Saturday, December 22, 2012

Homemade Laundry Soap

When I quit my teaching job to become a stay-at-home mom about 6 years ago, my husband and I found ourselves struggling to make ends meet, as we had literally cut our income in half.  I eagerly tackled the job of finding ways to squeeze the life out of each one of our pennies.  I reevaluated everything we bought and cut out any non-essential items.  For those items that were essential, I scoured books and websites to find ways to acquire these items for less.  Along the way, I discovered that making my own cleaning supplies could really help the budget. 

Money is not quite as tight these days, but I still make almost all of our cleaning supplies.  Now, instead of being concerned about money, I'm more concerned about what is in my cleaning supplies.  I discovered the companies that make cleaning supplies are not required to list the ingredients on the label.  I had no idea what toxic cocktails I was using.  So, once again, I decided to take matters into my own hands, since it seems there are few companies out there we can trust.  Commercial brand laundry detergents are often full of synthetic chemicals and fragrances, which can cause a host of allergy problems. Children's sensitive skin is often irritated by these detergents. 

I also started to think more about not only how the toxins could effect my family, but also how they effect the environment.  Think about this for a second - everything you flush down the toilet or wash down the drain ends up in our water supply (and then we wonder why we're all getting sick...).  When I lived in the city, it was easy to ignore this fact.  I would put whatever I wanted down the drain and let someone else deal with it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  But now, we live in the country.  Everything I put down my drains ends up on my land and I personally have to deal with the effects of whatever toxins I allow to accumulate there.  It's sobering.  We reap what what we sow on our land.  Now I am very careful about what I allow into my house and down my drains.  I wonder how different we would live if there were no landfills, no sewers or waste water treatment plants, if we had to take personal responsibility for ALL our waste, instead of letting someone else handle it... But I digress.

I discovered this laundry soap recipe and have been using it to wash our clothes for the last 5-6 years. It's simple, inexpensive and effective.  I make a batch of laundry soap about every 3 months.  With our dirty lifestyle (the kids are constantly covered in dirt, mud and manure... and I'm not much better), I end up doing about 10-12 loads of laundry a week.    I don't have the exact math figured out, but the bar of soap costs $4, the borax costs about $4 and the washing soda is about $4.  The soap will make nearly a years supply of laundry soap and the borax and washing soda will last about 2-3 years.  So that makes a whopping total of about $6-8 for a years worth of laundry soap.  Not bad, if you ask me!

This laundry soap could not be easier to make!  For years I followed online directions that told me to make a liquid laundry soap - grate the soap with a cheese grater, then dissolve it in water, boil it, add the powders, blah, blah, blah.  One day it occurred to me that I was making this a lot more work than it needed it to be.  Why not just use a powder laundry soap instead of liquid?  It's the same ingredients, just more concentrated.

You will need 3 ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup Washing Soda:  This product can be found in the cleaning/laundry aisle of most grocery stores. 
  • 1/2 cup Borax:  Also found in the cleaning/laundry aisle.  Most stores put washing soda and borax right next to each other.  Note: Borax is not the same as boric acid.  Check out this post here by Crunchy Betty for the lowdown on borax.
  • 1/3 of a bar of Soap:  You can choose what ever soap you want, as long as it's actually soap (check that label and make sure it says "soap", not "body bar" or something like that).  Many homemade recipes call for Fels-Naptha soap and that is what I used for years, until I began to question the safety of it.  I still think it's fine to use, but some other soaps might be a better choice for the environment.  I've tried using Ivory soap and Dr. Bronner's bar soap as well.  Dr. Bronner's is my favorite so far (and as bonus, Dr. Bronner's soap is available in all sorts of scents). 

Cut the bar of soap into thirds and place 1/3 of the bar in your food processor (perhaps a blender would work too?  Have not tried it...).    Now measure out 1/2 cup of washing soda and 1/2 cup of borax.  Dump those into the food processor as well.

Pulse the food processor to break up the larger chunks of soap into smaller chunks like this:

Now run the processor for about 30 seconds until you have a mixture that looks like fine cornmeal.


Done!  Wasn't that easy?!?  Now pour your laundry soap into a container of your choice.  I like to write the instructions right on the jar so I don't have to take the time to look them up.  This recipe makes about a pint of powder (I store it in a quart sized jar).  You could easily double or triple the recipe.

How much laundry soap do you need to use?  Well, that completely depends on your washing machine.  I have a front loading HE machine that uses minimal water, so I only use about a teaspoon or two of laundry soap.  That's right - a teaspoon.  I've always been convinced that soap isn't what actually gets clothes clean - it's the agitation that cleans them.  Using too much soap just causes soap build up in the clothes (and it's a waste of money).  If I have a particularly stinky or dirty load of wash, I'll add about a 1/2 cup of baking soda to the wash. 
I've been very happy with this soap overall.  But in the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that I have had odor issues with some synthetic fabrics.  All of our cotton and natural fiber clothes come our smelling fresh, clean and lovely.  I wish I could say the same about polyester clothing.  Sometimes the kids fleece pajamas get stinky, unless I wash them in super hot water .  I'm not sure what the issue is.  Makes me wonder if my kids fleece pajamas were always stinky when I used regular detergent, but the odor was masked by the heavy synthetic "mountain fresh" scent.  Anyway, it's not a big deal for me and if anything, it makes me realize that I probably should not be dressing my kids in synthetic fabrics anyway.  We're slowly trying to make the transition to all cotton/natural fiber clothing. 
So there you have it, folks.  If you're like me, always looking for a way to save a few pennies and make the earth a safer place for our children, then maybe you could give this a try!  If you discover you don't like the laundry soap, you can use the rest of the bar soap on your own body and the washing soda and borax can be used for all sorts of cleaning uses. You've got nothing to lose.  Happy laundry washing! 

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