Old-fashioned Tooth Powder

Homemade Tooth Powder

Since we’ve been experimenting with our own cleaning recipes and since both of my children came whining to me, “Mama, we’re out of toothpaste,” I decided that it was time to work more kitchen magic and create our own tooth powder.

Because of questions about skin irritation or diarrhea-causing effects of Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS)—which is used to create bubbles and foam in shampoo, toothpaste, and other personal care products—we look for SLS-free toothpaste. When my husband couldn’t find any at our local store last week, necessity drove the mother (me) to invent a new tooth cleaning solution.

My mother used to create a very simple tooth powder for me with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and a tiny bit of table salt (sodium chloride). Salt, if not dissolved first, can cause microscopic abrasions on tooth enamel, so I opted just for baking soda with a few drops of peppermint oil. My children make faces when they use the tooth powder because it tastes really salty after store-bought toothpaste, but it has been doing its job this past week.

Our recipe:

3 Tbs baking soda
4 drops peppermint oil

Thiis was enough for the whole family for about two weeks. The photo above is half left after a week.

Flavoring Oils. If you use oils, be sure that they are safe for ingestion. If you use extracts intended for cooking, you may need a bit more to get a strong flavor.

Herbs. Grind up culinary or medicinal herbs IF SAFE FOR CHILDREN and add those to your tooth powder.

Alcohol. Extracts would already add alcohol, but many homemade tooth powder recipes have a small amount of brandy, vodka, or other alcohol.

What you use depends on the result you are looking for. If you just want clean teeth, your children will be using the tooth powder, and you aren’t addressing any particular health issues, just use baking soda with a little flavoring. Make a couple of tablespoons at a time.

When you are ready to brush your teeth, wet the brush, sprinkle enough on the head of the brush to cover it (you can also touch the wet brush to the powder), and brush.

The instructions are often so simple with homemade cleaning products and homemade personal care products. What complications have been added to mass manufactured products!

Baking soda. Brush. Clean Teeth. That’s it!

Teaching Children about Herbs for Health

Wildcraft Herbal Adventure Game

In the spirit of taking every opportunity for learning, I gave my children a game over the holidays that I knew I intended to use for homeschool lessons: Wildcraft, an Herbal Adventure Game. It’s a cooperative board game that works even for non-readers.

Grandma needs huckleberries for a pie, and the players’ job is to work together to get the berries before nightfall. Along the way, we learn about 25 edible and medicinal plants as we gather those as well. We also land on trouble spots when we have to match illness or injury to the herb cards we’ve gathered. If the player doesn’t have the right card, other players can help if they have cooperation cards. As my family plays, we pause to talk about the herbs quite a bit. Movement on the board spirals around with occasional Chutes-and-Ladders-like moves across the spiral.

Along with the game, we received a videos, ebooks, and an herbal newsletter, so we’ve been working through all of these to learn basics about the plants introduced in the game.

We live near a mature golf course, and a rough area is just outside our back door. There are a lot of tall weeds and grasses around us, and deeper into the course are even more interesting plants (and animals, like deer and smaller creatures). As we venture out on daily dog walks, we have our own semi-cultivated mini wilderness to explore. Without specific knowledge of what we were seeing, the rough just looked like weeds before. Weeds, yes, but excellent weeds that have names and uses we are now learning. Walk time is time to test plant recognition and talk about uses.

We’ve also been applying our herbal knowledge as we create homemade cleaning solutions.

We haven’t come close to reading all of the materials that came with the book. Once we do, we will have a good foundation on which to build more in depth knowledge of natural health.

Wildcraft: An Herbal Adventure Game is made in USA by a small family business.

Scented Vinegar for Cleaning

Orange scented vinegar for cleaning

If you are considering using simple basic cleaners for your household cleaning, you can easily add a nice smell by infusing with herbs or other aromatics.

My children and I have been making and using herbal cleaning solutions as chemistry lessons. Yes, very sneaky! The cleaning is part of the lesson as we figure out which solutions work on which problems.

We started out by adding herbs to a quart of white vinegar. We have been learning about the properties of herbs, so everyone got to choose one herb and say why they chose it. We used fennel seeds from our own garden, and a few other herbs. It smelled OK, but now it just smells like food when we use it. It’s a very muddy smell. No one is excited to wipe this all over our kitchen.

So, we made a new vinegar cleaner. This time we wanted a fresh scent. We chose orange and grapefruit.

Rather than cutting up peels, we zested every piece of citrus in the house and added to a pint of vinegar. We learned our lesson, and we’re making smaller amounts at a time until we know we love the scent.

It’s easy to make your own scented cleaning vinegar. Add ½ cup to 1 cup of dried herbs or whatever you have. We ended up with about a 1/4 cup of citrus zest. We’ll let it sit for a couple of days then strain it before we use it. Combine. Sit. Strain. Easy.

Orange zest

Zesting an orange releases the essential oil. Orange oil is mostly limonene, which gives oranges their characteristic aroma and is an effective natural solvent. The more you learn about the natural properties of herbs, foods, and other ingredients you already have in your house, the more you can tailor your homemade cleaning products for specific uses.

For now, we have a new, fresh-scented all-purpose cleaner.

Clean Cleaning

Natural household cleaning with lemons

Cleaning your house isn’t a mysterious process. If you want to clean your house without adding to your chemical body burden or to the overall environmental impact of your family, what do you do? Do you just buy a bottle that screams, “NATURAL!” You could, but why not just choose the basic ingredients you already have in your house. With a little knowledge about what these basics do, you can clean your house without polluting it.


