Travel laundry solutions, from bar to bottle

Every traveler should be prepared to do at least a little laundry before s/he reaches the end of the road.

Whether you’re a parent traveling with kids, a business traveler with a financial motive to look sharp, or an autoimmune sufferer like me whose arthritis causes you to unexpectedly fling things you’re attempting to hold in your weakened hands, a few minutes of immediate care can save a garment from destruction or at least degradation.

I have a few go to solutions for washing clothing away from my laundry room. It’s rare for me to leave home for even a single night without packing something I could use to attack a stain or wash out a pair of favorite socks to re-wear because they are the only ones that don’t seem unbearable in the moment.

Re-usable containers make every product travel sized

First, for anyone who keeps a cabinet full of reusable containers for lunches and leftovers, I respectfully submit that you can make your own travel size out of any preferred product. I think this is easily forgotten in our era of single serve options and packaging excess. Years ago, I bought single use packets of Woolite for travel because it simply never occurred to me to do anything different.

Obviously, one ought not put toxic chemicals into the same container used for food or drink. Either keep a dedicated set of bottles for cleaning supplies only, or, ideally, use non-toxic products to wash your clothes.

Those of us who deal with extreme sensitivities to fragrance or irritating contact dermatitis learn quickly that it can be uncomfortable or even dangerous to rely on products available in laundromats, at vacation rentals, or in friends’ homes.xyz toiletry kit Nalgene Pelican 1020 - 6

Nalgene bottles are dishwasher safe and can transport virtually any liquid used in the home. They’re pretty common in labs, too. I like to buy mine at REI because I’m a co-op member, but that sporting good store’s selection has narrowed of late probably due to pandemic supply chain issues.

The Container Store is another fine option for buying travel size bottles, especially if you live near one of these expensive but high service shops. I love that TCS has always offered curbside pickup service. For individual Nalgene bottles, their prices are competitive, but your eyes will water the first time you shop for closet organization accessories here.

Ranging from 1/2 oz up to 32 oz, Nalgene bottles run between $1.39 and $3.99 at The Container Store, the same as or similar to prices in sporting goods stores. I very much prefer the wide mouth version—shown below in its smallest size full of my SensiClean detergent—because they are easier to clean, but the narrow neck bottles are a usually few cents cheaper.

10¢ per bottle for the bigger opening is well worth it to me to make scrubbing out stubborn residue easier, but I also like to vary bottle styles to make it more obvious which is which when I’m packing a dozen products for my entire family. The multi-colored lids in Nalgene travel kits also make quick identification easier; Amazon seems to sell a kit of just colorful lids, though I don’t own that precise set.4 mL bottle as small as a pinkie, 8 mL is thumb sized around, and 1 oz Nalgene bottle with detergent, all held in one open hand

Here’s a perfect example of the more usual pricing level at The Container Store: a 2 oz travel size bottle of The Laundress Signature Detergent retails for $7.99.

Aside from my objection to even the fairly light floral scent of this particular product, why would anyone choose to pay more for a flimsy disposable bottle than a sturdy one made by Nalgene? If you like The Laundress detergent, refill your own Nalgene from a full size container at home! You’ll carry exactly as much cleaning fluid as you’ll need, spend less, and have a lower probability of awful luggage spills due to a crushed bottle or a flip-top malfunction.2 oz Signature Detergent trial size laundry soap in Ziploc in a woman's handWhy do I have a travel size bottle of The Laundress Signature Detergent, then, if I don’t care for it and it is so expensive? I received a mini set of their products as a gift-with-purchase, probably of closet organizers…

While a basic plastic sandwich bag—Ziploc or store brand—can be used to carry small quantities of detergent, I would advise anyone going that route to double bag it for obvious reasons. Disposable baggies aren’t really sturdy enough for this use, and detergent is gritty and abrasive. A disposable bag’s thin, flexible nature does make it superior to a reusable silicone* bag as an extra layer of security on top of a Nalgene bottle, though, in my opinion, when adding a bottle to a larger kit.

I also pack dish soap in a 1/2 oz. Nalgene Leakproof Dropper Bottle when I travel because, at a minimum, I always pack my own spork, coffee to-go cup, and a reusable water bottle. I like to keep them clean, and I often drop things. My mom told me once that using hand soap on dishes can make you sick, which I’m guessing is an urban legend or refers to antibacterial products that are no longer common, but I just plain prefer to wash stuff I’m about to stick in my mouth with my own brand of unscented dish washing liquid.

Dish soap can also work on stains; try it on greasy spills, ideally rubbed in with an old toothbrush. The amount of rinsing required can be frustrating while still wearing a soiled garment, however.

FYI: I sometimes apply a piece of tape to keep the Leakproof Dropper truly leak proof. I trust this style of lid less than I do a standard screw-top. I always carry Dropper top bottles inside a waterproof outer bag.

It is often possible to get a fair price on small Nalgene containers from Amazon, but costs vary from awesome to offensive; the good deals are almost always sets of a dozen or more and found in the Lab & Scientific Products category. The internet superstore has been my best source for my favorite travel toiletry choice: tiny 4 mL (1/8 ounce) and 8 mL (1/4 oz) bottles for short trips, carrying a few pills at a time, and for beauty products applied by the smidgen or drop.Cardboard box holding an assortment of small bottles from 1/8 oz to 4 oz in size

My collection of small travel containers includes brands other than Nalgene, but I don’t have perfect faith in all of them to resist leaks or breakage with reasonable care in handling.

How much laundry soap should you pack in your own container?

How much laundry soap should you pack for travel? That depends so much on the length of the trip, whether you will have access to machines, or whether you only intend to sink wash the occasional bit of lingerie.

As of July 2022, my two favorite laundry detergents to use at home are SensiClean liquid and Charlie’s Soap powder but only with the added Booster or a scoop of Borax in our hard water. Country Save detergent is another good brand for our sensitive skinned household, but it is less readily available locally.Small bottle filled with laundry detergent

For an upcoming multi-week trip, I’ll carry a small 1 oz bottle of SensiClean liquid detergent for occasional hand washing of delicate items.

