Monday, March 2, 2009

Making laundry soap

Homemade laundry soap is now all the rage, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I haven't had much luck with store bought laundry detergents. We have hard water, and we get our clothes very dirty; it seems only the expensive stuff works, or the inexpensive stuff with a ton of add-ins, which still makes it expensive.

I found this recipe online, but I tweaked it a bit to compensate for our hard water by increasing the borax. Here's what I used:

A clean five gallon bucket

One cup borax

One cup washing soda

One bar Fels Naptha soap

I chopped up the soap with my ulu instead of grating it as recommended in the recipe. The plus with the ulu is that you can use it as a scoop and it's much easier to clean.

I dissolved the chopped soap in a saucepan of hot water. I just put it on the wood stove and stirred it occasionally until it was melted.

In the meantime, I dissolved the borax and washing soda in some hot water in the five gallon bucket. Once the soap was melted, I added that and then topped it off with more hot water to reach the five gallon mark.

And this is what it looks like the following day. Sort of a goopy mess.
The instructions at the Duggar site suggest mixing this in a gallon container, half concentrate mixture and half water. I skipped this step and just use it right out of this container. I use 1/4 cup concentrate (as opposed to 1/2 cup diluted) for each load of laundry.

A few notes on the detergent:
  • It doesn't suds up at all, but it works great.
  • A five gallon bucket of water weighs 40 pounds, so if you can't lift that, be sure to put the bucket where you want it to be and carry the water to the bucket in smaller portions.
  • A five gallon bucket of mixture, using 1/4 cup per load, will yield about 320 loads.
  • Fels Naptha smells really strong as it melts; be sure to have adequate ventilation.
Now for the price breakdown:
Fels Naptha soap: $1.29
Box of borax: $3.99 - 76 oz; one cup weighs 9 oz, so one cup costs about 47 cents
Box of washing soda: $2.99 - 55 oz; one cup weighs 11 oz, so one cup costs about 60 cents
Total: $2.36

Price per load (using 1/4 cup of the concentrate per load): $ .007 per load. Or, ten loads for 7 cents.

Less than a penny a load. Not bad at all. The least expensive detergent I've bought was six cents per load, and it didn't clean very well. Doing what we do, we get our clothes extremely dirty, so even if I have to use double the detergent, it's still a great deal.

I am curious to see if the concentrate will get moldy. We don't have chlorinated water, so if it does mold, the next batch will get 8 drops of Clorox bleach per gallon of water.

Fels Naptha does contain, according to wikipedia, mineral spirits. Probably why it works so well on stains. I don't think it's any more of an irritant than regular laundry detergent ingredients, but you won't see me washing my hands with either. However, you can make this same recipe with other soaps.

Another note on Fels: Although the soap is recommended for poison ivy contact, don't use it for that. It's a very strong soap, and it's not necessary to use something so irritating to remove urushiol. Any soap will do; it's water that's important. Here's a handy link for poison ivy info.

ETA: I'm having a blogaversary giveaway: three bars of Fels-Naptha soap. Drawing to be held Oct 31, 2009.


Daclaren said...

It's interesting that you posted this, as I've been using a similar recipe for a few weeks, but it's a dry version. We got the recipe from Countryside magazine (Jan./Feb. 09 issue).

We mixed together one finely-grated bar of Fels Naptha (can substitute Zote, Ivory, or any natural soap), 1/2 cup of borax, and 1/2 cup of washing soda. Use 1 tablespoon for a small load and 2 tablespoons for a large or really dirty load.

I've been using it for probably close to a month and really like it! I don't know if I'll be going back to the store-bought stuff, as I've had a really hard time finding something that will be safe on the homestead (water drains out into the backyard) but also actually works to clean the clothes. The homemade powder fits the bill, so I think I'll stick with it.

City Mouse said...

I can't wait to hear how this goes as you start doing loads of wash with it! Please post about what you like and don't like about how it washes up.

Country Wife said...

