ConsumerismGeneralHealth & Disease

DIY Hygiene: Greener Grooming

The DIY medicine cabinet in full simplicity

It happened a bit more rapidly than I expected: One day my wife Emma read a list of horrors associated with fluoride and toothpaste, and by the evening, she’d sworn off store-bought toothpaste. In the weeks to come, I watched our other toiletries disappear. Realizing she was right, as is often the case with greener, kindlier things of the world, I soon followed suit. Over the next couple of months, we’d converted ourselves completely: shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste and whatever else came up.

Honestly, we are such avid boycotters of companies who test on animals that it’d gotten difficult to find products suitable, affordable and effective. It seems every country (we’re career expats) offers very limited hygiene choices, monopolized by the very companies we don’t use. If I’d have known just how easy it would be to make it all, if I’d have known how truly good the results would be, how cost efficient, I would have converted much sooner. I’m happy there are companies out there making green bathroom products, but I’m also happy not to need (or have to pay for) them anymore.

What you need

Strangely, the key ingredient in all of your bathroom products is the same: baking soda, aka bicarbonate of soda. Before starting the DIY toiletries, I’d only ever seen baking soda in the occasional recipe and shoved to the back of refrigerator shelves. I didn’t know what a wondrous creation it was. It is in fact the all-natural, do-it-all solution for every green house and sometimes greenhouse even. It’s not just the key for hygiene products but also for natural household cleaning and odor eating.

Beyond that, the ingredient list remains simple. Vinegar, particularly apple cider vinegar, is very useful in the shower (great for preventing dandruff). Coconut oil is very good for making things into pastes, and it has anti-bacterial and other beneficial properties for your body. Then, you’ll need to choose some essential oils. Spearmint is my favorite for toothpaste. I like citrus for my body, patchouli for my hair. But, there is an unbelievable variety to choose from, and most can be found for a few dollars and last for ages.

You can easily get yourself set up for under twenty dollars, and this will provide you with all of your all-natural, green bathroom products multiple times.

How to do it

Making toothpaste with three ingredients

Toothpaste: Our first DIY toiletry was toothpaste. Truth be told, this can be as simple as dipping your toothbrush in baking soda, but that isn’t the most pleasant cleaning. It doesn’t taste great, and the experience is startlingly different than brushing with pastes. That said, we haven’t gone much beyond that in our toothpaste. We mix baking soda and a few drops of minty essential oil. Some folks like to add coconut oil for a smoother texture and calcium, but we’re not bothered.

Warning: I will be frank in that some dentists (and wannabe dentists) are anti-baking soda. Its abrasiveness can be bit much for tooth enamel. However, baking soda is renowned for its teeth whitening abilities as well as plaque removing qualities. Use responsibly. I brush in the evening and mouthwash in the morning.

Making Deodorant with three ingredients
Deodorant: I simply didn’t believe a homemade deodorant would work on me. We currently live in Panama, with all the associated heat and humidity. I work in the garden four or five hours a day, sweating profusely. Not only does it work, I use a lot less now. I used to be a big time deodorizer, but I think the disappearance of chemicals has allowed my body to reach some sort of happy balance. I’m a lot less smelly.

So, like toothpaste, this can be done simply with baking powder alone, rubbing it under your arms, but that is a bit too far on the unconventional scale for my taste. I like to smell good, as well as not stink. We mix coconut oil, baking powder and essential oil — patchouli at the moment. It seems to be pH balanced for both my wife and me.

Making shampoo and conditioner

Shampoo & conditioner: Remember the old science experiment classic where you mixed baking soda and vinegar to make a volcano. Well, that’s kind of how I take a shower now. For a shampoo, I sprinkle a little baking powder into a jar with about the same amount of water, shake it up, and scrub it into my hair. This is the shampoo. After a rinse, I do the same process with apple cider vinegar, which makes hair shiny and soft as well as prevents dandruff. You can certainly go fancier than this, but it gets the job done for me. I’ve used dandruff shampoos with varying success my entire life, but since I started with this regimen, I’ve had no problems.

