My favorite use for lye soap is for my laundry. I’ve made liquid laundry soap, powdered laundry soap, and even grated the bar directly into the washing machine. Traditional lye soap is just so well suited for the job, much more than for skin in my humble opinion!
As I discussed in the last post, traditional lye soap is “lye heavy”. In other words, there is leftover lye in each bar of soap. This happens because there was not enough fat in the recipe to balance out the amount of lye used. The amount of “free lye” varies per old-time recipe. Some traditional lye soap recipes must’ve had quite a lot of extra lye from the stories I hear. It’s this free lye, combined with the soap, that makes it so good for laundry soap.
From the oral accounts I’ve collected, plus my personal experience, lye soap cuts grease, helps whiten whites, and is the soap of choice for many mechanics and plant-workers’ uniforms. In our modern day, lye soap makes an excellent choice for front loader machines. Made solely from tallow or lard, these fats do not create a bubbly or foamy lather in soapmaking. If you’ve ever washed with lye soap, you know that you’ll get a nice cream going but definitely not any lather with bubbly loft. Since it’s the foam and bubbles from modern detergents that break down the front loader rubber seals, lye laundry soap works wonderfully in these new machines. Don’t you just love it when something old, tried, and true is the simple answer!
As I wrote above, the simplest way to use lye soap for your laundry is to grate the soap right into the washer. It only takes a tablespoon or so. And no, I’m not kidding. If you wash with cold water, it helps to soak your grated soap in some warm water. A half hour or so will do. You can prepare a whole bucket of soap gel ahead of time and just scoop out a bit for each load. That’s often what I do.
Recipes are all over the internet for making your own laundry soap concoction. They all include various combinations of washing soda, borax, maybe some baking soda, and one type of soap or another. Whether the recipe calls for Fells Naptha, Zote, or anything else, lye soap will work just as well. Probably better. The following is the recipe I use:
- 1 cup finely grated lye soap
- 1/4 cup washing soda
- 1/4 cup baking soda
- 1/4 cup borax
Spread grated lye soap on wax paper and allow to dry overnight. Mix with remaining ingredients. Use 1-2 tbsp. per load. To make a gel, combine all ingredients with 1 gallon warm water in a soup pot. Stir over low heat till melted. Pour melted lye laundry soap into a 3 gallon bucket (with lid for safety). Add an additional gallon of water to the bucket and stir till blended. As mixture cools it will thicken to a gel. Use 1/2 cup lye laundry gel per load.
You may wonder, why add the extra ingredients? Didn’t I say you could just grate soap straight into the washer? Good question! It depends on the hardness of your water. Before the soap can clean your clothes, it will react with the minerals in your water. So, if you have hard water, you’ve used up some of your good soap fighting the minerals and your load won’t get as clean. Washing soda and borax can be tricky to find. Where I live, Wal-Mart carries borax. My local Krogers grocery store carries washing soda.
After using lye soap for awhile in your washer, you may notice a soap scum build-up. I’ve never had that issue, but some people do. Soap scum is easily avoided by adding vinegar to your fabric softener dispenser once or twice a month. If you don’t have a dispenser, a downy ball comes in handy. And no, your clothes do not come out smelling like vinegar.
Another thing I like to do to boost my lye laundry soap is add a touch of essential oil. You can add a drop or two to the load. A tablespoon or so to your bucket of gel. Or stir in a similar amount to your powder. Let the powder dry on wax paper before storing. My favorite essential oil to use is orange. It adds additional grease cutting power. Some people add lavender for its antiseptic properties and calming scent. Tea tree is helpful if you’re fighting any kind of virus in your family. We fought fleas off once with eucalyptus.
At this point you may be wondering why anyone would want to go to the trouble. Here’s a few reasons that comes to mind:
- Lye laundry soap is an all natural product (no synthetics of any kind).
- Because of #1, people with allergies often do well with lye laundry soap.
- Lye laundry soap is biodegradable. You’re being gentle on our local ecosystem, especially the water supply.
- It’s cheap! Or rather, frugal, if you like that term better.
- Especially since lye laundry soap requires no fabric softener, except on maybe the driest of winter days.
- There’s a unique satisfaction in making such a useful product yourself.
If you’re ready to give lye soap a try for your laundry, here is a summary to ensure success:
- Use the soap in a gel form.
- Add washing soda, borax, and maybe some baking soda for boost.
- Treat your stains. Remember when our grannies used this soap for laundry, they scrubbed on a washboard. They were intimate with their laundry!
- If you’re wanting to whiten your whites, line dry. The sun boosts the whitening power of the lye.
Click on Granny Slagle’s picture over there and order yourself some $4 bars of Lye Soap to give lye laundry soap a try! )