Sunday, March 29, 2009


Spencer Soper is either an economic-forecasting genius or else he couldn't have anticipated how relevant his "On the Cheap" column would be in The Morning Call newspaper. The Call, by the way, has won awards for design and earned my journalism school mentor's respect when he read an article on the Space Shuttle that he hadn't seen anywhere else. Not bad for a regional paper.

After reading an "On the Cheap" tip for saving money on liquid hand soap (see my January entry called "Belt Tightening"), I sent Soper my tip on homemade laundry detergent. I've been using this detergent for 7-10 years and saved probably hundreds of dollars for my family.

Spencer met me at the Four Points Sheraton hotel, where I was staying to attend the Write Stuff writers' conference in Allentown. After I showed him how to make the soap, we washed his rugby jersey and some grungy socks in a hotel washer. His colleague April Bartholomew did the filming. They both were a lot of fun, and it was great to be on the "answering" side of the interview table. The headline was "Save on Suds to Clean Your Duds"

Here's the recipe for anyone who wants to try it:

1 bar Fels Naptha laundry soap (or 2 bars of Ivory milled soap)
1 box Arm & Hammer washing soda
1 box 20 Mule Team borax

Grate the soap into a stockpot or bucket and mix with washing soda and borax. Use ¼ cup per load of laundry, or adjust as needed. Ready to use immediately.


And here's a cooked version that's even less expensive (about $1 per 2 gallons), though you'll need airtight containers for storing borax leftovers and you need to stir or shake the liquid each time you use it.

1/3 bar Fels Naptha laundry soap (or Ivory bar soap)
½ cup Arm & Hammer washing soda
½ cup 20 Mule Team borax

Grate the soap and put in a stockpot with 3 pints of water. Heat until soap is dissolved.

Stir in the washing soda and borax and heat until all ingredients are dissolved. Cook for 15 minutes, until mixture has consistency of honey.

Remove pot from the heat and set aside. Put 2 pints of hot water in a large (3–5 gallon) clean bucket, then add the soap mixture and stir. Add 11 pints of cold water (or enough to make 2 gallons total mixture). Blend well and set aside for 24 hours. Mixture will have gel-like consistency and should be blended before use.

Use ½ cup of detergent per load of laundry.


Further reading: Better Basics for the Home by Annie Berthold-Bond. My recipes don't come from this book, but it is a fount of information on homemade, nontoxic cleaning solutions.

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