Saturday, July 23, 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent: Wow

I mentioned in a previous post that I was planning to make my own laundry detergent, and that I would report on the results.

Results are very good. My blue jeans are bluer, whites are whiter, and other things are cleaner than they’ve been in a long, long time.

Big Plus: It doesn’t make me itch.

I’ve been using the special no dyes/no perfumes versions of laundry detergent for a few years now, as I found that most “regular” detergents make me itch or break out. They don’t seem to work as well as their more colorful or fragrant counterparts, but the trade-off was worth it. Now I don’t have to settle any more.

It started with some Internet research for recipes. While the proportions vary widely, the basic ingredients are the same:

Bar soap
Washing Soda

The majority of recipes call for mixing the ingredients with large amounts of water, but the powder version takes up a lot less space so I’m going with dry.

You can also add: Trisodium Phosphate, available in the paint section of any hardware store. It helps detergent rinse out of your clothes better, especially in hard water. You can also add about 1 teaspoon per load to store bought detergent to get clothes cleaner. (There are some that hold that phosphates are harmful to the environment, but there is little scientific evidence to support it.)

The proportion I settled on is: one part grated bar soap, two parts borax, and two parts washing soda. I used Fels-Naptha laundry soap ($0.97 at Walmart), 20 Mule Team Borax (about $3), and Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (about $3). Washing soda is sodium carbonate, as opposed to sodium bicarbonate, which is more commonly known as baking soda.

At first, I hand grated the bar soap. This takes a while and makes a mess. The soap is light and flies all over. Be sure to cover a large area with newspaper or something if you want to contain the mess.

Next, I mixed it with the powder ingredients. It doesn’t mix perfectly, so you’ll need to stir it every so often. If you look closely you'll see the darker yellow soap flakes not mixed uniformly with the white powders. Not to worry, it works anyway.

In my first attempt, I had a 1-3-3 proportion of soap-borax-washing soda. I concluded it might not have quite enough soap. Time to reformulate. I started out grating the bar soap by hand, but gave up and used my food processor. I broke the soap into small chunks using a sturdy serrated edge paring knife, and then put the chunks and some washing soda in the processor. It takes a good solid minute or two to grate the soap down, but that’s a lot less effort than hand grating, with finer results. It rinses out of the processor very easily.

Here is the recipe as it stands now:

1 bar Fels-Naptha Soap (makes about 1 cup grated). Ivory or Zote work too.
2 cups washing soda
2 cups borax
2/3 cup trisodium phosphate (TSP can be found for about $6 for 1 lb, $11 for 4 lbs.)

Use just 1 tablespoon per load of wash. Seriously! 1 tablespoon.

5 2/3 cups dry detergent can do about 90 loads. All for about $4. And it WORKS! Really, Really Well.

If you like fragrance, you can add essential oils or other fragrance bases. This works best in the liquid versions.

Something that is very clear from my research: the detergent companies tell us to use way, way too much detergent per load. That’s probably why it makes us itch and causes a host of other problems. Try using less and see how it comes out. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.

The directions on the box for borax and washing soda say to use ½ cup for a load of laundry, but that’s excessive. You don’t need that much. I guess if you have some stubborn stains, you could add a little more borax to a load, but there’s no need to go overboard. Both cleaners can be used around the house too.

Good Homemade Laundry Detergent Links:

or just look up "homemade laundry detergent" on the net.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Paycheck Blues

Yesterday I was looking at one of the government “jobs outlook” sites. I’m currently studying to be a crime analyst, and the outlook for the job is very good. (Yay!) Then I pulled up the salary statistics for the field, which had both national and local ranges. I then compared the city I live in to others in the state and around the nation.

Not only is pay in my city the lowest in the state, but it was also the lowest, by more than 20%, of all the other metropolitan areas around the country.

Average pay rates in my city are about 79% of the country’s average.

The cost of living here is about 96% of the country’s average.

That’s an appalling difference. Somebody’s making out like a bandit, and it isn’t me!

No wonder I feel like I’m not getting anywhere! Not only am I slogging on the treadmill, but it also has extra weights on it.

I’ve read a lot of articles that talk about the national average hourly pay, which is well above my current rate, and wonder what I’m doing wrong. I feel marginally better knowing that everyone else in the area is also being horribly underpaid.

Then I wonder why we put up with it.

