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Monday, March 10, 2014

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Got Laundry?

This is what our laundry room floor looked like after one night with three very sick toddlers.
The laundry was pretty much caught up prior to this...

This picture is about 6 months old, when I started this blog post (where does the time go?).
Tanner is with me as I do my weekly changing of the bedding: That's 4 sheets, 4 lightweight blankets, 4 lovies, and other odds & ends like my CozyWedge bumper sleeves or stuffed animals that smell rather funky...
And yes, this is just the babies' crib bedding.
Now do you see why I make my own laundry soap?
Lets Talk Laundry!!!
Many of you have asked me about my homemade laundry detergent.  For the past two years I have tweaked and modified my recipe to find what works best for our family for the least amount of money.  Since I just made another batch, I thought I would explain how I make it in case anyone else wants to try!

First, a disclaimer.  I love to cook.  I watch cooking shows all the time & think I would be a serious contender in the version of "Chopped:  QuadMom All-Stars" (hmmmm.. now THAT's an idea!).  But I am NOT a recipe cook.  I am more of an "Eh" kind of cook.  I drive family and friends nuts when they ask for a recipe because I rarely, if ever, measure.  My method to making laundry soap is a lot like my cooking.  I "Eh" it a lot.  No measurement is totally, exactly precise.  But this is what I have learned:
It really doesn't matter!  If you use soap, the clothes will get clean.  Having said that, I will try to be as precise as I can.
These little munchkins LOVE to think of creative ways to get clothes dirty.  Like smearing diaper cream all over their clothes and bodies!  Such curious, scientifically minded kiddos.

Liquid Laundry Soap vs Powder Laundry Soap
First off, homemade soap works great in regular and HE washers.  I know many moms swear by the powder soap version.  The recipe is 1 bar shredded Fels Naptha + 1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda + 1 cup Borax, all pulsed together in food processor.  Use 1-2 tablespoons per load.  My friend Krista recently blogged about how she makes it so go check out her blog post here for a picture tutorial and to sneak a look at this amazing mom of 7 (quads included)!

For me, I prefer the liquid recipe.  I love the gelatinous transformation that happens to the soap, it's like a cool science experiment.  And it's fun to squish up.   But my preference is probably mostly on a psychological level.  I have made dry batches before, but something about using a measly tablespoon of soap per nasty, dirty load always caused me doubt about its stain-fighting powers.  Purely psychological, I know.  But for now, I am happy with and will continue making the liquid version.  There is no right or wrong way, just whatever works best for you!

The BEST Stain Remover in the World
Whether dry or liquid, homemade detergent works well.  Very well.  But, in my opinion, not so awesome on deep set stains.  The solution?  I have an extra bar of Fels Naptha soap always by my washer to use as a stain treater/remover.  If I see a stain (and care to remove it from the fabric), I wet the spot, rub the yellow bar of soap on the stain, scratch the soap into the stain with my fingernail, and then toss the article into the washer or pile of dirty clothes.
I have removed some of the nastiest stains, even when they were old, deep set, or from articles of clothing freshly pulled out of the dryer but the stain still was there (food is the ultimate culprit right now).  A bar of Fels Naptha is- can I be redundent- THE BEST stain remover in the world.
It is so cheap.  And it works AWESOME.  You will thank me :)

And now, my recipe!
Homemade Liquid Laundry Soap
What you will need:
1 bar Fels Naptha ($1.15/bar)
1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda ($3-$4/box)
1 cup Borax ($3-$5/box)
1 5-Gallon Bucket with lid
optional: liquid fragrance ($1.99 +)

In The Kitchen:

1.  Shred the bar of soap
Tips:  I use my food processor.  I also buy & shred several bars at once (one by one), then place the pre-shredded soap in ziplock bags so the next several batches are easier to do.
*Note to children:  this is NOT shredded cheese.  It will taste disgusting when you grab a handful and eat it.  Just ask Jenna.  
~But man, was it an excellent natural consequences lesson!  (stifled mommy laugh)

2.  Boil the soap with 4 cups water on stove until it melts.  
Tip:  Stir frequently and keep an eye on it.  It can boil over easily.  If that occurs, the silver lining is you have a cleaned stove-top.  Just sayin'...

