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.

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