A couple weeks ago my boyfriend mentioned that we were running low on our store bought dish soap we purchased last year.  This is the exact type of opportunity I wait for to seek out trash-free alternatives to our past traditional packaging-laden purchases.  I searched online for home-made recipes for liquid dish soap and the answer seemed to always come down to Castille liquid soap or soap flakes.  In fact, some sites claimed that you could make liquid soap from any bar soap.

Down to Earth does sell Dr. Bronner’s liquid Castille soap, but I was curious to see how easy it would be to make liquid soap from bar soap.  So, I bought a bar of Castille soap instead (which comes in paper packaging that can be put in my compost bin) and we grated half of it and soaked it in water overnight.  We put the resulting slimy mixture into the former dish soap container and put it on trial.   After two-weeks, however, the trash-free liquid soap wasn’t cutting it, particularly because it wasn’t cutting through grease.

Liquid soap into container

Why did this home-made liquid soap not work?

Determined not to be forced to buy another plastic bottle of dish soap from the store, I searched for recipes again.  This time I found out that  for grease-cutting soap, you need to add vinegar or lemon juice.  Also, the soap shavings should be heated on a stove with water.  Rather than making a large batch of soap that might ultimately fail, I did a mini experiment first to see how well this new recipe of melted shavings and lemon juice actually worked.  I compared its ability to cut through a dabble of olive oil with some hand soap we still have.

Testing soap

Does the home-made soap (left) cut the grease?

As seen in the photo above, the new soap mix works!  The hand soap mixture (on the right) seems more effective, but probably because it is more concentrated than the home-made mixture.  This will definitely be an ongoing soapy process of trial and error, but this is the grease cutting dish soap recipe I found from http://www.ehow.com that I used if you would like to give it a try.  If you use or hear of a more effective recipe, please send it along!

ingredients for home-made liquid soap

Ingredients for home-made liquid soap

Soap Flakes Method

  • Place 1/4 cup of soap flakes or soap shavings and 2 cups of water into a sturdy sauce pan. Place the pan on medium heat.
  • Stir the soap constantly with a wooden spoon until it melts into the water. Avoid allowing the soap and water mixture to come to a boil.
  • Add 1 tsp. of lemon juice or white vinegar to the soap once it has cooled. Pour the solution into a soap bottle.

Another challenge that arose last weekend was my annual birthday camp-out at the beach.  Of course, I insisted that we do it trash-free and for the most part, it wasn’t really that difficult. Bulk food is easy to come by, cloth napkins and utensils are easy to pack, and we were car camping, so weight wasn’t a limiting factor.  The challenge?  Keeping the cooler cool.  I reached out for ideas from friends before we left.  How can we camp for three nights without having to go out and buy a bag of ice for the cooler?  Of course, there was the option of not bringing perishables and drinking warm beer after day 1.5.  Rather than going that extreme, we decided to another option that someone suggested (thanks Krista!) – dry ice.

I filled two empty milk gallon containers with water and put them in the freezer the night before.  One frozen container went in the food cooler with 2 lbs of dry ice, and the other frozen container went in the “ice cooler” with 8 lbs of dry ice.

food cooler

Food cooler with milk gallon ice block

cooler with dry ice

Ice cooler with replacement ice and dry ice (under newspaper)

Ironically, the dry ice came in plastic bags – the main thing I was trying to avoid by going through this whole process.  Unlike the plastic bag used to hold ice, however, the dry ice bags were small, rectangular and re-useable so I put them with my camping gear.

The ice cooler worked great at first!  We had a new, frozen block of ice to use when the other milk container started to melt the second day.  Unfortunately, all the dry ice didn’t last past the second night, so the ice cooler was somewhat ineffective in refreezing the melting gallon ice container. The ice in the milk gallon containers also took up a lot of space in the food cooler.  And the dry ice was considerably more expensive than buying a bag of ice.  So, the ice cooler idea wasn’t a complete success.  We will try again next time and have already thought about how to make a custom cooler that is more effective.  If you have any ideas of how to keep a cooler cool for a few days, I would love to hear about them!

Cheese update:
We wanted to bring cheese for the camp out, so I went to my local Safeway deli to see if they would  let me use my own container to purchase some of their sliced cheese. The checker was hesitant at first, but he gave in after I told him that I bought meat from Whole Foods using my own container.  Cheese success #1!


Bringin' home the cheese in my own container