My all-time-favorite cruise purchase is an unlimited wash-dry-and-fold package, but there are expensive delicates I won’t send to an industrial laundry unless I’m too sick to take care of them myself. For those, and in case my child’s eczema flares due to the ship’s laundry regimen, I’ll have a manual option to detox the layers he wears next to his sensitive skin.

If I were heading to a vacation rental with its own laundry machines, I would pack a roughly 1 cup/250 mL size plastic storage container of Charlie’s Soap for a stay of up to one month. A full load takes less than 1 Tbsp or ≅15 g of this highly concentrated detergent.

An added benefit is that, by storing concentrated, High Efficiency HE detergents in smaller containers after buying them in bulk, my family wastes less of them at home, too. The mere appearance of an industrial size jug seems to prompt people to take larger portions of everything.

For home use, I store a combination of Charlie’s Soap and Charlie’s Laundry Booster pre-mixed in a Lock & Lock HPL807 container that holds 1/2 a quart or 2 cups of powdered detergent. This will last two weeks for a family washing one load of laundry per day.

Fels-Naphtha laundry bar

If you don’t already have laundry detergent at home and you want to purchase one easy-to-travel-with product, consider a Fels-Naptha Laundry Bar & Stain Remover stick. It’s like bar soap, but for your clothes.

Though it’s often tucked away on the top or bottom shelf, I routinely find Fels-Naptha at local grocery and general merchandise stores in the laundry aisle. Amazon sells it, but mostly at a grossly inflated price or in large quantities since it is such a low cost item. At Walmart, it is listed for $1.20 as of July 2022 which is about what I’ve paid at a neighborhood shop.

The Fels-Naptha bar dates back to the 1890’s, though modern versions no longer contain toxic naphtha, a flammable carcinogen that was especially popular in cleaning products during the Great Depression.

Essentially a giant bar of soap/detergent in a paper wrapper, Fels-Naphtha can be carried on a trip by plane without the special handling required for liquids.Purex Fels-Naptha laundry bar in pristine new package

One of my kids has always claimed that Fels-Naptha looks delicious. It would be best to keep it—and all other cleaning products—well away from children too young or too silly to heed safety warnings.

Scanned directly from the package, below are the directions for use and ingredients printed on the wrapper for my perhaps ten year old bar of Fels-Naptha. One bar will last a very long time when used as a stain/spot pre-treatment!

Directions for Fels-Naptha

Stain Pre-treater:
  1. Wet stain, then rub with bar
  2. Wait 1 minute and wash as normal
Laundry Booster:
  1. Grate 1/16th into washer with detergent
  2. Wash as normal
Ingredients for (Modern) Fels-Naptha:

SOAP (SODIUM ALLOWATE* SODIUM COCOATE® (OR) SODIUM PALMATE KERNELATE: AND SODIUM PALMATE). WATER, TALC, DIPENTENE, COCONUT ACID*. PALM ACID*, TALLOW ACID* PEG- METHYL ETHER, GLYCERIN, SODIUM CHLORIDE, PENTASODIUM PENTETATE AND/OR TEIRASODIUM  TIDRONATE, TITANIUM DIOXIDE, TRICLOCARBAN, FRAGRANCE, ACID ORANGE 24. ACID YELLOW 73 *CONTAINS ONE OR MORE OF THESE INGREDIENTS

Like most detergents, you should avoid getting Fels-Naptha directly in your eyes or otherwise prolonging skin contact.

The Fels-Naptha bar was one of the first laundry products I taught my kids to use by themselves. Because you just wet the fabric with the stain then rub the wet spot with the bar, my kids were expected to rub some onto any grass stains on their knees when they came home from school. By the upper elementary grades, they did this unsupervised.

Because of endemic Lyme disease in our area and our primary school’s emphasis on time spent outdoors, my kids did a tick check and changed clothes immediately after getting home from grade school. There were a lot of grass stained knees during those years.Fels-Naptha wrapper and detergent in a Ziploc baggie with laundry stains scrawled on in

My Fels-Naptha bar has one end of the wrapper torn off and lives in a tattered Ziploc sandwich bag under the bathroom sink. Though I’m exquisitely sensitive to fragrance and one of my kids has severe eczema, I’ve never observed an adverse reaction triggered by Fels-Naptha as a spot treatment, not even when the eczema-prone kid spot-treats his own clothes.

I did teach my kids to hold the bar through the plastic baggie, though, and to wash their hands after handling it or any other cleaning products.Fels Naptha bar with a chunk cut off on a red cutting board with serrated knife in picture, scattered crumbs around the stub

For an upcoming trip, I finally tried something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: I cut off about an inch of Fels-Naptha from my big bar with a kitchen knife so I could pack the smaller sliver. It wasn’t the tidiest operation ever, but my arthritic hands managed the job, and now I have a perfect stain stick to pack for travel.

I saved the Fels-Naptha shards created by hacking away with a serrated knife. As indicated in the directions above, grated Fels-Naptha works as a laundry booster/additive. I dropped those bits of detergent in my front loader and used a bit less soap than normal in my next load of towels.

I can’t say for certain whether Fels-Naptha works better or worse than my mother’s old standby of Spray & Wash or the Shout Stain Removing Gel I use myself when pre-treating laundry right before putting it in the washer. The truth is, I wasn’t going to chase my kids every day after school looking for dirty spots, and the Fels-Naptha was the only product I felt comfortable letting them use on their own.

It was less that I feared a Spray & Wash injury, and more because I could imagine a mess if that liquid spilled, or if over-spray damaged a delicate item sitting nearby. My Shout Gel doesn’t have bleach in it, but it does warn about the potential to discolor khakis or brights, so passing it to the wee punks seemed like a bad idea.Baggie wrapped around Fels Naptha stump in wrapper in

Most families could make use of a Fels-Naptha bar for stains, and I find it much longer lasting and less likely to make a mess than other spot cleaning solutions. The Tide Pen form factor is great, but I’ve found those dry out or get lost before I use them up, and they cost more per pen than an entire bar of Fels-Naptha.

With the bar carved down to a small piece, I’ve got a travel sized stain stick that won’t leak, won’t irritate my family’s skin, and fits in the palm of my hand.