Soap making

Body scrub/soap: Making soap can get a little complicated, especially when much of your life is spent traveling. So, soap can be a problem. We tend to just scrimp and do a little baking soda mixture with water and essential oil. It might not technically be soap, but it gets us through. We also like a few different castile soaps available on the market, specifically Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps (a great product and a champion for good causes). That said, soap is not outside the realm of an easy repertoire.

Organic natural moisturizer

Other options: That more or less covers the basics for the bathroom, but that’s not to say other extras aren’t quickly at your fingertips, and without needing to buy anything more. Body sprays, mouthwashes and aftershaves are no great feat to master. Ladies, a nice foamy leg shave isn’t out of the realm of possibilities, either, nor is moisturizer (coconut oil does it, as does apple cider vinegar) or whatever else you may need.

The point we’ve reached is that it is entirely possible that you make your own bathroom products. It’s cheaper. It’s better for the environment. It produces less waste. The gray water is safer to use in the garden. And, frankly, as practitioners of permaculture, we should all be doing it. So, maybe it’s time for you to read the truth about fluoride and get inspired.

Once you get started, you can use the same ingredients to clean your house as well.

Jonathon Engels

The financially unfortunate combination of travel enthusiast, freelance writer, and vegan gardener, Jonathon Engels whittled and whistled himself into a life that gives him cause to continually scribble about it. He has lived as an expat for over a decade, worked in nearly a dozen countries, and visited dozens of others in the meantime, subjecting the planet to a fiery mix of permaculture, music, and plant-based cooking. More of his work can be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life About.


  1. Another use for Apple Cider Vinegar:

    When I returned from Vietnam (see here, here, and here), I found I’d fallen prey to Athlete’s Foot, something I’d never had before (or since). It is said that 15 percent of the U.S. general population have this problem, with U.S. soldiers returning from Vietnam having helped its spread. I did a bit of Googling, and learned that apple cider vinegar is a good solution. People in forums and comment threads complained that what they were given from their doctor and/or pharmacist did little to nothing – many of them suffering for weeks, months and even years – but after using ACV, it quickly killed the fungus causing the problem. I gave it a try, and sure enough, after applying the liquid several times per day for a few days, the problem was history.

    Tip: Make sure you use high quality apple cider vinegar, with all its natural potency – usually found in glass bottles, rather than the cheaper stuff you get in plastic.

    The moral of the story is that there are a great many ways to deal with dirt and disease, without resorting to industrial products and toxins.

  2. Thank you. I already buy the SLS-free products etc, and use bicarb and AC vinegar for many cleaning jobs, but I love how simple the toothpaste recipe is. I’m heading off to try it soon :-)

  3. The anti-baking soda toothpaste idea is hokey, and I believe an extension of the influence of the toothpaste companies. This list ( has been compiled showing the relative abrasiveness of each product, with baking soda being the lowest. So, when looked this way it is the safest. But, it must be used with enough water to dissolve the particles.

    1. I feel the similarly. I brush with it every night, and in the morning, I use a clove-spearmint mouthwash, which is simple, smells nice, and has anti-bacterial qualities. I’m very happy with it, but I didn’t want to disregard the concerns that have been brought up to me time and again..

  4. Hello there

    As i was getting my water checked out for nasties i spoke to a lab technician and i
    asked about the florid topic he said you would not be exposed to enough florid to
    be in any danger, and toothpaste and town water is ok to use and drink.
    forget the internet there is so much miss information you can end up very insecure.
    Go straight to your local lab and have a chat

  5. Thanks for the article Jonathon. I’ve had to come back and read it again as certain things kept niggling in my head. The underlying theme in the article is great – there are better ways to groom ourselves, but some of the language used (natural, sustainable for example) really have to be carefully used (and more frequently not used at all). I’ve followed some of the links in your article so I am guessing you are aware of some of the issues. Baking soda is not natural (that would imply you can go somewhere in nature and get some) – it has to be mined and processed somewhat or ‘created’ by an industrial chemical process; it certainly is not sustainable – I am betting fossil fuel energy is used for the mining, industrial factory, packaging, and in the transport of element. Essential oils are the same – no stick fuel rocket stove distillation or plant grown in a polyculture that benefits the soil… The linked articles also point out the sodium build up in greywater could become detrimental and the same with essential oils…
    I like what you said about less is better, less deodorant, less hair washing, less toothpaste on your brush, and why not less shaving and less disposable menstruation products (go for cup or washables) and what the linked article comment suggested – use herbs and hot water (solar or rocket stove or biochar..) for cleaning… I have heard about soap being made from ash and a few other things (my friend is looking into and trying it at the moment)… We Permaculturists do need to find the best possible alternatives that are the least harmful to the environment and promote them to others… and these are micro-businesses waiting to happen…

  6. Hi Dylan, the point of the safer alternatives mentioned here are that we’re not poisoning ourselves and our environment.

