When I was really young in the early 1950’s I remember helping my mom make laundry soap out of Fels-Napha bar soap, Octagon bar soap or Ivory bar soap. Octagon is no longer being made. For baby diapers she would use Ivory bar soap. She would make it up in a bucket every couple of months. She would grate it and cook it and mix it up in a bucket of water. I never thought to ask her about it later in life. It was just something that was history along with her Maytag Ringer Washer. I can still smell that soap in my mind.
Like women of her generation she became attached to the lunchtime stories or also call soap operas because they were sponsored by soap manufactures. Television was the new exciting thing to have in the home. They came on at noon until one o’clock. Each one was 15 minutes long. If she missed one the neighbors would fill her in on what happened. She would once in a while try a laundry detergent that she had a coupon for that was being advertized on her stories. Once we were all in school she went back to work. That ended the soap making. I was in high school when she bought her first washer and dryer set. Cooked starch and boiling socks on the stove to remove grime had become an old fashion memory. We did continue to starch pillow cases and hang them up to dry and later dampen and iron them. My pillow cases are hand made embroidered with crochet lace and need this kind of care, so I still do that.
Fast forward to this century and the current economy. I had worked with a young lady from Mexico at a garbage truck company. She told me she didn’t buy expensive laundry soup but used Zote bar soap. It is made in Mexico and I had seen it in all the local stores next to the Fels-Napha soap. It is made from coconut oil and tallow with some brighteners. It gets it’s name from the Spanish word “jabonzote” meaning big soap. Large bars of soap was used to hand wash cloths that was easy to hold. She thought we were all loco for spending all that money on bubbles. She explained all about how she made her laundry soap. Years ago after I bought my HE(high efficiency) washer and dryer set, I ran across a blog on the internet with a recipe for laundry soap. I was running out of ideas on making ends meet and HE laundry detergent was very expensive and the traditional laundry products could not be used. I researched until I found a recipe that used Zote bar soap. Now there is all kinds of instructions on line that you can google for recipes using Zote and Fels-Napha.
Fels-Naptha is an American brand of bar laundry soap used for pre-treating stains on clothing and as a home remedy for exposure to poison ivy and other skin irritants. Fels-Naptha is manufactured by and is a trademark of the Dial Corporation, a subsidiary ofHenkel. The soap was originally created around 1893 by Fels and Co. and was the first soap to include naphtha. The inclusion of naphtha made the soap very effective for cleaning laundry, but it was not generally safe for personal use.
Borax was first discovered in dry lake beds in Tibet, and according to legend, imported to Babylon more than 4,000 years ago. In the 8th century CE (or AD), Arab traders imported borax from Tibet via the Silk Road where goldsmiths used it as a soldering agent and to refine precious metals and ores.
Explorer Marco Polo brought borax back with him from Mongolia, where it was used for centuries in the manufacture of stain-resistant porcelain glazes.
In the 15th century borax was widely imported to Europe for glassmaking. It was used 300 years before that in China to help glass endure extreme temperatures without cracking. It was also used in glazing and ceramics. However, the price was far too high for general use. In the 19th century, new borate deposits were found in Italy, Turkey, and towards the end of the 19th century, the Americas. This is when borates became available and affordable enough for general use.
In laundry, washing soda accomplishes several things. The high alkalinity of washing soda helps it act as a solvent to remove a range of stains, and unlike bleach, washing soda does not usually stain. It is also used in detergent mixtures to treat hard water; the washing soda binds to the minerals which make water hard, allowing detergent to foam properly so that clothing will come out clean, without any residue. Sodium carbonate is also used by some textile artists, since it helps dyes adhere to fabric, resulting in deeper penetration and a longer lasting color. http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-washing-soda.htm
This is very inexpensive to do. The bar of soap is around a dollar. The box of borax and washing soda are around $4 each maybe a little less depending on where you buy it. They both will last a long time because you don’t use that much. I use both for making dish washer soap. You can find other way to use them to clean with on the internet. The actual cost for making 2 gallons of HE laundry soap was only about $0.35. This soap doesn’t make bubbles but you can use it in your top loader washer. Don’t expect bubbles. Bubbles really don’t clean your cloths they are just chemicals that is added to make bubbles. That was a real selling point in the early years of commercially made soap. Ladies liked the bubbles and thought it made the cloths cleaner. The bubbles could be difficult to rinse out in laundry tubs. It could take up to 4 rinses and ringing out with the ringer to get the bubbles out. I remember my mother adding a half a cup of white vinegar in the final rinse water. This would rinse the soap out and soften the cloths.