Reisetube detergent may be familiar to European shoppers

On a laundry forum once—and, yes, now we all know I’m the kind of slob who has the gall to visit laundry forums!—I read about a product one lady picked up every time she want to Europe: detergent in a Reisetube.Screen Shot German word Reisetube

The next time I passed through Germany, I bought some for myself. The brand I found was Burti Waschmittel Reisetube. This particular product is vegan.

My reisetube was inexpensive in a supermarket, but it isn’t obviously available in the USA so far as I can tell; Amazon.de has it. On Amazon.com, I found a similar product, Rei in der Tube which is also a German import. At $9 for only 30 mL, however, it strikes me as too expensive, and disposable tubes are inherently hard to refill, thus generating a lot of garbage if used often

It must be said that, aside from the environmental impact, this may be a perfect form factor for travel detergent. Gel seems more soluble in hard water than powder. Unlike liquid in a jug or bottle, gel also seems less likely to leak or drip out of its tube in transit.

My Burti Waschmittel Reisetube has a very slight scent, but it doesn’t bother me after my garments dry. I have not used this on my eczema prone child’s clothing enough to have an opinion as to whether it irritates his skin. I’ve found that most German detergents I try work very well, but have more fragrance added than I’m happy with.

What most people call perfume, I describe as “stink.”

As with a Fels-Naptha bar, a reisetube might be the best single purchase for a traveler who doesn’t stock a home laundry room with products to refill personal containers.

Final verdict on best travel laundry form factor for most

The best option for most travelers is packing one’s own usual preferred detergent in reusable containers. Unless you live in an area with exceptionally hard or soft water, actually necessitating a change when visiting places with different conditions, you’ve likely gone through the trial and error to find the best cleaning products for your own use.

You know what you like; you’ll probably prefer the same product on vacation or away from home on business.

People with a cupboard full of Tupperware or other lidded containers may well already have exactly the right size on hand to fill with detergent for longer trips. Those who travel often should probably invest in a few small Nalgene bottles or tubs to dedicate to liquid or powder detergent.

Another important piece of advice: an unlabeled container leads to waste, in my experience. No matter how convinced I am that I’ll recall what’s inside each bottle, I end up forgetting, sometimes discarding a product because I’m no longer certain what it is or how old it is. Even Scotch tape works; for best results, label everything immediately after filling!

Travelers who don’t do their own laundry at home would do best to purchase either a Fels-Naptha bar or a reisetube to carry on trips, depending upon whether s/he often encounters liquid restrictions at TSA checkpoints. The former is slightly better for spot treatment; the latter is easier to use in a hotel room sink for hand washing delicates.

*I like Stasher brand bags, especially the Stand Up- Mini and -Mid for travel, but they’re too thick to individually wrap separate bottles as I prefer for certain particularly messy liquids. I do wash and re-use disposable Ziploc bags for travel, however, and I would absolutely use a Stand Up Mini to store detergent by my washing machine at home for long term use.

SensiClean is also sold under the name SportWash. The maker is Atsko. I have purchased these products direct as well as from Amazon and sporting goods stores.

SportWash is available in more sizes than SensiClean, but both are “residue free” detergents. That benefits people with sensitive skin, but also hunters who have learned that common household products leave them with a distinctly unnatural chemical odor that chases their prey away.

I label mine with my beloved Brother P-touch PT-1400, but tape and a Sharpie work almost as well if you aren’t being graded on neatness. Standard TZ Tape labels compatible with P-touch printers last through at least a few dishwashing cycles in my experience; Extra Strength Adhesive Tape TZ Tapes persevere even longer. 

If buying a label maker for the first time, I suggest selecting a model that can use tapes at least 1 inch wide. I picked up a different Brother model at Costco as a gift for my mother years ago, and both of us experienced a lot of annoyance that hers could only use the narrower 1/2 inch TZ Tapes.Brother PT-1400 label maker with Extra Strength adhesive TZ-tape package

SOS: Save our spices! Organize kitchen seasonings in uniform glass

Is it ironic that I am going to begin a post about how I came to organize my kitchen spice shelf with pointers to a product that I did not use for this purpose?

Canning jars—domestic Ball jars or European Weck jars—are one excellent way to store seasonings. I use them all the time for grains, freeze dried food decanted from large #10 cans, and leftovers, but they weren’t the best option for my spices.Food storage in use jars

Before I tell you how I did end up organizing my seasonings, protected from light, yet on an open shelf approximately 35″ x 12″, allow me to share one specific solution others on the internet seem to have missed.

Solution to deli container spice storage: the plastic vs. glass dilemma

Articles like this one from TheKitchn suggest deli containers for space-efficient storage of relatively large quantities of spices for cooking. You can fit any measuring spoon in them, even those big round Tablespoons!close up of spices in Weck canning jar and store packaging

I stumbled upon blog posts where people liked the deli container notion while not wanting to keep sensitive foods in plastic. Plastic, of course, can leach chemicals into foods with unknown health effects, especially in the presence of heat.

Do you ever set your spice jars down next to—or right on top of—the stove?

For those disinclined to worry about chemical exposure from plastics and their effect on human health, I recommend reading Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race by Shanna H. Swan, PhD.

Plastic is also prone to static, an annoyance with expensive dry powders like most spices.

If you want to store your spices in “deli containers,” but you prefer the non-reactive nature of glass to the typical deli dish’s plastic, what you want are 1/5 L Weck Mold Jars in style #740 ($17.25 for a set of six, but shipping is extra and glass is both heavy and fragile.)8 oz Lucerne sour cream tub shown next to similar sized Weck 1/5 Mold Jar 740 with a yogurt cup inside of that for comparison

The 1/5 L Mold Jar is about the size of a cream cheese or sour cream tub. It’s just shy of two inches high.

The taller, same diameter 1/4 L Weck Mold jar #741 ($18.50 for a set of six) makes another good choice for really serious cooks. If you store even larger quantities of your most used spices, this one is similar in size to a cottage cheese tub. This size is about 2 ¾″ high.

Six #740 jars with six plastic lids and shipping to my zip code would total $34.35 for a cost of $5.73 each as of April 2021.

