Reinventing Clean


Tawana Weicker

It was 1997 when I really began my career—as a high school English teacher.  My job was to look after about 100 students, educating and generally doing the best I could every day for each one of them. Over the next decade, I like to think I inspired many of my students, because I know they inspired me.

In fact, it was 2007 when one of them, Elizabeth, presented a very memorable senior research project on sustainability and the biofuel movement that was growing worldwide. With guidance from her chemistry expert uncle, she had made biodiesel out of the waste cooking oil from her family’s local BBQ restaurant, brought it into class, and now her English teacher was amazed.

What a cool project, I thought. And it’s going on all over the globe! I knew this path of sustainability was one that I wanted to make my own, and that’s what I did; I reached beyond my role as teacher of grammar and Elizabethan poetry to become a chemistry student of Elizabeth’s uncle, Biodiesel Bob.

I had always been into science and was comfortable working with machines, but this was a new level of excitement and challenge. I cleared out the corner of our workshop where the tractor sat, built and moved in the equipment with the help of my husband, learned how to use it, and got really good at it. I took waste cooking oil from local restaurants and made fuel for my car and my husband’s truck. Soon after, every vehicle, tractor and lawnmower was powered by our recycled biofuel.

As those first beautiful batches of biodiesel were coming out, I became obsessed with the power of plants and plant byproducts. These liquid hydrocarbon blends were renewable and solved real problems. With a lot of focus, trial and error, and a supply of humble but extraordinary ingredients, what other “solution solutions” could I discover?

A Kinder Clean

Here was a big problem in need of a fix: I was frustrated by all the harsh cleaners used at home, at work…everywhere. At school, the white board and desk cleaner made me cough and gave me itchy skin. My husband used soap in his workshop that dried out his hands and caustic degreasers to clean the floor. Washing our vehicles with scary pink stuff, cleaning the shower while holding our breath, and scrubbing the porch rails with a bottle of unpronounceable ingredients were irritating, both physically and mentally—not to mention bad for the ground where it all ended up.

No matter the cleaning job, everyone deserves better than that.

So I turned once again to the power of plant oils, foraging around Catawba County, NC for the best source material I could find. Appalachian State University was growing and crushing their own canola plants for biofuel, and they provided me with their oil-rich leftovers. In return, I provided them with samples of my first multi-use cleaning product: a solution that would eventually become Warhorse’s Multi-Purpose Cleaner. The concentrated formulation was made from natural, readily biodegradable ingredients that combined to make an effective, true alternative to the weak green cleaners that seemed to always disappoint.

After testing it with numerous applications, I knew that this cleaner was different. It was naturally aggressive about getting the gas smell off of skin, loosening up shop grease and pulling out ground-in dirt. In the barn, it made the white horses whiter and the darker coats shinier. Vehicles ended up looking spectacular: showroom-clean, and left with a special shine that still draws attention and comments on a regular basis.

Even better, my new multi-purpose cleaner was gentle on the environment and fiercely kind to the skin of humans and animals alike. That was the whole idea behind blending sunflower and other specific plant oils and other ingredients in specific concentrations designed to support and nourish skin—even while washing a firetruck, a greasy shop floor, a shower door, or doing any other repetitive cleaning tasks known to keep skin exposed to harsh chemicals all day. It’s an unavoidable fact: the skin gets involved in most household, business, farm, and vehicle cleaning, and the human body’s largest organ deserves much better treatment than that!

All of this was made possible through some pretty simple chemistry and minimal processing. For the science-inclined or simply curious, you can learn about the details here.  See for yourself.  It really is possible for a cleaner to be both effective and gentle to the skin and planet. Naturally aggressive, fiercely kind…just as it should be.

Beyond the Basement

From my humble little home lab, I made lots of product and gave it out for use around the community: the gym at my high school, the humane society, the offices and exam rooms of local veterinarians… anywhere it seemed like there was a need for a harder-working, kinder cleaner. Laboratory testing came next, to prove the overall positive impact on health and environment. Meanwhile, Warhorse product cleaned up the neighbors’ farms, the animal rescues, local restaurants and fire stations. With valuable feedback from all these places, I kept tweaking recipes to make them better and more versatile.

Later, Warhorse went beyond home/shop/barn cleaning products and introduced a new line of offerings: truly skin-loving solutions for mammals. I crafted these shampoo and castile hand soap recipes to make sure that horses, dogs, and their human caretakers all had access to the friendliest, most skin-supportive ingredients available. I threw nothing artificial or synthetic into the mix—just a thoughtfully arranged buffet of superfoods that work into a creamy lather that feeds the skin as it cleans the skin.

I knew that what goes on the body goes in the body, so it was crucial to use ingredients that the body would recognize as real food.  I’m talking about oils and essences derived from sunflower, coconut, avocado, lemon, lemongrass, Dead Sea salt, rosemary, lavender…in other words, an actual MENU, not a strange brew of synthetic sulfates, alcohols, mineral oils and dyes that make up the bulk of commercial soaps and shampoos.

With all the time spent in and around the barn while developing products, it’s no surprise that my always-searching eyes soon fell on another material in desperate need of the aggressively natural, fiercely kind treatment: leather. I designed Warhorse Leather Cleaner & Conditioner to be an effective, gentle glycerin soap that removes dirt while restoring what’s underneath, healing dry, cracked leather, and vastly improving its appearance and flexibility. Since formulating this one and putting it to work, I’ve seen saddles, boots, jackets, purses, belts, couches and car seats all infused with new life and richness.

The More Things Change…

A few years ago, I decided to jump out of the classroom and get on this Warhorse ride full-time, growing our manufacturing, working directly with farmers, and finding other warhorses who care about the overall wellness of people, pets and planet.

When I left my job as a high school English teacher, I left something I really did love. At the same time, something didn’t change at all.  As a teacher, I did what I could to equip my students with powerful tools: big solutions to the communication problems and challenges they would face in the present and the future. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ At Warhorse, the focus is on teaching people that there are bigger and better solutions for achieving wellness.

In the classroom, I tried to instill in my students that they could do a lot with some fundamental skills and principles; like Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Above all, I wanted them to know that learning to be strong and gentle was more important than I.Q. or any other inborn assets.  At Warhorse, being aggressive and kind is the cornerstone of our entire product inventory.

It’s more than a slogan—it’s a deeply felt ideology that, for many years, has worked for me and more kindred spirits than I could ever count.  If you’re one of them…welcome to Warhorse!


Today, Warhorse® offers nine eco-friendly cleaner and soap products in over 500 stores nationwide, with new non-GMO formulas in development.

More about our origins:


WNC MAGAZINE: A CLEAN SOLUTION : Read about how WARHORSE is making waves in biofuels research.

TEDX TALK : TAWANA WEICKER : Tawana loved her job so much she quit!