By Karina | June 18, 2008
Jenn and I have talked in the past about making homemade soap or detergent, and as I came to the end of my last bottle of Trader Joe’s liquid dish soap, I decided to give it a whirl. Turns out, though, that while there are lots of recipes for powdered dish detergent for machines on the internet there are just not a whole lot of LIQUID dish detergent suitable for hand washing your dishes. After extensive searching, though, I came across this one.
I ended up quartering the recipe. I made it with half of a bar of ancient Octagon soap that I’ve moved from apartment to apartment for at least 5 years. (Gramma always says to keep a bar of laundry soap around in case you run into a patch of poison ivy. The harsh soap cuts the oils that transport the poison ivy “itch,” and will minimize your reaction. And now you know!) It turns out that the Octagon soap was kind of dried out, but while it made some amazingly loud noises while I was grating it, it melted just fine. I was able to find the washing soda at the grocery in the laundry detergent aisle, and the other items I had on-hand. I also added some rosemary essential oil with the lemon to improve the scent.
I followed the directions closely, but here’s the exciting part: when I added the baking soda to the soap mixture it foamed all over the stove. Luckily I got the pan into the sink in time to avoid total catastrophe (and my stove has never been cleaner than after wiping all that soap mess off of it), but how weird, right? Maybe it was a reaction to the lemon juice, or maybe it’s because baking soda is amphoteric, and will react with both acids (the lemon juice) OR bases (the washing soda). I bet it was a reaction to the washing soda, because it’s a much stronger base than lemon juice is acidic.
After the exciting foaming reaction I left the soap out to cool, and it cooled off to be really foamy and kind of hard – it was waaaay too thick to squeeze out of my reused liquid detergent bottle – so I heated about a cup of water and mixed the warm water in as best as I could. It’s still really really thick, and I have to squeeze the bottle with both hands to get any soap out, but I don’t know if that’s because of the loss of mixture during the foaming or what. Next time I need to use a larger pot to avoid any foam-over.
All in all, I find that this recipe works really well to clean my dishes, but I just don’t like using it very much! It doesn’t foam or produce big bubbles at all, and I use a lot more than I did of the commercially prepared soap. (I mixed up the detergent in the beginning of May and I’ve gone through about 1/2 of it in 6 weeks.) And of course, there is that hard-to-squeeze thing. Most annoying, though, is that the soap is so hard that it won’t dissolve in water when I want to soak a pot. I have to get my whisk out and mix the soap into the water first before I fill the pot. Most of my dishes are done with the soap-on-sponge method, so it’ s not a problem I run into frequently, so I would like to be able to avoid the extra whisking step!
And of course I have some questions. Like, what the heck is Octagon soap made out of, anyway? I’m sure it’s not an eco-friendly detergent base, considering it’s made by chemical giant Colgate-Palmolive. I should probably start with a bar of happy castile soap, for example, from our friends Dr. Bronner’s. I know that that stuff will melt down but I wonder how that will affect the consistency? Also, where the heck does washing soda come from? Washing soda is sodium carbonate and according to wikipedia is produced by mining from alkaline salt flats in the USA, though it is also produced by the Solvay process outside of the USA (big geek heads up: I am familiar with the Solvay process because I used to work on the Onondaga Lake superfund site, where the Solvay process was heavily used and contributed to some of the area contamination.) The Solvay process also is used to produce baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate. According to this webpage washing soda is non-toxic and is a great grease cutter, so it’s probably the most active ingredient in this detergent.
I think I’m going to have to try again, but next time, I’ll use a different kind of soap, a larger pot, and maybe mix in more water right at the beginning to thin it out. I think I should also put the baking soda in first and THEN add the washing soda. Sometimes the order of mixing helps dilute any reaction you may encounter. I’ll be sure to let you know how it works out!
Image from flickr user anna banana via creative commons license.
Have you experimented with homemade detergents? What’s your favorite recipe?
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