My family uses both of these sizes of Mold jars to put away our leftovers. This fridge photo shows the 1/5 L Mold jar full of beans stacking neatly atop a plastic deli tub of applesauce; next to that, a 1/4 L Mold jar holds a partial tomato under its glass lid.View into fridge with leftover beans in Weck 740 jar stacked on similar diameter deli quart of applesauceNote that these are European canning jars, so the included lid will be a round of glass that merely sits in place until sealed via heat processing around its separate rubber ring (not ideal for your dry spices!) For that reason, you will also need to purchase a plastic (size Large, 85¢ each), cork (size Large, $1.20 each), or wood (size Large, $3.50 each) lid for each glass container for which you want an air-resistant* seal.

4 available Weck canning jar lids shown side by side: plastic, cork, wood, and glass

Only the glass and plastic lids are dishwasher safe, but all the glass jars can go in the dishwasher.

It should be noted that even the 3- 7/8″ Large lids sometimes slipped through the top rack grid on my Bosch** machine, and they can warp after too much exposure to the higher heat on the bottom rack. The lid on the far right was warped when it fell to the bottom of my dishwasher.

I love the interchangeable nature of these lids. You can buy Weck jars going all the way up to 2.5 L in size. Americans, that’s a large enough canister for a supermarket bag of sugar. One could store all necessary spices and most other common baking ingredients in attractive, non-reactive, stackable containers where the loss of a single lid doesn’t render any one useless.

If ordering Weck jars for the first time, pay attention that your selections use the same size lid if you share my obsession with owning just a few lids that fit all of your containers.

The Weck “Mold jars” most similar to American plastic deli packaging use lids in size Large, 3 7/8″ ∅. Size chart for Weck large size lid, fitting some Mold, Tulip, Deco, and Cylindrical jars

At this point, I own Small and Large opening Weck jars, using both all the time, but I started out with only narrow ones. I was specifically shopping for juice jars sometime around 2004 when I discovered them at a specialty kitchen retailer.

The manufacturer’s US website eventually gave me a much broader selection of shapes and sizes from which to choose.Weck jars lids narrow neck - 1

Weck jars are made in Germany. Because they are designed for use in canning, they are thick, sturdy glass, resistant to thermal shock, suitable for either a boiling water bath or storing food in a freezer.

Just not directly from boiling to freezing, please, to avoid shattering; it’s still glass!

My kitchen is warm & bright, bad for spices if nice for people

All of this talk about storing spices in wide, shallow deli containers, yet the Mold jars I already owned weren’t a great choice for my own kitchen needs. We enjoy a bright, sunny, southern exposure, but all that light speeds degradation of herbs and spices.

Clear plastic or glass spice jars should ideally be stored in a cupboard away from light—and heat, whether from the sun or the stove—to maximize each ingredient’s useful shelf life.

I don’t have much available cupboard space available on the side of my kitchen that houses the stove, but I do have room for a shallow, folding bookcase about six feet away from the cooker’s heat. It’s ideally located and doesn’t require me to reach too high or low when my joints are flaring or my shoulder has locked up, but it is an open shelf bathed by the light of a sunny wall of glass.hand holding a small white wire basket containing four assorted spice jars and tinsI use a little wire basket to gather what I need, carry it over to the island where I do prep work, and then return the spices en masse when I’m finished with them.

Before I started using the basket, it took too many trips to put everything away. When you live with a chronic condition that includes painful, arthritic toes, saving steps can mean the difference between being able to cook or having to rely upon someone else to do so.

Sensible storage—and thoughtful use of carts or baskets to spare similarly impaired finger joints—is a tool of self-empowerment!

Frugal & fairly good: the 12 × 7 × 5 coffee shipping carton

So my seasonings live on an open shelf about six feet away from my stove top. That location is the best compromise I’ve found between “close enough to grab while cooking” and “hotter spot than it ought to occupy.”

If I simply stacked clear containers there, however, my spices would suffer from direct sun for at least part of the day for most of the year. Two walls of my kitchen are more than 50% glass. I don’t want to degrade my ingredients before their time!

Before this latest organizing project, I solved the exposure to light issue by repurposing a shipping carton.

It turns out that a 12″ × 7″ × 5″ box is the perfect size for 18 standard, commercial seasoning jars. Though different stores carry brands in a variety of bottle shapes and sizes, they tend to fall within a similar range of diameters and heights for use in widely available spice racks and cupboard storage solutions.

Tip: The two boxes I re-used for spices both came from shipments of my favorite mail order coffee beans from Thanksgiving Coffee Co. in California. If you are interested in this free storage option, pay attention to the carton if you order in your caffeinator of choice.

Lake Champlain Chocolates has also shipped something delicious to me in the same size package.Shipping box

If all of my spices had come from the same brand—or if I purchased a set of matching bottles to standardize the lids (more on this notion coming up in the next section!)—this solution might even have been aesthetically pleasing enough for me to keep long term.

A plain box can always be covered in attractive paper, after all, and one can get crafty with some decoupage.

While an environmental win and very economical, the same solution was less effective for my non-standard sized flavorings. These were living in a repurposed paperboard shoe box, a little wider and a little shallower from shelf to open top.

Costco sized bulk shakers of spices in open topped box with various jars and tins including short bottles almost hiddenAside from looking plain in mismatched paper, the opaque boxes made it very difficult to find any of the half-height, mini bottles that are a sensible grocery store choice for seasonings one uses rarely.

Spices only remain fresh for about two years, after all, so if one doesn’t go through a full half ounce of marjoram in that amount of time, the frugal cook should stick to smaller packets.

One issue I have with buying some large and some small spice bottles—never mind the little plastic envelopes!—is that I prefer to keep all of my seasonings in alphabetical order. As an inveterate bookworm since childhood, it’s simply the most intuitive system I have for quickly finding particular items in an array.

Attempting to merge alphabetical order with varied packaging sizes and shapes has led to at least one unnecessary purchase of a spice I didn’t actually lack.

The final problem I personally encountered with my cardboard box storage method was the total weight of one carton full of 18 jars—almost 7 pounds.

It’s hardly an herculean effort to lift it, but it can be a bit much for me because of my autoimmune arthritis. Sometimes, cooking a meal consumes all the physical energy I’ve got for a given afternoon. On a bad day, even sliding out and shifting through 18 bottles in one box was too taxing for my limited strength.Box of spices on kitchen scale showing weight of 6 pounds, 15 ounces

Fully able bodied chefs would probably find 12″ × 7″ × 5″ to be a very manageable size for handling spice jars. It was too heavy for me.

