Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Dirt on Laundry

One of the services that I feel (and Master agrees) it is my duty to provide for our household is doing my best to pinch pennies. Being a one-income family in this economy is rough so when I come across something that saves us hundreds of dollars a year, I get pretty darn excited!

I'm not talking about giving up movie night or no longer getting to buy your favorite chocolate (that's a sin right there). In fact, there is no sacrifice at all on fun. Just one tiny 15 minute sacrifice of time per month is all you need, and an extra couple of hundred dollars will remain in your checking account!

I'm talking about every Domestic Goddess's favorite chore. It's laundry, right?! The sorting and the separating, the turning out of stinky man-socks, the pre-treating and soaking, the washing and the drying, the folding and the hanging, the rewashing of things never worn- what's not to love??

Unfortunately, I cannot help you with any of that enjoyment. I'd hate to interfere with the obvious zen-like state that laundry creates. But what I can do is ease the strain on the family budget from buying those expensive bottles of laundry detergent. Today, we're going to make our own detergent, and it will be fun and it will be easy and when you're all done, you'll be filled with a Domestic Goddess fervor. You may even want to wash windows, you'll be so pumped.

The amount of money you save will depend, of course, on what brand of detergent you normally buy and how much laundry you normally do. We have 2 adults and 3 teenagers (and 2 of those teens are girls), so you can just imagine the loads that accumulate in a day.

You know teen girls have to use 2 towels per shower because figuring out how to dry your body without letting your hair drip and get it wet again is a talent that doesn't materialize until they are paying their own laundry costs. And the suggestion of re-using a towel only elicits screams and squeals of "Eww! Guh-ross!" Another tolerance that magically appears when they move out, I bet.

But I digress.

Here is where I'm going to attempt to do math. I should probably warn you that I majored in Lip Gloss and Cruising With Boys while in high school-- not in math. Pardon my elementary mathematical equations and if I don't do it right, don't tell me. I like thinking I'm saving money, k? Thanks.

On average, I have at least 1 load of towels per day, and another 2 loads of clothes. That's 3 loads a day, 21 loads per week, or, 1,092 loads a year.

That's a lot of friggin laundry. Suddenly, I'm exhausted.

I used to buy Purex laundry detergent because it was generally the cheapest at Wal-mart. Purex averages around $8.00 per bottle for 32 loads. 1,092 loads at 32 loads per bottle equals 34 bottles of Purex. 34 bottles at $8 per bottle equals $273.00 a year spent on laundry soap.

Now? I spend less than $15.00. A YEAR.

That's a big savings, and I have not compromised the cleanliness of the clothes or the function of my washer. I don't have one of those fancy-shmancy high efficiency machines, though from everything I've read about this homemade laundry soap, since it's a low-sudsing concoction, it works very well in them.

Here's what you'll need to get started.

Now, this is the most expensive part right here- buying the supplies. But even at that, you're going to spend less to buy these supplies than you would on your average name-brand laundry soap.

One box of Arm&Hammer Super Washing Soda - costs around $2.50 per box.
One box of 20 Mule Team Borax- costs around $2.50 per box
One half of a bar of soap- cost varies, but let's say $1.00 per bar?
One 5-Gallon bucket, with a lid- under $5.00 at Wal-mart

The Arm&Hammer washing soda will likely be the only ingredient that gives you trouble as it can be difficult to find in stores. Make sure you read the box because there is an Arm&Hammer laundry detergent, but that is not what you need. You need Super Washing Soda. If you can't find it, do like I do and order it off the internet. Or ask your local store to order some.

The Borax is generally carried in most stores, and I got my bucket (mah bukket!) at Wal-mart for under $5.00.

The type of soap you need is dependent only on your preference for smell and your tolerance to the perfumes and dyes in it. Right now, I'm using Coast simply because it's what I have on hand. I've heard that Fels Naptha is terrific for use in this laundry soap, though I've never used it myself. Ivory also works well, though Ivory gave my son a skin rash. I don't know of any soap that cannot be used.

