LaFlamme goes natural

Writer is just coconuts for homemade personal care products

Go ahead. Smell me.

Mark's wife, Corey, fills a reusable deodorant cannister with their  homemade version of "anti-stink."

Coconuts: They're not just for Mary Ann's bra anymore

In the LaFlamme household, the coconut reigns supreme, if you couldn't already tell. It would be our family crest if we were important enough to have one. I use so much coconut oil for such a variety of things, if I somehow landed on Gilligan's Island, they'd try to bake a pie out of me. I swish it around my mouth. I eat it. I cook with it. I rub it on dry or cracked skin. Once, I slathered coconut oil all over my face just to see what it felt like. It felt awesome!

I tell people about my new indulgence in natural everything and some of them just yawn. For many people, saying goodbye to commercial products is old hat. They've been doing it for years and why did it take me so long to catch up?

"Make laundry soap, cleaning products, rug cleaner, hand soap," says Linda Doucette Scott of Lewiston. "Just about everything we can make all natural we do, even make homemade flu and cold medicines. Much more cost effective and healthier for us. Use coconut oil all the time, for oil pulling, moisturizer, homemade chest cold rub with eucalyptus oil."

"Laundry soap," writes Suze Allen Blood. "Used to make my own dishwasher soap and body butter. I whip coconut oil with a hand mixer and add an essential oil and there you have it."

Jo-Anne Leonard Teacutter: "I use brown sugar, olive oil and real maple syrup recipe for a body scrub."

Rachel Legendre: "I make my own deodorant and toothpaste. Oh yeah, and my own laundry detergent and dish soap."

Meredith Kendall: "Laundry detergent, so cheap! Washing soda, baking soda, borax, tea tree oil and a splash of Dr. Bronner's for suds and scent."

Amber Shell Ford: "Laundry detergent, toothpaste and shampoo."

Renee Desmarais: "I use baking soda for shampoo and diluted apple cider vinegar for conditioner."

And on and on that list goes, making it apparent at once that I'm late for the party. And not just late, there are also a number of products that I haven't yet replaced. But I will, by gum. Once you get started, it's hard to stop.

For more, here is a link to a list of 101 things you can do with humble coconut oil. It's a conservative list:

The ingredients for lower-cost, less-chemical living

Fels-Naptha: .97 per bar

Arm & Hammer all natural Super Washing Soda: 55-ounce box for $3.24

Borax: 76-ounce box for $3.97

Baking soda: 1.35 pounds for $1.44

Dr. Bronner's Castile soap: 32-ounce bottle for $16.99

Aura cacia essential oil: 1/2-ounce bottle for $6.19

Deodorant container: $1.49

Dr. Bronner's organic virgin coconut oil: $19.99

Arrowroot: .33 pounds for $2.56

Do the clothes smell fresh and clean? No stinky sweat smell beneath my arms? Is my breath fresh and minty, the teeth sparkling white?

You don't have to sniff me, just take my word for it. Everything is fresh, everything is clean, and that, my friends, means I beat the rap.

Instead of using commercial toothpaste, soap, deodorant and laundry detergent, I've gone all natural. No more chemicals, no more mystery ingredients, no more of my hard-earned dollars in the pockets of giant corporations.

Call me a tree-hugging hippie if you want to, but I smell every bit as good as you do and I'm no longer bound by the chains of Colgate and Crest, Tide and Right Guard, Lever and Prell.

Sparkling teeth without chemicals or mind control

Let's start with toothpaste. Most commercial versions contain sodium fluoride, a byproduct of aluminum manufacturing and an ingredient in rat poison and pesticides. Delightful, huh? To be fair, even water is toxic if you drink too much of it, but the historical debate over the benefits of fluoride is still going on. What's the matter with fluoride? It depends on who you ask. Maybe nothing. But some people think it's bad for us even in the low doses we get in our toothpaste and drinking water. And, heck, some folks think fluoride is used as an agent of mind control.

Regardless, none for me, thanks. Since the start of the year, I've been using a homemade version containing coconut oil (of course), pure baking soda (from Axis Natural Foods in Auburn), Dr. Bronner's Castile soap and just a dash of lime-scented essential oil for flavor (I literally put the lime in the coconut). This pasty white concoction resides in a covered bowl in the bathroom, which means no more tube squeezing. When it's time to brush, I just use a little gelato spoon to scoop the paste onto my brush.

When I started, I was told it was going to taste like a mouthful of soap — which I'm accustomed to, of course, after being punished so often for foul language. But it didn't taste like soap, it tasted mostly like coconut, with a little extra fizz midway through the brushing. This paste isn't as frothy as your mass-produced toothpaste, like the Crest I've been using for years. You don't need to spit as much — and when you do spit, you should do it in a waste can so the coconut oil doesn't gunk up your pipes.

