laundry detergent

Organic Tightwad Homemade Options Update

If you've been following the blog, you know I've been experimenting with homemade, healthier, thriftier options to storebought products this summer, and I thought it was time for a results round-up.

HOMEMADE ARTISAN BREAD. Experimenting with's books and recipes, I whipped up white artisan bread, a mixed-grain, and a mostly whole-wheat version. The white version comes out the most beautiful, but it's hard to justify white bread nowadays, so I stick with the mostly whole-wheat recipe. The recipe calls for sprinkling it with mixed seeds--now I just use one kind of seed and it mostly falls off when you slice the bread.
Effort Rating: Minimal
Taste Rating: Delicious
Tightwad Rating: Highly Recommended

HOMEMADE SANDWICH BREAD. I used the recipe for mostly whole-wheat bread, which is enough to make two sandwich loaves like you might buy at the store. (The nine-year-old did not like the bread made from their "Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread" recipe because she said it was too crumbly. Therefore I used their basic healthy bread boule recipe.) Bake, cool and slice. Excellent crumb and flavor. None of the sugar and additives and preservatives found in even the best storebought sandwich breads. Tip: after slicing, slip a piece of waxed paper between each slice, then reassemble loaf and freeze. Whenever someone wants a sandwich or toast, they can easily pull off as many slices as he needs.
 Effort Rating: Minimal
Taste Rating: Delicious
Tightwad Rating: Highly Recommended

Sliced, papered, and frozen!

HOMEMADE WHOLE-WHEAT BAGELS. Another use for the mostly whole-wheat recipe.'s recipe was for cinnamon-raisin bagels using the basic boule dough, but I couldn't be bothered to add those in, and besides, no one in the house but me likes raisins in baked goods. Real bagels require both boiling and baking, and these were real bagels.
Effort Rating: Considerable but not difficult, because of the shaping and multiple steps. 
Taste Rating: Delicious (My kids have requested I make another batch, but I haven't yet.)
Tightwad Rating: Recommended

HOMEMADE SOUR CREAM. In my zeal to get rid of plastic containers, I gave homemade sour cream a whirl. Same recipe, two attempts. The first was pretty good and actually thickened up nicely after a week(!). The second tasted okay but never thickened at all. In neither case did I like it as well as storebought, with all its thickening agents. Might try a different recipe in the future.
Effort Rating: Minimal
Taste Rating: Fine
Tightwad Rating: Storebought is actually cheaper

HOMEMADE POWDERED LAUNDRY DETERGENT. Tried this here. Ingredients are found at Fred Meyer.
Effort Rating: Minimal
Effectiveness Rating: Great! Couldn't tell the difference between this and storebought.
Tightwad Rating: Not a whole lot cheaper than storebought, when storebought is on super sale.

HOMEMADE LIQUID LAUNDRY DETERGENT. A little more work than powdered detergent, but a whole lot cheaper! Pretty easy to cook up. The concoction thickens on cooling and setting, so it takes some squeezing to get it out of the container, but then I just hold it under the pouring water as the machine fills, and that breaks it up.
Effort Rating: Involves the stovetop, but pretty straightforward.
Effectiveness Rating: Great! Couldn't tell the difference between this and storebought.
Tightwad Rating: Highly recommended. Much cheaper than storebought.

The consistency of phlegm, but it works.

HOMEMADE GENERAL HOUSEHOLD CLEANSER. Tried recipes from a couple different books (scroll down). Nothing kills like harsh chemicals, but if your house isn't a pit like mine, these will probably do the trick.
Effort Rating: Minimal
Effectiveness Rating: Mild, general-purpose cleanser.
Tightwad Rating: Recommended

CHLORINE BLEACH ALTERNATIVE. Substitute 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide per load. Not homemade but still pretty cheap and easy on the environment.
Effort Rating: Uh, you buy it.
Effectiveness Rating: Not as blinding as chlorine bleach but just fine and no stink.
Tightwad Rating: About the same as chlorine bleach.

HOMEMADE DRAIN CLEANER. Tried this here. Totally effective and environmentally harmless!
Effort Rating: Involves the stovetop, but pretty straightforward.
Effectiveness Rating: Great! Couldn't tell the difference between this and storebought.
Tightwad Rating: Highly recommended. Much cheaper than storebought.

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.