100 Uses for Baking Soda

Baking Soda: 100s of Household Uses - Diane Sutherland

 

It’s no secret that we love baking soda at Mobile Baykeeper. It is an effective cleaner, odor-neutralizer, and can be used in all sorts of hair and beauty care recipes. As a bonus, it is also much safer to wash down the drain than many of the soaps and chemicals that are traditionally used for cleaning.

Check out this list of 75 Extraordinary Uses for Baking Soda and let us know in comments how many you have tried! As a bonus, tell us in comments other Earth-tastic ways that you use baking soda.

Let’s make a difference!

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Earth Day: Our Day of Giving

Sunday is the Day of Giving for Mobile Baykeeper’s “Make a Difference Month”.  Today is even more special because it is the day of celebrating our beautiful Earth and God’s gift to us.  Today, we ask you to think about your gifts to the world. Last Friday at our Helen Wood Park volunteer event, we encountered the most amazing woman with the most wonderful set of friends and family members.  To honor her husband’s passing, the family asked folks to donate to The Nature Conservancy and the 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama partnership work in lieu of flowers.  Linda Harman shared an incredibly special letter her daughter wrote to the recently deceased Max Harman – husband of Linda and father to three amazing children.  I asked her to let me post it [on the blog] as an inspiration to each of you who reads this. 100-1000 Letter to Dad 2011-6-7.

The BP Oil Disaster of 2010 – just two short years ago – made many of us realize that our beaches may not just always be there for our children.  I have never had such an eye opening experience as the day my 2 ½ year old son with his big blue eyes and blonde hair asked me, “The beach is over, Mommy?”  At the time, oil was washing ashore regularly and the well hadn’t yet been capped.  He just wanted to go to the beach for the day.  I worried about his ability to spend the summer there as a 12 ½ year old (and beyond) bobbing in the waves by day and floundering at midnight.

So many things are different two years later and we still have tons to do to rectify the BP Oil Disaster and prevent any future disasters, but one thing is sure – we are all a lot smarter about how important the health of our beach is to our happiness (and economy, quality of life, etc.).

In planning for Earth Day, Mobile Baykeeper wanted to give the community something useful, simple, that would give you peace of mind and an ability to create a lasting gift to your families.

We proudly announce The Swim Guide app (www.TheSwimGuide.org) as our gift to the community.  This smartphone app is a fantastic way to give you direct information on the quality of the water at your favorite beach.  The Swim Guide is also a way for YOU to give back to your family by ensuring the beach is safe and healthy before you load up the beach bag, towels and sunscreen.

I want to be the parent Max Harman’s daughter describes to my son Coleman.  This is the least we can give back to future generations and, to be honest, to our parents.  Please use this app, this guide to safe beaches to create beautiful memories for your families.  Instill in your children a longing to be outside in God’s creation, to celebrate and cherish life and nature.

The Swim Guide is an app for iPhone®, iPad®, iPod touch® and Android (2.1 or higher) that makes it easy to explore and enjoy our waterways and beaches in Mobile and Baldwin counties.  Mobile Baykeeper, a fifteen-year-old nonprofit environmental organization with over 4,000 members, is the 3rd organization in the United States to launch this free app, which was developed by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.

Utilizing bacteriological monitoring data collected by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), Swim Guide is an easy way to check on water safety.  This free app helps you find your closest beach, know at a glance which ones are safe for swimming and share your love of beaches with your friends. Here are the app’s benefits:

  • Find your closest beach using list, map, or search tools
  • Discover a wide variety of beaches, ranging from city parks to nature preserves
  • Identify at a glance which beaches are safe for swimming (Green) and which are unsafe for swimming (Red) in real-time
  • Get walking, driving, or transit directions to the beach of your choice
  • Bookmark beaches for easy access
  • Invite your friends to join you at the beach using Facebook, Twitter, email and SMS text messaging
  • Report pollution or environmental concerns

Make a difference this Earth day, for the world, and in the life of a child.

100-1000 Letter to Dad list 2011-6-7

Saturday: Grow Alabama

At Table
Grow Alabama
Originally published in the Mobile Bay Times on April 3, 2012.

By The Clever Cleaver
A box of Alabama delivered right to your door.

Before you begin envisioning Nick Saban standing on your stoop, please allow me to cast the dye of dispersion onto your gaming table. I am speaking of something bigger than that. So big that Coach Bryant himself (yes, I paused to genuflect) would have been proud of this effort of which I am going to share. He was after all, a farm boy and as such never forgot his agrarian roots.

