The second recipe in my cleaning series is for an all natural, powdered laundry soap. The recipe for this DIY laundry soap and its cost-effectiveness can be found numerous places on the web. However, I have yet to come across an explanation that satisfies my scientific curiosity about each ingredient’s purpose in the laundering process. So, I’ve decided to re-post the recipe here with a little more information about what each ingredient does in the washing machine.
On a personal note, I have been using this laundry soap for a few years now (in our high-efficiency, aka “HE”, washing machine) and have been amazed with how well it cleans our laundry. We use cloth diapers and even they get completely clean using this laundry soap. I have used a variety of bar soaps in the recipe, including Zote, Ivory, Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild Castile Soap, Kiss Me Bar Soap, and Kirk’s Natural Fragrance Free Castile Soap. All have produced similar results in my laundry, but my personal favorites are the fragrance free castile (vegetable based) soaps.
2 cups fragrance free soap, finely grated
1 cup Borax (sodium borate)
Preparation and Use
Gather the ingredients as well as a cheese grater, measuring cups and a container for storing your laundry soap.
Finely grate the bar soap using a handheld fine cheese grater or a food processor fitter with the finest cheese grating blade you have.
If you chose to use a food processor, you may want to dump the soap out, insert the standard steel blade in your food processor, dump the soap back in, and process a little longer (10 seconds or so). This will break the soap up a little more and make for a more uniform laundry soap in the end.
Add 2 cups of finely grated bar soap to your container.
Then, add 1 cup of borax to your container.
Lastly, add 1 cup of washing soda to your container.
Mix all ingredients together until well combined.
Use 1-2 Tbsp. per load. High Efficiency (HE) washing machine safe.
Soaps are used for cleaning because pure water can’t remove oily, organic soiling. Soap cleans by acting as an emulsifier, allowing oil and water to mix. The soap traps and suspends grease and oils inside the soap molecules during the wash, allowing the grease and oils to be rinsed away. Borax (sodium borate) produces a basic (alkaline) solution in water thereby increasing the cleaning and (color safe) bleaching power of the other cleansing components. Washing soda (sodium carbonate) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) act as a water softeners as well as removing odors and stains from clothing. Washing soda also competes with the magnesium and calcium in hard water, preventing them from inactivating the laundry soap and thereby allowing you to use less soap per load.
HE washing machines require a laundry soap that does not produce a lot of suds. Castile soap, borax, and washing soda are all naturally low in soap bubble production.
Traditional laundry detergents are just that, detergents. Detergents are primarily surfactants, which lower the surface tension of water, making it ‘wetter’ so that it is less likely to stick to itself and more likely to interact with oil and grease. Detergents are made from petroleum products and primarily consist of surfactants, foaming agents, and alcohols. Since these chemicals smell bad, detergents are also usually heavily scented with synthetic and artificial fragrances. Detergents also contain preservatives and anti-microbials to prevent spoilage. All of these chemicals are common allergens and skin irritants.
In contrast, true soaps are made with natural products (fat and lye). Ecologically, it is possible to produce soap without any by-products. Additionally, the soap that goes down the drain during washing is bio-degradable. Soaps have an alkaline pH (between 9 and 10), which (as mentioned above for borax) increases their cleansing power as well as acting as a natural preservative and providing antimicrobial properties. True soaps can be made from animal or vegetable based fats. Zote and Ivory are both soaps made with animal based fats, which are by-products of the meat packing industry. So, the factors that might concern you about meat (the treatment of animals, the use of synthetic hormones, antibiotics, herbicides, pesticides, etc.) may also concern you about animal based soaps. Vegetable based soaps can be made from coconut, palm, castor, or olive oils. And, again, the factors that might concern you about your vegetables (herbicides, pesticides, etc.) may also concern you about vegetable based soaps. So, you’ll have to do some research to make an informed decision about your soap.
The cheapest laundry detergents cost about $0.20 per load. The cheapest “all natural” laundry detergents cost even more. The laundry soap recipe presented here costs about $3 for 32 ounces ($0.05 per load)!