Monday, August 16, 2010

Laundry Detergent Woes

I was running low on my homemade laundry detergent so I decided it was time to mix up another batch. I made a dry version the first time and it seemed to work fine. In the interest of testing different types, I decided to make a liquid type this time. I'd saved the big jug that our last purchased laundry detergent came in so that I could give it a try.

I (mostly) followed a recipe from this website again. I went with recipe #1.

The worst part of the experience last time was grating the soap. Ivory soap falls into tiny particles at the least provocation, but the Kirks Castille soap that I'd purchased especially for this project last time does not grate well. I figured I'd outsmart the soap by using technology, so out came the food processor.

Turns out that entire bars of soap cannot be processed in a 2-cup food processor. After judiciously chopping a bar into eighths, it more-or-less processed into powder or small chunks (with a few larger chunks left). I figured that, since the first direction is to dissolve the soap in hot water, the chunks would dissolve more easily than I could food process them.

Wrong. If you boil water containing a lot of dissolved soap, you get a pot that quickly fills with bubbles and threatens to boil over. Soap-water must be simmered. At a simmer, grated soap and small pieces dissolve quickly. Larger pieces take forever.

This is what my soap-water looked like after it had been simmering for about 20 minutes. Note to self: next time, grate the soap entirely. It's worth the extra time.

The recipe calls for 2 cups of grated soap. One bar of Kirk's produced slightly less than 1 cup, so I food processed 2 bars of that, then did a bar of Ivory so I'd have plenty. This gave me around 2.5 cups of grated soap. I dissolved it in water, then brought it to a boil and added 2 cups of washing soda and 2 cups of borax.

At this point, I think I should have added more water. I probably boiled off a substantial amount of it while simmering and, although I did add more during the simmering process, once I added the washing soda and borax, I had something nearly the consistency of ice cream. It was really hard to mix the washing soda and borax in, so at least one of them had not fully dissolved when I poured the mixture through a funnel into the detergent container. There were dry clumps of white stuff at the bottom of my pot.

I added about 2.5 quarts of hot tap water and shook up the mixture well inside the detergent container. Fabulous. Laundry detergent. Or is it....

The next morning when I looked at it, the entire thing had solidified into one large mass of solid whitish soap-stuff. I guess I used too much soap and not enough water. Or something.

It's been hot-hot-hot here the past couple of days, so my first thought of heating a pot of water and re-liquifying the detergent seemed like a profoundly unpleasant idea. But how else does one heat an entire container of laundry detergent? One leaves it on the front porch in the sun in the 95 degree weather!

Sitting outside for the entire day liquified the detergent to the point where I was able to add another quart of water and mix it in. I left it on the porch to think about its misdeeds.

Apparently it didn't feel in the least bit sorry because it was solid again the next morning. I left it to warm and then filled the rest of the bottle up with hot water. It seemed liquid enough.

However, I appear to have been thwarted again. After cooling, the detergent is oddly gelatinous and too thick to pour out of the container. There's no more room to add additional water, so I'm going to pour it into a bucket (which is actually what the website advises originally) and see if I can use it as a sort of laundry jelly.


  1. I like the idea of punishing the laundry soap. Hilarious!

  2. This project sucks. I feel for you in the kitchen in hot weather, being in muggy hotness is lousy.

    I would complain to the web site about the liquid/dry ingredient ratio! That was just a poorly created recipe in my estimation.

  3. Wow, what a lot of work! I've never tried making my own before, but now I know if I get the urge to do it in the winter ;)

  4. Ciara - it's likely that it's the amount of soap or the type that I used.. I'd want to try it again before I complained.

    Jill - it's sort of fun. Then you get to use your own laundry soap!

  5. Thanks for stopping by my blog and good luck with the giveaway. Wow, making your own laundry detergent. Sounds like a lot of work.

  6. That is pretty much what happened to my first homemade laundry detergent experience too. Same ingredients and everything. My whole point of having liquid was so I could pour it, not scoop out the gelatinous glob. I stick with the powdered versions now.