I ran out of laundry detergent.
For the last couple years, I've been buying Costco's Kirkland brand laundry detergent. Supposedly it washes 145 loads and costs about $20, which is about $0.14/load.
The last time I went to Costco, I bought a less expensive Costco brand ($15) that supposedly washed 200 loads, which is $0.075/load.
Almost immediately the family started to note that their clothes weren't getting clean with the new detergent. Freshly-washed laundry still smelled like it hadn't been washed. So... the new laundry detergent didn't work very well, and I was out of the old laundry detergent. What to do?
For quite awhile I've been meaning to experiment with making my own laundry detergent anyway, so here was my chance.
Nearly every recipe for homemade laundry detergent calls for washing soda (NOT baking soda!) and borax, both of which I had already purchased. But the recipes also called for Fels Naphtha soap, and I was unable to find this particular brand anywhere I went (not that I looked very hard). But a neighbor who had made her own laundry detergent for quite awhile using Fels Naphtha reported that the clothes stank of this particular soap after they were washed; and worse, laundry wasn't getting clean. She finally switched back to commercial laundry detergent.
Based on this, for a long time I didn't bother making homemade laundry detergent. Why bother, if the clothes are gonna stink and not get clean?
But so many frugal websites reported using homemade laundry detergent as a matter of routine, so without any commercial detergent in the house, I decided to bite the bullet and give the homemade stuff a try.
First thing I did was find a recipe that didn't use Fels Naphtha soap. It called for regular bar soap. I'm a devotee of Ivory soap, and it just so happened that I had several years' worth of soap shards saved up (I knew they'd come in handy one day!).
This is the recipe I used. I got it offline a couple years ago and copied it onto my computer, but unfortunately didn't note where it came from so I can't give credit where credit is due.
• 4 cups of water
• 1/3 bar of cheap soap, grated
• 1/2 cup washing soda (not baking soda)
• 1/2 cup of Borax (20 Mule Team)
• 5-gallon bucket for mixing
• 3 gallons of water
First, mix the grated soap in a saucepan with 4 cups of water, and heat on low until the soap is completely dissolved. Add hot water/soap mixture to 3 gallons of water in the 5-gallon bucket, stir in the washing soda and Borax, and continue stirring until thickened. Let the mix sit for 24 hours. Use 1/2 cup per load (only for top loading machines). (Apparently this amount will also work for front-loaders, but you'll have to do your own research.)
The first thing to do was figure out how many soap shards made up 1/3 bar of soap. Younger Daughter had the idea to weigh a new bar (4 oz.)...
...and then weigh the appropriate amount of soap shards. To be on the safe side, we measured 2 ounces, or half a bar of soap (rather than 1/3 bar as the recipe suggests).
Next I grated it. This turned out the be harder than grating a new bar of soap, because the shards had hardened over time and had an inclination to break rather than grate.
But I did the best I could.
Next I measured out four cups of water...
...and dumped in the soap shavings.
I heated the water/soap and stirred until the shavings were dissolved. However because some of the soap was in small chunks rather than shavings, it stubbornly refused to dissolve. I decided not to worry about it.
Meanwhile, I got the rest of the water ready. The recipe called for a five-gallon bucket, which I didn't have (though I do have lots of 3.5 gallon bakery buckets). So I used a 30-gallon farm tub and put three gallons of hot water in that, using an old milk jug to measure. As it turns out, I didn't need a five-gallon tub -- a 3.5 gallon bucket would have worked fine -- so next time I'll do this directly in the 3.5 gallon bucket.
Because I had a few undissolved soap chunks, I decided to pour the soapy water through a strainer into the tub.
This left me with a few tiny slivers of soap left over. No biggee.
Next I needed one-half cup each of borax and washing soda.
Then I gave everything a good stirring.
And then I just let it sit, undisturbed. What amazed me was how little hands-on time it took to make -- perhaps ten minutes start to finish.
By evening, the mixture had gelled to the point where Younger Daughter could leave a visible handprint in it.
But we otherwise left it alone until the following morning (letting it rest 24 hours). The mixture was like goopy Jello, with both solid and liquidy components.
I slopped it all into a smaller 3.5 gallon bucket (with a lid). It smelled mildly fragrant, like Ivory soap -- very pleasant.
One of the old detergent scoops, I learned, holds exactly half a cup, which is the recommended amount of homemade detergent to add to a standard top-load washer.
But would it work? That was the question. I put in half a cup of homemade detergent, added a load of laundry, and let it wash. I was a bit dismayed because there was no soap bubbles (I don't know why, but I expected to see something foamy), so I had my doubts it was doing its job. I always wash laundry (except for whites) in cold water -- does that make a difference?
I've been using the homemade stuff for about a week now, and I've asked the family to pay particular attention to whether they feel their clothes are clean. Certainly they smell clean. At this point, I have no issues with the homemade detergent and am quite pleased with it.
But what does it cost per load?
Yesterday while in the city, I photographed prices for borax and washing soda at Winco.
For washing soda, the price was $3.17 for 55 ounces. This means that one-half cup (the amount added to a batch of homemade detergent) costs $0.23.
One box of borax costs $3.38 for 76 ounces. This means one-half cup costs $0.18.
While technically the soap shards are "free," for the sake of argument the cost of half a bar of new Ivory soap costs $0.62.
So I can make a batch of homemade laundry detergent for $1.03. One batch of detergent makes three gallons. One gallon contains sixteen cups, so three gallons contain 96 one-half-cup measures.
Therefore (drumroll please) one batch of homemade laundry detergent costs $0.0107, or a penny per load.
Compare this with Costco's two brands of detergent: one at $0.14/load (for the better brand) and the other at $0.075/load (for the cheaper and less-good brand). In short, homemade laundry detergent costs one-fifteenth the price of Costco's better brand.
I hope this homemade stuff continues to prove itself to be a good detergent... because I love the price!!!