Daclaren, I may switch to the dry recipe if this liquid stuff ends up moldy. How many loads do you get from that recipe?

I agree about never going back to the store bought stuff.

Mouse, so far I really like it. I think the clothes smell cleaner than they did with the store bought kind. I even got an extra bar of Fels for treating stains and it seems to work a lot better than any of the pre-wash sprays I've used.

Chance said...

Wow- great post! I'm going with the dry version because I cannot persuade my partner that the bucket of slime won't mold. You inspired me, I just went out and got the goods to make a batch tonight. Interesting side note: I couldn't find Fels up here, and there are a few websites that now offer it in a "home made detergent" Kit. Shipping negates the savings. It is also being sold on eBay. Go figure. Thanks again for the inspiration.

Country Wife said...

Chance, what sort of soap did you end up with?

I asked at Walmart and was told Fels wasn't made anymore, but they had a whole shelf of it at Meijer. Sometimes you can find stuff like that at Ace or Acme hardware stores.

I'll let you know if our goop gets moldy. So far, so good. I was thinking of splitting the recipe and making smaller batches to avoid molding.

Chance said...

I'm using Ivory per recommendations on the web.

Fels is still being made (by the Dial Soap company). I used Google shopper and found a number of places selling it online - cheapest is 1.18 a bar.

If my test batch goes well, I think it might be worth it to order up a bunch of Fels and just stockpile them. One downside of the powder is if it doesn't dissolve all the way -- will that require me to wash in hot water (not frugal)?

Anyway, I am running the test batch test laundry in hot, warm and cold water this weekend, I'll let you know how it goes.

Daclaren said...

CW: I'm not sure how many loads yet, as I haven't run out of the first batch. It filled a 1.2 quart Lock-n-Lock container almost to the top, and according to Google's handy conversion feature, that's about 76.8 tablespoons. (Actually a little less since it didn't fill the container completely, IIRC.)

I agree about the clothes smelling cleaner. I also use another bar of Fels for treating stains...seems to work pretty well. I've also treated really tough stains with Fast Orange hand soap (scrubbed in with an old toothbrush); that works well with automotive grease and such.

Chance: We order our Fels Naptha from Lehman's ( - saves us from trying to find it around here, and they sell a pack of 3 bars for $5.95. The Fels Naptha is in their Laundry section (Home category), and they also have several other soaps in the Personal Care section that would work with this recipe. We're going to check some stores around here for the Fels Naptha.

I also noticed that they're selling a lot of Fels on eBay. Don't bother with the pre-grated bags, though. One seller is selling a 1 lb bag (3 bars) of grated Fels for $10! That's almost double the cost for the 3 bars...yikes.

Country Wife said...

Chance, you can try dissolving your powder in a small amount of hot water (a cup or bowl?) and then adding that to the washer, rather than a whole load of hot water.

I did know that about Fels still being made, but the folks at Walmart didn't. ;)

I'm hoping to make some soap of my own to use in this recipe.

Daclaren, thanks for the Fast Orange tip. I'll have to give that a try.

whitehouse said...

I had a hard time finding washing soda had to use baking soda. thanks for posting the pic. so I now know what it looks like. Also love the pic on how to make. now I know mine looks normal.

Country Wife said...

Whitehouse, glad I could help.

S Vandemore said...

Hi ladies. I've been using this same homemade recipe for about a year now. I don't dilute down as much due to how dirty hub's clothes get (construction.) Have made 3 (1) gallon containers at a time and never had any mold problems. Didn't even occur to me that I would. I just make sure the Fels is completely melted, otherwise, you can get clumps in your batch that don't dissolve too well. I'm lucky I can get Fels for about $1.30 a bar at my local grocery store, no problem. It's in the same aisle as the other bar soaps.

FYI -- has a sale right now for 7 Bars of Fels, 1 box of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda and 1 box of 20 Mule Team Borax for $19.95. That's not a bad deal. UPS Ground to Neb. was $12.71, which isn't so great.
Might be more or less for you, depending on where you live.