Sunday, 29 August 2010

How I Ditched the Chemicals in my Bathroom Cabinet

This was no walk in the park - I am an office-based professional so I need to appear presentable and not smell bad. Yet I also do a lot of sport, do an hour of walking per day (to and from work) and live in a climate that can get fairly warm for half of the year.

Yet at the same time, I do not want to continue using chemical-laced, ill-tested products.

I have found alternatives for: toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, soap and moisturiser. In each case I tell you why I wanted to ditch it and my experiences finding an effective alternative.

Articles on websites Mark's Daily Apple (for example, this one) have repeatedly highlighted that it's not just what goes into our bodies that matters. The pharmaceutical and other companies are just as reckless with the chemicals they ask us apply externally as those they expect us to swallow.

I was also inspired by this widely read post by Richard at Free the Animal, in which he described his ditching of soap and shampoo.

Before and After Photos
New Portability
Other Things I have Ditched

My Bathroom Cabinet Before and After

These are the photos before after I removed from my bathroom cabinet the things I would no longer be using... and a photo of the pile of crap I threw away.

Bathroom cabinet BEFORE.
Bathroom cabinet AFTER.
The things I threw away.

Okay, so I also took the opportunity to tidy it up, which it look better too! But I did ditch a whole load of soaps, creams, shampoos, toothpaste and other sundry crap I would no longer need.

Shampoo & Conditioner

This was where my journey started. Last month I once again stopped washing my hair with conventional shampoo, which was stripping it of its natural oils. I knew that after 2-6 weeks my hair would 'clean' itself naturally and stop looking greasy.

So I chose a holiday period to start the process. After 4 weeks, it had recovered from the initial greasiness and looked okay. Then, it started to get dirty again. I live in the city, so perhaps it was pollution. Whatever the reason, this was a familiar problem, because this had happened on previous attempts to go shampoo free.

Mrs M quickly began to warn me about my appearance, so I did some reading. There had to be a better way. I found this article. Baking soda and apple cider vinegar are all you need, said the author. You simply create diluted solutions of each to use as shampoo and conditioner. They don't strip your hair of its oils, and it looks and feels good.

Without telling Mrs M (or my Mother, her co-conspirator in the pro-shampoo lobby), I tried it out.

"How is my hair looking?" I casually asked them one day, having used the new solution.

"Good, actually" they both replied - "you've started using shampoo again, right?"

When I explained what I was doing, Mrs M was intrigued and my Mother was not surprised. Apparently it's what her mother used to do. They are both considering trying it, especially Mrs M, who currently spends big dollar on supposedly safe alternatives. To my untrained eye, the ingredients of these knee-tremblingly expensive products appear every bit as suspect as those in regular products.

Below are the photos of my set up - one bottle of vinegar and one tub of baking soda - cost: negligible. For each, two smaller bottles which I periodically fill with a dilute solution of each.

In the shower, I splash them on in the usual order, rinsing and massaging in between, and hey presto, good feeling, good looking hair. The bottles go in the shower with my olive oil soap - more on that in a moment.

Conditioner from apple vinegar.
Shampoo from baking soda.
The full shower kit!


I have been using soap made by Simple for years. Recently it struck me that for a 'simple' product, there were an awful lot of ingredients in the soap. I wanted to be able to clean myself without worrying about whether that list of chemicals contained any that give cancer to mice.

First, I read this article on how to make your own soap, but realised it way more effort than I was prepared to put in.

What the article did confirm, was that the ingredients required to make simple soap are fewer than I had been finding on the packaging of soap I was buying. After a little searching, I found some soap that was genuinely simple.

Olive oil soap.
Ingredients: genuinely simple.


Having read about the work of Weston A. Price, I am very aware of the impact of diet on tooth health. Moreover, I had been told by my own dentist that the brushing of teeth is important primarily because of the gum stimulation it provides, and that cavity and decay prevention are a function largely of diet.

Sure, toothpaste has a proven protective effect against decay and cavities, but if you have a diet that does not promote those things, it's not needed. Paleo/Primal is such a diet.

