I’ve always had a red light blinking in the corner of my eye when using any cleaning detergents at home – be it for general house maintenance, dishwashing, laundry, bathroom cleaning, or specific purposes like mold elimination. And though I’ve never been (fortunately) too sensitive to any housecleaner yet, I’ve never fancied strong fragrance or suffocating smell of some types of cleaning products. Long before I started digging into the problem with toxic chemical ingredients in commercial products, including detergents and even personal care products.
A seismic changed came along the moment I got pregnant and, especially, later on when my lovely son was born. Hygiene at home had to be at a high (est) level and yet I had to keep it safe. All went fragrance- and chemical-free. Fortunately, there are some good “green” brands that have created relatively safe cleaning products.
It turns out there are also great homemade alternatives to most common house cleaners with two or three ingredients you probably have at home all the time.
Why Using Homemade House Cleaners If There Are Good “Green” Options On The Market?
Well, it’s (usually) cheaper, it’s convenient (saves you a visit to the groceries and saves you in situations where you just forgot to buy a laundry detergent and you happen to urgently need it). And last, but not least (my vocabulary prefers to remain silent here). Just look at the picture below. It speaks more than a thousand words…
Because of my limited time resources I’ve always preferred simple, time-efficient options. That’s why mixing homemade plain soap is something I will leave for chemistry-savvy geeks. I’ve found this simple recipe pretty easy and affordable. I’ve personally used Dr. Bronner’s Baby Unscented Liquid Soap as a main ingredient. It is organic, biodegradable and fair trade.
Follow 3 simple steps:
- Use ¼ – ⅓ (laundry detergent) cap of Dr. Bronner’s Baby Unscented Liquid Soap per load (if full load).
- Add 1 Tablespoons washing soda or 2 tablespoons baking soda if that’s what you have available at home.
- Optionally, you can add 1/2 cup white vinegar to the rinse cycle.
Note: You might need to adjust soap/ soda proportions, testing multiple variations, until you find the one that works with your tap water (hard or soft).
Does it really wash like commercial laundry detergents?
To answer that question I used my toddler son’s after-eating-piece-of-art babygrow. He’s trying to eat with no help. Like adults do…but in a more creative way. And, I know he can read my mind and he definitely knew it’s a day for DIY washing experiments. To help me better test this homemade laundry detergent, he reached for my long forgotten, cold cup of morning Cappuccino (it’s early afternoon already, if you have kids you know why it’s still there ;)) and it got spilled all over the place. And on his clothes.
If this works on carrot and tomato splashes and coffee stains…then it should work on regular laundry, too. Note: I changed his clothes and went to the playground for a couple of hours. So the stains had plenty of time to get fixed :). To be honest, not all stains disappeared, but I don’t think my regular baby detergent would remove them completely, either. I’m pretty satisfied with results, anyway.
About odor: it has a slight and delicate odor. I might guess it’s something natural that comes from the natural oils used in Dr. Bronner’s Baby Unscented Liquid Soap. But it’s so delicate really that I can’t say what it is for sure. It is just nice and natural.
Here it is. An exotic approach to laundry! I found this option by chance while researching natural shampoo alternatives. Soap nuts. I read on the label it serves as a laundry detergent for fine textile and wool. I must confess I had never heard about it and was kind of suspicious and curious at the same time.
One comment bumped into my eyes once I started my research: “…saponin, derived from soap nuts, is possibly the most significant green innovation in history for everyday household cleaning needs.” (Courtesy of the 2009 Green Dot Awards jury).
This was enough to grab my attention, so I continued reading…
The homeland of soap nuts are India and Nepal. Soap nuts have traditionally been used as an expectorant, and in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for eczema and psoriasis. They contain a saponin – a natural cleaning agent. The soap nut shell absorbs water and releases the saponins which circulate as a natural surfactant in the wash water, freeing dirt, grime, and oils from clothing. They are generally considered hypoallergenic and appropriate for people with allergies or sensitivities to harsh chemicals. Hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, eco-friendly, biodegradable. Low sudsing – ideal for high efficiency (he) washers, free of synthetic chemicals or pesticides.
Well, it seems like Soap Nuts are the only completely natural, sustainable laundry option I’ve found. I’m still waiting for my bag of soap nuts to test how it works. Until then I’m sharing what I’ve learned through research.
Place 5-6 nutshells (6-8 g) in a cotton bag (I ordered my soap nuts here and a wash bag is included). Place in the washer and wash as usual. Water temperature should be between 30°C and 90°C. If you are using cold water, then it is better to soak the nuts in hot water for a few minutes before use.
