the water. See the cuts on each end, and the two in the middle. Note: I only cut halfway to the middle on each side, so that there was a thin piece of metal (1/4 inch or so) to give the bottom more strength. You can see the thin , uncut piece where I’m pointing in the picture ->

 

     Next take strips of flannel cut and folded so that there are 4 layers the width of the pan, and with enough length so that the ends when fitted through the slits in the pan will touch or nearly tough the bottom of the deeper pan when put together. In order to get the fabric to fit in your holes on each end, slit the fabric in the middle just enough so the metal will fit up in the slit.

This is what it should look like when it’s all done! Next just fill the seedling tray with a seed starting soil or other sterilized medium, put in your seeds per the directions on your seed packet for indoor starting. Once your seeds are in wet the soil with a light mist from a spray bottle to avoid moving your seeds and then fill the lower tray with water. Take care to not put so much water in that the bottom of the top tray is in the water. Place the plastic dome over your seedlings to protect to hold in heat and moisture until they sprout. As soon as you have the first green poke through the soil remove the dome to help prevent mold and fungus. 
     Here are my onions, you can see a line dividing the red onions on the left and the white on the right. I used cardboard (you can see it in the very first picture) to divide the two, but it ended up molding very early on, so I would do the same thing in the future, but use either some plastic, or paperboard like from a milk carton that wouldn’t decay, and I’d sterilize it with some vinegar first. You could conceivably use many dividers to make lots of individual sections for plants like tomatoes (still to early for me to start from seed yet here in ND) and that’s what I’d do if I hadn’t already picked up the Burpee version of this at a garage sale last summer for 50 cents. 
     You’ll also notice in the picture above that there is mold in my tray, I haven’t figured out how to get rid of it other then to try and put it outside and get some UV rays on it, but it hasn’t been very warm lately. I have used a 1/10 mix of hydrogen peroxide to water mix in the past, but didn’t have much luck, so I haven’t tried it yet. Any suggestions? So far it doesn’t seem to be hurting any of the plants, and hasn’t stopped some of the slower seeds from germinating. 
     When its warm enough to put these onions in the ground outside I’ll just have to pull out the flannel and run it through the wash, and it should be good for next year. While I think that this is more durable than the super thin plastic found in the commercial versions of these kits, next time I make this it will probably be out of a small clear plastic “Rubbermaid” type bin. I imagine a set up like that could last years. 

    Last thing I’ll leave you with this time is the “mad science experiment.”  Really its just celery ends and sweet potatoes in mason jars with a small aquarium pump feeding an air stone in each jar. I tried to do a sweet potato without the aeration and it grew, but it took forever, and the roots ended up rooting in the water. Having learned a little about hydroponics I applied some of the principles of deep water culture (DWC) and now the sweet potatoes are going nuts, and the celery is doing well too. Now that I’m thinking about it I’m wondering if I should run a line into the seedling tray to fight the slime that’s forming in there (eww…)
More posts on other garden innovations later.
-Jace


Insta-Monday | The Random/Green Edition

A little big sneak peak into the past week…

 




 
1. Monday night, the bit woke up after just an hour of sleep coughing, puking mucus and unable to breathe. Luckily, the ambulance services here on base were here within minutes. A ride for the bit and mama in the ‘be-oo-whe-oo’ (ambulance), some steriods, a couple of nebulizer treatments and he was back to normal. Looks like he had croup. We sat on a cot in the hallway of the emergency room for over 4 hours, and this hyper/exhausted kiddo was amazingly well-behaved. And that brought our ER trips up to 3 in less than a week 😦

2. Guess who painted their own toenails at 35 weeks pregnant with twins?? oh yes.

3 & 4. Big boy got around 40+ hot wheels for Christmas and his birthday. Thus, I finally had a reason to make a car caddy.  (Idea from here– still planning to add heat transfer numbers!)


 


5 & 6. We are in an ADA acceptable house on base. For some reason, this means that all our doors are an inch and a half off the floor (why??). This means lots of noise and light despite closed doors. For the past year, we have been using a towel thrown on the ground, ugly and annoying. I finally made draft stoppers. Knee high socks that I already had (for my business) and a 5lb bag of rice. Cute and practical! (We roll them away when we go to bed for the night to promote air flow.) (Idea from here


7. Somebody had too much fun in independent play time. Every.drawer.emptied. And once again I am glad we tethered his dressers to the wall.




And now the green edition part. It all started with cloth diapers 2 years ago. Since then, we have been slowly working towards being more self-sustainable and reducing our waste. This includes gardening, composting, hunting, etc. One of my focuses has been reducing our use of disposable products- specifically plastic and paper products. We use cloth diapers and primarily cloth wipes. We have reusable grocery bags that we use when we go shopping (and I am working on making some for clothing/store shopping as well). And this week- I ordered reusable tissues, can’t wait to see how those work out!

