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Is making soap a post-feminist act of the 21st century feminist?

May 29, 2011

This may not be such a glamorous post, but rather, a down and dirty one. Or a clean one, depending on how you look at it.

If I may take a brief dip into the ocean of thought around feminism–is making homemade soap a post-feminist act of feminism for the 21st century, metro-agrarian, radical-homemaking woman, balancing multiple careers and relationships, inside the home, outside the home, and on the internet? Is the act of foregoing the store-bought, chemical-ridden, Proctor and Gamble-branded detergent an act of identifying with a sweeping movement to overturn a silent era of thoughtlessness in regards to our consumptive habits? Maybe so.

It depends on your needs. Below is a recipe, from my grandmother Gloria (known intimately as Dee Dee), for homemade laundry detergent. You may want to make soap because to you it is precisely the act described above. It is the act of a 21st century post-feminist feminist. It honors the women who have both fought for our equality and who have taught us to make our houses (or apartments) homes. But it is also just smart, when it comes to counting the pennies. And it’s clean. Really clean. As in no hypo-allergy-causing-chemical-scent-giving-goop. Nothing harmful. And did I say it was cheap? (It’s literally pennies on the dollar to store-bought…)

You might ask, but can it clean what I need it to? Can it clean dirty subway muck on the bottom of my pants? Can it clean cloth baby diapers? Can it clean a highlighter stain from that pen you jammed in your back pocket at work? (I’ve done this, and well, not much will clean this up. So don’t stick your highlighter in your back pocket. Or your blouse pocket for that matter. And don’t fall asleep with it on your pillow. I did that too.) Can it clean up grease splattered from moving a bit too quickly in the kitchen? Can it clean up canine paw prints? Can it clean up fill-in-the-blank?

Yes. How do I know? After months of using it on Jason’s clothes (a farmer-mechanic-play-in-the-mud kinda guy), I’ve witnessed first-hand what it can handle, what it did handle, before the days of Tide and dry cleaners:

Grease. I’m talking mechanic shop grease from laying under an engine.

Manure. Yes, manure. All kinds. Cow. Chicken. Llama…any questions?

Layers of caked on corn and hay dust. (Cause you know, everyone deals with corn and hay dust).

Mud. Serious mud.

SO, in case you’re interested, check out the recipe below. (I also recommend this blog article if you’d like to compare a few recipes, and for tips and troubleshooting).

Here’s what you’ll need:

1/3rd bar Fels Naptha Soap (An old-school soap used for pre-treating stains. Available in many hardware and grocery stores, or online. DON’T use a bar soap like Ivory, or something heavily scented.)

1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax ( Borax is a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen and water. Borax is generally found embedded deep in the ground, along with clay and other substances. Available in most stores.)

1/2 cup Washing Soda (This is different than baking soda. Known as Sodium Carbonate, it is domestically well known for its everyday use as a water softener. It can be extracted from the ashes of many plants, and is synthetically produced in large quantities from table salt and limestone.)

1. Take a bar of Fels Naptha Soap and cut it into thirds.

2. Grate 1/3rd of the bar into a pot (or a bowl). The finer you grate, the better. But any grating will work.

3. Pour 6 cups boiling water over the grated soap and stir (or conversely, pour 6 cups water into pot and heat up on stove until soap is all melted). Enjoy the smell.

4. Add 4 cups more water, followed by 1/2 cup of Borax. Stir well.

5. Follow this with 1/2 cup of Washing Soda. Here's where the fun happens, as the sodium carbonate causes the mixture to thicken and goopify. Stir well.

6. Take a good look at your homemade, natural goop and feel good about your post-feminist feminism (or your money saving. or your eco friendliness. or your act of creativity. or your work as a kitchen scientist.)

Pour your homemade creation into a bucket (or something more glamorous than my bucket). Add 1 gallon + 4 cups of water (20 cups total). Let this sit for 24 hours.

Store indefinitely. A good way to do this is in an old laundry detergent bottle. Here it is stored in jars above my washer. The detergent can separate, so mix before adding to the washer. Use approximately 1/2 cup per load. Happy washing! (Is washing clothes ever happy? Maybe when the cat does your laundry for you in the middle of the night...that would make me happy when I think about all our manure-filled laundry...).

Cheers! With XOXO from a fellow metro-agrarian, post-feminist, post-consumerist, foodie-homemaking-career-woman.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2011 7:58 am


    You turned a simple act of making laundry soap into a wonderfully entertaining read.

    Love Gram

  2. Katie permalink
    May 29, 2011 9:01 pm

    Fantastic- will definitely be trying it!

  3. Amy permalink
    June 1, 2011 11:15 pm

    I think I love you even more after this post. And, a special bonus, I just ran out of laundry detergent this morning! I wonder what Kent would say if he found me cooking this up in our kitchen… he might just smile to himself and just be happy his clothes are clean and folded, however it happens. ; ) ~a

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