I have often heard many negatives regarding laundry detergent. “Negatives?” you say, “What the heck could be so negative about laundry detergent? It makes your clothes clean, it smells nice, and we have to use it.”
Well, maybe it’s not fair to say that ALL laundry detergent comments are negative. For example, it does, in fact, help clothes get cleaner. Soap, for example, makes water “wetter” by helping break the natural surface tension of water (that how it forms a raised drop when you drop it on waxed paper. Laundry detergent also helps stinky clothes smell much better and dirty clothes lose dirt (anybody who has tried to clean a bullet proof vest cover with just water knows this to be true–if you haven’t, just trust me–it does).
There are, though, some negatives. Many of the chemicals in commercial detergents (the ones you buy in the store) are harmful–perfumes, dyes, biological elements (yep, they’re there), phosphates, plasticisers (those things found in the “number 7” childrens cups), and other nasties. Also, the carbon emissions released from using commercial detergents is about .7 kilos per person per year. These chemicals are introduced into the goo for one completely unnecessary reason–suds. Suds are not required to get your clothes clean (or your body, or your counter top, or your bathtub for that matter) and introduce tons of harmful chemicals into the environment, your local water supply (these don’t biodegrade, people), and, most disgustingly, your family’s clothes. I have heard of people placing dirty clothes into a washing machine without detergent and watching, in horror, as all the “soap” (with included nasties) came out of the clothes enough to wash them again. The machine was full of suds and they never added a drop of detergent. Even HE detergent has this property. No wonder so many people are allergic to this crud–their bodies simply won’t allow it! If all this goo is still in our clothes when we wear them, then it stands to reason that these chemicals are getting in through our skin. Yuck!
I didn’t set out to make my own laundry detergent. Around my 25th birthday, I suddenly developed a weird rash on my legs. It itched like crazy (as in, waking me up at night scratching type itchy) and I scratched so much that these rashes bled. I tried everything I could think of–doctor, dermatologist, allergist, etc. Everyone gave me something different. Still, though, the rash would not go away. I stopped using scented anything and, in my research, found that I could fairly easily make my own laundry detergent for significantly less money than it costs to buy–even in bulk. (I’ll include the calculations below the pictures, I promise.) The rash improved dramatically, and my now-husband learned that his skin, though not normally allergic to much, felt better and less “eeeeickly” (his words, not mine) in just a week or so of wearing his much cleaner clothes. If you’re still interested, I will teach you the fine (and simple) art of making laundry detergent.
Be sure to gather your supplies before you begin. You will need your ingredients, a 1 cup dry measure, a non-reactive container for mixing, a grater, a storage container, and a non-reactive mixing utensil. You will need Borax, Washing Soda, and your bar of preferred soap.
Grate 1 bar of soap ( I use Ivory, but you can use any non-moisturizing soap). Grate finely and be careful of your fingers!
This is how your grated soap should appear.
This next step is to add the Borax. Add 1 dry cup of Borax. It's okay if it clumps a little, just make sure that you have a cup's worth. Be sure to shake off any extra back into the Borax box to save money.
Next, add 1 dry cup of washing soda. NOTE: Washing soda is NOT the same thing as baking soda. They are very different. Do NOT use baking soda. Washing soda is a cleaner available at most major stores or online. Again, it is okay if this clumps a little, but make sure that those clumps don't give you more than 1 cup's worth.
This is where you "make" the detergent. Mix all three ingredients together. Be sure that you break up all clumps and evenly mix everything. THis is also the stage where larger shavings of soap will be broken down, so take your time. Big shavings of soap will lessen the cleaning power of your detergent.
This is what your detergent should look like once properly stirred. It looks sort of like the fake snow used around Christmas time.
Congrats! You're done! It really was that easy! Pour your mixture into a container (anything with a resealable lid will do--you can even use a resealable bag). Use about 1/2 to 1 tablespoon per wash and use it just like powdered detergent you would have paid too much for. You're on your way to a more frugal washing experience.
A 150 oz bottle of Gain at my local BJ’s Wholesale (I assume Costco would be similar in price, but we don’t have a Costco, so I don’t shop there) is $15.00 on an “overstock” sale. Really, not a bad deal assuming that you get the recommended 96 loads from it, though it should be mentioned that most people don’t. That comes out to about $0.16 per load. The way I figure the cost of my detergent is as follows:
1 55 oz box of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda= $3.79 (At Ace Hardware)
1 5-lb box of Borax= $6.50 (various places online including free shipping)
1 bar of non-moisturizing soap (I use Ivory, for a little scent, but many people swear by Fels-Naptha) =$0.61 (when bought in a 10 pack totaling 6.05)
So, when we take the $3.79 for the Washing Soda and divide it by the number of uses we can get from it (7 if using the double batch recipe above) then we get the total cost of this ingredient to be: $0.57 per batch.
Now we do the same with the cost for the Borax: $6.50 divided by the number of batches we will get from this box (10) gives us $0.65 per batch.
We don’t need to cost in the soap because we use 1 bar, so it costs $0.61 for the bar of soap.
Now, we can just add up to cost, per batch, and divide that cost by how many uses we get from it.
.57 + .65 + .61 = $1.83 per batch
Now hold on, we don’t just use 1 whole batch for 1 load of laundry. That would be really wasteful. We divide that $1.83 by the number of uses we will get from that batch (in my home, we use 1 Tablespoon per load and occasionally a little bit more if it’s a bigger load, we usually get 30 loads from our batch). Figuring 25 loads, we get $0.06 per load. 6 cents per load of laundry! That’s a huge savings over the $0.16 per load with the already super-cheap detergent bought in bulk.
It doesn’t seem like a huge difference when we’re talking about pennies (though, to be fair, it is less than half the cost). But, consider this for a second: Proctor and Gamble (the makers of all kinds of products) claimed that the average American family does about 6-8 loads per week, or about 300-400 loads per year, of just clothes. This does not take into account any towels, bedding, linens, special loads (uniforms, etc.). At 16 cents per load, even if you could find this bargain all year long (which is doubtful, as it was on special) and IF you could get exactly 96 loads from each bottle (which is unlikely), you would be spending roughly $50-$68 per year on detergent ON JUST CLOTHES. If you’re a big family or have allergy sufferers (who require more frequent than usual washings), you could easily spend double that per year. With homemade detergent, you could spend $19-$25 per year on just clothing. That is less than half of what you would spend on a commercial detergent without risking any of the nasty side effects.