The name of the organization is Grow Alabama and the concept is brilliant in simplicity. Alabama produce (predominantly anyway) harvested each week on Monday or Tuesday and delivered to Lower Alabama on Wednesday. Fresh, enticing, delicious and dedicated to promote the farming of “table crops” in our beloved state.

Founder and President Jerry Spencer began by growing his own veggies on his farm near Birmingham and offered selections to local restaurants and word quickly spread in the community. Jerry did some research and realized that Alabamians were spending about $50,000,000,000.00 annually on farm products grown in other states, harvested, packed and shipped across several states before even being offered in the grocery store.

Jerry envisioned a fresher alternative and a way to keep those agriculture dollars in our state. Hence Grow Alabama was born.

Seasonal crops from farmers all across our state are available for direct delivery to a communal drop off point(s) in a particular community or, for a small fee, delivered right to your door each week.

The ability to draw from the entire state ensures a variety of products and helps to combat problems faced by growers such as weather. Jerry recalls the drought in south Alabama last year that hampered the sweet corn crop.  Grow Alabama customers were fortunate to have corn grown in the northern part of the state.

Geographical boundaries are also overcome as those delicious Chilton County peaches will soon be available here and strawberries grown in abundance here will be shipped to parts north.

Jerry’s philosophy is that if we buy it, they will grow it.

Most table produce is grown on relatively small farms that do not qualify for government subsidies and as such often fall into the scope of larger operations that lease or purchase the land and grow those crops that the government mandates such as feed corn for ethanol, soy beans for non-direct food consumption or other subsidized products.

The vision of Grow Alabama is to increase both the demand and the awareness of the table food farm in our predominantly rural state.

I think you would agree with me that locally grown produce also just tastes better than mass produced dietary staples.

With a bow to the late great Jerry Clower, ‘Put some South in your mouth’ and join me by trying a box of produce packed especially for your family, grown and cultivated by the sun and the sons of Alabama.

Visit www.growalabama.com to learn more or call 205-991-0042 to learn more.

Ward “Cleaver” has been involved with the culinary community in the greater Mobile area for many years. Join him every Sunday morning at 9 a.m. on FM talk 106.5 for Mobile’s only restaurant and food themed radio show –The Epicurious Hour. Have a question or comment? Email ward@epicurioushour.com

Friday: Energy Star Appliances

Summer is around the corner, and for many of us in the South, that means your home utility bills are going up, up, UP.  As temperatures rise, air conditioning systems work overtime to keep homes cool.  During the summer, more people may be at home during the day and will use more electricity in daylight hours than if they were at school or at work. These things add up in your utility costs and as your appliances are worked harder, they are also more prone to break.  If your appliances break or simply become worn out, there are lots of more energy efficient products out there that you can purchase.  ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to provide guidance and advice on products to increase energy efficiency in homes and businesses while saving money on energy costs. Buying energy efficient ENERGY STAR appliances, and performing routine maintenance, will not only allow you to do your part to be kinder to the environment by reducing your carbon footprint but also can save you a lot of money in operating costs over the lifetime of the appliance.

Routine Maintenance

According to EPA research, as much as half of the energy used in residential homes is dedicated to heating and coolingPerforming routine maintenance now will help in keeping your existing unit running well and make it run more efficiently.  For instance, dirty air filters slow down air flow and make heating and cooling units work harder to cool your air, which wastes energy.  Check your filter monthly to see if it needs replacing—filters  should be replaced every 3 months at a minimum.  ENERGY STAR provides a maintenance checklist for HVAC (home, ventilation, air conditioning) systems: Maintenance Checklist.

Programmable Thermostat

A great heating and cooling investment is the purchase of a programmable thermostat.  If you’re away from home at set periods of time during the week, you can pre-program your thermostat to have things nice and cool when you get home, but not run your system when you’re not at home.  More info on programmable thermostats can be found here.

HVAC Unit

There are many options in systems to cool your home.  So if you’re in the market to replace your existing HVAC unit, check out the ENERGY STAR guidance to see what best fits your needs here.

Water Heater

Another big source of energy usage in the home is hot water.  Showers, dishwashers, washing machines and sinks all use it , and EPA estimates that the national average cost of hot water per year per household is $400-$600 dollars. In fact, it’s the second largest household expenditure after heating and cooling.  As you can see from the chart below, over 50% of hot water usage comes from showering and doing laundry:

One way to save on hot water costs is to set your water heater thermostat to 120° F or lower. By doing this, you save energy on heat lost from water heater into the surrounding area and from water demand or use in your home. Lots of people love long, hot showers, but they are a big drain on energy and water use. Try your best to limit your shower to the time it takes to soap up, wash down and rinse off.  Also, the installation of a new 2.5 gallon-per-minute (low-flow) shower head can save energy — up to $145 each year on electricity, according to ENERGY STAR estimates — beating out both the bath and an old-fashioned showerhead on energy savings.

