On my quest to cut costs and figure out better alternatives to things we use daily, I did a lot of research on the easiest and best ways to make homemade laundry detergent.
I don't approach anything hastily. Before actually making the soap, I searched on countless pages to figure out what would be the easiest method to follow and the most cost efficient.
The first websites I found showed how to make 5 gallons of soap. I feared making this much at once because what if it went wrong? Then I'd have 5 gallons of crap to toss out. And I'm not super environmental, but tossing out 5 gallons of any mixed product cannot be good for the environment or waterways although wherever you toss it may smell great for awhile.
I finally found an awesome website that offered easy directions and a 2 gallon method. It was WhyNotSew. I loved this page because the directions were really easy to follow, and I wasn't tied to using one specific type of soap. Lots of websites reported using bars of soap, such as Ivory or Zote (which I've never seen and don't know what it looks like) or castile soap (which can easily be found at Target, but was NOT cheap).
As with any method of prepping anything, I ended up making minor adjustments compared to what's on the WhyNotSew website.
Here's what I used:
1/2 bar of Fels Naptha laundry bar
1 cup of Super Washing Soda
1 cup of Borax
1 gallon of hot tap water
1 gallon of cold tap water
12 drops of essential oil (lavender)
BIG pot--large enough to hold more than 2 gallons of liquid. (I used a 16 qt. stock pot.)
wooden slotted spoon/stirrer
1. Grate half the bar of Fels Naptha into a empty pot.
2. Pour 1 gallon of hot tap water into the pot. Turn on the burner. (I turned it to high since the pot was really big and you eventually want the liquid to boil.)
3. Cook the liquid and stir the pot until you know the grated soap flakes have dissolved.
4. Add 1 c. of borax and 1 c. of washing soda to the pot. Stir well to integrate.
5. Bring pot to a boil. Stir occasionally. If the burner is on high, do not leave unattended.
The liquid will begin to thicken and possible coagulate.
6. Turn off the heat. Remove pot from burner.
7. Pour in 1 gallon of cold tap water.
8. Optional: add 12 to 15 drops of essential oil
9. Let sit to cool down enough to pour into 1 gallon size jugs. (Cleaned out, old detergent, milk, or vinegar jugs are great, but whatever you have on hand that will hold 1 gallon.)
10. After cooling, use a funnel to pour the liquid into the jugs.
I let my liquid cool about 1.5 hours before pouring it into the jugs. It was still warm, but not warm enough that it would've burned me or melted the plastic jugs. I noticed that the lavender was faintly present, but I didn't want to add too much in case anyone in my family is allergic to lavender and we don't yet know it.
After completely cooling in the jugs, the detergent will be gelatinous. You'll want to shake well before each use. Use 1/2 cup of liquid for regular loads, more for heavily soiled clothes. A 1/2 cup is roughly equal to the cap of a commercial detergent bottle.
The liquid detergent smells mostly like the Fels Naptha bar, but the cleaned clothes don't really have a scent. Adding the essential oil adds a bit of scent, but so does using scented fabric sheets or softener. Here's a page that describes various essential oils and their uses. Commonly used oils in homemade cleaners are tea tree oil, lavender, and some citrus oils. (I would avoid buying an oil before actually knowing what is smells like, the properties of it, and/or whether or not you may be allergic or unable to use it due to a health condition.)
The water will not suds like when you use commercial liquid detergents--as you can see in the picture. Consumers have been led to believe that suds equal clean; this is not true. Companies add chemicals to make the soap have suds. The important thing is whether or not the clothes come out clean. My husband and I have washed several loads; they come out clean! :-)
If you find your mixture too thick, add a bit more water. Too thin, add a bit more soap bar. As I've read on other sites, making homemade laundry detergent is not a perfect science, so experiment and play around with it just like I did.
I used only 1/2 of the Fels Naptha because I read several websites that it was a strong soap, so I didn't want to risk irritation.
As a child, my mother always told me, "you can do anything you set your mind to." I've set my mind to being a working mom who makes homemade things to save money and to try to find healthier alternatives to the things we need to use and consume. I'm happy to share what I've learned with you. Enjoy!
UPDATE 05/27/2013: I'd seen a couple of websites that microwaved the soap and then either cut in chunks to food process or put in a plastic bag to break by hand rather than grating.
Today I tried the microwave method. I microwaved the 1/2 bar of Fels Naptha twice for 30 seconds each time. I let it cool a bit, so it was easy to handle, then cut into chunks that would fit into my small food processor. I processed it until I had almost powdered soap. It worked wonders and cut time! No more grating Fels Naptha for me.
I've read, however, that microwaving doesn't work so well for castile soaps, but as demonstrated on this page (Cheeky Bums Blog), castile soap cut into small chunks easily melts in boiling hot water. This theory was tested and proven positive today as well.
Score two for me!! :-)
I noticed that some of my clothes still had oil stains after washing and some of the clothes weren't getting a clean enough smell, so I tried adding dish detergent.
Every since my college days, I've used a little squirt of dish detergent to get oil stains out of clothes. It's made to cut grease, so why not, right? Well, when I made my last batch of detergent, I add 1 cup of Seventh Generation Lavender Floral and Mint to the pot after adding the soap, borax, and washing soda.
I also increased the borax to 1.5 cups instead of 1 cup to help with odors.
I let it set as normal, then poured it into the containers and added the essential oils.
Results: cleaner clothes, less odors, and BONUS--the detergent doesn't clump up as easily. It poured smoothly for a good month and a half before the normal clumps returned.
Score three for me!! ;-)