Thursday, March 1, 2012

My 10 Steps to Natural Living // Step Eight: Squeaky Clean

Today is about detergents, cleaners and soaps. Just like last week (about bath products) these items are also full of chemicals!

There are various reasons to switch these items to naturally-made products. Some choose to because the chemicals in our cleaners ultimately end up in the earth and natural water supply. Some choose to switch because the chemicals are harmful (toxic) to have around the house. Others switch because of the cost savings. I’m a little bit of all three, but if you’ve been following along, you already know I am currently prioritizing by cost then health factors.

I plan to eventually learn how to make household cleaners, hand soaps and dishwasher detergent, but right now I am so stocked up on these things (from couponing) I am going to use them up instead of waste them. We don’t have kids or pets, so nobody is licking the floors or counters (although I am careful what we use around food). I am at peace with this gradual change.

One thing I have switched to already is homemade laundry detergent. There are several recipes for this floating around so it can be a bit overwhelming. The trick is testing and trying until you get a combination of ingredients that work for your type of water (hard or soft) and your lifestyle (lots of sweaty, grimy things?).

Photo Credit
Before I get into the different recipes, here's some info about the ingredients that I had no clue about just a few weeks ago. Hopefully it will help you:
  • Laundry bar soap can be found near the laundry or cleaning products at a regular super market. Most common brands are Zote or Fels Naptha.
  • Washing soda and borax is usually on the shelf right next to the bar soap. They seem to come in a standard size that provides enough powder for a bunch of loads. Start with a small amount until you find a ratio you like, then use the rest and be prepared to use it for weeks, even months.
  • Some people believe that washing soda and/or borax is too abrasive (damaging clothes) and not exactly earth friendly. Feel free to research that so you know you will be happy with your choice. From what I've learned and tested so far, I am happy with using them.
  • Castile soap is vegetable oil based as opposed to animal fat based, and it contains less detergent-type ingredients. I found mine at the local foods store that sells a lot of natural body care items.
On to the recipes....

What seems to be the most common recipe for powder detergent:
2 cups of laundry bar soap, like Zote or Fels Naptha (grated)
1 cup washing soda
1 cup borax
*use 1 TBSP to ¼ cup per load depending on load size and preference

I didn’t see Zote at our store, and I decided to not use Fels Naptha because there are some not-so-natural ingredients in it. (What’s the point in using natural body care, when the clothes I wear still have irritants?)

So I did more research and found a truly all-natural recipe:
2 cups castile bar soap (grated)
3 cups borax
4 cups baking soda

My guess is that this recipe increased the ratios because 1) castile bar soap is not as “powerful” as the laundry bar soaps for cleaning and 2) baking soda is not as “powerful” as washing soda. I didn’t fully realize this at first and I liked the idea of using less abrasive ingredients, so…

My first attempt at a recipe was this:
2 cups Kirk’s Castile bar soap grated
1 cup borax
½ cup washing soda
½ cup baking soda
*using 1-2 TBSP per load

This worked well on some things, but didn’t do much for removing underarm odor and deodorant residue on some of the shirts.

My recent attempt:
2 cups Kirk’s Castile bar soap grated
2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda
*using 1-2 TBSP per load
*with a pre-treatment of white vinegar sprayed on the “armpits” of shirts

Much better. Some shirts did not need any pre-treatment, others could be soaked a little longer. I’ll keep playing with it. Overall, I love the way our clothes smell and feel after washing with this mix…clean and chemical-free! Plus it is cheaper than buying conventional detergent. Hooray!

By the way, I chose to make a powder detergent just because it was easier. There several liquid detergent recipes out on the web too. They just require more time to prepare, but many people prefer them over powder. This just illustrates the fact there is no right or wrong way to do it. You will have to experiment to find what works for you. If there is one thing I’ve learned from this natural living stuff is to never give up on the first, second or third tries (...or ever?...)!

More Laundry Tips
If you are wondering about fabric softeners…I like to use vinegar in my Downy Ball instead of, well, Downy or any fabric softener. In the dryer, I use aluminum foil balls to reduce static (works with most fabric types) and a wet cloth sprinkled with lavender essential oil for a bit of luxury. Everything comes out fresh and soft!

Other tips I’ve found is to use essential oils in the wash for added natural scent. Many people like to use Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soaps, especially Tea Tree Oil since it is anti-bacterial. I may try this if I can find a way to get some Dr. Bronner’s on the cheap.

One thing to keep in mind for cost is that a Zote soap bar seems to be cheaper and yield more grated soap than a Kirk’s Castile Soap bar. I was blessed with an opportunity to use a coupon and score a 3-pk of Kirk’s for free, otherwise I might have looked harder for Zote.

Either way, homemade detergent is cheaper than or comparable to store-bought with the added bonus of skin-friendly ingredients. Lovin’ that!