Thursday, 24 May 2012

Living Chemical Free, Part 4: Making Laundry Soap

This is the fourth part of my Living Chemical Free series.

For Part 1 on life without shampoo, click here.
For Part 2 with more information about the wondrous substance known as baking soda, click here.
Part 3 is all about making your own deodorant, here.

Making Laundry Soap with Soap Nuts

More dirty clothes? No problem!

I have been interested in making my own laundry soap for many years, but all of the recipes I found online included Borax. The EU banned borax about a decade ago, because it apparently can be used in making homemade bombs.

Who would be interested in making bombs when they could make laundry soap, right? Sometimes these lawmakers just don't understand people....

When I came across soap nuts, I was intrigued. There were several different ways to use the nuts, from throwing them in the wash with your clothes to making your own washing liquid by boiling down the nuts in water for about 20 minutes, then straining and bottling.

I had doubts about both methods.

Firstly, if the soap nuts are in the wash with the clothes, won't they lose their effectiveness faster because they are exposed to the rinse cycle? And do the soap nuts leave a residue on the clothes because they are always giving off a bit of saponins in the water?

Secondly, with the boil-and-bottle method, the fact is that soap nuts are organic and can go mouldy over time. What if I don't go through it fast enough and my entire batch goes bad? Admittedly, given the fact that I have four children under the age of 10 and I was up until recently doing a load of cloth nappies every two days, I probably would never have a bottle of liquid soapnuts hanging around long enough for it to go mouldy, but it was a concern nonetheless.

But then! I happened across an idea for canning the liquid. And it was super easy!

I save my old jam jars and mayo jars, so I had a variety of sizes. I guesstimated that for every 4 soap nuts, I would need 1 cup of water.

I filled my jars to their capacity with the soap nuts and boiling water. I then carefully screwed the lids on tightly, and put them all into my big canning pot.

I put the pot on the heat, and waited for it to boil. Once the jars were all in the boiling bath for at least 30 minutes, and I was satisfied that they were sealed, I removed them from the hot water to let them cool.

They are now sitting in my cupboard above the washing machine waiting their turn to be opened! Because I am only going through one medium-sized to smallish jar at a time, there is little chance of the soap going off before I can get through it.

But does it work?

The water in the jar MUST be opaque. If I shake my jar(s), bubbles form at the top. The soap nuts are hanging out at the bottom, and when I pour out the liquid I try not to let them escape. I suppose I could strain it, but that seems like too much work to me!

How much do I use for a load? I normally use a 1/4 cup. I just keep the measuring cup in the cupboard with the jars of soap and if I have a load that is especially dirty or full, I add an extra splash or two. There isn't much science to it, really. It's only soap.

I paid £2.50 for a bag of soap nuts, and I didn't even use them all in my batch of jars. I would estimate that I have about 50 washes so far, and with the left over soap nuts, perhaps another 20 to go. 

That's not bad! My clothes have all come out smelling clean, but obviously not scented. The dirt is coming out, but anything with major staining still needs to be pre-treated. (I don't have a chemical-free alternative for stain treatment, but I'd bet baking soda would do it!)

I have washed dirty nappies with this, as well as all sorts of stinky towels and clothes from a potty training toddler. They smelled great afterwards, so if that doesn't convince you, I don't know what will!

Soap nuts are an economical and earth-friendly alternative to regular laundry soap, but if you aren't willing to make the change, consider using a good deal less laundry soap than the manufacturer recommends on the box. I've read in many places that the amounts listed are inflated just to keep you buying their products. Try a load with half the amount of powder you normally use. You might be surprised!

Next week, we'll have a little chat about brushing my teeth with a stick (aka Miswak), washing my face with oil (eeeewww! Right? Maybe.), and possibly even making your own sunscreen. Party time!


Emma-Jane said...

I have read and re-red this blog entry now so many times because I really want to try it, and use natural products, but at the same time It seems too unknown, too complicated and too much hassle that I just haven't got around to doing it yet, but anyway, I've finally purchased some soap nuts so here goes...finally! So just wanted to say a massive thanks for inspiring me and writing a how to story! Xxx

Raisin4Cookies said...

Good luck, Emma-Jane! I'm glad I was able to inspire you. :)