If you live in modern society, you probably use soap. It keeps you clean and smelling good, and who doesn’t want to smell good? But that doesn’t make it OK for companies that make this stuff to take you to the cleaners.
When it comes to laundry detergent, Americans pay plenty for a never-ending cascade of hyperbole: “New!” (No, it’s not.) “Improved!” (How do you improve soap?) “Ultra!” (Ultra?)
The latest twist is to sell us less product at a higher price with “ultra-new” concentrated detergents. Gee, that certainly sounds thrifty.
Well, here’s the dirty little secret that the suds salesmen don’t want you to know: Some people get decent results with no detergent at all. Others save 90 percent of the cost of store-bought detergent by making their own.
Is laundry detergent even necessary?
The blogger behind Funny About Money decided to forgo detergent completely as part of an experiment. The result:
“By and large, all of the freshly washed clothing came out with an odor: It smelled of clean water!”
You might be surprised to learn that, while clothing has been around in some form for hundreds of thousands of years, laundry detergent is relatively new. And yet, ancient people were still able to get their clothing clean. How?
As it turns out, the main ingredient other than water is agitation. Ancient people used rocks and rivers, but your modern washing machine can clean lightly soiled clothes by just pushing them around in water.
In other words, you can get away without using detergent at all.
But if the idea of using nothing more than water to wash your gym socks sounds a little scuzzy, make your own detergent. It’s easy.
There’s no shortage of homemade laundry soap recipes. Here are the ingredients for one we found that seems to work pretty well:
- 4 cups of water
- 1/3 bar of cheap soap, grated
- 1/2 cup washing soda (not baking soda)
- 1/2 cup of Borax (20 Mule Team)
- 5-gallon bucket for mixing
- 3 gallons of water
- Mix the grated soap in a saucepan with 4 cups of water, and heat on low until the soap is completely dissolved.
- Add hot water/soap mixture to 3 gallons of water in the 5 gallon bucket, stir in the washing soda and Borax, and continue stirring until thickened.
- Let the mix sit for 24 hours, and voila! — homemade laundry detergent.
My experience with homemade laundry detergent
Of course, who’d post a recipe without trying it out first?
I made and washed several loads of clothes with homemade detergent. And I, like many before me who’ve traveled this road, couldn’t tell the difference between store-bought and homemade.
Total cost per load? In the neighborhood of 2 cents. Store-bought detergent, depending on what you buy and where you buy it, can cost about 20 cents per load — 10 times more.
3 ways to slash the cost of detergent
So, now you have two alternatives to the agitation of paying a bunch of money for laundry detergent: Ditch it altogether and use nothing more than water in your washer, or save 90 percent by making your own laundry soap.
And here’s a third idea for those who don’t intend to do either of the above options: If you’re going to stick with store-bought, try using less.
I tried just filling the bottom of the measuring cup that came with my store-bought detergent. Guess what? No difference in smell or cleanliness that I can detect.
What household products do you make for yourself? Share your tips in comments below or on our Facebook page.