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Cleaning with care while camping: Zero footprint DIY solutions from shampoo to laundry care

Mixtures you can make and take into the outdoors that are harmless as can be.

Nicole Mahabir · CBC Life · June 19

Summer days are finally here and most of us can't wait to slip into the sublime Canadian outdoors.  

Whether it's camping, glamping, portaging, beaching or picnicking, we are ready to embark on a wilderness adventure. When traversing into the world less chartered, Parks Canada asks that we protect and conserve the hand that feeds us. So it's best to go green when keeping your bits clean! Healthy eco-recipes can help your gear and your hair stay naturally refreshed while supporting the ecosystem that promotes our health and wellbeing. It also keeps campsites and parks teaming with life, free from pollution and away from our carbon feet.

Sustainable solutions are simple to make, cost effective and can be tailored to suit your savvy tastes with personalized options for flavour and aromas. So, we're offering up some quick and easy recipes that can be prepared at home just before you head into the wild!


As with all products, although they are eco-safe, they should never be ingested or left in an accessible area with young children. If you can stow these items away or purchase bottles with child safety caps, it's a better vacation for everyone.

Remember to label your products so that you can differentiate between them and do include the ingredients on a label in case someone else in your travel crew (or outside) decides to borrow your products but may have an allergy to an ingredient used.

General surfaces

Whether cleaning your camp gear, a picnic table or the inside of a canoe, here is a fresh and handy option for general use.

Lavender, tea tree, orange, lemon or lemongrass essential oils are great options that smell amazing and are germicidal, antibacterial and antiseptic.

Hydrogen peroxide is an excellent sterilizer that kills bacteria, mold and fungus. It becomes less stable in the light, so keep it in an opaque bottle with the spray pump nozzle intact. Hydrogen peroxide should always be a 3% solution for safe cleaning. Anything over 3% should be diluted down to a 3% solution with water before use. If you don't want to use hydrogen peroxide, substitute with 8 oz of witch hazel instead.

8 oz. hydrogen peroxide (3% food grade option is the safe percentage to use)

8-10 drops of your favourite essential oil

Directions: Combine the ingredients in a bottle, attach a spray nozzle, and shake. When ready to use, spray the solution on the surface, let it rest for a few minutes and then wipe clean.

Citrus dish soap

Fresh lemon has antiseptic cleaning properties and is a great option to use on cutting boards, dishes and cookware when combined with the following ingredients.

1 1/2 tablespoons of natural vegetable castile soap

1 cup of water

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

5-10 drops of citrus essential oils (lemon, orange, bergamot or grapefruit)

Directions: Combine all of the ingredients in a bottle and shake. Attach a squeeze spout and it's ready to use.

To use: If you want to scour pots and grime, add a shake of baking soda into the pot with a few drops of the natural dishwashing solution and scour away. Rinse with water.

Shampoo and soap

Soap nuts are a hard fruit from the soap nut tree that is indigenous to the Himalayan region. Soap nuts contain saponins, which possess soap-like qualities that produce a foamy lather when mixed with water. This ancient Ayurvedic, and now worldly recipe, has been used as a natural soap and shampoo for centuries.

Directions: Take 15 soap nuts and soak them overnight in 6 cups of water. In the morning, boil the soap nuts in the same water and then simmer for 15 minutes. Let the soap nut concentrate cool. Strain and pour into an easy-to-use bottle. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To use: Apply to wet skin and wet hair for cleansing. After application, rinse clean with water. Avoid getting this solution in your eyes. It will sting. Please ensure that you keep your eyes closed when using this concentrate as a shampoo.

This soap nut concentrate can also be whipped to create a foamy shampoo or body soap if you choose. Once you whip the concentrate you can store it in the fridge too. When traveling you can simply keep the solution in a cool place and use as required.

This mixture will keep for about a week or two and is easy to make while you're on the go if you need more.

Laundry cleaning solution

1/2 cup white vinegar

1 litre of water

10-15 drops essential oil of your choice

Essential oils such as tea tree, lavender or eucalyptus are excellent options for their scent and have antifungal, antiseptic, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.

Directions: Combine the solution in a bucket as needed.

To use: Soak your clothes in the solution. Scrub if needed, and hang to dry.

If you need suds, skip the vinegar and substitute 1/2 cup of the soap nut solution or castile soap instead.

Herbal tooth powder

It may take a bit of time to get accustomed to the texture of an all natural tooth powder, but if you do convert, you may never go back to an over the counter paste option. These potent antibacterial ingredients leave your teeth feeling polished, and your breath fresh and clean.

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 teaspoon neem powder

1 tablespoon tulsi (holy basil) powder

1 tablespoon cinnamon powder

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 pinch of sea salt

4-8 drops of natural essential of your choice.

Orange, mint or cinnamon are great options for a refreshing favourable taste. Check the labels to ensure that the essential oils are pure and not mixed with any synthetic ingredients.

Directions: Mix all dry items together, then add the essential oils and mix again. Separate smaller portions of the mix into small glass jars for each person using the tooth powder and cover tightly with a sealed lid. If the mixture stays dry it will last for 6-8 months.

To use: Dip your dry toothbrush into the tooth powder. Brush your teeth and rinse with water. This powder can also be used to clean the tongue and is safe for children.


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