3.  Add boiled soap liquid to the other soaps in bucket.  Fill with water 1/4 of the way & stir well.
This is also where you can add the fragrance.  I have tried no fragrance (when babies were itty bitty), a little fragrance, and more.  It depends on the type of fragrance you buy.  The picture of the fragrance below is at my grocery store for $1.99 and is a concentrated fragrance instead of fragrance oil, so I found I need to use more (I even used a whole bottle once, and it was not overly fragrant).  I have used fragrance oils and need far less.  It also depends on the scent.  Let your nose be the guide, and remember you will be diluting this stuff A LOT with water so no worries if it smells strong.  Last night I made a Lavendar Lemon scent.  I think I will like this batch!

I love the clean scents like this Ocean Breeze, but also love other pleasant scents like Mountain Air, Fresh Rain, Lavender.  I buy these bottles in the fragrance aisle of my local grocery store (usually near the candles).
At this point, I bring my bucket to the bathtub for the rest of the preparation.  

4.  Fill Bucket with more water to 3/4 way full.  Stir, cover, and let it rest overnight.

5.  The next day, you will find your liquid has turned into the most wonderfully clean jelly!  Roll up those sleeves and dig in: squish, squish, squish!
The mixture should be a gelled consistency.  It is really fun to get your arms in, elbow deep, in the liquid and squish until there are not too many lumps left.  Kids love to help with this part!

6.  Optional but really helpful:  blend the mixture to a fine, smooth consistency.
You do not need to do this step, but after hand squishing the mixture there will still be some lumps.  I tried using my hand-held immersion blender a few batches ago and fell in love with how silky smooth the soap mixture became!  If you don't have one of these tools, consider buying one for the silky smooth soups you can make with it when not mixing soap!  Or, a hand-cranked mixer or even a whisk would work just fine too. ;)

7.  Pour halfway into empty containers.
Tip:  I use a larger measuring cup to pour the detergent into the containers.  For me, a funnel was a waste of time and very frustrating.  I use old laundry containers, but old milk & vinegar jugs work great too because you can actually see when the liquid is half-way.  When pouring the detergent into the containers, I now place them in a basin (not pictured) so I can catch every last drop that spills down.  I am very frugal, can you tell?

8.  Fill containers 3/4 of the way with water & cap the containers.
Tip:  I then shake the liquid while I wash the exterior of the containers and place them on a towel.  When all the containers are filled up & cleaned off, I swish out the tub and VOILA! I also cleaned my bath-tub at the same time.  Multitasking at its best.  The batch I did last night I filled 11 containers.  The batch in the picture I filled only 7.  This is an example of my "eh" measurements!  But clothes still come out clean.  I promise!

Use about 1/2 cup per load of detergent.
Shake before using.  Adjust volume as you think is needed per load.  This batch is suppose to last 6 months, but I ain't gonna lie:  I need to make a new batch every 2-3 months.  However, I do about 2-4 loads of laundry per day, so for a normal household I would think it could last 6 months.

Fabric Softener Alternative
Finally, another must in my laundry room is the giant container of white vinegar I use to de-funk all my family's unpleasant dirty laundry smells.  I buy a huge container at Costco for $3.25 and add about 1/4 cup to every load in the liquid fabric softener spout of our HE washer.
For the dryer, I purchased wool balls 2 years ago for $6 and they work like a charm.  They last forever.  What you do is keep them always in the dryer and they roll around with the laundry, beating softness into the fabric.  If I want more scent, I toss 1/2 of a fabric softener sheet into the dryer.  However, I was told fabric softeners actually prevent absorption of water in fabrics so they are not recommended for things like towels or cloth diapers.  That, and fabric softener is pricey, so wool balls and vinegar are fantastic!

This laundry detergent is super cheap to make, not very time consuming, and it works!!!  A bar of Fels Naptha should be a must in every laundry room, and vinegar is just the most amazing liquid ever. Whatever tips you might chose to try, I hope you are rewarded with clean laundry for a fraction of the price!  Got any other laundry tips or recipes?  Feel free to add them to my comments!



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