Fatty Acids – Oils, Butters & Waxes

Fossil fuel oil is slippery is very versatile. As well being the base for most plastics and driving our cars it can be found in less obvious places. It is sold as a moisturizer (think Vaseline), petroleum-derived, synthetic fragrances are added to many commercial cosmetic products and hexane (another petroleum derivative), is used to extract some vegetable oils.While I don’t mind oil on my pistons I draw the line at rubbing it on my skin or using it to fry my eggs.

So what to use instead? Renewable Fatty Acids of course

So let’s talk fatty acids. For the purposes of this post, fatty acids are the oily greasy stuff you use to cook with, cut off your bacon, burn in your beeswax candles or rub on as your Shea Butter Body Moisturiser.

They are the oil that is formed in a plant or the fat stored by an animal. There is of course a lot more to them then that and Meanwhile here is a beginners guide.

Animal & Vegetable Derived Fatty Acids

Fatty acids are fatty, oily, greasy or buttery
They can be harvested from plants and animals.
Vegetable Derived These are obtained from the seeds, nuts and even flesh of plants. Mains uses are cooking & cosmetics.
Animal Derived – Examples would be butter & lard
Main uses of fatty acids are cooking, cosmetics, lubricating and soap making.
Some like Jojoba should only be used for cosmetic purposes. Coconut oil on the other hand can be used for just about everything.
Animal fats are still used in soap making but not so much for cosmetics.

They come in a variety of forms under the following headings – but it is a rough guide only. Cocoa Butter for instance is more like a wax, while butter acts more like a solid oil.
Liquid Oil – never solidifies
Solid Oil – firm when cool but has very low melting point so sometimes it may be counted as an oil i.e. Coconut oil
Butters – a solid oil. Has a high melting point. Rather confusing. Milk butter for example acts more like a solid oil, while Cocoa butter is more like a wax.
Waxes – very hard-of a candle (wax), like consistency. Bees wax for example.

Essential Oils Are not an oil at all as they don’t contain any fatty acids.

Vegetable Derived Oils
These are obtained from the seeds, nuts and even flesh of plants. There are many kinds of vegetable oils, butters and waxes.

Animal Derived Oils
This is the fat stored by an animal. These are mostly solid ranging from hard and waxy like lard to the softer butter

Essential Oils
Are not an oil as they don’t contain any fatty acids.

Next you might want to know how your fats and oils they have been obtained and processed – especially if you plan to eat your oil.
Animal fats are collected after slaughter. Concerns here are rather about how the animal was treated before it was slaughtered.
Extracting vegetable oils and processing them is a more complex process. Most commercially produced oils are solvent extracted. This involves a chemical solvent like the petroleum-derived hexane. This technique is used for most of the “newer” oils such as soybean and canola oils.
Mechanical methods where the oil is squeezed or pressed out of the vegetable matter in a variety of ways involves less in the way of petroleum derivatives but depending on the method used can affect the oil. Cold pressed oil is considered the least invasive method of extraction though it also less efficient.
Read more about oil extraction here.

Hydrogenated Oil
Both animal and vegetable fats can be hydrogenated.
Hydrogenated oil is made by forcing reactive hydrogen gas gas into oil at high pressure in the presence of a palladium catalyst.
Hydrogenated oil is more stable, does not go rancid as quickly
It has a higher melting point, so can be used for frying.
It is used to make liquid oils more solid. Margarine is an example of a hydrogenated oil.
Oils have been hydrogenated since the 1930s.

Hydrogenating oil modifies the chemistry significantly.
The fatty acids in oils are unsaturated fats. They are unstable.
Hydrogenating oil turns these unstable fatty acids into new more stable fats known as trans fats acids.
There are concerns that trans fatty acids may increase LDL, or bad cholesterol, and decrease HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol.

Because they are not natural the digestive system does not know what to do with them. They may actually bioaccumulate in the body.

Read more here

 I Use
Coconut oil – a hard oil which has a very low melting point. Use neat as for everything from hair care to make up removal or add to creams and balms. Can also be used for cooking.

Cocoa butter – a hard oil which has a high melting point. Use neat as a lip balm or add to creams and balms.

Bees wax – a hard oil wax has a very high melting point add to creams and balms to make them firmer.

Shea butter – a creamy butter with a surprisingly low melting point. Moisturising and balms. Making cream and lotions. There’s an  introduction to shea butter here

Castor oil – a very thick oil – add it to lip balm. Can often be bought in chemists.

Rapeseed oil – a lighter oil with quite a strong scent but U.K. sourced.
Olive oil – a richer oil can sometimes be bought on tap in the U.K. Used for cooking and cosmetics.

Almond oil – a lighter oil. Can be bought in big supermarkets, Asian shops and online

Butter eating only.
Lard – a plastic free substitute for cooking oil.

Oils I try To avoid
Palm Oil


Oils and waxes last for ages but as soon but mix them with water and they can quickly go off. The problem is the water. It is a breeding ground for bacteria!
Find out more basic information about ingredients and alternative products here

Aromantics is a good and ethical supplier but expensive. I buy a lot of ingredients in bulk from other suppliers. Ebay is a good source. Prices vary so do shop around.



Essential Oils

Essential oils have gone from being an obscure aspect of botany to an all round marketing  ‘good thing’.  Almost every product you buy from washing powder to shampoo trumpets that they contain essential oils. So much better, so much greener. As such they have been embraced by the environmental movement as the fragrance for your home made products, a staple in  your medicine chest and the relaxant in your bath.eucalyptus oil featured

I have been using them for years safe in the knowledge that they are a so eco friendly. But are they really? And are they even oils?