Here's what you do.

On the internet, you'll find varying recipes for making this soap. Though the ingredients remain the same, the measurements of each seem to depend on who's making it. I'm going to list how I do it, but feel free to adjust the amounts as you think your clothing and/or skin needs require.

Fill a pot with water and place it on the stove to heat. As it's heating, grate your 1/2 bar of soap into the water. Let simmer and stir occasionally until the soap shavings are completely dissolved. You'll end up with some super-seriously soapy water.

Meanwhile, in your 5 gallon bucket, measure in one cup each of the Super Washing Soda and the Borax. Once your hot soapy water is ready, pour that into your bucket and stir until all of the powder is dissolved. Then, simply continue to add hot tap water to your bucket, stirring after each addition, until the water level is an inch or two from the top. Let it cool overnight, and voila! One 5-gallon bucket of laundry detergent.

As it cools, it'll turn into a watery gel. I keep a giant spoon in the bucket and just give it a vigorous stirring to break it up. It's kind of fun in that childish, oh look I have slime! kind of way.

I use one cup per load and one bucket seems to last me forever and a day. I get about 80 loads per bucket of soap, so, at an average of 21 loads per week, I have to mix this up just about once a month.

I can't break down how many buckets you'll get out of your one box of washing soda and your one box of Borax (back to that math deficiency of mine that I told you about) but I can say that in the last year, I've used less than 2 boxes of each. At just about $2.50 a box, I'm still under $10.00 total for the two main ingredients.

I also wash almost exclusively in cold water and the soap still works extremely well.

If you prefer powder soap to liquid, use your same ingredients minus the water:

1/2 cup washing soda
1/2 cup borax
1/2 to 2/3 bar of soap, finely grated.

Stir together, use just 1 tablespoon per load.

If you prefer a scented laundry soap, simply add a few drops of your favorite essential oils. Be careful that your preferred scented oil doesn't clash with the bar soap you've used though.

So there you have it. Go forth and launder!

EDIT: Update on laundry soap recipe here!


  1. thank you for a kick-ass recipe - just wondering how sensitive is it ?

    my lot are all sensitive skinned - with some eczema thrown in for good measure... i would like to use something other than commercial liquids becuase they are often full of crap besides soap but we've tried other 'natural' remedies and they made the skin itch...

  2. I use the dry powder form cause it's easier to lug to the laundromat. I have only been using it for 2 months, but I'm sure that I'll have this same tub all year. Since the measurements are basically 1:1:1 it's easy to remember too.

    I'm allergic to Ivory soap, but have had no bad responses to this soap at all.

  3. I hear wonderful things about skin allergies and this homemade soap, mostly because the homemade soap doesn't contain any perfumes, dyes or harsh chemicals. Also, you can adjust the ingredients as necessary.

    Try using the Ivory soap (though, as I said in the post, it was the Ivory that made my son break out, but Ivory is supposed to be for sensitive skin) or the Fels Naptha. I think any mild bar soap would work well.

    Also, in your rinse cycle, try using a cup of white vinegar just exactly as you would use a liquid fabric softener. The vinegar is supposed to rinse out any remaining soap/chemicals from the detergent, and it leaves no smell. Plus it softens your clothes to boot!

  4. I am SO doing this; someone mentioned your laundry soap on your blog a while back but I never saw the "recipe".

    So thank you!

  5. Ohhhhhhh i love the blog. Thank you for starting it. Can't wait to see more great ideas.

  6. OMG - I don't know why I never realized it before, but I could use the dry one - I never used the recipe because it would be too big to have, and there wasn't a place for me to store it in an itty bitty apartment. Even for me, just my laundry, I would end up doing 6 medium sized loads a week, and even buying the cheapest detergent it still adds up fast.

    How much does the vinegar cost? I really like the fake chemical flower scent, so I'm scared to get rid of that - does it help with static cling at all?

