October 13, 2011 —
A friend sent me an article regarding laundry detergents that claim to be “green” and “natural,” even though these particular products are anything but good for the environment.
Detergent manufacturers are not required by law to list ingredients on labels. Many of those ingredients are petroleum-based cleaning agents. Some have tongue-twisting names like alkyl benzene sulfonate, alkyl phenoxy polyethoxy ethanol, ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate and diethanolamines. Detergents also include more pronounceable concoctions like synthetic fragrances, optical brighteners and petroleum distillate. These chemical compounds are slow to biodegrade; some are endocrine disruptors, some release carcinogens into the atmosphere in the manufacturing process, and most are toxic, among other characteristics it would be best to avoid.
Shortly after I received my friend’s email, I went grocery shopping. Laundry detergent was on my list. I was shocked at prices that ranged from $10 for 7.5 fluid ounces, to $19 for 115 fluid ounces.
Lately, in my efforts to live so that I minimize harm to life on our Earth, I find myself asking, “What would Grandma have done?” I can assure you I don’t want to go back to turning the handle of the wringer washer that stood in her kitchen; however, I’m certain that the soap she used when she did laundry for her family of nine did not contain harmful chemicals.
After some online research, I discovered that I could make my own detergent using just what my grandmother must have used. It’s simple to do, and cheap. I purchased the necessary ingredients: washing soda, baking soda and Borax, which were easy to find in the laundry section of the supermarket.
Here are the simple directions: Using a large cheese grater, finely grate a 4.5-ounce bar of Ivory soap (less than $1 a bar) into a large container that has a tight-fitting lid. Add a cup of baking soda ($2 for a pound box), a cup of washing soda ($3 for 55 ounces) and 1/2 cup of Borax ($4 for 76 ounces). Mix well.
This procedure took me about five minutes to do. The total cost of ingredients was approximately $10 and I can make enough soap to wash about 84 loads of laundry.
Using a half-cup of the soap powder, I washed a medium load of laundry in cold water. Everything smells fresh and looks sparklingly clean.
Some additional details: You can use any pure soap like Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile soap or Fels Naptha. Make sure to avoid soaps that contain ingredients you can’t pronounce. Washing soda, also known as sodium carbonate or soda ash, is non-toxic, but can irritate your skin, so wear rubber gloves when you handle it. Both washing soda and borax are versatile household cleaners that are environmentally friendly. I’ll bet grandma cleaned with both.
If you would prefer to make liquid detergent, which is a little more complicated, visit tipnut.com/10-homemade-laundry-soap-detergent-recipes. If you think I have too much time on my hands, visit consumersearch.com/laundry-detergent/green-laundry-detergents for a list of the most popular truly green detergents, and the estimated price per load of each.