Soap and water are a time-tested duo against dirt and germs, and homemade cleaners can carry away grime without added chemicals or perfumes.
All it takes are a few, simple ingredients to make laundry detergent — liquid or powder — and fabric softener. Then cut down on drying time and static cling by tumbling wet clothes with homemade dryer balls.
Faith Goguen Rodgers' switch to homemade cleaners began a few years ago after she used a commercial-brand cleaner on the bathtub.
"I'd cleaned it, and then I really didn't want to get in it. The bleach smell and feel — it didn't feel good," she said.
"Then when I had kids, it didn't make sense at all. It feels a lot safer knowing what's in my cleaners."
Rodgers is an herbalist with three young children who creates all the cleaners she uses in her Lafayette, Colo., home — even the toothpaste. While the health piece is "really big" for her, she's also motivated by cost.
"You save a ton of money making your own," she said, especially if you buy ingredients in bulk.
Homemade cleaners, particularly laundry soap, lack much odor, but a pretty scent can be added with essential oils. This lifts the laundry-detergent-making project up a notch, adding some olfactory fun.
"You and your family can get creative and come up with your own signature laundry scent," Rodgers writes on The Little Herbal blog, where she posts her natural cleaning recipes. "Our laundry comes out clean and smelling fresh."
Her favorite combinations of essential oils for laundry detergent include lemon and eucalyptus, orange and geranium, and grapefruit and lavender.
Sherri Griffin's foray into homemade laundry soap began when she got a rash and wanted something gentler than store-bought laundry detergent.
She started researching alternatives, and recommends checking out what's in commercially made products on the Environmental Working Group's website.
An Orlando, Fla., nurse, Griffin started a blog, Overthrow Martha, to educate people about natural cleaners. Besides sharing a fabric softener recipe, she recommends simple-to-make dryer balls. Dryer balls decrease drying time, eliminate static cling and decrease wrinkles, she says. Essential oils can be added to them every few loads to softly scent clothes.
"I often hear that people can't give up the fresh smell they get from using dryer sheets, but what people don't understand is that smell comes from chemicals," Griffin said.
Karyn Siegel-Maier shares laundry and other "green" cleaning formulas in "The Naturally Clean Home" (Storey, 2008). The publisher recently posted her recipes for liquid and powder laundry detergent at its blog, Inside Storey, to "sanitize, soften and scent clothes and linens — naturally."
Here are some recipes from these experts.
Rodgers' homemade powder laundry detergent
- 3 cups washing soda (similar to baking soda; look for it near laundry products at the supermarket)
- 3 cups borax
- 1 cup baking soda
- 1 bar of castile (olive oil-based) soap, such as Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Soap
- Pure, organic essential oils (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, combine the washing soda, borax and baking soda. Mix well to get rid of clumps. Add the essential oils, if desired. Mix them into the powder well to avoid clumping.
Add the grated soap and mix ingredients together.
Store detergent in a half-gallon mason jar or other well-sealed container. Use 2 to 4 heaping tablespoons per load of laundry.
Basic laundry liquid formula
- 2¼ cups liquid castile soap
- ¼ cup white distilled vinegar
- 1 tablespoon glycerin
- ¾ cup water
- 10-15 drops essential oil of your choice (or skip the essential oils by using a scented liquid castile soap)
From Siegel-Maier's "The Naturally Clean Home"
Griffin's natural laundry fabric softener
- 3 cups white vinegar
- ¼ cup rubbing alcohol
- 20 drops of essential oil (optional)
Griffin's wool dryer balls
- 100 percent wool yarn
- Essential oil (optional)
Push the wool balls into one pantyhose leg, knotting the pantyhose between each ball so they don't touch. Run through the washer with a load of towels on hot cycle, then toss into dryer on hot. Once dry, remove from pantyhose. Each ball should appear "felted" — the wool fibers tightly adhered. Snip any loose strands.
To use: scent balls with essential oil, if desired (it'll last a few loads).
Toss at least 2 balls into dryer with wet laundry.
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