Eco-Fresh Laundry

I was really excited about writing this blog, but personal situations the last month nearly stopped it in its track. Hopefully though, I’m back for good, and if you’re still reading here, I thank you.

I’ve been playing around with making my own dishwasher and laundry detergent lately. I’m still not satisfied with my dishwasher detergent so far, and have gone back to using the 7th Generation brand, but I am absolutely loving the powdered laundry detergent I’ve made. I usually use liquid detergent, so it’s a bit of a change for us, but making your liquid detergent requires a 5 gallon bucket and I just don’t have room (or the back) for storing it.

I’m a little strange, I think, because I love doing laundry. I love doing it because it takes 2 seconds to load into the washer, then I set it, and go around doing other things until it’s done. I HATE putting it away however, which makes me more normal again.

Americans apparently wash about 35 BILLION pounds of laundry a year. The amount of energy, water and chemicals that are used in this are almost unimaginable! I love my washer and dryer more than any other appliance in the house, and though I do line dry the clothes that need to be, I love using my dryer. Not using it would save lots of energy AND help my pocket financially, but there’s just something about pulling out just dried clothes and putting them on all soft and fluffy that I haven’t be able to give up yet.

So, instead, I have a new laundry detergent that saves me money, is great for the environment, and smells lovely. It only involves three ingredients, a laundry bar, washing soda, and Borax. For extra oompf, you can put in baking soda to deodorize even more and if you want a stronger fragrance, you can optionally add in essential oils. I can’t promise this detergent is completely dye and fragrance free even without the oils though (which I don’t use). The Linda laundry soap is yellow, so I assume it must have some dye, and it smells nice, though not strong at all, so it must have something fragrant in there.

Powdered Laundry Detergent Recipe:

  • 1 cup grated laundry bar soap
  • 1/2 cup Washing Soda
  • 1/2 cup Borax

For light loads, use 1 Tbsp. For heavier loads, use 2 Tbsps.

The first thing you need to do is grate 1 cup of your laundry bar. We found Linda’s Savon de Lavage in a little Italian deli close to us, but you can also use Fels Naptha or a Zote bar (Zote is bright pink, I’m not sure what Fels Naptha looks like). The bar we used was 9.5 oz, and we grated half the bar to get a cup’s worth.

Grate it as small as you can, because it will help it dissolve easier in water later.

I then took a 1/2 cup of Borax and 1/2 cup of Washing Soda and mixed them in with the grated laundry soap.

And voila! Laundry detergent! Hard, isn’t it?

This little bit is supposed to make approximately 22 to 44 loads. The soap bar cost us just under $2, the Borax and Washing Soda about $3 per box, and we only used 1/2 cup each of those. We still have half a bar of the laundry soap left and 3 pounds, 3 oz. of washing soda, and 4lbs, 8 oz. of Borax left. For about $8 dollars, do you know how many loads of laundry that is? Wow!

A little bit about Borax and Washing Soda:

Borax is a natural mineral compound that was first found and used 4000 years ago. It’s odorless and generally white (anything you buy will be white, although in its mined form, it can have color impurities) and is used as a natural laundry booster, multipurpose cleaner, fungicide, preservative, insecticide, herbicide, disinfectant, and dessicant. No wonder it’s been used for so many years.

However, just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s non-toxic. Indeed, it’s been used as an herbicide and kills pests as well. It’s great for cleaning, but you should still keep it away from pets and children.

Washing soda is also known as sodium carbonate. It is different from baking soda, which is sodium *BI*carbonate. It seems like they are very close, but for this recipe you cannot substitute washing soda with baking soda. Washing soda is also known as soda ash, which has been used for cleaning laundry for hundreds of years. It is most definitely caustic, and its high alkalinity helps it act as a solvent to remove a range of stains. It’s good for descaling and binds to the minerals which make water hard, so that detergents foam properly so clothing comes out without any residue.

The beauty of this recipe though, is that it is naturally low-sudsing, so you can use it in HE washers without a problem. In fact, it is only recently due to the Chemical Revolution that cleaners “sud” as much as they do – because manufacturers figured people thought things cleaned better if they were more sudsy. But more suds do not equal more clean!

So give it a shot and whip up a batch of powdered laundry detergent. It’s so easy! Use it with your regular fabric softener for now and leave me a comment letting me know what you think!

The Chemical Revolution

Last year I took an Animal Law class at my local community college, and there I learned that before 50 years ago there were no such things as “factory farms” – farmers were small operations that couldn’t possibly take care of tens of thousands of cattle and bring them to market. Back then, farming was more humane to animals and the environment wasn’t as badly affected because tons of fertilizer and pesticides and antibiotics were not needed to keep thousands of animals relatively healthy enough to get to market. Here’s a great link on the environmental effects of factory farming: Farm Sanctuary’s “Environmental Impact of Factory Farming.”

After World War II, it seems everything changed. Industrial farming became more and more the norm and something I’ve recently learned about, The Chemical Revolution, occurred. Take a look, 50 years ago, DuPont’s slogan was Better Things for Better Living…Through Chemistry.”

“The dawn of the chemical age followed quickly on the heels of World War II, instigated by war-related research and a host of ‘new and improved’ products like chemical cleaners, plastics, and disposable goods that quickly became symbols of American prosperity and modern luxury . . . Vinegar and soap were out, chlorine and synthetic, petroleum-based detergents were in. The modern marvel of petro-chemical wonders made domestic chores a breeze. Who needs elbow grease when chemicals will do the work for you?” — Easy Green Living by Renee Loux, p. 50

Now I’m not saying chemistry is bad, or rather, that all chemistry is bad. Hell no, I still use a lot of plastic, take medication everyday and live the life of a 21st century woman (despite my desire not to at times).

But the fact of the matter is that before the chemical revolution, household cleaners included ingredients like white vinegar, good old-fashioned plain baking soda, and the love of my life lately, pure castile soap. They couldn’t even have imagined things like Triethanolamine (TEA), Phenols, or tongue twisters like Alkyl dimethylbenzyl ammonium chloride (also known as quatenary ammonium compoound).

Don’t get me wrong, these chemicals are “modern miracles” – they clean and disinfect really well and leave being a scent that to us just screams “clean” – but almost all of them are absolutely toxic to both you and the environment. There’s a reason why many cleaners don’t list ingredients on their containers – who likes to read a huge list of multi-syllable names of things they’re putting on their kitchen counters or table?

The problem is, this stuff has only been around for the last 50 or so years. Vinegar and baking soda have been around for millenia. While we may think that we’ve been cleaning with these things for years and have never been affected, keep in mind, we don’t have more than one generation (really starting with the baby boomers) that has been in contact with these chemicals their entire lives. Who knows what this stuff is doing to us?

Have you ever been overcome by cleaning fumes, gotten a rash by coming into contact with some cleaning supply, or a bad headache from inhaling some chemical? All of that shows that that stuff is just not good for us.

So I set forth this challenge for you, to look for cleaning supplies at the store that contain ALL their ingredients ON the bottle. In the future I plan on posting my favorite green cleaning “recipes” – and all of them contain items we all know and can say in one breath:

  • soap
  • baking soda
  • salt
  • vinegar
  • washing soda
  • alcohol (yay vodka!)
  • and cornstarch.

You’ll be amazed at what you can clean.