Then again, lightweight and maneuverable can save strain on anyone’s delicate joints, and also prevent repetitive use injuries. Many of us who have adapted to disabilities used to be perfectly healthy, too. Designing thoughtful, sensible storage options while young and fit makes aging in place easier later on.

Considering universal design at every stage of life—even in the bloom of life—is never a wasted effort, though I wish every reader as many years of robust good health as possible.

Standardize bottles for tidy storage, perfectly or close enough

I discovered that Amazon has listings for a brand of glass spice bottles that claims to be exactly the ones used by some of the major national brands: SpiceLuxe.

I had already surveyed the commercial spice jars I owned, recognizing my preference for the larger, squared off shape of Simply Organic brand packaging. Smaller, but with a similarly pleasing form, Whole Pantry and Trader Joe’s bottles tied for second place in my heart.

While not identical, I can happily intermix these two sizes within a bin to keep larger and smaller quantities in alphabetical order.

The larger jar is a 6 fluid ounce container which might hold over 4 dry ounces of seasoning salt; the smaller one is a 4 fluid ounce container which would hold closer to 3 oz of a similar salt.

Online reviewers frequently misunderstand the distinction between fluid ounces measuring volume and ounces as a fraction of pounds as a measurement of weight which Americans use for flour, sugar, etc. I strongly suggest reading the linked TheKitchn article before buying any containers if you don’t understand the difference lest you end up frustrated by what you get.

All of my supermarket glass bottles came with different colored lids, and each has an annoying raised ring embossed into the top of said lid.

I prefer to affix labels to the tops of my bottles to find them easily while protecting the glass from light inside a bin. The bumps on the supermarket lids therefore cause a practical hassle, not merely an aesthetic one.Spice jar tops with raised ring on green Simply Organic lid, silver Whole Pantry lid, and black plastic Trader Joe's lid

Fortunately, the sets of bottles offered on Amazon come with a choice of lids. They are marketed by color, but both the product listing photos and user review images show that most of the offerings have flat-topped lids. Sadly, my first choice for color, metallic green, was the only option that had those darn ridged rings.

To repackage all of my spices, I ordered one set of 12 large spice jars with white lids, two sets of small spice jars with white lids, and one package of 12 extra white lids.

The product listing for these aftermarket lids says, “Fits Glass Spice Bottles by SpiceLuxe ONLY,” but I now believe they are exactly the same as the supermarket brands I mentioned. I had no trouble replacing mismatched green metal, silver metal, or black plastic lids from store brand spice jars to new SpiceLuxe bottles, nor SpiceLuxe lids to most of my supermarket bottles.

Priced at $29.99 for a dozen with free Amazon Prime shipping, that works out to $2.50 per spice jar. The set of 12 lids alone was $9.99.

Alternatively, order direct from the SpiceLuxe site at the same or slightly lower prices, though I did not try this option to offer a review.

Every order of SpiceLuxe bottles includes a flexible funnel, a set of internal “shaker” lids sufficient to add one to every jar, and free labels listing the most common spices.

The funnel may be silicone; it was not separately packaged or labeled inside my shipping box, and, as a “free gift,” there were no details in the product description.

This funnel is useful for filling jars, but I prefer the metal one(s) I already had. There’s less static with a metal funnel than with the included flexible one.

Then again, I didn’t want to mix spices, potentially ruining a whole jar via cross contamination, so having more than one funnel meant I could fill a few bottles at a time between dishwasher runs. I would have been hand washing that funnel many times—then impatiently waiting for it to dry completely to avoid ruining powdery spices before re-use—if I hadn’t gotten the freebie funnel with each set.Funnels designed for filling flasks or oil jars are well sized to refill seasoning bottles

Now that my spice jars have all been replaced, I will probably donate two of the three free, flexible funnels in my next batch of outgrown clothes and housewares sent to a local charity.

Personally, I pry off and toss away the internal sifting lids from all of my spices. Taking them off to stick a measuring spoon inside followed by replacing the inner lid annoys me too much. If I want to sift a spice, I pour a small amount into the jar’s lid then tap the product out to simulate sifting.

Or I use a mini strainer on those rare occasions that I really, truly require a sifted seasoning.sifting powdered sugar into small bowl with handheld stainless sieve

The final freebie—the sheets pre-printed labels with spice names—appears designed to adhere to the front or side of each jar, not to its lid according to SpiceLuxe’s own marketing photos. My only requirement for labeling was an aesthetically pleasing, round, legible one on each cap.

The 1 ¼″ label size might fit within the bounds of the smooth white caps I chose, but they would be too large for the ridged green lid option. You would need a 1″ round label to ensure it works on every possible SpiceLuxe cap or for commercial jars with ridged lids.

I discarded the pre-printed labels which were also repeated in each of the three sets. I didn’t care for the aesthetics of the large, italicized font or their silver color. I also didn’t want to hand write labels for which no pre-printed option was provided, and I prefer the specificity of adding the Latin botanical name to distinguish between, say, common Cassia and true Ceylon Cinnamon.

In order to create my own labels for the lids, I ordered Avery Waterproof 1″ Round Labels (36579) compatible with my laser printer. I used Avery’s web-based label creation software to create and print my labels as well.

Avery Template Presta 94500 worked out perfectly for the tops of both sizes of SpiceLuxe jars.

Self printed Avery waterproof label on SpiceLuxe jar lid

Here’s a PDF copy of my own Avery 94500 size Spice Jar Lid Labels for anyone who would prefer not to work with the template software.

Make sure to print at 100% size if you’re using my PDF or printing labels you design yourself!Clear label with black text reading Better before 2022 applied to glass seasoning bottle

I used my Brother P-Touch Model PT-1400 Label Maker and a black-on-clear TZ Tape cartridge to add best by dates to my new bottles. I didn’t bother to print an exact date for every bottle since spoilage is a lesser concern in this context than gradual degradation of flavor quality.

I batch printed the appropriate quantity of “Better before 202x” tags after sorting and counting the actual seasonings present on my spice shelf.

