Monday, April 5, 2010

Laundry Detergent

Seeing as how laundry detergent is the thing that I make that I get the most questions about, I figured I'd start there. A friend turned me onto making it during a time in my life when I was planning my wedding and not making a lot of money, and therefore looking for every possible way to cut costs. My hubby has super sensitive skin too, and all of the perfumes in commercial detergents were drying out and irritating his skin. I still get super excited about any DIY project that cuts costs, but especially those that involve making a smaller footprint, making my household "greener" and are easy, and Laundry Detergent is all of those things! It is actually very rewarding to make, as it goes together in a snap, and you get a real feeling of accomplishment.

To make it, you'll need to lay in some supplies:

1 box Washing Soda (I buy the Arm & Hammer variety, and it's about $1.99 for a 2lb-ish box- it was hard for me to find, as the discount stores and hardware stores don't carry it, although I'm told that Ace Hardware can special order it. I finally found it at the grocery store on the laundry aisle. You can also obtain it for about $5 a box from If you can't find it and don't want to shell out the $5, then baking soda works just as well)
1 box 20 mule team Borax (about $3 for a 3lb-ish box, also found on the laundry aisle at the store)
1 bar soap (I use Ivory0 99.44% pure- due to DH's sensitive skin)- any bar of soap will do, doesn't matter if it's fragranced or not- just use what you've got on hand or whatever is cheapest. The consistency of the end result can be a little different depending on what type of soap you use). If you use a fragranced soap, some of that fragrance will linger in your soap, but I've never noticed it on any laundry once it was finished.
5 gallon bucket with lid.
*Note- I also get some essential oil from the natural foods store to add as I like the laundry room to smell fresh. It doesn't perfume the laundry like fabric softener does- in fact, once dry, I can't smell anything on the laundry at all except for cloth. But it does make the laundry room smell great while washing and drying.

I also keep old gallon milk jugs on hand to bottle the end product in so that I don't have to dip out of the bucket to do laundry. You can also easily label the milk jugs to reflect what you made the soap from, i.e. "Ivory, scented" or "Lever 2000, unscented". The gallon milk jug is also the ideal way to get hot water from your tap into the bucket.

First, you'll need to get 4 cups of water going in a pot on the stove. Any pot will do- I use the same pot that I cook with- the soap won't hurt it any. Get it good and hot, but don't let it boil (soapy water boils over like CRAZY and while it's a great way to clean your stove, it's also a hassle). Then you'll need to dispatch the soap. I find that a box grater works best for this, as you can just grate it up into soap flakes. You can also just use a knife to whittle thin strips off of it into the pot of water. Whichever method you choose, then dump your soap flakes/curls into the hot water and stir until dissolved. If it's not dissolving fast enough to suit you, add another couple cups of hot water.

While you're making the hot soapy water, run your tap as hot as it will go, and put 2 gallons of hot tap water into the bucket. Other recipes for laundry detergent I've seen say to put 3 gallons, but I prefer this method. As with any of my "recipes", you can make any adjustments you prefer.

Once the soap has all dissolved in your pot on the stove, add 1 cup of washing soda and stir well until dissolved. This will thicken the soapy water up a bit, and results in a firmer gel in the final product. Once dissolved, add 1 cup of Borax and stir well until dissolved. Then add this mixture into the hot water in the bucket. Stir it well until it's mixed in and put the lid on the bucket.

At this point, you can leave it overnight to gel or you can let it cool for a few hours and then add a few drops of essential oil if you opted for it. You don't want to add the oil to steaming hot water, as all of the oil will evaporate out and it won't smell as nice. After adding the oil, put the lid on the bucket and leave it overnight. In the morning, your detergent is done!

What you'll see when you take the lid off of the bucket: I've heard that some soaps result in a sort of slime- more or less the consistency of commercial detergent. I've never been that lucky. Mine is usually about a 6 inch layer of white gelatinous stuff floating on top of some very soapy water. Since I started adding the powders to the soapy water in the pot, rather than the whole volume of liquid in the bucket, I've noticed that it forms a more consistent gel. It doesn't matter what yours looks like. Just stir it up real well- I use a paint stirrer drill bit on a hand drill. Then I use a funnel to pour it into gallon milk jugs. This yields about 3 jugs of detergent, but I don't fill them to the top- I leave a couple inches of "head space" so that I can shake up the stuff real well before I use it, as it tends to separate during storage. However you do it, drill, spoon or otherwise, just make sure that when you do use it for laundry, that you get an equal amount of the liquid and semisolid parts. I use 3/4 cup per load for laundry, 1 cup for heavily soiled. I also add 1/4 cup of bleach to my whites. I also will "spot treat" stains with full strength detergent before throwing them into the wash.

Comparison to name brands: This stuff works every bit as well as Tide and Cheer, the 2 brands I used the most before I started making it. Maybe even better. The only real difference is that homemade detergent doesn't have any UV brighteners. The Borax will brighten your laundry very effectively though. If you go to "The Simple Dollar"s website, they have posted a video of how to make the stuff, a comparison (with pictures) to Tide (it performed very admirably, and they drew the conclusion it works as well or better than Tide), and also a breakdown on price comparison. I can't remember exactly what the price breakdown was on that page, but for me, and my "raw materials" didn't cost exactly the same as Simple Dollar's but were close, it costs me about $1 to make a batch of detergent, which is about 70 loads (32 cups in the 2 gallons, plus 6 cups in my soap dissolving solution- I am NEVER patient enough to let it dissolve in 4 cups)- Simple Dollar's math is way more sophisticated than mine- I just approximate, but regardless of that it costs about 2.5 cents per load with homemade detergent. Tide is about 20 cents per load, or almost 10 times as much! So it's a big money saver. And you're not paying for the packaging, advertising and shipping of the commercial stuff.

Link to "The Simple Dollar"'s Laundry Detergent:

I've been making my own detergent for almost a year now, and am very pleased with it. I've also gotten a number of friends and relations completely hooked on it as it's cheap, easy and kind to sensitive skin and they all swear they'll never go back to commercial. I hope it does as well for you as it does for me!

No comments:

Post a Comment