What Are Essential Oils?

  • They are not actually oils because they do not contain fatty acids.
  • They are in fact terpenes – organic compounds produced by plants and occasionally insects.
  • Terpenes are made up of isoprene units, each consisting of five carbon atoms attached to eight hydrogen atoms (C5H8)
  • They are often strong-smelling. Ah ha!

So essential oils are the strong smelling terepenes found in plants and insects.


Terepenes (along with phenolics nitrogen-containing compounds ) are called secondary metabolites.

Secondary metabolites are chemicals produced by plants for which no role has yet been found in growth, photosynthesis, reproduction, or other “primary” functions. These chemicals are extremely diverse; many thousands have been identified in several major classes. Each plant family, genus, and species produces a characteristic mix of these chemicals, and they can sometimes be used as taxonomic characters in classifying plants. Humans use some of these compounds as medicines, flavorings, or recreational drugs. 

Just so you know – search for terepenes and you get a lot of information about marijuana

They are often characteristic of particular species, are sometimes only produced under particular environmental conditions and for different reasons. The lemon tree for examples produces a pungent oil to repel insects while the rose creates pungent oil to attract them.

N.B. Fragrance oil and essential oil are NOT the same thing. Fragrance” or “fragrance oil” or “perfume” often refers to synthetic scents.

 Medical Qualities

Some essential oils appear to have antibacterial and antifungal properties. Others may help speed up healing. However while many claims are made about the potency of essentail oils there is not enough scientific evidence to back them up. Generally it seems to be accepted that they do some limited good though should not be relied on to cure any serious complaints or used to swab down an operating theatre.

While they might not be hugely effective they dont do much harm either. Secondary metabolites are broken down relatively easily so are unlikely to accumulate in large quantities in the environment.

Growing the Oil

Though figures vary you can safely say it takes a lot of plants to produce a small amount of oil..

For one pound of essential oil you will need

  • 50-60 pounds of eucalyptus
  • 200 -250 lbs of lavender Sources include Bulgaria, England, France, USSR, Yugoslavia, Australia, USA, Canada, South Africa, Tanzania, Italy and Spain2 .
  • 2,000 lbs of cypress
  • 5,000 to 10,000 pounds of rose blossoms to produce one pound of essential oil. Primary cultivation sites for one company include: France, Tasmania, Spain, Italy, England, and China.

Extracting the Oil

Terpenes are usually extracted from plants by steam distillation or chemical extraction.

Environmental Concerns

No matter how they are grown essential oils take up a lot of agricultural land

Growing single species for harvest results in a monoculture style of farming.

Plus all the other demands of farming, – water, fuel, fertilisers organic or not.

It is a lot of input for a very small harvest of what is basically a luxury product.

Add to that the fuel needed to extract the oils “If steam distillation is used temperatures above two hundred degrees applied anywhere from 2-24 hours to extract various oils. ”

If chemical solvents are used which are more effective and so require less plant material, but in turn pose issues of toxicity for people and the environment. 

Some oils are harvested from the wild from threatened species.

Cropwatch, a non-profit that keeps tabs on the natural aromatics industry, maintains a list of wild species threatened including rosewood, sandalwood, amyris, thyme, cedarwood, jatamansi, gentian, wormwood and cinnamon,


Should You Use Them…

Personally all of which makes me wary of using essentail oils. I do love the smell but I don’t like the idea that so many resources go into making one tiny bottle of luxury scent.

If you are going to use essentail oils please use them sparingly and buy from a company that is clear about how they grow and harvest their oils.

Take a look at Pravera or Yorkshire Lavender



Natural fibres for brushes

Natural fibre brushes come in many sizes – you can get everything from big bristly brushes for sweeping yards to cute scrubbers for your nails. They  can be used for sweeping, brushing, scrubbing and scouring.

If you don’t know your Piassava from your Pasodoble read the following:

Bassine is a coarse leaf fiber from palmyra palms. It is inexpensive and durable. It is used to make stiff sweeping brushes often used outdoors.

Natural Coco Fibre (COIR)  comes from the husk of the Coconut tree. It is softer than bassine so more liable to crush and splay. Makes a good soft sweeping brush.

Black Coco Fibre (DYED COCO) is coloured natural coco and has exactly the same properties.

Flagged Black Fibre is specially treated dyed coco fibre where the ends have been flagged or split. It sweeps better than plain coco fibre.

Bahia Piassava (BASS) is a stiff fibre harvested from trees. It is water resilient and doesnt distort. It comes from Bahia in Brazil.

Arenga (GUMATI ) Arenga fiber is harvested from the Arenga Pinnata Palm in Indonesia. Arenga is softer and finer than Bahia Paissava. It is very hard wearing and resilient

Tampico Fibre is from the lecheguilla plant (Agaves Sisalana, Agave Foreyodes) grown in Mexico. Good wearing and reasonable sweeping qualities, but is liable to crush. It is also very water absorbent, and non-electrostatic, so that the brushes remain dust free. The natural colour varies from green to yellowish-white although the fibre can also be black or brown as well as grey. The material is used extensively for making yard brooms, panel brushes, deck brushes, nail brushes and bath brushes.

Cereal root is the root of a species of grass, zacaton plant, which grows on the high plateaux of Mexico. The roots of the Zacaton are cut from the plant, washed clean from soil and transported to a preparation factory. Cereal root is a tought, elastic and water-resistant material which is used for vegetable brushes and washing-up brushes.

