Monday Mission: The Thinking Person’s "Get Natural" (& Welcome Back!)

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Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to consider natural cleaning and personal care products – in a thoughtful, in-depth way.

Because sometimes…”natural” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

natural life tricky stuff

Welcome Back to the Monday Missions

It’s been a long time since I typed those opening lines! We let the Monday Missions have a summer vacation, but they’re back in force for the fall, with teaching kids to eat real food, lunchbox transformations, real food on the go, grain-free baking, homemade tortillas, natural parties, vaccinations and more.

I’m ready to continue taking baby steps to the natural, real food life – are you?

This week’s theme is personal products and cleaning, which we’ve touched on many times here at Kitchen Stewardship.

If you’re still baby stepping your way through this category, that’s okay – today’s mission will extend the thinking of those of you who already use all-natural products and only enhance the goals of those who are still transitioning from toxic products. (I am trying hard not to say “chemical-laden” because of course everything is made of chemicals!)

Natural Living Resources

how to care for and clean wooden cutting board (5) (500x375)

A quick review, for those on the journey, or those for whom this step has been their “one more thing” that they’re finally ready for:

I’m pretty sure all my posts in this category have been archived there, whether they were written before or after those roundups were posted, so you have the whole world of KS natural living in one place.

Natural Isn’t a Magic Word

The Monday Mission today is a caution, a call to slow down, to re-assess, to make sure you’re doing what you say you want to be doing.

The lesson is:

Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you.

We’re going to cover three different subjects this week Tuesday-Thursday, and you’ll see examples of short-sighted thinking, both my own and potentials for others:

  • I used a completely natural, harmless product to clean carpets because it seemed to make sense in my mind and I had found it on a Google search. As multiple commenters pointed out in my natural homemade steam cleaner for carpets post, that substance is used to set pigments and dyes into fabrics. Even though it’s natural and safe, you still have to be cognizant and do your research before jumping in. Here’s our better solution for spot cleaning and deep cleaning carpets.

Natural Options for Steam Vacuums to Clean Carpets

  • Perhaps you make homemade dishwasher detergents or laundry soap. This week we’ll explore the reasons why “DIY” isn’t always enough to truly achieve a safe, non-toxic clean. (Here’s that post on contaminants in personal products)
  • Have you ever tried homemade natural deodorant or the “no ‘poo” shampoo method and experienced horrible results? Sometimes, the natural solution just isn’t right for you. Sometimes you need to tweak the recipe a bit to make it work. And other times – an awful mess is exactly what you’re supposed to experience on the way to success, much like “no pain, no gain” in exercising. Here’s this week’s exploration of the causes of and solutions to “pit detox”.
  • Essential oils are natural, but they’re not always used in a safe manner and can sometimes do more harm than good. We explored how you have to go deeper than just “I use all-natural essential oils” in this post about different grades of lavender essential oil, and I don’t think I’ll have time this week, but realize that you need to be well-informed about how to use essential oils, which ones to use, and under which circumstances, and also what to do to combat some of the effects of EOs.Even though oregano oil is “all natural,” for example, if you use it as an internal natural antibiotic, you still need to follow up with strong probiotics (that link goes to the brand my family uses, and I do earn commission on it but wouldn’t recommend it if we didn’t take it daily…or more often in certain circumstances).
  • And sometimes it’s just not right for you. If you try a natural method like the no ‘poo shampoo thing (or any other natural method of getting things done) and you absolutely hate it and it causes more problems than it solves (cranky Mommy or Daddy, family or marital strife, feelings of low self-worth, etc.), then it’s really okay to rewind and revert. The world will not end if you use a conventional shampoo, and it’s possible to find other natural shampoos beyond skipping it altogether. There always needs to be a solution that doesn’t push you over the edge. (You might guess that I’m not doing no ‘poo anymore. I am trying various natural shampoos – NaturOli, Miessence – and am much happier.)

Of course, don’t forget that many products are greenwashed, meaning that they’re labeled with “all natural” or “chemical free” when really they’re not.

The Mission:

Take a few moments today to reassess the natural products in your cupboards and drawers:

  1. What was your initial motivation for using the product?
  2. What do you know about its sourcing? Efficacy?
  3. Is it a good thing for you and your family? Is it working, in more ways than one?
I’d love to hear your stories – did you ever use a natural product that either turned out to be “not so natural” or just didn’t work at all for you?

