Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Phil 4:6-7

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Laundry, my way Part III...Washing Continued


This segment of my series on "Laundry, my way" has been the hardest for me to write (for the earlier posts click here and scroll to the bottom to start from the beginning).

I started it several times, and then I stopped and deleted. I finally realized that I can't tell you how to do this part. Your dirt, so to speak, is very personal and individual to your family. What works for me might not work for you.

I can, however, talk about what I do, even though you must realize my detergent and my additives work for my family's dirt and may very well not work for yours. I can also talk about the chemical action in the washing process and, hopefully, you can figure out the perfect formula for your family.

The key to this part -- the chemical action -- is to find what works for you (trial and error here) and stick with it. This, again, is a science experiment. The trick to the chemical action is finding the right mix for your family's dirt, and experimenting with the right quantities -- enough to clean the fabric, but not so much as to wear them out any quicker than necessary. It's a lot of try and try again. Don't give up -- it's a battle worth the fight. I found the right chemical mix years ago and I have stuck with it, with a few slight changes as the seasons change.

You smell really good.


Laundry detergent, what used to be called laundry soap, or soap flakes, in our grandmothers', or great-grandmothers' day is actually a fairly new product -- it's been around for about 60 years or so. Detergent, though different, chemically, than soap (soap is mostly all-natural)  basically does the same thing for dirty laundry. In a nutshell, detergent, like hand soap and dish soap, loosens dirt, allowing it to be washed away with the dirty wash water.

While both soap and detergent provide the same action -- loosening dirt -- soap can leave an oily residue on clothes, leaving a gray, or dirty cast, which eventually becomes impossible to remove. That is why soaps have almost become impossible to find on the market -- they are just inferior to the cleaners available today. They are, however, more environmentally friendly and worthy of some investigation.

The manner in which detergent cleans dirt from the clothes is very complicated (you didn't know that so much science went into it did you?). Though I don't understand all the chemical attractions on a molecular level, I can give you a basic overview of what happens when you add detergent to your wash water. First, chemicals -- surfactants -- in the detergent reduce the surface tension of the water and allow the water to completely penetrate the fabric --  more so than plain water. It then, through chemical action of surfactants and then enzymes, attracts the dirt in the fabric and, combined with the physical motion of the water, pulls it out of the fabric. The enzymes are specific for the many "soils" found in most clothes -- oil, protein, carbohydrates, etc. Each enzyme grabs onto the specific "dirt" molecule for which it was intended and surfactants act to sort of grab it and hold on tightly. Surfactants allow grease and oil to combine with water -- something it does not naturally do -- so that it will dissolve in the water and be able to be whisked away. After the dirt is released into the water, surfactants in the detergent draw the dirt molecules to the water molecules so that the dirt does not redeposit onto the clothes. Once the dirt is floating around in the wash water, anionic surfactants adhere to the dirt, causing an electrostatic repulsion between the dirt and the fabric so that the dirt does not settle down again into the fabric. Amazing, eh? All that in one little scoop of laundry detergent! There are also water softeners present to free up surfactants to do their job (hard water impacts the activity of surfactants). Some (most) detergents contain optical brighteners, which leave your colors and whites brighter. They also contain fragrances (except for those which are scent-free) which leave a little bit of "clean" scent in your clothes (I happen to think the fragrance free detergents smell much worse than the slight fragrance, but that's just my opinion). Some contain extra enzymes for specialized cleaning, and that's fine if those special dirts are a problem for you.

There is much more science involved, but that's about enough for me. How 'bout you?

At least somebody (something) likes the way this dirty girl smells. ;-)

I have tried a variety of laundry detergents over the years, including homemade, and I have come to the conclusion that you get what you pay for, i.e., cheap detergent doesn't usually work very well. Those higher prices must be paying for more of that above-mentioned technology. That said, there is no reason why you have to use the most expensive detergent available, nor must you use the pricier detergent all of the time.

Here we pick our battles. If you have some loads that are really dirty -- like clothes with real visible dirt and stains -- use your best detergent to get it as clean as you can. If you have some clothes that are looking dingy or gray, wash them for a few times in your best detergent, and then alternate between pricey and not-so-pricey. I use homemade detergent some of the time and Tide he powder detergent some of the time. The dirtiest clothes get Tide most of the time and the least dirty clothes get homemade most of the time -- but no rules set in stone here.

The problem I have run into with the homemade detergent is that it is soap-based. Remember what I said about soap leaving a gray film on clean clothes? Well, if I use the homemade detergent all the time, or even for a long stretch, I find that clothes do tend to get dingy looking. I used to think the homemade just didn't clean as well as the high-priced detergents. Then I realized it was just a film, which is made worse by our hard water. So, now I alternate and it works, allowing me to save money some of the time, yet still have good, clean-looking clothes.

You can find the top five laundry detergents here. I have only used one out of five (Tide), so I can not speak to the efficiency of the others, but I have seen the prices of the top three and I believe they are the highest priced all-fabric detergents on the shelf. So, if they are, in fact, the best detergents, then my theory holds true and you get what you pay for.

One little tidbit to remember about detergent is that you don't have to use as much as the manufacturer recommends. Remember who is making the recommendation -- the guys who make the money when you use it. For obvious reasons they want you to use more. With the proper additives, you can use half or a third of the recommended detergent with the same cleaning power. And the less detergent you use (as long as you are getting clean clothes), the longer your clothes will last.

To be continued...

"If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies...it would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it."  ~Albert Einstein



  1. More good information. Thanks! I currently am using Whisk - I think it's quite like All (which I have a hard time finding on the commissary shelf when I am buying). Tide is always on the shelf and I always turn away because of the price. But, you make a very valid statement about the amount one uses per load. With common sense, the Tide doesn't have to be expensive as the manufacturers would like. ;)

  2. I don't think I've mentioned this on here yet, but I love my "semi-homemade" laundry detergent. I mix borax and washing soda in a 1:1 combination, and I use a tablespoon of that plus a drizzle of liquid Tide in our laundry. I came up with it for cloth diapers but I love it for everything! For Hubs's work clothes, I double both.

    I also use the 1:1 mixture in a 1:1:1 mixture with powdered Cascade in my dishwasher! (So 2 cups of the stuff from the laundry cabinet plus one cup of Cascade.) I also use Lemi-shine because of our hard water, and I'm quite pleased with the results.

    We got our front-load washing machine somewhere around 2 years ago, and I haven't used my Sam's Club sized jug of Tide up yet!

  3. I don't use Tide; I had a bottle of it around to use as a pretreater, and when a plumber was here to work on our clogged sewer line he saw the Tide on the shelf by the sink. He immediately told me that he sees an awful lot of people with the same plumbing problems I had--who were Tide users. That was the end of THAT.

    With the hard water around here, the best detergents I've found are Purex and Arm & Hammer.


I appreciate your comments -- sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself!