Adventures in Soap-Making

I think the first time I ever heard of making your own laundry detergent was on the show 17 Kids and Counting (back when it was only 17, it’s 19 now!).  At the time I probably thought it seemed like a reasonably good idea… for a family that owns something like five industrial sized washers and does ten loads of laundry a day.   But really, how much could it save a “normal” (well, comparatively speaking) family?

Trevor, who had long been encountering homemade laundry soap on his personal finance blogs, convinced me it was enough. It’s apparently not how much you save per load, but how much you save per batch – and a batch lasts – that is a pretty persuasive figure.

So, we began making our own laundry soap (freaks!) a little over a year ago.  Here‘s the recipe we base our soap on.  It’s a pretty quick little job to make several gallons, and we fight over who gets to grate the bar of soap.  I guess that makes us sound pretty easily amused, but, uh… it really is fun.

It was all going marvelously well, until we were shopping for a new washing machine back in January.  The frontloader we wanted to buy came with the caveat to use only “high-efficiency” detergent.  This immediately set off our sneaky-cost detectors, so we asked the salesman if we could still use our home brew.  He thought so, since we assured him it wasn’t very sudsy at all, and this is the main failing of the ordinary detergent when used in our new machine, so we bought one.

Fast forward, through three-plus months of perfect performance by washing machine and homemade soap alike, to last Friday.

I started a load of wash, walked out of the kitchen, and walked back in a few minutes later to find a huge puddle on my floor.  At first I thought our poor terrier-on-steroids (long story) had had an accident.  Then I wished our terrier-on-steroids had had an accident, because the truth was, the puddle was still expanding at an alarming rate and coming from the bottom of the washing machine.

Of course I let the cycle continue anyway – I didn’t want to deal with sopping wet clothes on top of the dozen sopping wet towels that now lined my kitchen floor.  Then after this fiasco, I went through the same very wet process twice more over the weekend before resigning myself to the fact that it wasn’t just a fluke.

On Monday, I called the manufacturer.  A lovely, if slightly stiff-sounding lady talked me through emptying the filter and drain pipe. There wasn’t much in there, so I wasn’t hopeful, but when I ran the “rinse and spin” afterwards, lo and behold, no water pouring all over my kitchen floor!

‘Fabulous!  Problem solved’, I thought.  ‘I’ll just run a load now that the machine’s all fixed up.’  Five minutes later, I heard “Mommy!!!” And the kitchen floor was under water again.

When I called back, I got a woman in India or similar.   After a series of questions, she asked me what kind of detergent I was using.  Here we go.  “Well, we make our own, but I’m sure it’s not that, because it’s not at all sudsy, and they told us it’s the suds that cause the flooding with that other detergent.”   Reluctantly, she sent out a technician.

When he arrived, I explained to him what was happening.

Washing Machine Man: What kind of soap you using?

Me: Well, we make our own, but it’s not at all sudsy.  The people in the store told us we could use our own, as long as it wasn’t sudsy.  And it’s not.  At all.

WMM: Did you just say you make your own soap?

Me: Yes.

WMM: Out of what?

Me: You can get the recipe online.  We didn’t just make it up.  Lots of people do it.

WMM: Well, you’re the first one I’ve ever met.

Me: But we’ve been using it in this machine for months, and it’s always been fine.  I’m pretty sure it’s not the soap.

WMM: (Reaching into the filter at the top where the soap goes in, and pulling out a fistful of undissolved soap) Well… here’s your soap…. Smells like Dove.

Me:  It probably is.

*  *  *  *  *

So, the bad news: it was the soap.

The good news: WMM did *not* think we needed to stop using our soap.  In fact, he was quite impressed with how clean and odor-free it kept the machine compared to ordinary store-bought soap.  He even said we should market it!  He also said we should dissolve it in hot water first or mash it up, rather than just clumping jello-like chunks of it into our machine.  I knew that.

But it wasn’t the suds.

6 thoughts on “Adventures in Soap-Making

  1. Everyone I know who makes their own has front loading machines and has not had problems…so it’s good to know the tech said you could keep using your homemade! Funny that I run across your blog today since I’m going to start making my own once I finish this bottle of GreenWorks that I got on the uber-cheap at Target! 🙂

  2. We make our own too, but I just make the powdered version…using the equal parts of borax and soda…and I only sometimes mix in the grated bar of soap (I slightly freeze the bar and use the food processor to get a finer grain)Not sure if that would help with the front loader or not…but at least it wouldn’t be a jello-chunk 😉

  3. Just wondering if you should *not* use a lotion-based soap, either, such as Dove… As Joc F what they use, but I’m pretty sure it’s not Dove. Just a thought!! xo

  4. Jodi, I use ivory soap, and leave it powdered. I got the recipe from Tracey on the DB board. 2 cups of Borax and 2 cups if Baking soda. 1 bar of soap. If you break up the bars of also, ivory is very crumbly and put it in a food processor with some of the Borax it grinds quite fine. Use 2 tablespoons for a normal, large load. Lasts forever and saves tons of money! I can only use it for barn clothes now though, it has no smell and I couldn’t use enough essential oils to make up for the barn smell. 🙁

  5. If I had the time to sit around making my own soap, oh the things I would do! 🙂

    More power to you Jodi (and the rest of the Young family), but I’m pretty much as shocked as the washing machine guy. There are a lot of things I will do without to make my budget work, but having to make my own soap in the precious hours I have is not one of them.

    I just re-read and this post totally makes me smile. I love Trevor and his quest to save money!

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