High efficiency water heaters use 10 to 50 percent less energy than standard models, saving homeowners money on their utility bills. If you’re water heater is reaching the end of it’s life, there are many energy efficient options to replace your old unit:

  • Demand (Tankless) Water Heaters Water circulated through a large coil is heated only on demand using gas or electricity; there is no storage tank continuously maintaining hot water. With these systems, there is an endless supply of hot water.
  • Heat Pump Water Heaters – Heat pumps transfer energy from the surrounding air to water in a storage tank. These water heaters are much more efficient than electric resistance water heaters and most effective in warm climates with long cooling seasons.
  • Solar Water Heating While the initial purchase price of solar water heaters is high compared to standard models, they can be cost effective. That is because the sun’s energy is harnessed to reduce operating costs up to 90 percent. Solar water heating systems require a conventional water heater as a backup water heating source to ensure hot water is available when solar energy is not.

Very often, gas or electric companies will offer steep discounts (if not free new water heaters) to homeowners if they are switching from a gas to electric or electric to gas water heaters – check with utility companies for local promotions. Water heaters generally have a useful life of 10-15 years (or more), so do your research to find out which system best fit’s your household’s needs.  Information on ENERGY STAR water heaters can be found here.

Washing Machines

Heating and cooling units, as well as water heaters, are the biggest utility energy-users, but washing machines and refrigerators come next on the list of biggest energy-using appliances.  There are a few practices to take up to make your current washing machine use less energy overall. Save on hot water costs by washing your laundry with cold water whenever possible. Switching to cold water can save the average household more than $40 annually (with an electric water heater) and more than $30 annually (with a gas water heater), according to ENERGY STAR research.   To save water, try to wash full loads, as EPA estimates that washing full loads can save you more than 3,400 gallons of water each year.   If it’s necessary to wash a partial load, reduce the level of water appropriately.

Generally speaking, front-loading machines have often been more efficient as they use less water to complete a cycle and use less electricity overall.  Now, however, there is a huge selection of ENERGY STAR qualified top-loading and front-loading washing machines to choose from.  According to the ENERGY STAR website, a full-sized ENERGY STAR qualified clothes washers uses 14 gallons of water per load, compared to the 27 gallons used by a standard machine, which is 50% less water used per load for a lifetime savings of 43,000 gallons of water. On average, a new ENERGY STAR qualified clothes washer uses 270 kWh of electricity, 30% less energy used than conventional washing machines.  To learn more about energy efficient washing machines, click here.

Incidentally, ENERGY STAR does not label dryers, but choosing a new dryer with a moisture sensor is a way to shut off the machine when clothes are dry, which saves energy over traditional timed settings.  Also, there is nature’s clothes dryer – the sun.  Provided you have no homeowner’s association covenants or city ordinances prohibiting clothes lines, and you have the space, hanging your clothes outside to dry on the line is the most energy efficient way to dry your clothing. Another option is a metal drying rack, especially if space is limited. They come in many sizes and styles, for both outdoor and indoor use.

Refrigerators

Refrigerators are another big purchase that can consume a lot of energy.  Some easy ways to improve your current refrigerator’s efficiency is to make sure the seals around the door are airtight and keeping cool air in, keep the fridge temperature set at 35-38° F, and if possible, place your fridge in a cool place away from heat sources like ovens, dishwashers and direct sunlight.  Also, don’t have the refrigerator door open for longer than it takes to remove the beverage or food of your choice – you’re letting all the cold air out!

If your refrigerator has seen better days, there are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a new one.  Models with top-mounted freezers use 10–25% less energy than bottom-mount or side-by-side models. Larger fridges use more energy, and unless you need a lot of storage, choose more energy efficient 16-20 cubic feet models.  Also features like automatic ice-makers and through-the-door dispensers increase energy use by 14–20%; those models also cost more.  For more information on ENERGY STAR refrigerators, click here.

Choosing the right appliances, and performing routine maintenance, are important ways to make you home more energy efficient.  Buying appliances like HVAC units, water heaters, washing machines and refrigerators are large investments that should last for many years, if not decades.  Remember to do your research to find the best products for your and your family’s needs and budget, because you’ll be living with these products for a while.

