Written By: Dr. Rocky
As we travel around the US in our RV, we look for ways to save money and space since we only have limited quantities of either commodity. The second issues is that we are preppers and are always on the lookout for ways to save and store items in an efficient manner. No matter where you go or what you are doing, clothes get dirty and clothes washing of some form must be done. This assumes that if you are reading this you are not a nudist—but then even nudist wash towels, linens, etc. I have an issue with some of the commercial laundry products on the market—they have a number of added ingredients in them that seem to irritate my skin and many leave a residue on my clothes. I always use a lesser amount that what the manufacturer says, yet my clothes come out clean and fresh smelling. When you are outside in hot and humid weather, you need your clothing clean and ready to breathe.
We were recently helping some people with an outside building project when it started to shower down a light rain. Soap bubbles appeared on the man’s shirt as the rain drops dampened the material. More and more signs of detergent residue were evident as the shirt became rain drenched as we continued to work and then the rain stopped. The sun came out and we continued to work. He took off his shirt and hung it on a nearby tree branch to dry. As it dried, you could see soap residue developing over the plaid pattern in a chalky white waves. This soap build-up happens a lot in our society. A friend, who owns a coin laundry facility, told me that most people could do a load of their clothes without putting in any soap powder and their clothes would come out clean. She said this is due to two factors. One is that people over soap the laundry load—the old more is better theory! And the other is that commercial laundry detergent makers put other ingredients in their products that cling to the fibers of our clothing—stuff that really doesn’t help clean dirty clothes. These two things make it hard to properly rinse clothes in a machine. Most individuals today take their laundry load and place it into a dryer. This just dries the residues into the weave of the fabric and hardens it. That is trapped material that keeps fabrics from ventilating properly. It pretty much makes a fabric a solid surface against your skin! We wondered, how could we get our clothes clean and the fibers opened up again?
So, we got the idea to try and make our own recipe of laundry soap and use the right amount of it to get our clothes clean. When we first set out to make our own homemade laundry detergent we thought it would be difficult and a time consuming task– turns out we were wrong. In fact, making your own laundry soap is fast, easy, and inexpensive when compared to the commercial products. The internet search lead us to several recipes, but two basic recipes that produced liquid or powder forms of laundry soap seemed to surface. My Aunt makes her liquid form and swears by its efficiency. But the drawback is that it makes a large batch and I don’t know how it will do for long term storage.
We opt for powder over liquid due to cost of materials, easy storage, and simplicity (the liquid variety takes longer to make, requires more storage space, and is more complicated to produce). I know that there are recipes that call for other ingredients, but I like to stick to the basics. People report putting in rinsing agents, perfumes, and other cleansers to their soap. If your skin can tolerate these items, then I say go for it. Since we use different water sources in different locations, I do vary the routine by either adding a little more of the powder in hard water or adding about ½ cup of vinegar to the rinse. Either way, those adjustments will not make our skins break out in a rash. And I rarely need to put bleach in the wash—even for whites.
Now, time to assemble the ingredients. This powdered detergent recipe simply requires three easy to find in most supermarkets ingredients and takes only a few minutes to whip up. The good part is that it works in all types of machines, the top loaders, front loaders, High Efficiency (HE) machines, and the dual washer/dryer combo found in many RVs.
Each batch yields approximately 32 ounces (between 32-64 loads based on how many Tbsps. used per load).
- 1 4.5 oz. bar of Ivory Soap
- 2 cups of Super Washing Soda
- 2 cups of Borax
- Microwave your Ivory Soap for 60-90 seconds – YUP, microwave! Just be aware that you need a full sized microwave. We borrowed a friend’s microwave because the RV microwave is a mini model. The soap expands big time. Alternately, you can use a box grater to grate up the soap. Either way, you need to have the bar soap in oatmeal size pieces for the next step.
- Although it looks soft and edible, sort of like cool whip, it is actually an unexpected consistency – dry and brittle – and it will process in a blender or food processor without over working your equipment.
- If you are sensitive to smells, work in a confined space, or dislike dust, you might want to consider doing this outside. We were working on a rainy day. Even though it is a dust producing procedure, the after aroma makes your home smell like clean linen.
