I have been trying to think of ways to reduce the amount of plastic that we bring into the house without being a total fanatic about it. One of the biggest things we have done is buying a crock type water dispenser and some three gallon jugs so that we could stop buying flats of bottled water. Our water, though plentiful, has so many minerals in it that drinking it or cooking with it is not something we are brave enough to do. Getting the dispenser has helped us go from an overflowing recycling bin every week to one that is often nearly empty.
Another thing I do is buy things in glass containers whenever possible. We like a certain brand of spaghetti sauce and pesto that comes in Atlas jars. The great thing about the Atlas jars is that they have standard sized mouths that can be fitted with canning lids. I use them to store everything. I also reuse the jars from our favorite salsa, which are pints and again have the standardized mouths.
I have been looking at the cleaning products I buy. I try to find products for which I can buy refills but those seem to be few and far between. Method brand has a few refillable products and eco-friendy formulas. I love Seventh Generation Products but they are pricey and I have never seen any refills in that line.
I have started investigating making my own cleaning supplies and have had varying results. Our water, as previously stated, is really hard with lots of minerals in it. Baking soda and borax only go so far with scrubbing the salts away. Vinegar will take most of it off but no combination of these three ingredients deals very well with mildew which grows rampantly in our humidity. Some of the things that I have tried to use homemade cleansers on include dishes(a miserable failure), tubs and sinks(if I scrubbed long enough it worked pretty well)and counter tops( moderately successful).
I decided to try making my own laundry soap. I tried this before using some of my own soap that had not yet saponified. Online research said that this would not matter since the resulting product would not be used directly on skin. I mixed up a batch but it never gelled. I did use it for quite a while. However, it eventually took on a sour smell and I threw it out. One day at a local farm and ranch store I found some Fels-Naptha* laundry soap. This is the actual soap called for in most of the laundry soap recipes so I grabbed a bar. I put it up in the cabinet over my washer and forgot about it for a while. The other day I discovered it and decided to try again, since I already had everything else I needed. It turned out perfectly this time. Here is the recipe:
1 bar of soap (Make sure that you have true soap. If whatever you have on hand says
it is a 'bar' but doesn't have the word 'soap' on the label, it is not true soap. Brands that I know of are Ivory, Zote, and Fels-Naptha.)
1 cup of washing soda (Not baking soda.)
1 cup of Borax (Yeah, the 20 Mule Team stuff)
I grated the bar of soap in my food processor. While I was doing that, I started heating a gallon of water. Put the soap in the water and kept it hot, but not boiling, until all the soap had melted. Then, I put 2 gallons plus 5 cups of hot tap water (mine gets about 120 degrees) into a 5 gallon bucket that I had gotten in the paint department of Home Depot. I added the hot soapy water to this and mixed it well. Next, I added the washing soda. I may have used more than a cup because I had just a little left in the box and did not want to save it. I mixed this until it dissolved then added the borax and mixed until it was also dissolved. After that, I put the lid on the bucket and left it alone until the next day. By then, it had formed a yellow(color of the soap) gel that looked like it was pretty solid. I stirred it and found that there was still liquid on the bottom. This is just what I wanted to see.
I have washed about 3 loads of clothes with this and it seems to be working just fine. I turn the washer on and add the gel while it the water is running and before I put the clothes in. (This is a habit that I have had since I was a kid when one of my friends poured a bleach containing detergent directly onto some colored sheets. Not a pretty site.) Since this is soap and not detergent, it will produce few if any suds.
After adding the clothes to the machine, I fill a downy ball to its fill line with vinegar. This makes the soap rinse out easier and prevents build up. I buy a gallon of extra strength vinegar and use it for a lot of things around the house. A gallon lasts me about 3 or 4 months. Even though it comes in a plastic bottle, I don't buy it very often and the plastic is much thinner than the plastic of my regular laundry detergent bottle.
I use about a third to a half cup of this per load and it will most likely last us at least six months. I do have a back up jug of Seventh Generation detergent if I have stains that this won't take out. However, I have found that Citrasolve takes out just about any stain we ever get on our clothes.
I figure that I used about three to four dollars worth of ingredients to make this concoction. A jug of 7th Gen. costs about seven dollars and lasts us a couple of months so I am saving some money here although that is not as big a deal for me as the plastic issue. If I still had a big family and were washing several loads of clothes a day, it would be another matter.
* Fels-Naptha soap contains no naptha.
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the products to which I have provided links. I found all my ingredients locally but they are not readily available everywhere. You can buy a kit here that contains everything you need to make your own laundry soap.
Soundtrack for this post: Dolly Parton's Wash Day Blues.