Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Fels-Naptha laundry detergent

I learned about this laundry detergent a few years ago from Elisha. There are many variations out there on websites and blogs; the recipe has a lot of wiggle room for adjustment. Elisha has done more experimenting and taken more notes in the pursuit of perfecting it. So, Elisha (and Shelsea?), please chime in with additions, subtractions, or updated ideas!

The main three ingredients are 100 + years old, but I don't know how absolutely natural the Fels-naptha soap is. When you first buy it, you'll be astounded at how perfumy the soap smells, but don't worry, you can never smell it on the clothes. In fact, your clothes will come out of the wash smelling the most nothing-like they've ever smelled. Also, some friends whose husbands have greasy jobs swear this stuff is better than store-bought detergents. I go through roughly a gallon a month. Perhaps best of all, it works out to be just a few cents a load!

Buy these 4 ingredients, found in the laundry aisle of most regular ol' grocery stores:
  1. a box of Washing Soda
  2. a box of Borax
  3. a bar of Fels-Naptha soap (may as well buy a few bars, so you'll have them on hand for next time)
  4. a small container of the simple blue Dawn dish washing liquid.
You'll also need these basic items:
  1. a cheese grater or food processor to shred the soap
  2. a small to medium saucepan
  3. a 5 gallon bucket, plus several smaller containers for storing the soap (if desired)
  4. a long stirring instrument that reaches deep into the bucket
The recipe here is for 5 gallons. I make it nowadays in a smaller 3-gallon batch and just approximate the ingredient adjustments, but since the 5 gallon version is more exact, I'm posting that.
  1. Heat 4 or so cups of water in a saucepan. Grate 1 bar of Fels-Naptha soap and add it to the medium-hot water, stirring until melted.
  2. Meanwhile, fill a 5 gallon bucket half full with HOT tap water. Dissolve 1 cup of Borax and 1 cup of Washing Soda into the bucket. Then add the melted Fels-Naptha.
  3. Stir well, then fill the bucket up the rest of the way with water (with some room left for stirring).
  4. Let sit overnight. The mixture will coagulate heavily. The next day, stir, stir, stir and break up the chunks. Add 1/4 cup blue Dawn, and stir in.**
  5. Either divide up the soap into smaller, pourable containers, or keep the 5 gallon container, with a lid on it, nearby where pets and kids can't access in, and scoop it out with a plastic soup ladle. Use approximately 1/2 cup per laundry load for top-loading washers or 1/4 cup for front-loaders. Note: this soap doesn't lather up much; you'll wonder if it's doing anything in the laundry water. It is. :)
**Elisha or Shelsea came up with the Dawn, and I use it too - it's not in the original recipe, but we found that over a long time, the soap can tend to slightly build up on clothes. The Dawn keeps it stripped nicely, and you're not using that much of it. Also, I always add a splash of vinegar to our laundry loads (aside from the soap), which acts as a disinfectant and breaks down hard water.

My personal preference is to store the soap in a wide-mouthed container like this with a lid. I just use any old dipper; the one pictured is from protein powder. After I dip and pour a couple of scoopfuls into the washer, I rinse the dipper in the washer water and store it on top of the bucket lid. As with any large container of liquid, ESPECIALLY THE 5-GALLON BUCKET, keep out of reach of small children and pets!


Luke and Daphne said...

Side note:
Use original Dawn or concentrated Dawn. The other Dawn's may cause a flesh eating type of condition. Very bad for diapered bottoms.

Oxy Clean can be added to a load of laundry with this soap. Do not add it to the batch itself.

Liquid blueing can help the whites stay white. Do not add to the batch. Follow the directions carefully.

Rena said...

I'm saving a gallon for when you're here. I hope it keeps ok, since this is stuff you made last summer.

ms emili louann said...

Oooo! Fun. Thanks for posting :)

melissa said...

THANK YOU!!!!! I've been wanting this recipe since Rachel mentioned it....

I'm not sure where to buy Fels-Naptha soap though. Do they sell it in Canada?

lori said...

Thanks, Shelsea! So wait, is the blue Dawn not the original? I thought it was....and right, we don't want any flesh eating conditions. No, no, no.

I forgot to mention Oxy Clean - I use that too.

Melissa - I'd think they'd have Fels-Naptha in Canada too, since it's such an old, classic cleaning product. If that name doesn't ring a bell to the store help, ask if they have bars of castile or laundry soap; there should be a small selection in the laundry aisle. Make SURE you get Fels-Naptha. I've tried castile soap, and it's worth fooey, at least in this recipe.