Uliano is the author of the "Gorgeously Green" series. Her most recent book, "Do It Gorgeously: How to Make Less Toxic, Less Expensive, and More Beautiful Products" tells readers how to make their own household and beauty products.
RentedSpaces chatted with the self-taught Uliano about her latest book and found out more about the quick, easy and affordable steps she recommends to make both you and your home earth-friendly, less toxic and more gorgeous.
Sophie Uliano: I've always lived this way and I was raised this way. It was called "common sense" then, and not being "green." It was how I was raised. We were taught to turn things off, not waste things, eat seasonally and locally. When the green movement happened five years ago, much of that common sense I was raised with was put into the green category.
RS: Do you have a defining moment when you made the decision to live more healthfully?
SU: When I became pregnant 10 years ago, that was a defining moment. I became very, very concerned with what I could do in my everyday life in terms of my health and non-toxic living. The jumping-off point of this book is more about health and less about trying to stop global warming. It's important for women to have a degree of control over what they are doing in their daily life and to their body. It's an empowering start to live a green lifestyle versus that feeling of being overwhelmed by all the big stuff happening to our planet.
RS: So how do we get started at home? What should we avoid?
SU: The first thing you want to do is get rid of all cleaning and beauty supplies that could be toxic. In the kitchen it's Tilex, bleach, Pledge, Comet, Pine-Sol. Anything that smells very strong and contains chemicals really aren't good for the air quality in your home or for your health. You really want to get rid of everything. That includes any kind of home pesticide or pet sprays too. All of these products can be carcinogenic.
RS: How do we get rid of all these things eco-responsibly?
SU: You need to get a box and start filling it with stuff [from around your house] and drop it off at your nearest hazardous waste dump or drop-off point. Use Earth911.com to find out where to drop your waste off. It's based on your zipcode. By starting with a box, it's easier to make that onetime trip. Go through the whole house and put everything in there from old paints and paint thinners, to nail polish removers, bottles and aerosol cans.
RS: So what do we do now to clean and look fabulous?
SU: You have to replace what you've gotten rid of. The reason I wrote this book is because I feel strongly that green shouldn't be cost-prohibitive. Most people in this economy are going to find Seventh Generation priced twice as much as Tilex. Making your own product is simply easier and less expensive, and it's completely non-toxic. When you make your own product you'll find it runs 30 cents for a huge 32 oz. spray bottle. It becomes an all-purpose spray that performs as well, and cleans germs as well as bleach.
RS: Is there something we should stop doing now?
SU: Stop buying anti-bacterial products because they often contain a chemical called toulene. That is a chemical you want to avoid. It's potentially carcinogenic. The more we get used to using a product that is anti-bacterial, the more we encourage these superbugs and germs to evolve. We need a few germs around the house. They are not all bad.
RS: For those just getting started, what is an immediate must-have?
SU: You should have a large spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide. It's is one of the best germ busters and it can be used instead of bleach. It works the same way as bleach or Clorox and does the same job, but without being toxic. It's completely safe. It's "you can swallow it"-safe! But remember, it needs to be in an opaque container because hydrogen peroxide is light sensitive. I've been messing around making my own stuff for 29 years. There is a lot of trial and error.
RS: How would you quickly sweep through the bathroom to make it greener?
SU: Make sure you have low-flow aerators in your showers and on your faucets. That will cut usage by half. They are also easy to install and cheap to buy from any hardware store. Take care of mold and mildew. Get a spray bottle and fill it with white vinegar. Also keep a hydrogen peroxide spray in the bathroom, too. You want to spritz once or twice a week to keep mold and mildew at bay.
Get rid of the vinyl shower curtain. Try to devinyl your home. The best replacement for the shower curtain is a hemp curtain because it's a naturally mildew-resistant textile, but they're expensive. For something less expensive buy a regular cotton curtain with a nylon liner. All of these products can be bought at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
RS: I'm sure cosmetic and beauty products are a whole other conversation, but what can we do to use those products more responsibly?
SU: Start reading the ingredients on the back of your skin care products and when buying go for as few ingredients as possible. Start thinking about how you want to avoid the word "fragrance" as one of the ingredients. That's in most skin care products, but fragrance means pthalates and they are bad. They are especially bad for pregnant women or women of childbearing age. (On her Gorgeously Green blog, see what Uliano has to say about the potential dangers of your sunblock.)
RS: Some of the products you need to create your own cleaning and skincare products -- like plant essences -- can be quite expensive. How do you respond to those who need to operate on a tight budget but who also want to live more greenly?
SU: When you make your own products, in the long run, you save money. If you do the whole shebang, from making cleaning products (inexpensive) to making moisturizers, etc. (expensive upfront), there is an initial investment of essential oils, etc. But that shipment will last a very long time so it pays itself back very quickly. But there are a couple of products that cost less than a dollar and are more potent than any store-bought products.
RS: Without revealing your whole book to readers, would you share one of those less-than-a-dollar products with us?
SU: There's a Vitamin C serum you can make in less than two minutes. It's more potent than anything you can buy that contains Vitamin C, which is one of the few proven anti-aging ingredients and helps build collagen and elastin.
RS: Can we replace most any product we keep in the house?
SU: Many you can and I am always testing out new recipes. The important thing to remember is that you don't want to get hysterical. There are certain things I can't give a recipe for, like mascara, blush, and nail polish remover. I do try to cover the fact that there are less toxic brands. In my book I mention two brands that I love, that are less toxic. My whole thing with being "Gorgeously Green" is about walking the middle path and not being overly zealous. You can't change everything. Make small changes and don't get extreme about it.
RS: What behavior has been hardest for you to green, around the house?
SU: Paper towels, plastic zip lock bags and baths. Instead of paper towels now, I have a bin of old rags and t-shirts that I cut up and repurpose. With plastic bags I wash them and dry them and reuse them. People don't think to reuse them but it's such a simple way to go. You can wash and dry them, which people don't realize or like to do because, unless you know how to best dry them, they aren't fun to deal with. The bath was a hard one too, but a bath takes up 20 gallons of water versus the two or three gallons a shower takes. I've also stopped buying individual snack items to avoid all that plastic. Every day I face the obstacles of being a housewife and I try my best.
Here is a sneak peek at a few of the recipes you'll find in Do It Gorgeously: How to Make Less Toxic, Less Expensive, and More Beautiful Products".