green cleaning

Feed the Dirt Pennies a Load

As I reported in my Laundry post a couple weeks ago, making my own powdered detergent was a piece of cake, once I located the ingredients, but it didn't actually save mucho dinero over finding planet-friendly laundry detergent on super-de-duper sale. Nevertheless, the powdered batch took care of two weeks' worth of laundry for a family of five, and I still have enough for one more load.

However, the authors of The Country Almanac of Housekeeping Techniques That Save You Money promised their concoction of liquid laundry detergent cost only "pennies a load," so I had to try that next. No, I wasn't going to make my own fireplace bellows or build the kids a "simple solar cooker" or "Make Recycled Sandals from Rubber Tires" (other projects in the book), but this I could manage.

It took a little planning ahead because I needed two one-gallon containers. At our family's milk-drinking rate, that required a four-day lead time. But otherwise the main ingredients were the same: soap flakes, Borax, and washing soda. In particular they said you could grate 1/3 to 1/2 a bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap or solid Co-Co Castile soap, but in my laziness I bought pre-flaked soap off Amazon. Fred Meyer carries the Fels-Naptha, the Borax, and the washing soda, all right next to each other.

1/3 to 1/2 bar of Fels-Naptha or Kirk's CoCo Castile soap
4 cups water
1/2 cup washing soda
1/2 cup borax
1 Tbsp essential oil (I skipped this)

Since 1/2 of a Fels-Naptha laundry soap bar would weigh 2.25 ozs, I weighed an equivalent amount of soap flakes:

Next, I added the soap flakes to the water and heated over medium until the flakes dissolved.

(The froth is from stirring. It isn't boiling.)
Then I added the remaining ingredients and stirred until dissolved.

Once dissolved, the mixture sat for five minutes over the heat. It said "stir occasionally," but I got distracted and didn't stir at all until the end, and no harm seemed to come of it.

Remove from heat and allow to cool five minutes.

I filled each milk jug halfway with hot tap water. Then I poured half the soap mixture in each jug, shook it, and filled it the rest of the way with warm water. I shook it again and then stored it in the utility room cabinet to await laundry day. (The book recommends letting the mixture sit for 24 hours.)


Just in case, I wrote the directions right on the jug. In fact I wrote several labels on the jugs, not out of fear my children would drink it, but more because my absent-minded husband might. I don't imagine he'd go looking for milk in the utility room, but if I happened to leave it on the washer, I wouldn't put it past him.

Considering the liquid recipe used less soap, Borax, and washing soda, and that it promises up to 50 loads (instead of just 12), this indeed qualifies as an #OrganicTightwad post. But I'll definitely let you know how it cleans. The powdered detergent was great, so I have high hopes.

And a closing note from my other tightwad front: artisan breadmaking. (See this post and this one and this one.) My quest to replace storebought sandwich bread was half-successful. Meaning, my husband and son were just fine with homemade (hub even preferred it strongly), but my youngest thought it was too crumbly in a school lunch, and the oldest didn't want it for toast. Sigh. I'm going to try the recipe again, to get my ingredients more uniformly mixed and the loaves closer to storebought size. They looked great, though, didn't they?

Easy to slice, too.

The Laundry, Where Cleanliness and Miserliness Meet

Per my promise, this week's post takes us into the laundry room, where we look for ways to save not only the planet and the water supply, but also some of that cold, hard cash that inevitably goes through the laundry and comes out shinier (coins) or crisper (dollar bills).

Step #1 was to get rid of chlorine bleach. Toxic stuff. The books I've been reading recommend 1/2-3/4 cup hydrogen peroxide in that load of whites. Is it as effective as chlorine bleach? Probably not. But my goal is to have whites that are clean-looking, not blinding.

Step #2: Do laundry in cold or warm, if possible. Using hot water increases energy needs by 90%, according to Green Cleaning for Dummies.

Step #3: Author Ellen Sandbeck of Organic Housekeeping recommends buying detergents without surfactants like Alkyphenol ethoxylate, an endocrine disrupter that stays in our water system and refuses to break down; phosphates; or Sodium hypochlorite (good old chlorine bleach). But, Ellen, that leaves all those super expensive, Whole-Foods-y type laundry detergents that are outrageously priced!

