Monday, January 9, 2012


I started tackling a backlog of laundry today.  The pump on our washing machine broke a few weeks ago and we've just finished attaching the replacement, so I have several weeks worth of laundry to wash.  As I tossed the first load into the dryer, I remembered that my mother-in-law gave me a package of dryer sheets.  While opening the package and snagging my scissors, I realized that there are things I do every day to cut corners and save money that other people might be interested in trying.

Thus, ttmcents was born.

Back to those dryer sheets.  Whenever I open a new box, the first thing I do is pull out the entire stack of sheets.  Working with 5 or 6 sheets at a time, I cut them in thirds and tuck the pieces back into the box.  Now, when I toss the clothes into the dryer, I add 1/3 of a dryer sheet and my clothes come out without static and smelling just as nice as they would with an entire sheet.  This particular package of dryer sheets retails for $2.96.  By cutting them in thirds, I've saved $5.92.

That covers the dryer, but what about the laundry detergent?  That stuff is definitely expensive!  I get around the expense by making my own.  It's not difficult or messy and it only takes three ingredients. (Four, if you prefer a liquid version.)

First the easy one... Powder style laundry soap:

For equipment, you'll need a large bowl, a barrel-style cheese grater (the kind used for parmesan or other hard cheeses) and a 1 cup measure.

Castille Soap (bar form)
Borax Laundry Booster
Arm & Hammer WASHING Soda (Not baking soda... washing soda comes in a yellow box)
(our local Publix has all of these at very reasonable prices)

Pretend your soap is a block of cheese and start cranking the handle.  When your bar has been converted into thousands of little curly shavings, dump 2 cups each of the Borax and Washing Soda into the bowl and smash up any lumps with your fingers. Use your hands to mix the powders with the soap shavings until everything is blended together and the soap shavings are all broken up into tiny pieces.

We've had excellent results with this mixture - using it in the automatic dispenser with our front-load washing machine and just dumping it in with the laundry in top-loaders.

Here's the part that will take getting used to: You ONLY need to use a tablespoon full per load. Yes, really. If you have very greasy or dirty clothes you might need to use a tablespoon and a half. It will not make suds, or at least will only make very few suds. It's ok. The suds are only there for our enjoyment anyway and do nothing toward getting the clothes clean. It really is working without them.

You'll notice your clothes having a softer feel, a little less lint in the dryer filter and a fresh, clean scent.

Extras: If you really like the scent of say... Irish Spring soap... use 1/4 bar with 3/4 bar Castille and your clothes will take on a light fragrance. I don't recommend using just scented soap because it tends to make the clothes a little dull after several washings - all the soap doesn't rinse out well unless you use mostly castille.

Now, for the fun version... if you prefer a liquid or gel-style soap... here's how to modify the recipe.

In addition to the above ingredients and supplies you will need: 1 large saucepan, 1 five-gallon bucket, 1 really long handled spoon (I use a giant wooden spoon I found at wal-mart for cheap)... and 4 gallons of water.

Grate your soap just as you would for the powdered version, but instead of adding it to the bowl, dump it into the saucepan along with half a gallon of water. Bring to a vigorous simmer/slow boil. Stir gently with the spoon - stirring too fast will cause the soap to foam up and you really don't want it to separate, you want it to melt. Let the mixture simmer, stirring very frequently until all the soap has melted into the water. Then let it simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes to make sure it's all melted. It pays to take your time with this stage - if the soap doesn't melt completely, the end result will be gloppy instead of smooth.

In-between stirrings, measure 2 cups each of the Borax and the Washing Soda into the bowl.  Use your hands to break up any lumps.

Dump the boiling hot soap water into the five-gallon bucket. Put another half gallon of water on to boil in the same saucepan. Stir the soapy water in the bucket while slowly adding the dry borax and washing soda powders. Stir stir stir. Stir some more. As soon as your saucepan of water boils, pour it into the bucket and ... you guessed it... keep on stirring. The object is to dissolve all the solids. Now... add in the 2 gallons of water you have left (no need to boil them, just dump them in) and stir for a while longer. If you're using castille soap, you should have a liquid that looks kind of milky.

Now the hard part. Set the bucket aside. Cover it if you have a lid. Don't mess with it. Don't stir it any more. Let it sit overnight, undisturbed. The next day, open it up and give it another couple of stirs with the spoon. If all went correctly, you should have a thick laundry soap with a consistency somewhere between gel and liquid. 1/4 cup per load will do the trick. I find that this stores well in very clean Arizona tea containers (the heavy plastic ones) or large (again very clean) apple juice bottles - or you can keep it in old laundry detergent jugs. If you go several days between washings you may need to give the jug a shake before measuring because sometimes the soap will try to separate (usually when it didn't melt all the way during the first bit)

That's my laundry soap recipe. It works well for us, and is definitely a Thing That Makes Cents!


  1. And I add plenty of Vinegar to Borax to my first soak if I have to get animal smells out of something. It doesn't destroy the fibers on the material like bleach does.
    I have never heard of Castille soap. Can't wait to get organized and get a little bit back to basics and help at least my little corner of the environment. (CAB)

  2. What a great idea! We often use vinegar in place of bleach when washing our dog blankets.
    Castile soap can be difficult to find - our Publix carries it, but it's often tucked away on a bottom shelf with the bath products.
    An alternative could be Fels-Naptha bar laundry soap. I haven't tried it, but have seen it in several recipes.