Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Homemade Laundry Powder

Some of you may have noticed that I took a bit of a break from writing.  But that doesn't mean that I haven't still been busy.  I've been looking around my house and trying to find ways that I can reduce the amount of trash I'm creating and the plastic I'm buying.

If you want a fun challenge, try doing Beth Terry's "Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash" over at My Plastic-free Life.  When I first stumbled across this challenge I thought it would be easy.  But then I looked in my recycling bin and realized that I use alot of plastic.  I have plastic shampoo bottles, a plastic shower curtain, plastic sour cream containers, plastic hummus containers, plastic bags of baby carrots, plastic laundry soap containers, and the list goes on.  There must be a way to decrease the amounts of plastic we buy and use.

Although my co-op has a vast bulk selection that I try to use as much as possible, I started thinking about what kinds of things I could make at home instead of purchasing in plastic and possibly save some money as well.  I decided to start with making my own laundry soap.  I can buy some of the ingredients without any packaging and the rest I can buy in bulk in cardboard boxes.

So then I told my a few friends and family that I was going to make my own soap.  They gave me a look like this....

Those of you who have followed this blog in the past may remember my dog Chloe.  For those newer to the scene let me introduce you to my overly anxious, very neurotic, hyper beagle Chloe.  She has the perfect blank stare for occasions where she knows you are speaking to her but she still needs to process the information.  The ears go up, she tilts her head, and she furrows her brow.

Well that's kind of the look I got.  It's alright though.  Before starting my adventure to become more self sufficient I thought that laundry soap couldn't be made anywhere but a factory, even if I was buying the eco-friendly brand.  I had visions of me, a bar of soap, and a washing board down at the local creek.  I love Little House on the Prairie but no thank you.  But after looking into it, we don't need or should want many of the complex chemicals found in store bought laundry soap.

For example, Optical Brighteners:  Have you heard the phrase "Makes your whites whiter"?  The products that claim to make your whites whiter and your colors brighter don't actually clean your clothes better.  They use optical brighteners, a synthetic chemical, that cling to your clothes after washing and it converts UV light into visible wavelengths, hence you seem brighter.  Since I tend to be more on the dark and twisty side anyways, I'll skip the outpouring of visible wavelengths.

There are also many places online that talked about dangers from Phthalates used for fragrances and synthetic surfactants.  Some reports claimed that Phthalates could impact our hormonal blance but honestly my eyes are now crossed from looking through the quagmire of information.  You be the judge.

Here's what I do know.

  1. Previously I was buying ECO brand soap from Costco for about $20 for 3 - 4 months worth of soap.  I spent about $12 for enough soap to last me at least 8 months or more (I'm horrible at conversions so I'll just update the post when I finish this batch).  
  2. I was buying my laundry soap in large plastic jugs.  Although that plastic can be recycled, it's still a product that has been produced using energy, chemicals, and fossil fuels.  If I eliminate the need for the plastic in the first place then I'm helping reduce plastic from the source.
  3. If I go to my co-op to buy laundry soap in bulk then I'm paying astronomically high prices.  Go back to point one, rinse and repeat.

I looked around online and found tons of sources for my "recipe".  They all were very similar and all contained a few basic ingredients.

  • Soap:  Soap acts as a surfactant in your laundry detergent.  Basically, they grab onto the dirty bits in your laundry and hang out with them in the water while the washer is churning.  This allows your clothes to get clean.  There are several forms of soap you can choose from:  Zote, Fels Naptha, Dr. Bronners/castille, even good old Ivory.  Use the soap that best meets your personal needs for being cost conscious and eco-friendly.
  • Washing Soda:  Arm and Hammer makes Washing Soda (sodium carbonate).  It will help soften your water so if you have hard water then your recipe should include more washing soda.  It also helps remove stains from your clothes.  Can't find washing soda?  Make your own (and it's cheaper!).  Here's a recipe.
  • Borax:  Some recipes did not include borax but it is a natural whitener and it boosts the effectiveness of your soap.
  • Baking Soda:  Some recipes also didn't include baking soda but I live in a home with chickens, cats, dogs, and general stinkiness.  I added the baking soda to help eliminate odors and many reports said it helped soften clothes.  I can also buy baking soda very cheap and in bulk so why not.
  • Vinegar:  I use vinegar as an additive but it's not mixed into my soap.  Sometimes soap can build up in your washer or on your clothes and vinegar removes that soap scum and it acts as a fabric softener and odor remover.  And no, your clothes do not smell like vinegar when you wear them.  

