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Ammonia alternatives for hairy drains and hairy heads. Plus: Lice advice
Ammonia is found in many household cleaners. It is caustic, potentially hazardous to human health and also highly toxic to fish, which are all good reasons not to use it around your home—and why you wouldn’t want to use it to clear blocked drains.
Bung pipes? For an effective eco-drain cleaner put several heaped tablespoons of baking soda in the plughole and rinse it down with half-a-cup of vinegar. Follow up with a kettle-full of boiling water and then, if necessary, give the drain a few good pumps using a rubber plunger.
For a general ammonia-free cream cleaner, mix four or five tablespoons of baking soda with one tablespoon of water and a few drops of lemon essence or eucalyptus oil. Mix into a stiff paste and apply with a damp sponge. Buff it off using a dry cloth.
So much for the hair stuck down the drains … what about the grey ones still attached to my head? As someone who’s not ready to embrace my grey just yet, I’m in the market for hair dye. But being a dye DIYer, I’m also responsible for the solutions that pour off my head and down the shower plughole.
The irony is that some of the chemicals we wouldn’t dream of pouring down the drain we regularly put in our hair. Ammonia, for instance, is a common ingredient in permanent hair dyes. Most dyes consist of two solutions, mixed together immediately before application: one part typically contains hydrogen peroxide; the other an ammonia solution. It’s this combination of peroxide and ammonia that enables the colour to bond effectively. You may get a great colour, but the process can damage your hair and cause allergic reactions. (Check out good.net.nz/hairdye for more info on health concerns.)
The good news is that new ammonia-free hair dyes are now coming onto the market—look out for them next time you do the colouring business.
Ammonia: no-how and no-nos
- Ammonia is a naturally occurring compound of nitrogen and hydrogen. It is a colourless gas best recognised by its pungent smell.
- Ammonia’s use in fertiliser and cleaning products make it one of the world’s most-produced inorganic chemicals—nearly 150 million tonnes per year.
- But ammonia is a corrosive substance. Mixing it with chlorine-containing products (such as bleach) can create poisonous gases.
- It’s also an irritant—exposure to concentred amounts can severely burn your skin, eyes, throat or lungs. Children or asthma sufferers can be especially affected.
- Too much ammonia in waterways contributes to ‘dead zones’, where neither fish nor shellfish can survive. There are currently about 140 dead zones throughout the world.
Natural Nit Busters
Finding lice in your kid’s hair kicks off another kind of bad hair day. Chemical solutions can potentially hurt the scalp and lice can be immune to them anyway. Try these alternatives:
Rub a handful of white vinegar in washed hair, leave for several minutes then rinse, as a daily preventer. Or, spritz kid’s hair with 10 drops of tea tree or lavender essential oil in 100mls of water. —Good reader Linda Baker
- Cover hair with regular conditioner. While the hair is still slathered, comb first with a wide comb for tangles, then a nit comb to catch crawlers. Pull any eggs off the hair. Repeat twice a week for three weeks.
- If lice is an ongoing problem, a battery powered electric comb can be a handy tool for catching and zapping.
- Alternatively, a regular hair straightener can be used to fry eggs and lice. (Start as close to the scalp as you can without burning your child’s head and slide along hair shaft.)
- Lice don’t like tea tree oil; add a few drops when washing bed linen and to shampoo as a preventative measure.