There are ingredients in toothpaste that can be found in other personal hygiene products, such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which my Mum had been warning me about for years and which this article suggests may cause problems.

My conclusion was that I should stop brushing with toothpaste.

Brushing with just water is okay, but I was missing the 'minty fresh' post-brushing feeling. So I investigated alternatives. And guess who popped into the frame once again? Good old baking soda. I read this article on a dentistry website, which seemed to suggest it was entirely safe. They suggested using a fluoride rinse to protect against cavities, but for the reasons above, this would not be necessary. Another article suggested caution because of the abrasive effects on the enamel.

I tried the baking soda. It was anything but a 'minty fresh' experience... but it was still vaguely satisfying relative to water. I decided to brush twice a week with baking soda and the rest of the time with only water.

One final hurdle: I was getting pressure from Mrs M about breath freshness. She seemed to be under the impression that toothpaste is the only way to avoid bad breath. I dispute this. Bad breath may be fleetingly mitigated by cleaning your teeth with toothpaste, but it merely creates the brief illusion of fragrance.

Ever smelled the breath of someone trying to disguise a heavily garlic-laced meal with breath freshener? Not pleasant. Halitosis originates from the stomach, not the teeth. And you don't need toothpaste to ensure your teeth and mouth are clean - water is fine.

I regularly floss my teeth too, which avoids food getting trapped between teeth. Brushing does not always remove all of this, leading to bad breath even after brushing, as the food decays in the mouth.

If you are interested in exploring the alternatives (e.g. coconut oil, xylitol), read this article. Now that I have 'let go' of the minty fresh experience, I am happy with water and intermittent baking soda - but you may prefer to experiment more widely.

Baking soda in a pot for toothpaste.

Deodorant / Anti-Perspirant

First of all, I tried wearing nothing at all. Mrs M went deodorant-free for a while and never seemed to smell. For a few days I was fine. Then I started to catch the odd whiff of 'man' through my shirt during the day. Not good for your confidence in the office.

It had obviously taken a few days for the chemical deodorant to work itself out of my pores and for the bacteria to realise it was party time. Towards the end of the week, after I had been walking home from the station for 20 minutes, I'd managed to generate quite a stink. So not using deodorant or anti-perspirant at all was not an option.

I did some reading, and came across this article in which the author says our old friend baking soda worked wonders for her.

A week ago I started using baking soda under my arms in the morning - just a splash, as if it were talcum powder. A week later, no stink. It works.

Baking soda in an old talc dispenser as deodorant.
Baking soda ready to apply to the armpit.

The lady who wrote the article does talk about getting some itching with the baking soda. She recommends a baking soda + corn starch mixture, but I have not found the need for this.


I have been an obsessive user of moisturiser on my hands and face for years, but had become increasingly concerned about the list of chemicals in the ingredients. As with the soap, I had been using a brand whose 'simple' ingredients were its main selling point. Yet there still seemed to be a lot of them, none of which I knew much about.

A visit to Mark's Daily Apple yielded this article, proposing almond oil as an excellent, natural and cheap moisturiser. So I bought some.

Initially used too much and found myself facially 'oiled up'. Once I realised how little was required, I was able to apply it to my hands and face in a way that left me feeling moisturised but not greasy. That bottle is going to last a long time.

I use a smaller bottle as a more convenient container keep on the bedside.

Almond oil as moisturiser.

New Portability

The nice thing about my new personal hygiene products is compactness. I get to choose the containers they go into. No more too-large, too-heavy containers, designed to give the impression of quality and volume... instead, I use my own, home-selected containers.

Here is a photo of the products I now take to the gym. It weighs a fraction of the previous stuff. A small plastic pot of baking soda will last for weeks as deodorant, as will the small bottle of almond oil as moisturiser.

Travelling light is important when you walk for an hour between home, gym, train station and work.

My portable version for the gym. I bother with hair on those days.

Things I have Already Ditched

Sunscreen. You may have spotted some sun screen in the pile of stuff I threw away. This had been lurking in my bathroom cabinet since I stopped using it last year. If anything I am more afraid of this than all the other products, which explains its early exit from usage. This post from Richard on Free the Animal shows some disturbing stats.

