Q: As a country girl who was brought up minding the virtues of frugality and self-reliance, I’ve always taken a “less is more approach” to eco-living. Around the house I don’t necessarily gravitate toward products branded as “green” or “natural” but rather products that are inexpensive, easy to find and serve numerous tasks: baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar, cheapo vodka and Dr. Bronner’s Soap, just to name a few.


Anyways, in light of all the hubbub about keeping petroleum-based products out of the home, I’ve become a bit wary of about using a certain gloriously multipurpose product that I’ve adored for years: petroleum jelly. A little tub of Vaseline isn’t exactly one of those things where you can feign shock and say, “Oh! I didn’t know this was an oil-based product!” so I’d like to maybe (maybe being the operative word here) phase it out of my home. The thing is, I worry I won’t be able to find a lip gloss/elbow moisturizer/burn soother/shoe shiner/makeup remover/chafing remedy quite like it. I’m so conflicted – I always thought I was doing the right “green” thing by using it. Now, I’m not so sure. Any leads on any non-petroleum-based products that perform all the same tasks as Vaseline?


I don’t think I’m ready to part with this jelly,


— Cynthia, Hendersonville, Tenn.

Hey Cynthia,

So, this may be an unpopular answer — complete with a cliché — but I’d say don’t sweat ridding your home of petroleum jelly too much. There are bigger fish to fry.

Instead, I’d take an exploratory look around your home for less-obvious oil-based products (ie: things that don’t say “petroleum” on the label) and see if there are any you can do without or replace them. I’d also take a gander at this list to help you get started. Or better yet, examine how you consume oil outside of the home — particularly when it comes to your driving and/or travel habits.

Your all-around-the-house usage of Vaseline (which, by the way, is a “mixture of mineral oils, paraffin and microcrystalline waxes”) along with the other products you mention, is indeed “green” and I applaud you for that. When it comes down to weaning yourself off of the stuff you have to think about what is ultimately more important to you: Do you want to rid your home of a safe (yes, Vaseline is safe) product that’s cost-effective and multipurpose just because it’s oil-based? Or would you rather go with another product — or more likely, products — that boasts less environmentally detrimental ingredients but is more expensive and limited in its applications? You know what I’m leaning toward.

Also, you mention “little tubs” in your query. If you do ultimately decide to keep buying Vaseline, I recommend investing in a couple of big, Costco-sized containers and stashing them in key areas of the home like the bathroom and workshop/garage instead of keeping a bunch of little ones all over the place — it’s more economical and eliminates excess packaging.

Want to give keeping a Vaseline-free home a test run? There are indeed some petroleum-free (they’re made from renewable resources instead) petroleum jelly alternatives out there, but take heed, they’re a bit pricier and may not boast the catchall qualities you’re after. Still, they’re worth giving a shot if you’re dedicated to feeling things out. Alba makes a popular beeswax- and coconut oil-based “Unpetroleum” Multi-Purpose Jelly or you could try concocting your own since you seem pretty DIY-competent. Also, I should point this out since it may factor in your final decision: It appears that Vaseline is not a cruelty-free brand.

So there you go, Cynthia. While Vaseline is obviously not a shining example of eco-perfection (nor is the company that currently manufactures it, Unilever), there are worse things out there that you could harbor in your home, things that are worse for the health of the planet and worse for your own personal health. So please, don’t give up your thrifty, multipurpose ways — it’s a good, green quality — but it also wouldn’t hurt to look into trying out a non-petroleum jelly alternative. Good luck.

— Matt

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Photo: get down/flickr

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Are there any versatile and affordable alternatives to petroleum jelly?
Matt Hickman says that when it comes to ridding your home of oil-based products, there are bigger fish to fry than that multi-purpose tub of goo.