Union mixture is a mixture of white fibre and bassine. It´s a strong and water-resistant mixture which is used for vegetable brushes, deck brushes and scrubbing brushes

With thanks to Ravibrush  and  irishantverk for the above information

Plastic Alert

Synthetic Fibres in plastic brushes are made from 

  • Polypropylen (PPN) PPN
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
  • Flagged PVC/PPN

Easy enough to spot when they are used alone but sometimes they are mixed with natural fibres. Do check carefully. Ask if any of the above have been used or look carefully at the bristles. Here is an scrub brush

Find reviews of natural fibre sweeping brushes here

  • Coir is a coarse, short fibre extracted from the outer shell of coconuts, that can be used for other things including
  • Coconut pan scrub

Read about other natural fibres and yarn here



Natural fabrics

The more I sew the more I realise all fabrics are not the same – even if they go under the same name! The following are my ongoing notes on the subject. I have a lot to learn!


Lawn is a very fine cotton though as with everything in life it seems you can get different grades of fabric that have, predictably, slightly different qualities. The Ebay lawn I used to make my wrap around top creases far more than the Thai lawn from Japan I used to make the back packers bloomers. I am not complaining about the Ebay lawn. It is still good and at that price, a real bargain. But if you don’t like ironing but do mind looking crumpled than it might be better to try and source a higher grade fabric.

I though I had when I bought some grey lawn from the Button Box in Huddersfield to make the Choir Boy Top. This is more like a muslin more crumply than the Japanese lawn but nots as creased at the Ebay stuff.

Printed Cotton





Natural V Synthetic fabric

In April I am going to be trawling through my wardrobe, ( such as it is). here is some background information to get you in the mood.

What’s in your  Fabric


60% of fibres used today are synthetic and most of them are are petroleum derived, plastic in fact.

The most common are:

Acrylic fibre resembles wool and so is used to replace that natural fibre.
Nylon is used as a silk substitute. It is a very fine and strong fibre so can be used to make ladies tights.
Polyester is one of the most popular man-made fibres. It is the same  Polyethylene terephthalat, (frequently shortened to PET or PETE and was formerly called PETP or PET-P), that is used to make bottles and a lot of other plastic stuff.

Natural Fibres

The next big player in the textile market is cotton. Then in much smaller amounts wool and silk.

Regenerated Fibres

The base material is cellulose that can be obtained from a range of sources including wood, paper, cotton fiber, or  bamboo. It is then converted through a chemical process into a fiber. One such in bamboo. Most bamboo fabric  is made using  chemical solvents such as sodium hydroxide (NaOH – also known as caustic soda or lye) and carbon disulfide  combined with multi-phase bleaching. Both sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide have been linked to serious health problems. Others are looking extremely promising and are biodegradable. But I don’t really know enough about them and more research needs to be done. They make up a small percentage of the market so for now I am going to discount them!

You can find more detailed facts and figures about synthetic and natural fibres here

Why Choose Natural Fibres

Natural sounds so lovely and clean but it can be low down and very dirty. Cotton comes with its own nasty a gender. A quarter of the total worldwide pesticide use occurs in cotton farming, hundreds or farmers get poisoned and it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton. Greedy and dirty!Read more…

Wool isn’t much better “The top three pesticides used on sheep are moderately toxic to humans but they are moderately to highly toxic to fish and amphibians, such as frogs, and they are suspected endocrine disruptors. Some of these pesticides are also highly water soluble which means that they can easily be carried from the sheep dip application site by rain or irrigation water runoff into our streams and rivers and contaminate our groundwater.” From Organic Clothing blog

However there are equally nasty chemicals used in making synthetic fibres. For example when making polyester, “Antimony is leached from the fibers during the high temperature dyeing process which is then expelled with the waste water. If not properly cleaned this results in a hazardous water pollutant.  Acrylonitrile used to make acrylic fibres is classed by the EPA as a probable human carcinogen (Group B1).

A main ingredient of Nylon  is “the chemical adipic acid. Producing the acid was once the largest source of industrial nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas. Efficient pollution controls have reduced adipic acid emissions 61 percent between 1990 and 2006, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But the chemical still accounts for 5-8 percent of global human-caused emissions of N2O.” read more

Plastic Fabric Pollution 

Synthetic sock survives ocean voyage

Moreover synthetic fibres have the same qualities as plastic. The problems with a polyester sock are the same as with a PET bottle. Though you get more wear out of a sock eventually it gets thrown away and because it is now non-biodegradable rubbish it needs to be special disposed of. Which is expensive and not always effective. Often cheap clothes and fabrics are not properly disposed of and go on to pollute the environment in the same way a bottle may. Plus all the other problems attendant with plastic products (you can read more about the problems with plastic here).

Micro Pollution

And it’s not just end of life disposal that is difficult, synthetic fabrics pollute through out their life time. Everytime they are washed they shed thousands of non biodegradable micro plastic fibres that wash down the drains and into the oceans where they are now affecting the ecosystem, (see micro plastics for more)

The energy used (and the CO2 emitted) to create 1 ton of spun fiber is much higher for synthetics than for hemp or cotton. 

My Choice

So, while acknowledging that natural fabrics have a major environmental impact I feel they are a better option for the following reasons

You can see the contents of my wardrobe here



Natural Fibres & Bristles

A  guide to natural and biodegradable fibres that are safe to compost and can be  washed without shedding tiny plastic microfibres that go on to pollute the sea.

