Let’s talk components – laundry post, part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, making your own laundry soap is easy, quick, inexpensive, and does not require a lot of specialized ingredients.  I will say though that getting the right ingredients is key to this soap turning out correctly.  So let’s talk a little bit about these components.

First, let’s address the issue of what kind of soap to use.

All the websites I found online have some slight variations when it comes to soap.  Really, soap choice is preferential, based on what you have and what you like.  There is a soap product specifically manufactured for making laundry detergent and other cleaning supplies called Fels-Naptha.  It’s an industrial strength soap that is very inexpensive and works very well in this recipe.  If you use Fels-Naptha you will only need to use 1/3rd of the bar of soap per batch of detergent you make, so keep that in mind when you’re considering what soap you’re going to use.

For my detergent, I choose not to use the Fels Naptha soap, simply because I didn’t want to pay $1.37 for soap when I have plenty of other soap on hand.  You see, a few months ago our local Kroger ran one of their 10 for $10 specials on Ivory bar soap (the 3-bar packages), so we picked up ten packages, thus we have 30 bars of Ivory soap lying around, so that’s what I used.

Because the Ivory soap is so mild, I used the entire bar of soap instead of just a third of the bar as I’d have done with the Fels-Naptha.   If you don’t have Ivory soap you can use whatever mild soap you do have, however I warn you, it needs to be relatively fragrance and additive free.  Soaps like Dove, Caress, and the like – those that contain lots of extra moisturizer and vitamins and minerals just won’t work for this laundry detergent.  All those additives, while great for your skin in the shower, aren’t great for your clothes, and you’ll find a filmy residue left on the clothes during the washing cycle.

You also want to steer clear of soaps that are colored, like Irish Spring and Zest.  While these soaps are inexpensive, the coloring agents that have been added to the soap to make them blue and green can stain your clothing.  So when choosing your soap, look for brands that are white in color, additive free, and have not been fortified with extra vitamins and minerals.  Again, your two best choices are Fels-Naptha or Ivory, and both are very inexpensive.  ***Side note: for those of you who make your own bar soap or who purchase homemade, all natural, and/or handcrafted soaps, such as goat’s milk soap, that will work in this recipe as well, and you’ll just need to use a whole bar per batch of detergent you make.

Next we have the Borax.  What is Borax anyway?

Borax is a white powdered substance that is naturally occurring in nature in the form of boric acid.  It sounds nasty, but really it’s quite mild.  In fact, some countries have even approved boric acid as a food additive in things like meatballs and noodles as it gives foods a nice rubbery, gelatinous texture (NOTE: the U.S. FDA has not approved this product for use in foods, so don’t go adding it to your spice rack!).   Furthermore, borax powder has been used by housewives for years as a cleaning product in laundry and other household cleaning applications.  The brand that is most common is 20 Mule Team, and has been around since dirt.  I purchased my box of Borax powder at Wal-Mart in the laundry aisle and I believe the cost was around $5.  This recipe only calls for 1/2 a cup of Borax powder so this box will last me for a good long time.  Don’t be afraid of this product even though it is an acid.  **Like any household cleaner, don’t leave it out where kids can get into it as it’s not safe for human ingestion.**

And finally, lets talk about washing soda. I don’t know about you, but before I started researching laundry soap recipes I had no idea what washing soda was.  I just assumed it was baking soda since that’s what is sold in my grocery store’s laundry aisle.  Let me assure you, washing soda is not the same thing as baking soda.

Baking soda is sodium bi-carbonate.  It’s great in baked goods, household cleansers, as a natural deodorizer, and for putting out grease fires.  Baking soda will also work as a super mild whitener, and is found in many toothpastes and dental whitening products.  You can even make a paste and put it on tile grout to help lift stubborn stains, although I’ve never really had great success with this approach – bleach works a whole lot better for me, but that’s just my personal preference.

Washing soda is also known as soda ash, and is the bi-product of burned plant materials.  It is another naturally occurring substance found in nature – especially in areas that have been ravaged by forest fires or prairie fires; hence the name soda ash.   This product comes in a white powered substance and is incredibly mild.  As a component of laundry soap the washing soda works as a whitener and freshener.

Of all the components to this recipe, the washing soda was the one product I had difficulty locating, simply because there is the misconception that it’s the same thing as baking soda.  I called every grocery store, big box hardware store, and discount super-center in my area and no one carried it.  Finally in desperation, I looked it up online and discovered it is sold on Amazon.com.  However, the shipping was three times the cost of the product, and even though this recipe only calls for 1/2 cup of washing soda and the box will last me for ages, I just didn’t feel I could justify the cost of shipping.  Luckily, I researched the product a bit further and discovered that ACE Hardware carries it.  Good ol’ ACE.  Frankly, I haven’t seen one of those stores since we left Iowa over eight years ago, so I just assumed they were out of business.  Turns out, there’s one just up the road from us.  Sweet!

Some of you might want to fragrance your laundry soap, and you can do that with the use of essential fragrance oils.   I just have one note of advice for you when you do this: read the labels on the essential oils.  Some oils are not approved for topical use and if you use those in your laundry detergent you will likely end up with a very nasty rash and have to throw out your entire batch of laundry soap.  As long as the oil is approved for topical usage you should be fine, however you might want to rub a drop or two into your skin a day or so before you make this soap, just to ensure you don’t have some kind of allergy to the oil.  Oils make a nice addition to the soap and there are a multitude of fragrances available – some lovely choices are lavender, sage, tea tree or eucalyptus, lemon and other citrus flavors, cotton, lily of the valley, apple, and hundreds of others.  You can also mix fragrances to create a unique layered scent.  Pick oils that smell nice to you, and ones that you’ll be able to live with for a while, as this recipe makes 2 gallons of soap.

The last ingredient in the soap is water.  Tap water is fine – that’s what I use.  If you have some aversion to your tap water, or if it’s very hard water, you may want to run it through a water filter or buy distilled water at the grocery store.  You’ll need about 2 gallons of water in the whole recipe and I keep a few extra gallon sized milk jugs on hand just for this purpose.

Other than that, making this soap is super simple.  If you have trouble finding any of the components to this recipe, you can purchase them from Amazon, although the cost will increase due to the shipping.  As far as the cost per load, you’re looking at about 1 penny a load with the homemade soap, versus 5 – 8+ cents a load with commercially produced soaps.  Granted, that’s not a huge difference, but in a year’s time you’re looking at about $20 –  $50 (or more) in savings (depending on what brand of laundry detergent you’re using and how many loads of laundry you do each week).  Not to mention the fact you’re no longer putting toxic chemicals on your skin or into our ground water and public sewer systems.   Plus, making your own laundry detergent is just cool!


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