Thursday, September 20, 2012

Laundry Soap is Dope

Here is another overdue project from my Personal Challenge 2011. Better late than never!

Homemade laundry soap is pretty stinkin’ popular anymore, with half of people saying it works as well as Tide, and the other half saying it’s a waste of time. I used a pretty standard recipe:
1 cup Borax
1 cup washing soda
2 cups soap shavings*

I just grate up the soap, stir in the Borax and soda, and call it a day. Easiest stuff ever. Lots of people swear by the liquid version, but I just can’t be bothered. Plus, from what I’ve read, it’s a bit trickier to get the proper consistency. With the powdered stuff I just toss about 2 Tablespoons to a large load of laundry. I also keep a 50/50 mix of borax and washing soda on hand for really grimy loads. I like to put the soap in first, run some hot water on it for a few seconds to speed up the dissolving process, and then after I load the washer with clothes I switch back to cold water. Seems to be working fine for me! Can’t say that it works worse than any other brand I’ve used, and I’ve found I don’t really miss all the fragrances (ok, sometimes).

So far I’ve used Fels Naptha laundry bar soap, Zote laundry bar soap, and Kirk’s Castile bar soap. I think they all work about the same, but I don’t care for the ingredients or smell of the Fels Naptha or Zote. Both knock me on my ass when I'm grating them up, and I don't care to stand too close to the container when I scoop it out, either. (The scent is extremely faint in the clean clothes, thankfully) Kirk’s is about as close to old-fashioned lye soap as I have been able to find in stores, but I suspect it would leave a residue on the clothes over the long term.The two laundry bars are meant to wash away cleanly, while body soap is typically designed to leave a fine layer of glycerin or other skin softening substance behind. Sometime this winter I want to try making my own laundry soap from lard and lye, just for the comparison. I really can't settle on which I prefer, so for now I just bounce back and forth.

Action shot! WEEEE!

Oh, and I rock a Downy ball full of white vinegar as my "fabric softener." It normalizes the ph of the clothes after all that washing soda, and adds to the disinfecting power. I have never smelled the vinegar on the clothes when doing it this way, and my towels are reasonably soft.

*A note on measuring soap shavings. This has to be the most confusing part of all the laundry soap recipes floating around the internet. Many recipes only specify "1 bar," however the popularly used soaps vary quite a bit in size! The gold standard, Fels Naptha, is 7oz, while Kirk's is 5oz, and Zote is a whopping 14oz! Ivory, another popular choice, is 4 or 5 ounces. BUT, there's an additional problem to just the bar size. Some of them contain a lot more water than others. In my experience, Zote is a REALLY soft soap. It can be a mess to try and grate. Out of curiosity, I grated up a bar and let the shavings dry out for a month. (or two... I forgot it was there!) The difference in weight was amazing. A completely dried out bar of Zote was close to 10oz! The volume of shavings also dropped A LOT!  That would make a big difference when measuring soap by the bar or cup! It's really no wonder the results can be so varied with the same recipe. What we need is a way to make this predictable with every batch.

That little red line marks how much soap I started with. Crazy, right?

In the future, I plan on grating and drying out a new bar of soap long before I need it, and then measuring equal amounts soap, borax, and washing soda by volume. If your shavings are large, you may have to put the soap and some of the washing soda in a food processor to break it down further. This helps to keep everything evenly distributed. I recommend throwing a hand towel over the machine, as there will be a small cloud of soap dust and it will make you want to gag.

Having said all that, I must admit that I don’t use homemade stuff for all my laundry. I used Ecos free and clear for cloth diapers (although I no longer CD, thanks to ammonia issues). My musty summer towels and nasty kitchen washcloths never got fully clean with Ecos. The smell would cling, or reappear with a vengeance as soon as the washcloth got wet. After one wash with double strength homemade soap, the smell was GONE! I am impressed. I need to re-test the hubby's workout clothes to make a final decision. I used to keep a small bottle of original Tide handy for big cleaning jobs, but not anymore. I'm too cheap. Man-smell is almost impossible to kill without the enzymes in Tide, so workout clothes will be my ultimate test.

Anyone else use homemade laundry soap? What kinds of bar soap have you used and which do you like best? I really can't decide and it's driving me nuts!

UPDATE 2013: I pretty much stick with Fels Naptha for convenience. I let the bar air dry for at least a month before grating. This will give you nice, fine shavings that will stay evenly distributed throughout the mix. I no longer bother running hot water on the soap before loading clothes, it doesn't seem to make a difference. My current "recipe" is equal parts dried soap shavings, borax, and washing soda; occasionally I will add Oxyclean (usually generic) if I have it on hand, same proportions as the rest. I still use 2Tbsp per load. Try it, you'll like it!

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