Laundry–final analysis?

So, after posting at least twice about how I make my own laundry soap, and it’s super environmentally friendly, and super cheap, and totally just as good as regular store-bought laundry soap . . . I broke down today and bought some regular ol’ detergent from Superstore.

What changed?  Just last week or so, I was posting about how great things were going: I made a new batch of goop, and getting my money’s worth out of my washing soda / borax purchases.

Well, the final straw was the tea towels.  It could be the humidity, or possibly my imagination, but my very best tea towels that I used to prize as being the very absolutely best tea towels one could ever hope for (from the now-long-defunct, but oft-mourned Caban), started to “smear” the water in a wet dish rather than soak it up lickity-split like it used to.

Also, though I very recently posted that the diapers were getting super clean and smelling like a fresh spring morning and all that, I’ve recently detected some odour emitting from them, especially when they are, ahem, freshly wetted.  They didn’t used to make that smell, but maybe some detergent residue has built up in them.

Some other things I noticed: the collars of a couple of my partner’s white shirts were still quite besmirched after washing; things have been seeming a little extra “stiff” on the line lately; and our colours seem to be fading a little more quickly than I feel comfortable with.

So I broke down and I bought a big box of Tide Free.  It wasn’t even on sale, but I had a ride to the grocery store, so I could bring it home without lugging it on the bus.

And how do I feel?  I’m glad I did the experiment.  I’m disappointed it wasn’t the magic bullet I believed it was for the last few weeks.  I feel a bit guilty about not even getting an eco-brand of detergent (next time!!).  But I’m also relieved to be back on a more normal track for laundry.  I was ignoring some of these failings for awhile now, so I’m glad to face and accept them.

I still have 90% of the last batch I made.  I think I will continue to use it, perhaps alternating with the regular stuff to reduce buildup.  But I will definitely avoid using it for my nice tea towels.


I made some more laundry detergent yesterday, my second batch.  Once again I followed the link on The Family Homestead, and made about 2 gallons of detergent.  That’s about 32 cups, or enough for up to 64 loads.  It’s dead easy, takes less than half-an-hour, and makes for really really cheap detergent.  It’s also much easier on the environment than conventional laundry detergent because it’s made of more natural ingredients (borax, washing soda, soap).

But the big question is: does it work?  Well, the fact that this is my second batch should tell you something!

At first I found it weird because this stuff doesn’t really suds up.  But if you feel the water that’s emptying from the machine, you can feel that slimy detergent feeling and you know there’s something in there.  And it’s working!  Our clothes are clean, really clean, and no longer have any detergent build-up in them.

The thing that lets me know about the build-up is our cloth diapers, or more specifically, the microfibre inserts we use with our “night-time dipes”, our pocket-style Fuzzi-Bunz.

We had a history of problems with these inserts from the beginning.  Super absorbant?  Yes.  But over time they developed a strong smell that was activated on wetting, and very very difficult to get rid of.  I have actually boiled these inserts several times to try to “strip” them of their stink.  After reading about the smell, I learned that it is not that they aren’t getting clean, or that they’re growing bacteria; it’s from a build-up of detergent in the diaper which then somehow locks in the stink of ammonia from the urine.  The sites I read recommended “stripping” the diapers by running them through hot washes with no added detergent until the water ran free.

We did this a few times and were totally amazed at how much detergent was still coming out, even after 3, 4, 5 hot rinses.  That gives you just a small idea of how much extra detergent we were using.

And how much were we using?  Less than 1/4 of the recommended amount of Tide Free.  So although the microfibre inserts were the “canary in the coal mine” for us, what they indicated was that we were sending a whole lot more detergent down the drain than we needed to, leading to waste of money and resources, and more environmental harm than we even knew about.

So, how are our little “canaries” doing with our new system?  Fantastic.  For diapers, I wash on hot, using double the usual amount of our home-made laundry detergent (about 2/3 cup), and we do a double rinse on cold, same as we used to do.  And our microfibre inserts come out smelling clean and serene, with not a whiff of either ammonia or purfume.  Just clean.

And that, more than the money-savings, is why I love my home-made laundry soap.

Oh, and our other clothes are getting clean too.