Basically, the workhorse component of laundry detergent is a surfactant. Surfactants are molecules that have hydrophilic and hydrophobic ends. The hydrophilic end is attracted to water molecules, and the hydrophobic end tends to stick to non-water molecules – in the case of dirty laundry, that’s the dirt or grease or oil. Nothing really constructive happens until the water is swished around. Agitation of the water allows for many of the surfactant molecules to surround the dirt or oil and lift it away from the clothing into the larger pool of water. The warmer the water, the easier it is for the detergent to work.
I also try to use eco-friendly cleaning products. I've been using environmentally-friendly HE liquid laundry detergents for several years now (although by the time I started, it was too late for the other washer), but they are pretty expensive and still leave a residue. The new washer has a delay option, in which I can put the clothes inside and the detergent in the little drawer. But the company strongly recommends powder detergent for the delayed option -- to prevent staining.
Anyway, in an effort to use a reasonably eco-friendly and low sudsing powder laundry detergent appropriate for front-loaders, yesterday I made my own. I scouted out a few recipes online and tried out a relatively simple one:
1 bar Ivory soap, grated
½ cup Borax
½ cup washing soda (NOT baking soda)
Stir the ingredients together and use 1-2 tablespoons per load. This makes about 20-25 tablespoons, and probably costs about 8¢ per load.
I learned some valuable lessons from the experience.
- Take care when grating the soap. It is very easy to grate one's fingertips. (ouchy, ouchy)
- Don't stick said grated fingertips in one's mouth. Ivory soap tastes pretty nasty.
- Dry out the bar of soap for a week before grating it. Apparently, it makes the grating process much easier.
- Do not accept assistance from a 6 year old. The process goes much less smoothly.
Even so, the towels came out clean and fresh this morning. I'll let you know how it works on a 6 year old's marker-stained and paint-encrusted clothing.