16 November 2013

Maker Monday: laundry supplies

In addition to being a knitter and designer, I like to make other stuff, too. I bet I'm not the only one! So, I thought I would share some of the other things I make with you. I'd love to hear about what you make, too :)

Some time back in my crazy homemaker phase (it's probably not a phase, if I'm still doing it, huh, maybe more of a "thing"?), I decided to try making my own laundry detergent. The dirt in NYC is particularly dirty (all the car exhaust, methinks, perhaps adds a greasiness to the dirt and makes it really stick), and I had been dissatisfied with all the commercial detergents I had tried. Add to that Isobel's full-body rash after wearing some clothes washed at a relative's house, and it became clear that I needed to find a better solution. 

After exhaustive research on the interwebs (as we all know you can lose days of your lives thanks to google and, now, Pinterest), I found a powdered detergent recipe with potential. (I discounted liquid recipes pretty quickly, as they seemed messy, some required "curing" time, and it seemed counterintuitive to spend extra time dissolving the stuff in the cooking phase only to disperse it in water later.). Powdered bar soap, washing soda, and borax were the ingredients in most recipes, and I ended up with a 1-1-1 ratio. There are recipes out there with different proportions, but this works for me (and is pleasantly easy to remember). 

At first I could get all the ingredients at my corner deli and used Octagon soap. It worked pretty well, but the soap had a high moisture content, so I would have to microwave it (it would puff up like mille feulle pastry, which was fun) before pulverization in the food processor. Then good, old Appletree stopped carrying the soap, and it looks like Palmolive may have discontinued it completely. Time for another soap option. 

While on the soap search, I went back to an organic liquid detergent. After homemade detergent, this stuff was awful! Our clothes were stinky. Never again. (I had tried Charlie's Soap at one point, too, back in the cloth diapering days, but I didn't really like mail ordering detergent.)

Enter Fels-Naptha, which is available at Amazon (as an add-on) and drugstore.com, as well as many grocery stores (with the other laundry supplies). I had trouble finding it in NYC but discovered I could stock up at the local market up in Maine, so every time I make more detergent, I think of being up there, which is an added bonus for me. It's a drier soap, so no microwave time, which I like, but it is hard, so it didn't work too well in the cuisinart. Now we are getting really old-fashioned: I grate the soap by hand with a micro plane zester! Turns out the zester makes the perfect teeny soap flakes. 

So, I grate one cup of soap, then add a cup each of washing soda and borax. Stir and store in a cleaned-out yogurt tub with a 1Tbsp measure from Ikea (an old coffee scoop would work, too, if you are low on measuring spoons). 

To wash clothes, I put 1-2Tbsp in the empty washer, start the water and swish the dasher back and forth a few times to dissolve, then add in the clothes as the tub fills the rest of the way. If you generally wash in cold, you may want to start with a little hot water to make sure the detergent dissolves, then switch to cold to fill up the tub. Due to the aforementioned dirt (and three school-age kiddos), I wash most of our clothes in warm to help lift out the dirt. If things are really dirty, you can follow the instrux on the borax or washing soda and add a bit more of either to your wash. For stubborn stains, I wet the bar of soap and rub it on the stain like a stain stick. Some people put vinegar in one of those Downy balls for the final rinse, but I haven't found that necessary (vinegar cuts through the soap scum that can result when soap meets hard/soft water - I can never remember which is which, but NYC water isn't a problem).

The Fels Naptha smells nice and clean and gets out any odors but does not leave a scent, which I prefer. The other soap recommended on the web is Zote, which has the added charm of being bright pink. 

The other tool in my laundry arsenal is the humble dryer ball. Throw them in the dryer with your wet clothes, and they fluff things up, eliminate static, and reduce drying time. Plus, they're made out of wool. What's not to love?! I wound eight balls of yarn from a skein of Lion Brand's Fisherman Wool, then ran them through a hot wash/cold rinse cycle a few times in some wash bags (many people use nylons, making a knot between each ball, but I didn't have any handy, so made do). One ball came apart and felted into blobs, so I cut them off and let the cats play with them. The others felted nicely and would make great toys for the cats and the kids, if I didn't keep them safe on top of the machine. 

Some folks like to scent their laundry, and I've read that you can put a drop of essential oil on the balls, but I don't bother with that. Just throw them in the dryer and let them bounce around. Generally, I just toss them back in the dryer after taking out the laundry, but I do keep that little blue basket handy to corral them as necessary. 

So, there you have it. Turns out to be natural-ish, and hopefully has less of an impact on the environment. Bonus of clean, fluffy clothes and no rashes. 

Thanks for stopping by!
xoxo, Kathleen 

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