Aftershave. To be honest, I never really used it so there was not much to ditch.

Shaving Foam. I've used an electric razor for several years now.

So that's it. I now feel mostly chemical free in the bathroom. I would be interested to hear your own experiences and suggestions in this area.

Before and After Photos
New Portability
Other Things I have Ditched

See also:

Ditching the Bathroom Chemicals - Update


Finally, a question - I have used some new image 'technology' in this post. When you click on the small pictures they open as a larger 'overlay' on the page. Did this work on your browser/PC/phone? Do you find it better or worse than the normal linking method? Did you notice that you can use the arrow keys to go through the images like a slide show?


Anonymous said...

Nice work!!

I have been doing the baking soda and ACV combo for hair and love it.

As a leg shaving cyclist, I have found olive oil to shave my legs with fantastic!

Some good tips in your post.

Juan said...

Amazing post! Full of very useful information and links! Thanks for sharing it!
The pictures with the larger overlay look good :)

About the tooth paste: I am glad you did not fall for the fluoride cavity protection myth ;)

I agree 100% with you that the cavities are related to your type of diet. I also wanted to let you know about a natural cavity protection tree that they use in India called Neem (Azadirachta indica) when you travel to India you can see people chewing on Neem branches.

Chris said...

I like the approach with the photos. How do you do it?

Rachel said...

You've motivated me to try baking soda for teeth again. I remember I got used to the taste (and it does take some getting used to) when I lived in rural China, and the only toothpaste I could buy locally contained sugar!

I might also try that soap. I haven't used any sort of shampoo for years. My hair is simply better - more manageable, stronger, shinier - without it. It does get the occasional few raindrops on it, I suppose.

For deodorant I use Pit Rok which keeps the niffs at bay better than any perfumed gunk I've tried.

I have heard of people using coconut oil as moisturiser, though I've never tried it.

Photos work fine.

What about cleaning products in the home? Have you ditched them? I recommend E-cloths ...

TexasPrimalSurfWahine said...

First of all, on the technology upgrades, they all worked well and are quite cool. I use Mozilla Firefox as a browser and there were no compatibility issues. On the body of the post, thank you for the detail of issues and solutions. I really appreciate the link on the toothpaste, it confirmed why my teeth feel so clean after my coffee, real cream, and a splash of coconut oil in the morning.
BTW, really like your sites.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. Thanks for summing it all up. Any pointers on where to find the soap you are using?

Bob Garon II, Synergy Kettlebell Training said...

For me I've been chemical free for a while and warn against the traditional baking soda as it still contains aluminum in the sodium bicarbonate formulation. The crystal deodorants ALL contain aluminum or alum which is still aluminum. Here's one product without:

I don't use that and personally have made my own deodorant from a proprietary blend of tea tree oil, peppermint oil, and water. It works all day and leaves you smelling great while killing bacteria.

As for soap you don't want that olive oil version as the "salts" also contain aluminum.

For both body soap AND teeth I highly recommend Dr. Bonner's Peppermint Castile soap. 2 drops on your tooth brush and you're good to go for minty breath as well as allowing your teeth to re-mineralize over the course of the day.

Moisturizer I recommend good ol coconut oil. It's also anti bacterial too so it really does a great job. I use it as my hair conditioner and shaving as well.

So by doing all that I've simplified my life into 3 products for multiple uses that are both extremely safe, but also healthy on top of that.

Pim said...

First of all, I must admit I didn't read through the whole post, because I really, really need to sleep, but...
You could also try to read "Bon fire of the brands" it's about a guy who goes brandless. Also shampoo, toothpaste and other stuff like that. From what I can rememer his recipes look a lot like yours, but later this week I can crosscheck them and maybe give some tips ;)

Grok on!

Erin said...

