Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Downy Addiction

Since I covered laundry detergent and the incredible savings in homemade the other day, I thought I would do a follow-up with the fabric softener.  Saving $0.15 1/2 per laundry load is great, but for me, it sucks all of the joy out of the savings if I have to go add expensive Downy fabric softener to get my laundry right.  Enter, homemade fabric softener!  I don't have the same cost breakdown for my fabric softener as I did with my laundry detergent, but I'll do some estimations to try and get close.  My recipe is:

30 oz of distilled white vinegar
2 teaspoons vegetable glycerin
30-50 drops essential oil (I'm using lavender right now, but would like to try lemon in the future)
Not an exact science.  I don't measure at all.  The container I use to store my concoction is a recycled 32 oz distilled white vinegar bottle.  I now refill it from my gallon jug of white vinegar, almost to the top, add a squeeze of my vegetable glycerin, and count out drops of essential oil.  I do this standing in my laundry room while shoveling clothes into the washing machine, it's that easy.  Now, lets do the cost breakdown, again, these prices are at my stores:

1 gallon Distilled White Vinegar - $2.57 ($0.02/oz)
16 fl oz Vegetable Glycerin - $8.99 ($0.093/teaspoon)
.5 fl oz Lavender Essential Oil - $5.50 ($0.018/drop)

Glycerin Image from here            Lavender Image from here

This is where it gets tricky.  I use 30-50 drops of essential oil for every 32 oz of vinegar.  A quick google search says that a 1/2 fl oz = 15 mL = 300 drops.  I have no idea.  I've had my lavender essential oil for a while, and didn't buy it for fabric softener, but just happened to have it.  It's also an optional ingredient.  So based on my internet research, I came to the conclusion that the Lavender Essential Oil is almost $0.02 per drop.

Also - if you have ever looked at essential oils, you know that depending on what you buy, the price can be drastically different.  Comparison, from Mountain Rose Herbs website: 1/2 oz of Rose Essential Oil is $115.00 or 1/2 oz of Lemon Essential Oil is $5.75.  Please note, I will not be scenting my clothes with Rose Essential Oil.

So back to the math, assuming we're using a reasonable essential oil like Lavender or Lemon (there are many others, and Mountain Rose is a good resource if you don't live near a health foods store to browse selection).

30 fl oz White Distilled Vinegar = $0.60
2 teaspoons Vegetable Glycerin = $0.19
50 drops Lavender or Lemon Essential oil = $0.90
TOTAL = $1.69 for 30 fluid ounces or $0.056 per ounce
My store-bought alternative is Mountain Spring Downy Ultra, which sells at Walmart for $9.97 and you get 120 loads out of 103 ounces, or $0.0967 per ounce.  Since I have a front loading HE washing machine, my detergent, softener and other laundry agents all go in that pull out drawer on the front, and there are pre-measured lines for the fabric softener.  I use the exact same amount of homemade as I do of Downy, which I estimate to be about .85 fl oz.  The .85 oz is the measurement that gets 120 loads of laundry out of 103 ounces of softener.  That comes to $0.0476 per load for homemade and $0.0822 per load for Downy.

So, homemade is about half the price of Downy.  Now, a couple notes:  The Essential Oils and Vegetable Glycerin are optional, not necessary.  When I was first deciding on my recipe, several sites said that the Vegetable Glycerin can help with static and softness.  I purchased mine at the health foods store, and it's recommended use is as a moisturizer for rough skin like heels, elbows, knees.  The way I see it is, if it's safe to rub on your skin, it has to be safe to use in your laundry.  The essential oil is just for scent, and not much of it remains, just a very faint hint.

Now I know vinegar sounds like a smelly thing to dump on your clothes, but it washes completely clean!  I CANNOT smell it on my laundry when it comes out of the wash or dryer, and neither can my husband - who just shook his head when he found out I was putting vinegar in the washing machine.

