Monday, October 4, 2010

Detergent for DIY Moms

Although it started out as an experiment for us, back when we were just a couple and kept running out of laundry detergent, now that we're expecting a baby and all its dirty laundry, I'm really glad that we have been making our own laundry detergent for about two years now.

I get teased - not as much now, but in the beginning, a lot - about being some kind of Ma Ingalls, making my own detergent when you can buy it at the store. But let me tell you - this detergent is extremely easy to make, extremely gentle and hypoallergenic, and much, much cheaper than store-bought. Plus, one batch makes about 3 gallons, which can last a lot longer than most detergent. And since it's liquid, and low-suds, my friends with HE washers and front loaders say they've had no problems.

You’ll need to buy some stuff, first.

You’ll need washing soda (I generally use Arm & Hammer. Make note – this is not baking soda. It’s in a much larger box, and it’s for laundry). You’ll also need borax. I use the 20 Mule Team brand, because it seems to be the most available. You’ll need a 5 gallon bucket with a lid (I got mine for about $5 at Home Depot. I’d pick up a paint stick, too). You’ll need one bar of soap – I use Ivory, but I’ve also used scented herbal soap. It needs to be the largish bar – not the kind that comes in the bulk pack. If you have that, though, just use two bars of soap instead. If you want your laundry to be scented, pick up some essential oils.

Now for the actual assembling:

1 cup washing soda
1/2 cup borax
1 bar of soap, ground into a powder (I use a food processor, but before that, I'd dice the bar, and then put it in a baggie and crush it)
About 3 gallons of water
1 oz essential oils (if you want)

Boil four cups of water, and then slowly add the ground up bar of soap, stirring constantly. When it’s dissolved, add the washing soda, stir some more, then the borax. When everything is a little more dissolved (it’ll look kinda like wall paper paste), take it off the heat. Put three gallons of warm water in your bucket, and then add the essential oils if you want. Stir in your soap mixture, and the pop the lid on. Let it sit for 24 hours before using.

Now, it’ll look kinda like albino egg drop soup when you go to use it. You’ll probably need to give it a stir before you use it (hence the paint stick). Use about a 1/2 cup or so at a time. It won’t suds like commercial laundry detergent, either, which makes it generally OK for front loaders, as well. But it cleans as well as commercial detergent. and you can determine the scenting. Plus it’s about 8-10 cents a load compared to up to 25-30 cents per load for ready-made stuff.

And if you nix the essential oils, and use a gentle bar soap like Ivory, it’s great for baby clothes, too.

And time – well, it takes about 15 minutes for me to make a batch of this, now that I have all the ingredients. If you are looking to fight some stains, I recommend pre-treating with a stain fighter, but other than that, this detergent works well.

With a baby on the way I’m always looking for other helpful household hints. What are your best homemade remedies?

Beth Erickson is a Dallas writer, 12 weeks pregnant, and the wife of Texas Health Resources web editor Tom Erickson.

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