Another Oddball Thing We Made at Home

Sunni's picture

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)

Baking soda works fine...

...it makes the clothes softer.

You might try a blender or drink mixer to get the clumps out.

I've got recipes!

Let me know when he's ready for the thermite experiments.

I learned a fair bit of chemistry in grade school studying stuff like that. Never once incinerated or detonated myself, either. Did learn more about safety precautions after the sulphuric acid incident though.

a couple questions

Interesting stuff, Sunni. I'd been thinking about trying this for several months since I'd picked up a bar of Fels Naptha last year to use as a base for an insecticidal soap - particularly after seeing a few similar recipes on another website I visit.

Assuming you used the Fels Naptha - about how much of the bar did it take to get your 2C of grated material? I used the coarse end of my grater to prep the FN for my mixture - and it seemed to mix well with the simmering water - so I'd probably be tempted to not grate it so finely.

Maybe it's too early with your usage for this question - but how well did it seem to rinse from the clothing and the washing machine? (assuming you didn't try a DIY on that too!) I've seen a fair share of washing machines that had a buildup of soap crud in the basin and wouldn't want to see my own get that way.

No plans for a wash board in my future ...

That process looks too much like work.

We’ve used our laundry soap 3–5 times now, and I like it. It appears to rinse from the clothing cleanly; since baking soda is commonly used as a water softening agent, I think it would be better than using regular detergent and no soda.

The only soap we could find is Zote—a frightfully pink bar (the ballerina adores it)—and we used the coarse side of our box grater on it. It took surprisingly little to get two cups ... I don’t recall exactly now, but I think it was less than one fourth of the bar. We have enough supplies left to make several more batches of detergent, so there’s no doubt this will be more economical for us.

Book suggestion

You might look into buying this book on home soapmaking. Looks very complete.

We've been discussing home made soap at a forum I frequent. I'm interested in trying to work with glycerin for specialty personal care soap, but I can't see any particular advantage to home made laundry soap. I'd far, far rather use detergent myself. I get 1.5 gallons of concentrate for about $5. This gives me about 150 loads, and lasts me more than a year.

I've used soap for clothes washing, and I'd never do it again if I had any choice - even if I didn't have to make it first! Just my 2 cents worth. :)

Thermite is actually easier

Thermite is actually easier than this recipe, but this is more practical and something I've been wondering about.