Saturday, June 14, 2008

DIY Laundry Detergent

One of the things I have always disliked about laundry is the expense and the waste of time. I'm fortunate to have a washer and dryer in my current apartment -- though the dryer is electric and I only use it as a last resort in the winter to dry sheets and blankets (everything else is hung on hangers around the apartment). Most of the year, I hang my clothing to dry on the line.

Detergent is always expensive - liquid detergent is a waste because you're basically buying water - powdered detergent comes with its own issues. I read about making your own laundry detergent several months ago and have been planning for the day when I finally used up my box of Biokleen powdered detergent.

While the ingredients are all basically the same - bar soap, borax and washing soda -- proportions vary widely as do the amounts you use. One powdered recipe recommends using only 1T or 2T, and the liquid detergent recipes vary between from 1/8 to 1 cup. One of the biggest variables in the liquid detergents seems to be the amount of water added -- recipes calling for 2 gallons are around 1/4-1/2 cup soap for a load, and recipes calling for a 5 or 10 gallon bucket have you putting up to 1 cup in the wash. I live in a small apartment - the idea of using a small 2 gallon bucket (with lid) that fits under the sink appeals to me.

Since I am cutting down on driving (like to 200 miles per month average since December), I like to link trips as much as possible. Yesterday I drove into San Francisco and left my car for an oil change (prematurely - at 6K miles, I'll wait until 10K or next June), then I went and did errants. I picked up Borax ($5.29 for 76 oz) and washing soda ($0.60 per lb) at Rainbow Grocery. They no longer carry Fels Naptha, so I picked up a couple bars of Kirk's Coco Castille (saponified coconut oil) "just in case." My brother helpfully checked around and informed me that the Pastime Ace on San Pablo (where I planned to find a bucket) carries Fels Naptha -- so I picked up James and we went back to the East Bay to the hardware store.

So, I invested in a bucket with a lid -- buying more plastic was not part of the general idea of making my own laundry detergent but my last bucket only lasted 12 years and died a month ago. I ended up buying a second bucket for floor cleaning and watering the garden. This morning I realized I need some kind of container to store my fertilizer ingredients per Crunchy Chicken's gardening challenge (and watering the garden is going to be another experiment - I have to visit my friend Dave about the 55 gal drum/spigot gravity drip hose with a battery powered timer system he uses).


Costs (including tax):

Bucket & Lid $7.01

Ingredients (per batch)
  1. Borax ($5.73 for 76 oz box = $0.07 per oz) 1/2 c weighs 2 7/8 oz - $0.20
  2. Fels Naptha ($1.40 for 4 oz bar) 1/3 bar - $0.47
  3. Washing Soda ($0.65/lb = $.04 per oz) - 1/2 c weighs 5 1/8 oz - $0.205
Total Cost for 2-Gallon batch of laundry detergent: $0.875

64 loads at 1/2 c. soap per load:
$0.014 per load.

If I include the cost of the bucket, my first batch comes to $0.11 per wash (or less if I use 1/4 per load).

The powdered soap I was using costs something like $0.11 and liquid soap costs a bit more.

  1. Dissolve 1/3 bar grated Fels Naptha soap in hot water.
  2. Add 1/2 cup washing soda and 1/2 cup Borax to hot water.
  3. Pour hot tap water and soap mixure into bucket and stir. Let sit overnight before using.

HPIM5533 HPIM5534 HPIM5536

Tip Nut has about 10 recipes
Crystal Miller has a recipe with detailed instructions and pictures
See also recipes from: Suite 101, The Frugal Shopper, Recipezaar


Anonymous said...

I got my drums on craigslist from a guy in a warehouse in Hayward. Try this search...

.. searching for Barrel, or 55 gal might give results too.

I have mixed results with the 55 gallon drum in the vegetable garden. The main problem is that it doesn't have the same water pressure as tap water - so typical drip systems don't work. What tends to happen is that plants close to the barrel get a lot of water - while plants further away starve.

Also - 55 gallons is not very much water when dealing with a vegetable garden - I get through a whole barrel full of water in about a week or so. Maybe the plants could survive with less water.

Perhaps I could improve things by elevating the barrel to improve the pressure. It would need to be pretty high though - my back of envelope calcs suggest the barrel would need to be 45 inches off the ground to get the 20psi water pressure that a drip system needs.

I find that I enjoy going out to the garden and watering by hand. It makes for a nice break in the day. Still - its nice to be able to go out of town for a few days without having to worry about the plants dying.

I also have a conventional drip system set up on the patio to water the container plants. That works a lot better. The plants can go for weeks without needing attention. It was a lot more work to set up and required making some minor modifications to the house plumbing to attach the valves. I'll write about that more some other time.

Sorry we missed you when you stopped by the other day. We'll see you soon.

Dave Kendall

Jenn said...

I missed you last night but I got the three delicious looking radishes! :)