Bins shade bottles from damaging light

Having bottled my seasonings into a full set of similar containers, I turned to Akro-Mils AkroBins to protect those glass bottles from the sun streaming into my kitchen.

AkroBin 30230 turned out to be the perfect size for my shelf; each 30230 bin will hold two columns of four large or five small SpiceLuxe jars.

Here’s a photo of my finished project:

Wooden bookshelf with 7 AkroBins 30230 holding spice jars and other seasonings

I purchased a set of 12 AkroBin 30230 from Amazon.com in February 2021 for $53.28.

That works out to only $4.44*** per bin. The manufacturer lists multiple retail and wholesale partners on its website if you prefer not to do business with Amazon. Excerpt from Amazon.com invoice for a dozen Akro-Mils 30230 plastic containers sold for $53.28

The lowest price I observed in early June 2021 for any color set of bins from the same source was $61.55 (or $5.13/bin), so it may pay to shop around or wait for a lower price before doing this organizational project.

It must be noted here that the AkroBin 30230 also makes a great organizational solution for an existing array of disparate grocery store spices in their original containers. I really wanted the visual simplicity of a field of similar white lids, but my kitchen would have looked better even if I had only replaced my mismatched paper and cardboard boxes with a set of these bins.

Compare for yourself from these two photos:

Rows and columns of identical—or even just similar—jars are much more appealing to my eye, though the slight variation in heights between the two sizes of SpiceLuxe jar is close enough to please me.

How many SpiceLuxe jars fit in one Akro-bin 30230?

Eight of the larger SpiceLuxe 6 fluid ounce jars will fit in two columns of four rows in an AkroBin 30230.

View from above showing 8 6 fl oz jars in a bin

Up to five rows (10 total spice jars) can occupy the same if at least one bottle per column is the smaller 4 fluid ounce size. The jar at the front end won’t sit completely flush as you can see from the left-most column of the  photo below. One jar will sit slightly raised up where the bin’s interior curves upward.View from above showing ten SpiceLuxe jars in a bin

Three larger jars (6 fl oz) combined with two of the small (4 fl oz) ones is the maximum that fit per column without any wobbling or tipping in this bin. See the right-most column in the photo above.

Once you have created your own set of matching spice bottles, make the switch and refill them by purchasing in bulk or lightweight packets in the future. Shop at a local grocer with bulk bins, or buy online from Thrive Market or Penzey’s.

TL;DR Overview of better spice storage

Spice jars represent one of the few products where many major retailers offer already really excellent, sensible, space-conserving commercial packaging right off the grocer’s shelf. Buying only squared bottles by the same maker could give you a streamlined look in your kitchen with nothing else needed.

If you must buy rare seasonings in mismatched packages—or you already own a hodge-podge like I did—SpiceLuxe brand empty, square-shaped glass jars are available from Amazon. These will let you decant what you have into similar containers with a space-saving form factor.

The same brand, SpiceLuxe, sells sets of lids alone. I had good luck fitting them onto almost every brand’s spice jar that was already in my kitchen.

Use new lids to standardize the tops of your existing grocery store bottles. Simply adding top labels to new lids without disruptive ridges made it easier to find what I need without lifting every spice out of its home in a container on a shelf.

Finally, group your spices into space-efficient, light-blocking plastic bins by Akro-Mils if, like me, you want to protect what’s inside clear glass containers from damaging UV light coming through a nearby window. AkroBin style 30230 will fit from eight to ten spice jars per bin for most grocery store brands.

#10 (number ten) cans are quite large, sealed storage containers that resemble jumbo soup cans… the size of your head! Coffee cans are sometimes this size. Those who’ve worked in food service or gone to summer camp may have seen them in commercial kitchens. I believe that average people should keep at least a few weeks’ worth of shelf stable food on hand to guard against emergencies. When the pandemic hit, I was grateful to have freeze dried fruits, vegetables, and meats, plus dehydrated milk on hand so I didn’t have to visit local stores or vie for scarce delivery slots during the peak shortage of grocery items.

Here’s a screen grab of the shopping cart that gave me those numbersWeck jar shopping cart showing item cost and totals for six jars and lids

* Don’t assume that any of these lids are “air tight” the way a jar processed in a hot water canning bath would be. I can say from experience that the plastic and wood lids seal much more firmly on my Weck jars than the cork ones do. Consider the cork a mere “stopper,” readily lifted away with hardly any force. Since I think cork is meant to “breathe,” I don’t see this as a failing for this type of cover.

** Now defunct, my Bosch SHU66C dishwasher has been replaced by a modern Miele G 7316 SCU model. The Miele’s much narrower spacing between its baskets’ grids of bars has so far kept even small plastic items from reaching the bottom of its stainless steel tub.

Phone a friend, if only to confess “I have no energy to talk”

An article* in the newspaper prompted me to reach out to a friend yesterday. It reminded me that we are all hopefully not sick but tired of the pandemic, and that perhaps our loved ones with small children are even more drained and hungry for a moment of adult contact.

It’s okay to reach out—a great idea, actually—even if your message is merely a confession that you’re too exhausted for a big, meaningful talk. What really matters is letting people know that you care. A text, a ping, a postcard: any of these is a whole lot better than nothing at all.

The article reminded me that my low energy might still be higher than someone else’s emotional charge.

Contact phoneLike many others, I’ve found the pandemic to be paradoxically physically isolating, yet discouraging to my tendency to reach out in other ways, even electronically. I may be the only person in America who has yet to join a Zoom meeting.

Perhaps because I’m an introvert, I’ve realized that stress tends to shut me up.

Though I never lack for opinions or the desire to share them, my mother’s death in 2019 made it very hard for me to post to Really Wonderful Things for a period of months. Similarly, while I think of many friends, often many times per day, the oppressive weight of living in a COVID-19 limited world often keeps me from calling or texting or even answering my phone when it rings with a call from someone I really miss.

I have no doubt that surviving a pandemic induces grief. As one bereaved just a year earlier, the parallels are plain to me.

Chatting with my friend—okay, it was texting—was a nice break from my current reality. She was the last person I saw socially before everyone sequestered at home. I met her still tiny baby that 2020 day over coffee at a shop near her house. NZ espresso Wildlife Refuge cafe

Already aware there was a mysterious virus swirling about the Earth, I didn’t ask to hold her little bundle of joy, but I did briefly get my freshly washed hands on one irresistible, itty bitty foot. Consider it the elbow bump version of appreciating a newborn as a pandemic loomed.

