Homemade Laundry Detergent

by Jenn@FrugalUpstate

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Dear Frugal Upstate,
I read your little blog posting in Parents Magazine (July 2007 issue) on making your own laundry soap. I was wondering if this is truly more cost efficient and where to find the ingredients. I have never heard of grated soap before and didn't know where to buy it. I would appreciate your help. Thank you for your time and helpful tips.

Ahh, two common questions; where to find ingredients and the good old cost efficiency issue!

The ingredients for homemade laundry soap are simple: grated soap, Borax and Washing Soda (not baking soda - they are different things chemically).

The grated soap is not something that you buy, but rather something you make. You take a regular bar of soap and grate or grind it. "Laundry Soap" such as Fels Naptha, Octagon, etc. are the preference, but you can use any soap. I've read stories (although I haven't tried it myself) of folks using Ivory, or even grinding up all those little hotel soaps that they have collected.

Note that sometimes "Laundry Soap" can be found in international grocery stores. I haven't particularly seen it in Asian stores before, but have had good luck finding it in stores that cater to the Hispanic population.

Borax is usually found in the cleaning aisle of most grocery stores. I have never had a problem finding Borax in any of the last three states that I have lived in. 20 Mule Team is a common brand.

Washing soda can be a little bit of a challenge. It is marketed as a laundry "booster," and if it is in your local grocery store, it will be found in the laundry aisle. In the past, I have checked out four or five different stores and not found any. I got frustrated with all the driving around and finally I went to the Arm & Hammer website and used their "contact us" form and wrote them. I gave them my city, state and zip code and asked them where I could find Washing Soda locally. It took a couple of weeks, but they did write me back and tell me the stores in the area that stocked it! Much easier than driving all over town.

Now that we've covered the ingredients, it's time to address the second part of Katrina's question, the cost effectiveness. This is actually harder to discuss than one might think, since it is dependant on the costs in your area.

Back in January of 2006, I did a post with the recipe for homemade laundry detergent, as well a cost comparison for the ingredients in my area at that time. At that time, I worked out the cost of a load of laundry using the homemade detergent and came to 12 cents, and using TIDE, it came to 43 cents.

To make your own comparison, you can use the following formulas:

Cost Per Load-Store Bought Detergent:

[cost of store bought detergent] / [number of loads in entire box] = price per load for store bought detergent

Please note that many people find they only have to use half of the recommended amount for store bought laundry detergent. If this is true for you, make sure you double the number of loads the box says that it makes.

Cost Per 1/2 Cup of Borax and Washing Soda:

[cost of ingredient]/[number of ounces in box] = cost per ounce for ingredient

[cost per ounce for ingredient] X 8 ounces = cost for one half cup portion of ingredient

Do this formula twice. Do it once for the Borax and once for the Washing Soda.

Cost per Load-Homemade Detergent:

[cost per one half cup portion of Borax] + [cost per one half cup portion of Washing Soda] + [cost of bar of soap] = total recipe cost; approximately 2 cups or 32 TBS of detergent.

[total recipe cost] / 32 TBS = cost per TBS, also known as cost per load.

When talking about the cost of any frugal endeavor, you also must take into consideration the amount of time and effort that it takes to make. For me, the effort involved has actually decreased since January of 2006. My aunt gave me a large industrial size food processor, which works like a dream (It had been living, neglected, in her basement for years!).

I can now grind up a bar of soap into a fine powder in just a minute or two. I no longer must resort to a two-step grinding process. I used to do an initial grinding, which gave me large grains (No matter how long I ran my little processor, it wouldn't get any smaller. There was just too much moisture in the bar of soap and not enough power in the processor). Then I would let it dry in my two biggest roasting pans for a few days (hidden atop the entertainment center) and then grind again. Finally, that would result in a fine, easily dissolved powder. Although there were only a few minutes more of hands on time, spreading the process out over several days made it seem like more of a chore to me. With the new to me food processor, it literally takes me only about 10 minutes for everything.

I want to mention an additional side benefit of homemade detergents that is not specifically frugal. There are no additional fragrances or dyes in homemade detergent (along the lines of All Free Clear). This makes it great for folks with allergies or for washing the clothes of newborns.

So Katrina, is it cost effective to make your own detergent? For me it is, but for you? Well, that just depends!

Visit Jenn at http://frugalupstate.blogspot.com/. "Frugal Upstate" is a blog about frugality as a conscious way of life. Jenn is a wife and mother of two living in upstate New York.

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