What Are Fibres & Bristles

Fibres are thin strands that can be spun to form one continuous thread that can be used a rope or thread or if fine enough woven into cloth. They can also be stiff and hard and used in brushes.

Bristles are short stiff animal hairs or feathers. However the word bristle is often used to describe the stiff vegetable fibres used in brushes.

Plant derived fibres/bristles include everything from the finest cotton to the hairiest thickest coconut coir rope to the stiffest bassine

Animal derived fibres/bristles range from fine silk to boar bristle hair brushes.


These natural fibres can be used for sweeping, brushing, scrubbing and scouring.

Sweeping brushes can be made from a whole range of natural fibres including

Animal Derived Bristles

Boars hair is used for hairbrushes. But almost every other animal hair, feather or bristle can be used for something it seems.

Camel Hair Brushes
Feather Brushes
Goat Hair Brushes
Hog / China Bristle Brushes
Horse Hair Brushes
Ox Hair Brushes
Pony Hair Brushes
Red Sable Brushes
Sabeline Brushes
Squirrel Hair Brushes

Natural Fibres For Industry

Copied from Natural Fibres

Abaca -Once a favoured source of rope, abaca shows promise as an energy-saving replacement for glass fibres in automobiles

Coir -A coarse, short fibre extracted from the outer shell of coconuts, coir is found in ropes, mattresses, brushes, geotextiles and automobile seats

Jute -The strong threads made from jute fibre are used worldwide in sackcloth – and help sustain the livelihoods of millions of small farmers

Sisal -Too coarse for clothing, sisal is replacing glass fibres in composite materials used to make cars and furniture

Natural Fibres For Fabrics

Plant Derived includes cotton, animal derived is stuff like silk and wool.

Read more about fibres for fabrics here and why I prefer natural fabric over synthetic, (and not just the obvious reasons!)



Things to consider when choosing glass packaging as oppose to plasticglass featured

What is glass 

  • Glass is made from sand, soda ash and limestone baked at temperatures of over 1500oC (~2730oF).
  • It requires a lot of energy to make.
  • Sand mining and soda ash manufacturing can be problematic.
  • It is heavy to transport.
  • It is the latter that makes glass environmentally challenging

Carbon costs of glass compared to plastic

a PET (a thermoplastic polymer resin) jar versus a glass one uses twice as much abiotic material (minerals and fossil fuel) to produce and 17 times more water (predominantly from cooling power plants) and produces five times the greenhouse gas emissions. Lucy Seigal writing in the Guardian

But start transporting glass and the figures change

Some calculate this could be as much as 2 tonnes of CO2, per 1 tonne of glass, when transport of such a heavy product is factored in. All this gives glass an Embodied Energy of about 12.7 MJ/kg. (By comparison aluminum is 170 (!!), cement 5.6 and kiln dried sawn softwood 3.4). Treehugger

A PET jar shipped 1,000km in lieu of a glass jar saves 19g of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent).Lucy Seigal writing in the Guardian

The weight of three main packaging choices for beverages have big impact on truckload size and thus fuel use.

“For a 335 ml container, the aluminum can is the featherweight at 11 g. The middleweight PET bottle weighs 24 g, while the heavyweight champ of the drink container world, the glass bottle, weighs a comparatively colossal 200 g.

The additional 176-plus grams holds a sizable environmental punch, as fewer bottles can be loaded onto trucks due to weight limits, meaning more trips, and a heavier load uses more fuel. In a German study, researchers calculate that a recycled glass bottle could be the cause of 20 per cent more greenhouse gas than a virgin aluminum can due to its added weight on a cross-country truck journey.


Glass can be recycled indefinitely and into the same product over and over again. Glass lemonade bottles can be made into glass lemonade bottles.

Every tonne of glass saves 225 kg of carbon dioxide.

Plastics degrade during the recycling process. They cannot be made into like for like products (though that is changing), but they can be made into other things. P.E.T. bottles can become fleeces for example.

Reuse milk featured

Glass containers can be easily reused.  Sadly this rarely happens and there are limitations. This is from a W.R.A.P. report on the subject.

LCA studies show that the level of benefits refillables have over single use systems is dependent on a number of key factors, e.g. capture rates, transport distances and recycling rates. This stresses the need to view refillables on a case-by-case basis and not simply to promote the wholesale use of refillables irrespective of circumstance.

End User Issues

Glass is also heavy for the shopper. It can be hard work lugging all those jars home. Heavier products are more difficult to manipulate. The elderly and infirm can find glass jars and bottles too bulky to manipulate safely.

Plastic is much lighter and easier to grasp. Glass is slippery.

And of course when it does slip from your trembling hands it can smash in nasty sharp potentially dangerous pieces.

But glass is inert. It does not leach chemicals whereas plastic does. Some consider this to be a potential health hazard.

Many claim that food tastes better when stored in glass. Possibly because there are no leaching chemicals.


Plastic disposable items can easily end up as litter. Because plastic doesn’t biodegrade this is litter with a lifespan of centuries. Plastic waste is damaging the environment and is now a huge ecological threat. 


The general consensus seems to be that glass is environmentally better than plastic but only if it doesn’t have to travel too far.

Glass is ideal for bottle reuse schemes such as milk deliveries. You can find one here…




Vinegar is great. You can use it for all kinds of things and is almost plastic free to buy.