Vinegar as a Pre-treatment

Vinegar also works to break down any build up on clothes, and it's also a natural bleaching agent to help brighten whites.  My favorite black t-shirts frequently get deodorant build-up under the arms, and I've found to cut it, I just put the shirt in a bucket, and scrub some straight vinegar into the build-up as a pre-treatment, and then throw them in the wash with my homemade detergent and softener.  I never knew how to combat the deodorant buildup before, and since I started using vinegar a lot more, it hasn't been a problem.

Another testament to the vinegar would be from my washing machine if it could talk.  With the front loader, I used to have this yucky build-up on the bottom of the door, resembling soap scum (it probably was).  It was gross, and I had trouble scrubbing it off.  Since I switched to vinegar, there's no more gunk on the door!

If you are still hesitant about using vinegar in your wash, I encourage you to go to the Queen of Homemaking herself - Martha Stewart.  I recently downloaded this laundry chart, printed it on cardstock and hung it in my laundry room.  On the back, I printed this companion chart.  Those are the downloadable PDF's, and here's the article that links to both of them.

Finally, my confession:  I still have Downy on hand and use it sometimes.  I really don't need my socks to smell like Mountain Spring, but have a major weakness for climbing into bed on Clean Sheet Night (yes, it's an event in my house) and snuggling into Mountain Spring.  As much as I want to save the money, there's nothing like that smell.  Mostly, I pick and choose when I want to indulge in the Downy.  If my husband has been having a bad week, I'll wash his favorite old t-shirt with the Downy knowing he'll be able to start his Saturday morning fresh with that smell he remembers from his childhood.  Sheets on the guest bed, always Downy, on my bed, sometimes Downy.  Using this method definitely stretches it, just like using Tide only sometimes and mostly using my homemade.

I know the homemade isn't for everyone, but I've loved getting to save money on these necessary consumables.  I never would have guessed that I had so much to say about what happens in my 30 square foot laundry room, but it's a busy place. Now that I have spewed everything that's been going on in my laundry room in the last seven months, I hope you can use something here.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Here's the Deal...

A great deal.  Since July, I've been making my own laundry detergent, and love it.  It was painful to buy two large bottles of Tide BJ's Warehouse every couple months, and when some girls at my church started making it, I decided to give it a try.  My husband was 100% against it when I pitched the idea, since he does SO much laundry (NOT! He's had to turn the washing machine on maybe 1 time in the past 2 years).  So I started with 1 gallon, and told him I just wanted to "try it out." As clothes moved through the laundry room, he could find no complaint, so cooking up detergent became part of my to-do list, and I'm no longer dependent on my Tide habit.  Here's my recipe:

1/3 bar of Fels Naptha soap
1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
1/2 cup Borax
1/2 cup Oxi Clean
In a large pot, heat 6 cups of water.  Grate soap on cheese grater into small shavings, and add to water.  Stir until shavings dissolve.  Add Washing Soda, Borax & Oxi Clean to hot soapy water, and stir to dissolve.

Pour soap mixture into 2 gallon bucket with 8 cups of HOT water and stir.  Top bucket with COLD water totalling 2 gallons of the soap, hot water, and cold water.  Let mixture setup overnight.  To use, stir mixture to incorporate gel clumps and liquid, and use 1/2 cup per wash load.

Now here's where the deal comes in.  I've been doing this since July, and just finally today did the cost breakdown.  I knew I had savings in doing this, but I had no idea I was actually saving this much!  Here's the math, if you want to see it, if not, scroll down.

These prices are roughly what I paid, at my stores.

