The Every-Six-Month Soap Job

October 22nd, 2008

Awhile back I wrote about making your own soaps, and how much fun that can be even though it’s a lot of work. Besides, who are we dedicated homesteaders if we’re not people who actually enjoy working around our homesteads and doing for ourselves? It’s officially late October now, which means I’ve got a different soap job to do at my homestead.

I do this soap job every spring and fall, mostly just because I can. Besides, it saves my hard-strapped household of four adult-sized humans about $120 every six months on a single necessary household item, even after the not too high costs of ingredients and processing. Since some of the ingredients are also used to make bathroom and kitchen scouring powders, good ant and mouse repellants, and insect sting/burn/rash treatment, I figure the savings to the homestead overall for a year is pretty close to $300.00. That’s nothing to sneeze at, even though my labor is donated free!

This soap job is all about getting our clothes clean. Yes, I do way too much laundry – I still think my daughter and grandson pull clothes out of the drawers or off the shelves and toss them into the dirty clothes hamper if it’s not what they want to wear today instead of refolding and putting them back where they belong. They were gone out of state all of August and September and I didn’t wash more than three loads a week for just hubby and I. But I can’t seem to catch them at it, so I just do the washing (and the drying, and the folding, and the putting away…). It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it!

I don’t make laundry soap from scratch – we use way too much of it and let’s face it… do our tee shirts, socks and underwear really need the same kind of delicate cleansing as our faces? Instead, I use pre-made soaps. Keep a bowl down in the bathroom for the dregs of bar soaps that get too small to use, for this specific purpose. I also have family and friends who travel for their jobs quite a bit, and who pick up those little motel soaps for me. I keep them in a basket in the bathroom closet, they come in faster than I can finish off with a project like this.

What I do is turn all these soap bars and leftovers into liquid soap. That means putting a big soup pot on ‘low’ on the stove (or on top of the wood stove if it’s cold enough to be heating the house), and breaking or carving the bars and leavings into small pieces to dissolve in the hot water. I have found that the smaller the pieces (flakes and shavings are best), the faster they fully dissolve. Keep stirring and adding more until I’ve got a good gallon of thick liquid. All in all, it ends up being maybe 20 little bars and the bathroom dregs.

At this point I pour the hot liquid soap into my container, which is a clean 5-gallon plastic bucket (with lid), and add another 3 gallons of hot water while stirring to thin it down a bit. To this I add 2 cups of regular baking soda and 4 cups of dry borax powder. While the soap is still warm, slowly and while stirring well. I buy the soda and borax – cheap generic brands – in the biggest boxes I can get at the grocery, once a year. Mixed in equal parts these make a handy scouring powder for sinks, toilets, tubs, counters, etc. all year long.

The mixture will cool into a gel. I use a plastic soup ladle to dip it out, about a cup for a standard washer load. My washing machine (a heavy-duty basic 1-size floor model I got a great deal on when our last one died) only takes a ‘medium’ load. I start the fill, get the soap and add it while the water’s filling before putting the clothes in. Then load in the clothes and let ‘er wash! I leave the top up if I’m doing whites so the main wash water won’t drain, then turn it back to start for a second agitation (with the same soapy water) when I add bleach.

The clothes come out as clean as any expensive laundry soap I’ve ever used (and I’ve probably tried them all). They come out smelling great from the various scent ingredients in the commercial soap bars, and they’re also very soft without using any fabric softener at all in the wash or sheets in the dryer due to the various lotions also included in those commercial soap bars. The soda and borax enhances the de-greasing and basic cleaning ability of the soap.

Now, people don’t think about making their own anything anymore, but this way of recycling bar soaps is environmentally sound as well as very satisfying personally. As the grocery bill goes up and up and up every week, it’s really nice not to have to pay $5 or more on a regular basis for laundry soap. If you’re going to be a committed homesteader (I always say), you should at least learn how to do as many things for yourself as you can. So I do.

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One Response to “The Every-Six-Month Soap Job”

  1. Joe Miller on April 19, 2012 5:53 pm


    I’ve been working on a web business to support our homesteading here in Lancaster County, PA. We receive a blog called Survival Woman and they had a link to your website.
    I loved your article on soap making/salvaging and was wondering if you would consider allowing us to print the article in our newsletter with credit.
    Honestly, we don’t have a lot of readers so we can’t promise you much in the way of promotion, but we sure would appreciate it.

    If you have any questions, please feel free to email (or call 610-413-3904).


    Joe Miller

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