Saturday, June 18, 2011

Going Green the Hard Way Part 2: Making Home Made Laundry Detergent, Fabric Softener Sheets and Laundry Booster

When I finally found a free and clear laundry detergent for my son that worked for his skin ages ago I was so thrilled and swore I was going to use Arm & Hammer for sensitive skin for the rest of our natural lives.  And then came the day that they changed their formula and my son and daughter both broke out in terrible eczema, which actually turned out to be the catalyst that started me on this "going green" journey of mine.

I scoured the market after I realized that the laundry detergent was causing my kids harm and quickly realized I'd tried pretty much everything on the market at the time.  I finally found Method Free and Clear and found that it wasn't as bad on my son's skin, but my daughter's skin was just refusing to get better.  After a trip to the allergist and some digging I quickly figured out that Method Free and Clear had some plant derivatives in it that didn't get along with my daughter.  So, I quickly made the decision that I was going to just suck it up and make my own laundry detergent.

Okay, first some things you need to know about making your own detergent.  1)  It is super simple.  2)  It is super cheap and 3) It's actually really flexible on what you can do with it.  Here's how it goes.

You will need the following materials.  Fred Meyer carries them all (with the exception of the special order soap I got, but you can get the Fels Naptha bar there) in the laundry section and the materials will cost you probably around 20.00 for everything and it'll make tons, so yes, you will recoup your money.

Box 20 Mule Team Borax
Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (NOT baking soda)
1 Fels Naptha Bar or 1 bar Castile soap

For powdered laundry detergent you'll want a jar or other container to put your powder in when done.

For liquid laundry detergent you'll also need:

1 5 gallon bucket with lid (or you can use a 4 gallon empty cat litter pail or something like that)
1 Mixing Stick (I hacked off the handle to an old mop I wasn't using anymore to use for mine)

If you want to make powdered laundry soap the recipe goes like this...
  • 1 Cup Borax
  • 1 Cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
  • 1/3 Bar Grated Fels Naptha Bar (or other soap)

Mix them all together and use 1 tablespoon per load of laundry.  Easy peazy.

I'd tried the powdered laundry soap before and the soap just didn't disintegrate well in the wash (hard and cold well water) and so didn't clean well, so I figured this time around I'd try to make the liquid laundry soap.  Here's how that dance goes.

 1.  Grate 1 Fels Naptha or other soap bar (full bar, Castile soap is recommended if you don't use the Fels Naptha bar).  I used unscented castile soap from the "Kiss a Prince" shop on Etsy to make sure our detergent was quite literally "free and clear".  Put soap in small sauce pan with enough water to cover and bring mixture to a boil and then heat until soap is completely melted.

While that's going on fill 5 gallon bucket about 1/4 of the way up with hot water from your tap and mix 1 cup Borax and 1 Cup Washing soda into the hot water and stir well until dissolved (I used a pan to transfer water from one side of my kitchen sink to the other and just used the sink to house it all...helped to keep it away from kiddos).  Then add your boiling soap mixture into the liquid too, mix well again and then fill up the bucket with hot water.  I went up about 85% of the way up the bucket, but you could go lower in the liquid level if you want more concentrated detergent or pretty much all the way to the top if you want a lighter detergent.  All depends on how strong you want it and how hard your water is really.  Mix well again and that's it.  Put your lid on and let it sit in a nice spot where it will be easy to access for laundry and let it work it's voodoo.

Supposedly after a few days it'll gel up on you and get to looking more like "regular" laundry detergent, but so far mine just resembles water.  I'll let you know once it cools and settles how that all goes :).

If you want to just make your current laundry soap of choice go further just mix about 2 to 3 cups of your regular laundry detergent into this mix and you'll immediately extend the life of your laundry detergent by a mega degree.  I'd think you could easily make your one bottle of laundry detergent last a good year and your clothes will still smell like you want them to.  Use about 1/4 cup of laundry detergent per load of laundry (some people use as little as 2 tbs for HE washers or for smaller loads, etc), depending on size of load and soiling (use your own judgment there).

I also made my own fabric softener.  Now this idea I can't take credit for.  I got it off of Backwoods Mom and I thought it sounded like an awesome idea.  I have one lowly bottle of Downy Free and Sensitive that I bought on the okay from the allergist.  Our water is so hard that from time to time you just plain NEED the fabric softener on things like towels.  I'm use vinegar most times to help soften the laundry (not to mention dryer balls), but still...having some fabric softener from time to time isn't terrible is it?  Anyway, the allergist said to only use 1/4 of the recommended amount of fabric softener when you used it, and Backwoods Mom did this cool thing with her fabric softener that I knew I could make the 1/4 thing work and still have the one lowly bottle of fabric softener last forever.  What you do is...

Homemade Fabric Softener Sheets (via Backwoods Mom)
  • Take 1 bottle of fabric softener
  • 1 bucket with lid (I used a 3 gallon or so bucket that I had with a lid on it)
  • 4 to 5 sponges (or in my case cotton wash clothes to avoid synthetics)
1.  Pour Fabric Softener into bucket

2.  Fill up the bucket the rest of the way with water (if you have scent in your fabric softener...I just filled up my bucket about 1/2 way because the Free and Sensitive bottles are TINY).

3.  If using sponges just float them in the liquid, if using wash clothes just keep them on top of the bucket until ready to use.

4.  Just take a sponge out of the liquid when you are putting you clothes in the dryer and ring out sponge well until it's barely wet and throw into the dryer with your laundry and voila!  Instant dryer sheet.  Or, if using wash clothes, just wet wash clothe in liquid, ring out well and throw into dryer with laundry.  Make sure to put your sponges back in the bucket when you take your clothes out of the dryer though ;) and same with the wash cloths.

