Forstater: Do yourself a favor and do it yourself

Some students said they prefer to make their personal products.

Toby Forstater

Toby ForstaterJoy Elisabeth makes her own laundry detergent – her clothes aren’t just clean, they’re environmentally friendly.

Do-it-yourselfers obtain independence from corporate control when they take cleaning and personal care into their own hands. DIY projects improve health, can strengthen communities, promote environmentalism and improve personal finances. With all of these incentives, more students should get behind the DIY movement.

“There are so many benefits to DIY,” Elisabeth, a junior art education major, said. “[For example], the knowledge of getting this new skill you didn’t have before. And, you’re not susceptible to the lies or misleading information on packaging labels.”

There are many reasons to make your own laundry detergent. Elisabeth gave a short lecture at a recent Students for Environmental Action meeting to convince students of this, and is even running a workshop to make laundry detergent today at 7 p.m. in Room 223 of the Student Center.

Buying laundry detergent is convenient, but just because we’re young and don’t see many negative health results now doesn’t mean chemicals won’t manifest as ailments later in life. The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 only covers toys and food containers.

Of the 80,000 chemicals on shelves today, just 20 percent are publicly disclosed, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Furthermore, the cleaning industry doesn’t have to prove a chemical’s safety. According to the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, companies are “not required to adequately test existing and new chemicals.”

“You have more say in what you make and use,” Elisabeth said of bypassing manufactured chemicals for homemade goods. “[The products are] exactly what you want and no one can tell you otherwise. That’s what I love.”

Chlorine, a chemical widely accepted by society for its use as a cleaning agent and pool purifier, is great for ridding clothes of stains. However, it deteriorates clothes faster. Instead of bleaching their clothes into tatters earlier than necessary, students should preserve their wardrobe with simple DIY efforts.

The EPA determined that the use of chlorine increases lint, which can be linked to dryer fires. Additionally, many wastewater treatment plants struggle to remove the large amounts chlorine being disposed. Chlorine poses a serious risk to the environment and use must be limited. And chlorine isn’t the only serious chemical to stress.

Around World War II, petroleum-based cleaners started to overtake shelves. Quality was replaced by quantity. For those trying to save a buck, it seemed like a good fit. Scientists then realized the vast array of products petroleum provides, but today, they worry about the implications of replacing natural oils with carcinogens, irritants, allergens and more.

Petrochemicals are found in everything from deodorant to lip balm and shampoo. Like shampoo, all of these things can be homemade. Some students are doing just that – but more can follow suit.

“[The image of] pouring chemicals over your head, I realize, is kind of dramatic,” said sophomore communications major Shelbie Pletz. “But if you think about it, shampoos and conditioners are essentially chemicals. When put on your scalp, chemicals are absorbed. That’s why a lot of people who can’t have gluten must buy professional shampoos [without] gluten. These things are found in a lot of products and can get into your bloodstream.”

Another potential carcinogen, irritant, menstrual disruptor and allergen – formaldehyde –  is commonly found in shampoo. These chemicals are cheap and make a product suitable for an apathetic consumer, but DIY can actually be cheaper.

“It’s just so expensive,” Pletz said of purchasing what labels call “natural” products. “I was spending $20 on shampoo, $20 on conditioner and $20 on style gel. It was not necessary.”

That is why she spoke in front of a group at Students for Environmental Action about her non-shampoo solution, a trend called “no-poo.”

Start by massaging baking soda into the scalp, then rinse. Then drench your hair in apple cider vinegar, then rinse. That’s it. The basic pH of the baking soda and acidic pH of the vinegar provide a good clean without drying hair or stripping it of nutrients like commercial shampoos.

Pletz did admit to “smelling like a salad” at first, but she said the effect fades quickly. Another note is that no-poo can take a few weeks to become effective, but everyone who has stuck with the treatment for longer than a month has raved about how soft and clean their hair stays, Pletz said. Hair can stay oil-free for longer than a week.

“All I can say is give it a try,” Pletz said. “I love it and I think you will, too.”

DIY isn’t limited to home care and personal products, Elisabeth said. She loves crafting homemade items of all kinds. She praised DIY merchants, such as the jewelry vendor who often sells in the Student Center on Mondays and Wednesdays. They give an opportunity to artisan immigrants and local crafters who work together, she said.

“It is a social thing and you can involve many friends in it,” Elisabeth said. “It’s just fun, and being able to save money is a huge component. You can buy the cheaper, more simple things to make something more complicated, than realize it’s not so complex.”

From healthy to creative, DIY projects should be adopted by students. Being environmentally conscious should become the new normal, and DIY detergent and no-poo should be  rising trends.

Toby Forstater can be reached at 

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