Ammonia Build-Up in Cloth Diapers

The last few months have posed the biggest challenge to my zero-wasting efforts yet: dealing with ammonia build-up in cloth diapers. The diapers had been smelling ammonia-ish for a while, but one day a chemical burn diaper rash appeared on my babe. That was confirmation that we had a problem. Those ammonia burns are painful and are not easily treated. After much research and work to rid the dipes of ammonia, I concluded this was the end times! The behemoth of cloth diapering. The kiss of death for our expensive CD stash.

…So I thought.

Turns out the internet just sucks at helping us solve the problem of ammonia build-up. I have lamented over this problem for over 3 months now, all the while using disposables for fear that my babe will get burned again. I have researched high and low, asked friends, asked businesses, and more. I bought a soap product specifically for ammonia. When that didn’t work, I was given an intensive wash routine (which made it better, but still did not totally work). I was told I needed to fix my wash routine so it wouldn’t happen again (not true). Further, the internet REALLY didn’t help. There are as many “fixes” as there are bloggers out there (so, here, I’ll add another one). Nothing worked until I called my FAVORITE cloth diaper store, Green Bambino (which, unfortunately, is in Oklahoma City and not Tulsa). The owner, Morgan, told me it was a quick and simple fix. And she was so right. I am now even more loyal to Green Bambino than I was before!


My first attempt at soaking the diapers to remove ammonia build-up.


My second attempt at soaking the diapers (a different way) to remove ammonia build-up.

My biggest advice is to call your local cloth diapering store. In the Tulsa area, we have Bottoms and Beyond Boutique in Sand Springs and Oui Oui! in Broken Arrow. Also, if you haven’t been to Green Bambino, it is absolutely worth the short trip to OKC. (None of this is to say the Tulsa area CD stores are not fantastic–I will be singing their praises in future blog posts!!) The shops can ask you questions about your wash routines and tailor their recommendations thereto.

The solution depends on the type of washer you have and the type of soap you use. I have a high efficiency (HE) washer and I use Charlie’s soap. Because of the simplicity of the wash and ammonia-removal methods, I would highly recommend you start using Charlie’s over whatever you may be using now.* (Do your research on the soap you use and whether it causes build-up. If your CDs are not absorbent enough, you could have a soap build-up problem and will have to “strip” the dipes.)

Every day wash routine: 

  • Cold rinse
  • Hot, heavy wash cycle with 1 rounded scoop of Charlie’s soap
  • Tumble dry low

Ammonia-busting wash routine:

  • Cold rinse
  • Hot, heavy wash cycle with 1 rounded scoop Charlie’s soap AND 1-2 tbsp of BLEACH
  • Cold rinse, if necessary to remove all bleach
  • Tumble dry low

The only difference between my regular wash cycle and what I need to do for ammonia removal is the addition of the bleach. Note: obviously this will not work if you can’t use bleach on your laundry for one reason or another. I was also told that I need to wash every other day (I was previously washing every 3 days).

Guys, I’m back to cloth diapering and I couldn’t be more relieved! I’m not ashamed to admit I needed a break from the work of CDs. I don’t think it is damning for ZWT or that it undermines my credibility as a dedicated zero waster. I think it’s just a fact that it can get exhausting. It isn’t easy to be zero waste, and the lack of resources out there compounds the difficulty. This whole experience proves we need more information out there for all things zero waste! It should be easy and cheap, and we’re getting there one day at a time. And that’s just that.

*I do not derive any economic gain from discussing any of the aforementioned products or merchants.

Toothbrush Your Shoulder Off

Does anyone else keep their old toothbrush thinking they will use it at a later date to clean something?

Despite years of saving those things, I have NEVER cleaned anything with a toothbrush. The fantasy is that I adorn myself with the yellow, elbow-length, heavy-duty gloves and really get to work on those hard-to-reach spots. Like behind the faucet. What am I, Mr. Clean? No! Ain’t nobody got time for that. (Although, I probably should make time.)

Well, zero wasters, what should we do with our toothbrushes?

The most zero-waste approach, as with all things, is to not acquire toothbrushes. To use our fingers or something readily available in nature (read: twig). If you’re not willing to do either of those and you must buy a toothbrush, you should get the most sustainable one you can. But what does that look like?

So, what are we trying to accomplish? Zero waste, I know. But what does that mean? Does it mean we don’t generate trash? Does it mean we might make trash, but use less energy than if we didn’t make trash? How can we really break it down enough to know how much energy was used? These are the big questions, guys!

There are options, let’s look at them.* 

As with all products, we need to consider the embodied energy of the material and the useful life of the product in addition to the amount of trash it creates at the end of its useful life.

