Sunday, May 20, 2012

Doing Laundry on the Cheap

We do a lot of laundry here. A lot. Somehow the boys go through about 3 dozen outfits a day. Okay, that may be hyperbole, but so is our amount of laundry.

We have an HE front-load washer. HE stands for High Efficiency, meaning that the machine uses less water to do its job. The lower water level means we have to buy specific soap without the extra ingredients that encourage foaming (BTW, foaming isn't necessary for cleaning your clothes). For six years we have been using the All Free-and-Clear HE detergent. Even buying it at Walmart, this stuff gets pricey.

See what I mean? That's the big size, so there's enough detergent in there for 110 loads. At $12 for this bottle, that's about 11 cents per load (assuming that all loads use the minimum amount of soap. Given that my children are in love with mud, this is not likely.)

In my search for a home-made laundry detergent I found a ton of recipes, but all of them were basically the same. I chose to follow the exact steps I found on The Duggar Family's website.

As an aside, I watched their show maybe twice. I know that some folks have plenty of criticisms with their choice of reproductive frequency, but I simply don't care either way. Anyone who can have a bazillion kids and still be debt free can teach me their laundry detergent recipe any day.

Back to Walmart!

For those of you playing along at home, buying one of each of these three items cost me a total of $7.59 (not counting tax). According to the recipe, it makes enough detergent for 640 loads of laundry. This is about 1 cent per load. Yeah. Less than a tenth the cost of the All.

Hm...I wonder how long it takes to make. Let's try it.

First is the lovely task of grating the Fels-Naptha. Out comes my mandolin slicer with the nifty shredding bladey thing. (Technical term.)

To be clear, many of the recipes I looked at mentioned using equipment that you didn't plan on cooking with in the future "just in case". None said it was mandatory, or stated any specific danger. I chose not to. My reasoning is that it is soap - not plutonium. Have you noticed what we use to clean our dishes? Yeah. Soap. If having extra equipment makes you comfortable, go for it. I'm too cheap to.

Once I got started grating the soap, it took maybe five minutes (with frequent breaks for sipping my coffee. I started this project at 8:00 a.m.)

Almost immediately I realize that we have a problem. Fels-Naptha has a STRONG perfume to it. I happen to be allergic to most perfumes (which is why we went for the Free-and-Clear detergent originally). Okay. A little allergy medicine and I'm re-evaluating this. In the end I decided to continue. My logic is that this one bar of soap is ultimately going to be diluted into 10 gallons of laundry detergent, of which I will only be using 1/4 cup for an entire load of clothes. If my shirts and stuff smell strongly of perfume after being washed in this, I will be surprised.

For the record, next time I will be using a bar of unscented castile soap. It will be about $4 a bar instead of the $1 dollar for Fels-Naptha, but I doubt it will break the bank.

After the soap was grated, I had to stop taking pictures. This is because I had a toddler who was convinced that this was really shredded cheddar cheese, and that I had been holding out on him. There was no way for me to stir the pot with the soap, wrestle away an angry kid, AND hold a camera.

The total time commitment was way less than I thought it would be. Start to finish, this project took me a half hour. Grating the soap took five minutes, melting it in the water took 20, and mixing everything together in bucket took five. Not bad.

The five-gallon bucket is resting in the garage, and today I'm finishing up the last of the store-bought soap. By tomorrow I should be able to test this and give you a report.


  1. I don't bother with the meting version. I just grate my soap bar, add the borax and washing soda and call it a day. I use about 2 TBSP per load of the powder. I also use a vinegar rinse in one of those Downy balls. Works like a charm. Once in a while I might toss in some oxyclean to whiten the whites, but I'm generally not that fussy about that.

    This is the recipe I use http://www.diynatural.com/homemade-laundry-detergent-soap/

    Enjoying your blog so far - keep going!

  2. I had a cat who'd pee over everything. I mean everything. The vinegar rinse allowed me to wear clothing he'd "anointed". The detergent didn't deter anything, but the vinegar did. Thankfully! I'll be interested in finding out how you like the soap.

  3. I'm glad to hear that about the vinegar. I had no idea that anything in the known universe could counteract cat urine. For years I gave garments up for lost. I can't put this into practice, though, since the collection of allergies in this family prohibits cats.

    Sherri- Do you know if the powder works well in front load HE washers? If so, I might try the next batch your way. Thanks for the advice!

  4. Any update on how well this worked? Id be interested in trying it but Id like to know how it worked for you.

    1. Thank you for reminding me! This works perfectly, and the perfume from the Fels Naptha that I was worried about is no where to be found on the finished clothes! I'll put a note at the bottom of the post for the future.

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