Using this method I'd suggest taking out your lint filter about once every 6 months and giving it a good washing in hot soapy water to remove any softener build up on the'll extend the life of your dryer by keeping your air flow going through your dryer right.

I also made a laundry booster/stain removing liquid to add to my laundry when I wanted some extra boosting power for bad staining or to help kill dust mites on my daughter's bedding.  I was reading in one of the allergist magazines that a combination of tea tree oil and sodium borate could help kill dust mites.  Well, I figured I could do something close to that myself and know what was going into it.  Here's what I came up with.

Home Made Laundry Booster
  • 1 Bar Peppermint and Tea Tree Soap (this stuff smells like awesome peppermint...I just linked to a "choose your three scents" listing because there isn't one on there right now for the peppermint tea tree soap :) Grated.  I think I only ended up with about 3/4 of a bar actually because I tried to fine grate it first to make this a powdered booster, but it just didn't want to grate that fine, so some of it just ended up jammed into the grater.
  • 1 Laundry Stain Stick grated...just the soap not the plastic ;).
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
  • 2-3 32 oz. containers (I used an old Snapple bottle) to put it in
  • 1 Mason jar or something that you can shake with boiling water in it without worries of things splashing on you.
  • Water
1.  Grate soap and Stain Stick (I used rubber gloves for this because the laundry bar warns not to use it on your skin, so I figured better safe than sorry) and then place in a jar with a tight fitting lid (I used a mason jar).  Add the Washing Soda.

2.  Seal jar and shake everything to combine well.  Heat about 1 1/2 cups of water in a pan to boiling and pour over your mixture in your mason jar.  You can either mix with the stick end of a wooden spoon to get everything well combined or you can seal up the jar and shake with welding gloves on like I did.  Either way will work.

3.  Pour that mixture CAREFULLY, by 1/3, into the 32 oz containers (this would be a good time to have those welding gloves ;) and then fill the 32 oz containers about 1/2 way with hot water.  Put cap on and shake contents well to combine.  Take off cap and fill up the rest of the way with water.  Put lid on and shake contents again to combine and then just wait for the gelling to happen.

Mine already resembles laundry soap in it's gel-like state now that it's cooled...depending how it gels up I might have to add more water and split it between two containers, but we'll see how that goes.  I'd seriously only use like 1 tsp per load with this as this stuff is highly concentrated, but it sure does smell nice and I think it'll have a good amount of stain fighting (not to mention dust mite killing) power to it.

EDIT:  Well after a few hours the laundry booster was turning into solid gel (too strong of formula I think :), so I took some old empty laundry soap bottles and filled those up about 1/3 of the way with gel and then threw in hot water to fill the rest and just shook the crud out of the bottles to incorporate/melt the gel.  Worked like a charm, although now I have a huge amount of laundry booster.  So, I'd suggest cutting this recipe in, oh, thirds or so to get a 32 oz. container (I updated the recipe to show the updated amount you'd get with the original recipe).  Lesson learned by me the hard way *laugh*, although now I won't have to make that stuff again for a looonnnnnngggg time.  I think I might still mess with it a little bit and just try for a powdered formula.  I think that might work better for me :).

So, there you are folks.  My laundry making endeavors for today.  I hope all of this work...well works *laugh*.  And now, onto my next project and that is getting the kids to bed.  I hope to get an early start tomorrow but we'll see how my kids sleep tonight.  Enjoy!


Jen said...

If I wanted to make my own liquid detergent but had some left over powder detergent, could I still 2 to 3 cups of the powder to the liquid mixture?

Alaskan Bargain Hunter said...

I would think you'd be able to do that just fine, since the powdered stuff is made up of the same stuff, just without the water. I'd add like a cup of the powdered detergent to your bucket and see how you like the scent (make sure you add it with the rest of your powdered ingredients into your hot water) and go up from there. Since it's powder it might end up being a stronger scent than you want otherwise.

Jessica said...

For the liquid detergent, can you use liquid castile soap, like Dr. Bronners magic soap? Its pure castile soap.

Alaskan Bargain Hunter said...

I'm sure you probably could, although due to the lack of congealing fats in it I don't think your soap would gel up might end up with truly liquid laundry detergent, but it'd still work okay. Like my laundry detergent ended up going pretty much liquid one me after I stirred it a couple of times, but it's still working just fine. It all depends on how concentrated you want it I guess. I'd definitely reduce your liquid some to accommodate the liquid in the soap :).

Tiphani said...

I used dr bronners and it didn't gel up lots like egg drop soup, I made it before with unscented dr bronners but it was a different recipe this time I made a big batch and no gel I used the lavender scent hmmm any ideas why

Anonymous said...

I leave my soap as a powder. I like to use Kiss My Face Oil Olive Soap bars and Zote. I have essential oils that I add.

Alaskan Bargain Hunter said...

@ Tiphani,

You know I had the same problem with unscented Castile. I have no idea why it didn't gel, but I just use a 1/4 cup measuring cup and mix the laundry soap before I use it and it works fine...just didn't hold a gel. I think a big portion of it is because Unscented Castille has such a high portion of "fatty" oils in it that it might not have enough lye to "hold" the borax and washing soda, thus you don't get the gelling like other soaps. I think that if you could get a Castile soap that had cured for quite a while (from what I've researched Castille soap can take up to 4 months to cure properly) it might work better.

I made a different batch with tea tree peppermint soap and it worked slick and gelled up nice, so that's all I can come up with.

Next time I make it I'm going to cut down the amount of water I use and see what happens.

Sorry I couldn't be more help. All I can say is that gel or no gel the home made stuff is working good *laugh* just doesn't "look" like laundry detergent :).