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

Monday, November 15, 2010

Soap Suds

Last Thursday, Veteran’s Day, I officially ran out of homemade laundry detergent. I made the first six gallon bucket of laundry detergent on April twenty-fourth of this year. Being as this was one of our first forays into homesteading I am happy to report it was a success. I think seven months worth of laundry on an initial investment of $18.01 is pretty economical.

You can go on to cut that price in half because I had enough of every ingredient (excluding an additional bar of soap) to make an entire additional batch. I will never have to buy the bucket again and I think I probably could have gotten a third batch of the detergent out of my original ingredients except I used some of the washing soda for other household cleaning and craft projects. So from here on out I estimate my investment in detergent every seven months, assuming I get three batches out of the initial ingredients, to be roughly $3.70 (and that is rounding up)!

I am taking up another whole blog about this because I want to tell you some of the things I learned from my first batch as well as share my pleasure at a completely successful, heart-ache free venture! First and foremost, it takes some time and is a messy endeavor to make laundry detergent, so if you are pressed for time, or you have run out of detergent and waited till the night before work to wash your uniforms, you are out of luck. It takes about an hour, maybe a little more, to make the detergent and then the concoction needs to be left to sit overnight before using. I waited till I was completely without detergent before make more because I wanted to see exactly how long one bucket would last (and it was a good excuse not to do laundry for an entire day).

Secondly, scooping detergent out of a six gallon bucket for every load is messy and impractical. I saved an “All” liquid detergent container, submerge it in the bucket to fill it up and then just use the lid as a measuring device like normal. Any liquid laundry detergent bottle that you have on hand would work. This way I can continue to store my product like normal detergent, above the washer, and it does not add an additional step to doing the laundry. I just push the bucket off to the side of the laundry room and only fool with it when the bottle is empty.

Finally, here are a couple of tips for the actual making of the detergent: The first time I made it I ran the bar of soap through my food processor, mistake. It was glommy and I like to NEVER got the food processor washed or the “mountain fresh” scent out of the plastic. Ick. I cook with that! Lesson learned. So this time around I just chopped the soap up with a stainless steel kitchen knife, much easier to clean but it did leave me with coarser chunks of soap to dissolve on the stove which took longer. I will chop it up in even smaller bits next time.

I also thought, last time I made it, I did not get the bar soap entirely dissolved and so my finished product was kind of gloppy and had a chunky consistency. Initially, I worried that is would leave residue on the clothes. That was not the case. It dissolved completely it just was not aesthetically pleasing.

This time around I took the extra time and care to dissolve the bar soap completely so when I put my finished product in the bucket it was entirely liquid and the consistency of a thin syrup. Unfortunately, on Friday morning when I opened the bucket, it too had unattractively congealed. It is not a thick smooth get like a commercial detergent. Instead, it is lumpy, like the consistency of oatmeal. The plus of completely dissolving the bar soap this time was there are no white soap chunks in it, it is clear, just lumpy.

The consistency of the detergent does not seem in any way to affect the way it cleans. Our clothes, even Fred’s uniforms, come out fresh and clean and smelling great. We have not had any problems with skin allergies or clothes not getting completely clean. Also, there is never any residue on the clothes like with a powder detergent. There is also no soap scum, which was a personal concern of mine at the onset. So overall my verdict is I will continue to make our detergent at home, saving a fortune on the commercial alternatives and making a little baby step towards being a more responsible consumer.


In the same vein of getting things clean here is something else we have realized in the past two months. Dishwasher not only save time and alleviate a tiresome chore, they actually use less electricity and water than doing dishes by hand. Knock me over with a feather.

Our dishwasher finally gave up the ghost about two months ago and we decided to forgo the expense of a new one. I would wash the dishes by hand. I do not mind washing the dishes. I put on some music or use the time to day dream and plan, but let me point out, I cook, a lot, several times a day. I make at least two breakfasts in the mornings, sometimes three. I make lunch for myself and whoever else is home and I make dinner most nights, in addition to anything I bake throughout the week and any extra treats I may make. In short, I dirty a LOT of dishes.

In the past I would load the dishes into the dish washer as the day went on and then run the dish washer when we all went to bed. I would unload it in the morning and start all over again. I ran the dishwasher almost every day and occasionally twice a day. Well when the dishwasher went on to the great kitchen in the sky I was left piling dirty dishes in the sink. The sink basin is small and usually breakfast dishes alone filled it up and spilled over onto my limited counter space. This make for some technical difficulties when it came time to make lunch and dinner and I was left with no space. So I would at least have to washes dishes once in the morning and once in the afternoon and usually at least once in between to clear up enough space to turn around in.

You can imagine my shock and horror after putting in all this additional work only to find out that both our water and electric bills had gone up significantly! That did it. It was like adding insult to injury. Not only did I have at least an hour or two of extra work every day but I was paying for the privilege! GRRRR! We bit the bullet and went dishwasher shopping this past Saturday.

We settled on a lower price point whirlpool with an extended warranty. No, we are not crazy about buying one more plastic and metal thing that will eventually find its way to a landfill but we also are not in love with pumping scads more water into the sewage/waste water plant or using tons of fossil fuel to heat that water just to wash our dishes. Buying the new dishwasher seemed like the lesser of two evils, the greener of two brown choices. We bought an energy efficient model that supposedly only cost thirty-three dollars per year to run and we will install it ourselves this afternoon.

The recyclable parts of our old dish washer will go into the scrap pile and we will try and determine if we can come up with a use for any of the skeletal remains of plastic. HEY! Maybe I have finally found my backdoor composter?! We will see. In the meanwhile we are still learning and taking our small steps although this one was quite the eye opener. Who knew washing dishes by hand was really so costly. Of course if you live alone or do not cook very often it might be much more cost effect, just a thought.

Thanks for reading,
Much love,


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