About a year has gone by since then. My friend’s baby is now a toddler with hair long enough to style in an up-do for a windy walk around a reservoir. I got to see a picture. I noted how the wee one’s hair favors the younger of her big brothers; my friend pointed out that her face is more like the elder sibling’s was in early childhood. Her eldest was about the age her baby is now when she and I first met!Woman hugs child

While joyful, the conversation was also full of pining for a return to our old kind of visits. I want hug her youngest urchin for the first time. She wishes she could help me fix what I’ve done to my poor sewing machine. We both miss those hours, here or there, that we used to steal for a cup of something and a chat while our kids were at school.

No wonder it’s so hard to catch up in the virtual realm. The act is such a stark reminder of all the real visiting that’s missing!

But we wandered, too, through the tentative plans our respective families are finally feeling free enough to make for the future. They’re thinking of moving for more yard space, or perhaps she’ll take a community garden plot to get her hands into the soil. I’m expecting that—come Hell or high water—I will find a way to get cross-country to see my father this summer. Both of us have begun pondering passports and international travel, but neither of us wants to board a long flight any time soon.

Her husband has always wanted to show their kids Niagara Falls; my family hopes to do a round trip cruise from Canada that circumnavigates Iceland from a port within driving distance in 2022.

It’s a bit like ordering seeds in January. It’s a lot like those longer, brighter New England days in early March when you can feel that spring really is a-comin’… while also remaining fully aware it would be unwise to put away the snow shovel just yet.purple and gold flowers blooming in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland

Reaching out and making contact—in even the tiniest way—plants another tiny grain of hope that we may all soon put this period of illness and extreme loneliness behind us. So phone a friend; nurture a bloom of camaraderie. They’ll understand if the best you’ve got to offer is, “I miss you, but I have no energy to talk.”

* “The parenting crisis without a vaccine: loneliness” by Boston Globe Correspondent Kara Baskin

The best “Thermos” insulated food jar is a LunchBots brand Thermal

My search for a replacement insulated food jar when Thermos dropped the ball

I bought Thermos brand food jars in 2010, then again in 2015. These 10- and 16-oz jars have interchangeable lids and have served me well enough for a decade. After 10 years, however, I’m down to six jars and four lids having purchased seven in total between the two sizes.

Thermos insulated food jars, 10 and 16 ozYou can find reviews out there by people who have done scientific measurements of heat retention over time in this type of container, but my requirements are very simple. To wit, if I send a hot meal to school or work in the morning with my loved one, does the food stay warm and enjoyable until lunchtime?

Venerable Thermos brand no longer signifies quality

My first choice would’ve been keeping my existing jars in service with a few new replacement lids. Thermos in September 2020 replied to my email query, however, saying that I was out of luck. Thermos discontinued my jar model(s), and they have no replacement lids to offer.

I made it clear I would purchase lids if necessary, and that I was not asking for extended warranty coverage for old products. Thermos customer service appeared to give little attention to the details of my query; they don’t seem to care about my business.

I got a boilerplate email response indicating only that one item of the two I’d mentioned with model numbers and dates of purchase was out of production, and welcoming me to peruse their current offerings to find my own replacement. No notice was given to my specific question about sustainability or offering replacement parts in the longer term. No attempt was made to point me to the closest current model that might meet my needs.

Total customer service fail by Thermos!

Lids without plastic inside may be a healthier choice

Seeking a totally new product, I discovered that there was no Thermos food jar listed on their consumer site that day with stainless inside the molded plastic lid where it will touch the heated food therein.

BPA free plastic is a red herring; all plastic in contact with warm food should be viewed with caution, but not paranoia. The health effects of plastic use with hot food remain dubious yet suspect. Read up on this case of regrettable substitutes in National Geographic.

Instead of focusing on quality or innovation, Thermos seems to be competing with no-name international brands offering cheap products designed to fail and be quickly replaced. Today’s Taiyo Nippon Sanso* owned Thermos brand is obviously a poor fit for my eco-conscious, health-conscious consumer preferences.

I looked to a pair of modern, sustainable food container brands that I already trust for a suitable replacement to these insulated staples of my lunch-packing arsenal: LunchBots and U-Konserve.

LunchBots Thermal is the best insulated food jar for my family as of 2020

The best insulated food jar for my family turned out to be a LunchBots Thermal. I bought two, in September, 2020—one 12 oz and one 16 oz—from Amazon. I paid retail price, but I did use an Amazon coupon to save a few dollars off the order.

Amazon invoice for LunchBots order including Thermal food jar and insulated stainless steel water bottle Continue reading

Jigsaw puzzle as travel diversion: Wentworth offers tiny wooden treasures you can work on a tray table

I’ve written about the joys of wooden jigsaw puzzles before.

Jigsaw puzzle wood Wentworth Artifact Dowdle Liberty Ravensburger - 1They are exactly what you’d expect if you’ve ever done a modern cardboard puzzle. Visualize a similar product cut from thin sheets of wood instead of flimsier paper. For those who get annoyed with ill fitting or torn pieces in the Springbok or other puzzles sold at the local big box store, wooden puzzles offer a much more satisfying experience.

Ordering my first wooden puzzle was a leap of faith. They cost a lot more than mass market cardboard ones. No one I knew had any experience to share, and the least expensive choices seemed to have tiny numbers of pieces compared to my usual 1000 piece behemoths. I was afraid I would feel I’d wasted my money.

I didn’t. Now I own about a dozen, and I covet a great many more.

While its true that the most common wooden puzzles are smaller—and made of fewer pieces—than the typical paper version, this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the new type. In fact, I found they offered a whole new realm of possibilities for portable puzzling.

Something about the cut of a wooden puzzle, and perhaps its more three dimensional nature, makes me focus more on shape and less on the image. I feel like my brain gets a different kind of workout from doing a wooden puzzle.

But aside from that difference, my wooden puzzles are so small, I can work them in more places. Instead of needing my much loved but bulky Jigthings Jigboard 1000 plus half of the dining room table, I can sit on the couch with a lap desk or a half sheet baking pan to complete most of my Liberty and Artifact puzzles.

