Archive for July 2011

Adventures with Laundry Soap

July 24, 2011

My parents have been visiting with us this summer. Long story short, the past few years for them have involved Daytona Beach, illness, hospitals, surgery, rehab, more surgeries, anticipated illness, moving, my sister and South Carolina. There are lots of past blogs in all of this but let me say that this has been a wonderful visit…for all of us. In fact, my children – unbeknownst to me until recently – have been cleaning up with their Non and Pop….financially. Given that my parents are in their 80’s and my children are not, there have been things to be carried, steps to be climbed, chores and errands that have involved a slipped monetary bill here and there. Heh. They have been – literally – cleaning….up.

The big chore in our house has always been laundry. Our laundry room in the new house is in the basement. A hassle to reach with baskets and piles of clothing. The washer and dryer have never been my favorite of unending household chores anyway. I would rather deal with the dishwasher than the washing machine. That is a given in our house. And with their constant stream of sports socks and shorts and practice shirts and what not, my children learned early on that the chances of having everything clean every time they want them to be would be better if they washed things themselves. Especially since they tend to forget to put them in their laundry baskets. MY job has been to keep them stocked in soaps and softeners and various whitening and stain removing products. And we have always tended to go through a lot of that stuff.


With the costs and endless runs to the store for detergent and softeners in mind, my Nebraska friend Mary’s blog posts about making her own laundry detergent lit a tiny flame of interest. She is on a mission to reduce costs and her family’s ecological ‘foot print’. She is using a home made detergent that she said was costing her pennies a load from a recipe she found on the internet. Looking for something to do during spring break last April, I decided to give her project a whirl. I sent the husband to the store for the ingredients – actually thinking he would never find them – but he did. Right on the laundry product shelves at our favorite grocery store.


Mary’s recipe for laundry soap involves using a food processor to grate a bar of a pure soap (I used Ivory because I had it on hand) or a laundry bar like Fels-Naptha. She then uses the food processor to further mix in equal amounts of Oxi-Clean, washing soda and borax. After the grating and mixing, you put the powder in a dry, air tight container such as a recycled juice bottle. You use it by the tablespoon full…..and it lasts forever.


My family has been using this to do laundry since that first week in April. I have mixed it up twice from the ingredients we bought back then and I still have a half a box each of soda and borax left. I didn’t use the soap bar the second time because the moisture from that first batch was causing the powder to clump up and leave bits of soap spots in some loads. Our remaining box of softener sheets is long gone and since they can’t bear the thought of using the bottle of stinky, smelly vinegar as a rinse agent, my kids aren’t using anything to soften their clothes. And we love it. It’s the best 12 bucks I have spent on our laundry needs…..ever.

So when my dad wanted to know what kind of laundry detergent we used so he could replace it, I told him that I made my own.

“What?” he said. “No kidding?” The look on his face was priceless. And we proceeded to have a conversation about laundry. My mother said she hadn’t thought about it but the home made stuff could be the reason her clothes were not itching her lately. I was going on about the white dish cloths that were still….white. And we laughed because we all STILL envision Rosemary DeCamp and black and white versions of the television shows ‘Rawhide’ and ‘Death Valley Days’ when we hear the words ‘20 Mule Team Borax.’

In the middle of the conversation, my daughter brought her Mia Hamm soccer jersey to me. She wanted to wear it while watching the World Cup finals with friends the next day. And it looked like something from a television commercial for laundry soap.


She had actually only worn the jersey once – for Halloween – since we purchased it four years ago. I am guessing that is where the chocolate smear came from. It has usually been hanging on the wall in her bedroom collecting dust since then. It had occasionally fallen behind her toy chest and been forgottten, had a dried yellow spot from a new puppy and a black streak from a skateboard wheel in one corner. I have no idea what happened to it during our move to the new house last fall. It was dingy and – I thought – pretty hopeless. But, I unwrapped a bar of Fels-Naptha that I had purchased to try to remove a stain from a favorite pair of khaki shorts and went to work on the jersey. I lightly scrubbed the soap bar on the various stains while continuing the conversation with my parents, flipped over the jersey and saw that while rubbing from one side, I was rubbing off the red dye from the plastic picnic table cloth. Onto the white jersey. Uh oh.

Trying not to appear dismayed for her sake, I scrubbed the soap bar onto the red and told my daughter to toss it in the wash with our laundry soap. And then forgot about it.

The next afternoon I asked what happened to the jersey. Her eyes got really wide and she told me that it was white again. ALL white. And she brought it to me.

Every single stain was gone.

Now, I know that the manufacturers of sports jerseys are aware of the things their products are put through. I am sure the jersey material was something expected to repel stains and what not….but it still a tad amazing.

And proof to me that our detergent is the ‘right stuff’ for our household.

Soooo…..we mixed up a container for my parents to take home with them. And I am beginning to feel like that box of washing soda and borax are like the oil in the temple and the wine at the wedding. We still have a half of a box to use up from that original $12 purchase in April.