So, Step #3b: Make your own Whole-Foods-y type laundry detergent for less.

I found two "recipes" for homemade laundry detergent and went for the easiest first:

Powdered Laundry Detergent
2 cups soap flakes

1 cup borax

1 cup washing soda

 This makes a "powdered" laundry detergent that I use just like any other at 1/4 cup per load. So, four cups of the homemade detergent handles about 12 loads, and I estimate the cost at about <$1 load. I could bring this price down further by grating my own Fels-Naptha laundry soap, but that sounded tiresome.

While the Borax was pretty easy to find, the washing soda and soap flakes took more doing. If you do plan to save more money and grate your own soap in the food processor, then Fred Meyer carries all three: Borax, Fels-Naptha, and washing soda. Otherwise, Ace Hardware also carries washing soda, and I ended up ordering a bunch of packages of soap flakes off Amazon.

It took mere seconds to measure the ingredients out and mix them together in an empty laundry detergent box, and the clothes came out clean and fresh-smelling! Very pleased. But the total cost wasn't much less than the Whole-Foods-y type detergent I wanted to replace, especially if one of those was on super-sale. When I've run through my 12 loads, I'll give the recipe for liquid laundry detergent a go and let you know how it works. The liquid detergent is more economical, since it promises 50 loads from a smaller amount of the same ingredients. However it does require two gallon-size plastic containers (I rinsed out milk ones) and more than ten seconds of work. Hence, I didn't want to try it first, being rather lazy.

As I sit and type this, I'm down in the Bay Area visiting my mom, and now I do see why Zero-Waste Lifestyle devoted a separate chapter to vacations. Our family has probably generated as much trash in a few days' travel as we do in a couple weeks at home. Yikes. Take-out food, hotel shampoos and soaps, snacks and treats. At least I get plenty of time to read, and I leave you with this tidbit from Superfreakonomics, a quick library ebook that covered a range of topics from fixes to global warming (!) to the economic whys and wherefores of prostitution:

Levitt and Dubner quote a Carnegie Mellon study that found, "Shifting less than one day per week's worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more greenhouse-gas reduction that buying all locally sourced food." The researchers were examining locally-sourced food only from the transportation-emissions aspect, without regard for how local food benefits local economies, builds community and food trust, and frequently results in way-better-tasting fresh, ripe food, but I still see their point. How about if I shift one or two meals per week to non-red-meat-non-dairy and I source my food locally in season? Sounds like a win-win.

Have a great week, Marketgoers, and here's wishing you cheap, clean laundry.

Meet the Organic Tightwad

Has anyone else noticed their grocery bill going up in the last few months? I sure have. If I typically spent $80-110/week six months ago, now I'm hitting $100-130. Yes, I know the rest of the country has been suffering from drought, and it's not like fuel costs have gotten any lower, but something has got to be done! An average increase of $25/week = an extra $1300/year, for Pete's sake.

Is it possible to keep everyone fed and the home running on less money, while still trying to eat healthy and not poison us or the environment? I'm thinking YES, and I'll be passing my findings on to you, with the "Organic Tightwad" label. Not that everything will be organic--I'm just using that as a catch-all for general goodness. Much like the food industry likes to throw around "all-natural" and "wholesome," except that I'm not trying to fool you or make money off you. But I digress.

Figuring out how to make easy, homemade artisan bread was one step in cutting costs. (Read about it here, here and here.) And I'm thrilled to report that another reader has gotten hooked herself and is now whipping up those tasty, easy, cost-cutting loaves. As I mentioned, if you don't wash out the dough container between batches, the cookbook says it gives you a jump on a sourdough tang. Lovely for artisan bread, but not ideal for my next project: homemade sandwich bread. My nine-year-old was less than thrilled with a sourdough-haunted PBJ, but I'm starting to balk at the $4-5 charge per loaf of decent whole wheat sandwich bread. I pay a little more because I don't want soybean oil or high fructose corn syrup or even lots of sugar. In Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day the authors include a recipe for "Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread" (sorry, no link), perfect, they say, for the school lunch box. That's next up on my experimental agenda, and I'll report back. Reducing the weekly grocery bill by $4.50/week = $234. There's a cost associated with baking your own bread, of course, but I'd put it at under $0.50/loaf.