I have made the move on most of my bathroom items as well. Been doing the BS/vinegar in my hair since June 1st. Its taken some technique testing due to hardwater, liking switching to white vinegar rather then ACV, but I think I now have it down and my wash days are only about every 4th day (I have long curly hair, so its been a challenge). I gave up deodorant as well...the first two weeks I used an alcohol/baking soda combo as things seemed quite off. Now I almost never have to use anything. I do find that heavy lifting or climbing produces a different 'odor' then just general exercise, but its still almost barely noticeable. I am not using much for soap anymore, mostly just scrubbing. I have reduced lotions, but I have not been able to shake them yet. I might try the almond oil. I have gone to an almost nothing ingredient toothpaste alternating with BS a couple days. Essentially, the last few things I am using (lotion, toothpaste, facewash)...I am using up and weaning myself off to nothing. My shopping bills are SO SO much less, it is great! I cannot believe it took me this long to take the plunge.

James said...

Another more pleasant alternative for tooth care is the miswak stick. It is made from the roots or twigs of a tree that grows in the middle east and africa. It is said the prophet Muhammad used them and it is recommended in the Hadith.

You can buy them in Halal grocery stores depending on the culture in your area.. there are a lot of Somalis where I live so they always have them in their stores.

I just now noticed Juan mentioned neem sticks. They are basically the same. You can brush your teeth with them and at least with the miswaak, you can chew on it to keep your breath fresh and to fight off hunger (a lot of people chew it during Ramadan). It is anti bacterial and also helps keep your teeth white, prevents cavities, and keeps your gums healthy.

Methuselah said...

Jamie - thanks - the olive oil tip for shaving is a good one. I will pass it onto Mrs M in case it can contribute to the emptying of her, more extensive cabinet!

Juan and James - great tip on the miswaak / neem sticks, thanks. I knew these were used by other cultures but had never thought to seek them here - yet I live in one of the most multi-cultural areas in the UK, Birmingham. I drove past a Somali supermarket yesterday. I will investigate immediately!

Chris - glad you like the photo approach. I got the code from here - it's for blogger, which I know you also use. It's pretty easy to implement, but requires a little fiddling for each post.

Rachel - cleaning products is the next frontier. We do use a relatively benign dish soap, I think, but are still using a spray-on surface cleaner, which I know Mrs M does not like the idea of. I would like to move away from this obsession with killing all bacteria to an approach that balances food safety and hygiene with the need to expose ourselves to natural levels of dirt to which we have evolved to be accustomed.

Texas - thanks for the tech info and glad you like the sites. I am tempted to try the coconut oil for a few more things myself, in due course. It's my favourite food, so why not make it my favourite bathroom product too? I could simply buy a vat of it each month :-)

Primalmami - I get it from Holland and Barrett in the UK, but this won't help you if you are US-based. You might want to read Bob's comment below yours, as he has some alternative soap suggestions.

Bob - really appreciate the info. I will investigate further. Mrs M uses some kind of crystal product and is under the impression it's okay, so thanks for the heads up. Will also look into the soap suggestion. Might need a follow up post!

Pim - look forward to hearing more when you've cross-checked!

Erin - indeed, the cost differential between the healthy approach and the chemical-laden approach is profound, especially if, like us, you have been buying expensive, so-called 'simple' products. It's gone to almost zero for me. Mrs M has a way to go, but we are working on it!

Mudbeard said...


"traditional baking soda as it still contains aluminum in the sodium bicarbonate formulation."

This is not true.

Sodium bicarbonate: NaHCO3
No Aluminium in there... ;)

Flavia said...

I've always wanted to try this but as a girl with long thick hair I just don't think I can bear the transition period. Know of any chicks that have?

Anonymous said...

Nice post.

I second the use of coconut oil for moisturizer. It leaves your skin less oily than other.

If anyone know of some alternative method to kill moths please post. Lavender, oak an other natural things fail.

The image script is nice but it does not work in Opera browser, maybe it needs some tweaking for compatibility.

Anonymous said...

Nice post.

I second the use of coconut oil for moisturizer. It leaves your skin less oily than other.

If anyone know of some alternative method to kill moths please post. Lavender, oak an other natural things fail.

The image script is nice but it does not work in Opera browser, maybe it needs some tweaking for compatibility.

Anya said...

