How to make laundry washing powder

We all need clean clothes, even home cooks. These days, it is just so easy: buy your washing powder/liquid, stuff everything into the washing machine, then et voilà, it’s all done.

Skip to the instructions for making your own washing powder.

Compare this with what Elizabeth Haskell had to do in the 1800s:

Washing day for Elizabeth Haskell, from her 1861 book, The Housekeeper's Encyclopedia of useful information for the housekeeper...

Washing day for Elizabeth Haskell, from her 1861 book, The Housekeeper’s Encyclopedia of useful information for the housekeeper…

And life wasn’t much better in the UK, if Mrs Beeton’s advice is anything to go by. After soaking over the weekend and then boiling with lye, the poor washer woman still needed to wash again and rinse:

Washing day for Mrs Beeton, from her 1861 book, Book of household management

Washing day for Mrs Beeton, from her 1861 book, Book of household management

I can remember my grandmother’s swishy electric copper, set into a block of concrete in the add-on laundry at the back of her cottage in town (I’ve never seen a photo of her type of set-up). I’ve seen photos of the farmhouse she grew up in: as the eldest of seven children, she and her mother probably did the family’s washing outside in a large copper over a fire. It was hard work, and there was probably a real skill in doing it well without ruining everyone’s clothes.

But while we’ve gained so much in convenience, we’ve lost a lot in knowledge. Did you know that you don’t actually need to spend quite so much money on washing powder, even in a modern washing machine? Soap and washing soda do the job better than you would think.

A few years ago, I tired of buying expensive salts and filler thinly disguised as laundry powder: it cost a lot of money and it didn’t work too well. A bit of a search led to the powder we now use. It cleans brilliantly and costs next to nothing, and it’s probably better for the environment. We also have soft, fluffy towels: this is always a challenge in a front loader machine.

You can use this in a top-loading or front-loading washing machine. There are no suds to speak of, because there are no additives to make suds. You also won’t need very much to get clean clothes.

All you need is these ingredients:

Your washing powder ingredients: Sunlight soap, borax and washing soda

Your washing powder ingredients: Sunlight soap, borax and washing soda

 

Even with this old-fashioned home-made washing powder, I don’t think I’d want to go back to boiling linen in a copper over an open fire. Give me a washing machine any day!

Laundry washing powder

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients (basic powder)

This mix is for a basic wash for a family. It deals with food stains, normal child mess, sweaty sports clothes, and the usual everyday kind of grubbiness.

  • 2 cups of grated ‘Sunlight’ soap (about 2 bars)
  • 1 cup of borax (sodium borate)
  • 1 cup washing soda (‘Lectric’ soda – sodium carbonate)
  • an extra ¼ cup of washing soda for our water (see notes)

Your washing powder ingredients: Sunlight soap, borax and washing soda

Your washing powder ingredients: Sunlight soap, borax and washing soda

Ingredients (heavy duty powder)

You might need this if you have a mechanic or farmer or rural fire fighter in the family.

  • 1 cup of grated ‘Sunlight’ soap
  • 1 cup of grated Sards or Fels soap
  • 1 cup of borax (sodium borate)
  • 1 cup washing soda (‘Lectric’ soda – sodium carbonate)

Ingredients (for soft, clean nappies)

People have told us this mix works better for cloth nappies. We hadn’t discovered this laundry powder when our kids were at that stage, so I can’t offer anything from my own experience.

  • 2 cups of grated ‘Sunlight’ soap (about 2 bars)
  • 1 cup of bicarb soda (the cooking bicarb – sodium bicarbonate)
  • 1 cup of washing soda (‘Lectric’ soda – sodium carbonate)

Directions

  1. Grate the soap bars. I find the best result comes if you grate them, and then pulverise them in the food processor: the smaller soap grains dissolve more easily in the wash.

    Soap - grated then pulverised

    Soap – grated (left) then pulverised (right)

  2. Mix all everything together (mix it all in the food processor, since the soap’s already there).
  3. Store the mix in a container with a lid.

To wash

  • Use 1 tablespoon of powder per 5-kilogram load.
  • Wash in warm (40ºC) water, or dissolve the powder in warm water first. (We use 60ºC water for towels and sheets, and they come out so clean and fresh.)
  • Use cheap white vinegar in the final rinse (instead of commercial fabric softener).

 

A scoop of laundry washing powder

A scoop of laundry washing powder

Notes

We add the extra ¼ cup of washing soda because of the water here. Some people need to add even more washing soda if they live in an area with harder water, and some do better with ½ cup less borax. You’ll have to experiment and see what works best for your washing machine and your water.

Borax is a stain remover. Leave it out if you recycle the grey water onto your garden because a build-up of boron is toxic to plants and worms.

Washing soda in Australia comes in powdered or crystalline form: buy the powder if you can because it dissolves more easily in the wash. If you have to buy the crystals, just pulverise them in the food processor/blender with the soap.

More lost arts

Knowing old-fashioned things about old-fashioned ways of washing is a lost art. Other interesting views of lost arts are:

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “How to make laundry washing powder

  1. Pingback: The Art of the Thank You Note | 365 Days of Thank You

  2. Pingback: Taxing Taxes | litadoolan

  3. Pingback: The Lost Art of the Handoff: Where will our Memories and Stories Go? « psychologistmimi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s