Share with others who are dipping their toes in the natural life:

Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post to Mountain Rose Herbs, NaturOli, and my own Miessence store from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. See my full disclosure statement here.

Click here for my disclaimer and advertising disclosure - affiliate links in this post will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price.

36 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    Yes. No poo didn’t work for me, and I’ve read other bloggers with my hair type (thick, curly, coarse) who said the same. I do “poo light”… I only shampoo every 4 or 5 days, and sometimes only with conditioner. And I choose a safer shampoo.

    One thing that REALLY gets on my nerves with so-called natural cleaners? The obsession with vinegar.

    Vinegar is a mild acid. It is not a cleaning product really. It is an oxidizer. I never use vinegar to clean because it burns my lungs. At first I thought it must be my imagination, because everybody and her mother claims that vinegar is a wonder product… but upon further research, I learned that vinegar is indeed toxic to the lungs. The fumes are dangerous!

    So I don’t use it. My go-to all purpose cleaner is a VERY dilute castile soap recipe: about 1/2 tsp to a large spray bottle of water. Because it’s an ACTUAL soap (read: surfactant) it actually cuts grease and cleans things.

    Ok, off my soapbox now :-)

      • says

        Vinegar is better for killing germs and mold and odors than for cleaning in general. It’s not “scrubby” and can even leave an oily film on things.

        I wash my hair with vinegar only–no baking soda–and that works really well for me, but I feel that the RINSING before and after is what actually gets dirt out of my hair; the role of the vinegar is primarily loosening oil so that it redistributes over the hair shafts and controls frizz, instead of making my scalp gummy.

        The fumes don’t bother me with reasonable ventilation, but vinegar IS a strong acid–don’t get it in your eyes!!!–and a good example of, “Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe in every way.”

    • Pam says

      I think vinegar fumes are far worse than standard cleaner fumes. Vinegar give me huge headaches… like spend the rest of the day in a dark room headaches. I no longer keep it in the house. And I found it did not work well for cleaning at all. Seventh Generation products and lavender give me headaches too. Bleach, Windex, and Clorox wipes don’t bother me though. Go figure.

  2. says

    I’ve tried to go as natural as possible with my cleaners and such because I and my girls are VERY chemically sensitive. (Fabric softeners, new clothes chemicals, fragrances, SLS, all tend to give us hives or headaches.)
    I’m fine with using just a bit of dish soap to clean the counters and given the trials people have had with their dishwashers, I am sticking to BioKleen dish detergent for the dish washer. I’m quite happy with it. But I am also perfectly happy with my homemade laundry detergent. I get vinegar by the two gallon double pack and baking soda by the 13.5lb bag. Haven’t done much with vinegar that aerosolizes it so I haven’t dealt with any burning myself. I mostly like it as a fabric softener. Hydrogen peroxide has been great for organic stains. Good for surface cleaning too as I understand but haven’t tried yet.

    I had great luck keeping my hair clean with No poo for five years, but then had to stop because it was frying my hair. I didn’t realize the damage that the extreme changes in pH do to the hair. Now I’m trying alternatives. And trying again. And again. :(

    I like trying other people’s home cleaning recipes and I love reading the comments fully on all of them to see how they worked. I really liked the Clean House Clean Planet book as a jumping off point.

  3. says

    I do a mix, but try to keep it as natural as possible. DIY deodorant is a train wreck for me – and I’ve tried many recipes and natural store bought brands. I wish I could find one that actually works for me. We have super hard water here, so I’ve reverted to cleaning the toilet with “The Works”. Although I don’t like the fact that it’s a chemical, I like the brown streaks down my toilet bowl even less. No poo totally dried my hair out. I have made my own castile based shampoo for years and just recently started making shampoo bars. My hair responds really well to those two methods. Everything else we do naturally: I make our laundry soap, all of my skin care items and soap, cleaning products and the like. Sometimes it just doesn’t work to do 100% natural, though I wish that weren’t the case. Thanks for this post!

