Top 10 Favorite Green Living Hacks. Saving Money and the Earth.

Check out the Tips Below to Turn Rags into Green Gold

Check out the Tips Below to Turn Rags into Green Gold

Welcome, guest poster,  Jean Nick of Nickel Pincher. She has given me a laundry list of her favorite green living hacks sure to save money and the environment.  You go, Jean! I adore her advice! So will you.

Solutions that are both eco-logical and eco-nomical are my specialty. Buying “Green” is my last choice, not the “Green” part — the buying part. Buying stuff – even the greenest stuff – carries an ecological price as well as a pocketbook price, both of which I’d rather avoid when at all possible.

So rather than rush out to buy the latest, greenest option use what you already have — unless it presents a health risk (plastic bottles, cleaning or personal care items loaded with compounds you now know are bad for your health) or uses vastly more energy to operate than a replacement will (like an ancient refrigerator)—is always a greener solution. Use it up or wear it out before looking for a replacement.

Buy Used, Borrow, or Rent

If you don’t have something you really do need to acquire or replace consider renting, borrowing, buying used, or looking for it on FreeCycle. I haven’t purchased sheets in ages, I get a couple of sets on FreeCycle every few years and turn my worn out ones into rags. Sure they aren’t organic, but they have been washed a good many times before I get them and I’m not buying something new with its inevitable eco-footprint.

Even better: think about what you have you may be able to re-purpose or ”up-cycle” to meet your current need. Here are a few of my other favorites top 10 Green Living Hacks:

Table Napkins.

Instead of paper napkins re-purpose squares of soft flannel cut out of old flannel shirts or PJs and hem the edges to make soft and serviceable everyday cloth napkins (wash once a week and hang dry).

DIY “Swiffer” Sheets.

I love my Swiffer mop but not the funky little replacement “cloths” that go with it. Luckily the mop head will grip terry cloth toweling just perfectly and it works better anyway. Cut squares from an old terrycloth towel the width of the mop head. I don’t hem mine and they last fine. Cut a bunch so you can use them for cleaning too. Once you have a wash load worth of dirty ones wash them and hang them to dry.

Baby Bottom Wipes.

I bought one box of baby wipes for baby number one. After that I refilled the box – for the next 3 years — with clean, folded squares of old terry towel and added enough water to make them just moist (add a couple of drops of pure castile soap if you like). Scrub and sun the empty box before refilling every so often.

Clip Clothes Pins.

Not only are these great for keeping clothing on the line I keep a handful in the pantry to clip food bags closed instead of buying (gasp) bag clips or fussing with twist ties. Fold over or twist the top, clip, and voila!

Rolling Pin.

I have a couple of nice vintage rolling pins, but when away from my kitchen I’ve often made due with a clean, empty wine bottle (one with higher shoulders is better as there is more rolling surface). A dark glass wine bottle and cork are also perfect for storing a kitchen stock of olive oil if you buy it in bulk.

(Anna, here.  Jean, I just bought a new one since I couldn’t figure out how to fix my broken one?  I wish I had this post earlier… Any ideas what to do with the broken one.  Son tried to roll out a homemade wheat pizza dough and broke the handle.)

Instant Catnip Mouse.

Round up a lonely, orphaned but intact sock. Toss in a handful of dried catnip. Knot the ankle.

(Anna, here.  Wow. Jean, now I know what to do with those orphaned socks. I bet lavender would be great too!  By the way, have an idea on how to make sure the socks stay as pairs and are not eaten by the washing machine gods?)

Seed Starters:

During the winter I sometimes buy commercial organic greens at the supermarket and select the ones in the clear plastic boxes rather than the smaller bags, partly ‘cause they are economical and partly because I like them for starting seeds in. Plant seeds in shallow trays or individual pots, put those inside the clear plastic box, water, and close the lid. The soil inside the mini greenhouse stays moist a lot longer.

(Anna, here.  Two great mines thinks alike.  Check out my plastic container seedling starter.  It works like a charm.)

Cut down beverage cartons with a few drain holes poked in the bottom make nice little flats. For individual pots tear newspaper strips bout 6” wide, wrap them (one at a time) around a drinking glass or glass jar about 2” in diameter. Let the paper strip stick out from the bottom of the glass about 1 ½ inches and fold/squish that in to make the bottom of the pot. Slip it off and fill it with planting mix (you can actually buy wooden molds to do the same thing with, not sure why anyone would waste good money on them).

Plant Tags.

As a gardener I go through a lot of little tags for marking the names of things I’ve planted. Wooden ones are nice, and if you buy frozen treats by all means save any wooden sticks – but I don’t so I upcycle quart yogurt containers but cutting the sides into ½” wide strips and recycling the bottoms. At the end of the season the tags go into the recycling as well.

For longer-lasting plant tags (fruit trees, etc) I cut 1” wide strips out of the sides of an aluminum beverage can (if you don’t buy any yourself you can probably pick one up easily enough. Use an object with a rounded point (an old dead ballpoint pen works nicely) to press the name and other info into the soft metal. Poke a hole near one end and use a scrap of wire to hang it.

(Anna, here.  I love Jean’s ideas.  I re-use my old credit cards as seedling markers but cut out the number. )

Three household Cleaning Helpers.


Dilute with water to wash floors or remove salt residues from just about anything. Use instead of Jetdry in the dishwasher, fabric softener in the washing machine, and hair conditioner in the shower.

Baking soda.

Use dry or moistened with water to scrub stains away and you can brush your teeth with it.