The result of brushing with this all-natural paste is pure delight. The teeth feel clean. Hell, the whole mouth feels clean in a way that lasts for hours. I liked the experience so much, that I brushed my teeth again an hour later just for the fun of it. I've been brushing them that way ever since. If there's a downside to this toothpaste alternative, it's the trick of getting a glob of the stuff onto the brush itself. The gelato spoon works pretty well, but it's made of evil plastic so it'll have to go.

An interesting thing: The first few times I used the all-natural toothpaste, I had to fight off pangs of panic. "Oh, no! I have never seen a commercial for this stuff or heard that nine out of 10 dentists recommend it, so clearly, I must not be getting all that I need!"

It's hard to shake off decades of brainwashing.

Based on my experience, you don't sacrifice anything by going your own way with toothpaste. It brushes away plaque, it wards of cavities, it whitens.

"I am 42 and I don’t have a cavity in my mouth," says a completely anonymous fellow on a natural living forum. "I have used a similar recipe for a long time, since regular toothpaste tends to make all the skin in my mouth sluff off. The dentist said it was probably a reaction to toothpaste in general and that it is on the rise in his practice. Anyway, my last visit I had no tartar on my teeth at all, I received a perfect score on my cleaning. The dentist asked what I was using, since a lot of his patients were asking for an alternative to the store-bought toothpaste. Personally I just use the coconut, baking soda and whatever oils I want. I love it!"

Me too, Brah.

Gee, my hair smells terrific

Shampoo? Got that, too.

Some commercial shampoos contain a known carcinogen in California called DEA, or diethanolamine. Then there's formaldehyde, which can cause all sorts of nastiness, from skin irritation to cancer. The manufacturers don't tell you this, of course. They only tell you about how manageable and soft your hair is going to be and that's all you need to know, mister.

Me, I parted (that's a joke, sort of) with the commercial shampoos by making my own, mostly out of our hero, the coconut. To be specific, my shampoo contains 1/4 cup coconut milk (some users say fresh coconut milk works better than canned), 1/3 cup liquid Castile soap like Dr. Bronner's, 1/2 teaspoon (or several capsules) of vitamin E oil (optional), 20 drops (or as many as desired) of essential oils of choice. (For dry hair: add 1/2 teaspoon olive or almond oil.) And we added a little baking soda to give more body to my wife's hair. (Putting the words "more body" and "wife" in the same sentence is something you should do very carefully.)

The mix is kept in a bottle with a narrow end for squirting. It looks quite a lot like a bottle of glue.

My early notes on the homemade shampoo look like this: "You have to shake it quite a lot. It's not as foamy as commercial shampoo but it feels RIGHT upon the head. It feels clean. Rinsed out nice. No girly smell. Not greasy, tangly or snarly, says what's-her-name."

I have since fallen out of love with the homemade shampoo. I like a lot of suds in my hair and this doesn't provide it. I'm still using it, though, and do you know why? I'm not interested in putting on my head the ingredients usually used to make most commercial shampoos sudsy. So for now, I'll live without the suds until we can tweak the recipe with a more natural sudsifier. Yes, I'm sure that's a word.

Never let them smell you sweat

For natural-ingredient deodorant, we had to track down some arrowroot, a starch obtained from several tropical plants. Almost all natural food stores carry the stuff, but for one reason or another, it's frequently in short supply. Probably because when stored in plastic bags, it looks quite a lot like cocaine.

But whatever. It took about 10 minutes to whip up a batch of deodorant, which contains arrowroot, baking soda, our beloved coconut oil and some more essential oils so that your armpits will smell like spearmint, orange or whatever scent you wish your armpits to be.

The deodorant is white and pasty and could easily be confused with the toothpaste. It looks pretty much like any store-bought deodorant, only the homemade stuff doesn't contain aluminum (which is what blocks your sweat glands in most antiperspirants), propylene glycol (it may be fine for you, but it was originally developed as anti-freeze,) and parabens (many of which are suspected of messing with your hormones). Numerous studies have been conducted to determine if there is a relationship between deodorants and breast cancer, Alzheimer's and allergic reactions. Most of the studies are inconclusive, meaning you get to decide for yourself whether the convenience is worth the potential risk.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that a guy like me, so highly evolved and naturally sweet smelling, probably doesn't need any kind of deodorant at all. And you're right, but I use one anyway just as a matter of habit. And I like the natural stuff quite a lot, mostly because once you get into the groove of using it, it's every bit as easy (and much, much cheaper) than using garden variety Right Guard or Speed Stick.

For a few dimes, we bought canisters from Axis that look and operate like a standard deodorant dispenser. Cram your homemade paste into that and it's really no different than using a commercial version. There's a little wheel to raise the level and a lid to protect it from crud. Easy as pie. Better still, it keeps you fresh smelling no matter what your lifestyle. Corey uses it before double doses of Zumba and she doesn't reek when she gets home. I use it once a day and I always smell awesome in spite of my very manly lifestyle.

