Monday, September 15, 2008

Making laundry soap

We are now on the bandwagon of "greener," and as part of that (and to save some pennies), I'm making my own laundry soap. 

I have to say, on the scale of pioneer women, I fall someplace between Laura Ingalls Wilder and Holly Hobbie. And I'll tell you right now I am addicted to electricity--the computer, the tv, the sewing machine, the phone, the washing machine and dishwasher, not to mention the fridge and the vacuum and all the other good stuff I use each day. Like lights.
So don't count me off the grid just yet.

But I do like to make my own stuff. Laundry soap is the latest on that list. It's not hard, and it's cheap, it works gently on the clothes, and best of all, it smells really good.  Oh, yeah, and I know what's in it--no toxic stuff to stoke my hypochondriacal fears.

To make it, I took recipes from several websites, and I tinkered with different combinations. After a few tries, I discovered the one that works best for me:

1 bar of ivory soap
a half bar of Fells Naptha soap
1.25 cups washing soda
1.25 cup Borax
16 cups water

scents, if you want. I use:
2 teaspoons lavender essential oil
2 teaspoons vanilla essential oil
1 teaspoon sweet fennel essential oil

Other things you'll need:
a grater or food processor with grater attachment
a large pot for dissolving the soap flakes
a larger pot for combining all the ingredients
a wide-mouth canning funnel
two old laundry jugs for storing your mixture

  1. Grate the soap in the food processor or on a grater. Stir the grated soap bits in 4 cups of water in the large pot , and heat it on medium heat on the stove. You don't want it to boil--it will bubble over! Instead, you want it to be hot enough to hurry the soap into a liquid. 
  2. Next, heat the other 12 cups in the larger pot. Add the dissolved soap mixture, then the washing soda. Stir it until it's dissolved, then add the Borax, stirring again until dissolved. It should get pretty smooth and glossy, like the picture. Set it aside to cool, stirring it a few times, and adding your fragrance.
  3. Once your mixture is cool, it will separate, and you'll have soapy water with clumps. You can break these up a bit and then use the funnel put it into your storage jugs. I did this a few times, and found it worked well, but the mixture didn't last as long because you end up wanting to add more "clumps" to your wash to make sure you get enough. The clumps, by the way, dissolve in the washing machine without any problems. You won't need to swish it around--it breaks down easily in the wash.

After making this a few times, I added one more step: I mix the completely cooled mixture in the blender, in several batches. Having an even consistency makes the soap last longer, and I'm able to get it into the jugs more easily.

For cleanup, I wash the pots, funnel, grater, etc, with the soap that's on them, then I rinse with a vinegar and water mixture before I dry everything. This removes any hint of residue that sticks to the plastic.

As I said, the soap works really well, on regular laundry and on stains. I fill two 77 oz containers with each batch, and they last me around 3 weeks, or 30 plus loads of laundry. The ingredients: about $2.50. Total cost of soap per load--8 cents. Not bad.   Saving or no saving, it's sort of fun. 

It takes about 15 minutes of active time to mix, stir, wash, and pour into jugs.  Less time than it takes to get to the grocery store.   And goody--I save gas!  But even better, I don't have to deal with putting Esme in the carseat for yet another trip...

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