I’ve tried lots of recipes over the past few months and none have worked from an aesthetic point of view. Sure they all cleaned, they all smelt gorgeous and very lacking in chemicals and they were all kind to sensitive hands. Thing was, they were scummy. Or at least they left a nasty scummy water behind, which made wonder what exactly would be left on my dishes.
It was only when I looked into the chemistry of the substances I was using that I understood what was going on and why I had this nasty scum all the time.
The Chemistry of Washing Up Liquid
Pull up any recipe and you are likely to find grated soap, possibly liquid soap (sometimes both), washing soda, vinegar, glycerine and essential oils.
Here’s a run down of what they do:
Grated soap/castile soap
Used for cleaning. They work because they have both hydrophobic (non polar and therefore water repelling) and hydrophilic (polar and therefore water-soluble) properties. This means they act as emulsifiers, allowing the water and oil (for example) on the dishes to mix and therefore be removed into the water.
Washing soda (Na2CO3 ) is a carbonate which is traditionally used in detergent to treat hard water by binding to the minerals that make the water hard and preventing scum, allowing good lathering of soap to occur. Washing soda also has a thickening effect on the washing up liquid.
A humectant, it increases moisturizing properties of any soap based product
An acid, it is traditionally used to soften water and is an excellent rinse aid. It is also antimicrobial
These were all the ingredients I had tried, bar the castile soap (it is hard to get and fairly expensive in the uk) and the results were a little revolting to be honest, in terms of scum. I knew we were in an area of extremely hard water, to which my kettle regularly testifies. I thought that would have been sorted by the vinegar. Of course when you look at each individual chemical used you realise fairly quickly that using a strong alkaline (washing soda) and mixing it with a strong acid (vinegar) would immediately negate the effect of both by causing a neutral solution to be formed. This meant the water hardness remained much the same, hence the scum. So I got rid of the vinegar as I felt the properties of the washing soda were more important than the vinegar (the washing soda would act as a water softener and if I chose my essential oils well I knew I could replicate the antimicrobial properties of the vinegar, therefore deeming it superfluous to my recipe). So back I went and tried again. But alas had the same problem.
The recipes all call for grated soap to be dissolved in hot water and I surmised that it was at this stage that the soap was reacting with the hard water and causing scum, which transferred itself to the dishwater when I was washing up. To be honest, I’m not sure if I’m right in that assumption, but the resulting changes I made based on this thought worked. I had seen some pure liquid soap in the laundry aisle at Waitrose, which was literally just soap and water beautifully mixed together without any sign of scum. At £3 it was a bit steep, but my plan was to mix it with other ingredients including water to bulk it out a little. Anyway, I couldn’t help but try, just to satisfy my own curiosity if it would work or not:
And it worked a dream. Really. It was pretty much exactly like using Ecover, the brand I would usually use. And it worked out slightly less expensive, took seconds to make and T12 was so impressed that he chose it over our normal brand. C11, though, had to wash up some very greasy dishes which had had lamb mince in, and she did not find it as good. So I think probably it is perfectly adequate unless the dishes are very, very greasy and then maybe a shop bought brand is better (we eat lamb so infrequently that the home-made brand is just fine for us)
Here’s the basic recipe below. Can I offer a word of advice? Not all water is the same (hard or soft) and not all washing soda is the same (home-made tends to be weaker than bought; super is stronger than basic). If you try this recipe and find it isn’t quite right, play about a bit. I did, and it really is perfect now.
Angelicscalliwags Washing Up Liquid
- 1 cup pure liquid soap flakes (I use Dri Pac)
- 2 cups boiling water
- Heaped tablespoon washing soda
- Approx. 10 drops essential oil (I used tea tree oil)
- If it dries out your hands feel free to add some glycerine (or wear gloves)
Dissolve washing soda in boiling water, add to liquid soap, cool and add essential oils. If once it is cooled completely it seems a little runny, next time try slightly more washing soda. Mine is the consistency of normal shop bought Ecover.
Easy peasy, just how I like it:
It makes just under 750ml for about £1 excluding the essential oils. Without the essential oils this would come in 13p per ml, whereas Ecover sells for 30p per ml and Waitrose essential washing up liquid costs 17p per ml. Without scent or antimicrobial benefits it is definitely cheaper homemade. Obviously, depending on the oil(s) you use, it may well be less expensive to buy it in the shops. I use Tea Tree oil because of its strong antimicrobial properties and because I love the clean smell of it. Also it is one of the least expensive oils to buy in the UK, keeping the cost of washing the dishes as low as possible!
I’m working on a general kitchen spray at the moment, one which would be safe for my littlest to use but also one powerful enough to keep our permanently in use kitchen clean.