Homemade natural laundry care: with recipes, tips & tricks by Tiffany Horn of Village Bound Quilts

Have you ever considered making your very own natural laundry detergent? In my previous blog post, I discussed natural ways to remove unpleasant odors from thrifted + vintage fabrics, but what about regular laundering? If you're all about feeling those eco-friendly, earth mama vibes like me, then you're probably always on the hunt for new ways to avoid harmful chemicals and toxins in your everyday life — and with all the current (and future) #SewThrifted2017 projects going on, I thought it would be fun to learn more about natural laundry care options!

So, being the complete novice that I am, I asked one of my favorite gals and fellow quilt making, green-queen mamas (did I mention she's total mom goals?) to share some of her best tried and true recipes for natural laundry care!

Introducing GMQ's very first guest blogger (yay!!):

Meet Tiffany of Village Bound Quilts!

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I was so excited when Amanda (@Gypsy Moon Quilts herself) asked me if I would contribute a blog post for #sewthrifted2017 to talk about natural laundry care options. I was so excited about the possibilities, I literally asked her if I could ‘go wild’ talking about washing, drying and starching options! So stick with me if you will, while I attempt to edit down my over-enthusiasm for this topic and try to get you some real, easy-to-use ideas on how to reduce chemicals in your laundry and in your sewing room! Mostly, this will be talking about quilts, but you can apply these same principles to all of your sewing projects!

PSA: I'll start by saying there is no shaming here; I'm just a girl who's been working a little at a time to reduce chemicals in her home since 2009. If making your own soaps and sprays isn't your thing, maybe consider swapping out what you use now for a non-toxic, healthier version. There are plenty of natural laundry solutions available these days and I'd encourage you to read your labels. Also, I'm not a laundress, allergist, aromatherapist, doctor or any other professional that would otherwise validate any of my recommendations and only about as reliable as a Google search, which, by the way, is how I developed most of my laundry practices and recipes anyways 😉

You do you!

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Thrifted & Vintage Fabrics

For thrifted and vintage fibers, definitely wash before using. You want to make sure you're not bringing extra goodies home, you know what I mean? Bugs… I mean bugs. Gross, right?! It could happen. Google (the professional here) suggests to toss all those new-to-you pieces into a dryer on the hottest setting for 30 minutes to kill any bugs or eggs. If your fibers are more delicate, you may want to lower the temp and up that timer to 90 minutes. Then wash and dry as usual. If you're still concerned, check online for other suggestions.

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Amanda already covered some great tips on how to get the funk out of those thrifted threads in her first Sew Thrifted post here. Vinegar and baking Soda are each great (seperately) at removing smells and stains from those awesome pieces you scored second-hand. There are a zillion stains out there and a million ways to remove them, so I won't be covering stains here (including color bleeding). But I am happy to talk about the best way to wash your quilted project and give you a homemade washing soap recipe that you can use for all your laundry! Yay!!

Washing

Washing is really the best part of doing laundry isn't it? Pour in some soap, press all the buttons with their happy little chiming sounds, then just wait for 30-120 minutes for the work to be done for you… just hope you don't forget about said laundry and have to use more soap to rewash, because laundry soap is expensive! I digress… sort of.

Generally speaking, your sewing projects, whether made from new or thrifted materials, can be washed in the machine on a cool, gentle cycle with a low spin. This reduces stress on the fibers so the risk of snapping a thread or busting a seam is minimal. And using cold water will help your fabrics and their colors last longer. You can of course, use a warmer or more agitated cycle as you see fit. However you decide to wash, try using this soap instead!

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**for at least 60 full loads of laundry:

2 bars castile soap (I like Dr Bronners in Lavender)
3 cups baking soda (alternatively, you can use Borax)
3 cups washing soda

optional: 20 drops of favorite essential oil (I skip this, since there is fragrance in my soap)

  • Grate castile soap bars using a microplane, cheese grater, or break into pieces and pulse in the food processor – the point is to get the soap as small as possible. Smaller than a pea – remember it’s got to dissolve in the wash.
  • Mix in baking soda & washing soda carefully by hand, using a spoon or fork, or in the food processor (avoid using a whisk or a mixer without a lid – the soda dusts will go everywhere!).
  • Use 1-2 tablespoons per load in place of your traditional laundry soap, or up to 3 tablespoons for extra large, extra soiled loads. A coffee scoop is about 2 tablespoons, so it's the perfect size to keep in your soap jar!

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I use a 1-gallon glass jar with glass lid, so that I can mix and store in the same container. Helps that it looks pretty too 🙂 This soap is low suds, making it safe to use with traditional, front-loader, top-loader, or HE machines. For hand-washing, dilute a small amount in a sink of water as you feel appropriate for your delicates. For hand-soaking your quilts in a tub, using 1 tbsp of diluted laundry soap should be sufficient.

