Bare Essentials: Recipes for Zero Waste Toiletries

Bare Essentials: Recipes for Zero Waste Toiletries

One of the most helpful ways to approach zero waste living is to apply the 6Rs hierarchy to all possible waste-producing scenarios. That is, to Refuse, Replace, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot, and only in that order. (The ‘Replace’ R is a new addition, suggested to us by our wonderful plastic-free friend, Rachel Benefield.).

Most toiletries come packaged, so they instantly require us to use the 6Rs. Recycle is quite far down the hierarchy. So, even if a particular bathroom item comes in recyclable packaging, the first question we ask ourselves is still whether we can Refuse the packaged item and Replace it with a zero waste alternative. The answer is almost always “yes!”

The replacement for most toiletries has been to make them ourselves, at home, with simple and inexpensive ingredients that we purchase in bulk or in packaging that we can reuse. Doing so has been a pleasure for us because:

  • we have saved so much money;
  • often we find we have better results for our bodies using our homemade toiletries;
  • we have control over the ingredients and quantities of those ingredients that go into the stuff we put on our body; and
  • we greatly enjoy the creative/discovery aspect inherent in learning how to make common bathroom products.

At our presentations, people often want to know our recipes. We don’t generally have time to share them in detail during our presentations, so uploading our recipes seemed like the logical thing to do. However, we dragged our heels a little bit because every body is different and what works for us may not work for everyone (our own experiments with toiletries recipes that other people swear by have occasionally gone haywire for us!) We really didn’t want people to try our recipes, have them not work, and then come to the conclusion that all homemade products are less effective than store-bought ones.

But then we thought, well, we can provide you with that disclaimer, i.e. that you may need to tweak our recipes to suit your body. And, at the very least, what works for us is at least a good starting point – much easier than trying to work everything out from scratch! We also hope that, when you see how cheap and easy DIY bathroom products can be to make, you may be inspired to branch out and try even more recipes 🙂

So, without further ado, here’s our “Bare Essentials” DIY toiletries booklet (click on the booklet to make it full-screen). If you have any other go-to recipes, feel free to mention them in a comment below. ALSO, please read our position statement on the use of essential oils in DIY toiletries and cleaners. Spoiler – we don’t recommend it except in the limited circumstances outlined. 


30 thoughts on “Bare Essentials: Recipes for Zero Waste Toiletries”

  • Having been to Hannah and Liam’s talk last night on Waiheke I have successfully cleaned some of my windows and paintwork with, firstly just a DRY recycled cloth (made from an old nightie) and when needed 1 or 2 drops of lemon juice. at a time. Just held the slice of lemon and squeezed onto cloth as necessary!

    • That’s what we go over in our talks! We just slowly eliminated all things that produce rubbish from our lives. We didn’t do it overnight, we just took it step by step. A lot of the changes weren’t as difficult as we thought they would be. Some things are really difficult to avoid, and we don’t beat ourselves up about those things, we just focus on the things we can change, which turns out, was quite a lot. A big part of it is learning how to make things at home from scratch, rather than having to buy things in a packet, which is why we are trying to share our recipes for body care products, to show people how easy (and cheap!) it can be to make a lot of this stuff at home out of simple ingredients. If you’re interested in knowing more, feel free to come along to one of our talks 🙂

    • Kia ora Jasmine,

      We are starting to put some of our food recipe ups, due to many requests, but is a slightly slow process of finding time! We can try and focus on prioritising uploading recipes people want to see, so if there is anything in particular that you would like to see for food, then please let us know and we’ll try and put that kind of thing up first 🙂

  • Hi Liam and Hannah, I was wondering if I could get your gluten free lemon cake recipe? Please

  • Hi Hannah, awesome talk in Hamilton last night :-)!!, I said I would email you the foil scheme, it’s called re foil, they are Australian based, the guys name is Paul Frasca, he in in nz next week, Thank you for the inspiration to reduce even more waste from my life, it’s been 6 months of not buying any more products in waste based packaging and I still have stuff in the cupboard, it’s amazing how much we can accumulate,

  • Hi guys. With your face cleanser/moisturiser regime above— do you just do as stated or do you afterwards, apply a little of the oil (sunflower) onto dry face afterwards ? Thank you . Clint.

