This is not an article about how to make your own laundry soap. There are lots of blogs and posts out there that cover this. I looked at one or two, or a dozen, and have since made my own laundry detergent for over a year. Not surprisingly, I have saved a lot of money–even if I spring for the more expensive Castile bar soap. In this time, the basics for me have remained: grated bar soap, super washing soda and a lot of water (my laundry soap version is liquid-ish–or, really, goopy-ish.) I have made a few tweaks along the way depending on what I had on hand or what I have learned. For example, I am having a love hate relationship with Borax. Yes, it is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay. I mean, asbestos and cocaine are natural. Apparently Borax is really bad for your respiratory system, though I am not sure in what form it is damaging. In any case, I am currently hating Borax and not using it. Also, sometimes I will sell my soul a bit and use left over deodorant bars from hotels or vacations instead of buying the Castile soap from the store. But, hey, they’re free and would otherwise just be thrown away.
But, again, this article is not really about how I make the laundry soap. Though, really, it’s so easy I can tell you in a few words. Fill big pot with hot water; grate and stir one bar soap into water until it melts; add one cup of super washing soda and bring to boil for a couple of minutes; let sit until cool enough to not melt the container you will pour it into. Seriously, that’s it.
But let’s move on. What this article is actually about is how to adjust to those more challenging aspects of making your own detergent. First of all, it just doesn’t smell clean. Store bought detergent is not only full of harsh chemicals, but also full of fragrance. It’s that fragrance that is not only missed, but iconic and associated with times and places in our lives–and sometimes socio-economic status! Lisa Bronner in this article entitled “Changing the Smell of Clean“ discusses the challenge of overcoming how we associate smell with things being clean. It is so ingrained that we do not identify that something is clean unless it smells like those trademarked brands. At first, it really bothered me that the clothes just didn’t have a smell. And I have to admit that when I go to yoga and grab the little white towels to wipe my sweat on, they smell like really awesome laundry soap. And I was just at my mom’s this weekend and her sheets and towels smelled amazing. Since I have started making my own laundry soap, I have wasted lots of essential oil–and consequently money–on trying to make the laundry smell my own kind of awesome– like lavender or rosemary or something. In fact, this was truly the most expensive part of each batch of laundry detergent–the essential oils. The rest was really pennies worth or washing soda and about a dollar’s worth of a soap bar. At some point, adding more essential oils just became cost prohibitive–and in any case, it never worked. Whatever amount of essential oil I applied was washed away by the actual soap in the detergent. Which makes total sense. (So just think about what must actually be in laundry detergent to get that smell to “stick” to clothes in the wash. If you don’t believe me, just just out your favorite product’s grade on the Environmental Working Group’s website.)
I soon hit upon a solution to the problem. Rather than focus so much on adding the essential oils to the detergent or the wash, I would focus instead on adding it to the drying part. At this point, I was no longer using dryer sheets, either, so again, that fresh laundry smell reminiscent of a snugly little bear was missing. But when you consider that the dryer sheets were just applying scent to the drying clothes, you realize that you can do the same thing. So, I mixed up a solution of water and essential oils in a small spray bottle and spritzed the clothes a couple of times before they were fully dry. It works! The smell lingers well after they are put away on the shelves and drawers. And it has the added benefit that it cuts down a bit on the static. You don’t need a lot of essential oils, either. In fact, you need to use them sparingly as the oils are often quite dark… and, well, they are oils–you wouldn’t want them to spot something. So shake up your little bottle before spraying the clothes! As a bonus, you can change up your scents quite often and make it unique to you! My laundry room is right off the garage entrance and I love coming in the house and smelling this month’s or week’s herbal blend. And, as a holy-crap-people-are-coming-over-and-I-haven’t-washed-couch-pillows-in-I-don’t-know-how-long option, you can use that same spray on your couch, pillows and rugs to freshen things up.
The second challenge to using your own laundry soap is that once you strip all that cloying scent from your heavily soiled items like bathing towels and sheets, you start to wonder about whether they are truly clean. The home made detergent does a good job on normal clothes, but not these. That moldy wet smell just does not disappear from towels, and that sweat smell (from my husband–not me) never goes away from the sheets. Of course, these are thing you can’t just bleach. And, yes, I know that bleach is really bad for, well, everything, but I just can’t find a good substitute yet! Anyhow, moving on. In researching options to clean sheets and towels, I came across this solution: soaking the items in hot water for a couple of hours in a vinegar and washing soda solution. I put in about a cup of vinegar and a half cup of washing soda. Then, rinse, and do a normal laundry cycle with soap–again with hot water. Since I started doing this, I have truly felt that my towels and sheets were fresh and clean. Plus, drying them in the dryer and using the essential oil spray makes them smell even better! Keeping the sheets and towels apart also helps cut down on the amount of washing soda and vinegar you use.
The third challenge is that you can’t rely on one detergent to do everything–though I don’t know if you ever really could. Or, you can’t reach for that chemical stick you bought at the store. My husband usually presents some interesting challenges–ink on work shirts, stained collars, and grease spots. Each of these issues means giving individual attention to the clothes, i.e., you really have to figure out how to attack that stain–but that’s what the internet and elbow grease are for. For example, on grease or oil stains, a little dab of dish washing detergent is a marvel. I just let it soak for a couple of hours before throwing it in with the regular wash. For the ink on the clothes, I don’t use a special chemical-laden product. I have found that rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab works amazingly well. And finally, having the basic ingredients for making your own laundry detergent means you always have something on hand to deal with tougher stains like ring around the collar–I just make a paste with the washing soda, apply it to the material, fold, and rub the two pieces of material together.
I am sure other adjustments will continue to be made as I try to transition more fully to non-commercial products. For example, right now I still buy soap to grate for the laundry detergent. It’s a fairly basic Castile soap though it does have some fragrance combo that is not identified. I would like to wean myself away from that and I will be exploring making soap exclusively for the laundry detergent. I would love to hear about your experiments and experiences, so please share!
Oh–and no women’s rights were harmed in the making of this blog post. I may wash the laundry–which my husband swears he still can’t do because there are too many options on the machine–but he folds it. And we all know that folding is the worst part of laundry!