When I finish my degree, I’m getting out of here!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

It would be so easy

Although I have posted some of my schemes to live well on a low income, it isn’t something I’d like to continue indefinitely. Low-income living has its drawbacks. It’s hard on your teeth and credit rating.

Toward the end of improving my income, I am working toward earning a bachelor degree. I generally like the classes and the material. However, each session takes a little more self-discipline than the last. There are times when the readings are boring and assignments are due, and I find myself saying:

“I am so not into this right now.”

I find myself thinking of other productive (or fun) things that I could be doing.

I am also beset by doubts. I wonder if I’m wasting my time and money pursuing a degree that may never lead to the sort of employment I seek. I get A’s and I’m on the Dean’s and President’s lists, but will it be enough? Will my age keep me from being considered for a good job? Will it all be a colossal exercise in futility that in the end only increases my student loan debt? (Not by a lot, the school is very reasonable.)

There is also the specter of needing to pull up stakes and move to another area of the country for a new job. The idea is both exciting and scary at the same time. It means leaving behind family and friends. It means leaving the known for the unknown. It means taking a big risk.

It would be so easy to just stay in the same job and the same place. Life is usually tolerable, and I know my way around really well. It would be so easy not to try to do better. I could consign my hopes and dreams to the realm of “unlikely anyway” and simply exist. I could pursue crafts and needlework projects to suit my artistic drive. I could try to find some marketable form for my creations, or not.

It would be so easy to just give up. It would be so simple to accept the position the work world seems to want me in, despite my experience and qualifications. It would be so easy to stop fighting and hoping for something better, only to be disappointed yet again.

It would be so easy to throw up my hands and say “never mind!” as young guys who dropped out half way into the first semester of the program I worked my tail off to finish, with honors, get offered well paid jobs in the field. (On the other hand, the same guys seem to be back to flipping burgers in less than two years, so maybe I’m not missing much.) It would be so easy to just quit trying.

It was easy to justify staying where I am, not-so-professionally, as I finished the task of raising my children. But I can no longer use that excuse. So I need to decide: do I want to remain in my marginally safe, tolerable, predictable existence, or do I try to achieve a new plane of existence? Well really, I know the answer. I want to move on. I want to pursue a better future. I sometimes despair that it will always remain beyond reach; that all my efforts will be in vain. I fear that I will be forever consigned to barely-getting-by.

But it would be so easy to stay there.

Despite the doubts and fears, I keep slogging on, determined to finish this degree. On the weekends when I’d far rather be doing anything but schoolwork, I still finish my work and do it well.

That means hope is still stronger.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Goose, goose, duck!

Here's my new purse!

Okay, it's not quite a purse yet. I'll post pictures of the finished crocheted product(s).

I like the bright colors for summer. The purse should be easy to find in the dark.

I make my own purses because I can get exactly what I want. The cost of the 4 balls of yarn is just $7.50.

Rosey and I went to the "old" Walmart the other day to find some black socks (and the yarn for my new purse). A flock of Canada geese has inhabited the parking lot for the last decade or so. There are a few retaining ponds, and the traffic at the store is fairly accommodating to wildlife. The birds are definitely herd animals. If one starts walking to the other side of the parking lot, most of the flock is sure to follow. There will be a long line of waddling geese traversing the lot. Traffic pretty much comes to a standstill. This is especially fun to watch when the babies are small and fuzzy.

On this last trip, my daughter noticed an flock member of a different feather, speckled brown ones to be exact. Happily pecking away at the ground along with the geese was one lone female mallard duck. She looks tiny next to the geese. Is she an honorary member of the flock or simply happily coexisting? Did they adopt her? Does she think she's a goose? Points to ponder.

Low Income Life Experiment

I'm embarking on an effort to make my own laundry detergent. It involves bar soap, washing soda, and borax. Some people like to dissolve the ingredients in water, others just use the mixture dry. I'm going to try dry first.

Evidently you can make dishwasher detergent with just the washing soda and borax.

We've noticed that since phosphates have been removed from dishwasher detergent, our stuff isn't getting very clean. I've tried adding trisodium phosphate,and it does okay, but we hit upon something better. We put the detergent in the uncovered soap well, then fill the covered one with plain old baking soda. Our dishes are now clean, clear, and shiny. The silverware is looking better too. This is a wonderfully inexpensive solution.

I'll let you know how the laundry comes out and what recipes work best.