Sunday, January 3, 2010

Urban Homesteading: homemade laundry detergent

Oh boy!  I'll bet you can hardly wait to read this one!  Here are some tips on saving money, energy, and re-using some things instead of sending them to the landfill.

Homemade laundry detergent is not something I invented, in fact there are 'recipes' for it all over the internet. Over a year ago, 1) my favorite brand of detergent - ERA liquid - could no longer be found.  According to the website, it is still made, but I haven't found stores locally that carry it any longer.  2) I got tired of prices going up and up, and when I found myself spending about $5 for a bottle of laundry detergent, I thought "Enough!  This is crazy!"  Thus began my experiment with homemade laundry detergent and softener.

The recipe I use is this:
1/3 bar of Fels Naptha Soap - grated
1/2 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (not baking soda)
1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax
2 gallon bucket  - with a lid - to mix it up in  (Lowes or Home Depot)

I managed to find all of these things in local stores, but not all in the same place.  I found Fels Naptha at Meier, the washing soda and borax at Kroger - all in the laundry section.   Fels Naptha is a bar of yellow soap that your Grandmother (or Great-Grandmother, depending  on your age), probably used to wash her clothes.  The other websites that talk about this say Ivory, Zote, Castille, and home-made soap can all be used successfully (the Ivory, castille and Zote, I'm told  take a whole bar)   For larger families. there are recipes that explain how to make this five gallons (!!) at a time.

To make it:   put 6 cups of water in a large saucepan on the stove over med heat.  Add grated soap and stir until soap is melted.  Fill 2 gallon bucket 1/2 full of hot water at the sink - add the soap and water mixture.  Add washing soda and borax.  Mix well (I use a large whisk).  Top off the mixture with more hot water from the sink and mix well again.  Cover with lid and let set overnight.   It will not gel completely.  It may be gel on the top, with a layer of liquid on the bottom, or liquid with blobs of gel in it.  This is how it should look.  Just mix it up before using and/or transfering to a smaller container.

I transfer some to a plastic juice bottle, well cleaned, that I keep next to the washing machine. I shake to mix before each use, and use about 1/2 cup for each load.    An extra step I take is to pour the bucket contents into a large plastic cat litter container that has been well cleaned out.  The handle and large pour opening on the cat litter container allow  me to lift and pour the liquid into a smaller bottle easily, and stores better in my space than a large round bucket.  NOTE: You will not see suds in the wash - that is the way it is supposed to be, but IT IS CLEANING.

It took a bit of getting used to, but yes - I've been using it for over a year now - I do like this, and  see no need to go back to expensive store-bought.  Yes, I keep some Tide and Woolite around.  If it is a delicate fabric or strong color I'm concerned will fade, I may Woolite it.  I do pre-treat stains, but I had to do that before!  It smells fresh and clean, and although I have not figured the exact cost - it is literally pennies a load.

Softener was a little harder sell for me.  I have never liked softener sheets.  I felt like they left a greasy film on the clothes, so I always used a liquid softener.  There are lots of tips out there for using sponges and/or washcloths soaked with softener, dried and used as a substitute dryer sheet, but they weren't for me.  For a while I used a mix I found on the internet that was about 1/3 water, 1/3 white vinegar, and 1/3 cheap hair conditioner, but I didn't like that either.  I finally settled on plain water and white vinegar.  That's right!  My clothes ARE soft - especially the towels - and do not smell of vinegar.  You could just use straight white vinegar, but I mix it half-and-half in another one of my cleaned-out juice bottles so it's sort of pre-mixed.  I really feel it takes out any remaining soap residue, and removes odors (with a houseful of  animals, that is necessary)

I find myself hanging more and more of my clothes to dry rather than put them in the dryer.  No wrinkles, they might last longer (?) and it certainly saves on the energy!   Long ago for drying skeins of wool, I bought a second shower rod, and placed it so it was inside the tub - down the middle.  I am fairly short, so it doesn't interfere with showering in any way, and when the shower is not being used, adds SO much more space to hang clothes (or skeins of wool) to dry.

I hope these tips are as useful to some of you as they have been for me.

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