Low Waste Dishwashing and Laundry Soap

Low Waste Dishwashing and Laundry Soap

This post has been a long time coming. In part because there are so many different recipes out there for dishwashing and laundry cleaning products, and in part because many people have strong feelings about the right and wrong way to wash dishes and laundry and we are anxious about causing controversy!!

So, take this post with the disclaimer that this is what works for us, but if it doesn’t float your boat, don’t give up on homemade or zero waste alternatives because there’ll be someone else out there with a solution that works for you if ours doesn’t!

But to begin at the beginning…

We don’t buy pre-made, off-the-shelf cleaning products in bottles because we see the bottles as waste products. Even if they are recyclable, they are likely made with plastic, which is not effectively recycled for a whole host of reasons (especially in NZ), and even if it were, we are of the view that recycling is a last-resort that comes only after we have been unable to refuse, replace or reduce our consumption of products that come in packaging that is not reusable or refillable. As we can replace most store-bought cleaning products with homemade ones, we have eliminated the need to think about recycling empty plastic bottles.

Why not simply fill up your liquid cleaning products at a bulk store (i.e. reuse your bottle)?

Filling up a reusable bottle at a bulk store is definitely a step up from buying brand new smaller bottles every time we need new cleaning products. We started off doing this in our early days of living without a bin. However, we’ve phased away from this for two reasons:

  1. When you get liquid cleaning products in bulk to put in a BYO bottle, you get them out of a larger container. Probably a 20L drum/dispenser. By and large, most manufacturers of these cleaning products don’t take these dispensers back to refill/reuse once they’re empty (this is the case with Ecostore, for example, which is the brand we most often see in bulk/fill-your-own cleaning product aisles). So, the retailer/stockist is left to deal with the dispensers, meaning they either get chucked out (they’re difficult to recycle) or given out free to members of the community to re-purpose (which is probably only a ‘delay to landfill’ situation). Some manufacturers DO take their dispensers back; we’ve heard that Earthwise do if asked, and smaller manufacturers are usually keen to, like Klin Isi, Aroma Naturals or Prana+Therapy. However, whether your local stockist actually arranges for the bulk containers to return to these manufacturers is another question. It’s worth asking your local store to find out what they do – if they do return the dispensers to the manufacturer for refill, then from a zero waste perspective, you may be quite happy simply to refill your bottles at your local store (and therefore feel no need to read on through this post!!)
  2. It’s much cheaper and easier to make the stuff from scratch at home. Not only that, but you have a better idea of what is in your cleaning product in the first place.

So what do we do?

We make our dishwashing/laundry soap out of bars of castile soap.

Now, we could buy liquid castile soap, but this invariably comes in plastic bottles, and we don’t want them. So, we buy bars instead (packaged in paper or nothing at all), and turn the bars into liquid! You could use Dr Bronner’s bars, or, better yet, find locally-made + sustainably packaged castile soap, like Hopi . See our regional zero waste shopping guides to suss out where you can get your hands on castile soap in your region. If you know of any other NZ made, sustainably-packaged/unpackaged bars of castile soap (and where you can get it), leave us a comment below!

Here’s our step by step process for turning a bar of castile soap into dishwashing liquid.

Step 1: Take a bar of castile soap, like this one :

Step 2: Cut it into small pieces (no need to grate, just break it into dice-sized cube bits), like this:

Step 3: Put the bits into a HEAT RESISTANT jar (like a mason jar) and fill the jar to the top with boiling water. “How big should the glass jar be?”, you might ask. Well, we guesstimate a bit. Ours is about 750ml capacity. The bigger the jar, the more liquid your soap will be, the smaller the jar, the more solid your soap will end up (the size of the bar of soap also effects liquid to soap ratio).

Step 4: Leave the jar and its contents for 24 hours. Don’t look at it – you’ll just start to doubt that it could ever work.

Step 5: Twenty-four hours later, return and you should find that the pieces have fully dissolved and the content of the jar is one consistent blob (either liquid or solid, depending on the size of your jar). Your concoction will look something like this:

A bar of Hopi castile soap, post-melting!

Now what?

Option 1

For dishwashing soap or for handwashing laundry soap, stop at this point (that’s what we do because we are lazy).

How do you use it? You simply take a teaspoon of your melted castile concoction, like this:

Put this teaspoon blob at the bottom of the empty sink, pour some hot/boiling water over it and swish it around until it dissolves, then fill up the sink. Your soapy water is now ready for your dishes/handwash laundry.

Note that castile soap doesn’t lather up like commercial dishwashing/laundry liquid. This is probably for the best because all kinds of yucky things are put into detergents to make them do this, and actually bubbles don’t do much to really clean, they’re just cosmetic.

If you are travelling/going camping etc, Option 1 is a great dishwashing/handwashing laundry soap to travel with, just put a bunch of the mixture into a small jar and pop it in your suitcase – so easy!

Option 2

Take a heaping tablespoon of the melted bar of castile soap. Put it in another HEAT RESISTANT jar, add a teaspoon of washing soda (which you can buy in most bulk stores), and then fill up the jar with boiling water (ideally, for these kind of quantities you’d probably be looking at using between 350-500ml of water, any more than that and you’ll be getting too dilute). Leave it for 24 hours again to dissolve.

Note that option 2 works as BOTH a dishwashing liquid and a general laundry liquid. Yes, that’s right, you just made a two-in-one product, woo-hoo! HOWEVER, note that there are controversies about using soap (rather than detergent) to clean your laundry in a washing machine. We won’t go into it here, but suffice to say that if you are passionate about laundry, you may be best to stick to commercial detergents. This is probably especially wise if you are cleaning reusable nappies.

However, if you’re hand-washing fabrics, this homemade mixture (like option 1) should be fine as you can agitate the clothing/fabric sufficiently to ensure soap residue comes off.

If you are alarmed by our disclaimer about the homemade laundry liquid and have decided to continue buying commercial detergent, then we would recommend you ditch the store-bought laundry liquid (unless you can guarantee your local is getting the dispensers refilled) and use laundry powder instead. Either get laundry powder in bulk from a supplier like Bin Inn or look out for Eco Planet or Next Generation laundry powders in supermarkets and other stores because these products come in a cardboard container with NO plastic lining, and their scoop is made of cardboard too (not plastic). We’re also trying out soap nuts at the moment, with great success (though we recognise they are shipped in from far away and may not be the most sustainable long-term solution because of this). We buy SoapNuts NZ brand because it comes in a cardboard container with no plastic lining. Again, our regional shopping guides point out where you can get these in your local area.

Happy scrubbing!

Do you have any go-to low-waste recipes for dishwashing liquid or laundry soap? Let us know in the comments below!



2 thoughts on “Low Waste Dishwashing and Laundry Soap”

  • Hi Hannah and Liam

    Thank you for your inspiring presentation at the Nelson Public Library today on ‘The Rubbish Trip ‘. Fantastic! I’d like to add another R to the Recycling Mantra – Re-think, because that’s what we have to do first if we want to embrace the other 6 R’s. I’m on a mission to reduce waste in our household, have been for a while now, and after hearing you today there are some changes I can make – Dr Bronner’s here I come! Thanks again and keep up the good work. Veronica

    • Thanks Veronica. That’s a great R! There are other Rs that we think are pretty important too, but which aren’t in our triangle yet (for fear that our presentation will become very, very long, haha), like “Repair”! Some hierarchies have 11 or more. The Rethink one is quite right though because low-waste living does require a real mind shift. Good luck on your continued waste reduction mission. We are so heartened by the many people we meet who are already well on their journey 🙂 Nga mihi nui – H & L

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