This post was most recently updated on May 18th, 2015
It’s laundry day at my house. Actually, every day is laundry day because I have four kids, a husband and a dog – dirty clothes seem to propagate all on their own around here. But there’s usually one day a week when I do a full sweep of every hamper in the house and execute one big laundry bonanza. So today is that laundry day.
I really don’t mind doing laundry. In fact, I don’t mind doing housework in general. Except for dusting – I hate dusting. Washing dishes, vacuuming, making beds, cleaning the tubs, sinks and toilets – I love that these tasks involve very little critical thinking but at completion there are visible, tangible results that evoke a real sense of accomplishment. I like feeling productive and housework gives me big productivity bang for relatively little effort. There is (for me) a certain zen-like calm that comes from the mindless folding of laundry. My brain gets a break from all the puzzles of life it’s been frantically trying to solve, and with each neat and tidy pile of clothes I make, I feel more calm, clear-headed and … well, powerful. Maybe I’m just weird that way, though.
Anyway – my family generates a LOT of laundry. And I’m picky about my laundry products. I want a detergent that really gets the clothes clean (read: gets out the dirt AND the smell); makes the whites bright but won’t fade the colors; is tough enough to use on my husband’s work clothes but gentle enough to wash the baby’s things (because I don’t want to have to buy multiple products and do even more loads that I already do); will rinse completely out of the clothing so as not to leave any soapy residue that might irritate those in my household with sensitive skin (which is everyone, including the dog); is phosphate-free, chlorine bleach-free and contains no toxic chemicals (because even though I’m a Conservative Libertarian, I still love the planet and my fellow man); AND I don’t want it to cost a fortune because I’m on a budget. With no budge in it. I know, I don’t ask for much, do I?
About 20 years ago (Please do not do the math to try and determine my age. Just let me have this, okay?) I was introduced to adirect marketing company that manufactures and sells high quality, environmentally conscious household, personal care and health products. All of their stuff is ultra-concentrated so there is a substantial savings over commercial or grocery store brands, even when combining coupons with sale prices. Plus, their laundry detergent fulfilled every single one of my requirements. But last year, the price went up and I began to wonder if there was a better option for my family’s laundry needs. I had also begun to notice that with all their ‘formula changes’ my clothes didn’t seem to be as clean. I searched for other natural laundry products and was astonished at the prices other companies were charging for so-called ‘eco-friendly’ products! I was even more upset after reading reviews for these expensive detergents and discovering that most of the people who used them were not satisfied with the result.
I finally began to look for homemade laundry soap – I figured that if Ma Ingalls could get her family’s clothes clean with just a bar of soap and a creek, surely I could find something that would work for me. And I did. In fact, I found more than one recipe that I’d like to share with you.
This recipe is the first one I made and used. I like it, it’s extremely inexpensive, works well and is fun to make. It’s called Laundry Sauce and here’s how you make it:
You will need 1 bar of Fels Naptha soap, 1 cup 20 Mule Team Borax, 1 cup Super Washing Soda (not baking soda), 4 cups of hot water, a heavy pot in which to ‘cook’ your sauce and 2 quart size Mason jars, with a regular-sized mouth (not wide mouthed). You’ll also want a food processor, a metal whisk, a funnel and a blender. What? Yes, a blender … you’ll see.
Step 1: Use your food processor to grind up the entire bar of Fels Naptha soap. (If you don’t have access to a food processor, grate it up on your cheese grater) Put the grated soap into your cooking pot, along with the hot water over medium-high heat.
Step 2: While the water starts to heat, take a minute to put 1 cup of Borax and 1 cup of Washing Soda in a separate bowl and gently mix together. Set this aside.
Step 3: “Cook” the grated Fels Naptha, stirring constantly with your whisk, until every little bit of the soap is melted. Make certain it’s completely melted, as it will effect the consistency of your finished product. This part usually takes between 10-15 minutes but it’s worth the time. Remember – stir constantly.
Step 4: When the soap is totally melted, remove the pot from heat and gently stir in the Borax/Washing Soda mixture. Stir constantly until it’s completely dissolved and no graininess remains. That’s important – you do not want any grainy bits in the bottom of the pot so make sure you keep stirring.
Step 5: Using your funnel, carefully pour the hot liquid into the two Mason jars – put half in one jar and half in the other jar. Each jar will be about half full.
The original recipe I used, from the lovely and helpful Liss at budget101.com instructed me to add just enough water to each jar so that it reached the ‘shoulder’ of the jar. But I do this later because I find it to be less messy and a bit easier to manage.
Step 6: Put the lids on your jars and turn them upside down on the counter. Let them sit for 4-5 hours. The sauce will separate into a solid and a liquid, like this:
Step 7: Turn the jars upright and remove the lids. I take a butter knife and ‘chop’ the solid portion of my sauce into smaller chunks because I have a weak, lame blender and I don’t want it to wheeze and die during this step. After I’ve done that, the liquid portion bubbles up and then I add just enough water to fill the jar to the shoulder. Then (and this part is so cool that my kids even like to get in on it) I put the blade from my blender onto the Mason jar – it should screw on and fit perfectly. Turn the jar upside down again and put it on the blender base. I blend or whip it on low for about one minute and the blender turns the chunky soap mess into this creamy, beautiful Laundry Sauce.
Repeat with second jar. Put the regular jar lids back on and be prepared to have super clean clothes at a fraction (and I do mean a fraction) of the cost of name brand laundry products. In fact, these two quart jars of Sauce will do up to 128 loads laundry. Uh huh – you read that right … 128 loads at an average cost of $.03 per load. [happy dance] You use an entire bar of Fels Naptha (available at Wal Mart for $.97) for one batch, but your full boxes of Borax and Washing Soda will make up to 3 batches!
To use, put ONE TABLESPOON only into any kind of washing machine and wash as usual. This Sauce is safe for HE machines, but do not use the ‘detergent compartment’ for dispensing. Just add the Sauce directly to the wash basin.
I especially love this recipe for washing my bath and hand towels because it contains no fabric softener to build up in them and keep them from drying our skin properly. I wash around 6-10 loads of laundry a week for my family of six and one batch of Sauce lasted us around 4 months. If your family is smaller or doesn’t have as much laundry, expect it to last quite a bit longer. It’s substantially less expensive than the detergent I was using, gets our clothes even cleaner and is equally eco-friendly. I hope you try this recipe and that it works well for you. I have to admit that I never really thought about making my own laundry soap before. But once I tried it I felt really proud of myself for finding a way to make my family’s life a little better. I do have a second laundry detergent recipe to share … but I’ll do it in a later post since this one was sooooo long.
*Thanks to budget101.com for photos.