Vinegar is made by converting ethanol (alcohol) into acetic acid – the main ingredient in vinegar.

Vinegar is typically a 4-8% solution of acetic acid; the rest is water.This makes it a moderately strong acid.

Read about pH of acids and alkaline here.

It can be made from any any alcohol – wine vinegar is made from wine (!), apple vinegar from cider, malt vinegar from beer and white vinegar from moonshine as far as I can tell!

Vinegars can be made at home.

Live Vinegar 

Most vinegars are sold processed and filtered but you can buy live vinegar.

  • This still contains the mother Mother of vinegar a cloudy monstrous swamp  of acetic acid bacteria and cellulose. This is created during the fermentation process of alcohol into vinegar
  • The ‘mother’ is alive and is made up from bacteria, enzymes and living nutrients.
  • The presence of the mother shows that the vinegar has not been processed or filtered.
  • It is the mother that gives vinegar all its claimed health benefits.
  • You can also use it to make more vinegar

Apple Vinegar

  • is good as a  hair conditioner and skin toner
  • It can also be used for cleaning
  • And almost everything else.
  • It can be  made at home!
  • Tescos do an apple vinegar in a glass bottle with a metal screwtop lid. Apart from the little plasticised disc in the lid they are as plastic free as you can get.

Find out more about apple vinegar here including where to buy the good stuff

White vinegar

White vinegar is made 

  • can be used for cleaning and pickling
  • It is  made from either acetic acid produced in a laboratory or from grain-based ethanol (alcohol)
  • It is clear
  • It can be bought cheaply in large glass bottles at most supermarkets. However they will have  either a plastic lid or a metal lid lined with plastic.  It is a plastic price worth paying for this versatile product.

Malt Vinegar

  • is for pickles, chutneys and chips.
  • Malt vinegar is made from beer which is allowed to ferment until bacteria turn it into vinegar.
  • It has has a deep brown colour.
  • It can be bought cheaply in large glass bottles at most supermarkets. However they will have  either a plastic lid or a metal lid lined with plastic.  It is a plastic price worth paying for this versatile product.



Vinegar is a mild disinfectant. It will kill some microbes but not all. You can read more here.


Vinegar is an acid so good at cleaning inorganic soils and alkaline stains and grime but NOT grease and fats.

 Examples of alkaline grime is hard water, mineral buildup, soaps scum (acid attacking an alkaline).

Vinegar can be used to clean all manner of things – you can find a big list here

Clear dirt off PCs and peripherals with equal parts white vinegar and water on a cloth damp not dripping

Other Stuff

  • Erase ballpoint-pen marks
  • Burnish your scissors
  • Clean your window blinds
  • Clean your piano keys
  • Get rid of water rings on furniture
  • Restore your rugs
  • Remove carpet stains
  • Brighten up brickwork
  • Revitalize wood paneling
  • Wipe off wax or polish buildup
  • Revitalize leather furniture
  • Conceal scratches in wood furniture
  • Remove candle wax

Antiseptics & Disinfectants

This post talks about

This is an area where you want to do your own research and decide what level of protection you need. I do not use antiseptic or disinfectants because I don’t do surgery on my kitchen table or have a low immune system. I keep stuff clean and it seems to work. BUT this is a subject about which I know little. This is my understanding of it. I strongly advise you to do your own research.
Here goes…..


The world is full of microbes – micro-organisms – or germs.
“Microbes are single-cell organisms so tiny that millions can fit into the eye of a needle. They are the oldest form of life on earth. Microbe fossils date back more than 3.5 billion years to a time when the Earth was covered with oceans that regularly reached the boiling point, hundreds of millions of years before dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Without microbes, we couldn’t eat or breathe.Without us, they’d probably be just fine.”
Which is maybe why we seem determined to wipe them out.  Microbes are everywhere. Inside you outside you swarming all over that keyboard you just touched to type in that fantastically appreciative comment.

They can be divided into four main groups – bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.
Some are good such as the composting microbes, some are bad such as the pneumonia germs, some  just bumble about doing what ever it is they do in their teeny tiny world.
“By and large, the vast majority of the microbes on this planet are not those that make us sick. We have only scratched the surface to what microbes are out there, and more of them are harmless or even beneficial to us,” Says a scientist.

Kill THEM!!!!!!

But still we want them dead. And here’s how.

Antiseptics & Disinfectants

What are they and now are they different

  • Antiseptics are antimicrobial substances that slow or stop the growth of micro-organisms (germs)
  • They are used on living tissues and cells on external surfaces of the body and help prevent infections. Though they are antiseptics they are often called skin disinfectants,
  • Antibiotics  destroy micro-organisms inside the body, NHS website says…Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infection. They work by killing bacteria or preventing them from reproducing and spreading. Antibiotics aren’t effective against viral infections, such as the common cold, flu, most coughs and sore throats.
  • Disinfectants  destroy microorganisms which infect nonliving objects.

You would use an antiseptic to clean your hands, a disinfectant to clean your breadboard and an antibiotic to kill pneumonia
Wikkipedia tells us  that Some antiseptics are true germicides, capable of destroying microbes (bacteriocidal), while others are bacteriostatic and only prevent or inhibit their growth.
Antibacterials are antiseptics that have the proven ability to act against bacteria.
Antiseptics are not antibiotics.

Using Antiseptics and Disinfectants

This is not meant as advice I am just relating my personal choices. I never use disinfectants or antiseptics. I clean with  soap and bicarbonate ( which is mildly antiseptic but not as good as vinegar).