    The energy question is a different matter entirely, we can use energy for doing useful things, such as distilling essential oils, or we can make toxic synthetic fragrances and dyes for toilet paper. It’s not an all or none approach!

    On the point of sodium build-up, all regular solid soaps, soap flakes and such are sodium based. Natural liquid soaps such as liquid castile soap (made with olive oil and potassium hydroxide) aren’t a problem.

    Forget synthetic ‘soaps’ of any kind, liquid or solid, they’re not soaps at all, but synthetic chemical detergents, the solid varieties are in fact solidified liquid detergents with pigment added, they’re sodium based and come with a cocktail of other nasty chemicals, as well as unnecessary additions such as synthetic dyes and fragrances, anti-bacterial agents, etc.

    The green solutions listed here make a whole world of difference when we consider that wastewater from cities all ends in the ocean!

    If people are innovative enough to bring safer, greener products to the market, then power to them!

  7. Quick heads up…

    Not all baking soda is created equal. If you can, choose one that is aluminum-free. In the U.S., there’s Bob’s Red Mill and possibly others with no aluminum. Armpit skin is very absorptive. Humans are healthier with less aluminum in their bodies.

    If you’re on a graywater system, be advised that baking soda = sodium bicarbonate and so putting that sodium down your graywater pipes can lead to sodium build-up in soils. Salting of soils is really hard to reverse. You can periodically flush out soils if you get frequent rainfall, or if you save rainwater and can spend some of that on watering areas watered by graywater. Better to avoid salting soils in the first place.

    Would really like to see if there is an effective bodycare alternative to sodium bicarbonate. I have some research to do before I trying potassium bicarbonate, which is a sometime-substitute in sodium-restricted food recipes. It would be less destructive in the garden or graywater system.

    No mention of diatomaceous earth as an alternative dentrifice? I realize it’s a mined material, and thus not renewable, but I usually have some around anyway for insect control in the house and garden.

  8. I use the bicarb and ACV for my hair although I have also tried not washing it at all. Before you cringe, yes it went very greasy for quite a while THEN began to self manage the oil. In time my hair became silky and healthy and was washed only with water once a week. We’ve since moved to an area with harder water and my hair doesn’t like this at all. I bicarb and ACV wash it once a month give or take. :)
    I also add turmeric to my toothpaste as it is also a teeth whitener. My deodorant is cornflour, bicarb, coconut oil (also antimicrobial and moisturising as well as antibacterial) and some oil. It works far better than any deodorants or anti perspirants I have used over the years.
    Yes, bicarb is mined and oils are distilled but I feel that they are a far lesser evil than the rest of the products out there. Yes, being mined and more than likely distilled by using fossil fuels and hence will run out one day in the not too distant future but if we all went to absolute extremes then I feel we would so far alienate most people that we would sell natural (or more natural) to no-one.
    I love our lower chemical, far more natural life. :)

  9. I love the simplicity of the methods above, but I also love the comments talking about issues with some of these alternatives. These questions are always at the forefront of my mind when I’m looking into DIY toiletries recipes. Obviously making deodrant out of bicarb is a process that likely has a markedly lower energy requirement than whatever it is that Axe/Lynx have to do in order to make their sprays, but certainly bicarb is imperfect as well and doesn’t really qualify as sustainable or “natural”. And, further, living as I do in Scotland, products like coconut oil and arrowroot powder only have a questionable place in a permacultural repetoire, being products of tropical agriculture. I wonder what’s available to me locally that I could use. Perhaps rapeseed oil, potash and dried herbs for soaps? And what could I use for cleaning my teeth?

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