15 October 2009

Harriet the Homemaker tackles laundry soap

We bought a new washer and dryer a couple of months ago. In general, I have been very pleased with both. The washer produces clean clothes, and the dryer gives me warm fluffy dry clothes. Our prior washing machine developed a mold problem, which I was never able to get rid of. Apparently mold is not uncommon in front-loading washers, and the way to deal with it is to prevent it. One way is to use HE laundry detergent. These are low sudsing products that are more easily rinsed from the items in the washer, produce pess residue and clog up the lines less. While there is something innately satisfying about a sudsy wash, it isn't the suds that clean the clothes.

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.
  1. Take care when grating the soap. It is very easy to grate one's fingertips. (ouchy, ouchy)
  2. Don't stick said grated fingertips in one's mouth. Ivory soap tastes pretty nasty.
  3. Dry out the bar of soap for a week before grating it. Apparently, it makes the grating process much easier.
  4. 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.


ntsc said...

On grating the ivory soap, use a cusinart with grating blade. It will wash out with water.

neurondoc said...

ntsc, that presumes I have a clue where my grating blade is for my cuisinart (or if I even have one [blade not cuisinart]...). :-)

ntsc said...

That is one of the standard packaged blades.

However, the regular metal blade should do a decent job on chunks.

Doesn't Ivory sell flakes anymore?

Wife does laundry and makes the bed, I do dishes and floors.

neurondoc said...

ntsc, I really wanted to make something (sort of) from scratch, and the laundry soap was easy and useful. I liked the idea of grating the soap and mixing it up. It felt good to do it. I will look for the blade.

I do laundry, make the bed, cook, and wash the dishes. Husband tidies up (I tend to get distracted and/or overwhelmed), takes out the garbage, and deals with the cats. The cleaning service (the presence of which has saved our marriage) does the real cleaning. We split ThePinkThing duties.

N'il said...

Blog vacation huh?

neurondoc said...

N'il -- as I have said (as I am sure you are well aware), I talk a lot. The blog vacation was obviously a (failed) experiment. :-)

Happy 0th anniversary, btw.

ntsc said...

My wife and I split food, she does most of the cooking, but I do a lot of prep work: stocks, sausage, baking meat fabrication and that sort of thing.

For many of the boy's younger years she was stay at home, lost a job just before the wedding, worked from home for a couple of years and then just dealt with him and the house. Note: He was over four when we met, so I had a fair bit of very small child solo experience, his birth mother and I still are friendly.

I really enjoy doing things myself. The food prep falls right into that but I am also a decent carpenter.

We will have you doing chicken soup from a bird carcass yet.

neurondoc said...

ntsc, I have done that (chicken soup from a bird), but that was with Carol standing over me and helping. :-)