I passed along the idea of making your own green cleaning products to AB because I know how much the little things add up when you’re on a fixed income. She liked the idea so much that she asked me to write a blog post about it. So, here I am. Hope this is helpful to some of you!
I first got into making my own laundry soap not just to save money (though that’s always a nice perk), but because a few years back, I suddenly became crazy-sensitive to every laundry product I put my hands on – even those “free and clear” ones. It started out as a rash that would *not* go away. After a long process of trial and error with different soaps, shampoos, and OTC treatments, I realized my laundry soap and fabric softener were to blame.
I switched to baby laundry soap, with a little borax thrown in for my partner’s extra-stinky work clothes, and cut out fabric softener all together.* That worked until our daughter reached the self-feeding stage and my partner took a job doing manual labor. I was doing laundry every day – the big jugs of laundry soap didn’t last me a month, and that stuff’s expensive.
Once I heard about homemade laundry soap, I was intrigued.
I like the idea of knowing what’s in my products – it makes it easier to figure out what’s setting me off if I have an allergic reaction. And I found a green cleaning product recipe that couldn’t be simpler: a powder soap made of borax, washing soda, and Ivory soap. It’s fast, easy, and cheap!
I have to admit, I was hesitant to use powdered soap. My mom told me she always used liquid soap because the powdered stuff gave me rashes as a kid. (This skin crud goes way back, apparently.) But I have had no issues with it. I also haven’t noticed soap residue on my clothes, even though I wash exclusively in cold water. However, if you are a firm believer in liquid laundry soap, similar recipes are out there on teh intarwebs. They sounded awfully time consuming and messy to me, though, so I tried the powder first.
The worst part about this recipe is that you have to finely grate the soap. Most of the sites I saw recommended microwaving the soap (which makes it blow up to be HUGE, and makes it light and fluffy), then putting it in a food processor with the other ingredients. I’m a little squicked out by the idea of putting borax in something I plan to use for food later, so I bought a cheap rotary cheese grater (like they use at Olive Garden) instead.
Anyway – to the recipe! How To Make Your Own Green Cleaning Products!
Homemade Laundry Soap
- 1 bar Ivory soap
- 2 cups borax
- 2 cups washing soda
You’ll also need:
- Cheese grater
- Plate (a bowl will work, but the nuking goes more quickly on a plate)
- Container to put the soap in (I use a cheapie little plastic canister I picked up at the grocery store for a buck or two)
Put the soap on a plate and pop it in the microwave. I use a paper plate because my partner keeps buying them, and because I’m also not crazy about Ivory soap on my dishes.
Most recipes I’ve seen recommend nuking the soap in the microwave on high for 90 seconds. That’s not enough for my cheapo little microwave; I usually have to fish out a smoking hot little soap nugget from the mountain of fluff and renuke it for about 30 seconds. Your mileage MAY vary.
What comes out of the microwave bears a striking resemblance to the Stay-Puft marshmallow man at the end of Ghostbusters.
Only it’s soap, so don’t eat it.
Let sit for a few minutes so it can cool – it grates better when it’s cool. Have a cookie or something.
Once you have your Stay-Puft soap, break it into pieces and put them in the grater. The pieces smush easily, so you can do this in far fewer batches than you think.
If you come across that molten soap nugget I mentioned in Step 1, stop and nuke that puppy. Don’t try to grate it; it’ll just burn your fingers and gum up the grater. (Nobody mentioned *that* part. I suffer so you don’t have to.)
I grate directly into my storage container, because I hate doing dishes with every fiber of my being. I recommend buying a large enough container to leave room so you can shake to mix the ingredients. It’s not easy to stir in a narrow little canister, though your counters do get clean that way.
After the soap is all grated, add the borax and washing soda.
Close the container, then shake to mix. (Who needs Shake Weights?)
I use 2 tablespoons in a standard washing machine (get a coffee scoop – they’re usually 2 tablespoons). High Efficiency machines may take less.
I bought a 6-pack of Ivory, a box of borax, and a box of washing soda for $10 or so. I spent 15 minutes making up three batches of this stuff, and have enough soap to get me through the end of the year – plus 3 bars of Ivory left over. That same amount of money spent on baby laundry detergent wouldn’t have taken me through a month.
I’ve really put this soap through the paces, and it’s worked beautifully. It gets the smell out of my partner’s work clothes (his boots can stink up half the house, so just imagine what the socks are like). It gets the food out of my daughter’s high chair cover. And it doesn’t leave a lingering smell, which my sinuses appreciate. Best of all, it requires little effort beyond blowing up soap and playing with a cheese grater, which are too entertaining to be called work.
Plus, if you have a dedicated cheese grater for the soap, cleanup is simple: just soak it in water until the soap disappears, then let it air dry. I wouldn’t recommend this if you were going to use it on food later. There’s always the chance you’ll overlook a bit of soap stuck in the grinder, and I doubt Ivory tastes good on pasta.
