Make Your Own Soap

The basic principle of avoiding convenience applies to soap.  You can make your own soap and save money in the process — and probably get better soap.  Exact soap-making instructions are a bit beyond the scope of this blog (you can find plenty on the internet and there are lots of instructional videos on youtube), but I’ll give an overview of the basics.

All you need are three ingredients:

  • Fat (such as lard, coconut oil, or olive oil)
  • Lye
  • Distilled water

You can also add some other ingredients for scents or added effects (such as lavender, peppermint, honey, oatmeal, and various coloring).

The preparation method for basic soap-making is

  • C-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y add the lye to the water (rubber gloves and eye protection are mandatory)
  • Warm the fat over low heat
  • Get both the fat and lye-water to the correct temperature (which usually means warming the fat while waiting for the lye water to cool)
  • C-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y blend them together
  • Mix until thickened
  • Add any optional ingredients
  • Pour into molds and cover
  • Allow to cool slowly
  • Remove from molds
  • Allow to cure in the air for several weeks

That’s all.

homemade_soapYou can get very creative with the scents, colors, molds, and packaging.  You might be inspired by the soap-makers in your family tree.  (“Your great-grandmother used to make her own lard soap in the backyard.”)  You might explore the soap-making traditions of your ancestors.  (“This is the kind of soap they made in the old country.”)  Once you’re a skilled soap-maker, you have an excellent and one-of-a-kind unique gift for all-purpose giving.

You’ve probably heard that lye is dangerous.  It is dangerous.  That’s why you wear gloves and safety glasses.  You should also wear long sleeves and pants.  It’s also a very good idea to work with the lye outside, as combining lye and water creates toxic fumes.  But, in my opinion, the danger level isn’t so inordinately high that soap-making must be left only to professionals working on an industrial scale.  I’d say it’s not too far from the danger level of making using hot oil on a stove to make a large batch of french-fries.  Of course, you do need to be careful and, to repeat for emphasis: wear safety glasses.

Do some research and if it interests you, procure the ingredients and make a batch.  You should find a tried-and-true recipe and follow it exactly.  Measuring quantities and temperatures precisely is absolutely essential when you’re making soap.  It’s not like making a stew or soup that you can easily vary by adding more of one ingredient or less of another.  The fat, lye, and water must be combined in the correct amounts and at the right temperature for saponification to occur.

Depending on what fat you use and how you obtain it, I think there’s a good chance that you’ll find the money savings and the high quality of the product are worth the effort.  You might come to see, as we have in my household, that making your own soap isn’t much different than making your own breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Washing Shower Curtains

shower_curtainAccording to the internet, when confronted with a shower curtain that has become icky with accumulated dirt, limescale and hard water deposits, mildew and mold, soap scum, and serratia marcescens bacteria (!) … many people will just throw it away and buy a new one.  Even members of my own family would do this!

However, a spin in the washing machine will make a shower curtain as good as new and repeated washings can add months or even years to their useful lives.  Just put them into the washing machine with a few heavy towels (especially for top-loading machines, which can tear up shower curtains without the towels to act as padding and buffers) and add the usual amount of detergent.  As a booster, add about a half cup of ammonia (my favorite), or some baking soda, borax, vinegar,  or bleach.  [Of course, never use ammonia and bleach together.]  Run the machine on the longest cycle with hot water.  You might pause the machine for some additional soak time.  There’s no need for a high-speed spin.  Don’t put the shower curtain in the dryer.  Just re-hang it in the bathroom and admire it as it dries.

You can also admire the money that stays in your bank account each time you do this.  A new shower curtain might cost at least $8.  Washing it in your home washing machine costs about 50¢.

If you have a mildew, mold, and serratia marcescens problem in your bath and shower area, a fan in the bathroom might help.

The Salux Washcloth

The Salux washcloth is one of those things that made me wonder, “how did I not know about this before now?”, when I became aware of it a few months ago.  After using a Salux washcloth, I now feel that when it comes to showering, “I’ve been doing it wrong”, at least for my whole pre-Salux life.

saluxWhat is a Salux washcloth?  Materially, it’s like the bath pouf (“pouf”, yes I guess that’s the word) that is common in showers in North America and probably elsewhere.  Both the Salux and the pouf are made of nylon and polyester or similar synthetic fabric.  But while the traditional bath pouf is bunched up into a spherical shape (usually with a cord loop for hanging), the Salux washcloth is shaped like a scarf, flat, about 10 inches wide and 35 inches long.  You might not assume this difference in shape would make much difference in performance, but … you’d be wrong— it really does.