"Sodium bicarbonate: NaHCO3
No Aluminium in there... ;)"

Correction, most commercial baking powder contain aluminum :

There are aluminum free alternatives, search for it.

Also : of you leave it in an open container in your bathroom it will slowly react with the moisture and degrade over time.
Use small airtight containers !

Methuselah said...

Mudbeard and Anya - thanks for the extra thoughts on Aluminium - I've found some aluminium-free BS which I will now start using insead. It costs the same anyway. I will also dig a bit more into why it matters.

Dream_Puppy - Mrs M, who has bobbed, thick hair, is thinking about it. I will include that in the follow up post if she's tried it by then.

Anon - thanks for checking in Opera. Presumably it does at least work in normal way on that browser - i.e. goes to a new page to show the image?

Mudbeard said...


Correct for baking powder, I wouldn't use that under my armpits. The commercial baking powder over here (The Netherlands) contains also corn starch... not a very good anti-bacterial agent.

Just use baking soda. Over here that's 100% sodium bicarbonate. But checking the labels is always a good habit! Maybe in other countries extra chemicals are added...

Anonymous said...

Methuselah, in Opera if I click on the image the screen turns dark and it does not load the bigger image (I tried it in FF so I know how it is, the screen turns dark and pops a bigger image). I can open it in a new tab with right click.

Methuselah said...

Thanks Anon - I just downloaded Opera and can see what you mean. In fact if you scroll down, you will find the image is lower down! This is a bug in one of Google's scripts, so for now there's not much I can do... but I hope you have an alternative browser you can use to view the blog! Thanks again.

CT said...

Is that almond oil basically from the cooking oil section of Sainsbury's? Interesting. Very interesting post!

Methuselah said...

CT - yep, that's exactly where it's from!

CT said...

And the baking soda and ACV looks like you got it there too - I'll go there later!

PS - photos work well

Methuselah said...

CT - actually, the baking soda was Tesco... but probably the same company that made it originally :-) Thanks for confirming the images are fine.

Kikilula said...

Baking Soda as Deodorant / Anti-Perspirant works better than most chemical produducts I ever tried!

I also use it instead of toothpaste now.

Thank you for posting those tips.

Methuselah said...

Kikilula - do you use it every day for teeth? I was a bit worried about abrasion. I am currently experimenting with Miswaak sticks. A bit messy, so I may need to find some better sticks than the ones I have at the moment.

Kikilula said...

I don't use it every day - most of the time a wet Teethbrush is sufficient.

I have tested a Miswaak stick, it makes pretty shiny teeth - but it's ab bit too tricky for me to use early in the morning... perhaps a little training will help. And I must still get used to its special taste...

Methuselah said...

Hi Kikilula - yes, I think Miswak takes a little getting used to. I have some fairly rough stuff at the moment, but have some proper sticks on order which I hope will make it easier.

James said...

That's awesome that you're trying it. I have been using miswak for a couple months now and I don't miss the western alternative one bit. Just make sure you do it right, peel the bark off the tip and chew on it until the bristles are soft, and soak it in a cup of water overnight to keep it soft, and cut it and re-"bristle" it every couple days or so.

Here in the states we have a show called "mythbusters" and I took an awesome mouthwash alternative from them. Just mix vodka and cinnamon and swish it around your mouth for a quick breath freshener!

Im glad I recommended something you are using Mr. M because your nutshell videos and your blog were my first introduction to Paleo! I have been on and off paleo, mostly on, for a couple months now and I have been losing some weight but more importantly feeling healthier! God bless from Seattle, WA

Methuselah said...

Hi James - wow, wodka plus cinnamon sounds like an expensive breath freshener! Then again, perhaps an expensive brand is not required because it's not for swallowing... I may look into that, for the sake of adding another 'natural' item to the cabinet. Thanks for the tip.

I am being quite lazy about the miswak to be honest - I bought a bag of randomly-shaped bits of the stuff and have just been using whichever bits of the stick are suited to getting into whichever gap I am cleaning, then leave it lying around to dry! I have some proper sticks being sent through, and will probably start following the correct approach then.

Glad Paleo is working for you and glad to have been able to help.

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