I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Of Our Own Hands…

Yesterday Sarah and I tried our hand at making laundry detergent. My imagination was sparked last week by an article about managing and saving money on Yahoo. The author of the article suggested that we don’t even need detergent to wash clothes because it is really the agitation of the water and rinsing that removes dirty and odor. He insisted detergent is just an expensive waste of money. While I probably would not want to share a seat on the bus with him I was intrigued by his article, however, in the immortal words of my mother “cleanliness is next to Godliness” and to be quite candid I’m just not yet willing to wear stinky clothes nor do I quite agree about the lack of soap’s necessity. I think the author of the Yahoo article must have suspected he would meet with several similar responses so he went on to detail other money saving tips such as how much detergent is actually needed and how to make your own laundry detergent at home for pennies on the dollar. Now this is where I really became interested.

My “plastic guilt” has become almost unbearable. As I look around our house at all the plastic we ship out into the landfill every year I am appalled. There are disposable plastic containers in every room of our house. But what are we supposed to do? It seems like everything “convenient” comes in single sized plastic containers and some things like shampoo and detergent just come in plastic bottles with no alternatives. On a positive note, I have learned, through research and experimentation, what a small amounts of these things we really need to use verses what we think we need to use. For example with shampoo and hair conditioner: a dime size amount is really that, it is a few tiny droplets, not the palm full of product I had been using. I realized right away that my hair was equally clean and took a shorter amount of time to rinse out so there was less time spent in the shower thus less water wasted.

The author made the act of making homemade laundry detergent sound simple, it involved only three key ingredients and a little time and effort. I put a link to this article and the proposition of creating detergent out on my facebook page for comment and discussion. I got lots of interesting comments and emails. Several people had recipes, some for powdered detergent and some for liquid. I almost exclusively wash our family’s laundry in cold water to prevent additional waste and larger electric bills so I prefer to use a liquid detergent versus a powder, which doesn’t always dissolve. The recipe I finally chose was a smash up of a couple different recipes. Here it is:

1 bar of lever2000 soap (this is the soap our family uses normally due to allergies)
1.5 cups of washing soda (I found Arm & Hammers in the laundry isle)
1.5 cups of 20mule borax (also in the laundry isle)
4 gallons of water (roughly)

I started by running the bar of soap through the food processor and grating it into small pieces. Then I put the soap into a small sauce pan on the stove added enough water to cover and heated it on low medium stirring frequently until the soap melted. I then put the washing soda and the borax in the 5 gallon bucket added 3 gallons of hot tap water and stirred till dissolved.

I added the soap from the stove stirred more and finally added a gallon of cold tap water. I continued to stir and once everything seemed to be mostly combined I put a tight fitting lid on the bucket and left it till today. As I type this the first load of laundry is going through the machine now. When I took the lid off the bucket the mixture was slightly thicker than water however not nearly as thick as the gel–like detergent I am used to buying in the store. My main concern with this mixture is that the some of the soap seemed to congeal on top of the liquid and I am worried those bits won’t dissolve in the wash. I gave it a good stir and added 1/4 a cup to a super-sized load of wash before adding the clothes. I will update how this turns out.

We are really hoping this is a viable solution to normal store bought detergent for several reasons. The first of which being, of course, we would like to save money. The second reason being, we as a family would like to make a smaller environmental impact on the world around us and we feel that carelessly tossing out more and more plastic waste ever year is no way to do that. Third, and lastly, we would like to be more and more self reliant making fewer trips to the grocery and if making our own laundry detergent is a way to meet these goals then I am willing to put up with the mess and the extra time and effort it takes to do so. My rough estimates on cost are around two cents a load, I have not worked out the exact math but when I do so I will post it.


