"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Grow Your Own Laundry Detergent

We started processing our alternative laundry detergent the other day. For about 50 cents worth of cheap white vinegar added to our soapwort concoction we made enough laundry detergent to last approximately six months. I'm waiting for the plants to go to seed before making more this fall. My wife wrote a whimsical post Saponaria Officionalis...What? back in February with links providing more information on this wonderful plant.

In our ongoing endeavor to tread more lightly on the planet and focus our energies on the use of more natural products we are constantly experimenting with a wide variety of plants that can be used for more than just food sources. Only a few hundred years ago many people were much more versed in the forgotten art of self sufficient living, using natures vast array of resources to aid them as they went about their daily tasks.

My wife and I have "advanced" from chemically ridden cleaning products like Purex- free and clear, to supposedly better Seventh Generation laundry soap, to this↓...soapwort. Truly free and clear of man-made chemicals, and about as pure and natural as it gets.
We break down this perennial's second year roots, leaves, stems, and flowers to make soap. The leaves off first year plants work as well but the root is more potent.

First we cut and chop the various parts of Saponaria Officionalis into more manageable pieces.

Then it is added to the cauldrons to simmer for 5 or 6 hours breaking down the plants tissues, helping to release the sudsy saponins contained therein. We let ours sit overnight before straining the pale green liquid.

The next day you simply mash the leaves up and remove them, making sure to squeeze all the remaining saponins out. Then carefully strain the remaining debris. The hardest part is straining the liquid because it really does want to foam up quit a bit...pour slowly.

Straining the soapwort - look at all that foam! The bucket was only part way filled and already overflowing with suds. For whatever reason the pouring action really causes the suds to form.

Luckily, years ago we saved about 20 of these laundry bottles that we now use to hold our homemade soap. We add 2/3 cup vinegar, to prevent against mold, to each bottle. The vinegar also assists as a cleaning agent, a product I also hope to make myself sometime in the not too distant future.

There you have it, laundry soap grown next to the basil in our garden. Keep in mind that soapwort should not be added to pizza with the basil as it does contain toxic saponins. Regardless of what the many herb books, and herbal internet sites out there suggest, I would give serious thought to consuming this plant in any form for medicinal purposes...just my opinion. I'm formulating a plan to make a shampoo using this same herb, vinegar, and ground flax as a thickener...I'll make sure and share if it turns out.


Chiot's Run said...

Thanks for posting this. I also bought soapwort seeds hoping to do this as well, but I haven't had time to plant them. Hopefully next spring I will.

I make my own vinegar, but so far only cide and wine. I am hoping to look into this more this winter when I have some time, as well as buying some oak barrels to age my vinegar in. I've been using my homemade vinegar for all of my pickles - MMMM.

Love to read all the exciting things you're doing! Keep up the good work!

CG said...

*whining* oh no! you can't possibly tell me I have to make my own laundry detergent! I can't even manage to hang my clothes out on a line and MUST use a big huge electric clothes dryer! Life is too haarrrdd already! *end whining*

just a laugh. Love this stuff. I've made a lot of my own soap, lye soap, over the years. I've used it for laundry but it really requires hot water to work. We like lye soap best for our own bodies -- our skin does much better with it than with any other soap.

Does the soapwort work for laundry in cold water? What about grease stains in the clothes (my single biggest laundry problem it seems)? Just wondering. Not that in the end it would matter. Also, what about soapwort for people soap?

Anonymous said...

Hah! My questions are CG's questions, how well does it work, Mike? We mostly use cold for our needs, with a bit of borax for the tougher stains. And your soapwort's rather sudsy I see...

Soapwort actually grows wild out here in the dunes.

el said...

Yipes! That was me who left the anonymous comment!

Mr. H. said...


I think you will find the soapwort to be a most interesting herb. So far it has been a trouble free plant that spreads readily via its roots. I hope to save some seed off of mine this year...fingers crossed.

I have never made vinegar but hope to try this winter with the apples we collect from old, long forgotten orchards. The eventual goal being to get enough apples from our own trees as they begin to produce more fruit.


Mr. H. said...

Anonymous El,

It's not you it's me...sorry.:) You know when you publish a post and come back later to read it and horror upon horrors notice it is full of grammatical errors. Yep, that was me fixing some, I'm sure not all, of my boo boos.

I'm much better at gardening than writing, that was one class in school that I wish I had paid better attention in...oh well. I spent most of my formative school years with an Edgar Rice Burroughs book hidden behind the learning books...foolish me, or perhaps not.

You will have to cook up some of the roots of those wild soapwort plants. They really do get pretty sudsy and have numerous uses. The root can also be dried and cooked for shampoo and body wash at a later date. It is just a little to runny for my liking though. I am going to work on improving that with my new favorite thickener for everything...flax.

But yes, it does work in cold water, cuts grease, can be used on ones hair, and most importantly is not man-made. The flowers are kind of pretty as well.:) It doesn't get much better than that.

Mr. H. said...


I know, I know, it is asking a lot. As nice as a huge expensive noisy electric dryer that spews forth lint all over the place can be, clothes lines are not really all that bad once you get used to them.:) What a worthless piece of machinery.

Although when ones husband (me) parks their truck in the way so that ones wife has to trek way out of her way to get to the clothes line...then it's not so fun. Oops.

If you concentrate the soapwort, especially the root, enough it does work on grease and stains. Definitely not like your chemical based soaps would though. Yes it will work in cold water but does better in warm. We are still experimenting with it, trying to get the recipe right.

People do use it for a shampoo and body wash. I do wan't to make it a little thicker and am going to add either ground flax or mallow plant to make it more shampoo like. I'm not yet sure how that will turn out.

