Laundry. It does make me wonder why. Why don’t I demand my family become nudists or naturalists? Okay, it’d be a tad awkward.
Instead, the great Mt Washington is a regular topographical feature in our house. The pile of dirty washing appears so quickly, like some earth-shattering tectonic upthrust occurred while I was looking the other way. Where did all those sweet piles of freshly laundered and folded clothes go? Why must they have such a short life span?
It’s true, as I said in my homemade wool wash, I was designated the laundry chore by choice because I find hanging out at the washing line preferable to most other household tasks. It has given me way too much time to ponder the whole process…
Is it more efficient to do washing in one big hit on a designated washing day or to do a little everyday? What are your thoughts?
The chemical residue of laundry detergents rub up against us day and night, can poison our waterways and cost a pretty penny for the privilege. These are some of the many reasons why I ended up rethinking how we do laundry.
It’s particularly relevant for people with
auto immune diseases,
babies and small children,
those who want to cut costs without having to go cheap and nasty
and the sea life will thank you too.
Converting to homemade laundry detergent has been quite a slow process for me, mainly because there are so many ways to pluck this duck. Luckily, all the options are pretty easy, it’s just a matter of how serious you want to get.
However, before careering too far down the path, please check your washing machine owner’s manual in case there are any ingredients you cannot use. Same goes for those using cloth nappies, as some manufacturers are pernickety about what you wash with.
The easiest way to cut costs and help the environment
The simplest way to cut back on laundry detergent is: use half the recommended amount of your existing laundry detergent and replace with ½ cup of washing soda (sodium carbonate) or bicarbonate soda (aka baking soda). If doing a cold water wash, you’ll need to dissolve in hot water first. Both of these sodas are considered non-toxic for people and the environment, according to the Environmental Working Group and are cheap as chips.
My favourite is washing soda. It just works so well. You’ll probably find it on the bottom shelf in the laundry aisle of the supermarket. It works even better when I use vinegar instead of fabric softener.
Reduce the residue and replace the fabric softener
If you’re concerned about the chemical residue left in clothes rubbing up against you or your nearest and dearest, replace your standard fabric softener with ½ a cup of vinegar in the appropriate compartment. It’s great for softening clothes and the acid helps break down any potential alkaline residue. However, if you have really hard water the vinegar can react with the minerals and not work as well.
Homemade laundry detergent
The main ingredient is sodium carbonate, because it’s high in sodium, making it very effective in softening water and it’s also very alkaline (ph 11), hence great for degreasing and removing stains.
I now use Borax in my laundry detergent! I can hear your excitement from here! (but have listed my previous borax-free recipe below)
How did I become friends with borax? Well, we’re far from best mates. She is kinda toxic, but I’m happy to use her now. I just wanted to know a bit more about her first. So, I had a chat with an environmental scientist, as you do. Karen (last name would’ve been useful!) and she gave borax the thumbs up for laundry detergent.
It’s not reactive with other chemicals.
When it mixes with water it transforms into hydrogen peroxide, which is how it cleans and whitens.
It ‘inhibit(s) the metabolic processes of many organisms… to disinfect’, according to this little ditty.
Why is it okay to use borax in laundry detergent? Apparently there’s already boron in our water supply and we could be consuming 1.5mg boron daily and ‘an acceptable daily intake of 18 mg’, according to Science Direct. Tasty! I’m still not using it to whiten my teeth, as they did in the bad old days. The good old Oxford Journals reckons we don’t really absorb much through the skin, either, so when you look at the alternatives, borax is looking pretty good.
If you are sensitive to fragrances you will need to be careful about the soap you use, most of the standard ones contain some, unfortunately even some that claim to be pure, so check the ingredients.
1) 6 cups washing soda (sodium carbonate)
2) 3 cups soap flakes (or grated soap, the surfactants in coconut oil soap make it a great choice)
3) 3 cups borax
1) 3 bars of soap, Sunlight soap (Australia) and Fels Naptha (U.S.) seem to be good options and the surfactants in coconut oil soap make it a great choice too
2) 6 cups washing soda (sodium carbonate)
3) 1 tablespoon lemon, lavender or eucalyptus essential oil
Fabric softener (is essential for breaking down the alkaline residue)
1 litre/quart vinegar
1 teaspoon lavender or eucalyptus essential oil
or use this technique with lemon peels to help whiten whites when line drying
Mix all ingredients, wearing gloves to avoid contact with the skin and store in a safe dry spot, as you would any store bought laundry detergent.
Place 2 tablespoons in the washing machine’s detergent compartment or however you would normally add the detergent and ideally wash in warm to hot water. If you’re doing a cold water wash you will need to dissolve in a little hot water first. Place half a cup of vinegar in the fabric softener compartment.
Dissolve 2 tablespoons in a bucket of warm water and soak items for 1 hour prior to washing or make a spot removal paste with some of the laundry detergent mixed with water and applied directly to the stain before adding to the wash.