Monday, December 1, 2008

The Holiday Season Begins, and I Make My Own Soap (Kind of)


It is still snowing!. We had a little break over Halloween, but since then, we have had a few major snow storms. My adopted hometown of Corry, PA actually made it onto the Erie news as a trivia question a couple of days before thanksgiving in a kind of “Guess How Much Snow They Got?” capacity. The answer then was 58 inches, but we’ve piled on a little more since then. We've had a bit of a melting period, however, where a lot of the icicles broke off the house and the snow has settled a little so that it’s about knee deep instead of waist deep. I’ve been pretty annoyed lately with the whole weather service which will predict snow when we don’t get any and also an inch to a coating when it will turn around and give us half a foot. Today is the first day of deer season, and it is an unofficial holiday. The road is covered with snow, and it was just ice yesterday, but the only answer for it is slow down and try to stay on, since the guys who run the plows are all out hunting today. Sounds like a war zone out there.

One more thing about the weather and then I’ll go on to the next thing I’ll ramble about. The almanac predicts heavy snows in the northeast the 12th through the 15th of this month. I’m going to hold them to it!

I did Black Friday shopping this year in Erie, even going into Walmart. (I didn’t buy anything. I just carried stuff for my sister.) I kept hearing a lot of horror stories about how bad it would be, and I guess in other places, there were deaths and injuries from people trampling to get inside the store, but in Erie, it was just crowded. I recently went to a “Twilight” book and movie party at the bookstore there, too, with a younger cousin, and my aunt ( her mother) was not keen on going because she thought it would be a lot of shrieking. In fact, it was mostly giggling. We’re from Northwestern PA, and we are kind of stand-offish. We want the cheap DVD players and laptops, but it’s just not nice to bump into other people to get them.

Getting down to brass tacks, here is another edition of “I Try It”.

Everytime I go through my recycling, I’ve been noticing the greatest portion of my junk is those stupid plastic containers that some genius thinks that cat food should come in now and laundry soap bottles. I can change brands of cat food and if I fee the need for a plastic container I can buy or reuse one I already have, but I was pretty much stuck with laundry soap. I keep trying to use powder or even those little dissolvable tablets that I think come from Amway, but powdered soap just doesn’t rinse out well enough, and underclothes are enough of a bother already without added itching factors.

People have tried to overcome this whole laundry soap thing for a while now. they have double concentrated soap which is an okay idea. I remember back in the ‘80’s for a little while you could get little super concentrated things of soap that you dumped into your old bottles and mixed up with more water. That didn’t last too long, but it was a good idea. I’ve seen little containers of homemade laundry soap for sale at the Amish store, but it was powder based and also had bluing in it, which I’ve heard of but never actually used. Which come to think of it, is probably why most commercial laundry soap is colored blue even though the color really does nothing.

In a recent issue of Countryside magazine, however, I noticed this part at the beginning where the readers write in with questions and tips a recipe for homemade laundry soap. I tried it because I actually had all the ingredients on hand anyway.

The recipe:

1/3 bar of Fels-naphtha soap, grated
1/2 C. washing soda (not baking soda, though it is made by Arm and Hammer)
1/2 C. Borax
1 Tblsp. essential oil (optional)
2 gallon jugs (vinegar jugs)

How to do it:

Grate soap into a large pan with 6 cups of water, heat until the soap melts. Add the soda and the Borax and the scent. Stir to dissolve, heat another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take of the heat, let it sit another 5 minutes. Divide this in half into each of the gallon jugs. Fill the jugs halfway with plain hot water. Shake and then fill to the top. Let the jugs set overnight, and it will have a gelly consistency, and you can use 1/2 to 2/3 cup per load, letting the water fill up the machine with the soap in it first and then adding the clothes. Add 1/2 C. vinegar for fabric softener.

Now, this is basically the information contained in the original rec ipe. Shopping tips: Fels-Naphtha soap is actually pretty easy to find. You can keep it in bar from and rub it on as a stain remover. The book that I read called “Little Heathens” about little kids growing up in the Depression describes wash night where the grandmother grated up a whole bar of Fels-Naphtha soap and put it with water in the bottom of the hand crank washer. First they would do sheets and then underclothes and then basically work their way out from nicest to dirties so that everything was washed in the same water, but barn clothes were washed last and needed least to be clean. I’m guessing the formula of the soap was different back then because of laws about phosphates and things like that, but it’s still a nice, retro cleaning experience. Likewise, washing soda and Borax are usually available in the soap and cleaning sections of most grocery stores even if you haven’t noticed them before.

I have vinegar bottles on hand because when I’m ambitions about making yarn, I do some dying. I’d guess with all the hot water that water or milk jugs would not be p to the task, but old bottles from commercial soap are. And you definitely need a funnel. I also invested a dollar on a separate grater so i wasn’t mixing food and soap, though I did just use one of my junkier pots and made sure I had all the soap rinsed off it really well. Essential oils can get expensive, and I chose orange, because it was cheap, but a person who really wants to personalize everything may love a project like this because you can create your own customized laundry scents. it also smells just fine with no scent.

But how does it work?

I’d say, not bad. Things seem to come clean with no problem. The least successful washing I’ve done with the soap has been a thermal undershirt I had to wash a couple of times after I swept the chimney in it, and even after I bleached it, it didn’t really come clean. Soot is more like grease than it is like dirt. The homemade soap is also a lot cheaper than buying soap. A bar of Fels-naptha costs about $2, washing soda about $2.50 and Borax about $3. That is plenty of ingredients for three batches of detergent, that’s six gallons for about $10. You don’t need scent but if you want it that adds about a dollar a batch in costs. One time purchases include a grater and a funnel.

I have actually made a second batch of soap and plan to keep on using it. Please let me note that this was mostly because I hated having soap bottles clog up my recycling sorting place in the garage and not because I think there is some kind of imminent threat based on the recent elections where Barack Obama is going to take away soap. I talk to all kinds, and one of the things I’ve noticed is people who didn’t like him during the election are now afraid that he is going to take away _____ (fill in the blank) with guns, coal, gas, cars, money, God, etc.

Speaking of gas, cars, and money, I had a recent rather heated discussion with an individual at my place of employment where people were just shooting the breeze and someone mentioned using biodiesel. I reminded them that they were still responsible for paying fuel taxes if they were using the roads, that there were taxed and untaxed uses for fuels, and that more than a few people who were cooking up biodiesel or who had converted their vehicles to run on used cooking oil were finding themselves with tax bills because they had not been using their vehicles for untaxed purposes. This particular person (who is a lazy SOB and can’t be bothered to brush his teeth judging by their condition, let alone whip a mini biodiesel laboratory in the garage) went absolutely ballistic, insisting that sales tax paid on cooking oil was tax enough. As if someone would rush out and pay $6.50 a gallon for vegetable oil to get out of paying for gas. Which just goes to show you the average person will argue til they’re blue in the face about nothing they know anything about. Which just goes to show you that it’s a lot easier to talk than it is to go do stuff, and as writing is akin to talking, I’ve done enough timewasting today, and I’m off to do something!

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