Unless you’re a rather stinky, slovenly sort, chances are that you do your laundry fairly regularly, and not just to wash your clothes: bedding, towels, blankets, stuffed animals… everything needs to be washed and freshened up every so often, and every load of laundry requires that magical additive that suds up and leaves it all smelling wonderful: detergent. Depending on the type that you buy, it can range from just a couple of dollars per package to uber-expensive, and the cheaper options tend to be the most damaging to the environment. You also have a limited selection of scents to choose from—many of which are downright headache-inducing—and some people have such super-sensitive skin that they’ll also react to the chemicals in these products.
Fortunately, with just a tiny bit of time and effort, you can make your own laundry detergent for a fraction of what you’d pay for anything you’d find at the store.
The type of soap you use for this will determine the fragrance, so if you prefer to use products that don’t have any strong scents, aim for a bar of pure vegetable glycerine or castile soap, as these are generally unscented. They’re also some of the most eco-friendly choices out there, so you don’t have to worry about polluting your waterways with a bunch of vile chemicals. This homemade detergent is safe for septic tanks, and is completely biodegradable.
*Note: you can skip the “dissolving in water” step and just blend the dry ingredients together (grated soap, borax, and washing/baking soda) and then use 2 tbsp of that dry detergent in every load of laundry, but
Grate your bar of soap into a large bowl. If you have a super-fine grater, use it, as it’ll make the soap melt much more quickly than when it’s grated with the larger setting, but as long as you manage to reduce it to really small pieces, that’s all that matters. If you don’t have a grater, then just shave it with a sharp knife; hopefully you have one of those, at least.
Warm up the water in a large stock pot on medium-high heat, and then add the grated soap to it one handful at a time, stirring it gently with your spoon until it dissolves.
After the soap has completely dissolved, remove the stock pot from the heat and stir in the borax and washing/baking soda. Like the grated soap flakes, you’ll add it in a bit at a time and stir continuously until everything has dissolved. Let this cool for half an hour or so.
Once cooled, you can add in some essential oil for scent, if desired. If you’re going to do this, be sure to add scent that’s complementary to the soap that you used: adding something sweet or minty to a citrus soap will be absolutely repugnant, so keep to the same fragrance profile. When in doubt, leave it out.
Should you decide to use essential oils, add in 20 or so to the stock pot and stir it well. I like to use lemon and tangerine, as I like citrus notes in our linens and such, but my favourite is rose: I’ll use a rose-scented soap, and then add in extra rose absolute essential oil. Note that I do not use this particular detergent for my husband’s clothes, as he wouldn’t be terribly pleased to go about smelling like a rosebush—for guy-friendly detergent, stick to scentless, minty, citrus, or “green” scents (like Irish Spring).
Here’s where your large spouted containers or pails come in: get someone to hold the funnel for you and pour (or ladle) the liquid detergent into the containers until they’re 3/4 full. This mixture can thicken up a bit once it’s cooled, so leave a bit of space to add extra water if it’s needed. Alternately, if you’re using a large plastic pail with a lid on it, just pour the contents of the stock pot right into the pail, and seal it shut. Then, you’ll just use 1/2 cup of it for every load of laundry, and voila! Clean clothes.
If you go this route, you’ll never have to buy those chemical-laden detergents ever again, and can easily do 30+ loads of wash for just a few cents per load.
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