Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Laundry, Where Cleanliness and Miserliness Meet

Per my promise, this week's post takes us into the laundry room, where we look for ways to save not only the planet and the water supply, but also some of that cold, hard cash that inevitably goes through the laundry and comes out shinier (coins) or crisper (dollar bills).

Step #1 was to get rid of chlorine bleach. Toxic stuff. The books I've been reading recommend 1/2-3/4 cup hydrogen peroxide in that load of whites. Is it as effective as chlorine bleach? Probably not. But my goal is to have whites that are clean-looking, not blinding.

Step #2: Do laundry in cold or warm, if possible. Using hot water increases energy needs by 90%, according to Green Cleaning for Dummies.

Step #3: Author Ellen Sandbeck of Organic Housekeeping recommends buying detergents without surfactants like Alkyphenol ethoxylate, an endocrine disrupter that stays in our water system and refuses to break down; phosphates; or Sodium hypochlorite (good old chlorine bleach). But, Ellen, that leaves all those super expensive, Whole-Foods-y type laundry detergents that are outrageously priced!

So, Step #3b: Make your own Whole-Foods-y type laundry detergent for less.

I found two "recipes" for homemade laundry detergent and went for the easiest first:

Powdered Laundry Detergent
2 cups soap flakes

1 cup borax

1 cup washing soda
 This makes a "powdered" laundry detergent that I use just like any other at 1/4 cup per load. So, four cups of the homemade detergent handles about 12 loads, and I estimate the cost at about <$1 load. I could bring this price down further by grating my own Fels-Naptha laundry soap, but that sounded tiresome.
While the Borax was pretty easy to find, the washing soda and soap flakes took more doing. If you do plan to save more money and grate your own soap in the food processor, then Fred Meyer carries all three: Borax, Fels-Naptha, and washing soda. Otherwise, Ace Hardware also carries washing soda, and I ended up ordering a bunch of packages of soap flakes off Amazon.

It took mere seconds to measure the ingredients out and mix them together in an empty laundry detergent box, and the clothes came out clean and fresh-smelling! Very pleased. But the total cost wasn't much less than the Whole-Foods-y type detergent I wanted to replace, especially if one of those was on super-sale. When I've run through my 12 loads, I'll give the recipe for liquid laundry detergent a go and let you know how it works. The liquid detergent is more economical, since it promises 50 loads from a smaller amount of the same ingredients. However it does require two gallon-size plastic containers (I rinsed out milk ones) and more than ten seconds of work. Hence, I didn't want to try it first, being rather lazy.

As I sit and type this, I'm down in the Bay Area visiting my mom, and now I do see why Zero-Waste Lifestyle devoted a separate chapter to vacations. Our family has probably generated as much trash in a few days' travel as we do in a couple weeks at home. Yikes. Take-out food, hotel shampoos and soaps, snacks and treats. At least I get plenty of time to read, and I leave you with this tidbit from Superfreakonomics, a quick library ebook that covered a range of topics from fixes to global warming (!) to the economic whys and wherefores of prostitution:
Levitt and Dubner quote a Carnegie Mellon study that found, "Shifting less than one day per week's worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more greenhouse-gas reduction that buying all locally sourced food." The researchers were examining locally-sourced food only from the transportation-emissions aspect, without regard for how local food benefits local economies, builds community and food trust, and frequently results in way-better-tasting fresh, ripe food, but I still see their point. How about if I shift one or two meals per week to non-red-meat-non-dairy and I source my food locally in season? Sounds like a win-win.

Have a great week, Marketgoers, and here's wishing you cheap, clean laundry.


  1. Hi Christina, thanks for the lovely post about laundry soap and traveling. Very good points. I have made the liquid soap many times and it gets easier as you get used to it and improve your process. It's so much less expensive than store bought or making the powder. I found it worked very well. My husband thought the whites might not be quite as bright, but I think he might have been imagining it. :)
    Keep up the good work sister!

    1. Thanks, Sharon! Would love to hear your liquid detergent recipe, if you feel like sharing...


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