When Myliece Maletta’s son, Anthony, was about six months old, she watched him lick a window.
“As his tongue hit the glass, my first thought was, ‘Oh, geez, when was the last time I cleaned that?’ And my very next thought was, ‘And what did I clean it with?’”
That moment marked the beginning of a learning journey for Myliece, now 32 and a mother of three: Anthony, now 7, and his younger sisters, Emma, 6, and Aliana, 2½. “I started taking a really good look at what was in the products I was using on his skin, and to clean the house.”
What she found scared her. The lotions, soaps, shampoos, and baby wipes she’d been using contained things like parabens, which are linked to cancer, or petroleum — the same stuff used car engines. Sunscreens contained harmful nanoparticles. And the “fragrance” in a cleanser could be made up of literally hundreds of chemicals that companies have to identify.
Myliece, who had lost a brother to cancer, decided to learn how to make her own products. In the last 6½ years, she and her family have said goodbye to store-bought deodorant, soap, shampoo, air freshener, sunscreen, bug spray, lip balm, body lotion, diaper cream, baby wipes, and commercial household cleaners.
Along the way, she’s shown family and friends how to make their own body and cleaning products, using safe ingredients — so that when the baby licks a window, or a toddler eats a piece of food that’s fallen on the floor, their parents don’t have to worry about them ingesting toxins. She’d invite a bunch of friends over for “do it yourself” sessions and teach them how to make lip balm or sunscreen. She taught classes at her church.
More recently, after some gentle but pointed nudging from her circle, Myliece started Earth Momma Essentials to sell those body and cleaning products. “I’m probably the worst businesswoman in the world, though,” she says. The business, she explains, is less focused on making money — she already works full-time as a social worker in Thunder Bay, Ontario — then it is about helping people reduce the amount of potentially harmful chemicals they’re exposed to. “I share my recipes all the time. I’ll teach people how to make things. If I can help even one person replace even one product in their home with something safer for their family, their pets, and for the earth, then that is exciting and awesome to me.”
As one of two working parents to three young kids (her husband, Vince, is an auto mechanic), Myliece knows what it feels like to be overwhelmed and exhausted — not to mention guilty. That just comes with the territory of being a parent in today’s fast-paced world. “I see so many parents, moms in particular, who look around at all the chemical-laden stuff in their homes and just feel like they don’t know where to begin, and feel guilty. They’ll say, ‘I feel so terrible; I can’t believe I was putting these things on my child for this long.’ There’s a tendency to feel like you’re a terrible person for not having done more, sooner.”
To counter those feelings, she suggests people start small. “Pick one single product to replace, even just once. And thank yourself for making that switch. Every single step is a victory.” For people who don’t know where to start, she suggests switching to a natural household cleaner, because it’s a product everyone uses pretty much daily. Her recipe is simple: fill a clean spray bottle with one-third water, one-third vinegar, and one-third rubbing alcohol. “It’s the best cleaner I’ve ever used, and you can use it on pretty much anything in the house except maybe your hardwood floors,” she says. And because it’s kid-friendly (and fun — what kid doesn’t love a spray bottle?), kids can get in on the action, helping wipe down mirrors, countertops, and floor tiles.
Her kids love helping her mix up cleansers and lotions or a batch of sunscreen. In the process, she says, they’re learning they can be self-sufficient and that they don’t need a tonne of different products from the store.
“Growing up,” she says,” I just kind of thought you had to buy what was in the store and what the advertisers said you needed. And I’m raising my kids to question that, to figure out what they truly need and challenge the status quo. A couple of weekends ago, for example, we were in Toronto, and we went down to City Hall to be part of the protests against closing the French university. I really want to raise little activists. I want my kids to feel they can create change, from the small-scale stuff around what they put on their bodies to large-scale questions of challenging the government. For me, all those pieces fit together.”