*People are horrified when I tell them I don’t use fabric softener. Honestly, I don’t miss it. I used those dryer balls for a while, but as far as I can tell they don’t actually do anything other than make a lot of noise. My towels are fluffy and soft, not scratchy. Some of my sweaters get static cling in the winter, but that’s an easy fix – just put a little lotion on your hands and run them over the staticky item. Maybe fabric softener makes a difference if you line dry, but as far as I can tell, the only thing it does in the dryer is make your clothes smell nice.
**I’ve been insanely sensitive to perfumes since I got pregnant, so I don’t add stink-pretty stuff to my soap. There are plenty of recipes out there that tell you how to if you would like to customize your soap’s scent. Or you could experiment with different bar soaps if you don’t like the way Ivory smells.
Next, I tried a recipe for homemade dishwasher soap, and I wish I’d done it sooner – maybe it’s just the LemiShine, but my dishes are cleaner than they’ve ever been after a round with the dishwasher. Actually, I think they’re cleaner than when I hand-wash them. I was so proud, I took pictures. My partner mocked me, until he saw the dishes. Then he retracted the mocking. They’re *that* clean.
Homemade Dishwasher Detergent
- 1 12-oz container LemiShine
- 1 1/2 cups washing soda
- 1/2 cup baking soda
- 1/2 c sea salt (note: use the salt-shaker variety, not the salt-grinder variety)
You’ll also need:
- Another of those nifty canisters
- Put ingredients in canister.
- Pop the lid on.
- Shake it like a Polaroid picture.
- Use 2 tablespoons per load. (I use another one of those nifty coffee scoops for this stuff. I’ve got half a dozen of ‘em – seems I always need 2 tablespoons of something.)
I’m adding a third recipe here with the disclaimer that I don’t think I have it quite right; I’ve had to tweak it a bit, and the end result still leaves a bit to be desired. I offer it in the hopes that someone will figure out how to fix it, or know of a better recipe.
Next to diapers and coffee, I go through hand soap like crazy. The first six weeks of my daughter’s life, I washed my hands so much they bled. I’ve scaled back a little since then, but still. So I was excited to see a recipe for liquid hand soap that used two ingredients: bar soap and water. I have bar soap and water. And Friday afternoon, I also had a few hours to kill.
Homemade Liquid Hand Soap (original recipe):
- 1 bar soap
- 4 cups water
You’ll also need:
- A stove
- A pot big enough to hold 4 cups of water plus soap shreds
- A whisk (my recommendation) or spoon
- Something to put the liquid soap in (I used an old gallon distilled water jug, but you might want to use something that can be heated or microwaved… keep reading)
- Boil the water.
- While the water’s coming to a boil, nuke and grate the soap as described in the laundry soap recipe.
Once the water comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and add the soap *gradually* (not all at once, unless you just love stirring…trust me here).
- Stir until all of the soap has melted.
- Let the mixture cool about 15 minutes, then stir. Mixture will be runny.
- Let the mixture sit several hours, then stir again.
- If it’s still too runny, let it sit a bit longer, until it reaches the desired consistency.
Homemade Liquid Hand Soap (extra crispy):
- Follow steps 1-4 in original recipe.
- Go to the store.
- Come back from the store to find a pot full of snot-like soap ooze.
- Heat it again, stirring until it looks like soap.
- Pour into container.
- Put container under the sink and go eat.
- Check soap again to find that it is completely congealed. Add half a cup of hot water and shake until it looks like soap again. Put container back under sink.
- Feel smug.
- Check soap the following morning to find you have a half gallon-sized block of soap.
- Pour in 6 cups of hot water and shake until it looks like watery soap.
- Pour some in a foaming soap dispenser.
- Feel smart.
- Test soap.
- Find that while it is foamy, it takes four pumps to actually get enough soap to clean hands.
- Pour half gallon of watery soap (plus the stuff in the soap dispenser) into big pot and bring to a boil.
- Add another bar of soap.
- Let cool.
- Test after an hour.
- Yep, you now have a soup pot full of soap-snot.
- Boil it again, adding 2 tablespoons of olive oil. (Olive oil fixes everything.)
- Test after an hour. Snotlike, but more liquidy than the last time around.
- Pour into jug using too-small funnel.
- Sink is now clean.
- As is the counter, and the floor.
- Fill foaming hand soap dispenser.
- Clog foaming hand soap dispenser.
- Throw away foaming hand soap dispenser in disgust.
- Fill liquid hand soap dispenser.
- Pump out soap! That! Works!
- Feel smug again.
- Wash hands at random times throughout the day, just because.
- Find that soap is becoming…watery. WTH?
- Decide that maybe liquid hand soap is not overpriced, after all.
—————–What do YOU use to make green cleaning products? Do you find recipes helpful or do you just wing it? Nicole Brown is a freelance editor, graphic designer, and indexer, and a general organizer of thoughts and things. She is obsessed with Doctor Who, Supernatural, and anything Stephen King. In her free time, she collapses on the floor with her partner of five years, Richie, and has her hair pulled by their warrior princess, Anya. If she were granted three wishes, she’d trade them all for more sleep. P.S. If you ever want to write up something for frugal living, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org!