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.
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
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.