The Laundry Detergent Experiment (non-scientific)

A mostly non-knitting post

Over the years I’ve whined extensively about the amount of laundry my family generates. References to “Mt. Laundry” and jokes about being buried alive are often met with good-natured replies;  however, I can’t help but feel that people think I exaggerate.  Therefore, I’d like to provide photographic proof to back my claims.

exhibit A: Clean clothes waiting to be folded and put away. This pile measures over 3 ft. tall and covers approximately 12 sq. ft.

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exhibit B: Sorted, dirty laundry patiently waiting it’s turn.

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Please note that these pictures were taken within minutes of each other and no clothes appear in both pictures (yes, we have lots of pink). In addition, the clothes the family is wearing must be added to this pile at some point today. We don’t shop a lot, nor do we spend lots of money on clothes so this isn’t the result of being a shopaholic. Many are hand-me-downs or come from thrift stores (underclothing being the obvious exception).  But my family is extremely active so we go through many changes throughout a normal day.

Even with a large capacity washer and dryer and it still takes 3 to 4 loads a day to keep up.  I’m really good about the washing and drying part, but obviously I fall short when it comes to getting them folded and put away in a timely manner.  Helpful suggestions of folding each load as it comes out, giving each child her own laundry basket, etc. have all been tried unsuccessfully for various reasons, but if anybody out there would like to recommend a more efficient method then I’ll gladly send you my address and gas money so you can come demonstrate in person.

Buying detergent is always an issue. Perfumes give me headaches and stronger detergents, such as Tide, make me break out… must be because I’m such a delicate flower (snort, giggle).  Some of the less expensive detergents don’t get out tough stains.  And then there is that whole, “Good for the environment” issue to consider.

So, keeping these factors in mind buying laundry detergent has become a downright pain in the arse. Balancing scent-free and environmentally friendly with cheap and large quantities is more difficult than it sounds. So last week when Cindy posted about making her own laundry detergent I was all ears… okay, so technically all eyes. But either way, I wanted to give it a try.

The ingredients used to make the homemade detergent are fairly common and can be found in most larger grocery stores. They include Borax, Washing Soda and grated Fels Naptha soap.

The ratios are: 1 Cup Borax, 1 Cup Washing Soda and 1 Cup of grated Fels Naptha

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My DH assisted in making the detergent.  We opted for the automatic grater rather than attempting to shred the soap manually. Fels Naptha is a hard soap and it can really take a toll on your hands. This was probably not a good thing to do with food preparation equipment, but we soaked everything in hot water afterward and it appears to be residue free. Because Fels Naptha contains Stoddard Solvent (a.k.a. mineral spirits) it’s a really good idea to wear a dust mask when grating it. Long exposure to the dust has been linked to possible temporary neurological problems.  My DH decided to crumble the shredded pieces further by hand to eliminate large chunks that might stick to clothes.

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Once the soap was grated we added the Washing Soda and Borax. Again, wearing a mask is recommended. Also pouring slowly helps to keep dust down. It’s important to note that Washing Soda is made of Sodium Carbonate, whereas Baking Soda is Sodium BiCarbonate. The former is not edible. To prevent future accidents I immediately moved our Washing Soda box to the garage. I’d hate to make biscuits with the wrong stuff.

This is what it looks like when done.  It doesn’t smell perfumy, but the Fels has a distinct, strong odor when it’s in this form.

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Because many commercial detergents contain water and other additives while this is pure cleaners, this is extremely concentrated. Only one or two tablespoons will wash a very large load. And like Cindy said, once the laundry is washed there is no scent left at all from the Fels.

We decided to really challenge this detergent’s cleaning ability by pulling out A3’s shirt she wore while grass surfing last week. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stand not doing some sort of pre-treat. I took an empty and clean Soft Scrub bottle and made a concentrated mixture using the homemade LD. I used this on the right side of the shirt and a commercial stain remover on the right.

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After 15 minutes the shirt was placed in with a load of whites and 2 Tbs. of the detergent. This was washed in hot water with no bleach. Yes, this is my DH’s hand… he can be such a kid sometimes. That looks like such a wee amount of detergent.

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After one washing this is what the shirt looked like. It’s still stained, but considering that this shirt was destined for the rag bin and it sat for three days before being washed I’ve no room to complain.

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At this point the shirt was tossed into some water and Oxyclean to soak overnight, just to see if it was at all salvageable.

