*Bonus points to whoever knows where the title comes from*
This post is mostly inspired by this MSN Money post. In my mind, fewer things garner more irritation than "frugal hacks" which aren't. Okay, saving a buck on laundry is good. But wouldn't saving mega-moolah--while being good to the environment and NOT killing yourself one molecule at a time--be better?
I've made my feelings about chemicals known, what wasn't so clear is that I actually dislike using powerful chemical cleansers. If you've got to wear chemical protection against it, why the hell would you spread it around on your floors? On purpose? This isn't just a rhetorical question. If you've got small children or pets running around, they'll eventually put their hands and feet in their mouths, eating the dirt--and whatever chemical poison hasn't been degraded by time or light exposure. People who want to blame vaccines for autism would have a better case against Dow and Johnson & Johnson (not that I think cleaning products cause autism, but if you've ever taken a deep breath in a shower that was just sprayed with one of the stronger products, the harm is quite obvious).
Getting things clean is really all about chemistry, anyway. Once you understand a bit about soaps, acids, and bases, it's just a matter of tinkering until it's done.
Everything that matters can be cleaned with:
Laundry detergent: I use this recipe from Trent Hamm. It's great because even if I use an expensive, olive-oil based soap (I'm very sensitive to perfumes and coloring), I still come out ahead. Save up empty milk jugs or keep the containers of your old laundry detergents around. The sole disadvantage of this is that it has a tendency to separate. I've found that using olive-oil based soaps decreases this tendency, but if a jug has been sitting around for a few months it'll need a bit of shaking up.
Wine stains can be pretreated with salt (I'll bet you were wondering where this one came up). It's the tannins in the wine that set the stain, and salts disrupt this process. Just set the item aside, and pour on a copious amount of salt, enough to cover the entire stain. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes (I prefer 1-2 hours). Then rinse off the salt--in COLD water--and dab a drop of hand soap on it, and rub it in. You can repeat this a few times; depending on the wine, the stain may get lighter, or it may not. In the end, launder as usual. This is not entirely foolproof on white items--it seems to depend on the fabric type and the wine involved. The other bit of advice is to drink cheap reds--well, at least, young reds. They contain fewer tannins and are less complex (both in taste and chemical structures). Unless you have a sommelier for dinner, odds are nobody will know. :-)
Sweat stains are nigh inevitable in white shirts, but you can get them out and get a few more wearings out of them if you soak a lightly-stained shirt in baking soda and VERY hot water (be generous, 1/4 cup to a gallon). Let it sit for a few hours, and then wash (with other whites) in bleach. You'll have a sparkly-white clean shirt by the end.
Blood stains are surprisingly easy to get out. Soak in COLD water, and use a dab of hand soap to get out the most stubborn of stains. The only downer is that the soak has to be overnight for it to be completely effective. You can get away with shorter soaks, but you may have to soap the stain for a little longer.
We don't have a dryer, but if you do and if you use one, toss in a tennis ball. It'll act as a fabric softener AND decrease static cling. It does the same thing as those expensive dryer balls, but tennis balls are cheap.
Vinegar also acts as a great fabric softener, if you use such things (because we hang everything out, softeners would be defeated).
Nothing I've mentioned (not even the tennis balls) would cost more than a box of OxyClean. Everything is multipurpose--you can use baking soda or vinegar to clean lots of other things--and they're SAFE. These are, by far, a most effective way of going natural.