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Better Basics for the Home: Simple Solutions for Less Toxic Living [Paperback]

Annie Berthold-Bond
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
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These days, more and more people are saying no to "better living through chemistry" and yes to a lifestyle that is less toxic and more environmentally friendly. This trend toward a more natural lifestyle has become something of a crusade for Annie Berthold-Bond, author of Better Basics for the Home. After developing hypersensitivity to even very low concentrations of chemicals, Berthold-Bond was forced to rid her life of as many toxins as possible. "It wasn't until I had to be away from chemicals that I began to realize how many we lived with. The extent of the contamination is startling--from hair spray and floor wax to dandelion killers and plastic shower curtains and other products that line our hardware stores and supermarket shelves."

This book represents the culmination of her search for a more sustainable lifestyle. Taking her cue from an earlier time, Berthold-Bond, former editor in chief of Green Alternatives for Health and Environment, offers more than 800 simple and practical alternatives to common household toxins, covering everything from skin care to gardening. And the good news is that adopting her suggestions and formulas isn't hard at all. "Mixing up face creams or wood stain isn't much different than cleaning the windows with vinegar, soap, and water instead of using Brand Name X, or making a cake with flour, eggs and milk instead of buying a mix," see asserts. "With a few simple staples we can clean our houses, wash our hair, rid the dog's bed of fleas, and do many other things as well." If you have your doubts, here is her formula for metal polish:

3 teaspoons salt, 1 tablespoon flour, and enough white distilled vinegar to make a paste. Scoop the paste onto a clean sponge, and polish the metal clean. Rinse with hot water and buff dry.

Sure, these days it's literally impossible to lead a life that is completely toxin-free. But you can significantly reduce your exposure, and picking up a copy Better Basics for the Home is a great way to get started.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Commonsense Rule of Thumb

It is a great relief to establish a healthy home. Two-thirds of us cite healthy air and water as an extremely important local priority, second only to safety from crime, according to Roper Starch Worldwide. National Wildlife Federation research has noted that up to 80 percent of us are concerned about how pesticides and indoor air pollution affect our health. Other polls show that a natural lifestyle is one that women, mothers in particular, overwhelmingly want because it protects the health of their families.

Yet polls ever since Earth Day 1990 consistently show a significant gap between wanting a more healthful environment and knowing how to create it. We are realizing that the government doesn't fully protect us from toxic products, leaving an uneasy and pervasive feeling that we have to take charge of safeguarding our families' health. The stumbling blocks seem insurmountable.

Having lived in a healthy home for more than a decade, I've learned that after some initial adjustment, the way to establish such a home is quite simple. The most important guideline for choosing safe materials is to follow this basic rule of thumb: Use only materials that have been around so long, and been used by people without harm for so long, that they are "generally regarded as safe" (GRAS for short), otherwise they would have long since been abandoned. Using only GRAS substances will take us back to the time before plastics and forward to new technology using old and safe materials. It will introduce us to plants and healing herbs; minerals such as baking soda, borax, and washing soda; and products from animals and insects such as milk, honey, shellac, and royal jelly. We may not have realized that these natural materials could clean, disinfect, moisturize, or make paint. This discovery will open up a new way of looking at our world.
Our alternative is to get a combined degree in toxicology and environmental studies in order to do a simple risk analysis of bathtub cleansers that won't cause harm, or to go shopping armed with research files. That's a stretch for even the most well intentioned among us.

Help also comes from something we all already have, even if we need to clear out cobwebs to find it, and that is our common sense. If the choice for polishing furniture is between polish in a can that reads "fatal if swallowed" or using a simple but effective recipe of lemon juice and raw linseed oil, common sense and the GRAS rule guide us to the lemon and raw linseed oil.

Mixing up face creams or wood stain isn't much different than cleaning the windows with vinegar, soap, and water instead of using Brand Name X, or making a cake with flour, eggs, and milk instead of buying a mix. And it seems amazing, although true, that we can make paint ourselves using milk and lime. With a few simple staples we can clean our houses, wash our hair, rid the dog's bed of fleas, and do many other things too.

Looking for cause and effect is another way of choosing safe products. Sometimes I wonder if we've allowed consumer products to deplete the earth's resources or to be so toxic because the products don't look like the raw materials used to make them. We don't see the connections. A can of pretty robin's-egg blue paint in a hardware store isn't visibly connected to its ingredients of fungicides and petroleum or to the smokestacks of the factory where it was made. Seeing the loss and damage that occurs in its creation might incline us to purchase a more ecological brand or to buy a little less. Or having access to the old-timers' recipe for milk paint might inspire us to try it out ourselves.
Just because a formula is old, or its ingredients are natural, doesn't mean it is safe, of course. Some old paint recipes call for white lead. A musty-smelling 1951 housekeeping book I found recently at a yard sale recommended using DDT paint on screens and windows. DDT paint! For those of you not familiar with DDT, it is a pesticide, now banned, that is symbolic of the worst of the industrial age's impact on the environment. Natural materials such as turpentine, citrus solvents, and tung oil can cause health problems for many. Needless to say, we need to look at the old recipes with a discerning eye. The key is to integrate the best of the old-the simplest, most wholesome ingredients and methods-with the best of the new-information about the effect of poisons on our collective health, and how to replace them with safe alternatives.

Signal Words
Besides choosing GRAS materials, the next best way to protect yourself and the world at large from toxic products is to read labels and pay particular attention to "signal words." They are placed on products by order of the federal government, with the primary purpose of protecting you, but sometimes to tell you about the products' potential impact on the environment. POISON/DANGER means some-thing very toxic; only a few drops could kill you. WARNING means moderately toxic; as little as a teaspoonful can kill. CAUTION denotes a product that is less toxic; two tablespoons to a cup could kill you. There are a few others, such as strong sensitizer, which means the product can cause multiple allergies. I'd suggest that everyone get over the "it will never happen to me" way of thinking and read labels, believe them, and simply avoid toxic products. Calamity might not happen to you, but it could happen to a child, or a neighbor, or a fish or a dog.
Putting Better Basics into Practice

