Many have asked me what products we use around the house now that we are detergent-free. The explanation is rarely straight-forward or quick. This page was written so that interested families can have a one-stop quick reference page.
Overarching Rule – You Can Get By With Only 2 Products!
When in doubt or overwhelmed with label reading or choosing products, you can get by with just 2 soap products in your house — as long as you have soft water! (see here if you don’t have soft water):
- Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap – readily available at Loblaws/Real Canadian Superstore (best price), or health food/natural food stores. And even at Costco in parts of Asia! My favourite is Baby Mild.
- Bars of natural soap, including Irish Spring Original bar soap (many of the other ones contain detergents), Classic Ivory Soap, or any of the bar soaps listed below that we use.
The above 2 products will enable you to wash body, hair, dishes, laundry, and clean house!
We use more specialized products for reasons of cost effectiveness and general efficiency, though it requires a little more work to source products from different places. Read on to see what we use in our house!
What We Use Now
This table summarizes what we use. Follow the links to read about each product more, and find out where I source them in Canada.
|Water Softening Salt||Sifto Premium Plus|
|Laundry / Washing Clothes||Voyageur Soap and Candle’s grated laundry soap without borax
Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
NatureClean Oxy Stain Remover
|Dishes||CalBen Liquid Dish Glow
CalBen ‘Destain’ Automatic Dish Compound(TM)
|Bathing & Washing Body and Hands||Various bar soaps (see detailed list below)
Liquid soap I saponify myself in foaming pump
Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap in foaming pump
|Washing Hair||CalBen Five Star Shampoo
Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap
|Cleaning House||Vinegar & Baking Soda
Recipes from “Green Up Your Cleanup” (Jill Schoff)
|Other Personal Care||Toothpaste: Weleda
Lip Balm: EOS
Protecting skin: Aquaphor
Water Softening Salt
We Use: Sifto Premium Plus
- As per solveeczema’s blog, some water softener salts have detergents added. A very helpful and knowledgeable water softener designer confirmed to me that detergents from softener salt could adhere to the resin beads inside the water softener and slough off into the soft water coming out of our taps.
- The Director of R&D at Compass Minerals (owners of Canada’s Sifto) told me that Sifto’s Premium Plus salt comes from a mine in Ontario and the salt is not sprayed or washed with detergents. In fact, the product is a dull, off-white color and looks fundamentally different than other softener salts I’ve seen that I know are washed with detergents. The Director of R&D confirmed to me that the Crystal Plus product, labelled “Resin Clean”, contains detergents and that some other products, like the Nature’s Own product, is sprayed with a low concentration of detergents during processing. He suggested that I also be cautious about using the Ultra Crystal product if my children had “sensitive skin” because it has rust inhibiting chemicals in it.
- I can’t say enough wonderful things about the folks at Canadian Tire, both at my local store and the central customer service office, who have gone to great lengths to help me get this product from their warehouses in central Canada to my location. I now have 10 x 40 kg bags of Sifto Premium Plus, which is probably enough to last a lifetime for my family. I highly recommend shopping at Canadian Tire.
We Use: A specially-made batch of Voyageur Soap and Candle’s grated laundry soap without Borax
- I don’t use Borax in my home because of the EU’s concern that it may be “toxic for reproduction”. See this paper, linked from the Wikipedia entry on Borax, for more information.
- I make a liquid laundry soap slurry with the #2 recipe for Liquid Laundry Soap from Voyageur Soap & Candle. I use 1/4 C per laundry load. It is important to note that I have a water softener! Soap scum, or a compound akin to wax, is formed when pure soap reacts with ions in hard water and I would be very concerned about gumming up or otherwise destroying my washing machine by using pure soap without soft water — so be warned!
- I use Arm & Hammer’s So Clean! Washing Soda for that recipe and readily find it at Safeway.
- To my laundry load, I add oxygen bleach (sodium percarbonate) and washing soda (sodium carbonate) to the 1/4 C of my liquid laundry soap slurry. Caution! I do not add oxygen bleach to any loads containing dark blues / indigo or blacks, because the colors run!.
- I typically add 1-2 TBSP of NatureClean Oxy Stain Remover to get a combination of oxygen bleach and washing soda, to each laundry load. According to the MSDS for this product, I guess that it contains around only 40% oxygen bleach and 60% washing soda, which is a lower concentration of oxygen bleach than I would prefer for the purposes of killing microbes (e.g. yeast) on our clothes.
- However, it is difficult to get 100% pure oxygen bleach (sodium percarbonate) in Canada because it is a strong oxidizer and considered a hazardous substance. There are transport restrictions in place which make it all the more difficult and costly to transport it. The product with the highest concentration of oxygen bleach (based on previous investigation, my guess is about 90% sodium percarbonate) is likely Oxy-Boost by EcoGeeks. The product is also recommended by solveeczema. Unfortunately, there is no Canadian distributor and this product is not easily shipped here from the US.
- Oxo-Brite is another alternative, and is available at health food stores in Canada but AJ Lumsdaine has told me in the past that she doesn’t find the concentration of oxygen bleach to be very high, and this product is not as effective for her as Oxy-Boost.
For Handwashing Dishes
We Use: CalBen Seafoam Dish Glow
- There is no Canadian distributor but CalBen does ship to Canada from the US. I have never shipped directly to Canada because they only use UPS as a courier and I am concerned about surprise/unknown customs brokerage fees, from past experience with UPS.
- I have on several occasions had CalBen ship products to a US travel destination, then flown these products back with me as checked luggage.