Fels Naptha - $1.79 per bar (5 1/2 oz) = $0.32/oz
Borax - $4.75 per box (76 oz) = $0.0625/oz
Washing Soda - $2.95 per box (55 oz) = $0.0536/oz
Oxi Clean - $8.99 per bucket (96 oz) = $0.936/oz

In the 2 gallons of the recipe the cost is:

Fels Naptha = $0.58/ 2 gallons
Borax = $0.25/ 2 gallons
Washing Soda = $0.42/ 2 gallons
Oxi Clean = $0.27/ 2 gallons

Also, for the quantities that are sold of the ingredients, you can make this many recipes of 2 gallons of detergent:

Washing Soda: 6.875 times - or 12 gallons
Borax: 19 times - or 38 gallons
Oxi-clean: 24 times - or 48 gallons
Fels-Naptha: 3 times - or 6 gallons

The total is $1.62 for 2 gallons (which is 256 fl. oz.), and you're supposed to use 1/2 cup per load (4 fl. ounces), so there are 64 loads in 2 gallons homemade, for $1.62, or $0.025 per load.  No, your eyes are not deceiving you, and that is not a typo - I wrote that my homemade laundry detergent costs me two and a half cents per load.

If I weren't making the homemade, my choice of detergent is Tide, and I have a front loading washing machine.  Tide is $17.97 for 150 fl. oz. of 2X Ultra High Efficiency, for 96 loads at Walmart, which is $0.18 per load. So roughly speaking, Tide is seven times more expensive than homemade laundry detergent.  That's like a bottle of water costing $7 instead of $1.  Craziness!

Ok, here are my personal experience tips.
1. I have two buckets, so when I start running low on detergent, I don't have to relocate what's left to use my bucket, I just use the clean one to make a new batch.

2. I didn't buy my buckets, I got them for FREE!  Go to one of the grocery stores with a bakery that makes cakes and decorates them in-house.  All of the bright pink, blue, green & yellow frosting comes in buckets, mine happen to be 2 gallon buckets.  When they finish the frosting, they don't recycle them or send them back to be repacked with weird hot pink frosting, they get thrown away.  I stopped by the bakery on one of my regular grocery trips, and they gave me two empty buckets that hadn't made it to the dumpster yet.  I had to clean them myself, but that didn't bother me.  If you have to clean your buckets, I recommend scraping them into the trash first to get all the dry frosting out, and then using hot, soapy water.  The frosting is pretty greasy, so if there's a lot left in the bucket, it's tough to de-grease once you add water.

3. Use a big enough pot.  I really need to get a new one to accommodate my detergent making.  Once you add the borax, washing soda and Oxi Clean in, it starts to suds and foam, and mine boils over almost every time.  At least it's just soap, so it makes me think everything is getting cleaned while I'm wiping it up!

The initial investment (using my prices, I don't know what the price difference will be where you are) is $18.48, assuming you don't have any of these ingredients already living in your laundry room.  You'll be able to make 6 gallons of detergent (or 192 loads of laundry) before you have to go buy another bar of Fels Naptha,and you'll still have all of the other ingredients left.  To do 192 loads of laundry with Tide, I would have to spend $35, and then that's it, you go buy another big bottle of Tide.

As far as a time investment goes, I don't think it's that involved to not be worth your time.  Now that I've made it a few times, I can whip up a batch in about 20 minutes.  I actually spend more time cleaning up after my pot boils over because I haven't bought a new one that's big enough, than I do making the detergent.  Yes, dumb, and writing it down makes me want to go buy a giant, cheap stock pot because I realize the silliness of how much cleaning up I do after I get soap all over the stovetop.

I grabbed my recipe off a site called Tipnut that you can see here.  I used Recipe #3 and doctored it up by adding Oxi Clean (not necessary, but I'm saving so much money I didn't feel guilty spending a couple more dollars on some extra cleaning power).  Tipnut has 10 recipes, different variations of liquid and powdered, so see what works best for you!  I chose liquid because I have a front loading HE washing machine and can't start my water before adding clothes to dissolve the powder - just a preference though.  As a follow-up to the recipes, Tipnut also has a great FAQ answer page here.

I still keep a bottle of Tide on hand just in case, but only resort to using it occasionally, like when I run out of homemade and don't have time to make more when I have to wash something I need to wear in an hour.

Next time, I'll talk about my fabric softener, and rehabilitation from Downy.  Enjoy!

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