Homemade Laundry Soap

That is somewhat tongue in cheek. By the way.

After the first soap making post, Taryn from The Colorado Desert asked “Why do you say that making your own soap isn’t that good for the environment or you?” I’m sorry if I mispoke, I often write my posts in a rush trying to get a lot of things said in my 30-40 minute writing window…. At any rate, that’s not at all what I meant. And before I get into my DIY laundry detergent report, it seems a good time to explain what exactly I did mean.

I’ll start by saying I don’t know a damn thing about the commercial soap industry, nor the production of lye, borax, washing soda or even baking soda. Ignorance notwithstanding, I in fact do think making your own soap is better for both your family’s health and that of the earth. Generally I think it’s safe to assume that making your own anything is better. If you’re comparing homemade soap to the host of toxic cleaning products at the store, that bet is pretty fail-safe. I rarely use anything stronger than Joy soap, but I’m still going to assume my homemade product more virtuous.

However, unless you’re a Riana caliber DIYer, you’re probably not going to get to everything on your make-at-home list. We are all living in the modern world, and as much as we might pine for a Little House on the Prairie, it’s just not the life or time we’re in. It’s damn hard to get every little thing done!

So, we have to set priorities. This is a personal thing. But also, there is just more or less impact associated with each item you choose to buy. Like I said, I don’t know how much impact is saved by making your own soap. I’d really like to know, but apparently researching the issue is not topping my priorities list…

I just don’t use all that much soap, so I’m assuming (again, we all know the inherent ass making danger here) the impact saved is relatively small, especially since I still have to buy lye, borax and washing soda. When I say relatively, I mean compared to say making all our own bread, cloth diapering, or hanging the clothes instead of using the dryer. Making my own soap certainly saves me less money than those things. Coincidentally, Karyn at Lizzy Lane Farm just posted about saving money and making your own laundry detergent vs. generally cooking from scratch. Although like I said, I don’t know how wicked the soap industry is, I would generally agree with her that soap making is lower on the list of DIY priorities.

I wanted to point that out because I fear there might be some new-to-the-craft revolutionary housewives in our midst, and I don’t want them to feel bogged down thinking they have to start making their families’ laundry detergent and toothpaste if they’re going to do any good in the world. Take heart! There’s loads of other simpler, more money saving, and for most people more gratifying places to start. If you never get as far as soap making, I suspect the world will survive.

HOWEVER. For those of you who have been at the homemaker arts for awhile, after say– purely hypothetically speaking– 15 years or so, you might find that making bread and hanging laundry is starting to feel…. less than revolutionary. You might find that the idea of discovering a whole new field of knowledge and skills is exciting, inspiring, even adventurous. I believe that challenging yourself to learn new things is absolutely essential to leading a satisfying life.

And that’s why I made my own laundry soap.

Not to save the world (though it might help), not to stave off cancer (though it might help), not to pinch extra pennies (though it certainly will help) but simply because I wanted to.

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let me tell you about how my new homemade laundry soap works!

I followed Rhonda’s recipe at D2E. Basically you make the liquid soap as I described before, then mix in borax and washing soda (soda ash). If you’re game to try this, Make sure to follow the direction to mix the powders into the hot soap. I just dumped it all into my big detergent jug at once, and the washing soda formed a giant clump that didn’t want to dissolve. The second time, when I took her directions more seriously, it worked much easier.

Directions. They sometimes are there for a reason.

She says to use 1/4 cup per load. That’s just crazy talk. For one thing, she mentions briefly elsewhere that she has a low water front loading machine. Well, those things require waaaaay less soap than a regular water-hog topsy loader. I started with 1/2 cup, and eventually started using a whole cup, because the resultant clothes still smelled a bit less than fresh.

But she super dilutes the stuff, and I don’t see why. The second batch, I used half the amount of water. So now I’m back to 1/2 cup/load. And it works good! The clothes smell clean when they come out of the washer. Even the armpits and crotches.

But, get this. In my usual half-assed scientific manner, I decided I’d better do a control like with the dishes. Maybe clothes don’t need soap either? Maybe that’s why those various laundry cleaning gadgets work, because you actually don’t need anything at all…? And in fact, the clothes sans soap load was surprisingly clean. Maybe if you wear your clothes lightly that would be sufficient. We wear ours purty hard, and although they were fairly clean, they still had a tad bit of smell. Not much. Probably nothing a day hanging in the sun and wind wouldn’t cure. Nevertheless I think I will keep using my homemade detergent. Partly because it’s fun to make, a good project. But note to self– if we’re out, it’s not the end of the world!

Think that’s interesting? Here’s the real kicker. Diapers.

Yup, it’s true. The diaper load with no detergent whatsoever? Clean. I mean, I stuck my nose right in, to several different diapers, in case there was variation. All perfectly clean smelling.

Wow. I totally was expecting to have to run that load again, with soap.

After thinking about it, I suspect it’s because pee and poop don’t have oils in them, like our clothes do. Soap, I think, is mostly for getting oily dirt off. Other dirtiness seems to come off well with plain water.

So, there you have it. You know how they say to use less soap than called for, so your diapers last longer? How about no soap at all?????

Of course, this is baby diapers. For reasons too long to explain here, I stopped using cloth for the Toddler when we moved, so I wash only baby diapers, which are much less stinky. I have no idea if the no soap thing would hold for toddler dipes. Let me know if you try it.

Also, this is in a top loading washer. The low water use of a front loader would probably not float the soap-less wash concept, pardon the pun.

Lastly, while we’re on the subject, that thing I’d always heard about the sun bleaching your whites for you, Holy Smokes! I put the Babe’s….errr… ‘colorfully’ stained diapers outside and in a few hours they’re white again. Works even on a cloudy day. I suspect some sanitizing is going on as well. Which will be handy when his diapers start to take on the Toddler Cloth Diaper Reek, which I used to have to bleach once every coupla months to beat back.

Ah, the cerebral pleasures of expounding on the such plebian subjects as diaper washing.

3 thoughts on “Homemade Laundry Soap

  1. re: scientific experiment. if you’re running a top loader, could be that the detergent hadn’t washed off the clothes from the previous wash… i remember when i didn’t have to PAY for the machine i ran s’s twice, just to get the soap out.

    but seriously, no smell? i hang sahid’s in the house and it smells like a piss factory. how do you get the pee smell out?

  2. Aww- okay. I see. I appreciate your answer. = )

    And I am thinking that you might have changed my life with this “no soap” washing. . . Despite the fact that we have a front loader- I might adopt this practice. You see, since I last read your blog, I have read that Borax might actually be pretty harmful to our bodies- so I am looking into what other options I have for homemade laundry detergent. And maybe the answer is to just remove the borax and use soap and baking soda. Hmmm. thank you for sustaining the consumer rebellion revolution!

  3. Such funny timing, I have a load in my front-loading machine, all ready to go, but only half the soap- ran out and I know there are 2 more boxes somewhere, stashed out of sight for the housewarming party we just had, but I can’t find them. So was waiting til I shop, but instead I’m just going to run it as is and see what happens. Brilliant, thanks!

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