The Salux washcloth has a bit more texture than the pouf, so the Salux does a better job cleaning and exfoliating.  After I’m done, I feel really clean, cleaner than I’ve ever felt after showering any other way.  (Although I should mention that I don’t think I need that much cleaning every day; I use the Salux two or three times per week.)

How to use it:  While you’re in the shower, skin wet, you put a small amount of soap, body wash liquid, or shower gel onto the Salux washcloth.  You should turn the water off, so that you don’t rinse away the soap before it’s had a chance to do its work.  Then, holding the Salux by the ends, one end in each hand, you wash yourself with a back-and-forth “shoeshine” motion.  This is especially good for washing your back.  (See the picture.)  The Salux makes lots of suds — more than the pouf, probably due to the quick back-and-forth motion.  You can also bunch it up and use it as you’d use a pouf or old-fashioned (cotton terry) washcloth, but I mostly use it fully stretched out between two hands pretty much everywhere: my back, underarms, legs and feet, even between toes.  (But not my face, the Salux experience is a little too intense for face cleaning.)

How it saves money:  The main advantage to using the Salux washcloth is that it allows you to use less soap.  With the Salux I use only about 1/3 the amount of body wash liquid as I normally use without it.  Getting cleaner while using less soap means that the Salux will pay for itself long before it wears out.  One reviewer on Amazon mentioned that after a Salux washcloth is too worn out for use in the shower (because it begins to fray at the ends and loses some of its texture), he saves it and uses it for household cleaning in the kitchen and bathroom.

Another nice thing about the Salux is that because of its shape it’s easier to rinse clean after use and it dries quickly and completely, thus making it more sanitary.  Poufs don’t dry as well because the bunched-up shape doesn’t allow as much contact with air.  You can also wash the Salux in a washing machine (same for the pouf), but this doesn’t seem necessary.  They get clean just by rinsing them well after use.  The need to launder cotton washcloths is one of the main reasons they are inconvenient and inefficient.  (If you launder your Salux washcloth in your washing machine, be sure not to put it in the dryer.  To much heat is not good for synthetic fabrics.)

A couple final notes.  (1) Some webpages use the word “towel” to describe the Salux.  I think that’s a mis-translation (given that these are made in Japan).  The Salux is a washcloth, intended to be used with soap and water for cleaning, not drying.  It wouldn’t be good for drying off after a shower.  (2) It’s been reported that Chinese-made fakes and knockoffs are common, but the consensus seems to be that these are inferior and that the real Japanese-made Salux is much better than any imitator.

Bathroom Fan

“Bathroom fan” usually means a fan that takes air from the bathroom and moves it outside, i.e., it’s an exhaust fan.  A bathroom fan performs two functions: (1) removing unpleasant bathroom odors, and (2) removing humid air from the bathroom.  If it’s the first function you want, the typical bathroom fan connected to a duct that leads outside is what you need.  But if you want to reduce the humidity in the bathroom, there’s an alternative you might want to consider, especially in the wintertime or in the cooler months when you’re neither air-conditioning nor heating.

First: It’s a good idea to reduce moisture and humidity levels in the bathroom and running a fan to move air out of the bathroom is a good way to do that.  If you take a shower or bath and then do nothing to dry out the bathroom, you’ll eventually have all kinds of problems with mold and mildew, peeling paint, rusting metal, rotting wood, decaying drywall, … and your towels won’t dry between uses.  You might also get nasty stuff growing on your shower curtain, but you can wash your shower curtain instead of throwing it away and getting a new one.

In the summertime, it makes good sense to use the bathroom exhaust fan to remove the post-shower warm, humid air from your bathroom and replace it with cool dry air that comes from the rest of your house.