Silke Powers said...

Well, that was quite a timely post as I just made my first batch of homemade laundry powder - not quite as natural as yours, but it's a first step. The soapwort looks interesting. Did you say how many plants you are using to make 6 month's worth of laundry detergent?

I also just went to the store today to look for a vinegar bottle that had "the mother" so I can make my own vinegar. Your blog sure is inspiring!!

My next project is to make soap, which I understand is also good used as shampoo. I don't think I'll ever run out of new things to try!

:) Silke

P.S. Was that a kitty litter bucket I saw in one of those photos? It looked very familiar...

Mr. H. said...


We used approximately 6 large plants and roots plus a few other plants whose roots we did not pull up. It really does not take all that many plants to make a nice batch of soap. Good job on the homeade soap, anything is better than the store bought stuff...by far.

It would seem that everyone but me is or has made vinegar, I must try it soon. I really don't know much about it.

Yes, that was a kitty litter bucket. Those buckets are like gold around here. We use them for everything.

Did you and Daniel ever get those tomatoes to start producing?

It's me ...Mavis said...

Good post...I will add these to my 2010 seed list :)

Mr. H. said...


You won't regret it. Once planted this cold hardy perennial will be there for you if needed. Remember you can use the leaves for soap the first year and both the roots and leaves the second year. I would wait for the end of summer to cut the leaves back though, so the roots have every opportunity to grow.

If you grow it and use it, let me know how it worked for you.

Mrs. Mac said...

Oh, now you are tempting me to try (yet) another project ;) I began making 'homemade' liquid and powder soap from store bought products and am just now getting used to tweaking the recipes. Maybe next year I'll try this. I get contact dermatitis so easily and have even made homemade bar soaps to help.

I have to admit .. if this makes the clothes softer when line dried, it would be worth making. My problem is that in the summer when it's perfect outside to line dry .. I'm so darn busy I tend to use the dryer to save time (sad).

Mr. H. said...

Mrs. Mac,

You know, we all do the best we can. It is really hard to change the way you live when most of society is not. It's like swimming upstream..believe me I understand. These so called modern conveniences have to be shed slowly. I decided years ago to just take one little thing at a time and judge, on a personal level, whether it was good or bad and then work towards making any changes I felt were important.

Regular shampoo makes me sneeze...to many unnatural ingredients. So I use the most basic bar soaps I can find. I hope to come up with something even better than that soon.

Honestly, sometimes I think there are more things to unlearn then there are to learn. Life certainly is a most interesting adventure.

LynnS said...

Another great post from the M&M crew! It's great to hear about your personal experiences with soapwort. I'd read about this 10 years or so ago, bought 1 starter plant to 'try', and the plant didn't make it. In fairness, it was a hot and dry year, but I was discouraged with losing the plant, I never tried again. If you can grow it in your area, I will give it another try, but I believe I'll grow from seed and get a few plants that way. The seed-list for 2010 is growing longer!

We've used homemade laundry detergent a few years now and have no complaints with it, but I'm willing to try something else. And maybe the soapwort shampoo will be a good shampoo substitute.

So, as our apothecary-consultant, please report back when you have your formula!

Kim said...

Incredible! I have read there was a process for using soapwort for soap but hadn't ever seen it done. Thanks for the inspiration. I will be adding this herb to the plans I am working on now!

Mr. H. said...


I'll try to save you some seed. I have never saved any off soapwort before so I'm not sure how they will turn out. I will work on the shampoo formula as soon as our flax is ready. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Mr. H. said...


Yes it's really simple, much easier for us then making regular soap. If you try it let me know how it works for you.

Frugilegus said...

Thanks for another fascinating (and well-written!) post (and Mrs H's too). I'd love to try this, but am constrained by space, and renting - not knowing if I'll be in same place in 18 month's time makes it hard to make the long term commitment some plants need. If I do have to move I'm going to need a truck just for the pots! But I'd love to try this - even if I do have to move it. Do you think one could get a worthwhile harvest in a few pots, and are the leaves that you say can be used in the first year worthwhile, or do I really need to wait for the roots?

Intrigued by the vinegar comments too - something I've often wondered about.

Mr. H. said...


I think they would do really well grown in a large pot. One pot with four or five plants in it should provide enough leaves to make 3-4 gallons of soap. Just cut the plant all the way back in the fall and cook up the leaves and stems. If it makes it through to another year you will get even better soap if you steal some of the roots as well.

Keep in mind that this will clean clothes but not as good as the store bought chemical laundry soap. I just washed a pair of really dirty "garden" jeans and they came out pretty darn clean. Really tough stains, we just live with them.

Vinegar is a great cleaning agent. It works wonders on water stains and mineral deposits, so it is a good product for cleaning glass...10 parts water 1 part vinegar for glass cleaning. Works great on the floor, in the bathroom, and the laundry. It is supposed to be a disinfectant as well...I don't know if that is true or not. Yep, we love vinegar even more than soapwort.

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic post! When do you find the time?


Zucchinimom said...

I am absolutely intrigued!!! I've been making homemade liquid laundry soap for three years now; this has me completely excited! I am definitely getting seeds for next year! Thanks for the post...I can't wait to hear about all your results!

Mr. H. said...


Thanks, a little writing early in the morning or in the evening is a great way to start or finish ones day.

Mr. H. said...


That's great, what better way to be more self reliant then growing ones own laundry soap right there in the garden. I look forward to hearing how it turns out for you.

Thanks for visiting,


Anonymous said...

Very useful and informative blog about detergent soap and soap making machineries....
Detergent Soap Machines
Soap Plant

Related Posts with Thumbnails