Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tighty Whiteys

I have been getting a negative reaction from people lately when they find out that I make my own laundry soap. Reactions like, "You're crazy!" (Why yes. Yes, I am.) or "You must have a lot of time on your hands". (Ahem. Yes, Treen. I just don't know what to do with all of the time I have on my hands). Or even, "Why would you want to do that?".

Why would I? For one, it's great for the environment. We try to be green around here, as green as we can get, and it's not easy when you live in a small village with only a handful of stores. This cuts down both on packaging (no plastic bottles!) and does not contain any harmful chemicals. And! It saves me the petrochemicals that I would normally burn in my automobile driving to a larger centre to find green items, because I can walk to everything in our own town. Second, it's so easy and fast! Third, it's cheap-ass to do so! I haven't done the math myself, but a lot of testimonials I've read on the interwebz have priced homemade detergent at around three cents per load.

Let's say you buy some Gain, (Oh, Gain. How I miss your chemical scents!) on sale for $5.99 for the 48-load bottle of liquid. Math that out, and that's what, like 12 cents per load? Except for the fact that you always end up using way more than what they say you'll use by accident, especially if you're me and are clumsy. I always end up pouring some out and over-filling the lid, thus getting it all over my hands in the process and using triple what you'd normally use. Clumsy, I told you! So I probably end up using triple the amount that I should be using, which thereby pollutes our earth with nasty chemicals and puts too many plastic (evil, evil plastic) bottles into our landfills. Even if you are using a "green" type of laundry detergent, they are generally far more expensive than ordinary detergents and then there's still that packaging problem.

Problem solved! All you need are some soap flakes, preferably the "Green" type which are phosphate-free and all that jazz. I get even crazier and grate my own soap, a brand called "Simply Clean" which is made in Guelph, Ontario and costs me $1.79 at our local bulk food store, right in this town! If you live in the U.S., you can get Fels Naptha, which is nearly impossible to find here in Canada and therefore I will be jealous of you. If you're stuck you can use the old-fashioned Sunlight bar that your mother or grandmother used to have on hand in the 80s before such a thing as "Spray n'Wash" was invented. I have a bucket and a cheese grater that I use specifically for the purpose of soap making. So that's:

One bar of pure soap, grated


Approximately 2 cups of soap flakes.

One cup of washing soda (I use Arm and Hammer, found at the grocery store for $2.99 which was a huge box, great for many, many loads of laundry)

One cup of Borax (I use 20 Mule Team, also at the grocery store in the green box with the cute little girl on it, which I think was also 2.99 for a huge box)

Mix all that together!

Now get this. You only need to use two tablespoons of this stuff for one whole load of laundry. That's the best part. I keep mine in an old pickle jar, both so that the children won't get into it and so that it won't absorb moisture from the air. I am on the lookout for a really cool canister or something to put it in, but haven't found the right one just yet.

We have hard water here as well because we're in an area that is covering a lot of limestone, so I always dump about half a cup of vinegar into the laundry each time. If you're a scent person and feel you can't do without the heavenly chemical scents that come from conventional detergent, there is a solution! You can buy some essential oil either online or locally, and put about 40 drops into a bottle of vinegar. It's a 4 Litre bottle, which is roughly one gallon as far as I can tell by looking at it. I like to use lavender oil for laundry because to me, that smell accompanies the feeling of clean. Of course you need to shake the bottle every time you use it, because of the "oil and vinegar" thing. You can also add a few drops to your dryer as well, because as you might not know, dryer sheets are evil! If you can still smell vinegar on your clothes you can either increase the scented oil, or decrease the amount of vinegar.

I don't know about you, but I find that "alternative bleach" sucks ass for whitening clothes. Please don't switch back to chlorine bleach because that would just defeat the purpose of making your own green detergent. You can add an extra half-cup of so of Borax every time you do your whites, and use either hot water or warm. Your whites will be white, not grayish and dull.

From all of the research I've done on homemade laundry soap, most websites say that you should use warm water, fill the machine with water, let the agitator start up to dissolve the soap and then put the clothes in. Bollocks! You don't need to do that. What I do is put in some hot water first, add the soap, wait for a while and then switch it to cold. We don't use hot or warm water for laundry in this house because my better half is a Nazi about conserving electricity. (He is much greener than I, having been raised that way. I am still learning). We've never had any soap residue left on our clothing, which is amazing because nearly everything I own is black.

There are recipes to make homemade liquid laundry detergent as well that I did come across, but you had to cook it and it just looked like too much bother to me. I was a die-hard liquid person before, but now I'm a total convert to powder. So, do your research. Google it! You can eff around quite freely with the quantities and experiment all you like, but I promise you: you will love this method. I should know. I have three boys under the age of seven and a partner who is a full-fledged "working man" who comes home filthy and full of saw dust each and every day. Mountains of laundry are therefore my specialty.

Some more tips: wash your dryer vent with soap to remove residue from the dryer sheets; the sheets coat the vent and impede the progress of the vapour. Better yet, use your clothesline and dry things outside if you can. You can then fluff in the dryer afterwards to remove wrinkles, lint and the occasional bug. More and better tips here, here, and here and the liquid recipe is here.

So, am I still crazy?