Green Washing

I rarely wear make-up.  I traveled for six months with a toiletry bag the size of a small ziploc.  I am not a product girl.

And yet I am.

In most facets of my life I am a die hard DIYer: the “why buy it when you can make it” philosophy rules my kitchen, garden, and home decor.

But when it comes to “products” I like the aesthetic of a commercial package, the written directions telling me how much to use each time, and the added scents and magic powers.

I am trying to get over it though because I am learning more and more that homemade cleaning and beauty products can be of superior quality, have a smaller carbon footprint, and cost significantly less.

DIY Laundry Soap

I’m a little late to this party, Ashley among others have written a few posts on homemade laundry soap, but I thought I’d tell you my experience anyway.

Five Simple Ingredients

  1. Borax
  2. Washing Soda
  3. Baking Soda (whoops, not pictured above, sorry!)
  4. Bar Soap
  5. Essential Oil (optional for added scent)
My first questions when I saw the list was what are these ingredients and why are they used.  I didn’t want to be “green-washed” into thinking that just because I was making it at home it was green and clean.
Borax (sodium borate) is a mineral that is found in desserts as a byproduct of evaporation.  LARGE doses of Borax can be mildly toxic but it’s commonly used around the world for everything from cleaning products to food additives.  The purpose of adding it to laundry is for it’s cleaning power.
Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is used for it’s stain removal power and is usually made from ash.  It can be an irritant so you want to keep it out of your eyes and avoid inhaling large amounts, which I’d say is pretty standard household cleaner advice.
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is a naturally occurring mineral and is used in detergent because of it’s ability to soften fabric and get rid of odor.
Bar soap-I used Dr. Bronner’s which is made with Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Palm Oil, Sodium Hydroxide, Water, Tea Tree Extract, Organic Olive Oil, Organic Hemp Oil, Organic Jojoba Oil, Salt, Citric Acid, Tocopherol .  I couldn’t find any information about why it’s added to the detergent so I’ll have to assume it’s just to give the whole shebang more cleaning power.
Essential oil-I used lavender-is all about scent but it also has disinfectant properties.

I used this post from Wellness Mama as a guide but cut her “recipe” into quarters because I didn’t want to deal with 5 GALLONS of detergent.

Here’s what I did:

On the stove in a big soup pot I heated one gallon of water.  When the water became warm to the touch I turned off the heat and stirred in

  • 1/4 cup borax
  • 1/4 cup washing soda
  • 1/4 cup baking soda

In another big soup pot I heated two quarts of water.  While it heated I grated a 1/4th of a bar of Dr. Bronners soap then added it to the water when it simmered.  I turned off the water and stirred for a minute or two until it dissolved then added it to the other pot.

As I stirred everything up in the big pot I added about 25 drops of lavender essential oil then left it to cool.

Once cool the mixture went into jars for storage and use!

It’s not necessary to go through the process of adding it to water, you can just mix the powders and grated soap together and use like dry detergent, but I prefer liquid detergent.   If you use measuring cups/pots/etc. from your kitchen make sure to clean them thoroughly before using them for food!

After the detergent cools completely it turns into a very thin gel, just like “store bought”.

To use I added about 3/4 of a cup to my wash and went on my way.  First thing I noticed (after the delicious lavender scent) was that it doesn’t really foam up like what I’m used to.  I read that that is normal and doesn’t diminish the cleaning power.

When I switched the clothes into the dryer they felt clean and smelled great.  Once dry I didn’t notice any difference from what I am used to with commercial products.

Conclusion: It was cheap.  I spent less than $20 on supplies and ended up with a gallon and a half of detergent plus barely used containers of washing soda, borax, soap, and essential oil.  As a total guesstimate I would say that the gallon and a half cost me $3 in material and less than 20 minutes of time.   The frugal gal in me is happy and my inner DIYer is satisfied but I am still going to keep my eyes out for even less processed ingredients to wash with.  Any ideas?

And any ideas about what to do with all of this extra borax and washing soap?  I’ve heard they are both great for cleaning, have you used them?   Anyone in Charlottesville want some to make their own detergent?

My last thought on green laundry is this: balls over dryer sheets any day!


23 responses to “Green Washing

  1. I love reading all of your posts and take in the information as I feel will relate to my life. Your last two subjects have been things that I have had a lot of thought about: deodorant and laundry. Thank you for all of the information. I am curious if your receipt for laundry soap would work in a HE washer, if anyone knows please post. I did get some soap nuts for Christmas; my MIL loves them, but have been nervous regarding using them in my HE washer. Regarding dryer sheets, I gave those up long ago and have noticed no difference:). Oh, regarding deodorant. This was a huge concern of mine when I breastfed and so I tried to use some of the natural products, but had some of the same issues as you. Now rethinking options especially in regards to Kendal.