Great laundry stain fighter; mixed with water, a splash of vinegar, and a few drops of essential oil it makes a good all purpose cleaning spray; and I wash my hair with it (put a few tablespoons in a jar, add water, shake, let settle for a minute, and pour the liquid over wet hair – not much sudsing, rinses out easily, leaving clean shiny hair for pennies).

(Anna, here.  See Jean’s almost Anything Cleaner recipe made with borax, vinegar, washing soda and some essential oils. Sure to save you money as well as the environment.  I can just smell the cleaner as I type.)

Of course if I can’t make do, borrow, or find something used I DO buy stuff I really need, and I DO make buying the longest lasting, lowest maintenance, and –- yes—“Greenest” option I can find and afford a priority.

(Anna, here.  Don’t forget to read my very own green living hacks: Going Green on a Budget or 18 Steps Green Steps without Spending a Dime. Jean and I could be green cousins. I only have one sister and she would be insulted if I called anyone else my “sister” even for the environment.)


  • What are your favorite eco-nomical and eco-wise hacks? Spill, please.
  • Do you have a top 10 list of green living hacks.  (If you have a post, link it below in the comments.)
  • Have you tried any of the above hacks?  If so, tell us your experience.
  • Which one or few of the above hacks are your favorites?
Jean Nick

Jean Nick

Thanks Jean for sharing some green living, save money love on Green Talk.  The Nickel Pincher is the alter-ego of Jean Nick, farmer, writer, and all-around homesteading and DIY addict. Raised by thrifty New Englanders, she has been collecting and inventing ways to live well and save money at the same time for half a century. She lives at Happy Farm, a grass-based poultry and small fruit farm in Eastern PA with her partner Tom, 6 dogs, 2 cats, a small flock of goats and sheep, and geese, guineas, ducks, and chickens to numerous to count.  In addition, be sure to check out Jean’s great articles as Rodale’s Nickel Pincher!

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    Boy, I could go on for days on this one, but here are a few of my favorites: when I buy soap, I take the wrapper off and stash in my clothes drawers. The clothes smell good, the soap gets harder, and then it lasts longer in the shower. 2) I use a kitchen drawer full of washcloths instead of paper towels. When they are dirty, they go in the washing machine. So every load of wash has at least a couple of washcloths, but thats OK. 3) another way to mark your plants: look for a broken window blind out by someone’s curb. Take it home, cut it up into 6″ long pieces. THey are sharp enough and sturdy enough (mark with a Sharpie) to last a long time. 4) I make my own laundry detergent: 1 cup washing soda, 1/2 cup borax, 1 slivered up bar of Ivory Soap, and a few drops of lavender (optional). Been doing this for years and my front loader no longer smells of mold (the way it did when I used commercial liquid detergent). 5) stretch your dishwasher powder by putting baking soda in the first opening, and your powder in the 2nd one. 6) use grocery store fabric bags (new!) for gifting. They last longer than the paper bags and they are just so practical! TJ Maxx by me has some beautiful bags for 99 cents, great for giving my handmade quilts away. 7) I use single socks to clean my iron. I use alot of fusible products and my iron gets gunky. So I use the iron cleaner and an old sock. THen I’m not guilty when I have to throw them away. 8) and speaking of Freecycle, I walk the mornings that the garbage truck comes, so I get out there early enough to see what my neighbors are throwing away. I drag everything home and Freecycle it!

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      MJ, I love your ideas. Can you use something other than Ivory Soap for laundry detergent. Is your washer a high efficiency one? I wonder if your idea gets rid of mold for the HE ones too. Do you make your quilts out of re-purposed fabric? Anna

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        Jean Nick a.k.a. the Nickel Pincher says

        Much as I re-using window blinds are often Vinyl, a plastic that contains nasty chemicals, and I’d probably avoid putting it in my garden.

      • 5


        Anna, I don’t know about the Ivory, thats all I’ve ever used. I figure its 96% pure, so…. ANyway, I forgot to say that I let the Ivory Soap dry out w/out a wrapper for a few months so it whizzes up better in the food processor. Yes, my washer is a HE front loader. Re: quilts, sometimes I do, but I teach quilting at the local store and they want me to use their fabric so they can hang the quilt and sell the fabric and pattern. But I love scrap quilts!

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          Anna, I’ve tried the Castile soap. I’m not happy with the results, because it doesn’t dissolve fully in the soap drawer. And I use hot water to wash sometimes because its free (solar). Also, my little food processor could not break the bits up into powder like it does with the Ivory. I had to sift out the bit pieces and keep putting them back to whiz some more. So, I won’t be using Castille anymore, but stay with the Ivory.

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            wow, how did I miss ‘soap nuts’? I’ve never seen them at my local health food store, or whole foods. I see lots of choices on is there a brand you can recommend?

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    Jean Nick a.k.a. the Nickel Pincher says


    In re: keeping socks from going awol:

    I tend to buy multiple pairs of the same sock so even if a few go missing, or as they get beyond darning, I can still wear the remainders as pairs.

    I’ve seen little plastic sock-holding gizmos, round disks with star-shaped slits in the center you poke the socks through in pairs (see picture at, before dropping them into the washer. You could probably do much the same with a flexible plastic yogurt lid and a knife — do any companies still put plastic lids on top of the foil ones? — or disks of flexible plastic cut from larger containers.

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      Jean, great idea. I bet you could also use those plastic grips around the Costco 2 for one products. You know. Like ketchup bottles. I will have to try this. Then I will have to guest post on Nickel Pincher….Anna


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