For more information and tips on energy efficient appliances, please visit:

The Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website: www.energysavers.gov

The Energy Star program website: www.energystar.gov

Weekend Project: Plant A Rain Garden

Your future rain garden?

We have talked about stormwater several times this month, and for a good reason. Stormwater is a huge source of non-point source pollution, meaning pollution that enters waterways from many places and is difficult to pinpoint and quantify. It is also something that we, as homeowners, have the power to influence.

Because run-off water can become polluted from multiple sources, addressing it requires a multi-front approach. We have discussed the two main ways to avoid contributing polluted water to the world. Broadly they are:

(1) Don’t pollute the water. This means not putting chemicals or pollution in the water in the first place, and not putting pollution in the path of water.

We have already talked about several of these:

(2) Clean up the water. As water travels, it will always pick up pollutants, but we have several ways to clean it up before it reaches our waterways or groundwater. We have talked about Rain Barrels and the hydrological and ecological benefits they have. Today we are talking about rain gardens and the way they benefit you and the environment.

Nature is pretty good at filtering water. Plants soak up water, excess nutrients, and minerals, and can help break down compounds in the water. Different layers of soil help scrub water clean as it makes its way to natural reservoirs of surface or groundwater. All we have to do is make sure we give nature a chance to work its magic. That’s where rain gardens come in. Much like the rainwater collection system you use for a rain barrel, one of the ways you can set up a rain garden is by connecting a tube to your roof gutters that directs rainwater towards the garden. Once there, the plants will soak much of the water up as they need it, but they will also hold the water in place and allow it to infiltrate naturally into the ground, which is all it really wanted in the first place.

This brings us to a second important point about rain gardens: what to plant. There are many excellent guides out there about planning and planting a rain garden, and about selecting native species, which you can find below. The main thing to keep in mind is to pick plants that are (a) native to your area, and (b) will function well in a rain garden. Pick plants that thrive in wet conditions.

Finally, location is crucial. Consult the guides below and local master gardeners or green landscapers to make sure you are situating your rain garden in the best possible place for your yard.

Now go get started! What better way to celebrate Earth Day Weekend than by reinvesting in your yard and the world around you? This weekend promises to be beautiful, so let’s get out there and make a difference!

Also, check with local garden stores or extension services–many of them offer workshops on a variety of topics, including rain gardens! In Mobile in particular, check with the Auburn Extension, they have several rain garden workshops scheduled over the next few months. http://www.aces.edu/main/

Learn More and Get Started!

How A Rain Garden Works

How to Build A Rain Garden

Native Plants

Water Wednesday: Clean Counters, Clean Water

25 Green Household Cleaning Recipes

Who doesn’t dread cleaning day?  There are a hundred things I would rather do than clean, but alas it must be done.  However, sometimes when we clean we also pollute our waterways.  When we clean our sinks, toilets, showers and tubs, all the chemicals and industrial cleaners have the potential to end up in our waterways. I think there is an assumption that to really get something clean you need to use harsh chemicals and antibacterial products. In fact, there are many household items that you already have in your home that are much less toxic and are still great cleaning agents.

It seems that nowadays there are hundreds of products to clean different parts of your house.  There’s a cleaner for your oven, a separate one for your countertops, a special formula for your sinks and showers, and yet another for your toilets.   The list goes on and on and your cupboard gets fuller and fuller.   But did you know that you can get all of that cleaning with just a few items?   If you have some baking soda, vinegar/lemon juice and tea tree oil you have all the fixings for a clean, healthy home.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a wonderful multipurpose cleaner.   You can use it to hand wash dishes by mixing a tablespoon of baking soda with the juice of ½ a lemon in a sink of hot water.   You can use it to clean your sinks and counter tops (it can remove stains and polish granite, too).   It can banish smells in trash cans and refrigerators as well help clean your laundry.   It can clean your toilets when mixed with a little white vinegar.  One of our staff members even made an air freshener by placing baking soda in a jar and adding her favorite essential oil.   A great book called Baking Soda by Diane Sutherland is a great resource for ways to use baking soda.   You can Google search cleaning with baking soda to find the best recipes to suit your cleaning needs.

