Testing Laundry Soap Recipes So You Don't Have To
About a year ago, I started looking for alternatives to bottled laundry soap. The big plastic jugs were making me feel guilty, and I apparently have exceedingly sensitive skin so everything but the "free and clear" stuff made me uber itchy. And goodness is laundry soap expensive!
With all that in mind, my new laundry soap needed to meet four criteria: 1) non-plastic packaging, and, indeed, minimal packaging in general; 2) suitable for my sensitive skin; 3) cheap; and 4) it had to work well--after all, what's the point of doing laundry if your clothes aren't clean at the end of it?
I started out with soap nuts. Soap nuts are the dried fruit of the Chinese Soapberry tree. When the nuts get wet they release saponin, which is a natural cleanser. For laundry purposes, you put three or four in a little muslin bag, and just toss them in with your clothes--easy peasy! The nuts last for several washes, and when they're used up they can be composted. The packaging was about as minimal as you could get, they didn't aggravate my skin, and they were reasonably priced.
The problem? Soap nuts worked really well on colored clothes, but after awhile I noticed it was leaving our whites dingy. Our white bath towels were looking downright gray, in fact.
Back to the drawing board.
On the advice of a friend, I tried a powdered recipe next. The ratios are as follows:
2 cups bar soap 1 cup washing soda 1 cup borax
For the bar soap, you can use anything that's not heavily scented. Tipnut (which is the original source of the recipe) suggests Fels-Naptha, Ivory, Sunlight, Kirk’s Hardwater Castile, or Zote. When I went to buy washing soda and borax at Checkers, there were bars of Zote soap right next to them, so that's what I've ended up using. It does have a slight citronella smell, but if that bothers you just try one of the other brands instead.
You can make this soap in any quantity you want, but I've found that two bars of Zote is just about the perfect amount with 1 box of washing soda and 1 box of borax. You'll have a little borax leftover, but you can use it for other household cleaning jobs, so no worries.
Once you get your ingredients assembled, grate the Zote (the small side of a cheese grater is perfect for this) into the powdered ingredients. Mix the ingredients together, and use 2 tablespoons per full load of laundry.
After using this laundry detergent for several months, I've been very happy with it. The packaging is small and made of cardboard, it doesn't irritate my skin, and it's so, so cheap. The ingredients will set you back about $7, and that amount lasts our two-person, two-dog family a little over four months. Also, it works well, particularly on whites. Yay for shiney, white bath towels!