A couple of years ago my trusty, tried and true washing machine finally died and was replaced by an HE version without an agitator. Shortly after, I discovered the soap wasn’t dissolving, mixing properly in the wash cycle, or rinsing out thoroughly which prompted the search for new laundry soap. I found that individual soap pods work the best but every time I pick one up I wonder what makes up the pods’ exterior. Additionally I dislike using the full amount of soap when washing a less-than-full load.
Last year I discovered a bubbling, foamy river of water cascading down the embankment from my cabin. While initially puzzling, I quickly realized the washing machine drained to daylight instead of into the septic system. Not wanting to damage the pine trees, other vegetation or wildlife in the drain path I switched to an environmentally friendly laundry soap right away [which is expensive BTW!].
I probably would have never given laundry soap another thought after seeing that foamy river of bubbles if I hadn’t randomly come across this Ask Umbra article. Curious, I followed the link and learned it’s polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) film. PVA film dissolves in water, is non-toxic and approved by the FDA. In fact we’ve been ingesting this same PVA film in dietary supplements and pharmaceuticals. While that seemed reasonable to me, little did I know with solving this curiosity of mine another was about to rear its ugly head. Turns out the soap inside the pod contain detergents that are toxic not only to us but the environment and our waterways as well- thank goodness I switched to the environmentally friendly type at the cabin!
Laundry soaps contain a multitude or stew of toxic ingredients, such as fluorescent bleaches to make the laundry appear brighter and whiter but they can cause allergic reactions and bacterial mutations. Synthetic fragrances which are derived from petrochemicals aka petroleum distillates, can cause cancer, birth defects, nervous-system disorders, allergies, asthma attacks, and even concentration and/or coordination difficulties in the most sensitive. Man-made dyes are derived from petroleum by-products and are carcinogenic and damaging to the water table. Surfactants are toxic to humans, animals and ecosystems but are what makes our clothes clean because they are a multi-tasking detergent with wetting, emulsifying, foaming and anti-foaming properties that binds oily particles with water. Phenols, more petroleum by-products can cause damage to the lungs, liver and kidneys, and have even been linked to deaths.
Think about it, we wear clothes that have been stewed with toxic chemicals, and the constant contact of clothing to skin allows many of the toxic ingredients to be easily absorbed into our bloodstream via the skin. Not only are these ingredients harmful on their own but once combined they can react with each other becoming even more dangerous. Yikes!!!
Since ditching laundry is out of the question (sigh), it seemed a reasonable experiment was homemade laundry soap. There are many laundry soap recipes online but most contain washing powder, natural soap and Borax. Washing powder is a natural product and phosphate and fragrance free. Natural soap like Fel-Naptha, Dr. Bronner’s or Ivory is easily found and doesn’t contain sulfates, parabens or man-made dyes. Borax, although controversial, is another naturally occurring mineral and generally considered non-toxic although over-exposure to borax dust can cause respiratory irritation.
After perusing various recipes for liquid and powder laundry soap, I selected the “Laundry Bombs” recipe that did not include Borax, is pre-portioned but not liquid. This recipe included Epsom salts to cut down on static cling and soften clothing, hydrogen peroxide to naturally whiten, vinegar to fight stains and soften, and uses essential oil for natural scent. I’m glad I searched online for the Fels-Naptha and Arm & Hammer Washing Soda because they are hard to find in our area.
The ingredients were inexpensive- $1.80 for a bar of Fels-Naptha, $4.31 each for a 55 oz. box of washing soda and a 4 lb. bag of Epsom salt, $0.99 for a 32 oz. bottle of hydrogen peroxide, $3.72 for one gallon of distilled white vinegar. I already owned the essential oil but the 10 ml. bottle costs $8.34. My cost for one recipe is $2.53 which made 21 bombs for a cost of $0.12 each. In comparison to the commercial laundry pods I’ve been using ($0.21 each) the home-made bombs offer a cost savings in addition to being better for my health and the environment. Even if using two laundry bombs, which is recommended for large loads the cost is quite comparable.
The Laundry Bomb recipe was very easy to follow and took about 15 minutes from start to finish, and the mixture smelled quite nice. After portioning about four bombs they would not pop out the tablespoon measure. A quick stir in the bowl alleviated this problem and I was able to continue on with making the laundry bombs.
After testing the laundry bombs through several loads of wash, they clean well, the scent is not overpowering and we did not notice any skin irritation. There was one problem when a shirt wrapped around the bomb preventing it from dissolving, a quick shake and rinse and it was good to go.
I plan on continuing to make and use the laundry bombs. Yes it’s a little more time consuming than purchasing pre-made laundry soap but quite frankly I’m a little frightened after learning so much about commercial laundry soap.
All-in-one Laundry Bombs from popsugar.com
- Small mixing bowl
- 1 1/2 cup washing soda
- 1/2 cup Fels-Naptha
- 2 tablespoons Epsom salts
- 3 tablespoons hydrogen peroxide
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- 15-20 drops essential oil
- Sheet pan
- Parchment paper
- Measuring spoons
Grate the Fels-Naptha into the mixing bowl and add the washing soda and Epsom salts.
Now add the hydrogen peroxide and give things a stir. Stir in the vinegar, then scent with several drops of your favorite essential oil.
Once everything’s incorporated, the mixture should resemble wet sand and clump together when pressed. Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper and then use a rounded 1 tablespoon measuring spoon to scoop up the mixture, press against the side of bowl, then tap out onto the pan.
Finish with a quick spritz of equal parts vinegar and water. Let set for eight hours before using.
Your laundry bombs are ready to toss in the washing machine! Use one round for small loads and two when washing lots of laundry. You’ll love how they refresh your clothing without all the extra cleaners!
Makes around 28 laundry bombs.