Vinegar/Lemon Juice

The high acidity levels in vinegar and lemon juice make them effective cleaners and antiseptics.   Vinegar has dozens of household and garden uses including cleaning countertops, windows and bathroom surfaces.   You can also add vinegar to your wash to boost cleaning or remove odors by leaving vinegar out in your kitchen overnight.  If you are concerned about your home smelling like vinegar, don’t worry.   The smell should dissipate within and hour or you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to your vinegar/water solution. Also, one Baykeeper has found that apple cider vinegar is equally effective for banishing odors without the harsh small of white vinegar.

Lemon juice can also be used to clean countertops and bathroom fixtures.  You can actually cut a lemon in half and rub it on your shower handle to remove hard water spots (if you do this, please test in a small area….if you have a special finish it may alter the appearance).  Again, you can find dozens of websites that will give you more details and recipes for vinegar and lemon cleaners.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is a wonderful anti-fungal/antiseptic cleaner.   It got me through many years of potty training with my kids.   But it does so much more than disinfect clothes.   Tea tree oil mixed in a spray bottle of water will get rid of mold and must smells.  It will also freshen and inhibit mold in your laundry.   A spray mixture of tea tree oil, water and a little liquid soap will disinfect your counter tops.  It is the little oil that has many purposes.

So there you have it…three household items for your cleaning cupboard rather than a collection of harsh chemicals!   And if making cleaners isn’t your thing, there are also a number of environmentally friendly multi-purpose cleaners like Seventh Generation, Bon Ami and Method.  Many of these (and other earth friendly) products can be found at your local health food store, as well as Target and Winn-Dixie.

Check out more ideas for Earth-friendly cleaning on our Make-A-Difference Month Pinterest Board! http://pinterest.com/mobilebaykeeper/make-a-difference-month/

Good luck with your water-friendly cleaning.  I don’t know about you, but I am actually a little excited about cleaning my counters tonight!

Take-Action: Share your Cause

Take-Action Tuesday is the day we share one way you can take action and get involved in your community. Today we are talking about sharing your reasons for caring about a cause or issue with your family and peers. The more we know and understand, the more we care and the more we can change.

Second to “No” I think “”Because” might be the most despised word in a child’s vocabulary.
“Why do I have to go to sleep early?”
“Because!”
“Why do I have to eat my vegies?”
“Because I said so!”
“Why don’t the stars fall out of the sky?”
“Just because, my dear.”
The word “because” can answer the question, but on its own it lacks the ability to give understanding. And understanding is imperative to truly changing how someone sees and reacts to a certain issue.

For example, I didn’t think much about stormwater runoff until I knew how bad it could really be. I would see trash in parking lots and think that it looked horrible, but I didn’t question where it would go. Then I saw a video that showed me exactly where it went and it was even worse than what I saw in the parking lot. It opened my eyes to yet another area where the environment needed protecting.

Photo by mobilepaddler.blogspot.com

But I don’t litter, so what could I do with this information? I decided to share it with my kids so they would know why it is wrong to litter and how that action degrades out environment. On a rainy morning on the drive to school, the kids noticed trash on the streets. I asked them what they thought happened to the trash on the street. They didn’t know the answer. I told them that the rain would go to the storm drains (or the nearest creek) and take with it anything in its path, including the trash. That trash would then be spit out into Dog River and then make its way into Mobile Bay. And not just that trash they saw in that lot, but all the trash on the streets in the city. That’s a lot of trash.

What was their response? “Yuck!” And they hadn’t even seen the pictures I had seen earlier. Rather than saying we don’t litter, because well we just don’t litter, I told them why and it made all the difference. They don’t want to look at, swim in, or fish in a waterway full of trash! Who wants to reel in a deflated basketball? Now they know that in order to keep the River and the Bay clean, they need to do their part and throw trash away properly and tell their friends to do the same.

Educating our kids (and our friends and the rest of our family members) is one of the most important things we can do. When they understand where we are coming from, why we do and believe in certain things, it makes it much easier for them to identify with those issues and actions. For example, now when it’s raining and I ask my kids about where the trash on the road goes, they tell me, “Dog River, mom!” I know they wouldn’t know that if I just told them “Because, we just don’t litter.” And I know that over the years they will continue to learn and come to appreciate why our local waterways and environment are so important. Then they too can take care of the environment for their kids and share with them what they learned when they were kids.

For today’s Take Action Tuesday, take some time to share with your friends and family how and why you help to take care of the environment. Whether it is recycling, composting, using eco-friendly products or anything in between, tell them why it’s important to you. You may just find that they see it your way and start taking care of the environment too!

Resources

This week is also Environmental Education Week! This is a great resource for teaching kids about nature, wildlife, and the environment: http://eeweek.org/children_and_nature