  7. I think a gallon jug of white vinegar is, shoot, two dollars? Maybe three. It's pretty inexpensive.

    It does help with static cling, though probably not as well as your dryer sheets or softener.

    I would say to use the essential oils for your scent, but I expect the vinegar would rinse the scent away. Umm.. wear more perfume? ;-)

  8. I am going to try this out...but another thing...Big H ordered me "soapnuts" I am going to try it out and will let ya know.


  9. Just to clarify, in the liquid recipe you said to use 1 cup each of soda and borax and a half bar (1:1:.5) of soap but in the dry recipe it was 1/2 cup of each of the soda and borax and a half bar of soap (1:1:1). Can you let me know which it is? I made some up about a week and a half ago using the 1:1:.5 ratio but I want to make sure it's accurate and I don't need to add more soap.


  10. To be perfectly honest, KittenCunt, I've never made or used the powder form. I'm a liquid detergent girl all the way.

    I've looked at a couple of websites about the homemade laundry soap and I think every single one has a slight variation on the amounts to use, both for the liquid and the powder. The ingredients are always consistent in the main three: soda, bar soap, and borax, but vary slightly on the amounts.

    You could maybe drop Luna a line (she left a comment a bit higher up) as she uses the powder. She could better tell you what ratio she uses and how well it works for her. Otherwise, my only suggestion would be to experiment with the amount of soap to find what best works for you.

    Someday I'll have to give the powder a try myself. Who knows? I might like it better than the liquid. :-)

  11. This may be completely irrelevant to the whole detergent-making process, but I'll ask anyway!!!

    What size pot should I use to "cook" my grated bar of soap in?

    Now that I'm reading it again I'm thinking it doesn't matter since you just keep adding water to the bucket until it nears the top. But, I'm a perfectionist and I need to make sure it doesn't matter before I try to do this :)

  12. Emilie- You're right. The pot size doesn't matter. I use a biggish stock pot just because.. I dunno why. Just

  13. I'm addicted to the smell of the concentrated version of the brand "ALL" laundry detergent. I wonder if I could buy one bottle of that and substitute a portion of it for the half bar of soap so that I can still have the scent I like. Is there a reason (chemical makeup of components) that you use bar soap? I wonder if that would change anything.

  14. Ive always done a full bar of soap in my liquid.... I find it doesn't go as slimy and stays more foamy while in the containers... ( i use a big funnel to transfer it to old gain bottles and sunny D bottles... Then I mostly have the measure there, and I get a handle that is easy to tote around!

    Also.. people in my town want to buy it... *boggle*

    Kendril's kitten

  15. Washing soda... i found that ACE hardware can special order it for you. No shipping costs ^_^. i'd planned to order some online, but the shipping cost was going to be more than the product. Then i called my local ACE, and they didn't have it in stock, but offered to order it and then when he heard why i wanted it, he got a few more boxes to stock the shelves!

    i told the checkout lady as well, and now she's planning to try!

    i did splurg on the nice bar of soap... $4.99 for the Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Lavender bar soap. It's a natural product, with lavender essential oils. It smells so yummy. It is a bigger bar than normal, so i probably could get away with only using 2/3's of a bar in the future.

  16. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! I have seen this receipe many many times but they always require a metal (read expensive) bucket and you have to boil the water and soap outside and you have to use special soap! Finally someone who has done this affordably!

  17. There is a bar soap called Zole that will whiten clothes, even colors. I add that to my homemade laundry.

    If you have sensitive skin try Fels Napa bar soap. My friend has a child who breaks out with everything, but not Felts Napa.

    If you have hard to clean Laundry, Add one cup Oxy Clean. Walmart sells a generic verison.

  18. I have an High Efficiency washer can I still use this recipe?

  19. I have seen some great stuff here. Worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you put to create such a great informative website. Your work is truly appreciated around the clock and the globe. trucking service



Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin