Saturday, July 9, 2016

The frugal hot awesomeness of scrubbing

I've been noticing this theme in my life recently, which is basically that "scrubbing is awesome".  In particular, in a myriad of ways, I've been seeing instance after instance in which mechanical methods of cleaning (with occasional thermal assistance) have won arm-wrestling matches against chemical methods of cleaning.

The variety of ways this has made a difference is sort of impressive -- teeth, bathtub drains, hair, cast iron pans, and teenage armpits are just a few of the scrubby areas of my life lately.

My favorite toothbrushing photo!
I've written about this a bunch of times; I decided to experiment with not using toothpaste six years ago, just as a curiosity.  What would happen? I'd read in the Tightwad Gazette that scrubbing alone could be enough, especially for people who drink fluorinated tap water (as I do).  And over the years, my admittedly skeptical dental hygienist keeps giving me gold stars for good dental hygiene.  I'm not an anti-toothpaste nut, so I could imagine that someday I'd go back to using toothpaste for flavor or other reasons.  But it's sort of neat to know that scrubbing -- brushing and flossing -- alone has been just as effective as doing those both with toothpaste.

Bathtub Drains.
We have an old house with slow drains, and sometimes the drains slow down to the point of not moving --- particularly in the upstairs shower that sees a lot of girl hair going down the drain, but also occasionally in the upstairs sinks.  My husband used to love buying Draino and/or biological versions of drain cleaners, and pouring these down our pipes, with limited effectiveness.  Ugh.  We were literally pouring money down the drains, in the form of chemicals, and our efforts didn't even help much.   And then I switched to an occasional vigorous use of the plunger.  And a plunger is like magic, it's so good at clearing those clogs quickly and completely.

Bonus, now that canning season has gotten underway again:  when I'm done with a round of canning, I pour the leftover boiling water down the bathtub and sink drains that have a tendency to give us trouble.  The boiling hot water has to go somewhere, after all, and this way of disposing of it cleans a lot of the greasy gunk out of the pipes, making plunging an increasingly rare event.  Another awesome use of brawn and heat (which are essentially free and environmentally neutral) beating out purchased noxious liquids in petrochemical containers.  Yawp!

Here's one of those things I am hesitant to share, because it's not that I actually think shampoo is an evil conspiracy designed to enslave the naive masses, or anything like that.  I don't like buying stuff that comes in plastic containers, but the shampoo inside the container is not my enemy.  Still, in the pursuit of curious frugal adventure, I've experimented with alternatives to shampoo.  Baking soda, bars of soap . . . there are other people out there who are happy with those alternatives, but I didn't happen to be, so I went back to shampoo.

And then, about a month ago, I read a blog post by a woman who'd given up shampoo a year ago, using only hot water and a vigorous scalp massage.  I figured I'd try it -- worst that could happen is that I hated it and so at my next shower, I'd use shampoo again.  I also, even more significantly for me, decided to forego conditioner as well.

And let me tell you, that my hair just didn't feel as nice in the shower.  Conditioner, especially, has me leaving the shower with my hair feeling silky, but showering without conditioner made my wet hair feel . . . crunchy? clumpy? Maybe a combination of those two words: crumpy.   And as my hair was air drying, it was still crumpy.  But once my hair dried . . . magic happened.  Because my hair was fluffier than it has been in years.  I really liked the way it looked.  And ever since then, knowing I could go back, I've kept the experiment going, and it keeps giving me the same result.  Crumpy wet hair, then  fluffy-happy dry hair.

If I were swimming (chlorine and tangles), I'd definitely go back to shampoo and conditioner.  I'm not going to be a prosthelytizer who preaches the sin of shampoo.  But if not using shampoo actually makes my hair look better, well, then why the heck look back?  Scalp massages in hot water it is!

Cast Iron Pans
After having a few decades of serial monogamy with non-stick frying pans (our old pan would eventually get scratched up, and my husband would buy a new one to replace it), about a year ago I convinced our family to go with cast iron.  Such happiness in the Miser Mom world now!  Even better, we bought our new pans about the same time that Erica over at Northwest Edible lured me into purchasing the "ringer", a chain mail scrub pad.  Several of the reviews of the ringer noted that a good way to clean these pans is to keep them hot, scrub them out with water (and with minimal soap or none at all), and then wipe them down with a rag and a tiny bit of oil.  It turns out, this ringer-thing works well on pyrex, on our old gnarly baking pans, the crockpot . . . really on anything from the kitchen that gets stuff stuck to it.  And although I still do use soap, I've been mightily impressed by how well hot water and scrubbing make cleaning up our baking/frying dishes so much easier.

Teenage armpits
I am saving the best for last.  This example didn't start out as the best, let me tell you!  My sons hit middle school and they both turned into walking aroma factories.  We got the phone calls from the school nurse ("don't feel embarrassed; we have to call lots of parents about deodorant"), to which our response was "Yes! That's what we keep telling these stinky boys!  Deodorant, yes!"  J-son, my fashion king, remained stinky for all of about three months, moving eventually through the larvae stage of smelling like Axe everywhere he went (a dubious improvement), and eventually emerging from his aromatic cocoon as a sweet-smelling butterfly.

But N-son, oh, N-son.  Nothing worked with him.  He'd stink like month-old-sweaty-socks-at-the-bottom-of-a-gym-locker, and so we'd send him upstairs for a shower and deodorant.  He'd come out smelling like sweaty-socks-soaked-in-deodorant.  Kids teased him, or they avoided him, or both.  We'd go to church, and I'd beg my husband to sit next to our kid because I couldn't bear to sit next to him myself.

The biggest mystery of all was why the showers didn't have the proper effect.  We'd load him down with soap and shampoo and send him to bathe, and he'd come out smelling only marginally better.  We gave him instructions on parts of his body to target (hair! pits! private parts!), which he promised to lather and rinse, but the sweaty-locker-socks cloud hung around him like dust clouds around Charlie Brown's pal, PigPen.  I couldn't follow my 16-year-old son into the shower to figure out what was wrong . . . but man.  Something just wasn't clicking with this kid.

About two months ago, he came home in a mopey mood: he was being "bullied", he told me.  I asked for details, knowing just what I was going to hear. He told me that kids were being mean to him, saying that he stinks.  And, of course, he did stink.  I mean, I didn't blame the kids on the bus for not wanting to sit next to him.

So the next time he headed into the shower, I handed him a wash cloth and said, "scrub with this!"   And when he came out of the shower, he smelled . . . fine.  Truly fine.  And the fine-smellingness of my son lasted pretty much all day.

And since then, he's smelled okay after showers, getting smelly only after vigorous exercise, at which point a shower (with washcloth) brings him back to presentable.  He hasn't had anyone tease him, either, which is a wonderful state of affairs.  He had one lapse, which turned out to coincide with lack of washcloth, but this lapse only goes to show that it's not a biological miracle, but a mechanical one, that has led to his new state.  I'm assuming (hoping) he still uses soap, but no amount of soap works without the added scrubbing assistance of the washcloth.

So, scrubbing.  Scrubbing with a toothbrush, with a washcloth, with a plunger, with a chain-mail scrubber.  But any way I do it, scrubbing has been making my life a little less expensive and a little bit cleaner than before.



  1. So true about scrubbing with a washcloth--it's the exfoliation of dead skin cells that cures the stink. Some peoples bodies are worse than others. Good job!

    1. Yeah -- and with my sons' skin, the flip side of this is that they need lots of lotion to keep from getting ashy. So scrub and then oil; that's the recipe.

  2. Will have to remember this for when my sons hit this age...

    1. Yeah, it's not at all that awesome talcum-powder-new-baby smell. Hard to believe it's the same kid!