We All Live Downstream: DIY biodegradable laundry detergent

You'd think we'd give more thought to the ingredients that go into a product we soak fabrics in before wrapping them around our entire bodies. Instead, we favor familiar brands and low pricetags over safety and environmental concerns.

Here's the short list of what's in a bottle of Tide Free & Gentle, one of the leading dye- and perfume-free detergents on the market (32-load bottle retails around $8):

Alcoholethoxy Sulfate
Citric Acid
Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonate
Polyethyleneimine Ethoxylate
Propylene Glycol
Diquaternium Ethoxy Sulfate
Sodium Formate
Diethylenetriamine Pentaacetate (Sodium Salt)
Lauramine Oxide
Disodium Diaminostilbene Disulfonate
Calcium Formate
Now let's take a look at the ingredients in Ecos, a biodegradable, eco-friendly clothing cleaner (67 loads for $11.39):
Magnolia & Lillies - 100% natural anionic coconut kernel oil-based surfactant, horsetail plant, essential oils of magnolias and lilies, purified water.
Lavender - 100% natural anionic coconut kernel oil based surfactant, horsetail plant, essential oil of lavender (NOP Certified Organic), purified water.
Lemongrass - 100% natural anionic coconut kernel oil based surfactant, horsetail plant, coconut based fabric softener, essential oil of lemongrass (NOP Certified Organic), purified water.
Now let's say you don't want to spend so many dollars on your detergent, nor do you want to put harmful chemicals into the very products you lay so close to your naked skin, nor do you want to search high and far on the Internet and specialty, overpriced markets every time you need a new bottle of detergent. How about making your own?

Here's a very simple laundry detergent recipe safe for any graywater, septic, or sewage system. All of us downstreamers say thank you!

Basic Biodegradable Laundry Detergent
4 cups of water
1 bar of vegetable-based soap (avoid any soap with heavy fragrances)
2 cups of washing soda (available in most supermarkets)
2 cups of Borax (available in most supermarkets)
A big wooden spoon
A measuring cup
A grater

Pour 4 cups of water into a pot and heat. The water does not need to boil.
Grate the soap bar.
Remove hot water from heat, add grated soap, and stir with wooden spoon until soap is completely dissolved and you have some highly soapy water.
Pour in Borax and washing soda and stir.

When the solution is liquid, you may choose to add 1/4 cup liquid bluing to make whites brighter without the use of bleach. You may even add in some liquid castile soap for a little extra cleaning boost and scent. Add enough hot water to make 4 gallons to 5 gallons laundry detergent.

Store the solution into a 5-gallon container with a lid or use your old laundry detergent bottles. Let the solution sit overnight and in the morning stir again. For each load of laundry, use about a 1/2 cup of your homemade laundry detergent.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.