There are some things people just don’t think can be made at home. I suppose the thinking is that the tools and/or setup will be too expensive or difficult (or unavailable), or the process is not suitable in some way. Some seem to think that about marshmallows, but there’s nothing terribly tricky or challenging about making those. (Our last effort yielded some delicious chocolate ones—too bad I didn’t write down how much cocoa powder I used.)
That successful endeavor emboldened me to try others. And, as Snolf the First is interested in chemistry, I now have a handy excuse for trying more weird things. (No, no thermite yet, Uncle Carl!)
The oddball thing we made last week is laundry detergent. It turns out it’s relatively easy to do, and it seems to be much cheaper than even the generics. Although, to be fair, I have to admit I didn’t keep track of expenses, as I purchased supplies over several trips to a variety of stores. There are many recipes online, and as is usual, a fair bit of argumentation as to what one can or cannot do, and what one should or should not do. Apparently one can make liquid detergent, or the powdered kind. We opted for the liquid. I saved the bucket from our giant–sized, el cheapo powdered soap and used that for mixing and storage. Here’s our recipe (available from several sites online.)
Liquid Laundry Detergent
1 qt boiling water
2 C finely grated bar soap for laundry (Fels–Naptha, Zote, etc.)
2 C borax
2 C washing soda*
2 gal. water
Add grated bar soap to the boiling water; stir well until soap is melted, turning heat down to low to aid the process. Be patient with this step!
Pour the soapy water into another large container (the storage one, if possible; or a large bucket); add the borax and soda. Stir well until both are thoroughly dissolved. Add the remaining water; stir until well mixed. Cover and store. If mixed well, the detergent will gel.
To use the detergent, stir well before each use; add approximately 1/4 C. to the machine before adding dirty clothing.
We were impatient with the grating (the snolfs made bigger flakes), and with all the stirring; thus I think our detergent didn’t get well combined. The result is a container of liquid that has clumpy bits floating atop it. I stir well and try not to get too many of the clumpies in the cup, but don’t think it’ll make much difference. Our soap does not produce a lot of bubbles, but once the agitation starts, the water shows the dirt being lifted out of the clothing pretty dramatically. The soap is also not heavily scented, which I like.
We have a lot of detergent–fixings left, so I think this will become a regular part of our household chores for a while. We all had fun making it, and the product we got suits our needs better than name brands, or even discount brands. I think it took about half an hour to make, too, so the time investment isn’t that great—and we all had fun cooking up our soap! I’m tempted to try other soap–making now, too ... yeah, with lye and fat and all that. I’ll probably come to my senses soon, though.
*Note: Washing soda is different from baking soda: it is more caustic. While some sites adamantly claim that one cannot and should not substitute baking soda for washing soda, we did so (I couldn’t find washing soda anywhere I looked, and have an enormous container of baking soda); and our detergent works very well. If anything, the baking soda version may be gentler on one’s clothes—and that isn’t a trivial consideration these days. (return to recipe)