A few weeks ago, a reader asked me to compare the costs of making laundry soap and purchasing detergent on sale at the store. As a coupon shopper, when I purchase laundry detergent, my goal is to stay around 5 to 6 cents per load of laundry. The cost of making your own laundry soap also fall into the same price range. This column generated quite a few responses from readers:
Dear Jill: Chemist here. With interest, I read your article on making your own laundry soap versus using detergent. There are marked differences between laundry soap and detergents that anyone considering washing with soap should consider. Soaps are made from fats and oils, either animal or vegetable in nature. Detergents are synthetic.
Soaps do not work as well in hard water, which may not be a problem if your home has a water softener. If the water is hard, soap is more prone to leave residue in clothing (remember the term soap scum?) that, over time, can become difficult to remove.
Detergents are designed to rinse clean. Due to their nature, they are much better at dissolving fats, which helps remove oily or greasy stains from clothing. They’re also more powerful than soap, so they require less to get your laundry clean versus a homemade soap option.
Additionally, detergents have protectants for fabrics that will help keep your darks dark and your whites white in the long term. Over time, soap tends to be harder on clothing and can dull colors. Soap also tends to turn white laundry gray over time because soap residue will build up in the fabric over time. If your goal is to keep your clothes looking their best, detergent is the better choice as it is gentler on fabrics.
Detergents often contain additional whitening agents and fabric softeners that will help clothing look and smell fresher.
In a situation where making laundry soap and buying laundry detergent are cost-equal, I would hands-down choose laundry detergent. It is the epitome of the phrase, ‘Better living through chemistry.’ ” — Gerald B.
Dear Jill: I’m writing to say that I fell into the making your own laundry detergent craze. I liked doing it and I felt like I was helping the environment. However, I’m back to buying detergent at the store. I found that over the months it took to use up the detergent I made, our clothes did not smell as fresh. The fabric got stiffer over time and I had to start rinsing with hot water, which costs more. I also think the homemade stuff made some of my clothes pill. The clothes were clean, but it just didn’t seem to be as gentle as the detergent we were using previously.
I have followed your advice and gotten some good laundry deals. We got name-brand laundry detergent for 99 cents a bottle after it was on sale for $3.99, and the brand put out some nice $3-off coupons. Now I am trying to stock up on detergent again. — Cara W.
Dear Jill: You missed the boat on the laundry detergent column. If the costs of making your own soap are the same as buying it in the store, you should have encouraged others to make their own. Soaps are natural, and detergents are not. The gray water runoff from rinsing with homemade soaps is less harmful for the environment than detergent runoff. That alone is reason enough to make the switch. I only have to make my own a few times a year.
We should all do our part, and you should be using your platform for good. It is not always about what saves you the most money or time. — Billie H.
Dear Jill: Regarding the column on making your own laundry soap: Anyone with a home on a septic tank should only use liquid laundry detergent. Natural soaps can congeal and build up sludge, which clogs the tank and its pipes. Our septic service recommends only liquid laundry detergent, too, as it has less fillers than powdered detergent. — Stephanie C.