The Basics

  • Boiling Water
  • Vinegar
  • Baking Soda
  • Salt
  • Lemon


pH in Cleaning

You don’t often need a chemical reaction to get clean. Cleaning is generally a physical change.

Most of the dirt you want to remove is acidic. Most soaps are alkaline. Natural soaps are created with an alkaline substance (like lye) and oils (like fat). By moving that dirt closer to neutral, you make them easier to remove. Rinsing in acid returns a surface or fibers to neutral, which is where you want to end up when you are done cleaning.

Acidic cleaning solutions are used for: removing mineral deposits from hard water, removing mold, cleaning the toilet bowl, and removing rust stains. Acidic solutions break down deposits and mold, so they are easier to remove.

Alkaline cleaning solutions are used for: laundry, all-purpose cleaners, and cleaning the oven. Alkaline solutions break up fats and oils, so they are easier to remove.

More information on pH, specifically as it relates to washing cloth diapers.


Simple Solutions

  • Surface cleaner = vinegar + salt
  • Glass cleaner = vinegar + water
  • Shower door cleaner = baking soda then vinegar
  • Grease spot remover = salt
  • Grease cleaner = vinegar
  • Toilet bowl cleaner = baking soda then vinegar
  • Drain cleaner = boiling water
  • Drain unclogger = 1 cup baking soda followed by boiling water
  • Pan scouring cleaner = salt
  • Rust remover = lemon juice
  • Mold & mildew cleaner = vinegar

Add essential oils or use herb infused vinegar to get the fresh smell you like.


Try It Now!

It’s a Saturday. You were probably going to do a little cleaning anyway. Try one of these simple, natural household cleaning solutions and tell us how it goes. Share your favorite clean cleaning solutions.

pH in cleaning info from “pH, Chemical Reactions, and Cleaning,” Scott Warrington, eCleanAdvisor.com.

Image © Brookefuller | Dreamstime.com

Baby Diaper pH: An Intro

Stiny baby diaper

If you’ve ever burned your nose hairs off with your baby’s morning diaper, would it help to know that you’re smelling ammonia? A short introduction to pH as it relates to baby diapers might help you reduce the stink.

pH is measure of whether a solution is acidic or alkaline.

When some meany colleagues of mine beat me in a diaper quiz game, they laughed and laughed when I tried to guess what neutral pH was. I figured neutral should be zero, right? No, wrong. I tell you this so you understand that I’m not a scientist. Their first question after laughing was, “And, you homeschool?” Well, yes, but I don’t teach science. I have backup for that. I have a scientist husband, who happens to have lent his expertise to me today.

The quiz answer: neutral pH is 7. Below pH7, which is the level of water, a substance is acidic, and above pH7 is alkaline.

pH of common substances

Bleach 13
Baking Soda 9
Blood (and most bodily fluids) 7.4
Water at room temperature 7
Newborn skin 7
Urine 6
Human skin 5.5 (4.5-6)
Coffee 5
Orange Juice 3
Vinegar 2
Gastric Acid 1


Baby Diaper pH

A little background in science will help you keep your baby healthy and your diapers clean.

When it comes to diapers and pH, we should understand the pH levels of most bodily fluids (most are slightly alkaline at 7.4), urine (slightly acidic at about 6), and skin (a bit more acidic at about 5.5, though there is a range of normal). A newborn baby’s skin is closer to neutral than an older baby or an adult.

For our short science lesson, we are concerned with what happens when urine sits in a diaper either next to the skin before the diaper is changed or once the wet or dirty diaper sits in a pail waiting to be washed. It also helps to understand pH before we start adding vinegar (pH2) or baking soda (pH9) to our wash.

Internal: Urea Cycle

The urea cycle takes place in your renal system (kidneys & gall bladder). This cycle keeps urea, uric acid, and ammonia in balance in our bodies. Our bodies want nitrogen to be present as urea, which is neutral. Too much uric acid results in gout, and high ammonia levels are also poisonous to our bodies. Too far either direction, and we can’t survive.

We excrete ammonia predominantly in the form of urea. Once urine has left the body, in the absence of the kidneys’ work, urea in the urine begins to convert to ammonia. Time and enzymes move that process along.

The result: stinky on the outside.

In the Diaper on the Baby

In a baby’s diaper, urea breaks down and ammonia is released. The presence of fecal enzymes speeds this process, though a breastfed baby has higher pH stools and lower enzymatic activity. The more acidic a diaper environment, the more likely the outer layer of your baby’s skin will break down and your baby can get diaper rash.

To prevent diaper rash and exposure to the chemical soup that happens to bodily fluids outside the body, change your baby’s diaper whenever it is wet or soiled—yes, even in the middle of the night.

The result: stinky diaper, such as a nighttime diaper.

In the Diaper in the Pail

If diapers sit for any length of time, particularly if wet and dirty diapers are mixed, urea continues to break down and more ammonia is released.

The result: stinky pail.

In the Cloth Diaper Wash

A lot of cloth diapering parents use baking soda or vinegar to fix diaper smell, to strip diapers, or for other purposes in their wash. Most detergents are in the range close to neutral. You can raise pH, neutralizing uric acid for example, with baking soda (pH9) or lower pH, neutralizing ammonia, with vinegar (pH2).

The result: adjust pH for fresh, clean diapers.

The exact chemistry of how vinegar and baking soda work in the wash is beyond my little introduction, but this should lay the foundation for understanding laundry pH once we go there.

Image © Todd Castor | Dreamstime.com