Of all the natural products in the array, deodorant, to me, is the easiest. You can get enough to last a year for just a few dollars and there's no sacrifice to be made. I'm not saying you'd be stupid to stick with the store brands, but . . . No, wait. That's exactly what I'm saying.

Meet the new body wash

Surprise! The body wash is the shampoo, which also serves as shaving cream. That makes it a three-in-one natural product to keep in your shower. I'll bet you never saw that one coming.

As a body wash, this coconut-based lather works well. For me, it's all about the lack of eye-watering scent — I hate the perfumes of store-bought soaps, even the mildest of them. With the homemade stuff, you feel clean and you smell clean, but not in a fragranced way. You smell vaguely of coconut, like maybe you rolled around in the hammock with Mary Ann from the island. Hey, we're cool with that. We won't tell if you won't.

That's the thing about all these recipes. They can be tweaked to meet your particular needs. The Internet is full of recipes, suggestions and information. Just, of course, do your research to make sure the ingredients you're using are good for you.

My main complaint with the coconut-based body wash is the same complaint I have with the shampoo. It doesn't foam up a lot, although I'm told that's because I'm not shaking the bottle enough before using. I get nagged more in the shower than anywhere else.

But I've probably said too much.

Bubble bubble toil (but no trouble)

The main ingredient in my homemade laundry detergent is borax and who ever thought THAT was natural? With a name like borax, I expected it to be a byproduct from molten steel or something. It's not. Stand by for a startling revelation.

The cocktail of ingredients in many commercial detergents has for years included the carcinogen dioxane. But the manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on the packaging, so the consumer gets the idea that he's selecting between Mountain Rain and Dawn Fresh.

Not me, my friend. I'm bypassing the known problems, and the unknown ones, by using plain old Borax (a naturally occurring crystalline salt created by the evaporation of seasonal lakes, as it turns out), Fels Naptha soap (once used as a home remedy to treat poison ivy and made of its own mix of long-named ingredients, but of generally low toxicity) and baking soda (found in mineral springs) with just a dash of orange-scented essential oil.

How you like me now?

If you're going to replace one household product with something you make on your own, make it laundry detergent. Do it just to save money, if you have to. For around 10 bucks — the cost of a big bottle of the cheapest brand-name detergent — we were able to whip up a batch of detergent that will last us most of a year. It's just crazy. And what's more crazy is how fun the stuff is to make. You're boiling and stirring and pouring ingredients into a big bucket. There's steam and suds and mad cackling from somebody. It might have been me. My notes on the process:

"Fels Naptha looks like — but doesn't taste like — cheese. You could totally put this on somebody's salad and watch the fun unfold!"

"Borax is a detergent booster. It also scares ants for some reason."

"Mixing Naptha with hot water creates a cloying perfume. It's like being put in a headlock by your gramma."

"But Mike," I hear you saying, "our family's laundry is very important to us. We don't want our beloved children to go around with dingy clothes and we don't want our bed sheets to smell like human filth."

Fear not, cleanliness fans. The first thing we washed with the homemade batch was the bedsheets which, let's face it, are the nastiest items in the hamper. When they came out of the dryer, they looked clean, felt clean and smelled clean, but without the cloying fragrance, which was a concern due to the aforementioned memere headlock. I'm here to tell you that the natural detergent works every bit as well as the expensive stuff and I'm a guy who likes to roll around in the mud.

Carpet cleaner

What they use: harsh ammonium hydroxide and perchloroethylene, which may cause damage to the liver, kidneys and nervous system.

What I use: baking soda and orange-scented essential oils.

Kind of a no-brainer, isn't it? Their product costs in the area of $14 for a 30-ounce box; mine cost so few pennies it can't even be calculated. And here's a shock: The all-natural version is as good if not better than the commercial stuff, in my humble opinion. Sprinkle, let it sit, vacuum up. Now I just feel like a dolt for shelling out big bucks for all those years.

But I smell marvelous.

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laflamme au naturel, part 2

Oh, and for the toothpaste wouldn't it be easier just to save one of the more rubbery toothpaste tubes (I'm thinking Aquafresh tubes and make your own kewl label), cut off the end and fill that up? You can use those squeezy-tubey thingeys (or maybe a vice-grip) to keep it all inside after you fold up the end...
You're still too kewl either way, LaFlamme.
-Denise Mailhot


laflamme au naturel

Its kinda funny that the laundry detergent recipe came up about two weeks ago on Facebook and I had decided to try it. Can't find "washing soda" at WallyWorld but will bake some baking soda to alter it.
LaFlamme you are just too kewl.

SUSAN TURNER's picture

going natural

May I suggest the wooden sticks that you can wash and reuse from ice cream bars or popsicles for your toothpaste. You can also buy new ones at craft stores.


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