For Machine Washing Dishes
- When run out of CalBen’s, I may try NatureClean Automatic Dishwasher Powder. A few years ago, I did a whackload of research and reading, including having an informative and helpful email discussion with a chemist from NatureClean, about this product and the detergent that is in it: an ethoxylated alcohol (the Linear Alcohol Ethoxylate in the ingredients list is a non-ionic detergent). Based on my research and email correspondence, I would be willing to try this product later and think my kids may not react to it despite it containing a detergent.
- Caution: The dishwasher powder product is the only NatureClean dishwasher product I would consider using. Based on reading the ingredients of their other dishwasher products (off their website), I feel they contain either stronger detergents or Borax or both, or may have the Linear Alcohol Ethoxylate in higher concentration than the powder product.
- The chemist at NatureClean informed me that true soaps (anionic surfactants) cannot be used in dishwasher formulations because they foam from the agitation of the water in the dishwasher, and this can cause cavitation (i.e. collapse/implosion) of the pump and will ruin the dishwasher. He mentioned that only ethoxylated alcohols are effective in suppressing foam in the dishwasher, and this made me wonder if all dishwasher products must contain a synthetic detergent and not a “true soap” due to the limitations of chemistry and physics. So if my kids and others are safe with CalBen’s Dishwasher powder — though I don’t know what the “biodegradeable surfactant” they list in their ingredients truly is — I wonder if they might be safe with NatureClean dishwasher powder, too. Worth a try, but I haven’t yet.
For Bathing/Washing Body
We Use: Various Bar Soaps as follows:
- Sappo Hill Fragrance-Free. These must be bought in the US and brought home.
- 100% Pure Castille Soap from Country Rose. This is a beautifully-made soap, very mild and soft.
- Castille soap bars that I (infrequently) make from scratch from a Voyageur Soap and Candle recipe. Note that I source lye (NaOH and KOH) and oils from both Voyageur Soap and Candle and Soap and More. I don’t often make bar soap from scratch because there are relatively inexpensive options to buy.
- Alberta Naturals “Simply Soap”. A good all-around bar. Very cost-effective when purchased in packages of 6 from Community Natural Foods.
- Rocky Mountain Soap Co. These are beautiful soaps, but I find them expensive for frequent everyday use and I have found them a bit on the drying side.
Note: It is important to read and understand the solveeczema blog entry describing Lumsdaine’s Law in order to help wade through what types of soaps and their additives for “moisturizing” you’re willing to use.
IF YOU DON’T HAVE SOFT WATER!
Get started by using commercially-available soaps that contain water softeners in them. Unfortunately they are also quite fragrant, but they are readily available and good, decent products for those who have hard water. In a pinch, you could wash your body, hair, and even clothes (if you grated the soap bars) with these soaps and see how you fare!
- Irish Spring Original bar soap. Note that many of the other types/fragrances of Irish Spring contain detergents.
- Classic Ivory Soap. I have always found this soap to be on the drying side, though.
- Jergens Mild Soap.
We Use: CalBen Five Star Shampoo
- I’ve also used EarthSafe Clean Air Shampoo in the past and liked it. I find the product a tad on the expensive side (especially when I had very long hair!). Caution: Their conditioners contain an ingredient that appears to be a detergent.
- Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap for shampoo would do in a pinch, but it may be drying. My mother uses Dr. Bronner’s on her hair and has commented that my hair seems more shiny and lustrous than hers.
- Soft water is imperative for using soap as a shampoo!. When I first started, I used a pure liquid soap to wash my hair, in hard water. There was so much soap scum (something akin to wax) built up on each strand of hair that it felt heavy and greasy after being washed. Definitely an unpleasant, awful feeling that I haven’t had since we got soft water!
For Hand Washing
We use: A foaming pump containing liquid soap.
- I find it most cost-effective to saponify my own liquid soap using KOH (potassium hydroxide) and various recipes. I find the Catherine Failor book “Making Natural Liquid Soaps” contains useful information on making liquid soaps and good recipes.
- If I have money but no time, I buy Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild soap at the Real Canadian Superstore (I’ve found they have the best price) for my foaming hand pumps.
- I add about 1/4 soap and 3/4 soft water into my pumps.
To Clean House
We Use: Soap and soft water, baking soda, vinegar, bleach, and other various more traditional solutions. See below for more details.
- When I first started, I found many of the recipes in Green Up Your Cleanup by Jill Schoff to be very useful. Specifically, the Mold & Germ Kill spray, the All Purpose Spray, and the Glass Cleaner.
- For cleaning my sinks and tubs and anything that has scum or oil in it, I find applying baking soda and good old “elbow grease” from scrubbing to be very effective.
- For cleaning / disinfecting surfaces generally, I find using a 1:1 vinegar/water solution useful.
- For all-purpose cleaning, I fill a spray bottle with 1:3 soap:soft water, scrub, then rinse with soft water.
Other Personal Care
- Toothpaste: We switched to Weleda toothpastes. The Plant Gel flavour is our favourite and the most “natural” replacement for traditional toothpastes.
- Deodorant: I make my own deodorant from this recipe from My Healthy Green Family. I source ingredients from both Voyageur Soap and Candle and Soap and More.
- When needing some protection from the feeling of dryness in our very cold winters, I use Aquaphor only.
- Lip Balm: EOS (evolution of smooth) lip balms. Note: I do not use their lotions as they contain detergents (phenoxyethanol).
What We Have Used in the Past
Listed here so others can benefit from our trial and error. Coming soon!