Here's my laundry soap solution.

3 Bars of soap = 15 oz. of soap.  I grated it using my food processor.
I know... I know.. it's in a plastic bucket, bottle, and Downy ball.  However, I already owned the plastic bottle and bucket.  If I'm going to use plastic then I figure I should reuse it.

Add all the ingredients to the bucket and shake shake shake.  Here's how it should go into your washer.


And now you all know the secret of my very, very, very bad handwriting.

Check out the Homestead Barn Hop every Monday for other ideas!

8 comments:

  1. I recently switched to an eco-friendly powder for laundry rather than liquid and find that it cleans just as well and cost a lot less. I guess the next step would be to make my own! Good job!

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  2. I had put it off because I thought it would be a huge hassle but it really wasn't since I used the food processor to grate the soap.

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  3. Michael Nolan (Rock Star Gardener) has a recipe on his site and he puts the soap in the microwave. It's kinda cool looking and easier than grating. I too made my first batch recently and it cleaned well and left none of the fragrance the Fels Naptha soap has. But next time I need a fragrance free soap bar. I have only used the borax and soda with it but your recipe sounds good too. Love baking soda and vinegar for so many things.

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  4. I used pink Zote the last time I made homemade laundry soap and I had horrible results with it failing to dissolve and rinse away in cold water. Prior to that, I had always used Fels-Naptha in my recipe with great success. (I found that I could get Zote at our discount store, which is why I switched.) I would caution against using it in the recipe if you plan to wash in cold water. I peel my soap bar with a vegetable peeler and put those long pieces in the food processor with one of the powedered components and process them together. It works like a charm to break it down.

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    Replies
    1. I agree. Zote is definitely a warm to hot water soap. I haven't mixed a giant batch yet. But I am experienced in standing at the washer with the Zote in the water, adding baking soda, and vinegar and sometimes a few drops of Dr. Bronner's. I am making the recipe TODay and gonna stop spending so much time standing at the washer!

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  5. @maryp - I'll have to check out the microwaving idea. I did get a bit of soap dust that settled around the kitchen LOL.

    @Cookie! - thanks for the veggie peeler idea. Admittedly the soap doesn't become powdered the way I make it but it seems to be working fine

    I'm thinking next time I'll use castille soap with a natural scent. The "soapy" smell of fels-naptha is a very clean scent but I love lavender. Of course my midwestern, meat-eating husband isn't as keen on it LOL

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  6. I've been using 1 bar Fels-Naptha to 1 c Borax to 1 c Washing Soda. My clothes come out soft, but the don't smell very clean. Which is odd, b/c the Fels-Naptha has a nice scent to it. I think I'll try Zote next time. One problem I have had with laundry in general is if you use natural oils, like olive or coconut, to moisturize your skin after a shower, but before you towel off, the oils can get into the towels. Then, when you wash, if the detergent isn't powerful enough to get all of the oil out, the dryer can bake the oil in. You can tell, b/c the towels will start to have dark-shaded areas in them, they won't dry as well, and will start to smell a bit rancid. Someone recommended I use a bit of liquid dish soap in the wash (like 1tsp), since it has better grease-cutting aiblity. I tried it. I think it worked ok, but it's like the residue from it was left on the towels, and they made my skin itchy. It seems like a constant experiment.

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  7. I have added the Downy Unstoppables to my home made soap, I love it!!!

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