But in the wintertime, your house actually could use that warm humid air.  If you move it outside with a bathroom fan, you’re not only getting rid of something useful, but you’re also getting rid of air that you paid to heat with your home’s heating system.

desk_fanDuring cold weather, I’ve had good results dehumidifying the bathroom with a desk fan placed on a bathroom shelf with the airflow directed to the open door.  This moves the warm humid bathroom air into the hallway, and from there it circulates throughout the rest of the house.  As air moves out of the bathroom it is replaced by drier air from outside the bathroom.  Some of it comes in from the hallway, as the fan is mixing the bathroom air with the hallway air.  But there is also some air movement from the bathroom heating duct of the forced-air system.    Houses generally need some additional humidity in the wintertime, and this practice helps out in that regard.  It also helps warm the air inside the house by capturing the heat from the hot water.  All in all, it seems to work.  The bathroom, and everything in it, gets dry.  The rest of the house gets a little heat and humidity that it needs.

Shave With a Double-Edged Razor

A little thing, done repeatedly,  can add up to a large total over time.

Take shaving:  Most men shave at least 4 times a week, many every day.  Look at the money a man allocates to the daily shave and consider how it adds up over the course of decades.  Shaving is a big deal.  If you can adjust your shaving habits a bit and spend a little less, the savings can be significant.

safety_razor

Remember, it’s the razor that holds the blade

How much can you save if you change the way you shave? It might not sound like much, but a little each day, each week, … adds up to quite a lot considering the number of times you’re going to shave over the rest of your life. Why give more of your $$$ to the shaving industrial complex than is necessary?

First, let’s define some terms we’ll be using.

Razor.  The device you hold in your hand that holds the blades that cut your whiskers.  Don’t confuse “razor” and “blade”.

Double-edged razor.  A type of safety razor that takes double-edged blades.  Double-edged razors were the way that most men shaved during most of the twentieth century.  Safety razors are so called because the blade is partially covered, making them safer to use than the straight razor used in the 1800s and earlier.

Double-edged razor blades.  The blades, with a sharp edge on two sides, that go into the double-edged razor.  (There is also a type of blade that is sharp on only one edge that is used with a different kind of safety razor.)

Multi-blade razor.  A razor that uses 2, 3, 4 or ??? blades.  These started becoming popular in the 1970s.  Some are cartridge razors, which use blades that come in a plastic cartridge, others are disposable razors.  These razors can also be classified as safety razors because the blades are partially recessed under a cover.

micro_touchMy shaving odyssey.  After shaving for more than 30 years with cartridge razors — the Trac II, Mach3, Fusion, and other similar 2-blade and 3-blade contraptions that were becoming popular when I started shaving in the 1970s — I somehow got interested in shaving with a double-edged (DE) safety razor. (Maybe it was those ads on TV with Rick Harrison, the pawn shop guy …)

If you were born after the early 1970s, you might have never seen anyone shave with a double-edged razor.  I can remember my Dad using one when I was young, before he, along with most American men, switched to cartridge razors.  I did some research and found lots of websites where enthusiasts share information.  That got me interested.  I bought a razor and started shaving with it a couple years ago.

The truth is:  You don’t need 2, 3, 4, or 5 blades on one razor to shave your face.  That’s just advertising and marketing.  You don’t need to throw away a handful of plastic every month.  You don’t need to spend $5 to $10 per month on blades.  Look what’s happened:  Big razor company wants to make more money by selling patented razors that take only one kind of blade cartridges — the kind they make.  The company gets you started with their razor for which they are the only supplier of blades, the monopoly supplier.  And they get to charge you monopoly prices.  Of course, if you know any economics, then you know that those prices are going to be as high as possible.  Much higher than the prices in a competitive free market.

DE safety razors are a more economical and enjoyable way to shave.

A DE safety razor (remember, that’s the handle and mechanism that holds the blade) is made of metal.  It’s solid.  It’s heavy.  Not a piece of plastic.  A good DE safety razor, costing $25 to $50, will last a lifetime with normal use and basic care.  In fact, a good razor might last more than a lifetime.  You can use your father’s or grandfather’s if you can obtain it.  You can buy vintage DE razors on eBay.  Sterilize them with alcohol before you use them.

I will admit that using a safety razor requires developing a new set of skills.  That takes several days.  You don’t handle a DE razor the way you handle a cartridge razor.  There are lots of helpful websites and videos.  Study a few before you try a safety razor.  Now that I have learned, I am able to get a better, smoother, closer, and more enjoyable shave with a safety razor than I ever had with cartridge razors.  Yes, as weird as it may sound, it’s actually enjoyable to shave with a DE safety razor.

