Friday, July 30, 2010

Recipe Friday: Liquid Laundry Detergent

I have been making my own laundry detergent for about a year. Initially this was an exercise in low-budget living from my sister. At the time I did not necessarily have a financial reason to desire making 5 gallons of laundry soap concentrate for approximately $2.00. I did, however, have plenty of reason in the form of persistent and (very) occasionally ER-visit-worthy skin allergies. Hives and whole-body swelling which threatens to close off one's airway do not make for a pleasant evening; all because someone else did laundry and used the not Free-And-Clear variety of detergent, often along with fabric softener. So if I visit your house for several days and insist that I do my own laundry please do not be offended. Though I started making my own detergent because of allergies, the cost is a definite bonus and one 5-gallon bucket of the stuff lasts me 3-5 months. Two dollars for 3 months' worth of laundry detergent? Yes, please! Plus I can make it up using whatever scent I like and am not allergic to.

This recipe uses very few ingredients, most of which are available in standard-size packages that will leave you with plenty leftover for future batches after you have made the first as long as that's all you use them for. Mine get used for more than just laundry so they never last longer than a month or so. I have found recently that the Borax and Washing Soda are becoming increasingly frustrating to procure. They can be purchased online here and here. You can make the entire process even more economical by purchasing the soda as a dyer's product instead of a household cleaner by purchasing soda ash. Compare the previous 3.4lbs of Arm&Hammer Super Washing Soda for $9.15 to this 5lbs of Jacquard Soda Ash for $8.51. That's how I'm going to be getting mine from now on because I also have plans for dyes using this chemical and so want to make sure I have a higher quality product for this purpose as it loses potency with age, which is not at all a problem just for laundry but can be a hindrance for dying.

Bar soap or detergent is the only other necessary ingredient aside from the Borax and Soda. Most recipes I have seen online use either Fels Naptha or Zote bar soaps. These are both fairly traditional as far as American laundry habits and solid soaps are concerned, but because of the success of corporate advertising for and prevalence of commercial laundry detergents and stain-treaters they are also becoming difficult to locate. At this time I can still find some form of solid laundry soap bar in most any grocery or general store. If you have trouble finding one, however, you can try farm supply stores like Tractor Supply or Rural King or just use any regular bar soap you like. Most other recipes have also stated to not use a heavily scented or perfumed bar soap, but I see no reasonable cause for this. I say if you like the way it smells then use it! My mother cannot have any fragrances at all in hers and uses generic castile soap bars, similar to Kirk's. I, personally, am not fond of the scent of either the Fels or the Zote and have not been able to find a reasonably priced castile soap so I use Ivory, often adding an essential or perfume oil to the jug whenever I refill it from the bucket.

Basic Laundry Detergent Recipe
recipe as written fills one 5-gallon bucket

5-6 oz. bar soap, grated or finely chopped (Fels Naptha, Zote, Kirk's, Ivory, your own homemade, etc.)
1 cup washing soda
1/2 cup borax (this is optional, and if you have a septic or grey water reuse system this is actually discouraged as it will disrupt the balance of a septic system and kill insects, plants, birds, etc. in your yard if the water is reused without proper treatment)
10-15 drops essential oil or fragrance oil (entirely optional)

Water is an optional step/ingredient. In the event that you wish to make your own powdered laundry wash, just put everything above through a food processor or blender until it's all powdered and then store in an airtight container. I think the powdered form is supposed to be used at 1-2 teaspoons per load. I prefer liquid, however, as I don't have to be concerned about it not dissolving properly in a cold water wash cycle and cannot vouch for this measurement.


1. Grate soap into medium-large pot. I use a small box grater to do this, but if you are so inclined and don't mind cleaning it up straight away (soap smell and taste stick to plastic and rubber seals) you can use a food processor or blender.

2. Add water to the pot. The amount of water added really doesn't matter much as there will be more water added later on. I's say I usually use anywhere from 6-8 cups of water with the soap.

3. Place pot on medium-low heat and stir occasionally to dissolve soap. The soap shreds will turn translucent before they completely dissolve.
Translucent soap shreds dissolving in water.   

4. While soap is simmering, fill 5 gallon bucket about half way with hot tap water. Cold water will cause the detergent to gel immediately and will be a mess. Use the hottest water you can get out of your tap, but there is no need to heat the water separately on your stove.
The floaty bits are from the last batch of laundry soap; I didn't completely wash out the bucket before reusing it.

5. When soap is completely dissolved, remove from heat. Ivory soap dissolves completely and leaves the solution clear. Fels Naptha will leave the solution milky yellow and I imagine Zote would leave it pinkish, though I have never used it.
Completely dissolved Ivroy soap solution.

6. Measure washing soda and borax and add to the soap solution.
Very scant half cup of borax.

7. Stir using a whisk or fork. The solution will begin to take on a gelatin-like consistency at this point. Keep stirring until all the powdered ingredients are completely combined.
All mixed up.

8. Once the solution is uniform and all ingredients are thoroughly combined, pour into bucket half full of hot water and whisk to combine.
Into the bucket.

9. Add more hot water to fill bucket and stir again to combine.
Now to let it set.

10. Put a lid on the bucket and let set overnight or a minimum of 6 hours. Keep in mind this is a gel-type laundry soap. The resting period allows the solution time to properly gel without disturbance.When you come back it should look something like this:
Gelled detergent solution.

11. Get the whisk out again and stir everything up, making sure to break up all large pieces of the gel. When you're done it should have this kind of texture:
Small bits of gelled solution suspended in liquid portion.

12. You can just measure it straight out of the bucket if you want and I have been known to do that before, but I do prefer to put it into a container so it is easy to shake and dispense. A funnel comes in handy for this.
I use a bit of recycled vinegar jug for a funnel in this case.

13. You can use the laundry soap straight up just as it is or diluted up to 50% depending upon your cleaning needs. I usually go for around 2 parts soap solution to 1 part water. You can also add your own fragrance or essential oil at this time. I have a small cedar box full of oils I am not allergic to that I use for this purpose.
Aren't they pretty?

14. To fragrance your detergent, add 5-15 drops of the oil to your dispensing vessel and shaje vigorously to combine.
These were the two I had to choose between this time. I chose blueberry, but the one on the right smells like a perfume I had when I went to Denmark and always reminds me of that trip.

15. When you're done with all the adding of fragrance if you want and everything's all mixed up good you are ready to roll for you next laundry washing adventure. Remember that the detergent must be remixed before each use because it will re-gel and separate from the additional water and not be easily dispensable. I think a couple seconds of shaking is a small price to pay for such cheap laundry detergent, especially since I am not allergic to it and it is so very customizable!
All set for laundry washing!

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