Brush With Bamboo looks like a sustainable option. The handle is made of bamboo (organic, wild, giant, Chinese Moso bamboo). The bamboo is picked wild from a mountain, so no water is applied to the crop other than that which naturally occurs. It’s organic, so no chemicals are applied to crop. Very little embodied energy so far. But what about the fact that the bamboo is sourced from China? I suppose you could say, well, there are ships coming over from China every day. No harm, no foul, right? I just don’t know. I plan to do some follow up on this in a separate post, but for now I have to be honest about the reservations I have with the sustainability of depending on materials on the other side of the planet (especially when we can grow bamboo here).

The bristles are made of castor bean oil and plastic.  The handle is 100% biodegradable, but the bristles are not (they are “biobased,” but not biodegradable). You can compost the handle yourself if you pluck the bristles. OR, you can use it as a seeding marker in your garden, as pictured. Cute!


Picture taken from the Brush With Bamboo website.

Okay great.

Here’s my question: how energy intensive is it to harvest the bamboo, ship it to the US, and manufacture the brush?

I’m not honestly expecting to find the answer. Not unless some engineer who has done the calculations happens to read my blog and provide me with the answer. (Are you out there? Can you hear me?) For now, it’s important to ask the questions and think more deeply about it.

I want to compare the embodied energy of the bamboo toothbrushes to the ones I’m going to discuss next: recycled plastic.

Here I go again with the plastic. Plastic already exists everywhere in the largest quantities you could ever dream of. It’s literally everywhere. Getting thrown away. Why not use it? Do I think we should use plastic forever? No. But I think we used the energy to pull it out of the ground and make it, so we should use it until its useful life is up.

I have been buying Preserve toothbrushes for a long time now. Honestly, I’ve never given the sustainability aspect much thought, or compared it to other products.  The handle is made with recycled yogurt cups, and the bristles are new nylon. These you can’t compost, but you can send them back to the company for recycling.

The whole premise of Preserve is to provide recycling services of #5 plastics. More than 1/3 of U.S. communities don’t accept #5 for recycling. Thus, Preserve makes its products out of #5 and accepts all #5 for recycling. However, the actual material that gets fabricated for products is made up of multiple other materials, so the company states it is not recyclable in your standard recycling bin.

Note: the City of Tulsa is not in the 1/3 that does not accept #5. We proudly do.

This whole post originated because I dropped my work toothbrush on the floor in the bathroom. I seriously took a moment to consider whether I should take it home to boil it. It only touched the floor for, like, two seconds! Then I realized: no one should put a toothbrush in their mouth that has touched the floor of a semi-public bathroom, no matter how brief a touch and no matter how hardcore a zero-waster one may be. So I have to replace it (I’m sure there are folks more hardy than I who would scoff at this conclusion). I knew the company recycled its used products, but I’d never done it before so I looked it up. Products may be recycled either in a “Gimme 5” dropoff location, or mailed in to the company. Lo and Behold: Tulsa actually has a Gimme 5 dropoff location where I can take this toothbrush!! Whaddaya know! There isn’t a bin, but you can hand off your used brush to an employee at the midtown Tulsa Whole Foods at 1401 E. 41st St. Tulsa, OK 74105. There isn’t a bin, you just have to hand it off to an employee.

Recycle your Preserve toothbrush at the midtown Tulsa Whole Foods at 1401 E. 41st St. Tulsa, OK 74105

Now, if we didn’t have a bin, I would mail in the toothbrush, but I would need to wait until I had more to recycle. (Isn’t that quite the catch: I need to use MORE to use less. All I can do is sigh and shake my head at this concept.) In fact, the more, the better. The company discourages returning less than 6 used items for recycling at a time. This prevents the amount of energy used to recycle the product from outweighing the beneficial use of the product itself. Remember our discussion of embodied energy? Here is an illustration of that. It doesn’t make sense to use more energy processing something something than it is actually worth.

SO, go on (tooth)brush your shoulder off. (One takes the opportunity to parody Jay Z when one is presented with said opportunity.)

*I derive no economic gain or payment from discussing any company or its products included herein, although I should.

Less-Waste Salad Kit

Okay, peeps. Here’s my shameful, wasteful indulgence of late: salad kits.

I am SO busy. Like, don’t stop working busy. In total, I probably work 50 hours a week at my jobs, then put on top of that household chores and organizing, taking care of a baby, and trying to take care of MYSELF (for example, sleeping). My biggest zero-waste downfall (and I think most people’s) is the kitchen. The kitchen produces the most waste of the entire household. Food packaging waste is SO hard to avoid without tireless effort.

Our vastly busy lifestyles make for a really hard time with the groceries. On top of the stress and lack of time, I have a VERY strict grocery budget. With budgetary and dietary issues I have some serious constraints on my grocery trip to begin with, and sometimes I just cannot add the constraint of zero-waste (and remain sane).

I know I’m not the only one. Can I get an AMEN???

