cheap, homemade laundry detergent

Did you know that making homemade laundry detergent is really easy?  And that it ends up costing you about $.05 per load of wash?*

About a year ago I got tired of lugging home laundry detergent.  Life is tough when you don’t own a car and prefer to buy the cheapest kind of no-animal-products-not-tested-on-bunnies huge bottle of detergent (which in my case comes from Trader Joes – meaning I have to lug it home on the subway).   I decided to try and make my own and wish I had done it sooner.  It’s so easy and so so cheap.  And no more carrying home huge, heavy bottles on the train.  Win, win.

There are a ton of how-to’s out there and I read a bunch before I got started.  I think the biggest difference in the “recipes” I checked out are the type of bar-soap you use and whether or not you make a liquid detergent or the powdery variety.  Liquid was out for me since I don’t have room to store a big bucket of anything in my apartment.  For me,a powdered version has been easier to make and use.

On to the question of soap.  This how-to suggests using a soap called Fels NapthaThis how-to says to use Zote soap.  These are both laundry soap in bar form and can be found on the internet or your local grocery store should you choose to use them.   I checked into both soaps and they contain tallow as a main ingredient.  No thank you!   Then I found this how-to at the simple dollar.  While his recipe was for a liquid version I noticed this in his ingredient list: “1 bar soap (I use whatever’s cheap, in this case Pure & Natural).”  Use whatever’s cheap?  Use a regular old bar soap?  Sounded good to me!  We have a bunch of bars of soap sitting in the back of our linen closet.  I’m not sure how we ended up with them since we prefer body wash but they’re back there and now I finally have a use for them!  Once I run out of the free soap I plan to buy some vegan bar soap to use in the recipe but for now it doesn’t make much sense not to use up the stuff I already have laying around.   So.  Onward.

Ingredients:
2 bars of soap (use whatever is cheap)
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda

….. that’s it.  Seriously.

Just in case you’ve never bought borax or washing soda before (I hadn’t until I tried this), here’s what they look like:

I found both of these boxes in my small neighborhood grocery store right next to the detergents.  Washing soda is not baking soda either so make sure you get the right stuff.  I imagine you’d be able to find this stuff at a Target or Walmart as well.

Step 1: Grate the bar soap.  You can also use a food processor for this step which makes it a lot easier, although watch out for the ensuing soap dust.  Mine is busted so I had to do it this way.

Step 2:  Dump both grated bars into a container with a lid.

Step 3:  Measure out 1 cup of the borax and 1 cup of the washing soda and add them to the container.  (I have no idea why my washing soda was so lumpy.  I broke up the lumps with a fork after I took this photo)

Step 4:  Put the lid on and shake it up!  Add an extra tablespoon you have lying around for easy measuring and call it a day.  Or, you know,  actually do some laundry.  Use 1 tablespoon per regular load, 2 if things are especially dirty.

Possible additions:  I’ve heard of people adding Oxiclean to the powdered variety.  It seems like a good idea but doesn’t really make sense for me because I’m trying to keep it cheap.  According to this site, “OxiClean is actually sodium percarbonate, a standard cleaning chemical that’s been around just short of forever. You can buy it in bulk at most chemical supply companies or pool supply stores where it’s sold to help balance your pool’s pH.”  So if you have a chemical supply or pool supply place near you, I say check it out.

And one more thing about the soap:  In the last few batches I’ve made I’ve used two different bar soaps.  The blue soap is one of those “manly” smelling soaps marketed for men and the white is just your average ivory-type soap.  I was a little worried our clothing would come out smelling “manly” but I’m happy to report that there is no scent left behind.  Once we finish up the free soap I’d really like to try something like this in the detergent.

Ah, and most importantly, YES, this does get your clothing clean.  In the simple dollar recipe I linked to above, the author actually does a test run of the homemade stuff (using regular bar soap) versus Tide with bleach and found the cleaning results to be about the same.

*note: I haven’t done an exact cost break-down.  It definitely depends on what kind of bar soap you use and how much that costs – for me this cost was zero since I’m using up stuff that I have in the back of my linen closet.  The borax and washing soda cost me about $6 for both though that is probably more than it should be given NYC’s inflated cost of living.  Even so, I suspect I’ll get at least 5 cups out of each box or 5 double-batches of detergent.  I think a double-batch of detergent lasts me around 4 months, doing on average 3 loads of laundry per week.  That’s about $0.04 per load.  So it’s pretty darn cheap.

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