Cooking up cleanliness
A Pauoa Valley resident takes pride in hand-making soaps and cleaners
Like many people, Betty Gearen makes a shopping list, picking up items from Costco, grocery stores or a nearby natural-foods shop to use around her home as needed.
All-purpose cleaner: Mix 4 tablespoons baking soda into 1 quart of warm water
Furniture polish: Mix the juice from 1 lemon with 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1
teaspoon water. Apply a thin coat to wood surfaces and let sit for five minutes, then buff with a soft cloth.
Do it yourself
"Making Soap and Alternative Household Cleaners"
Workshop: 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. May 13
Place: The Green House, 224 Pakohana St.
Cost: $15; bring empty spray bottles and containers
Register: Call 524-8427 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Time and time again the same items appear on her list: baking soda, vinegar, olive oil, vegetable shortening. When she uses them, she'll add the occasional pinch of herbs from the garden outside her home in Pauoa Valley.
She's not making dinner, though. She's cleaning.
Gearen makes her own soaps and cleaners, an act that she says is cleansing in more ways than one.
"I threw out all the poisons in my house," said Gearen. "There's a feeling of independence and self-reliance."
It's also rewarding to make your own products and use your own hands, said the grandmother of two.
Many of Gearen's recipes could be straight out of a "Hints from Heloise" column, as they are comfortable and familiar. If the techniques seem recognizable, it's because they come from a previous generation -- many of the recipes came from her grandmother. Gearen picked up others on the Internet and then altered them to her own satisfaction.
She eventually threw out ammonia-based formulas, sticking to her "no poison" philosophy. For Gearen, homemade means never using cleansers with chlorine or bleach or products with petroleum, to avoid using oil.
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Gearen uses a muffin pan as a mold for soapmaking. Her work station includes a hotplate and pan.
Gearen has been making her own beauty products and household cleaners monthly for two years. She also holds a soap-making social hour with a friend and teaches classes on the subject "Making Soap and Alternative Household Cleaners," often demonstrating her favorite recipe, "Zesty Calendula," a luscious-smelling hand soap which serves as a pretty present when wrapped in paper and ribbon.
Though the soap-making class parallels a trend that has emerged in the last few years -- making one's own beauty products for gifts -- the greater subject she is teaching is sustainable living.
"Humans have a natural tendency to create," said Gearen. "I think there's a yearning for the public to go back to the old ways. With young people there's a movement toward Hawaiian language and culture. And my grandmother used to make her own (toiletries)."
The do-it-yourself attitude was a thread dropped during the World War II generation, she said. Just a few generations ago, people made their own biodegradable goods more often.
"You're seeing it make a comeback," said Gearen. "That's an uplifting feeling."
Her soap-making session is part of a series offered by the Green House, a program Gearen started under the umbrella of the Sierra Club, of which she is a member. She and other teachers lead classes on biodiesel fuel, natural pest control, compost heaps and renewable energy sources three to four times a week, September through May.
The Green House celebrated its first anniversary on Earth Day. Its offshoot, the Keiki Explorer Club, is proving to be a hit with the parent-and-preteen set. (Her grandchildren, Kala, 8, and Keahi, 7, and their neighborhood friends were the original "keiki explorers.")
The two tracks have grown faster than she expected, and with that, the administrative work. Gearen and the other teachers, including Jon Abbott, Mindy Jaffe and Elko Evans, are looking for a new location for the adult series, now held in her home.
"The people who find us are motivated," said Gearen. "It's rewarding; a person who goes to the class will tell two friends ..."
Gearen said the greater community of do-it-yourselfers has fed her hopes of a sustainable society. Her husband and family are supportive of her goals: Nearly every function in Gearen's gleaming home serves a dual purpose -- runoff from the washer drenches her taro patch; drains feed other plants. Gearen is quick to share her green knowledge -- the homemade health-and-beauty techniques are sound and simple, not to mention aromatic, she said.
"Making them is so easy and it's a sensual experience," said the retired art teacher. "Making soap is almost like cooking. It's comparable to making a gourmet meal -- the smell, the feel. How joyful is that?"
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Betty Gearen holds hand-milled (dark) and pure handmade soap (white) that she whipped up herself.
Take precautions when making soap
Read the steps thoroughly before attempting this recipe.
Essence oils can be found at natural-food stores; coconut oil is available at Asian groceries; lye can be purchased at Ace Hardware. Soap molds are sold in craft stores or make your own, using a shoe box lined with Saran Wrap.
Use lye cautiously: Wear gloves and eye protectors, and don't let lye touch your skin or eyes. Flush skin with vinegar if contact does happen. Do not use aluminum pots or pans with lye. Always add lye to other ingredients, never the other way around.
Zesty Calendula Hand Soap
From the Green House collection
28 ounces cold water
12 Red Devil lye crystals (do not use Draino version, it is not intended for making soap)
32 ounces soybean oil
32 ounces vegetable shortening
14 ounces basic olive oil
10 ounces coconut oil
Trace elements (select one or use several in combination):
3/4 ounce citronella essence oil
1/2 ounce bergamot essence oil
1/4 ounce rosewood essence oil
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger essence oil
2 tablespoons freshly ground coriander seeds
1 cup calendula petals (pulverize lightly in blender after measuring)
1 ounce vitamin E oil
Place water in stainless steel pot. Slowly add lye; set aside. Water will heat up on its own to about 180 degrees.
In a separate stainless steel pot, heat shortening and oils until slightly melted (about 120 degrees).
Cool both lye and oils to about 100 degrees.
Add lye mixture to oils. Stir until mixture is puddinglike (takes 10 minutes to an hour).
Add trace elements. Pour into mold.
Place a layer of towels in the bottom of a cooler. Place mold into cooler; cover with another towel layer and a piece of cardboard. Let sit 24 hours. Chemical reaction will continue.
Remove from mold, store in cool, dark place for three weeks, away from children or animals. Let soap sit for three weeks. Lye will dissipate during this period.