I experimented with it and came up with a liquid laundry soap recipe that was right for my soft water and machine. If you decide to try this you will figure out how to adjust it to meet you laundry needs. All the recipes you will find on the internet make 10 gallons only I didn’t have the storage for all those containers. I didn’t want to make that much starting out either. I think a small batch is easier to handle in a small kitchen. At first you don’t want to make big batches because you are just trying this out and may want to adjust the recipe. It doesn’t take as much room to store the sliced bar and the other few ingredients for the next time. It doesn’t take long to mix up but you have to let it sit over night before you can finish it and pour into recycled laundry bottles. I use the bottles that juice comes in from Ocean Spray. I don’t have to worry about pouring from a gallon milk jug.
This laundry soap is concentrated so you only need ½ cup for top loading machines and ¼ cup for HE machines. My machine tells me what size my load is and then I put the amount of soap needed. So it all depends on your machine.
What you will need to make the HE laundry soap:
- A large plastic container with a lid that can hold at least a gallon of liquid. I have a couple of 2 gallon pickle buckets with lids that came from a sandwich shop for free. You can also get buckets with lids free from your deli or bakery in your grocery store. Just ask for them and keep going back until they give you one. You can use a regular plastic bucket that you will have to seal with plastic wrap and string.
- A cheese grater. The bar soap is easy to grate and is softer then cheese.
- One pan that can hold 3 quarts of water and a large spoon with a long handle.
- One bar of Zote or Fels-Napha soap. I like Zote the best.
- Measuring cups, funnel, and enough bottles or jars with tight lids to hold 2 gallons of liquid. I like fruit juice plastic bottles. You can see through them and they are sturdy and won’t break like glass. You have to shake the bottles before use.
- Box of 20 Mule Team Borax.
- Box of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda.
- Small container of Oxiclean. I use this for the laundry soap that I make for whites only. Zoto comes in three colors white, pink, and blue. I use the white to mix in oxiclean. That way the family don’t grab the wrong one for general washing. They know to use the pink for colors and white for whites.
- Scented oils or extracts like vanilla. Oils are sold at Walmart with the candles. This is optional. Right now I am using the Fresh Linen scent for my white soap and Lilac for my pink soap that I found for $2. A little bottle lasts a long time.
The first thing you do is divide your bar of soap into 5 equal parts. I used a ruler for this and try to slice straight. You can eye ball it and it should be fine. You are only going to use one slice so the rest of them can be put into a sandwich bag to store. I am making 2 different batches. The white soap will be for laundering white cottons and the pink will be for general laundry.
Then you grate them on a cheese grater into a bowl.
Place a quart of water into a pan and heat. When little bubbles start to boil on the bottom of the pan the water should be hot enough. Add your grated soap and stir. Keep stirring until the soap is dissolved. I usually turn the stove off after I start to stir. I takes a few minutes for the soap to melt completely.
Now you add a quarter cup of borax into the mixture and stir some more. Borax is slow to dissolve in hot water. You will know when it has because your spoon will not scrap across the grit in the bottom of the pan. It will also get thick.
At this point you can now pour this in your large plastic container. I then heat 3 pints of water in the same pan until it just starts to bubble on the bottom. While you are waiting for that.
Stir in a half of cup of washing soda in the soap mixture and a scoop of oxiclean if you are using it. As you stir the mixture it will get real thick. By the time the water is hot enough you should have everything dissolved in the plastic container.
Now add your hot water and stir. When it is all blended you can add 3 more pints of water from the tap. If you wish you can add scented oil to make your cloths smell really good. You just add 10 drops or add a tablespoon of vanilla extract. Stir again until blended. Now just seal the lid on and let it sit over night or until the next day when you have time to bottle it.
Now the interesting part when you take the lid off you will find that the top of the soap has a thick layer like marshmallow on top.
You will have to stir it down until the mixture is creamy again. This will take about 10 minutes to do. Now you are ready to bottle.
You fill your bottle half full of water first and then finish filling with this concentrated soap. You will need a funnel for this and a small cup to do this with. It is like slime at this point and stringy when you go to pour it. So make sure you do this in the sink or some where that the mess won’t hurt. Once you get your bottle full, you can put the lid on and shake well. This will make 2 gallons.
The soap will separate so you will have to give it a good shake before you use it. That is another reason I like the juice bottles, they are stronger and not as heavy to shake.
Since I have the pickle bucket that holds 2 gallons, I just add another gallon of water in the bucket and stir. It takes awhile to get it all mixed then I bottle it. I put the bucket into the sink before I add the water. I find it easier to get into the bottles. A paint mixer for my hand drill is on my wish list which make stirring easier and faster.
My recipe is very mild because I have soft water. You can increase the washing soda if your water is hard. The borax brightens the cloths and the washing soda (sodium carbonate) lowers the ph of the water. All washing soda is soda ash which only contains sodium carbonate and you can find it in the pool section of most box stores. Now I have seen recipes that also calls for additional baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) if your water is hard. You can add oxiclean if you want. I only use it for whites.
This truly is a real money saver when your budget is tight. Some people now make it because it is all natural and good for the environment, others make it because of soap allergies. I make it because it saves me several hundred dollars a year.