Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent + Cost Breakdown + Science!

All caught up reading about my other homemade cleaners?  Good.  Now let's dive into homemade powdered laundry detergent.

Why powdered?  I'm lazy when it comes to making these cleaners, so the idea of mixing a huge five-gallon bucket of liquid detergent and having to melt soap and let things sit overnight just seemed like too much work.  Powdered laundry detergent is more shelf-stable over a longer period of time, plus I don't have to worry as much about whether things are gelling, separating, or worse.  Since I am allergic to most detergents (Tide = evil!), I liked the ease of changing out ingredients more quickly with a powdered recipe.  Sure having five gallons of detergent is great, but now I can make smaller batches and adjust as I go until I find a perfect mix for my body and clothing.

This recipe is HE-machine friendly as it is low-sudsing.  While you can substitute Zote or Ivory soap for the Fels-Naptha, do not try to use other forms of body soap.

First, let's try some science:

Borax, available as Twenty Mule Team Borax at the store, is also known to the science world as sodium tetraborate decahydrate. It looks like a white powder, has no real scent, and is not flammable. In very large doses, it can be toxic to humans (so don't eat it, but it's fine to use for cleaning). Borax is a common detergent ingredient, and it is found in cosmetics, as a buffer solution, and as a fire retardant among other nifty things.

Washing Soda, also known as soda ash or sodium carbonate, is a basic (high pH) white powder. When not being all awesome as an ingredient in glass, it can be used as an electrolyte in chemistry labs, for lyeing (a browning agent in food, like on the outside of pretzels), removing flesh from bones in taxidermy, or to clean silver. For the household, washing soda functions primarily as a water softener. It is a degreaser and descaler, and it can help to remove oil and wine stains.

Fels-Naptha is a detergent and stain pretreater.  Just rub a little of the wet bar soap on a stain like you would the Spray'n'Wash stick or any other stain pretreaters.

OxiClean is known as sodium percarbonate in the laundry world.  It is a whitening agent that yields soda ash (washing soda!) and hydrogen peroxide (yeah, that stuff moms put on cuts that fizzles and burns) when mixed with water.

Second, a hard look at the math:

Borax costs $6.49 for 76 ounces or $0.09 per ounce.
Washing soda costs $8.20 for 55 ounces or $0.15 per ounce.
Fels-Naptha costs $1.49 for 5.5 ounces or $0.27 per ounce.
OxiClean costs $7.52 for 48 ounces or $0.16 per ounce.

Third, the recipe for Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent:

1 c Borax ($0.72)
1 c Washing soda ($1.20)
1 bar Fels-Naptha  ($1.49)--Ivory bars are $0.50
1/2 c OxiClean ($0.64)

$4.05 per batch of 60 loads or less than $0.07 per load.  Compare that to All Mighty Pacs at $19.03 for 48 loads or $0.40 per load.  Even if we make the switch to All liquid detergent in a jug, we're looking at $16.36 for 64 loads or $0.25 per load.  We're saving a minimum of 72% on the latter and 83% on the former!

But, not one to leave well-enough alone, I had a revelation: individual soap pods!  I really liked the All Mighty Pacs, but I didn't like shelling out the money for them.  There had to be a way to make my own detergent pods.  Since I didn't want to source my own water dissolving pod supplies (expensive, inefficient use of time), and I didn't want to do something disposable, I had to find a reusable porous material in which to place the soap for each load.  Enter favor bags!  These small bags are made of organza and are available at most craft stores (thank you 50%-off coupons!)--yeah, I could even make your own, but time is money as well.


I placed a tablespoon of my homemade laundry powder in the bag for the picture, but I'd probably almost double that for big loads of laundry.  After a few days of testing, I noticed the Fels-Naptha isn't always dissolving entirely, but that might be the water temperature or that I haven't grated and blended it small enough (though I thought the Magic Bullet did a pretty good job).  I might try using Ivory bar soap next time--or Zote if I can find it, or I might try not tightly pulling the drawstrings and leaving the top a bit looser when I add the pods to my laundry.  Everything else dissolves out of the bag just fine.  Also, as I was filling the bags, I noticed that some of the powder escapes through the fabric if I shake the bags.  If I fill them over a plate and then set them into a storage box without jostling it too much, these work great.  The little bags probably shouldn't go through the dryer, but mine survived just fine so far.  This bag part of the recipe is still a work in progress, but I've really liked this idea so far!

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