 


  
8. Reusable produce bags for buying kiwis, bananas, pears, apples, broccoli, asparagus, etc. Instead of the plastic bags, we stick them in here to be weighed. Although, most are not stored in these but placed loose in the fridge or counter. (we need to go grocery shopping today! running low on fruit) (Find them here


9. These bags are for onions, potatoes, and other large items. These bags are made to release any fume build up so we keep the produce in them and they hang right on our wall in the pantry. (Find them here


10. Un-paper towels. Clean basket and dirty basket. I made these out of a double layer of flannel (like the cloth wipes, but bigger, these are 9×9). We use them exactly like paper towels- single use. I wipe off the counter, it goes into the dirty basket, I clean up a spill, into the dirty. I love that I feel like I am getting a clean, germ-free paper towel every time (instead of rinsing it and leaving it to mold in the sink until I use it again), but then when we get low, they get thrown in with the wash and are all clean! I have 32 I think, and that lasts at least a week or more. We now use 1 roll of paper towels every 3 or more weeks, instead of every 3-4 days! (Next time, I will use a white flannel/terrycloth, so they have different scrubbing textures and can be sun-bleached easily, ours are pretty stained!)




Although we like the idea that all of this is eco-friendly, I will be honest and say that our primary push is to save money and be self-sustainable. The more we can reuse and create ourselves, and the less we have to buy/import, the better. 


What do you do that’s ‘green?’ We have more, but I’ll leave you with this today!

Cloth Diapering | *Questions

You guys came up with several VERY good questions on my cloth diapering system post, so I decided to answer them on a new post- keep the questions coming, I love helping people cloth diaper!




1. The diapers say don’t use any sort of diaper rash cream because it causes gunk. What do you do when little man got diaper rash?


– First off, one of the benefits of cloth is reduced instance of diaper rashes, which is wonderful! But unlike some other cloth moms I know who NEVER had rashes, we have dealt with a few. You are right, you should not use any diaper cream up against the cloth diapers as it will cause repelling and lack of absorption. For little red irritations or rubbed spots, there are lots of natural creams that you can use directly against the cloth. I happen to use CJ’s BUTTer because it was on sale! But the stuff lasts FOREVER and I don’t think we will ever use it up! Just check to see if it’s cloth friendly.


For more pronounced rashes (from teething or yeast), we would occasionally use Destin. When using those creams, we used fleece liners. Ours are on off brand and were bought used, but the Bummis Fleece Liners are exactly the same.You use them just like the flushable liners I had talked about in the last post, except the BIG thing is, these do NOT get washed with the diapers. These get put in with the regular laundry so that the diaper cream doesn’t get on the diapers. I have one pack of 5 and have never needed any more.




2. Also, sizing can be tricky especially with skinny little legs so how do you know how to size appropriately?


Honestly, sizing is a trial process. With cloth, it’s not unusual to have some indentation in the skin around the waist and legs from the bunched up cloth. As long as your child isn’t getting red or rashy or irritated by it, then it’s not too tight. In general, I used whatever elastic setting in the waist allowed me to use the snaps the furthest outside of the diaper (this was easiest to explain to babysitters, etc). For the legs, when they are on their back with the diaper on, you should be able to lift up one leg and see no visible gaps between the diaper and their legs. Here is a chart from the Fuzzibunz website which has some recommendations to start with. If you are getting lots of leaking, determine where the leaking is coming from (back of leg when sitting up, front of thigh when laying down, etc) and problem solve the elastic settings from there. One of my big recommendations is that the front and back leg elastics do NOT have to be at the same setting. We started using FB around 5/6 months and I have only changed the elastic maybe 3 times. It’s not something you will do often.


3. Do you do the Funk Rock rinse in addition to the regular Rockin’ Green or instead of it?

– When I do use Funk Rock (every week or two) I do it in addition to the the regular Rockin’ Green.


4. There are a few different kinds of the rockin green detergent. Which one do you use? Also how much detergent do you put into each load?



– The type of Rockin’ Green you need to use is dependent on the type of water you have. Up here in Minot, we have very hard water, so I use the Hard Rock Wash. If you have very soft water, use Soft Rock; if your water is in between, use Classic Rock. Here’s a chart to use as a reference. 


-The amount you use depends on your washer. Top-loaders use more water (which is better for diapers!), so they require a bit more detergent, 1.5T-2T. Front Loaders use less water and require less detergent. We have a front loader and I use about 1T. For a while we used more, and I had stink issues because it wasn’t getting all washed out. 




5. Do you know if it’s okay to use homemade laundry detergent on them? (Detergent = baking soda, washing soda, borax, & grated castile soap. And then I usually add distilled vinegar to the load as a fabric softener.


First off, I have never used homemade detergent on my diapers, so I don’t know from personal use, however the research/results I have seen from others would suggest no, not to use homemade. At least not that recipe. The problem lies in the grated soap. No matter what kind you use, soap by nature is intended to leave behind softening agents that can cause buildup/stink issues. From what I have seen, using baking soda, washing soda, and borax alone is fine because they are all non-sudsing agents, as long as you leave out the grated soap. And it’s not recommended to use vinegar on diapers, nor do they need a fabric softener if they are washed without sudsing detergent. I’ve noticed that people with front-loaders have alot more trouble with homemade detergents than those with top-loaders, since they use more water.


My suggestion would to give whatever you would like a try, and see! If you start having stink or repelling issues, do a Rockin’ Green soak to get everything out, and then try again with a different recipe. 




Any other questions? Hope that helped some!! 🙂