SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — Are you ready to save a bundle of money, remove toxins from your home, and do something about the slimy buildups growing in our rivers and lakes? Then perhaps it’s time to stop using laundry detergent and make your own laundry soap.

And in case you’re wondering what the difference is between soap and detergent, the answer is millions of years.

Soap was created thousands of years ago by ancient man who combined wood ash with plant and/or animal fats.

Detergent was created by modern man, who dug up the remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago and experimented with those remains to create synthetic detergents. These detergents replaced traditional soaps across the United States after WWII.

But that’s just skimming the surface of the water, and we all know that suds go much deeper to get down to the dirt.

Read on for a look at how much deeper, or if you want to get straight to the recipes, scroll down to the end.

Ancient soap

Way back in 1550 B.C., ancient Egyptians were combining animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts to create soap.

Olive oil soap was being made in Israel by 1000 A.D., and in the 1300s, large forests were being destroyed in England specifically to produce the ash used for soapmaking. The soap wasn’t being used for bathing, though. It was being used to wash wool for the dyeing process.

Three hundred years (or so) later, King James granted an English monopoly to a soapmaker for $100,000. Making soap was good work if you could get it, but only one person held the rights to it, and the system of monopolies being purchased for large amounts of money thoroughly enraged the commoners who could not compete for such outrageous contracts.

When soap was unpopular

By the time the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth in 1620, it wasn’t the scent of a Mayflower that came to Squanto’s mind when he got his first whiff of the approaching colonists.

History documents Native Americans attempting to encourage the pilgrims to bathe more frequently, but pilgrim culture was of the opinion that it was the changing of one’s underwear that made one clean, not the usage of body washes, shampoos, perfumes and/or colognes.

By the early 1800s, not much had changed. Few Americans bathed—they didn’t even have bathtubs until 1842 when some historians believe the first fixed bathtub was installed in a Cincinnati home.

Thankfully, rural American homesteaders in the early 1900s found soap to be both affordable and plentiful. Memoirs from this time period of history often detail Americans making their own soap for free by boiling water, the fat from butchered pigs, and wood ashes to create a product known as lye soap. The process is complex and also involves bobbing an egg, but little was wasted on the American homestead.

And as immigrants flooded into the new nation called the United States, there was no royal crown to sell a monopoly to a soapmaker in America. If someone was going to rise to the top of the lye caldron, they were going to have to do it the hard way–by having a superior soap product.

The rise of a legendary soap company

In 1837, two brothers-in-law merged their businesses in Cincinnati, Ohio. William was a candle maker and James was a soap maker. Both products used the fatty bi-products from the meat-packing plants in Cincinnati, Ohio. The newly merged company took advantage of the waterways connecting their soaps and candles to major cities such as New York and New Orleans.

William and James worked a deal to provide their candles and soaps to the Union Army during the Civil War, and soon their company became a million-dollar company.

After the war, William Proctor’s son, Harley, read a passage from Psalms 45:8 that said, “All your garments smell like myrrh, aloes, and cassia. Out of ivory palaces stringed instruments have made you glad.” Harley created the Ivory brand in 1882, based on this Bible scripture.

Ivory soap was marketed in newspapers across the nation.

By the 1920s, oil lamps and the light bulb caused the company to phase out the candle portion of Proctor & Gamble.

The great soap swap

By the early 1900s, soap and bathing were, at last, becoming fashionable in the United States. But life would change changed drastically with the coming of world wars one and two.

During WWII, Axis and Allied battles created a high demand for fats, which were used in explosives, and the result was a civilian soap shortage.

Modern man dug up the remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago and experimented with those remains to mass produce detergents and other new products.  

Unlike the process ancient man used to render the fats of plants and animals to make soap, modern man separated chemical structures in fossil fuels to create petroleum-based laundry detergents, shampoos, body washes, hand soaps and cleaning products.  

Synthetic surfactants derived from petroleum were a game-changer, and for good reason. American clothing was physically covered in stains because of the limited quantities of soaps when new products like Dreft and Tide showed that Proctor & Gamble was a company that wasn’t afraid to experiment with chemicals to lead the way into a brighter, cleaner technological future.

P&G was no longer just a soap company. It, and other companies, became a detergent company, and there is a difference between soap and detergent.

By the early 1950s, detergent sales surpassed soap sales in America. Soaps made from plants and/or animals were expensive to produce compared to petrochemical-based suds, which seemed to be the obvious future. No more cutting and burning forests, cooking down animal fats, or using plant-based oils were necessary. Now companies dig into the ground to get consumers to dig into their pockets.

But great profits would come at a cost.