  4. says

    Earlier this year I tried an all natural deoderant that was advertised and discussed by another proponent of real/natural foods & products. The detox period for me consisted of knots rising up in my armpits and them hurting so bad for several days that I couldn’t even raise my arms. I eventually went for a mammogram (it was time anyway) because I was really worried that something was wrong. It finally subsided and I really, really tried to like using the product but by the time mid summer rolled around I had to admit that I could not stand that icky, sticky wet feeling I constantly had. I was petrified that I smelled too, so I finally gave up the ghost and went back to my regular stuff.

    • Katrina says

      That is exactly why I don’t do any type of deoderent. I REALLY need the antiperspirent! It’s one area where I don’t change (went through that in college and found something that worked, finally).

  5. says

    We’d made a few different recipies of a “natural” laundry detergent. After a few months I found our clothes looked dingy, smelled and had stains surfacing. A little look into the ingredients and they’re really not all that great for the environment either. So now we use soap nuts for light loads and Tide for the stinky summer stuff and toddler clothes.

    • Kate says

      I totally agree! We tried natural detergent in our house…I thought it was working for a few months until all my towels started smelling like cooking oil and other nasty things. Do the soap nuts work for your casual, not-so-stinky laundry items?

  6. AshleyB says

    Great word! I always start out with a reason for doing things a certain way, but it’s always good to stop, reassess, and evaluate. Thanks for the reminder to be cognizant!

  7. Kathy Hutton says

    I buy my laundry soap and dry bleach it is “Country Save”. It works good for me but I have not read all the ingredients and I’m not to interested too. I just use soap and water or Meyers cleanser for most other cleaning. I am looking for a face system because I used Rachel Perry since I was young. Not making it any more and I can’t find anything I like…. help would be nice :)

  8. Melissa says

    Thank you for this Mission! I love your blog! Sometimes I do feel overwhelmed trying to be “all natural”, so thanks for helping me not feel bad about having some not so natural parts of my life. 😉
    I tried using Dr. Bronner’s for shampoo for a few months, but tired of how it made my hair feel. I am back to using Suave Naturals now, and I’m ok with it for now!

  9. Carolyn S. says

    Thank you! thank you, for saying “it may not be right for you” – sometimes I feel like I need “permission” to not like something it seems everyone else is doing.
    I tried ‘no poo’ and it was okay. I’ve got short, fine, gray hair and the last thing I want is to look older than I already do. And greasy flat hair is just not something I’m interested in.
    I’ve tried probably a dozen different types of deoderants. Maybe it was the detoxing period, but though I could [barely] handle feeling wet under the arms all the time, I could NOT stand the smell. And my clothes were just horrible. I gave up and went back to using anti-perspirant. I’ve tried homemade laundry detergent – don’t like it. Have used soap nuts (per your suggestion:) ) for almost two years now. I like them. I can’t even tell you why I like them, but I do.
    As one commenter said regarding streaks in the toilet bowl…yeah, mine gets a yellow cast under the water line… gross. I gave up the “natural” stuff and went with the mildest stuff on the market. It’s the only thing that works.
    I’ve made my own soap for almost two years and I love it. Whoever I give a bar to usually asks for more. In fact, my sister has asked me to just make a whole batch for her and her family. Forget a bar at a time!
    I’ve tried other homemade salves and stuff…some just didn’t work, some I didn’t care for, some were greasy, some I had to ask myself why I was making cause I never bought the commercially made! I think I would just get caught up in “I Made this!”
    I’ve had to be very careful not to take on other people’s convictions. I’d gotten to the point where I would find myself hyperventilating over the dangers I could be exposing my family to if I used (or didn’t use) a particular product (or food item).
    Becoming a “real foodie” has definitely been a journey. Sometimes not a fun one.

  10. says

    Such a great and important post Katie! Even we as “green and natural bloggers” need to be reminded of this too! This past year I’ve learned that two DIY cleaners that I thought were good and natural actually don’t work at all – mixing vinegar and castile soap – it just turns into a nasty gloppy mess. And I JUST learned this week that the fizzing action of vinegar and baking soda together actually break down to basically water and a little bit of salt – not a very effective cleanser! I think your questions to ask are so good and important – and ones that we need to keep in mind even years after doing something a certain way!