The second thing I would like to update on today is Fred and my effort to start building our chicken coop. We have been researching coop designs and talking to people who raise chickens now for several weeks. Originally I was much enamored of something called an “ark” design. This basically looked like a little A-frame made of two by fours covered in chicken wire with either the top or one end acting as a roost. I thought this was very cute. Some of the pluses were: it would be completely portable and it was small so it took up very little room in the yard. Ultimately, we decided this kind of coop, while attractive and low cost, would not suit our purposes.

We plan to start out with three or four laying hens, we have decided on Jersey Giants because when full grown they will be able to hold their own with the dog. We will pick up, these girls at Green’s tomorrow and they will need enough space to move about. Also, since we don’t live in a year round warm climate, we opted for a coop design which would allow us to provide more indoor space and insulation per bird. Fred gathered several designs and sketched out the plans (mostly in his head) of exactly what we would need and how this would all go down. Last night we went to Home Depot where landscape timbers were on sale for less than two dollars apiece, we intend to use these for the bulk of the construction, the drawback being that landscape timbers have rounded off edges and are extremely hard to square up. We also purchased a few two by fours (which were much pricier), some chicken wire and a gallon of “red tomato” paint.

We got home from church this morning and decided since the sun was shining we would begin right away. We drug everything into the back yard and immediately began construction. Well, as with the best laid plans, we had several false starts. Fred had one plan in his head and of course I had a completely different one, we were not communicating well nor were we being extremely pleasant to each other. We finally had to put everything down (after two failed attempts that left us with a dangerously drunk-tilting coop) and step away from the situation to reevaluate our plan. It also helped that we took a minute to remember why we were going to all this trouble and exactly where we hope to be someday. After about six hours in the hot sun, learning by trial and error, we eventually got our post set and the frame for our coop/run mostly constructed. We also put down the floor of the coop. It didn’t fall over and knock us on the head and it has not blow over yet in the rain, don’t worry I’ve been out to check several times, so right at this moment I am feeling a somewhat precarious iota of success.

Fred took tomorrow off from work, originally we had intended to go camping and hiking but with the drop in temperatures and the on and off again rain we figured the time would be better spent getting a start on our coop. Since we hope to bring the chicks home tomorrow and they will have to stay in the house for about a month, that gives us a limited amount of time to get their permanent home ready. Wish us luck and please say a prayer.

Thank you for reading and please come back to travel with us down this new and winding road,

1 comment:

  1. Update: The detergent worked very well. I've washed two loads of clothes in it so far. It is a little messy to get from the five gallon bucket to the washer so what I finally did was rinse out the empty smaller store bought container and fill it by submerging in the bucket. I rinsed it off and am going to leave it by the washer and just fill it from the bucket as needed. It does need to be shaken before each use and the bucket needs to be stirred before filling the smaller container. I keep a paint stirrer on hand for that.

    It is still thinner than regular detergent and I use a cap full per load which is roughly a quarter cup. The soap did not entirely dissolve and there are little bits of soap that float on top of the mixture however these seem to completely dissolve in the wash and I do wash only on cold. I used the lever2000 soap because that is what we use to bathe with and I knew it would not cause any allergies. I think if you chose to use whatever soap your family uses it would be fine as long as it does not contain excessive moisturizers that would leave residue.

    Also I believe my initial calculations of roughly two cents per load are correct, although I believe it may actually be even cheaper than that in the long run. I included in the load cost the initial bucket investment too. But here is a break down of the total:

    Washing soda: $3.79
    Borax 20 mule: $6.49
    Lever2000: $.75
    Bucket & Lid: $6.98
    Paint stirrer: free (some high school boy at Smith's hardware thought I was nuts and gave me a handful even though I didn't buy paint)

    Total: $18.01

    While the initial investment seems to cost much more than a bottle of detergent, remember, those boxes of Soda & Borax are still full after making a whole bucket of detergent and I will never need to purchase the bucket again. I believe with the addition of a few more bars of soap that $18.01 will wash my families clothes for the better part of a year if not longer. I estimate being able to get roughly 5 or 6 more buckets of detergent before having to repurchase the powders.

    Thank you for reading,
    Much love,


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