The true cost of detergents

Detergents contain oxygen-reducing substances that cause severe damage to marine life. Many laundry detergents contain 35 to 75% phosphate salts, which cause bodies of water to become choked with algae and other plants. Such eutrophication causes the death of other organisms by depriving water of available oxygen.

And then there are the indoor hazards concerning detergents.

The manufacturers of cleaning supplies, air fresheners and/or laundry products are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which sets the rules they must follow concerning production and package labeling.

Fourteen years ago, a University of Washington study found five out of six products laundry products and air fresheners tested emitted carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants which the EPA considers to have no safe exposure level.

Only one of those compounds were listed on any of the product labels.

Worse yet, three of the six products made a claim about being green, organic or natural.

The products tested were a solid deodorizer disk, a liquid spray, a plug-in oil, a dryer sheet, a fabric softener, and a detergent.

Dr. Anne Steinemann, one of the study’s original authors and an Honorary Professor at both the University of Melbourne and James Cook University, recommends staying away from all fragranced products, including essential oils, as they are associated with serious health problems.

Dr. Steinemann stresses the importance of fragrance-free laundry detergent and dryer sheets.

Save green by going green

Making your own laundry soap is inexpensive and easy. Unlike the days of ancient man, there’s no longer a need to gather ashes and the fat of an animal to get the job done. Now you can simply buy two ingredients:

  • 3 ½ pound bag of baking soda (cost estimate: $2.99)
  • 5 ounce bar of castile bar soap made from an all-natural, organic plant oil ($4.98)

Once you’ve purchased your ingredients, gather your materials. You’ll need:

  • baking pan
  • food processor
  • measuring cup
  • airtight container large enough to hold finished product
  • cheese grater

Spread baking soda evenly onto your baking pan and place into an oven that has been preheated to 450. Bake for thirty minutes, stir the baking soda well, then bake for 30 more minutes.

Baking soda must reach 400 degrees to convert into washing soda.

Hint: You will know baking soda has turned into washing soda when it’s no longer light and fluffy, but instead flat and grainy.

As washing soda cools, use your cheese grater to grate the bar of soap into the bowl of your food processor. When finished, add the washing soda and cover the mouth of the food processor with a damp rag. (Do not ignore the previous sentence.)

Turn on the food processor and blend into a fine power, then pour into an airtight container.

Use 1 cup of your laundry soap for each load of laundry.

DIY dryer sheets

For this recipe, you’ll need:

  • cotton rags
  • large mason jar with lid
  • white vinegar

Place a half dozen cotton rags in a large Mason jar. Fill the jar with white vinegar.  Place lid on the jar. Remove one rag when needed, squeezing excess vinegar back into the jar and replacing lid. Place rag in dryer as though it were a store-bought dryer sheet, then wash, dry, and place it back in the jar.

Victorian Sachets

It ain’t easy being green, especially when you find out that scented products are harmful to your health. But there’s a simple solution.

The Victorians used an invention called the sachet to make their clothing smell like herbs and/or flowers, and there’s no reason we can’t do the same in the twenty-first century.

Just take a handkerchief, a bandana, or a clean rag, and stuff it full of dried flowers and/or herbs. The Victorians would have likely retrieved their herbs and flowers from their gardens, and that in itself is a lesson we should potentially take to heart.

Try planting the camellia senensis flowering shrub around your house because this winter-blooming flower can be used as a scent to freshen your sachets in drawers and closets while simultaneously providing leaves for sweet tea year-round.

You’ll never need to buy tea bags or dryer sheets again with this winning combination.

Once your shrubs are in place, bring in the bulbs. Buy dozens of sweet-scented daffodils that will spring to life in February and March, and at least a few dozen lily of the valley bulbs, too.

One of the most heavenly scents in the world is that of the flowering sweet olive, but you’ll need to plant it away from your house because it’s going to become quite tall.

Bulbs of ginger lilies will spread quickly and smell great, but they’ll be taller than you are, and it’s important to remember that vintage roses will require more work, but they will smell much better than a lot of the new varieties on the market today.

Rosemary and lavender are choices you will not regret for your Victorian sachets, as are gardenias and oriental lilies. Honeysuckle and native phloxes may be hard to tame, but they’re worth the effort. And don’t forget about the almost cinnamon-and-orange-like scent of the magnolia flower’s seeds or the tropical taste and scent of the pawpaw fruit. Pawpaw and magnolia seeds can both be dried and stored for year-round use in sachets.

Once your flowers, herbs and/or fruits are dried, place them inside handkerchiefs or bandanas, or go really old-school and make genuinely true-to-form lace sachets before placing these scented lovelies in drawers and closets to give your clothing an all-natural, non-toxic fragrance.