Back in the early fall, a friend of mine, Mike, posted about making his own laundry soap. We had just survived summer without a dryer, so saving money on the washing side was of interest to me, as well. This whole unintended homesteading (gardening, canning, chicken keeping, bartering) thing I’ve been doing since June of 2011 has opened my eyes to so many lost arts. Apparently you can make your own laundry detergent, too. Talk about saving money!
DIY Laundry Detergent
Given that the recipe would cover me for months of clothes washing, I was really game – especially when I learned that all the ingredients cost me less than $15. Given that I was spending $15 every two weeks (sometimes more often) on laundry soap, and learning that this recipe could be done over and over again, with little more than another $1.09 purchase of one of the ingredients, I was willing to give it a try. In the end, each quart Mason jar cost me approximately $1.06 each, not including the cost of the water and jars (As an avid food preserver, I had lots of Mason Jars on hand – I used the older ones that I knew couldn’t go through another water bath or pressure canning session). Yes, friends, a month’s supply of laundry detergent for less than $1.10 a month provided you don’t wash more than 68 loads a month (For me, some months there’s more laundry – like during football or baseball season). Even if you do, it’s still cheaper than anything you can get in the market. I know of no other way to make doing laundry that inexpensively. None.
My friend, Mike, got his ingredients at his local super store (Meijer for my Michigan/Ohio readers); I got mine at the local QFC (Kroger if you’re on the other side of the country). Mike had to look for the Fels-Naptha Bar and so did I. When you’re in the store, be sure to look up high or look down on the bottom shelf (I’ve been checking out the Safeway and Fred Meyer here and the bars are either on the very top shelf or the very bottom).
A few ingredients and you’re ready to rock.
It’s a two-day process. I turned my kitchen into a laundry-detergent-making lab for the weekend and got to work. I have this old metal pot that burns all the food, but works really well for making the soap. I also recommend using a small food processor to grate the Fels-Naptha soap.
An old metal pot is the perfect detergent-making vessel.
I’ve made three batches now. Making the first I used a box grater. Labor intensive and kind of a pain and requires a bit of space so you don’t lose all of the shavings. The second time I used the grating attachment from my food processor and made this process that much faster. But, it’s not necessary. Yet, I will always use my food processor for making this.
This is the fastest way to grate, but a box grater and bowl can do the job, too.
Here’s the recipe:
1 bar Fels-Naptha soap
2/3 cup Washing Soda (Don’t use baking soda…..it’s different. Make sure you have washing soda)
2/3 cup Borax (you know the stuff that says “20 mule team?)
2 1 qt Mason jars with lids (Wide-mouth is preferred)
5 2/3 cups of water, total
Take the bar of Fels-Naptha and grate it.
Put all the soap shavings into a metal pan
Heat the soap and water until 90 percent melted.
Add 3 cups of water and heat over medium high until the shavings are 90 percent melted
Divide the soap mixture equally into the two canning jars (I warmed mine a bit to prevent cracking by just putting warm tap water in them and letting them sit while I cooked the soap)
Cover and set aside for the night (12 to 18 hours)
The soap you set aside should be solid (actually kind of like a gel)
Cut in “canals” into the gel-like substance for the next step.
Take a knife and cut the soap lengthwise and widthwise into smaller pieces. It should be kind of like gelatin substance and will cut pretty easily. (This here is to make avenues for the rest of the ingredients to mix up. I also ran my knife all around the edge of the inside of the jar.)
Add 1/3 cup washing soda and 1/3 cup borax to each jar
Add 1 1/3 cup hot tap water to each jar to fill them up
Note how the borax and washing soda sinks into the Fels-Naptha & water mixture.
(It smells nice – not too overpowering. I like less smell in my laundry detergent. However, you could add some essential oils if you like. You need to do any oil adding now during this step – say like 10 drops, 5 in each jar, of lavender oil or clove oil. I went with it as I made it, as Mike did, as well.)
Be sure to hold the Mason Jar and start the mixer slow.
Mix well with the hand mixer (Be sure to hold the Mason jar in one hand and start the mixer slowly, building up to medium speed); until you get the consistency of mayonnaise. (Mike suggested only using one mixing beater and that was a jolly-fine suggestion. It worked like a dream. This step here is why you need the wide-mouth jars, too.)
