On some social network or other I found a recipe for home made laundry soap. It was cheap, and the reviews were pretty good. And I discovered that two of my cousins make their own laundry soap, so I thought I'd try it.
The recipe I found was 1 c borax, 1c washing soda, and 1 bar of soap (preferably laundry soap because harsh soaps can destroy all the elastic in your socks, waist bands, etc.). You grate the soap and then stir all these things together until it looks like corn meal. The recipe said 5 minutes. It took a lot lot longer than that, and I ended up blending it in small batches in the blender. And then I was scared to use my blender because even though it's glass, it held on to the smell of the soap. Since borax and washing soda are both toxic, and nobody wants to eat soap, that wasn't very good for my kitchen blender. The recipe insisted multiple times that you only need 1 tbsp for a load of laundry, or maybe 2 if it's a heavily soiled load. The people who really really loved it also mixed in a box of oxy-clean, but I figure if you're going to spend all that money (since oxy-clean is not cheap), you might as well buy Tide and not have to mix it all up.
The recipe source said these are all natural and safe ingredients, and, they concluded, therefore non toxic. It's not true. People so often forget that natural doesn't mean gentle, safe, or nontoxic. Deadly nightshade is natural. So is poison ivy. So is radium. Borax has boric acid in it. Boric acid kills cockroaches and ants, and it's so toxic that you're not even supposed to breathe the dust that kicks up into the air. And washing soda is also used in swimming pools, and the swimming pool chemicals bag is clearly labeled poison. This might be all natural, but it's not nontoxic--and safe for what? Clothes? Kids to eat? That's just a nice phrase that is totally empty without elaboration. So it comes out a pretty white toxic powder that you have to keep away from your kids.
The first thing I discovered is that, while grating soap is surprisingly easy, I can't stir anything for well over 5 minutes straight. Even when I cook, I can take breaks. My arms just don't handle that kind of action. So it was really hard to get it mixed up properly. Also, I'm generally allergic to the perfumes they put into soaps. So when I grated that bar of Zote and released that smell, I wasn't a happy breather for a few days.
The next thing I discovered is that whoever decided you needed one tablespoon per load must have been washing for one, with the smallest load possible. I needed four times that to get moderately clean clothes.
So, the results?
About as good as using Sun brand laundry detergent (cheapest one in the store). In other words, not great.
It only took one washing for all my whites to turn dingy. When your clothes are old anyway, having them go dingy is a bad bad thing. It makes worn clothes look ready for the rag bag--and we can't afford to throw everything that's worn away.
Heavy duty spots didn't come out--things like breast milk, baby spit-up, baby poop, food spots all required a second washing with a spot remover on them. My normal washing choice, Arm and Hammer, got those things out really well (although it didn't remove grease spots--but what does?!). Since I am a nursing mom with a baby, a toddler, a very messy preschooler, and three big kids, not getting everyday spots out on the first washing was kind of a big deal for me.
Also, I just didn't feel like the clothes were really, deep-down clean. For one thing, Benji's underwear (which he pees in every single day still) didn't look clean. Even worse, they didn't smell clean. I'm not talking about "they lacked the perfumes detergents leave in the clothes." I understand that the perfumes are used to convince you that something is clean and it's all an artificial experience. The problem was, Benji's underwear still had a faint odor of urine around them. Just faint, but enough that I was afraid my poor kid was going to walk around attracting attention for smelling bad. And my clothes didn't smell really clean. Alas, sweaty person though I am, I don't really want a faint odor of homelessness to follow me around. Don't get me wrong--it was very very faint, and only on certain items, like my nylon garments. But it was there and it said to me "I'm not clean."
Call me crazy, but I think I should be able to even press warm-from-the-dyer underwear to my face and smell nothing--not perfumes, not dryer sheets, and not people.
So I'm guessing by the smell that the people-dirt didn't wash all the way out, and I'm guessing by the dinginess that the soap didn't rinse all the way out, either. But I already run my laundry on a double rinse cycle, and with 6 kids, I can't really rinse it more than that. Maybe that's why most people use detergent instead of soap? Just a guess.
So today I gave up and bought a big box of Arm and Hammer (why that, when I find that Tide gets things cleanest? Well, Arm and Hammer is cheaper than Tide, and it gets the clothes clean, and it's consistently good for rashy-skinned kids, like Daniel. Even better (by far) than the hypoallergenic-free-of-everything detergents. I think that might be because Arm and Hammer actually washes away more completely than the others.). I won't throw away the home made stuff. I'm just going to use it for what the boxes of ingredients say it really is: a laundry booster, not a detergent replacement.