Monday, September 24, 2012

How to make liquid laundry soap

All you need to make your own laundry detergent!

I'll admit to a certain amount of skepticism when I started seeing articles on homestead blogs and Pinterest talking about simple it was to make laundry detergent. After all, I had a vague idea of what went into our laundry soap, and there were a lot of words I couldn't pronounce. How could four simple items make laundry detergent that stacked up against the commercial brands?

Of course, I'm not one to let a challenge pass by. I'm also very interested in saving money and being thrifty. My laundry detergent costs me between $4.50 and $5.00 per container, and has between 34 and 60 loads. My usual brand, a store brand with no scent, costs me about $0.10 per load if I can get it on sale. I consider that a pretty good deal.

When I sat down to do the math for this home made detergent, I got very cocky at first, because my initial numbers said it would cost me $0.22 per load to wash my clothes with it. The problem is, I didn't add up all the numbers. So I'm going to write it all out, then explain the caveat after.

The Borax cost me $3.49 for the box, and the Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda was only $2.69. Neither was on sale. The soap I got was Jergens , a brand that doesn't set off anyone's allergies and is very gentle. I got three bars for $0.99 at Job Lots in Peterborough, which made me a happy lady. I also picked up a single bar of Fels Naptha , because it can also be used to make this detergent, although I didn't use it for this tutorial.

So, let's add together $3.49 plus $2.69, plus $0.99 to get a total of $7.17 for all the ingredients. That seems like a lot, but I divided it by cups. There are 16 cups in a gallon, and we end up with about 2 gallons of finished product. $7.17 divided by 32 cups comes out to $0.22 per load.  That's where my math was wrong. I don't use a whole cup of the detergent per load. I use a half cup. That means I am dividing my $7.17 by 64 half cups, and so the correct total is $0.11 per load.

But wait! That's not entirely true. I only used one cup each of the Borax and washing soda, and there are several more cups in each box. There are two more bars of Jergins soap. I believe it is quite safe to say that I could make two more batches of this without depleting my supply of powdered ingredients. That means I would be getting not 64 loads out of the finished product but 192 loads! $7.17 divided by 192 loads gives us a total of $0.04 per load.

Wow. Okay, I can look at that and say that's thrifty. That's one third my usual price for detergent! Having done the math, I decided it was definitely time to try making this laundry detergent, and see what all the fuss was about.

Jergens and grater
The first step in creating laundry soap is to grate up a bar of soap. My research told me that any hard soap would be fine for this but that softer soaps (like our home made lye soap) would not be adequate. I opted for Jergins because it doesn't set off allergies and has a very mild scent, and it doesn't contain a lot of junk. I also wanted to have some Fels Naptha on hand for a second batch, but had been warned that I should do half milder soap and half Fels Naptha, because the plain Fels is very hard on clothing. When I make up the Fels Naptha batch, it will be labelled clearly and set aside, to be used for jeans and oil stained things, items that will withstand being treated roughly.

Grating the soap
I grated the soap right into my big aluminum pot. I used an old cheese grater with big holes, and when I was done I clearly labelled it "for soap only." The grating went very easily, and made the cutest little curls in the bottom of the pot. It took me less than five minutes to grate the whole bar. I was surprised it went so quick; I had been expecting at least a bit of difficulty with the end, if nothing else, but it was smooth sailing.

Adding warm water
To the grated soap you want to add one gallon of water. It can be hot or cold, and I chose to use hot tap water. I used a one gallon plastic jug I'd been saving just for that purpose. It had been a milk jug at one point, and I had cleaned it within an inch of its life with soap and water, then with bleach. I then allowed it to air dry on the porch before bringing it in and storing it until I needed it. Milk jugs are not great for storing food items like rice or potato flakes, both because of the small neck and because they tend to leach plastic over time. They are ideal for storing detergents and cleansers, though, and are wonderful for quickly measuring out one gallon of water.

Mark things "for soap only"
I used a large wooden spoon that had seen better days for my mixing. I clearly marked it "for soap only" because I don't want to ever use it for food again. The same thing happened to my pot and the funnel I used. Once your water is in the pot with the soap bits, bring the temperature up to medium high and stir until all the soap is dissolved. A few suds do come up during this process, and you will have to move them aside with your spoon to see if the soap is fully dissolved. This part of the process took me about five to ten minutes, and wasn't difficult at all. If the children had been home, I would have let them do the stirring.

Add the Borax and washing soda
Once all the soap is dissolved, you can add your other items. You want to pour in one cup of Borax and one cup of washing soda. I found the washing soda at Market Basket and the Borax at the local WalMart, but I suspect most places would carry them. WalMart also had the washing soda but it was more expensive. Bring the temperature up to high and bring your mixture to a full boil. This takes a bit of time. I waited about ten minutes before it was boiling. Once that full boil is reached, set your timer and allow it to boil for one minute only.

Cold water
At the end of the boil time, turn the heat off and immediately pour in one gallon of cold tap water. Stir it up very well. It should have a bit of a pearly sheen to it, and it's very soapy. There were not a lot of suds at this point, and my research turned up that this was normal. Suds don't equal cleaning power, especially in laundry detergent. In fact, some machines like the new High Efficiency ones, work better when there are little to no suds, and this detergent works just fine in HE washers and cold water. The finished product should be somewhat creamy in texture, and should coat the spoon lightly when it is dipped in.

Fill up the containers
I had my one gallon water jug to use as a container for my newly made detergent, and one empty detergent container with a half cup cap (how convenient!). The pot was too hot and heavy at first to pour directly, so I scooped with my measuring cup into the jugs. Once it got a bit cooler and lighter, I poured it directly into the funnel. I quickly filled the milk jug and the laundry detergent jug, and ended up filling two quart canning jars as well. I believe the final amount came to a bit more than two gallons, but I didn't measure it out when I was filling the other containers.

The finished product smells nice. It's not too strong, but has a faint smell that I can say is just plain "soap." You can use oxy booster with this detergent, just as you would with others. You pour in a half cup to your laundry as you would with any detergent, and your clothes should come out feeling very clean, and with very little scent.

For some slightly different recipes, try out:
Homemade liquid laundry soap
How to make homemade laundry detergent
Homemade laundry soap (dry)

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