There are some other advantages to using DE razors.

Safety razor blades are more sanitary than cartridge blades.  And when you’re pulling a piece of sharpened steel across your skin, you want it to be clean!, don’t you?  The DE safety razor can be opened and cleaned with running water.  Compare that with cartridge razors; they’re difficult to clean and get gummed up with shave cream, whiskers, bits of exfoliated skin and whatnot.  Did you ever look closely at one after you’ve used it for a several days?  No matter how you rinse them, you can’t get them clean.  There they sit in your bathroom, gunked up with damp scum: the perfect breeding ground for germs, bacteria and who knows what.  Multi-blade cartridge razors are more likely to irritate your face and leave you with razor bumps (ingrown hairs), irritation, and infections.

Safety razors better for the environment.  All I dispose of each week is small piece of steel (the blade itself) and a bit of paper (that the blade comes wrapped in).  All of that can be recycled.  Multi-blade cartridges consist of steel blades encased in plastic.  They can’t easily be taken apart, so they can’t easily be recycled.

[Note: I actually don’t throw the blades in the trash. That might be dangerous. I put them into a “blade bank” that I made from an empty chicken broth can.  After I found a can of broth in the pantry, I cut a slit in the top (just big enough for a blade to slide thru), drained the broth into a pot of french onion soup I was making, and rinsed the can a few times.  I put my used blades thru the slot into the can.  It will take years before the can is full.  Then I will put it into the recycling.  Fun fact: Bathroom medicine cabinets in older homes have small slots that allow used blades to be deposited between the walls of the house itself.  They accumulate there never to be seen, unless the house is torn down.]

But here’s the real deal:  It’s less expensive to use the double-edged blades and razor system.

DE blades are more-or-less a commodity.  Many companies, located in many countries, make dozens of brands of blades, and they are all the same standard size.  Thus, any DE blade will fit in any DE razor.  Free market competition at its best.  If you buy them in bulk, enough blades for a year will cost less than $25.  I use one blade a week, and am currently working my way thru a pack of 100 that I bought from a big online retailer for about $17.00.  That’s 45 cents per blade … 45 cents per week!  Compare that to the cost of new cartridges for a plastic multi-blade razor.

How much can you save if you change the way you shave?  It might not sound like much, but a little each day, each week, … adds up to quite a lot considering the number of days you’re going to shave over the rest of your life.  Like I said: Why give more $$$ to the razor companies than you need to?

Like a lot of things, it takes some upfront cost to get started.  Spend a little more now, save a lot over the years to come.  The cartridge razor companies know this; that’s why they are careful to price their introductory package lower than the cost of a safety razor.  Once you’re using their system and have to buy their blade cartridges, … that’s where they make their profits.

Let’s compare.

Cartridge Razor

$31 for the plastic razor and 4 blade cartridges. Each cartridge lasts a month, according to the manufacturer.  (I doubt that, but we’ll take it as a given.)

After that, you buy 12-pack of cartridges for about $35 every year.

Total cost after 64 weeks (to use up the 4 cartridges that came with the razor and the 12-pack): about $65, which is about $1 per week.

Double-Edged Razor

This is a bit more complicated because you have a large choice of razors and blades. You will want to experiment with some different blades to see which one gives you the best shave. But you want to wait until you know what you’re doing, until you’ve learned the safety-razor basic technique, before you start experimenting with different blades.

Let’s say about $30 for a decent double-edged safety razor.

Buy a 100-pack of your favorite blades for $20 every year, assuming you use 2 blades per week.  (This price varies a bit, depending which brand you like, there are some blades that cost less).

Total cost after 50 weeks: about $45, which is about 90¢ per week.  To go 64 weeks (matching the cartridge razor example above) would cost about $58.

Continuing Savings with Continuing Shavings

In the second year, the multi-blade cartridges will be another $34.

Another pack of 100 DE blades, only $15.

And so the savings accumulate

Your metal safety razor should last for many years.  (And your plastic cartridge razor … do you think it will last decades?)