    • Hi Clint, sorry for the delayed reply. We do not add oil to our face after doing the oil cleansing method as don’t feel it’s necessary. The oil cleanses by entering your pores (which open up from the heat while the hot flannel is over your face) and then when you rub the oil off with the wet hot flannel, the water-oil combo moisturises your skin. If you have particularly dry skin, perhaps this regime wouldn’t be sufficient to moisturise – it seems to work OK for us. Liam sometimes applies a kawakawa balm if he still has dry skin. But give the oil-cleansing method a go for a couple of weeks without moisturiser and see how it goes. Everybody’s body is different so adjustments may be necessary! We do exfoliate once a week too, either with coffee grinds (which we have infused the sunflower oil with) or sugar scrub – so that usually eliminates any dry/flakey skin that might be there!

    • Kia ora Suzanne, Thanks for your question. At this stage we have not developed a homemade sunblock recipe, though we know people who have made it and have said it’s not hard. The key ingredient you need is non-nano zinc oxide, which would have to be bought in a plastic packet (though you could buy a big quantity to reduce packaging). You can get it online.

      So, sunblock is one thing we buy. We purchase it from companies like Nature Body ( that package in cardboard tubes (i.e. home compostable packaging) or glass jars that the company will take back once empty and sterilise and reuse (less wasteful than recycling).

      The thing to note about homemade sunblock recipes and also pretty much all sustainably packaged sunscreen that we know of, is that they are the natural, zinc oxide based ones. It’s important to be aware that zinc oxide makes a functional sunblock (if applied properly it will stop you from burning) but it’s not as effective a barrier from the full spectrum of UV rays, so it’s simply not as effective as chemical-based sunscreens in stopping long-term skin damage/risk of skin cancer (this is not to say it’s not effective – it is, but it’s LESS effective). Each person can take that information how they wish to. Our approach is to use the natural sunscreens alongside hyper-vigilant sun-smartness. We do not lie on beaches with our skin exposed with natural sunscreen on. We wear hats all the time in summer, stay in shade as much as possible and we try and wear long-sleeved cotton shirts etc if we are in direct sun (though worth noting that there’s debate about how whether thin cotton protects from some of the UV rays too!!)

      If after that discussion people do decide they want to use chemical-based sunscreen, we recommend opting for the sunscreens that come in hard plastic bottles, rather than those squeezy-tube things. Hard plastic is easier and more effectively recycled.

      In the long-term, it would be great to see manufacturers of chemical-based sunscreen packaging more sustainably so that people were not faced with this dilemma over what sunscreen to use. Refillable containers of chemical-based sunscreen would be fantastic – not least because reusing the packaging would reduce the cost to the consumer (sunscreen is ridiculously expensive).

      Hope that helps!

      • Try
        It’s a beeswax based product ( freedom suncream) comes in a glass jar. Apparently she created it as her super allergic sun could not tolerate any ordinary sunblock.
        I bought it in whakatane.
        It contains jojoba oil, coconut oil, beeswax, Shea butter, raspberry seed oil, carrot seed oil and cut E.

  • I have used a deodorant stone for the last 10 years. At the rate it is being used, it will last me out!
    I have made liquid hand soap from ordinary soap, usually the small pieces left over. I keep in a jar and put my dirty fingers in when I come in from the garden. It cleans them very well.
    And, I have a recipe for laundry powder somewhere using washing soda and baking soda. You grind it up in the food processor. I am down to my last few tablespoons.

    • Hiya Margaret – thanks for your comment. Yes, we’ve heard a few people have had success with these stones. Unfortunately they didn’t seem to work for us, which was a shame, but if people have these already and have success with them, then definitely no need to start making things from scratch as they do last for a long time 🙂

      Great idea with the liquid soap from the small pieces left over – how do you do it, do you just melt the bits down in a saucepan with some water? Or do you put the bits in a jar and pour hot water over them until they melt? Or another system?

