Helen tries her hand at making her own cleaning products to use on her boat
You don’t need to convert your galley into a chemistry lab, it just seems that way when it comes to producing homemade washing powder...but help is at hand with Helen’s tips on her green approach to making laundry and cleaning products
Andy confessed today that he is always concerned when I announce I’ve had a good idea. Rude, I thought. So today, when I started making my own cleaning products, I fully expected him to run to the comfort of the cleaning aisle in Tesco’s and find shelter among the brand labels.
But I decided to brazen it out. You see, I have a bit of a problem with cleaning materials. Actually, I have more than one. Ever since owning a boat, I have always tried to make sure that whatever goes into our grey water won’t upset the environment. For years I have bought environmentally friendly products – but they still arrive in plastic containers. In more recent times I have discovered that I am allergic to many of the ingredients in commercial cleaners, which has only fuelled my curiosity about homemade ones.
After much t’interweb research, I decided to take advantage of our brief stop in Leighton Buzzard to equip myself with the necessary ingredients. My list consisted of washing soda (Tesco’s £1 for 1kg); Castile soap (couldn’t find this so opted for a big bar of Olivia soap £3.55 for 600g); white vinegar (Tesco’s 39p for 500mls); citric acid (Wilko £1 for 50g); and some essential oils for optional scent. I began with making the washing powder. The recipe I’d settled on was one suitable for slightly hard water, which seems to be what we most encounter: 50g citric acid 55g grated soap 575g washing soda 20 drops of essential oils (optional) Grating the bar of soap with my cheese grater was easier than anticipated, as it was quite soft. I then mixed all the ingredients in a bowl before transferring them into the mini chopper attachment of my stick blender. The essential oils I used were a combination of frankincense and sandalwood but anything could be added. I rather suspect lavender or lemon would be lovely. For each load, three tablespoons is all that is required. I made enough for 19 loads of washing and the cost (without the essential oil) was £1.88. Or 10p per load. My usual brand costs 36p per load. An economic win – providing the results are good.
Next, I put myself to making some fabric conditioner. It is my understanding that the main reason for clothes feeling starchy after washing is detergent residue and irritation happens to sensitive souls because of a high pH retained in the clothes from the washing water. The answer to both these issues is to neutralize the pH. In other words, vinegar, vinegar is the answer. Seriously.
I have to say, given how much vinegar I use in my day job, it seems counterintuitive to sling it in my final rinse but I’m game, so I cracked on. This recipe couldn’t have been simpler: 500mls White Vinegar 30drops essential oil (optional) I repurposed an old gin bottle, poured in the vinegar, and added 30 drops of essential oil. That was it. To use, simply add 100mls to the final rinse, or add it to the fabric conditioner compartment in a washing machine. The total cost (without the essential oil) was 39p with my usual brand costing £2.26 for the same amount. But again, the proof was in the testing.
Wash Day arrived and it was time to put my homemade stuff to use. I added my three tablespoons as I started to fill the twin-tub drum, which gave it plenty of opportunity to dissolve. It did not froth and bubble as much as commercial brands but with no Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in the mix, this was not surprising. My clothes left behind an encouragingly dirty load of water and are now drying having been rinsed with the vinegar fabric conditioner. They smell faintly of the essential oils I added without a trace of vinegar.
As the weeks went by, I decided to try out another recipe. My first had been performing well, but I think the addition of essential oils was a mistake as it has become less powdery and more sticky. I decided to try out a recipe for soft water: 400g washing soda 340g grated castile soap Made in exactly the same way as the previous recipe, this was not a cheap option as the soap was expensive. However, in future I intend making my own laundry soap so it will once again be economic. I am favouring this in preference to the hard water powder.
On the subject of soap making, I fancied having a go at making some to put inside my fruit net soap bags. Lots of reading around the subject made me feel like I was finally getting to play with a chemistry set. It’s proper science with chemical reactions and allsorts. But don’t let that put you off, I had so much fun doing this. That probably suggests that I don’t get out much, but hey, let’s not go there …! To make a basic soap, I needed the following: 250g extra virgin olive oil 50g coconut oil 40g caustic soda 98g/mls filtered water essential oils optional
I bought my caustic soda online but I understand it is readily available in DIY shops. Just make sure you buy caustic soda and not drain cleaner with caustic soda added. The use of such a scary ingredient definitely gave me pause for thought. But without it, you don’t get soap. It is important to treat it carefully so I was particular about wearing gloves and glasses. It is also very important not to mix the caustic soda in a confined space, so only make it on a day when it is possible to be outside and avoid inhaling any fumes. Any skin splashes should be rinsed with copious amounts of water.
To begin making this I went onto the back deck wearing my gloves, glasses firmly in place with my water in a Pyrex jug. The caustic soda must be added to the water. If I had got this step wrong, and poured the water into the caustic soda, a chemical reaction could cause the soda to expand or erupt out of its container. As it was, the jug quickly became hot as I carefully stirred the soda until it dissolved. Once done, I left it to cool and went back to the galley to weigh out the oils. The coconut oil was solid, so it was worth blitzing this a little with my stick blender before the next step. Once the caustic soda water had cooled, I poured it slowly into the oils and gently mixed it together. Then my stick blender went in and for several minutes I blitzed the contents of my bowl until I reached the ‘trace’ stage. This is where the mixture thickens and resembles a mayonnaise – like consistency. It is the start of a process called saponification. Now was the moment to add essential oils, but I totally forgot. Instead, I moved straight onto pouring it into my moulds. Instead of buying fancy schmancy soap moulds I used an old silicone muffin tray, which I have had for years, and a takeaway container from our last Chinese. These were perfect. I scraped my soap into the moulds, shook them to remove any bubbles, covered them with a tea towel and put them in the cratch to set for 24 hours.
I am an impatient soul, so I only managed to wait about 18 before seeing if my efforts were ready. Both soaps plopped out very satisfyingly onto my chopping board and I then cut my takeaway container soap into more useable bars before it hardened too much. Covered once again, I left them in the cratch to finish. I turned them daily for a week then waited a full month before using them. Despite my impatience, it is necessary to do this as it takes several days for the caustic soda to finish its work. The rest of the time is for the soap to harden to prevent instant wearing away.
When I finally got to use it, I was delighted with the results. The soap lathered nicely and felt great. It also smelt lovely despite the lack of essential oils. Next time I make it, I shall experiment with scent. Wrapped nicely, a homemade bar of soap makes a lovely present. Which brings us to next month. For December I shall be looking at making Christmas gift-wrap for homemade presents. Who knew rubbish could be so much fun?
Here goes...making the first batch of washing powder
The fabric conditioner is unbelievably easy to make and great fun in the process
Result... the second batch of washing powder looked better and kept better
The takeaway tub and muffin mould worked well
Adding caustic soda and water starts the process of saponification
The finished soap is cut into handy-sized bars