Put the lid on and stash your jars in the laundry room.
It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. Also, if you have one of those new-fangled washing machines where you can see the clothes washing (or do laundry at a Laundromat), don’t look for it to suds up inside the machine like commercial products. Many commercial detergents have agents in the ingredients list just for suds, but have no effect on the actual cleaning of the clothing.
It looks and smells great.
I do recommend getting a long-handled tablespoon measurer for your dispensing. I initially just had a regular-handled one. It was a bit messy as the jar got emptier.
The end result (two Mason Jars worth) gave me about 128 loads of clothes. You use about 1 Tablespoon for large load. If you have one of those super large washers, you would need 1.5 Tblspn. No one in my family had any allergic reactions, and my spouse, especially, has highly sensitive skin. It cleans the clothes well. For super dirty stuff (think teenager’s white football pants), I put in an extra dose of borax laundry booster (follow directions on box). However, for normal everyday laundry, just one tablespoon of this DIY Laundry Detergent, which I think needs a name, works perfectly.
Another tip is that when you get to the bottom of the jar – that very last tablespoon that’s all at the bottom or smeared around the edges – you can get one more load (this is my dog’s blanket load). Stick the Mason jar under the stream of water that’s filling your washing machine. Close the lid, shake for a moment and then pour that last little bit into the washing machine. No waste. And no turning upside down the commercial detergent container that seems designed to waste soap! When I run out of the first quart jar, then I know the following weekend it’s time to make more. That way, there’s always some on hand. Therefore an initial investment in four Mason Jars is preferred.
By the way, it’s safe for septic systems, which since I’m on a septic system, is a bonus.
Another thing is that environmentally, it’s not too shabby. It’s also why the post on this is months after my first discovery of it. I wanted to do some research. Fortunately, it gets an overall grade “B” from me for environmental stewardship, which wasn’t really a concern when I was first looking at making it – I was just looking at the cost. But given that I live where I live and run a micro-farm, I was happy to take a look at that. You have to understand that when folks around my community talk about laundry soap, they aren’t just looking for price, as I was. They are also looking at environmental impact. So, I took the time, as I said, to do some research on the environmental impact/stewardship record of the ingredients list. Arm & Hammer washing soda received an easy ‘A.’ (Yes, Earth Justice folks, I recognize other Arm & Hammer products are not so safe, but I’m talking about the washing soda.)
Fels-Naptha has a few of its ingredients (its formulation is different now than it used to be since it’s owned by Dial now), but like many products found down the laundry or beauty isle, it’s made with petroleum derivatives. Some folks are against this. I drive a car (I have teenagers; I drive it a lot. Thank goodness I have a hybrid). So, I would be hypocritical if I had some sort of issue with this part of Fels-Naptha. There’s some coloring of the soap’s formula that kind of bothers me because I really don’t see the necessity in it. I don’t have laundry soap for the frakkin color. For some folks with sensitive skin, this colorant might give them problems. I’m fortunate, as I said; no one in my house had any skin allergies to the new laundry detergent. So, grade B for our Fels-Naptha ingredient.
Now, borax is highly contentious ingredient since 2010; listed as a chemical as high concern by the European Union for hints at reproduction impacts (the science I found was dubious, but do your own research; I encourage you). Since I don’t plan on having anymore children (I’m crazy, not that crazy), also given the amount I’m using it in is relatively small. Plus I’m not ingesting it, which is where the hormone disruption of Sodium Borate (aka Borax) really comes into play from everything I read. Given those factors, I gave the borax ingredient a passing grade: C.
Again, that means that environmentally it gets a ‘B.’ However, since this DIY Laundry Detergent is saving me dollars, I’m happy with a ‘B.’
Finally, I think it needs a name. I can’t keep calling it DIY Laundry Detergent. I absolutely love this stuff, and I feel like the money savings is a prize for me. Therefore, I think I’m going share that feeling of “prize winning.” I want to do a contest. It’s an easy and creative contest! Leave a comment (need to have at least 25 people comment for me to feel this is a fair and worthy contest) with a suggestion for the name. I’ll choose a winner and then I’ll send the winner a sample of the soap! So, give me those name suggestion comments!