Saturday, January 16, 2010

DIY Laundry Detergent

Want to save $50 in 15 minutes? Read on.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to become more resourceful on the home front when it comes to the DIY (do it yourself) category. I’m not usually all that handy – as my friends and family can attest to – but 2010 is the year to change all that!

Why? For me, it’s part environmental, part financial, and part this crazy notion of wanting to be a suburban homesteader. At the end of the day though, if a person can learn a new skill, lessen their impact on the planet, live a bit more simply, AND save a few dollars in the process, then it’s worth the while.

So the first “how-to” I wanted to share is DIY laundry detergent.

We were reaching the end of our economy size bottle of store-bought detergent and I figured, what the heck, let’s see what we can do. There are a ton of resources out there for making the stuff and clearly I’m not breaking new ground here, but nonetheless, let me give you the tutorial. (I made a liquid-based detergent because of our high-efficiency washer, but you can find a powder recipe here.)

Most, if not all, of the recipes out there are based on three, easily-accessible ingredients:

•    Basic bar soap (preferably a low-suds, low-fragrance variety)
•    Washing soda (a.k.a, soda ash or sodium carbonate; I used an Arm & Hammer brand).
•    Borax (a.k.a., sodium borate; I used the 20-Mule-Team brand) to brighten and de-odorize

Add to that the following materials:

•    5-gallon bucket (preferably with lid)
•    Liquid measuring cup
•    Dry measuring cup
•    Large sauce pot
•    Box grater
•    Large stirring spoon
•    An empty and clean one-gallon jug

Just about everything you need to get started

Now, for the tutorial:

1.    Measure 4 cups of water, place it in the sauce pot, and bring to a boil

2.    Grate one bar of basic soap into small shavings. I used Ivory because it is low-suds, doesn’t smell all that much, and is cheap. Remember, the cleaning action is not from the volume of suds. In fact, if you have a high efficiency (HE) washer, the less suds the better.

3.    Slowly add the soap shavings to the boiling water, stirring until everything is dissolved and combined. Lower heat and keep it on simmer.

4.    From there, add 3 gallons of warm-to-hot tap water to the 5-gallon bucket

5.    Add 1 cup of the Washing Soda

6.    Add ½ cup of Borax

7.    Add the dissolved water/bar soap mixture; stir all the contents well with the spoon

Everything combined and ready to be capped

8.    Put the lid on the bucket and allow the mixture to stand for 24-hours.

9.    After 24 hours, check out your mixture. Depending on the temperature of where you stored the bucket you should have anything from a liquid with small gelatinous chunks to a full gelatinous mixture akin to a semi-hard Jello. We had the latter because everything is in the basement. Just take your spoon and give it a good mixing. The mixture will break apart and become more liquid-y in the process.

It's tough to see, but our mixture had quite a gelatinous consistency when we first pulled off the lid. It broke up easily when stirred.

10.    When you’re ready to do a load, measure 1 cup of the mixture and add it to your wash as normal

Ready to roll. The little chunks easily dissolved in the wash.

We’ve run a few loads so far and we can tell no difference. If we had something with a stain, I’d probably still try to pre-treat it. But the clothes come out feeling, smelling, and looking fresh. I’m sure you could add some natural oil essence to the mix if you wanted to enhance the olfactory experience a bit.

Now for the dollars and cents (or should that be sense?):

For the DIY laundry detergent:
  • Total cost for all the ingredients (including tax) was $10.04 ($2.99 for the Washing Soda + $3.99 for the Borax + $2.58 for the 6 bars soap). Using the above measurements, we will get 6 complete batches with some Borax to spare.

  • Each batch provides 52 liquid cups of detergent. Multiply by 6 batches and that gives you enough detergent for 312 1-cup loads.

  • Cost Per Load = $10.04 / 312 = $0.03

For the traditional laundry detergent:

Let’s use Tide 2X Ultra Concentrated Liquid Laundry Detergent Original Scent (150oz bottle; 96 loads per bottle) -- something we've bought in the past. At Stop & Shop’s Peapod site, this retails for $19.99. You would need 3.18 bottles of this to give you 312 loads of detergent – the amount we get with our DIY version. For the sake of simple math, let’s round down to 3 bottles.
  • Total Cost = $19.99 x 3 = $59.97 (not including tax)

  • Cost Per Load = $59.97 / 312 = $0.19
Now, I bet you could get the ingredients cheaper (I bought them at Stop & Shop) thus lowering your per-load cost. But even with these numbers, we’re saving $0.16 per load across the six batches (312 total loads) for a total savings of $49.92. Not too shabby for 15 minutes worth of work.

Financial benefits aside, we’re using ingredients that are free of petroleum byproducts, further lessening our oil dependence and eliminating toxins from our home. When you stop and take stock of all the things in your home that uses a petroleum by-product (e.g., plastics for starters), even this very small step feels good.

Good luck making your own! Be sure to drop a line and share your results!


Kristin said...

I am very impressed!! I tried to find a dish detergent once, but didn't come up with anything good/easy and I guess I gave that idea up- but this seems super easy. Thanks for sharing!

me said...

I have a question: Do any of these ingredients have an odor or leave any sort of scent behind on clothes?

As it turns out, I've become very sensitive to these things, and I'm trying to protect myself the best I can with laundry detergents and the like.

I've been using All Free & Clear, and I think it rocks, but maybe I'm absorbing more of the leftover gunk in the communal washer/dryers. Maybe the ingredients in the DIY could help protect against that?



Honestly, the first thing I did when I pulled my first finished load out of the dryer was smell the clothes. Good news: There was no scent above the slight hint of Ivory.

That said, the Borax and Washing Soda are quite odor-neutral (to me, anyway). Depending on what kind of bar soap you use though, you may pick up that odor.

My suggestion in your case: Find the most odor-neutral bar soap you can find and use that in the recipe.

Good luck.

BTW -- Stay tuned for the next DIY coming soon!