I ordered my first Wentworth wooden puzzle for $16.99 from Amazon when I noticed how tiny its listed dimensions were. I wondered if they could possibly be accurate. They were!

Wentworth 40 piece puzzle retail price appears to be $19.99.

Jigsaw puzzle wood Wentworth AirNZ tray table - 3

Wentworth 40 piece wooden jigsaw puzzle on Air New Zealand Premium Economy tray table

The finished puzzle is about the size of a printed photograph: 4 x 6″. A 40 piece Wentworth puzzle is easily completed on an airplane tray table, and the pieces themselves take up just a bit more room than a deck of cards in their roughly 3.5″ square box.

The 54 piece Artifact puzzle, Kessel Shells, with which I’m comparing the Wentworth in most of these photographs is scarcely any larger. It just comes in a bigger, higher quality, tissue lined box with an elegant magnetic closure. I paid $18.

Small (< 90 piece) Artifact puzzles retail for $18-40.Jigsaw puzzle wood Artifact shells inside box - 1

Assembled, it fits easily inside its own box with an inch or more to spare in all three dimensions. Please note that this wouldn’t be true of all Artifact puzzles; they use one type of box for puzzles from this size on up to a medium.

Note also that the particular Artifact puzzle that I photographed for this post has a unique conceit: all of the pieces are very similar squares, and straight edges are used in the middle of the puzzle as well as for edges.

It turns out that I don’t enjoy this type of puzzle as much as a standard cut ideally with whimsies, like most other Artifact options, but it does make for pieces that are easy to re-package and transport in a small cardboard jewelry box or one’s Wentworth 40 piece box if one so desires.

Say, for example, to bring along on a plane!

Jigsaw puzzle wood Wentworth Artifact travel - 6

Re-packaged Artifact Kessel Shells puzzle’s 54 pieces into Wentworth puzzle box to show how compactly they could be stored for travel

For use after re-packing in this manner, I tried assembling the Kessel Shells puzzle using a photo stored on my iPad for reference, and that worked fine. If your puzzle fits in your carry on bag but its box won’t, just snap a quick picture.

Harder core jigsaw puzzlers than myself are known to work puzzles without using the finished image at all. It is harder that way. Personally, I don’t enjoy the process as much, but I have done it to test myself. I find it boring with a paper puzzle’s usual standard shapes, but better with a wooden one; the pieces are almost universally more interesting when cut from wood. More care and expense goes into a typical wooden puzzle’s hand- or laser- cut craftsmanship, after all.

The smallest Liberty wooden puzzles retail for $39; they aren’t sold on Amazon, but direct from the manufacturer. I think all of their XS options are round, and most contain more pieces than other brands’ size Small.

I’ve given a few Liberty XS puzzles to my mom for gifts, so I’ve laid hands on them, but don’t have any to photograph for comparisons. They had 107-115 pieces and I found them wonderful to assemble. The attractive gift box would be bulky for travel, however, like the Artifact boxes are.

The tiny Wentworth 40 piece puzzle comes in a much smaller box than any of its competitors. It also proved to be cut from noticeably thinner wood.

Jigsaw puzzle wood Wentworth Artifact travel - 14

Wentworth piece (top) compared to Artifact piece (bottom); both from wooden jigsaw puzzles

Jigsaw puzzle wood Wentworth Artifact travel - 7

Storage box sizes for wooden puzzles of similar finished size; Wentworth (top) & Artifact (bottom)

Though this might affect my overall ranking of “best wooden jigsaw puzzles” for gifting purposes or in terms of total quality, it doesn’t mean Wentworth is a low quality brand! The pieces click together well enough to make for satisfying puzzle building. They just aren’t quite as luxurious as Artifact or Liberty puzzle pieces, and the whimsies seem a bit less special.

I would absolutely consider ordering another Wentworth puzzle if I liked the image depicted. My ideal puzzle size is at least several hundred pieces, and I’d love to try a really large 1000+ piece wooden puzzle someday. I do lean toward a brand with thicker pieces for the high price a large wooden puzzle commands, however.

A thinner puzzle does make for one which is easier to transport. For example, to bring along on a plane.

Jigsaw puzzle wood Wentworth cardboard Ravensburger zoom

Compare jigsaw puzzle pieces of Ravensburger cardboard (top) to Wentworth wood (bottom)

A “thin” wooden piece from Wentworth is still thicker than that of a high quality cardboard puzzle. Here’s a picture of one to compare with a Ravensburger piece in cardboard. You can judge for yourself.

My recent trip to New Zealand was my first time bringing along an actual jigsaw puzzle for entertainment in midair. I’ve tried an iPad “jigsaw puzzle” app, but found it unappealing in practice.

Usually, I find the hours of a flight pretty easy to while away with a few books loaded on a Kindle to conserve weight and space plus some saved video content and a few casual games on my iPad or phone. I stocked up on digital and other distractions much more heavily for the marathon Transpacific flight where no wifi was available even if I got desperately bored.

When I get very tired on a long flight, my eyes stop wanting to read before my brain is willing to sleep. That’s about the only time I resort to screen time, or, more often, the crossword puzzle from the in flight magazine. This time, I followed up a lot of reading with some jigsaw puzzling. It helped me to pass the time in a fun and novel way.

If you take particular enjoyment from completing jigsaw puzzles, like I do, you might consider packing along a small one on your next long haul flight. It’s definitely better for your brain than more screen time, and it’s strangely satisfying to do something tangible with your hands instead of spending all those hours inside your jetlagged, slightly muddled mind.

I used to knit on a plane for similar reasons, but I gave it up when I couldn’t carry my mini scissors any longer. Also, I heard horror stories about knitting needles being confiscated as weaponry. There’s no way I could stay calm if the TSA made me dispose of a project well under way with the argument that my slightly pointy wooden sticks were sufficient to bring down a plane.

I would be livid, and, deprived of my project, I might also be bored.

I’m a pretty creative thinker, but I find it hard to imagine even the most overzealous security agent seeing wooden puzzle pieces as a credible threat. I’ll just avoid any puzzles with scenes of soldiers or battles, or overtly political themes, just in case.

Happy puzzling!