Most Common Uses

Disinfecting The Home

Food preparation, kitchens and bathrooms are the obvious places for disinfectants. You don’t want bad germs in your food.
I do the obvious things like wash my hands before eating and after I have touched anything dirty. I keep cooked and uncooked food separate. I don’t eat raw meat. I store food in clean conditions. I wash the chopping board if I have used it for meat before I use it for anything else. I have two boards that I use when preparing food. I clean fruit and veg before eating.
For all of this I use soap and hot water. soap and a good scrub.  I don’t think think that anything else is necessary. ,
Also disinfectants kill all microbes, the good the bad the stuff we don’t know what it does yet. Which is unessecary and possibly harmful. There are arguments that living in a sterile atmosphere lowers resistance to infection as the body has not built up any resistance.
Clean not sterile is my mantra.

We need to talk about vinegar…..

Commercial disinfectants are extremely effective. Green alternatives are billed as kinder less harmful. They are certainly less harmful to the microbes because they don’t work as well.

Vinegar & Essentail Oils
Vinegar is the much touted disinfectant of choice for the plastic free.
It is about 5% acetic acid. It’s the acid that kills bacteria and viruses, most probably by denaturing (chemically changing) the proteins and fats that make-up these nasties. It is  good but not as effective as common commercial disinfectants.
Vinegar will not kill  salmonella, “which can transfer from raw meat to chopping boards and onto other foods to give us food poisoning.”
Ammonia, baking soda, vinegar, Borax, “are not registered with EPA and should not be used for disinfecting because they are ineffective against S. aureus.

Undiluted vinegar and ammonia are effective against S.Typhi and E.coli 53, 332, 333.
Neat vinegar also kills flue virus.

Hydrogen peroxide can also be used
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved hydrogen peroxide as a sanitizer. It can kill salmonella.
Research published by the Journal of Food and Science in 2003 showed effective results of using hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate apples and melons that were infected with strains of E.coli.
Essentail Oils – there is even less evidence for  efface of essential oils and they take a lot of resources to produce.

Cleaning A Wound

For a long time hydrogen peroxide was used as an antiseptic on open wounds and grazes. Now many recommend against it saying it also kills off healthy tissue and beneficial bacteria. In short using any antiseptics on an open wound is an area of medical controversy.

“In clinical practice, antiseptics are broadly used for both intact skin and wounds, although concerns are raised based upon their effect on human cells and wound healing. Opinions are conflicting. Some authors strongly disapprove the use of antiseptics in open wounds.[6-8] On the other hand, others believe antiseptics have a role in wound care, and their use may favor wound healing clinically.[9,10]

Web MD claim that  cool running water “is the best treatments for common wounds, and that you should rinse the wound for at least five minutes to remove it of debris, dirt, or anything else that may be in there. The water will clean the wound out well enough for your body to take over without harming the still living tissue around the wound.

I don’t get many wounds and when I do, I don’t use antiseptics. Most cuts and scrapes seems to clear up with out infection – even when travelling in some of the dirtier places. Again, not a recommendation just an observation.

Skin Disinfectants ( Antiseptics)

Removing bacteria from the skin is done to prevent the spread of disease. The area of skin you need to keep cleanest is your hand which carry microbes from place to place  by touch.


The easiest way to disinfect the skin is to wash with soap and water. But don’t bother with anti bacterial soaps. “Washing your hands is extremely important for preventing the spread of infectious illness, especially at critical points like after using the toilet, changing the baby, or handling raw foods. But consumers can’t assume that antibacterial soaps are better for this than other soaps.”

Soap doesn’t kill bacteria but removes it .

“harmless and harmful microbes stick to the oil your hands naturally produce, and, absent removal, willingly hitch a ride until they reach their ultimate destination (inside of you or somebody else) where they can in some cases wreak havoc…. [washing hands]… for at least 20 or more seconds at a time, is a highly effective way of removing bacteria despite the fact that the bacteria doesn’t die, but is simply flushed away when you rinse (or wiped off on a towel).”


If you have no soap and water or that is not appropriate you can try alcohol. Both ethanol or ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol, or isopropanol can be used as antisceptics and have similar effects. However ethanol or ethyl alcohol is the stuff that makes you drunk isopropyl alcohol, or isopropanol (also known as rubbing alchohol or surgical spirit) is made from propene derived from fossil fuels and water. You can read more about it here

If you want a petroleum free product use ethyl alcohol.

ethyl alcohol.

Can be used as a skin disinfectant. It effective against a wide range of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi, and kills most bacteria, fungi, and many viruses on the hands and skin.

It is commonly used as skin antiseptics, often in the form of wipes Wise geek

It is

  • effective against a wide range of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi,
  • kills most bacteria, fungi, and many viruses on the hands and skin
  • is commonly used as skin antiseptics, often in the form of wipes or gels, and for disinfecting surfaces
  • Its main  main effect on microorganisms seems to be to coagulate essential proteins, rendering them ineffective, and causing cell death or inhibiting reproduction.
  • It may also have a dehydrating effect and may interfere with the functioning of cell membranes. Wise geek

Mouth  & Mouthwashes

Now this I do use. I have a troublesome wisdom tooth that occasionally flares up. I can keep it at bay with a rigorous tooth cleaning regime. When it is bad I use a salt mouthwash. And I have used hydrogen peroxide which seems to work.

Sodium chloride (salt) solution can be used  as a mildly antiseptic mouthwash.