Remove from the bag after washing and let dry. You could reuse it several times (some instructions say nuts could be used twice when washed at 30°C – 60°C, but these ones say 7-10 times, so it depends on the products, I guess). If you notice signs such as grayish to black color of the shells or shells getting softer, dispose or compost.
Difficult stains should be pre-treated with gall soap or some other form of natural stain remover.
Is This A Perfect Solution?
Don’t really want to disappoint you. We all know there are no perfect things, anyway. Along with the many benefits of using soap nuts as a great natural substitute for regular commercially bought laundry detergents, there are some downsides, too. And I’ll share my findings, though I really didn’t find much support for either. Yet…
- Some sources suggest that saponins, hence, soap nuts are a bit toxic to the environment and to fish. Arguments go that saponins are made up of amphiphilic molecules. This means that half of the molecule likes to be in the water, the other half likes to be in lipids. This is what helps them solve lipids and oils.”. But they are also destroying cells by altering their membranes. This function of saponins is probably used by the plant in defense against bacteria and fungi. I’ve found no other source confirming or denying this claim. And this source itself doesn’t confirm it is true that soap nuts are harmful to fish suggesting that not all saponins are equal.
- A research on the Cleaning effect of alternative laundry products. A comparison of soap nuts, laundry balls, washing pellets, laundry magnets, water and regular detergent states in its conclusion that soap nuts’ cleaning effect is equal to that of water alone, noting that “as it (water) has a substantial cleaning effect in itself.
How to Use Vinegar For Laundry?
An indispensable laundry ingredient in the past, the qualities of distilled white vinegar should not be underestimated today. Vinegar acts as a softener, preserves colors and helps get rid of the stains. If added to the rinse cycle, it assists in combating lint and static cling.
Note: Be careful when using vinegar. Some manufacturers don’t recommend putting vinegar in your laundry machine since it might damage the rubber hoses and seals.
If you can’t find washing soda!
In many recipes for homemade laundry detergent you will see washing soda pop up as an important ingredient…It seems to be common and easy to find throughout the USA, but maybe not the case in Europe. I always have hard times finding this one when i need it. But I’ve been lucky to find these instructions for turning baking soda to washing soda. I haven’t tried that yet, but here’s the secret. You only need baking soda and an oven.
- Turn oven on 400 degrees F.
- Pour a thick layer of baking soda on the bottom of the baking sheet.
- Bake for 1-1 1/2 hour don’t forget to stir from time to time. You’ll know it’s ready when it has changed in look and feel. The silky feel of baking soda is replaced with the more grainy texture of washing soda.
- Let cool and store in air-tight jar.
DIY Dish Soap
1 1/2 cup of hot water
1/2 cup liquid castile soap (I usually use Dr. Bronner’s baby mild liquid soap
1 tablespoon of distilled vinegar
1 tablespoon of Washing Soda (as a thickening agent)
1 grated castile homemade soap (optional)
- Mix all ingredients into a large bowl. Pour in preheated 1 1/2 cup of water (better be really hot). Stir until all ingredients are completely melted and blended.
- Allow the mixture cool at room temperature.
- Reuse empty liquid soap dish bottle to store your new homemade dish washing liquid.
Soap Nuts As A Natural Dish Soap
12 Soap Nuts
2 cups water
1-3 drops essential oil of your choice
- Boil the soap nuts in 2 cups of water for 10 minutes. the result should be a thin soapy liquid.
- You could add washing soda for a better washing effect. Stir well to melt and blend.
- Cool a bit, then add the essential oil.
This solution can be used as a general surface cleaner, either.
DIY Surface Cleaner/ Floor Cleaner
- 2 cups distilled water
- 1/4 cup castile soap
- 5-10 drops essential oil of your choice
- Mix distilled water and liquid castile soap in a spray bottle.
- Add essential oil and shake to blend.
You could also make a mixture using 1 cup distilled water + same quantity white distilled vinegar + optionally add lemon juice or essential oil. that makes a wonderful homemade surface cleaner. It actually smells a bit like vinegar but works well in case of carpet spill accidents ;). However, don’t use vinegar-based cleaners on marble and granite surface since they may cause damages.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264314514_Cleaning_effect_of_alternative_laundry_products_A_comparison_of_soap_nuts_laundry_balls_washing_pellets_laundry_magnets_water_and_regular_detergent [accessed Sep 14, 2017]