So, let me drive this home and be clear. I’m just going to admit this to the world right now: sometimes I’m so worn out and stressed that I throw zero-waste by the wayside when I’m grocery shopping. Sometimes I actually DO NOT consider the waste associated with my grocery basket. I become reckless with the waste that will result from my shopping trip, in the name of sanity. So, believe me, anyone who says they don’t have the time or energy to reduce their food packaging waste, I am RIGHT THERE WITH YOU.

But what if I did an experiment?

Salad kits. SALAD KITS. How genius, right? Someone just put together a delicious salad for you, and all you have to do is remove it from its various plastic wrappings, put it together in a bowl, and voila! Lunch! A busy woman’s dream. I just buy 5 salad kits at the store, take them all to work with me on Monday, and I don’t ever leave the house in the morning wondering what I’m going to eat for lunch. It’s brilliant, but for that pesky trash…

What I have done is recreated the salad kit, except in a zero-waste or less-waste way.

And it’s cheaper. Score!

I bought romaine, a few brussel sprouts, and red cabbage. I already had carrots, so I didn’t need to buy those.

I chopped it all up like they do for the bag salads, and put it in a big bowl for tossing.

Transferred a large enough portion for a few days into a container, and lunch is ready to go! I will take the Annie’s goddess dressing with me, as well as the container of nuts, seeds, and raisins. When I’m finished with the dressing, I’ll recycle it. (I have other large containers with better to-go lids, they’re just not available to me right now. This glass lid rigged with rubber bands is obviously not my first choice.)

Okay, now for the cost break-down:

6 bagged salad kits = $23.14 before tax

(From a previous shopping trip: 3 Dole chopped salad kits and 3 Eat Smart salad kits)

Buying produce and making my own: $10.21 

(Brussel Sprouts (.75 lb): 2.09; Red Cabbage (1.84 lb): 1.45; Romaine hearts: 3.98; Annie’s Goddess dressing: 2.69; things I already had on hand: 1 carrot, sunflower seeds, raisins)

As you can see, buying the pre-made salad kits is about double the cost of making your own. It really only took me about 10 minutes to assemble everything and get it ready to go for Monday. I know the internet is full of “ways to simplify your life” and “easy to-go lunch recipes,” but honestly, if you like salad kits and want to reduce your waste, I think this is a good way to go!

Repost: Zero Waste Alternatives

I keep coming back to this post on the zero waste website Trash is for Tossers, out of NYC. It provides graphics comparing the status quo product (Palmolive for your dishes, for example) and the less- or zero-waste, sustainable alternative to that product (64 oz jug of Dr. Bronners, for example). I keep referring to it because it is so practical and there are so many helpful suggestions. The fact is, we buy a lot of products out of habit when a simple change in our consumer choice would make a world of difference in the amount of trash we produce (and money we spend, actually). That is what this post illustrates. So check it out!! Here’s the link! Here is a sneak peak:

trash is for tossers

Screenshot via

Can I Recycle That: Shampoo Bottles

Answer: YES.

Recycle your shampoo and conditioner bottles, but NOT the lids. The City of Tulsa website that lists what can and cannot be recycled does not specify the lids to these bottles may be recycled. DON’T include the LIDS. As you can see in this picture, the lids may sometimes contain metals and other unknown materials that probably are not recyclable.

ZWT got a question on its Facebook page a couple weeks ago about where in Tulsa one can buy shampoo and conditioner by the ounce out of bulk bottles. Embarrassingly, I don’t know the answer to that question (because it’s likely “no where”–but let’s look further, shall we!?). Locating a place in town to buy bulk soaps, including castille, was something I originally set out to do through this blog. Of course, if you’re able to refill your shampoo bottles you won’t need to recycle them!! Let’s hope that will be the case very soon.

Here’s to avoiding that trash!


Sippy Cup Experiment

We are trying something new: only one sippy cup. I bought this stainless steel Klean Kanteen sippy cup at Whole Foods today. This will be the child’s sole drinking vessel at home. Once he gets accustomed to it, I’ll get one for daycare.

We’ve only ever had 4 bottles and 4 sippy cups. That number has dwindled as we’ve broken a bottle (glass), lost a nipple or two, and the dog destroyed a sippy cup. I never have a clean cup to use. Sure, my stash isn’t huge to begin with, but I’m starting to think it’s my mentality (as are usually all things when it comes to reducing waste). If I only have ONE cup to use that must be hand washed, I will be more diligent about keeping it clean.

It’s also come to my attention that plastics (even BPA-free) leach hormone-like chemicals (just google it–no way to link all the articles here). We are exposed to so many hormones from the food in our diets that I figured it doesn’t hurt to cut out the possibility of more exposure.

Stainless steel is more durable than plastic, and therefore more sustainable as a zero waste option. This cup will not break.

Let’s see how this goes!