Hydrogen peroxide can be used as a mouth gargle The Merck Manuals recommended diluting the 3% hydrogen peroxide 50 percent with water, but suggest it as a rinse and part of a treatment for trench mouth, for example.  The FDA has approved 3% solutions of hydrogen peroxide for use as a mouthwash.  Most sources said to use it only for a short time, however, such as part of a treatment of a mouth infection.  A report from Well-Connected (written or edited by physicians at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital) recommended against extended use, saying that overuse may actually damage cells and soften tooth surfaces. We were not able to find any authoritative information about hydrogen peroxide and canker sores.

Hydrogen peroxide may be amongst the better options.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved hydrogen peroxide as a sanitizer. It can kill salmonella.

Research published by the Journal of Food and Science in 2003 showed effective results of using hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate apples and melons that were infected with strains of E.coli.

You can use of hydrogen peroxide is to bleach hair. The concentrations are between 3% and 6%.

It can be used to clean blood stains out of clothes and brighten colours but do be careful it doesnt actually leave bleach marks.






Bicarbonate Of Soda

This one product can replace hundreds of plastic bottles on your shelves. It does biodegrade. However there are issues about how it is obtained. I say it is a good product but use in moderation. Locally made soap  is a greener cleaning option to my mind.


Bicarb is available from
Wing Yip Chinese Super Store in Manchester in bulk in paper bags
Wilco’s in a cardboard box
Dri Pac in cardboard boxes with plastic liners.
You can also get some great deals on ebay but it does come plastic wrapped. However when you think how much you can do with it, and how many plastic bottles it, replaces you might consider it a worthwhile trade off!

What Is Bicarbonate Of Soda (Baking Soda)

Chemical formula NaHCO3.
Each molecule of sodium bicarbonate contains one sodium atom (Na), one hydrogen atom (H), and a carbonate ion (one carbon atom bonded to three oxygen atoms).
It is biodegradable
Bicarb is formed naturally as nahcolite  but most of the stuff sold is man made.
In 1846, John Dwight and his brother-in-law, Dr Austin Church, invented bicarbonate of soda. It was made from carbon dioxide and treated soda ash. 
There is more on soda ash here.
Most Bicarbonate of Soda is imported.
It is alkaline which is why it is so good at cleaning up grease and fats.


It can  mined directly from the ground  as Nahcolite.  This is a soft, colourless or white carbonate mineral with the composition of sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3). It may  also be called thermokalite.


Most Bicarbonate of soda is produced  by either of these heavily industrialized processes

The Solvay Process  Uses limestone, salt and ammonia to transform salt (sodium chloride). 

Mining –  Trona ore  is mined, then heated until it turns into soda ash also known as washing soda. Bicarbonate of soda is obtained along the way. Read more.

Baking Soda V Washing Soda

Baking Soda’s PH is not as alkaline as washing soda, so it doesn’t cause skin irritation and you don’t need gloves to handle them. It is not as harsh as washing soda but neither is it as effective a cleaner. It is also half as effective at softening water.

You can turn bicarb back into washing soda by baking it so that breaks back down into water steam, carbon dioxide and washing soda. I have never done this but by all acounts need to cook your bicarb in the oven for half an hour at 400 F (or 200 C). You can compare and contrast them here.

Use It For

Cleaning the house
Washing your hair

Baking soda, is also used to make cookies, cakes, biscuits, and similar pastries “rise” during baking. In the presence of an acid, it easily decomposes into carbon dioxide and a sodium salt of that acid, and the trapped bubbles provide the textures we enjoy in those foods. Note that “baking powder” is a simple mixture of baking soda and a dry acid such as cream of tartar, often with a starch added to provide bulk.

Other resources

washing soda 

Information on PH balances and other cleaning products can be found here.


Baking soda, is used to make cookies, cakes, biscuits, and similar pastries “rise” during baking. In the presence of an acid, it easily decomposes into carbon dioxide and a sodium salt of that acid, and the trapped bubbles provide the textures we enjoy in those foods. Note that “baking powder” is a simple mixture of baking soda and a dry acid such as cream of tartar, often with a starch added to provide bulk.


Rapeseed Oil

Rapeseed (Brassica Napus) or rape, oilseed rape, rapa, rappi, rapaseed is the bright yellow flowering plant grown in swathes all over the U.K. It is grown for its oil which is obtained from the tiny black seeds. It grows very well and is the only reliable vegetable oil crop we can produce in large quantities.

And yet it is new to our landscape and our diet. Before vegetable oils became popular and we bagan importing them in large quantities, most of our fat came from animal sources in the form of lard.

While rapeseed has long been grown as soil conditioning crop it was not harvested for oil because the older strains of plant contain around 40% of erucic acid. Euric acid is extremely toxic. Not suprisingly these strains were banned and some desperate genetic modifying went on. The old sort. Plants were cross bred with each other till the erucic acid was reduced to less than one per cent

“In 1977 a law was also brought in limiting the erucic acid content of foods to no more than 5 per cent of the total fatty acid content in products that contain more than 5 per cent fat. In truth however, most British produced cold pressed rapeseed oils contain less than 0.5 per cent.

Quick rapeseed facts…

The oil comes from the seed.
It is used in food and cosmetic products.
Also as lubricants, penetrating oils, fuel, soap, biofuel and paints
It has emollient and potential anti-oxidant properties for the skin (Source: British Journal of Nutrition, May 2002, pages 489–499).
it is found in facial moisturizer/treatment, bar soap, anti-aging products, body wash/cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, sunscreens, moisturizers, facial cleansers and baby soaps
It is generally classified as non-toxic or harmful. Even the EWG says so.
is also called ‘Canola’ which stands for Canadian Oil, Low Acid.