Most people have some practical concerns about living without toxic chemicals. Just how much of a change is it going to be? Does living this way take more time? Is it more expensive? How do I begin? My answers to these legitimate questions follow. But basically, I suggest you just jump in and try it. I've never once had a person tell me they've regretted it. Some people want to switch to less toxic living on the spot; others stop restocking toxic cleansers as they run out, learning about the alternatives as they go along. Most start switching to natural body care gradually. Choose any way that will work for you. To make it easier to start the process of changing over, I have placed an icon (#) at particularly easy recipes, hoping this will offer you the encouragement you need to give Better Basics for the Home a try.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book from the perspective of a single person March 18 2003
Format:Paperback
I'm single, a downtown apartment dweller, and I've been using natural, homemade cleaning products for almost three years. I have read - and use regularly - several natural cleaning books, including another of Annie Berthold-Bond's titles, "Clean & Green." However, I have become interested in "green living," not just cleaning. That means switching from commercial household products to homemade products for personal care, pest control, etc. That is what led me to "Better Basics For the Home."
"Better Basics" is far easier to use and much better organized and written than "Clean & Green." It is set up in logical sections according to the products' uses. The index is very good. You can find a recipe quickly, although I would suggest you read through the book once and get a feel for how to go about things. Also, one of the best aspects is the "Sources and Resources" section near the back. If you live in an area without health food stores, woods or land suitable for growing your own herbs, then this will be essential for your ability to find ingredients to make your own green household products.
This book is also suitable for the beginner green cleaner. Most of the recipes, once you have the correct ingredients, are very easy to make and quick to put together. That being said, this book is also for people who are really serious about green cleaning, personal hygiene, pest control and other aspects of running a household. I say that because some of the ingredients used in many of the recipes are costly if you have to buy them instead of gathering them from your yard or a nearby wooded area. Also, essential oils - literally essential in green cleaning! - are expensive. (A little goes a loooong way, though.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for beginners!! Feb. 2 2003
Format:Paperback
What an wonderful book! I've been meaning to try moving to less toxic methods of cleaning my home, but had just never taken the time to do it. A few weeks ago when I was cleaning my bathroom, I looked at my bottle of tile cleaner and realized that if my two year old got a hold of it, it could kill her. So I got out a big box and put in every household cleaner I had that had a warning label on it -- then I hauled it out to the garage and told my husband that he had some toxic waste to dispsose of.
I picked up this book from my library, went out and bought everything I needed to replace ALL of the cleaning products I normally use, and spent all of about $12... Then I indulged in a couple of bottles of essential oils, and my house smells better than it ever has, and looks and feels as cleaner than ever.
The recipes are easy to make, inexpensive, and very effective. No more expensive, store bought, toxic chemicals in my house!
This book is an excellent place to start for beginners like me. I thought I'd better get my own copy before I put too many dog ears and spills on the library's! Next stop... my bathroom cupboards. =)
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Format:Paperback
When I first bought this book it was very hard to put down. Most of the recipes are very easy to follow and are inexpensive. My favorite recipe for "soft scrubber" contains ingredients that I already add to my bathwater anyway, so it's nice to take a bath without worrying about any leftover chemical residue lingering in the tub with you. Another plus is the gentle, caring manner in which it's written. The author explains the benefits of going green without coming across as condescending or judgmental.
Keeping in mind that I think this is a wonderful book, and well worth the cost, there are a few things I'd like to point out. I found that a lot of the skincare recipes were geared for people with dry skin. This is understandable considering the author's dry/sensitive skin, but I wanted to let other readers know to expect this. I tried many of the basic lotion, cream, and soap formulas and found that many of them felt way too greasy for my skin-especially if they contained beeswax. There is a small section with recipes for people with oily skin. That was helpful, but the skincare recipes in general are probably a little more suited for dry skin.
I also found that some of the yields seem a little off. (This is more so for the skincare recipes than the cleaning recipes.) I follow all of the instructions very carefully, but still end up with yields that are sometimes significantly off. You can tell just by reading some of the recipes that it's unlikely they could yield what they say. Also, some of the recipes for the cleaning products seemed a little repetitive. (Not a significant enough difference between some of them to warrant separate recipes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book of its kind May 3 2002
By DNP
Format:Paperback
You'll quickly recoup the money spent on buying this book. (Her recipes cost pennies compared to commercial products.) While I don't suffer from chemical sensitivities like the author does, I do have two young children whose safety concerns me and I have always tried to be environmentally conscientious.
The book has several sections, on subjects ranging from housekeeping, face, body and hair care, environmentally-friendly building materials, recipes for paint and stains, and hobbies and crafts. The sections that were of the most immediate use to me were on housekeeping and skin and hair care. As you can imagine, this book packs a LOT of information, but it's not overwhelming...easy for a lay-person to assimilate.
I would have loved to have had this book when my children were babies! There's a wonderful chapter of skin-care "recipes" developed specifically for babies. (Sorry, Johnson & Johnson.)
Other, similar books I enjoyed were The Naturally Clean Home by Karyn Siegel-Maier and Rosemary Gladstar's Herbs for Natural Beauty.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book
I love this book!!!! If you are willing to become a greener person, this book will help you a lot!!!
Published 1 month ago by Joliane
4.0 out of 5 stars Has some good recipes
This book has some good recipes, not all of them work, but overall I enjoy using this book for natural ways to clean my house!
Published 5 months ago by Melissa M
4.0 out of 5 stars YOU CAN'T MAKE SOAP WITHOUT LYE
This is in response to the uninformed reviewer who complained because the soap-making recipes contained LYE. Here's a news flash for you: you can't make soap without lye. Read more
Published on Sept. 23 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but with caution
I found this to be a very comprehensive book. While I was only looking for ways to clean my home safely, I found body creams, paint recipes, etc. Read more
Published on Feb. 14 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Find!
I love this book. It has helped me to "clean house" of the chemical solutions to household cleaning, disinfecting, laundry care, facial care, insect repellent... Read more
Published on June 5 2002 by Kristy S.
4.0 out of 5 stars Annie does it again
I've been a fan of Annie Berthold-Bond ever since picking up the Green Kitchen Handbook. Better Basics for the Home is an extensive handbook of recipes ranging from cleaning... Read more
Published on April 11 2002 by Ang
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Resource
I borrowed this book from the library, used a couple of the recipes and had a hard time returning it. I came here to buy a copy. Read more
Published on Dec 3 2001 by "bkjfoster"
5.0 out of 5 stars Better Basics for the home
I totally enjoyed this book and still do. These practical receipes for simple cleaning have changed my whole way of cleaning. Read more
Published on Nov. 8 2001 by Theresa Schlining
5.0 out of 5 stars Simple, Easy to Follow Solutions!
What I really appreciate about this book is that the recipes are all easy to follow and the ingredients are easy to shop for. This makes the book very practical. Read more
Published on Nov. 4 2001
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