Living Naturally

Essentials for the down-home household

Margaret Boyles

A baker’s dozen of safe, cheap, natural, multi-purpose essentials

Most of us keep a few basics on hand: pantry staples, first-aid items, cleaning and laundry products, personal-care items such as soap, shampoo, and deodorant.

Eyeing my list as I headed into town one day, I had to chuckle. Most of the half-dozen staple items on my list that day fell into two, three, or all of the above categories.

Later that day I made a list of my most common household staples. With one or two of the products on that list, I can clean just about any surface or object in and around my home, rustle up a decent meal (except for the vegetables), administer first aid for most common ailments, and clean /pamper my skin, hair, and teeth. (I’m a longtime passionate vegetable gardener and find many of these staple ingredients also help fight plant diseases, kill or repel insects, or provide plant nutrients.)

What’s more, each of these products is inexpensive, readily available, natural, and safe *(free from potentially harmful dyes, fragrances, preservatives, and other additives). Here’s the list along with a few of the ways I use each product.

In future posts, I’ll have a lot more to say about the specific uses of each of these frugal-household staples. Stay tuned.

  1. Oatmeal: cooking staple, skin care
  2. Cider vinegar: antiseptic, hair rinse, window-cleaner, ingredient in salad dressings and pickling-brine ingredient, insecticide
  3. Corn meal: cooking staple, weed-killer, mild fungicide (plants and people), exfoliant, sand substitute for children’s play table
  4. Honey: sore throat gargle (with cider vinegar), general-purpose sweetener, antiseptic for burns and wounds, skin moisturizer
  5. Eggs: versatile, nutritious food; hair restorative, skin care, ground shells used in horticulture, household stain removal
  6. Sea salt: cooking staple, gargle, eye wash, mouthwash, toothpaste substitute, sinus-cavity irrigation, bath salt, exfoliant, scouring power (with baking soda)
  7. Baking soda: general purpose household cleaner, toothpaste substitute, shampoo, deodorant (underarms, shoes, refrigerators, carpets, lunch boxes), itch-reliever
  8. Olive oil: salad dressings, cooking oil, ear-wax removal, skin softener
  9. Castor oil: superior skin conditioner, a drop tames hair frizz, quells inflammation (I don’t use castor oil internally).
  10. Borax: shampoo (really!), laundry additive, general cleaning agent
  11. Epsom salts: relaxing bath, foot soak, laundry additive
  12. Fresh or powdered ginger root: spices entrees and deserts, quells nausea, reduces inflammation and pain
  13. Witch hazel: antiseptic, astringent, bruise-healer, relieves itching, reduces under-eye bags, under-eye puffiness, heals diaper rash

* Despite their low toxicity, I'd keep a few items such as Borax, baking soda, salt, Epsom salts, witch hazel, and castor oil, on a high shelf or locked cabinet away from children.


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Olive Oil

Olive oil is a natural antibiotic and is excellent for most skin irritations. Scratches, things like that. I would never put it on a burn of any kind. Also good for chapped lips, dry hands and feet. It was recommended to me by a Nurse Practitioner for a bug bite on my lip.

White Vinegar

Surprised white vinegar's not mentioned. After trying to scrub off dye on painted white wood for a half hour, looked up what to do. Mixed white vinegar with baking soda (on your list) to make a paste, and it worked very quickly. I'd be more interested in hearing what borax is. Keep seeing this mentioned. This is natural?

Borax - voila! I looked this up for you.

Borax, also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate, is an important boron compound, a mineral, and a salt of boric acid. It is usually a white powder consisting of soft colorless crystals that dissolve easily in water.

Borax has a wide variety of uses. It is a component of many detergents, cosmetics, and enamel glazes. It is also used to make buffer solutions in biochemistry, as a fire retardant, as an anti-fungal compound for fiberglass, as an insecticide, as a flux in metallurgy, a texturing agent in cooking, and as a precursor for other boron compounds.

The term borax is used for a number of closely related minerals or chemical compounds that differ in their crystal water content, but usually refers to the decahydrate. Commercially sold borax is usually partially dehydrated.

The word borax is Persian and originates in the Middle-Persian būrak.