The longer you use your safety razor, the more you save.  The Gillette razor I currently use is older than I am — it belonged to my grandfather!

Furthermore, I find that I use DE blades at a slower rate than 2 per week.  And as I’ve already mentioned, I doubt that any plastic multi-blade cartridge will last an entire month.  If you use 2 cartridges per month, then your annual cost will be close to $70.

More Savings with Shaving Soap

williams_mug_shaving-soapYou can save even more by using shaving soap and a brush instead of canned shaving cream.  Shaving soap is usually sold in round pucks that fit into a bowl (or a cup, mug, or scuttle) that holds the soap so you can use a wet brush to whip up a good lather.  It also comes in sticks that you rub onto your face much the same way you apply stick deodorant, then you use a wet brush to whip up the lather right on your face.  Generally the pucks are larger than the sticks, by weight.  A puck of shaving soap costs more than a can of shaving cream, but it lasts far longer — so shaving soap is less expensive on a per-shave basis.  Some luxury brands of shaving soap cost much more, so they might be good to receive as gifts (hint, hint).  Even modestly-priced shaving soap gives a better shaving experience than foam from a can.  It does take a little longer and requires handling a brush and bowl (getting them out, rising the brush, putting them away), but many men swear by it.

arkoAs with the razor and blades, some up front costs must be borne before the savings can be realized.  You definitely need a brush.  You can’t make later with your hands.  Shaving brushes start at about $15.  Some are much more.  Some brushes are made with natural animal hair.  Badger and boar are commonly used.  Some brushes are made with synthetic bristles.  You should also get a stand that holds the brush, bristles down, and allows it to dry between uses.  You don’t really need a special bowl or mug to put the soap in, thought one is nice to have.  To get started, you can use a bowl or mug from your kitchen.  I recommend something non-breakable: plastic, rubber, stainless steel, or wood.  (Some shaving soaps come packaged in a bowl.)

My Advice

If you’re considering switching to a safety razor, here’s some advice.  Get yourself a safety razor and learn to use it.  If it comes with 5 or 10 blades, use those and learn the skills so that you can shave without getting any cuts or nicks.  Then, before you buy a box of 50 or 100 blades … get a blade sampler pack.  Most men find that some blades work better than others.  There is no one blade that works well for everyone.  It depends on your beard, your face, your technique, and your razor (different razors hold blades differently: slightly different angles, different amounts of blade exposure, etc.)  You’ll want to find which blade works best before you buy in bulk.

I shave right after I shower and wash my face. Gotta get the whiskers wet and well hydrated.  I use either shave cream from a tube, rubbed on with my fingers (no brush) or I do the whole shaving soap, bowl, and brush ritual.  (You get a lot more shaves from a tube of shave cream than from a can. Shaving soap is even more economical.)  Then I shave with my safety razor!  It feels great.  I’ll never go back to cartridge razors.

So …

Do yourself a favor: Make the investment in a basic DE safety razor.

One Last Tip

It’s a good idea for your razor, blade, and brush to dry completely between uses.  Because I share a bathroom with other people who take long showers, I store my shaving equipment in my bedroom where the air is drier.  I also usually rinse my razor and blade by dripping rubbing alcohol of them to displace any water and sterilize everything before I put it away.

Here’s a video from “The Art of Manliness”,

Is That Shampoo Bottle Empty?

prellMore than once I’ve noticed an “empty” shampoo bottle that someone in my house (not I) threw in the trash  … and upon closer examination I see that it had enough shampoo left in it for at least one more use.  That put an idea into my head.  Now, whenever my shampoo or body wash bottle seems empty, I add a bit of warm water (a spoonful or two) and shake well.  The sudsy mixture that results is ready to use.  Often I can do the same thing a second or third time.  I don’t know how many shampoos I get from one bottle of shampoo, but getting another 2 or 3 uses is saving some money.  So, maybe my shampoo bottle gave me 3% more hair washing.  Well, a few percent here, a few percent there— it all adds up.  The same procedure works for liquid laundry detergent.  (Related: Once I found myself at the laundromat with a lot of dirty clothes and no laundry detergent because I had left it at home.  I noticed that the recycling bin was full of “empty” detergent containers.  Using the same method of adding a bit of water to the “empty” containers, I washed all my clothes with detergent that had been thrown away.)