Friday, January 3, 2014

Choosing and Making a homemade Laundry Detergent

I've been wanting to make my own laundry detergent for awhile... I have a few friends who make their own and love it, saving a lot of money on detergent sounds fabulous, and since we have a lot of skin sensitivities and allergies in our family the idea of not having all the extra stuff sounded wonderful.

However... I kept putting it off. First, I couldn't find "laundry soap" or "washing soda" in our store. The liquid detergents sounded like they were a lot of work to make (maybe not?) and I just don't have room to store a huge 5 gallon thing of detergent in our house. I was also really hesitant to risk stinky, stained, or ruined clothes because of a flawed laundry detergent attempt. 

But then I found Fels Naptha at the store, ordered washing soda online... and discovered that you can make a powdered detergent and weren't restricted to liquid (though liquid sounds like it goes further and so saves even more money). So I gathered up all the supplies...

And then it sat in our cabinet for many months because I couldn't figure out which recipe I was going to use. There are a gazillion different homemade recipes, and they were all significantly different. Some had a 1:1:1 ratio of 1 bar Fels Naptha, 1 cup borax, 1 cup washing soda.. others had a 1:2:2 ratio. Some used 0.3:1:1 while even others did 2:1:1.

And they also all had different amounts of finished detergents that you used within the wash... some said 1 tbsp of detergent while others called for 1/4 or even 1/2 cup. 

Of course, they all ended with a vague "adjust as needed for your needs." This wasn't nearly as exact as I wanted, and I didn't want to risk our clothes as I tried to "figure it all out."

But, after too much time spent on laundry research and talking with friends who make their own, we have finally ventured into making our own homemade detergent tonight.

Because this is our very first night, I can't really say the long-term thoughts on this process... but rest assured that tonight, our clothes do not stink and they didn't dissolve into a million tiny bits of thread. They actually don't look any different than they do when washed with our store-bought detergent.  Nobody is wheezing or breaking out.

So what did I decide for the recipe and how did I decide? Being how I am, I just researched the crap out of the ingredients to try and figure out why everyone uses a different recipe.

What the Ingredients Do
The three main ingredients that most recipes use are laundry soap, borax, and washing soda. Here's what they do:

Laundry Soap: The cleaning agent. I even looked up how soap works - how interesting! it acts as an emulsifier, suspending the oils/dirt off the material. 
Borax: detergent booster. It helps remove stains by creating a type of hydrogen peroxide, and it disperses the soap which helps the soap work better. It inhibits things from growing, which is always good when it comes to laundry. It works best in hot water. (How Borax cleans). 
Washing soda (washing soda! not baking soda!): also a detergent booster. It helps remove stains and helps laundry detergent work in hard water by binding to the minerals. (How Washing soda works) It dissolves fast but it can also leave deposits unless thoroughly rinsed off.

Different Recipes
So after reading up on that and reading various forums and peoples' responses... it makes more sense why recipes and peoples' experiences differ. If you have hard water, for example, using more washing soda and borax (which help soften the water) makes sense. If you have tough stains and need more stain remover, using more washing soda and borax makes sense. 

There seems to be mixed responses on whether borax causes colors to fade in laundry. Some people have used it for years with no issues. Others said that when they sprinkled borax to boost their detergent, it faded their clothes in spots. After reading the various posts and how borax works, my thoughts are that the differences in opinions probably are from different amounts of borax used, water hardness  of the house, amount of detergent used, and water temperature. For example, if you have soft water but use a 1:2:2 recipe (bar:cup of borax: cup of washing soda) and then put in 1/4 cup of detergent and then wash on cold... it's working differently than if you use 1 tbsp of that same recipe with warm hard water where there is less concentration of borax, it dissolves easier (it is very rough on clothes if rubbed on them), and is in hard water.  This is where the "use as best works for your needs" comes in with those recipes :)

So after all of that, this is what I factored into when deciding on a recipe. We have hard water, typically wash on warm, and our clothes need a lot of stain and stink removal because of kid stains and gym smells.  We have an HE machine, so using 1/4-1/2 cup seemed excessive and I decided to do either 1 or 2 tbsp of finished detergent.

Final note: We are doing Fels Naptha this round, if sensitives show up after a few days we will switch to a milder soap and try again. So far, so good.  Because of Mr. River's profession, using a "milder" soap makes me nervous - his clothes and gym clothes get really dirty. 

What we did
We used the 1:2:2 recipe. So:
1 bar laundry soap, grated. 
2 cups borax. Again, we have hard water, we wash on warm.
2 cups washing soda

I first cut the soap into a few sections and then put it all into the food processor. I was a bit skeptical that it would finely grate it but it downright pulverized that soap in just a few seconds. I was amazed.  Then I added the borax and washing soda to the food processor and blended it all together to make sure it was well mixed up and that there were no clumps of washing soda or borax. Then I just dumped it all together. I used a small old oxiclean container to hold just a small portion of it to bring to the laundry room, the rest is in a giant food storage container. 

The whole thing took less than 2 minutes to make. All that hemming and hawwing and it was ridiculously easy to make!

I used about 1.5 tbsp to wash... why 1.5, well I couldn't decide whether to use 1 tbsp or 2 tbsp so I used 1.5 to see how it'd come out :) 

If we had different lives or different water or a different washer, I would likely not start with this recipe.  For example, if we didn't have to worry about dirty unhealthy things on Mr. River's clothes, we would probably use a 1:1:1 recipe. If we did not have to worry about Mr River's clothes *or* the kid stains, we would be using cold water and would probably do more like 1:0.5:1 using only a half cup of borax.  I never washed on warm until Mr River went into his current profession.  If we lived in MS, where the water is extremely soft, I would likely do a 1:0.5:0.5. If we had a normal washer and not an HE, I would probably use 1/4 cup of detergent mix rather than the 1-2tbsp. So that's kind of my thoughts on why the recipes are so very different for different people and diffferent needs. Hopefully it makes sense :)

One final tip I saw, but have not tried, was to add a bit of vinegar to the rinse cycle when washing to make sure that all of the detergent is gone. Plus it helps soften up clothes. I haven't tried that but with only using 1.5 tbsp, I wasn't too worried about residue being left. Some people also add essential oils to the detergent, but several reviews I read said it really doesn't make them smell any differently after coming out of the dryer - the heat takes off all the scents. So might as well save the essential oils. Since we have skin sensitivities, we will not be adding anything scented. 

How'd the clothes come out? They came out great. They look normal, they smell like clothes... no fancy smells, but then we haven't ever had fancy smells because we can't use scented detergents :) Normal dirt and stains are gone (woot!) and my big container of the detergent looks like it will last a really long time. So yay for saving money! We'll see how we feel after testing it out for awhile :)

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