I envy the people who have local stores with unpackaged options for cleaning products. The Instagram photos of zero-wasters and plastic-free devotees filling their reusable bottles with laundry detergent and other bulk liquid soaps spark my nonexistent entrepreneurial desire to open my own bulk store.
Alas, the challenge to find a plastic-free alternative to my traditional laundry detergent in a plastic bottle was at hand. We still had about half of the detergent left when I fervently began implementing zero-waste solutions into our regular domestic routines. So when my husband said we needed to buy more laundry detergent, I offered to make some instead. Simple request? Not so much.
To say that he was unimpressed and resistant is a bit of an understatement. He does most of the laundry, is particular about the detergent, and can be incredibly resistant to change. What ensued next was an unpleasant discussion that ended with two days of silent treatment and the cold shoulder (on my part, not his)…not my proudest moment, to be sure. Unfortunately for my husband, he married a woman who can be just as stubborn as he can be. Unfortunately for me, my tendency to formulate plans in my head without clearly expressing them makes my requests sound more like uninformed demands. But I wasn’t uninformed.
By this point, I had already read Beth Terry’s Plastic Free (twice) and Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home. My husband had not. We had a few superficial talks about the books I was reading, but they were not substantial enough for him to really know what I knew. I knew that a plastic laundry detergent bottle, even if I put it in the recycling bin, doesn’t always get recycled and sometimes travels into the ocean. I knew that plastic is never truly recycled, only down-cycled a limited amount of times before its chemical composition is compromised to the point that it becomes waste. I knew that plastic is forever.
A week later, when we were finally out of laundry detergent, my husband asked me if I wanted to buy some more. I told him that he already knew the answer to that question. He paused for a moment, then said, “If you want to make some laundry detergent, let’s try it.” Elated with the prospect of finding a plastic-free alternative for our laundry detergent, not to mention one without harsh chemicals for my family or the environment, I now felt the pressure for my DIY detergent to be successful. An hour of Google reads and Pinterest pins later, I found a recipe to try.
This recipe from the blog Live Simply is AWESOME! I’ve made three batches in the last couple of months, and my husband is satisfied with the results. I have made this recipe with citrus Castile soap and eucalyptus Castile soap. I prefer the citrus. It leaves the laundry with a slight citrus scent that dissipates as it dries. It takes all of seven minutes to cut the soap, mince it in the food processor, mix the other dry ingredients, and pour into the jar. One box of washing soda makes two batches of detergent; one box of borax makes about four. We use a warm cycle to ensure that the soap dissolves in our southern hard water, but it worked just as well in a cycle that I forgot to change from cold to warm.
Until someone decides to open a bulk and unpackaged store in my suburban community, my only option for plastic-free laundry detergent is a DIY one made from ingredients packaged in paper instead of plastic. I compost the paper from the soap and recycle the borax and washing soda boxes when they’re empty. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a leap in the fight against plastic pollution; and it is the best one for me, my family, and our household. All sustainability is local, meaning each location will have a different set of challenges and solutions to those challenges. This solution works for us, and it could work for you. If it doesn’t, don’t throw your hands in the air in dejected defeat. Keep researching and trying new ideas until you discover one that suits you and yours.
We can’t be scared to try new things, especially when we know that we are attempting to live with a lighter footprint. Yes, it can be a little scary to subject your beloved pants and shirts and socks and sheets to a detergent that you made yourself. Yes, you may have spouses or life-partners or family members who “pooh-pooh” your initial attempts. Yes, there are a million DIY detergent recipes on the internet made from a wide variety of ingredients. But you know what? It’s okay to fail. That’s how you learn. If your first attempt fails, try something else. If your second attempt fails, try something else. Rinse, spin, repeat.
Remember, be part of the solution, not part of the problem.