One of the things that I like about Zero Waste is the fact that I save money. Money that can be spent on going out, meeting with friends, trying out new fun stuff. So when I learned I can replace the commercial laundry detergent with something simple for a fraction of the price, I was sold on it pretty quickly.
All I needed to swap all the chemicals usually found in laundry products for something greener were two things – a bar soap and washing soda – and a bit of time to mix them together. I found this laundry detergent recipe in the Bea Johnson’s book and adapted it a bit.
You might be sceptical if this easy solution works but I’ve been using it now for a couple of months and I am very happy with the results!
What you need
Bar of soap – recipes in cyberspace ask for all kinds of different soaps but your basic castile soap bar, laundry soap or any natural soap bar will do. Bea recommends using the blue one which contains optical brighteners. I bought mine in Slovakia last time I visited but I am sure you can find it anywhere 🙂 Dr. Bronner makes soap bars that should be fit for the purpose!
Washing soda – or soda ash – usually sold in supermarkets in the laundry aisle. It took a little bit of internet research to find out that in Ireland I need to look for soda crystals! I found one kilogram bags being sold in Tesco – the bags are still made of plastic film which is not recyclable but at least the pack lasts some time.
The last ingredient is just warm water. Other than that a few utensils will come handy – a basin or a bucket for mixing, a measuring jug, a measuring cup and a mixing spoon. Depending on the method you use, you might need a hand blender to liquidise it.
How to make it
For a 3-litre (about 3 quarts) dose, you will need a ½ cup of washing soda and a ½ cup of soap. Measure up the washing soda and pour it in the basin. Grate the soap (I use a conventional cheese grater) and add to the basin. Mix them together a little.
Pour in about 0.5 litres of hot water (about half a quart). I use boiled water to start the mixing. Stir until the soap and soda are mostly dissolved. Add another litre of hot water. I then pour in 1.5 litres of cold water to bring the temperature to lukewarm. Stir the mixture for a little while and leave it to settle, best overnight. In the morning, when the liquid has turned into a wobbly jelly, enjoy this chemistry magic for a while and then break it with the mixing spoon. To bring it back to liquid form (it will be nicely thick), use a hand blender for a couple of minutes. If you used an unscented soap and you would like to add some scent, you can now add a few drops of any essential (not synthetic) oil – lavender, citrus or tea tree work well.
I asked my lovely boyfriend to film this part of the preparation process – please be kind with your comments 🙂
Pour the finished product into a prepared jug (I use a 3l plastic milk jug) and voila, your laundry gel is ready to use.
If you don’t have a hand blender or you want to skip this step, you can pour the warm mixture straight into the jug you are going to use to store the product and leave it to cool in there. Just make sure you shake it a couple of times in the next few hours to ensure all the ingredients are mixed properly. I found that with this method, the gel is more likely to separate when not used for a while but then just shake the bottle and you’re good to go.
How to use it
I usually use about a cup (250ml) per load, adjusted for the amount of clothes and level of dirtiness 🙂 One 3l dose lasts me for about 13 washes. With 3 washes per week on average (darks, lights and towels for 2 people), I have enough for a month to 5 weeks. The recipe is very easily doubled or tripled if you want to make more, so no need to skimp!
I normally pour the gel into the detergent compartment in the washing machine but I don’t see why you couldn’t put it directly in the drum.
How much it costs
I mentioned in the video that this laundry gel costs about 10 times less than a conventional gel. These are my calculations:
For 3l of the gel I need 60g of the soap (one pack lasts for 5 doses or 15 litres of gel) and about 90g of the soda (for 15 litres I use half a pack for €0.70).
In total, 15 litres of the gel costs €2.20. That is €2.20 for 65 washes (5 x 3l dose x 13 washes per dose).
A comparable conventional laundry detergent (let’s say Persil Small & Mighty Non-Bio 60 washes) costs €19.80 – which is 9x more. On offer, Ariel Bio Washing Liquid 60 washes costs €10.00 which is still 5x more than my non-toxic and totally working laundry gel.
The prices might vary where you live but I guarantee you that you can save money (not to mention all the chemicals which will not get into the waterways from the washing machine).
My friend also uses this recipe because she and her daughter have very sensitive skin and conventional laundry products are quite irritating for them. So, that’s another brownie point for the homemade stuff.
Finally, if you’re asking about fabric softener that would be natural and eco-friendly, think vinegar. Apple cider vinegar and white distilled vinegar work well for me. About a ¼ – ½ cup (60 – 120 ml) with a few drops of essential oil of your choice (I like grapefruit or tea tree) will give the clothes nice smell and touch.
Well…are you tempted to give it a try yet?