    • says

      “the fizzing action of vinegar and baking soda together actually break down to basically water and a little bit of salt ”

      … exactly! Another thing that gets my goat are natural cleaning recipes that couldn’t possibly work, for reasons like this. I have to laugh when I hear people suggest that you mix up lemon juice with water for cleaning. Have those people ever tried cleaning lemon juice off their countertops? It’s a sticky mess! And I’ve found that essential oils even gunk up my towels so they become nonabsorbent (another problem I had with homemade laundry detergents – what is the point of towels and diapers that repel water?).

      A bit of basic chemistry would go a long way.

      In regards to making one’s own cleaning products, it does feel all Caroline Ingalls-y but another perspective that’s interesting to me are the books written by Don Aslett. Don was popular in the 80’s – he was really before his time because he focused on getting rid of clutter and spending as little time as possible cleaning. He ran a multimillion dollar cleaning business so he know the art and science of cleaning, and how to do it very efficiently, and he encouraged women to never mix up their own cleaners. He basically inferred that doing so was disempowering. The ingredients just weren’t as effective, and sometimes dangerous… not to mention time-consuming and pointless. Caroline Ingalls would probably have been thrilled to buy effective cleaning products for a couple of bucks at the store! I think we create these pseudo-tasks to try to feel creative and earthy, but really our time is probably better spent elsewhere.

      Don Aslett also urged men to help their wives with housekeeping even if she stayed at home full-time, because everyone who lives in a space is responsible for cleaning that space. A breath of fresh air.

      • Raychel says

        I have to say I agree with you. I tried ‘natural’cleaners for a while but was not happy with the results at all. The only think I have stuck with is a degunking recipe of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. That really does seem to work.
        I love the cleaning products from They are environmentally friendly and much more effective. They are a bit more expensive up front, but in the long run I haven’t spent that much more money.

      • Mrs G says

        I love my natural cleaners!
        I find them to be as effective (if not more) than commercial ones and of course cheaper. I have a couple of commercial products still left and I cannot bear the smell anymore.
        I have chosen my recipes with care: of course you cannot mix an alkali with an acid and expect to work! As well as “wasting” essential oils in the laundry: they are oils so they will not dissolve in water, they are so expensive that it’s pointless to use them to get a scent that will be gone within hours (at most).
        As I do with cooking, I try to learn why a certain ingredient is used, what are its properties and how can be substituted.

    • Pam says

      Agreed! I saw a natural cleaning suggestion on another site recently… “Sprinkle baking soda in about 1 inch of water in the bathtub, let it sit, then scrub. A wonderfully clean tub thanks to the abrasive action of baking soda!” So I tried it. The whole box of baking soda. I re-learned that baking soda dissolves in water, leaving no abrasive qualities whatsoever. Salt water does not clean the bathtub well at all. Broke out the comet with bleach and cleaned the tub for real.

      • says

        Baking soda dissolved in water is not abrasive, but a PASTE of baking soda with a smaller amount of water (or liquid soap, or peroxide) can be a great scrubbing cleaner. It’s great for taking tea stains out of mugs!

        • Mrs G says

          I make a kitchen scrub with 1:1 salt/ baking soda (I use the cheapest possible salt) to increase the abrasive power. It’s simply perfect to clean my stainless steel kitchen sink.

        • Kim says

          A paste does work well for scrubbing if you use some elbow grease. My favourite use for baking soda has to be the oven though. Sprinkle baking soda over the baked on stuff and mist with plain water (bonus if it is still warm). Leave overnight and simply scrape out the next day. I have used a similar method for burnt on food in pots and pans.

    • says

      Yes, the only situation in which the baking soda+vinegar fizz is useful is when you need bubbling action–for instance, to clear a slow drain caused by scum on the pipes.

  11. Sara says

    Not related to this post, Katie, but I wanted to let you know you inspired me to make my own yoghurt yesterday, and it turned out lovely and thick! and not so tart for my kids! I’m working on your baby steps, but am somewhat behind:).
    I couldn’t be bothered with the cooler and pan of hot water so I used a heating pad, checked temp of yoghurt after a couple hours and it was about 95-97 degrees. So I turned the pad up to high from medium and checked a couple hours later, it was at 100. I turned it off at bedtime, which was about 7 hours for the yoghurt and out of curiousity checked temp again. It was definitely cooler at the top than at the bottom of the jar. Do you think using your cooler method would heat the jar more evenly? Have you ever checked? My hubby also pointed out that the cooler and hot water wouldn’t cost electricity:)

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