Thursday, July 21, 2011

DIY Dad: Laundry Detergent

I like Do-It-Yourself things, at least as long as they are easy, and rescue you from being at anyone else's mercy. I didn't grow up that way--my dad and grandfather couldn't change their own motor oil or fix a bike flat. When we bought our first house I fixed things using the only tools I had: those on my Swiss Army knife. Once I realized that many things can be fixed faster than calling in a repairman, and that you can't do anything without Vise-Grips, I felt a lot more in control of my world.

I hate running out of detergent. With four kids, one of them in cloth diapers, we do a couple loads of laundry a day, so making our own not only brings the cost of detergent down to about a penny a load, but it means I can make 3 gallons at a time, and when I run out I can make another 3 gallons in just a few minutes--less time than it would take to get to the store.


1/2 cup washing soda
1 cup borax
3 oz. plain bar soap, or soap flakes, or Dr. Bronner's
5 gallon plastic bucket

The washing soda, borax and soap flakes you can get at the hardware store (I got mine at the local Ace). Likewise the bucket. I have a bucket just that size that I got some bulk tofu in years ago (when we were eating a heck of a lot of tofu); but that one has since been used as a cloth diaper bucket, and now holds about 40 pounds worth of my longer, heavier tools (the Swiss Army knife was more portable, at least).

Fill the bucket with 11 liters of water (many are marked in liters, or in quarts, which is close enough). Add the wash soda and borax. Dissolve the soap in a liter/quart of hot water, and pour that in. You're done.

You can use it right away. Overnight, the chemical reaction will finish, and there will be a gel taking up a lot of the bucket, plus some liquid. Scoop up a half cup, including some of each, for each load. Works great in cold water, and cleans as well as any detergent I've used.

The soap: you can use any bar soap you may have around (3 oz. is a typical size cake), and shave it into the hot water with a cheese grater until it dissolves. Or save yourself the grating, which is the only step that takes any effort, and just use soap flakes from a box. Dr. Bronner's is already liquid, so if you use that, you can just pour it and the hot water right into the bucket and be done.

You get to do chemistry in your kitchen, and the reward is finding the finished liquid detergent in the morning!

Thanks to Frugal Kiwi for first turning me on to this recipe and what a ripoff commercial laundry detergent is.