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It came out better, but it’s still only passable as a play shirt. I’d designate this as the “Track” shirt  for future grass sliding, but because someone complained about the kids sliding down the hill and they can’t do it any more that is no longer a consideration.

My DH pointed out the many flaws of the experiment. Such as not having two identical shirts and washing them separately in a controlled environment without cross-contamination, etc.  Pthttt (blowing raspberry at him). Anyway, this was what I concluded:

Price breakdown (Karen is the math wiz who can check this for me):

Fels Naptha Soap $1.23 per bar.

Borax $4.19 per 72 ounce box (11 cups)  .38 per cup

Washing Soda $3.19  per 55 ounce box (6 1/2 cups) .49 per cup

for a total cost of $2.10 per batch. One batch makes 2 3/4 cup of detergent and yields approximately 30 Tbs. per batch. If two Tbs. are used for each batch then the cost comes out to about .07 per load.  The last bottle of commercial detergent I bought cost $6.99 and washed 50 loads for a cost of about .14 per load.

Pros of homemade detergent: No phosphates, dyes or perfumes. Very inexpensive to make. The Borax acts as a natural water softener (this could be either a pro or con depending on where you live).

Cons of homemade detergent: Because of the Washing Soda it can be harmful for wool or silk. (This isn’t a problem here because we generally don’t wear silk and woolens are hand-washed). It takes time to make and requires that moderate safety measures be taken. Grating the soap is a pain, but it can be purchased pre-grated on-line. Of course the price goes way up for the convenience, thus negating the cost benefits.

The lost -cause shirt aside, our other whites, colors, etc. have came out with flying colors. In more favorable circumstances that shirt would have been immediately pre-treated and bleached. Thank you for the recipe Cindy! I’m now a convert.

Between laundry and cooking for the next week not much knitting has been done, but here’s my stole progress.

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Hope you’ve all enjoyed a lovely weekend.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “The Laundry Detergent Experiment (non-scientific)

  1. MY GOSH! that is a good amount of laundry! I made my own laundry soap too – it works great and I got it from Chickens in the road. However, I added an extra bar of soap to the mixture because the barn cloths are SO dirty. I think I am gonna try the dry stuff to, because I like the ‘dry’ compared to a 5 gal pail of liquid that sits in the basement. Make your own softner – I do and its easy, cheap and smells like your favorite hair conditioner, cuz thats what ya use. Its 2 cups of cheap hair conditioner, 3 cups vinegar and 6 cups water. Wisk it till blended and use! IT IS FREAKIN AWSOME. the vinegar works wonders on softening, not sure why!
    SO, when is your ‘nap’? *snicker*

  2. knitwonpurltoo

    That is an obscene amount of laundry, girl. I’m glad you like the detergent. I hope you just used a bar of the soap for your batch. It looks right and you are way handier than I. Has anyone ever mentioned that you are a detail person????? I didn’t do the math on it at all;–P

  3. Rae

    I too am not very good at folding the laundry. My DH puts it on our bed. It forces me to fold and put away before I can go to sleep. Yes, sometimes, it does make me a little grouchy to walk into our room at the end of a long day and see Mount laundry. But it works.

  4. Mt.Washmore covers most of the dining room table. If either of us needs something badly enough, we can dig it out. Meanwhile, the cats have a lovely bed. What’s not to love?

    Glad the present arrived in good order. I made a lable for it and fogot to stick it on. “U.S. Air Guard Conjugal Equipment Insulator. Quantity – 1. Size – Medium.”

  5. Good Lord girl, you have far too much to get done without doing that more than once {for fun, is Ok, regular is slavery]. My kids kept the blessed machine turning, but rarely got more than one set of clothes a day, makes them think a bit more about when and how to mud slide. My ma thought I did far too much washing…….
    G’son and daughter arriving next week so am already ready to have my ancient ways examined and found wanting; my ma will doubtless ignore all piles of whatever and just discuss us our foolishnesswith her aged cronies.

  6. I might have to try that detergent recipe.

    Tide hurts me so it’s banned from the house but most everything else works okay. I’m interested in saving some $$ ;o)

  7. I’m terrible about folding and putting away. There are many times when we use the clean clothes up from the piles in the living room without ever getting them put in the right place!

    OTOH, although I don’t know if I’ll make my own detergent, I swear by Fels-Naphtha for stains. I was very skeptical but it even takes out hot chocolate, the Holy Grail IMO.

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