Letter Re: Homemade Soap Making Instructions

Mr. Rawles:

Here is a recipe for soap, not food,. This has saved us a lot of money and aggravation over the years. We decided to make our own laundry soap after my daughter (now four years old) was born. Her skin wouldn’t tolerate any artificial perfumes or dyes and she would break out in horrible acne if exposed to artificiality of that sort.

The basis of this recipe we found online, then modified it to meet our needs. It includes only shelf-stable materials and is suitable for both washing machines and hand-washing.

The ingredients include:

–One bar of soap, grated. The soap you use is up to you. We’ve used Ivory, Octagon, soap made at home with lye and vegetable fats, homemade soap with animal fats and lye, a soap called Zote( that is usually marketed to Latinos), Fels Naphtha, and a wide variety of whatever is on hand, all with good results. The Zote is marketed as a laundry soap. It comes in a 14 oz. bar, significantly larger than a standard 4-5 oz bar of soap, so we usually make a double batch when using it. (If the math seems off, adjust it. I’m saying only what has worked for us.)

–1 cup of washing soda. This is not baking soda. I have read that you can make washing soda out of baking soda by baking it (which eliminates some of the carbon and some oxygen, as I understand it). But as the two are approximately the same cost to begin with, I see no sense in converting sodium bicarbonate into sodium carbonate. The only reason I can think of is if you should choose to store only baking soda and not washing soda, or if you should happen to run out of bicarb.

–1/2 (halfa) cup of borax. Some people use only a quarter cup of borax, claiming it doesn’t cause clothing to break down as quickly. They might be right. They might not. YMMV. We use a half cup and have seen no inordinately negative effects in four years.

–3 gallons of water. Just water.

First, start by boiling about 2-3 quarts of water in a stainless steel pot. DO NOT use your good cast iron for this unless you want to ruin the seasoning/coating. Turn the water down to a simmer after it boils.

Begin adding the shredded soap slowly, allowing a small quantity to dissolve before adding another bit. Use a large stainless steel or plastic spoon to stir. Stir constantly until all soap has been added and is dissolved. You will end up with a thick mixture I call “soap soup” just because it’s fun to say.

Into a five-gallon bucket or other large container, place the borax and washing soda. Pour the soap soup in with the other ingredients and stir with the stainless steel spoon until the dry ingredients are dissolved (or nearly so). We use a round kitchen-size trash can with marks on the outside to show three gallons and six gallons are. You’ll have to measure those ahead of time.

Add enough warm water to bring to three gallons. Stir wholeheartedly, making sure everything but the bucket and spoon dissolves. Cover the mixture and allow it to sit for 24 hours before putting it in bottles. You don’t even have to bottle it: You can use it straight out of the bucket. However, we found it best to save up empty laundry detergent bottles for a month or so before beginning this project. If you stir the bucket thoroughly before bottling, and shake each bottle thoroughly before using, you’ll get the optimum distribution of materials for each load of laundry.

At one cup of laundry detergent per load, this makes 48 loads. I usually make a double batch, which is 96 loads — meaning about two or three months worth of laundry for approximately $6 invested in the detergent. I’m an EMT and my uniform must be changed and washed after each 24-hour shift, at least, to get rid of the mixture of sweat, blood, and red Mississippi mud. I have a 4-year-old, my wife is a professional, and I work 48-96 hours a week and consequently I do a lot of laundry.

Before bottling the soap, I add 30-40 drops of tea tree essential oil to the mixture. That might sound like a lot, but 30 drops over 96 loads is actually a very small quantity. My wife has a history of MRSA and the tea tree oil seems to be effective in keeping that particular infection at bay. Put it this way: She hasn’t had an outbreak since we started using the oil. You could also add other (and more) essential oils to the soap mixture, should you want your clothing to smell pretty. I prefer my clothes to smell like nothing at all (call it OPSEC), and a third of a drop of tea tree oil per load leaves nothing noticeable behind. Lavender and other flowery oils do leave a smell.

So, for five or six cents per load of laundry using shelf-stable ingredients, you get clothing that is very clean, smells of nothing at all (unless you want it to), and turns whites more white while leaving colored clothing still colored.

As always, thanks JWR for your time and energy in keeping this blog site up. – J.D.C. in Mississippi