24 September 2008

Natural Laundry Soap

In part due to the pregnancy, I've been reexamining the sustainability and toxicity of our household cleaning products and personal care products. I am most particular about substances that are ingested or contact the skin. Thinking about this brought me back to my desire to make my own laundry soap again.

I did this for awhile about 5 years ago and it worked well but then we moved and I lost my sources for soap flakes. Plus, in Portland it is easy to find environmentally-friendly laundry soap such as Seventh Generation, Ecover, etc. However, I like having total control of the ingredients (what? me wanting to control something?!) and I like using large glass containers that can be used over and over again instead of discarding the plastic tub every few weeks.

So I did the obvious thing. I searched the internets for websites with laundry soap recipes:

I considered making a wet soap since there are some concerns that when you wash with cold water (as I do) the soap flakes in dry formulas may not dissolve fully. However, most of the wet soap recipes use washing soda which is the more caustic twin of baking soda and requires that you wear gloves when handling it. And you know how often I wear gloves! (never, not even when pruning roses until my hands start to bleed and I remember that I have a perfectly good pair of leather gloves in the garage, but that's another story) Plus washing soda wasn't available at my local grocery stores so I decided to go with the Natural Home recipe:

16 cups baking soda
12 cups borax
8 cups grated castile or glycerin soap flakes*
3 tablespoons lavender, lemon, or grapefruit essential oil (I don't use that much because I don't like strong scents)

Combine baking soda, borax, and soap flakes, add essential oil, and mix with a wire whisk. Use 1/8 cup of powder per load. This recipe makes enough powder to last a family of four one year.

All the ingredients were available between my local Safeway and New Seasons. Since I was too impatient to order soap flakes from an importer (they're no longer made in the States), I determined to buy the soap with the label that I could understand.

I tried several different grating options to try to find the finest grate (please don't kill me, Pamper Chef Lady, for misuse of a mandolin). I settled on the microplane that we usually use to grate lemon rinds and the like. Thirty minutes of an HGTV show and one skinned knuckle later I had well over the 8 cups of soap needed for the recipe (3 bars would probably be enough).

Then I started mixing my ingredients. I took my two biggest mixing bowls and mixed half a recipe in each. I'm terrible at English measurements (oh, when can we switch to metric? They promised in 4th grade that it was coming soon!) so I had to learn that largest box of baking soda is really on 8 cups worth. Fortunately I had two other big boxes of baking soda around the house so I threw them in too. Plus 1/2 of an old box of Borax lying around. And a tablespoon or so of some lemon essential oil left over from when I made laundry soap long long ago.

The results: 3 mongo-size IKEA containers of natural lemon-scented laundry soap. Plus 2 recycled spaghetti jars worth. But they weren't pretty so they didn't make it into the picture. So far I've done several loads of laundry and can't tell the difference from using commercial laundry detergent (as long as I'm diligent about pre-treating stains, which I always suck at).

Anybody else up to trying to make their own laundry soap? I think my sister tried a different recipe and wasn't as satisfied. Care to comment, sis?


ADDENDUM: I made a second batch in June 2009 and took the time to calculate costs to make a batch.

--3 bars Kirk's Castile Bar Soap at $1.39 = $4.17
--16 cups Baking Soda (I used less than half of 12 pound bag from Costco that I bought for $5.88) = $2.94
--1 1/2 boxes 20 Mule Team Borax (76 oz. box for $4.39 at New Seasons) = $6.59
--Essential oils I had from earlier projects so I did not purchase any = free

YIELD: 36 cups using 1/8 cup per load = 288 loads
TOTAL COST PER LOAD = less than 5 cents


Holli said...


This is so great, and cool, and sustainable. I'm gonna give this a try - in another couple weeks -- once we are settled into a new home.


PS thanks for the recipe

Stretch Mark Mama said...

This is one of the things "on my list" to do. I'm sure I'll head back here for tips when I do. My fabric softener (that coats my clothes) is nearly out and I'm considering buying one of those spikey ball-type things. Need to check those out!

Stephanie Breuner said...

this could be an interesting christmas gift idea for our craft group. They look so pretty in those jars with the labels and would be a useful gift with a jar to reuse later.

Cottonista said...

You go, Deb.

I'm still insanely happy with my Shaklee detergent that has NO smell, and of which I only need 1-2 tablespoons per load. (I don't care for most laundry smells either--my nose is so sensitive.) Let us know if you keep liking it. It looks interesting enough and simple enough to try. And Stephanie is right, it looks like a great gift in those jars.

Kris...sis said...

The liquid stuff I tried was watery and smelled so toxic when we made it. I've made this recipe many times in the past and kinda got out of the habit. I've never actually made it with castile soap but I'm super inspired to now. With glycerin flakes, you do have to use warm or hot water. Thanks for the reminder and inspiration, Deb.

Deb said...

Joyce--I've really looked at purchasing Shaklee products several times so I'm glad to know their detergent is good stuff. I've heard excellent things about their home cleaning products too. Right now I'm going to see what all I can make on the cheap that satisfies me, but Shaklee is definitely an option if I run out of make-my-own enthusiasm.

Lisa--Tell me what you think about the fabric softener ball. I've seen several people who use vinegar as a fabric softener. I've never used a liquid fabric softener--somehow I got in the habit of using dryer sheets. But I see Trader Joe's has these reuseable lavendar bags that are supposed to work in the dryer. I might try those.

Kris, hi there! Miss you!