      Does your laundry powder recipe also use grated bar of castile soap, along with the washing soda and baking soda? We’ve seen this recipe too (it’s the one Lauren Singer from Trash is for Tossers uses for her Simply Co laundry powder). We have heard that because it’s soap based it may not be good for washing machines and may leave soap residues on clothes if used in a washing machine (as opposed to handwashing, where it’s fine because there is sufficient agitation). Apparently modern washing machines require detergent to clean properly. We are agnostic on this issue but do like to raise it just because some people feel very strongly about laundry! If people do want to use detergent we just urge them to use something like Ecoplanet that is packaged sustainably and has no dangerous chemicals!

      Thanks again for your message 🙂

  • Kereru essential oils will reuse the bottles if you collect them to return after use, which I think is great 🙂

    • Awesome, Sarah! Can you let us know where you need to go to return them? Do you need to go straight to the Kereru factory/shop or do they have drop off points in town? (Just so that we can update our shopping guide with details!)

  • Hi guys. Firstly a big CONGRATULATIONS for a awesome year of the Rubbish Trip, and even better you are continuing your advocacy for our planet. I have been using your Rye flour for a shampoo & love it, so thanks ! One question , do you use the completing ground powder rye flour or the slightly chunky one ? I did not realise there was two till the last time I went to get more at Cornucopia. Hoping your manage to make your way back to Hastings sometime ? Thanks , Clint.

    • Hiya Clint – thank you! We are just amazed by how keen NZers are to talk about waste issues – very inspiring and exciting! Glad you are loving the rye flour (we love it too!!). In answer to your question, the finer/more ground the better. The chunkier it is, the harder it is to wash out and then you run the risk of getting unsightly bits when your hair dries, which is not ideal 😉 – H and L

  • Kia ora
    Thank you so much for the awesome recipes. Been busy brewing away today.
    For your mouthwash, I added sage leaves to peppermint leaves as sage is really good for your gum and throat.
    Am looking forward using my new recipes! Keep it up!

  • Hi guys,
    A question about your tooth paste recipe:
    Once you’ve combined all the ingredients and it’s cooled down, I assume the coconut oil will harden again. Do you just leave it hard when you brush your teeth (I.e. scrape the toothbrush over the hardened mixture), or do you re-melt it each time you want to brush your teeth?

    • Hiya Bex, it depends on the time of year. At this time of the year we find that the mixture is always soft enough to apply to the toothbrush (use something like an upcycled chopstick or a teaspoon to apply as not really hygienic to dig your toothbrush into the mixture). In winter time we try and leave the toothpaste somewhere where it won’t go freezing, for example in a hot water cupboard, or in a van, by the window during the day if it’s sunny. Or, just before you intend to use it you can run the jar under a hot water tap so that it warms the mixture, or in your van, just hold the jar in your hands for a while to warm it. As long as the toothpaste is not completely freezing and solid, then you can usually dig a bit out to put on the toothbrush, but it is much easier if it’s slightly warmed!

    • You mean those crystal things? Lots of pharmacies, organic stores and places like Health 2000 stock them 🙂

  • Hi Liam & HAnnah,
    Thanks for the talk at New Brighton yesterdayand for all you are doing nationwide to shine a spotlight on the issue of waste in Aotearoa.
    I was wondering about adding repair to the R list.

    • Hi Gina! Thanks for coming along to our talk; we enjoyed talking in New Brighton 😀

      Ah yes, Repair is a great R. There are a variety of formulations of the Rs out there – some people use 5Rs, others use 3Rs, and we’ve certainly seen other triangles with a lot more Rs than that!! Repair is on some other people’s waste hierarchy, including Kristy Lorson’s of EarthSavvy – she has 6Rs, and her 6Rs has Repair on it.

      We think repair is super important but we would probably see it falling within the Reuse R, which for us also includes buying secondhand and upcycling. So, repairing things when they break rather than chucking out and buying new would be reusing 🙂 Reuse comes before Recycle on the waste hierarchy, which makes sense to us for repair to be part of that. For example, when we have a broken appliance, we try to repair it so we can continue to use it, before we seek to recycle it.

      But there are no hard and fast rules! You can follow your own set of Rs!

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