Renovation & Design

SOLUTIONS: Castile soap a gentle but tough alternative

QUESTION: More and more I hear about castile soap. Is it healthier than regular soap? If so where can I purchase it? Sean, Winnipeg

ANSWER: Over the last 75 years, thousands of chemicals have been created and introduced into the environment. Our air, water, soil, and food indicate that certain chemicals have lasting and often detrimental effects on the environment and on our health.

Despite these facts, many of us unknowingly use toxic chemicals on a regular basis, pure soap flakes or castile soap are a healthier choice than many of the products lining the grocery store shelves.

Castile soap is a type of soap made from vegetable oil instead of animal fat or synthetic substances. However, many soap makers insist that to be "castile" soap it must be made exclusively or predominantly from olive oil, coconut almond, hemp and jojoba oil.

Castile soap is gentle and tough enough to be used as body/hand soap, shampoo, foot soak, bubble or baby bath or an all-purpose cleaner for bathrooms and kitchens. It also works well to use in the laundry to clean fabrics, diapers, pets, fruit, utensils, floors and walls. As well, castile soap is handy for shaving and carrying around while travelling and at work.

QUESTION: I keep buying white towels and I am not able to keep them white. What should I do to keep them white once they head for the washing machine? Right now I own white towels from Turkey and we live out of the city using a softener machine for our well water. Using bleach does not seem to do anything at all. That goes the same for white socks.

Is it our water, if so what kind of powerful detergent do I need? Thank you, Anne, Erickson

ANSWER: We also live in the country and share a well with the neighbours. Purchasing a water softener/iron filter was an investment that has really paid off. If this is not a possibility, do what I do whenever in doubt: boil it. You can boil your socks, towels, white T-shirts and anything else that you want to keep white.

Using a stainless-steel pot and either white vinegar, washing soda, lemon juice or a freshly halved lemon and enough water to cover the fabric in a pot, boil for 10 minutes. In the summer, laying clothing on the grass to dry after washing is also an effective natural whitener.

It doesn't sound as though detergent is the problem but instead the rust creeping into your machine. Use any of the above boiling suggestions and then cool the water and dump the entire solution into the machine. This will clean your fabrics as well as your machine.

QUESTION: I have a lilac-coloured suede jacket; the front has a black mark from cleaning the car off. Is there anything I can clean it with? Got the jacket on sale in the States and the price of a professional cleaning would not pay. Enjoy your column. Thanks, Marilyn, Winnipeg

ANSWER: Sprinkle the spot with baking soda, and using a stiff damp brush; briskly move the brush back and forth until the mark is gone. This is one of those rare times when water works better than vinegar.

QUESTION: I have checked your books for this answer but was unable to find the solution. One of my recipes calls for Chinese five-spice powder. What is it and where can I find it? Helen, Lorette

ANSWER: Five-spice powder is used in Chinese cooking, mainly in Cantonese-style dishes. It's a ground spice blend consisting of cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, star anise, and Szechuan peppercorns. The five basic flavours in Chinese cooking are represented: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty.

Five-spice powder brings balance to the flavours of dishes, and a little pinch goes a long way. It can be found in many supermarkets as well as specialty Asian food stores.

Fabulous tips of the week:

-- Clean your cell phone screen by wiping it with a soft cloth. Some experts advise users to apply 50/50 rubbing alcohol and water onto a cloth and wipe. Unless the screen is unusually dirty, this is likely not necessary.

-- Clean your ear buds for better sound quality. Mix together a small amount of dish soap and water. Wipe with a soft cloth, rinse with a little water and dry.

I enjoy your questions and tips, keep them coming. Missed a column? Can't remember a solution? Need a speaker for an upcoming event? Check out my brand new blog/website:!



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