    • gracefulfitness

      Hi Aracoma!
      From what I’ve read this detergent is perfect for HE washers. HE washers use less water and therefore need less sudsy soap, this soap is not very sudsy at all. As far as Kendal, I’d say it’s better for her not to start on aluminum in the first place. This is a tricky one, I wouldn’t listen to my parents on this subject when I was coming into puberty! On the other hand, I think the “natural” options have gotten better over the last 20 years. What my mom does with Abundance is recommend that she only use anti-perspirant for soccer/band and use aluminum-free deodorant for the rest of the time. I do agree with her that for things like this it’s a matter of cumulative exposure and keeping it low-not necessarily eliminating-is a good goal.

  2. I love this! I am almost out of detergent and going to make this next, along with the coconut oil and baking soda deodorant I’ve been using (smell free) for the past week, my home should be toxic chemical free in no time. I got the deodorant idea from a commenter on your post. Great topics!

  3. I use borax and baking powder in the dishwasher. Works perfectly!

    • gracefulfitness

      Sadly my dishwasher is my hands. :( Our kitchen is itty bitty so there’s no room for one but actually we haven’t had one for a very long time (by chance not by choice) and I don’t mind so much.

    • Can you advise the quantities that you use for the dishwasher?

  4. Great post!

    My husband uses Borax for carpet deodorizing, cleaning the toilet, and for making homemade dishwasher detergent.

    • gracefulfitness

      Your husband cleans the carpet, toilet, and dishes?! 😉
      My husband isn’t opposed to these things but our threshold for them being dirty is…different. I’ve been using my all purpose cleaner to clean the toilet but from now on it’s borax all the way.

      • :)

        Yes, I’m very lucky to have a husband who does all those things.

        As for the coconut oil and baking soda deodorant, does it leave any white residue on your clothing? Thanks!

        • I used it for the first time today and it does leave the slightest powdery white residue. I used a lot of baking soda though!

  5. This is great & pretty much what my laundry detergent is. (I’ve been meaning to post my “recipe”.) I don’t add it to water though, & I like adding a couple drops of tea tree oil directly to the wash. I think I use both borax & washing soda in my dish washing detergent. I’ve been looking for a less-wasteful dryer idea — thanks for suggesting the balls! Do you have to order them online? Can I find them anywhere?

    • gracefulfitness

      I actually found them at Ross or Marshell’s or one of those store. You could probably get them at a big box or maybe if you have an local eco store (we’ve got one that sells all green household stuff).

  6. My sister made me awesome dryer balls for Christmas I love them – they’re like these

    • gracefulfitness

      Those are awesome! I’m pretty sure the blue ones in my post have seen better days so next I’ll try making them, thanks!

  7. I have never heard of dryer balls! I’m going to have to get one. One of my friends makes laundry detergent for me sometimes. It’s great! We trade laundry detergent for homemade soap.

  8. I make those wool dryer balls. You can recycle old wool sweaters for the insides of the balls and then just wrap wool yarn or wool roving on the outside to make them look pretty. I buy sweaters at Goodwill (they have to be 100% wool), wash and dry them to felt them, and then cut them into strips. This way you can make balls with very little new material. It appeals to my frugal and my sustainable side. The balls work best if you use six or so in the dryer.

    And re the deodorant- have you tried the alcohol/water/essential oil recipe and it didn’t work? I love that stuff. It’s identical to the very expensive Weleda spray. Maybe I’m just not that naturally smelly?

    • gracefulfitness

      I’m excited to try the dryer balls, thanks for the info!
      I haven’t tried the DIY deo spray yet but it sounds great. Right now i’m on day 2 of coconut oil and baking soda and so far I love it.

  9. This website has great cleaning tips using vinegar and baking soda! my sink and benches never looked so sparkly!!
    Lots other info about vinegar and its health benefits, use in cooking etc as well

  10. This “sounds” like a green idea but I dont think that I will EVER take the time to make my own laundry detergent. Also, what do you do in terms of laundry softener? Also is this okay to use in HE washing machines??

    • gracefulfitness

      No problem Lindsay, we all have to decide what makes sense in our lives. Right now I have a time:income ratio that is heavy on the time and light on the income so I can experiment plenty as long as it saves me money! This project was pretty quick though, about 15 minutes to make enough for a few months.
      I’ve never used laundry softener so I can’t answer that one but as far as HE washers the homemade stuff is great because it’s low-suds.

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