Extracting The Oil

Solvent extraction
Most commercially produced oils are solvent extracted. This involves a chemical solvent like the petroleum-derived hexane and heat up to 500 degrees. Once the oil is dissolved, the solvent is removed by distillation.
This technique is used for most of the “newer” oils such as soybean and cannola oils. Many of these products do not give up their oil easily, it has to be forced from them.
For this reason I would reccomend you go for a cold pressed oil. Read about the importance of cold pressing here

Buy Oil

Plastic Spoiler
It is available in supermarkets (certainly Tesco’s), in glass bottles with plastic lids and security seals. I have yet to find it plastic free but like the fact it is grown and processed in the U.K.

You can buy it in 5 liter cans online.


Go back to the oil index to find out about the plastic free oils and butters we use


Palm Oil

While I was in Malaysia I got to see some orangutangs. Most of them were in the rehabilitation center which is basically a safari park, a bit of preserved jungle.  I was also  lucky enough to see one in what was left of the  wild outside – along  with some big nose monkeys. When I say wild, I mean a tiny strip of jungle left straggling along the river bank. The rest of the area, that had once been wild and wonderful rain forest, was now covered with palm oil plantations. Acre upon bloody rolling acre of palm trees. The only reason we got to see so much wild life was that it had been pushed right up to the river by  farmers encroaching on their habitat. Those monkeys had no where to go and no where to hide.

Palm oil comes from Malaysia and Indonesia. Both countries have cut down hundreds of acres of rainforest to make way for huge mono crop farms. While Malaysia appears to be finally taking a more considered approach Indonesia is still tearing down trees and destroying ancient peat land at a frightening rate.

“The average annual rate of forest loss in Indonesia was 498,000 hectare (ha)  (FAO, 2010) from 2000 to 2010 or the equivalent of over 55 rugby fields per hour.

The expanding palm oil industry has been a key driver of this deforestation.  In the decade to 2010, Indonesian plantation area nearly doubled to close to 8.0 million ha and is expected to near 13 million ha by 2020 (PWC, 2012).”

Indiginous people have  been expelled from their land and the loss of habitat has obviously resulted in a  reduction in wildlife some of which, like the orangutang,  is now endangered. This has caused international concern and calls by many for palm oil to be boycotted,  So much so that in  2004, an industry group called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed to work with the palm oil industry to help mitigate some of the worst impacts and rehabilitate the palm oil brand.

The World Wildlife Foundation has approved the  RSPO efforts  in “providing assurance that valuable tropical forests have not been cleared, and social safeguards have been met during the oil’s production” of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.

What’s Palm Oil Used For?

Almost everything from food to cosmetics. You can see a big list here.

How Do I Know?

That’s not so easy. Many products that use palm oil don’t clearly label the fact. Palm oil and its derivatives can appear under many names.

The WWF lists includes the following:

INGREDIENTS: Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat,  Palm Fruit Oil,  Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol

And here are some more

  • PKO – Palm Kernel Oil
  • PKO fractionations: Palm Kernel Stearin (PKs); Palm Kernel Olein (PKOo)
  • PHPKO – Partially hydrogenated Palm Oil
  • FP(K)O – Fractionated Palm Oil
  • OPKO – Organic Palm Kernel Oil
  • Palmate
  • Palmolein
  • Palmitate – Vitamin A or Asorbyl Palmitate (NOTE: Vitamin A Palmitate is a very common ingredient in breakfast cereals and we have confirmed 100% of the samples we’ve investigated to be derived from palm oil)
  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate (Can also be from coconut)
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphates (can also be from ricinus oil)
  • Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
  • Elaeis Guineensis
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Stearic Acid
  • Chemicals which contain palm oil
  • Steareth -2
  • Steareth -20
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
  • Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (coconut and/or palm)
  • Hydrated palm glycerides
  • Sodium isostearoyl lactylaye (derived from vegetable stearic acid)
  • Cetyl palmitate and octyl palmitate (names with palmitate at the end are usually derived from palm oil, but as in the case of Vitamin A Palmitate, very rarely a company will use a different vegetable oil)

*Disclaimer: Through research we’ve found that Vitamin A Palmitate can be derived from any combination of vegetable oil such as olive, coconut, canola and/or palm oil. Though in all the cases we’ve documented, companies use palm oil to make derivatives like Vitamin A Palmitate, it can be tricky to know for sure.

Join The Plastic Boycott & Go Palm Oil Free

Being plastic free means our palm oil consumption is cut to  a minimum because we

  • eat little processed food as processed food is usually plastic packed food.
  • cook from scratch and the only oil we use is olive oil or sunflower seed.
  • make most of our own cosmetic and cleaning products. We know what goes into them and that is the tiny amount of palm oil in a cosmetic emulsifier. Really we are talk maybe 25g And is certified sustainable.
  • clean using bicarb and palm oil free soap
  • using butter not margarine
  • don’t shampoo

When we do buy we try to buy palm oil free using this great data base of palm oil free products for guidance.

You can read why Lush stopped using palm oil in their cosmetics here.


The palm oil industry provides a lot of work. While a boycott might help some it will of course impact on others. A meaningful dialogue and alternative work opportunities need to be developed.