Last week, we brought you recipes for three homemade laundry detergents. Then, we quickly slapped a disclaimer on them and warned you not to use them on penalty of testicular atrophy. Turns out one of the main ingredients in all three detergents, and indeed, a longstanding favorite of the DIY cleaning crowd — borax — isn’t as squeaky clean as originally thought.
So what’s a concerned clothing-wearer to do? Rebecca Sutton, PhD, a chemist with the Environmental Working Group, pointed me to an alternative, borax-free concoction. This one swaps out the b-word for good, old-fashioned baking soda. Not only does baking soda fluff up your cookies, advocates swear that it also brightens fabric colors, removes odors, and softens the water for better overall washing.
OK, sounds good — but can it hold its own in a wash-off? I had to see for myself. I assembled another typically representative laundry load: towels, socks, undies, sweaty T-shirts, and dirty pants. Into the washing machine they all went, along with 1.5 tablespoons of the new laundry soap; a rinse and spin later, the clothes were ready for judgment.
Baking soda laundry detergent
General cleaning power: 4.3
Fluffiness factor: 2.7
Ease of use: 4
Overall score: 14
Good news: The load came out undeniably fresh and clean (I made my boyfriend sniff the socks to make sure), though just as scentless as the other soaps. The towel’s fluffiness lagged slightly behind its competitors, but that’s no deal-breaker for me — especially because it’s easy to make, and the cheapest recipe to boot.
1 cup soap flakes (I used Ivory, but Fels-Naptha, Zote, and Dr. Bronner’s are among the laundry soaps of choice)
1/2 cup washing soda
1/2 cup baking soda
This baby whips up just like the first powdered detergent I tried: Grate the soap with a cheese grater, then combine all ingredients in a bowl. Whisk until well-mixed. Use 1 to 2 Tbsp. per load. Safe for HE washing machines.
The bottom line
This borax-free blend comes with the cleaning power of the three borax recipes, but without the disturbing health baggage. So if potential hormonal disruptions to the male reproductive system like “reduced sperm count and libido” and “testicular atrophy” concern you, this alternative gets the job done. (Anybody not concerned? Yeah? Wanna buy the several tons of borax that the rest of us are looking to unload?)