Saturday, 1 February 2014

Just Like Nana: DIY Laundry Powder

My Nana and Bucko could make anything. Nana and Bucko (the name I christened my Grandfather with when I was's a long story) tended a huge kitchen garden, kept bees and were generally makers and fixers of a lot of stuff. They could "jimmy-rig" anything with skills they learned as children of WWII and the Great Depression. They grew up with the need to make. Unwittingly, they passed that need on to me.

Make It vs Buy It

I spent my formative years with Nana and Bucko, working around the farm, in the garden, in the kitchen, making, fixing and jimmy-rigging through the days.  I now live in Toronto, Canada's largest urban centre (I'm still slightly shocked by my location), but my need to make, fix and jimmy-rig continues. Thankfully, I've found a partner who shares these needs: Pascal is a skilled carpenter, home-renovator and repair person who works carefully and thoughtfully through each of his projects.

I've also discovered that I am far from alone in my desire to make. The vast online DIY resources and the growing field of Urban Homesteading suggests that many of us are beginning to reclaim and re-imagine our homes as spaces of production. Since the Industrialization Revolution our homes, (especially our urban homes), have steadily become spaces of almost exclusive consumption; we purchase items and consume them in our homes -- shampoo, laundry detergent, vegetables, clothes, bedding, make up, etc. Although many of these products do not require complicated ingredients or advanced skills, very rarely do we make those items in our home.

Annie Leonard suggests in the Story of Stuff that in addition to the environmental and social devastation caused by the globalized industrial material economy, participating in consumption over production also means we need a growing stream of financial income that we can trade for all of the items we are not making. In response, we quickly hop on the consumer treadmill, selling our time for money and becoming quite adept at consumption.

We could go on here, delving into a Marxist analysis of labour and the means of production, but I think the lives of my Nana and Bucko are just as persuasive. Rather than "whole hog" participation in consumption, they provided for many of their own needs by making, fixing, growing and yes, jimmy-rigging.  This meant less time "working out" (off the farm) and more time teaching me how to find the kittens in the hay mow, how to compost, how to pick blackberries, how to fix a lamp, how to approach a beehive, the list goes on. They spent much of their time with me and they had the time to spend because they often chose to make rather than buy.  

Because Pascal and I like to make sure we are wisely exchanging our work hours for money and are spending the proceeds carefully, we often chose to make over buy. Making something can mean practicing our skills, learning new ones and investing our income in ourselves. It also means we get to fill our creative drives to make.

Laundry Detergent: You Have to Start Somewhere

A few months ago I looked at the cleaning cupboard and saw a lot of expensive "green" labels starring back at me. Nana's cleaning cupboard contained a few large glass jars full of different powders, a couple of spray bottles and a lot of rags. Her house was clean, always smelled fresh and she wasn't buying expensive cleaning products. I wanted to simplify the cleaning products of Peace Flag House, making them safer, greener and economical. I didn't want to spend my income on pretty plastic bottles. I decided to start by making my own Laundry Detergent.

According to Make It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, I needed the following:
1. Borax
2. Ivory Soap
3. Baking Soda
4. Washing Soda

Washing soda had me stumped. I searched 4 grocery stores with no luck. Eventually I found it in Kensington Market at Essence of Life, but not before I discovered from Holly Homemaker that I could also DIY washing soda. To make washing soda one must simply bake baking soda. The world is an amazing place.

How To Make Washing Soda:

Spread a thin layer (approximately 1/4") of baking soda on a glass or tin baking dish and bake between 400 - 450C for approximately an hour.  Stir around a couple of times during that hour.  The water and carbon dioxide molecules will magically release into the air, thereby changing Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda) into Sodium Carbonate (Washing Soda).

You'll know it's ready when you compare unbaked baking soda to the newly baked washing soda. Baking soda looks fluffy and a little shiny, whereas washing soda looks gritty and flat.

Note: I often make a batch of washing soda on the second rack of the oven while I'm baking something else. If the temperature is lower than 400C it will take somewhat longer than a hour, but not much in my experience.

Peace Flag House Laundry Powder

With washing soda now in abundance I made my first batch of Laundry Powder with great success. The recipe is below but don't feel confined to these ratios. This is a general guideline that should be tweaked to fit your needs and preferences. Feels good to know you'll never have to haul a case of 7th Generation home on the subway every again, eh?

Peace Flag House
Laundry Powder

Serves: approximately 30-40 loads
Prep Time: 15 min + hour to make washing soda

2 parts
Washing soda
1 part
1 part
Shredded Ivory Soap
1 part
Baking soda

 Using a cheese grater, shred 1 part of Ivory Soap.
Combine washing soda, borax, baking soda and Ivory Soap in lidded container. Mix well.
3. Use approximately 1 tbsp. of mix per load. Adjust according to need.

These ingredient amounts are offered as guidelines and can be adjusted according to your needs and preferences. I have found that clothes washed with this laundry powder should not be left wet in the washing machine for a long period of time as it will produce an odor. However, this is true of wet clothes in general.
I use this recipe in my High Efficiency, front-load washer.


  1. This post is amazing! I love hearing about Nana and Bucko and I very much appreciate the super handy recipes.
    [Also, my nephew calls his uncles Bubba and Goodie, but the aunts (blood-related!) by their real names.]

  2. Thank you! Remind me to tell the "Bucko" story someday...amazing the names (us) kids come up with eh? Bubba and Goodie are pretty rad uncle names. Thanks for reading!