At the close of Operation Zero-Waste-Kitchen’s first week, we found ourselves with a meandering stack of unwashed dishes stretching onto the stovetop, and a sadly empty plastic bottle of dishsoap with which to tackle the chore of washing them (there are still various odds and ends being used up from our pre-waste-free existence and our bottle of Dawn had seen it’s last day). So on Saturday morning, with Cassandra engaged in her usual whirlwind of weekend activities, I found myself undertaking the task of calling into existence some zero-waste dishwashing liquid.
A little bit of Googling helped me find a few different recipes for homemade dishsoap, and I combined what I found into a full procedure that will be given below. Those of you who just want the juicy bits can skip to the end, but if you want the story of how it all unfolded… Read on!
I started off with a trip to Bulk Barn (which is like 4 blocks from our house) where I picked up a big bag of baking soda and a couple of bars of vegetable glycerine based hand/body soap. The procedure ended up using just a little bit of each of them, but we use baking soda for pretty much everything (teeth brushing, hair washing, bathtub scrubbing, etc.) and I’ll use the rest of the bar soap once my last bar of Ivory is gone. As mentioned last week, I used their proprietary bags in the store but transferred everything into our own containers when I got home so I could save the bags and re-use them.
Once home I took about a cup of baking soda and baked it on a cookie sheet in the oven at 400F for 45 minutes to convert it into washing soda (something something, carbon bonds, something something, chemical reaction… you get the picture). Washing soda – I learned – is kind of like baking soda’s more baddass big brother. Our familiar friend baking soda has a PH of 8 and you can use it in all kinds of household applications, from making cakes rise to scrubbing your linoleum. Whereas washing soda has a PH of 11 and thus is fairly caustic. It would be closer to a household cleanser like Comet, not the kind of thing that you’d ever put in your blueberry scones, for instance. I did a whole cup, even though the procedure only calls for a teaspoon because I’ll want to make a batch of laundry soap later on. I stored the leftover washing soda in a clearly marked glass jar next to the laundry soap. You’ll want one with an airtight lid, because exposure to oxygen will let it convert back into plain old baking soda.
After that I grated about 80ml of the bar soap into 2 cups of boiling water and used a whisk to stir until it dissolved. Once the bar soap was dissolved, I took it off the heat and stirred in a teaspoon of the newly minted washing soda. Nothing special happened immediately, but after sitting for a couple of hours the mixture had gelled into a milky goo somewhat resembling congealed semen.
After scratching my head about how to get it into a squeeze bottle, I decided to just glorp it into one of our plentiful cottage cheese containers and store it next to the sink. Next time maybe I’ll try pouring the mixture into the squeeze bottle before it congeals, but for now this solution works.
Several dish loads later we can safely say that the zero-waste soap is cleaning effectively. It doesn’t bubble the way you might expect it to, but according to my research this is because commercially produced soaps contain unnecessary foaming agents which are designed to give a good impression rather than actually contribute to the cleaning of your dishes.
Both Cass and I have found our hands a little dry after using the soap, which right now I’m attributing to the washing soda. In future we’ll likely reduce the ratio of washing soda to the other ingredients and see how that effects things. A couple of the recipes that I found included essential oils which might also help to keep your skin moisturized, although then you run the risk of smelling like a hippy.
So! For everyone who wanted to skip the parts about congealed semen and get straight to the actual soap recipe, here you go! I’ll also include links to the sites that I gleaned various bits of information from. Enjoy!
WASTE NOT YXE’s Zero-Waste-Dishsoap (Prototype #001)
Bar soap (3 tbsps grated)
Baking Soda (1 tsp)
Water (2 cups)
Essential Oil (a few drops, optional)
Convert the baking soda to washing soda by baking it on a cookie sheet for 45 minutes at 400F (you might like to do a full cup of baking soda instead of just one teaspoon. You can store the leftovers in a sealed and marked jar to use later. REMEMBER: the washing soda is now much more potent than baking soda and should be handled like a household cleanser such as Comet. ie, don’t get it on your skin and definitely don’t put it in your carrot muffins).
Bring the water to a boil in a pot and add the grated soap. Stir with a whisk until the soap dissolves.
Remove from heat and stir in the one teaspoon of washing soda.
Allow to sit for 2-4 hours until the mixture has gelled and is opaque.
Transfer to whatever container you want to store it in.
Wash those dishes!