Another step in cost-cutting comes with a fringe benefit of do-less-harm to the environment: I'm talking about whipping up my own home cleaners. Skipping the chlorine bleach, the Drain-O, the glass cleaner--even the laundry detergent! In addition to the other very helpful, handy books I listed earlier, I read this one this past week:


Recommended, and I've got the full review below and on Goodreads. One of the first things I tried was Korst's advice for clogged drains. My kids' sink was a notorious slow drainer, thanks to ten years of hair and--I kid you not--the boy barfing in it some years ago. First I fished around with the Zip-It drain cleaning gizmo given me at the Market by the City of Bellevue in their Green Cleaning Kit.
Then I dumped 1/2 cup of baking soda in the sink and tried to shove it down the drain. I followed this with 1/2 cup white vinegar, mixing and stuffing till I got the fizzy mess to go down (mostly). After 15 minutes, I poured down 2 qts of hot, hot water from the teakettle. At first nothing happened. Then I saw the tiny swirl of a whirlpool. And voila! The dang thing drained! And continues to drain beautifully! No plumber, no harsh chemicals. I'm a believer.

All the books recommended replacing toxic chlorine bleach, and I've done two loads of whites now with 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide as the bleach. Works just fine. I also squirted hydrogen peroxide on the nasty grout in the bathroom and admired its bleaching effects. While this substitute costs about the same as bleach, at least you're not poisoning the water supply.

That's it for this week, except for the promised full book review! Have a cheap, green week!
This quick read dovetailed nicely with other books I've been reading about running a more natural, non-harmful household. I admire Korst and her husband for their utter devotion to producing as little trash as possible and knew immediately I was never going to have a zero-waste home. Tooth powder instead of toothpaste? Handkerchiefs over Kleenex (she hasn't seen the amount of snot my family can produce!)? Finding a place to buy liquids in bulk, so I wouldn't have to use container after container?

However, I did find the book realistic about just trying to encourage every household to kick it up a notch. She offered Easy, Moderate and Advanced changes, so anyone can make a difference. Use less. Avoid packaging. Avoid plastics.

According to Korst, "the average American produces three pounds of landfill-bound garbage each day." This amounted to 250 million pounds of trash in 2010, all dumped in lined pits in the ground, 82% of which leach crud into our groundwater. Not only that, but there's so much in there, piled so fast, that the Garbage Project discovered even biodegradable things weren't biodegrading. They found recognizable food that was 20 years old, as well as newsprint about the moon landing! Yikes.

And trash that doesn't end up in the ground too often ends up in our oceans, where it floats around in a mass 2x the size of Texas and kills 100,000 marine mammals annually.

Fortunately my city has excellent recycling and yard waste programs, so we're not a super-trashy family, but I was inspired to make some changes based on Johnson's book:

1. I bought reusable mesh produce bags. Plastic produce bags, like all plastic, come at a heavy environmental price, and those suckers never degrade or go away. And plastic, unlike glass or metal, can never be recycled into what it was--it always goes down the scale of products until it's tiny microplastics--great for absorbing pollutants and killing sea creatures.

2. I put empty plastic storage containers in the car to use in place of take-out containers or doggie bags, or even for bulk-buying of small or powdery goods. (Whole Foods will pre-weigh your container.)

3. I'm going to try making my own sour cream and yogurt--the two main grocery store purchases that fill my house with plastic containers. Besides gallon milk jugs, that is, but I'm not getting a dairy cow. Korst also includes a recipe for homemade ricotta!

4. I'm making homemade cleaners from vinegar, baking soda, and other environmentally harmless ingredients. Check back on my UrbanFarmJunkie blog for my forays into grout cleaner, bleach, and homemade laundry detergent.

5. Under the TMI header, Korst makes suggestions for feminine products, and I've ordered mine.

And, 6. If I must have it, and there's a choice between recyclable packaging and non (think clamshell containers), I'll choose the brand in the recyclable packaging.

For those families still with young children, Korst has a whole discussion of diapers which I--thank God--could skip over.

An easy read that could change your household habits! Recommend.