Monday, February 20, 2012

DIY detergent, the saga

Our family has finally joined the ranks of serious frugalists in making our own laundry detergent. For those of you who are new to this, you can find a link to the recipe we used down toward the bottom of this post.  But I think, in my case, the interesting question is . . . why did it take us so long?  After all, DIY laundry soap costs less than a quarter (that is, less than 25¢) for 75 loads -- less than one tenth of what commercially prepared laundry detergent costs, even on two-for-one sales.  And the ingredients come in two cardboard boxes plus a few paper-wrapped packages, not in fifty giant plastic bottles.

Shouldn't I have done this ages ago?
The best anniversary gift ever:
a front-loading washing machine.
The real reason I hadn't done this before is because my (non-miser) husband is in charge of the laundry.  He LOVES laundry.  No, really.  Above is a photo we took in 2006; for our anniversary, I bought him a front-loading washer.  To this day, that washer ranks right up there with the clothes steamer as one of the best gifts I ever got him.  My guy jumps up in the middle of dinner to run down to the basement "because the clothes might wrinkle".  I still have no idea what that means he's doing down there.

My husband cares deeply about his clothes.  He looks good in them.  The Philly subway toll collectors call him (I am not making this up) "Mr. GQ".  In fact, he has a subscription to GQ, and he knows the names of clothes manufacturers the way I know the names of mathematical theorems.

This poor guy; he married a woman who believes in DLP (Darwinian Laundry Processes).  I get my clothes for less than a dollar an outfit, so darned if I'm going to fret over dry cleaning or special treatment.  I figure, toss it in there; if it survives, great.  If not, it was Not Meant To Be.  My husband disagrees.  Ergo, the last time I touched the washing machine was two years ago, when my husband was overseas in Iraq.  He is the Lord of Laundry.  I toss my dirty clothes down the laundry chute, and I accept my clean, folded clothes when he is done with them, and then I put them away in my drawers.  I am a minion, not a master.

The Lord of the Laundry has over the years uttered certain truths that mere mortals accept with due meekness.  An Incontrovertible truth:  the dryer is essential.  Now, left to my own devices, I'd never use the dryer.  Indeed, the Iraq year meant a year of miser-mom-style, air-dried, stiff clothes and towels.  But stiff towels are heresy in my husband's eyes.  The dryer gets a heck of a lot of use in our home now that he's back.

The other Incontrovertible Truth has long been: Name Brand Laundry Detergents only.  Actually, that is an understatement . . . there is the One True laundry detergent, and we should forswear all others.  The Lord of the Laundry had spoken.

But lately, there has been a bit of wavering.  For Christmas, K-daughter bought my husband laundry detergent, of a brand that is not even remotely of the One True type.  And he didn't seem to mind.  In fact, he confided to me that -- because of the wonderful front-loader machine that I bought him -- a variety of types of detergents seem to work well.

So when I got this email from a neighbor, I decided to show it to my husband:
Hey Miser Mom!
I ran across this recently and I think I am finally going to make it.  Home made laundry detergent!  The numbers are pretty impressive on how much money you can save.  I figure you have seen these recipes, but I thought of you when I saw it.  Have you ever tried making it?
Let me know if you try it or if you have made some before.  I could take our 2 person household a year to use it all... but it's just too tempting.  :)
The ingredients (plus water).

I showed the email to my Guy.  And he consented to the experiment.  I found Fels Naptha and Borax at my local hardware store, and Washing Soda near the water softeners in my local grocery (that's a story for another time).  The concoction quickly became a family endeavor.  Our laundry detergent is now home-made.

The boys grate the Fels Naptha,
with help from a younger friend.

K-daughter adds the recipe to her own personal cook book.
The boys stir the concoction together.
This recipe is so simple,
even a child can make it.
A bit of takeaway:  My husband and I both make a lot of jokes (here and in the rest of our life) about his dominion over our laundry.  For me, leaving the laundry choices to him in spite of my otherwise thrifty leanings is a huge part of my "don't drive them crazy" philosophy.  But if this experiment does indeed work -- in the sense that even my Guy likes the results -- it's pretty strong evidence that making our own laundry detergent isn't just for weirdos like me.  Someday, you might even see this recipe in the pages of GQ.


  1. So, it's been a month with this homemade detergent, & I'm interested to know how the Lord of Laundry is liking it. I am also somewhat of a laundry aficionado, & judging by the pic you posted of LL standing by his new washer & a huge bright orange bottle off to the side, I'd say that our detergent preference is the same. It might be hard to give up that distinctive scent, but the thought of saving so much money is very alluring. I would like to know his thoughts, especially as to how the detergent has affected the washer since the detergent may not be "high-efficiency" friendly.

  2. Sondra. As the official Laundry Guy, I can say that after a month, I see no difference in clean with homemade laundry soap. I still use commercial soap for delicates--partly because I have three containers of it. But I could switch confidently because I have a high efficiency washer. These machines clean mechanically, so the soap matters much less. When I had a top loader I only used Tide because they formulate regionally and make the water work better than other detergents.
    So if you have an HE washer, I would say try the homemade soap.

    1. Thank you for your reply! I'm excited to try this out, but right now we are gearing up to move. My husband is active-duty Air Force & just got orders to move to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. We are really excited, but it has sent our household into a state of chaos as we sort through everything & sell off anything we don't really need or want to take with us. However, whenever we get settled up there, I plan on taking full advantage of this! :-)