This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure here.
The following is part of an Organic Journey Guest Post Series written by Amy, a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.
Laundry. There are few of us who feel victorious in this area of our lives. Sorting, washing, drying, folding and the ever crucial last step, putting it all away. Now, I know that there are those that enjoy this never-ending cycle, but I must admit that the part I savor most is the moment when I am done and can breathe a sigh of relief until I start again the next day. When it comes time to evaluate detergents, my biggest question for years was, “does it smell good?” followed by “how much does it cost?” I found that most big name detergents worked equally well. So, I fell in love with the scent of Gain, and we lived happily ever after. Not quite. My middle child had pretty nasty eczema from the beginning. It was time to eliminate scented detergents. (Which I understand more now after learning about fragrances.) Then, it was time to eliminate harsh ingredients. I started spending a fortune on what I thought were greener options. After a few years of that, it was time to try cutting costs by making my own detergent. Life got crazy, and I found a cheaper laundry detergent at Trader Joe’s. We were washing clothes happily ever after–minus the fresh scent. Well, lately, I’ve been wondering exactly what is in my detergents. I went to the Environmental Working Group to see how my current laundry detergent ranks, and it got a D!! What!?! I’m spending extra money on detergent that is hovering on the border of failing. It’s back to the drawing board for me.
Let’s start with my needs in homemade laundry detergent. I think they are pretty typical. I need it to be affordable. I don’t know how Ma Ingalls did it because if I were washing my clothes in the creek, I would be there 24 hours a day. I’m guessing her girls didn’t do as many costume changes as mine do each day. All that to say, with three munchkins just being normal, messy kids and a husband in construction, I do about 10 loads of laundry a week. That’s a lot of detergent. I also need it to actually clean really dirty clothes. This isn’t Downton Abbey, folks. Our clothes need something with some umph. I need it to be safe for kiddos prone to eczema. I don’t want the residue of detergent to make my daughter’s skin itch incessantly. And finally, I’d like it to be something that isn’t going to cause cancer or kill fish. Maybe that’s asking a bit much, but isn’t there a way to clean clothes without killing people and wildlife? The hunt is on.
I love Jenny’s price comparison for homemade laundry detergent versus buying detergent on sale. When you are comparing prices with “green” detergents, the savings of making your own increases even more. I was wondering, though, how do the ingredients in my homemade laundry detergent rate? Most recipes call for Washing Soda, borax and Fels Naptha bar soap as the basic ingredients. Washing Soda gets an A, but the rest surprised me. Fels Naptha got a C. It has a fragrance in it, and since that is all that is listed, there is some concern there about the chemical makeup of that fragrance. There were several other concerns listed as well. Even though Fels Naptha has been around forever, I thought I’d see if there were alternatives. Turns out that you can use Castille Bar Soap or Dr. Bronner’s which both pass the EWG’s test with flying colors! Now for borax. There is enough information out there on borax for it to have a post of its own. For now, I will say that from the sources I have read, I am fine with using it in my homemade laundry detergent since there is no chance of ingesting it, and I’m making sure that my children don’t ingest it either.
While making your homemade laundry detergent is definitely affordable, I struggle with the lack of cleaning power for really dirty clothes. Several new recipes popping up mentioned adding OxiClean to give it some umph. I read countless articles about the chemical makeup of OxiClean trying to figure out if it was good or bad and, I’m not going to lie, I was totally confused. Then I remembered the EWG’s database. OxiClean Versatile Stain Remover gets an F with big concerns for cancer and some concern for respiratory issues, skin allergies and irritation, development and reproductive toxicity, and environmental problems. One of my favorite features on the EWG’s site is that in small print, it will include a place to “Search for a better” and it fills in the blank with whatever product you were looking up. It then gives you a list of options that get a better grade. LOVE that. They recommend Oxo Brite. In fact, it gets an A. If you are committed to the OxiClean line, they do make a product called OxiClean Versatile Free, and it scores a B. Much better than an F, don’t you think? Another option is to add some kick to your homemade detergent is to create your own homemade version of OxiClean which normally includes some version of hydrogen peroxide, washing soda and water. You would need to mix that and store it in a dark bottle as hydrogen peroxide breaks down when exposed to light.
So my new greener recipe for homemade laundry detergent (based off of Blissful 55’s Recipe):
Borax (1) 4 lb 12 oz box
Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (1) 3 lb 7 oz box
OxiClean Versatile Free or Oxo Brite (1) 3 lb container
Castille or Dr. Bronner’s Bar soap (2) bars
Arm & Hammer Baking Soda 4 lbs
Grate the soap (I love using my food processor for this step) and mix all ingredients together well. Use 1-2 Tablespoons per load.
One other thing that I would hate to leave out is something unusual that I discovered while hunting for a better way to get my clothes clean. Soap nuts. Yep, you heard me right. Soap nuts are nuts that come from a Soap Tree. They are hypoallergenic and odorless. One site explains how they work this way:
“The shells used for detergent contain something called saponin, which works as a natural surfactant. Surfactants reduce the surface tension of the water, essentially making it wetter and easier to penetrate into soiled fabrics. This combined with the agitation of your machine or handwashing removes the dirt or particles, then keeps them away from your clothing until rinsing occurs.”
Soap nuts can be used in dishwashers, as homemade laundry detergent, or you can even use them to make a liquid soap. Mountain Rose Herbs shares why seeded nuts are better:
“Through our own laboratory tests and from our own personal experience we have determined that using Soap Nuts which still contain the seed has a better effect on cleaning cloths because the seed inside the shell acts an agitator against the shell wall which releases more saponins into water. We also determined that Soap Nuts with the seed still in them worked marvelously well in cleaning clothes because of the light “beating” action they imparted. All of these qualities are missing when you use just the shells of the Soap Nut.”
I am totally fascinated. I asked around and several of my friends said that they work fine for regularly soiled clothes, but that they aren’t so great if your kid has been mud diving in Georgia red clay. I want to give them a try!
So have any of you tried soap nuts before? Or do you have a tip for getting our dirty clothes clean while being good stewards of our bodies, pocketbooks, and the environment? I’d love to learn from you!