- Put 2 cups of Washing Soda and the soap (you might have to break up bigger clumps) in your blender or food processor and pulse until blended well. Add 2 cups of Borax (here again, break up any clumps) and blend again until well mixed powder is evident. Let the dust settle a minute before you open the lid. The processor produces a fine powder mixture. It reminds me of baby powder.
Your final product will be a nice, fluffy white powder. This detergent smells of Ivory soap and works well at cleaning soiled clothing. We store it in a glass jar. We find that glass jars do well to keep out moisture and varmints. In the south, roaches thrive on soap and will eat through paper to get to it. This jar holds about 40 – 80 loads worth of detergent! Alternately you can use a #10 tin can or plastic container.
Use 1 Tbsp per load (or 2-3 Tbsps. for large or heavily soiled loads or if the water source is hard). It isn’t going to suds up while cleaning like commercial products do. For front loaders or those machines with soap drawers, it is best to deposit your powder on top of your load of clothing. It will get mixed properly. If you are at a commercial laundry facility and must use a dispenser, just mix your powder with a cup of water and pour it in the tray.
Note on ingredients: you can substitute whatever ingredients you are comfortable with. Try the ingredients for sensitivity first before combining. Some people may have a skin reaction or allergy to individual ingredients. If you don’t have a negative reaction to the individual ingredients, you probably won’t have an adverse reaction to the combination of them. Many people cannot afford natural soaps, while some others make their own. Whatever you do, remember that others have their own preference and it’s ok to experiment with new products and methods. Some people like the smell of lavender or coconut oil. You can add those things and it will still probably work out ok. Brands I’ve learned about of commonly used bar soaps include Pure & Natural®, Fels-Naptha® and/or ZOTE®. Both ZOTE® and Fels-Naptha® are made for and sold as “laundry bar soap.” If you’re looking for a pure, natural solution you’ll need to go with a handcrafted, castile, or milled soap so you can be sure of its ingredients.
For stubborn stain, I recommend the following remedy that I learned from my mother. She used this method for heavily soiled items. For those of us who are prepping, hiking, and working outdoors in a garden or wooded area, our clothing will need extra attention from time to time. Before all of the sprays and gels were around, those who washed clothes used a staple that has been around for some time. That item is Fels-Naptha soap.
For this remedy you need only two ingredients that are readily available. The two ingredients are:
- A bar of Fels-Naptha soap
- Nylon netting
First take the bar of Fels-Naptha soap and cut it in half as shown. This will make a scrubber that will fit into your hand comfortably. You can also cut it into thirds if that feels more comfortable.
Next, cover the bar with nylon netting and securely sew it on the edge with a heavy thread. The size of the netting is about 12 x 12. Fold it over until you have several layers. You are going to use this as a scrubbing surface. Over time the soap bar will shrink and the netting will wear through. Even though it won’t look as neat over time, it is still effective at stain removal. I store it in a Ziploc container. I use cotton heavy duty sewing thread. You can use any stitch you’d like, with your thread but I sew with whip stitch and snugly fasten it along the edge. If you don’t have any nylon netting available, you can recycle a nylon onion bag. Just remember to double over the layers of the bag and sew it snugly against the bar of the soap. Should the bag or netting break or get too loose, you can resew it together or replace it. Now you are ready to tackle a stubborn stain. Just dip the soap and scrubber into water and rub the area. Then toss in the wash with the other clothes.
Today, doing laundry isn’t that labor intensive a task. As a child I remember watching my two Great aunts washing clothes down at the creek on rocks and spreading their wet laundry on the bushes to dry–just as their ancestors had done in years gone by. First, they would fill up big kettles with soiled clothes and water from the creek. The second step was to make fires under the pots. They would boil big cauldrons of clothes in water and add soap. Next, with wooden paddles they would remove items from the pots and beat them on the rock to remove dirt and soil. After that, the clothes were rinsed in the creek until all the soap and stains were gone. Finally, the clothing was placed on bushes to dry in the sun. It was a process that took all day. At the end of the day, they placed the clean and dry articles in a basket for ironing the next day. For now, we have machines to do the work. All we have to do is load, push a button and walk away. When we come back, it’s time to load them in the dryer, push a button and walk away. If a disaster occurs and we don’t have the means to machine wash our clothing, this soap recipe will work using the old fashioned hand washing way.