I've been making my own laundry soap for almost 2 years now and I save so much money this way! So I'm not quite as upset when I forget about that laundry I started yesterday and now have to run through the cycle again. Do I invest a little of my own time mixing it? Yes, but I only have to do it about every 2 months. There are a lot of recipes out there, and this is only one which I've modified over time to work best for me. For an allergen friendly formula, exclude the essential oils. It's gentle on sensitive skin, so it's perfect for washing those sewing projects you're gifting. like that new baby quilt you just finished 😉

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Drying

Drying is easy… except when you have an oversized quilt soaked in water. Have you ever actually weighed one of those things?! Me neither, but my arms tell me they are very, VERY heavy. And depending on your quilt's construction, you can choose to either air dry or throw it in your dryer.

Air dry is best: eco-friendly, easy on your electric bill, and that fresh outdoor air smell can't be beat. Not to mention the reduced stress on the actual fabric – did you know dryer lint is not just dust, but it's tiny fibers breaking off from our clothing and quilts from the friction of use, washing and tumbling? It's literally the fabric wearing away! Yikes. But I get it: air drying isn't always ideal – there are freezing winter days (months), city smog smell is a little less enticing than a clean country breeze, and then there's the fact that, indeed that quilt is HEAVY, and you risk ripping threads if you hang it on a line or even over your shower curtain rod. Laying it flat to dry under a fan, spread out on the living room floor or over a bed on top of a layer of towels are other ways to air dry your projects. To remove excess water from hand-soaked quilts, consider running your quilt again through a spin cycle (as gentle as needed), or rolling your quilt in towels, like wrapping paper, before laying out to dry.

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All other considerations aside (materials used, if you prewashed, is this a vintage quilt or brand new, etc), you can usually put your quilt straight into the dryer on a delicate/low setting. You'll get that beautiful quilty crinkle, but in a fraction of the drying time! Keep your dryer chemical-free by avoiding traditional dryer sheets. Instead, source some unscented, natural wool dryer balls! Use at least 2 per load, or up to 4 for large loads. They are better at keeping away static than those sticky little papers AND they toss around your quilt so it doesn't end up in that big wad where the inside is still all wet. You know what I'm talking about. And I know you're thinking: But Tiffany, those dryer sheets make my clothes smell soo good! Never fear – a few drops of your favorite essential oil on each of the wool dryer balls will have your laundry smelling fresher than ever! My favorite is lavender, especially on linens.

Starch

I don't often starch my fabrics. In fact, I'd say 99% of the time, I simply use my hot, dry iron to press my fabrics and call it good. If there's a really stubborn crease, I usually put a little filtered water on it and hot, dry press it again. But every now and then, I come across some stubborn thrifted fabrics (hello men's shirts that shouldn't be stretchy, but are!) or decide to sew curves for the first time and I need a little help making sure my fabric doesn't wiggle while I cut and sew. But all those nasty chemicals in most store-bought starches? Yuck, no thanks. Enter the easy-peasy homemade starch recipe:

2-4 tsp cornstarch (cornflour UK)
1 cup warm water (distilled or filtered is best)

  • Mix cornstarch and water together in a small spray bottle.
  • Shake well before each spray, as the cornstarch tends to settle.
  • Saturate the fabric as you would with a traditional starch spray.
  • For best results, press with a hot, dry iron and be sure the fabric is completely dry before cutting and sewing.

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A few additional tips on using and storing your homemade spray starch:

  1. This starch is best made in small batches and used right away, as it doesn't keep well in its liquid state. You may find that keeping it in the refrigerator for a few days will extend its shelf life, but I tend to toss my starch at the end of the sewing session.
  2. Be sure to wash your spray bottle after each use with warm water and mild soap, to avoid sticky blockages in your spray nozzle.
  3. Because cornstarch is a food, it's best to only use on those items which you are using/sewing right away. Beware of storing fabric for long periods of time that have been sprayed and remain unwashed, as they could attract pests. Items that have been washed after starching should pose no additional 'pest threat' than your common linen closet. 🙂
  4. I haven't had any trouble with staining, warping, bleeding, or other common concerns regarding quilters cotton/broadcloth using this starching practice. However, if you're unsure how your fabric will react to this recipe, test on an inconspicuous corner or small scrap first.

Dry Cleaning

It probably goes without saying at this point that I'm not a fan of dry cleaning 😉 Sometimes though, it's just necessary. I wouldn't recommend it for your regular, everyday quilts or quilted projects, but if you have a very decorative quilt including beadwork, appliqué, lace, or very raw edges, you might take it to a dry cleaner instead.

Oh my gosh – are you guys still here reading?! You're the best!! This was a LOT of information, but I hope you've learned something new and will give natural laundry & starch solutions a try!

Do you have any great resources or recipes that you use for washing or starching? I'd love to hear in the comments below!

If you try any of these recipes out, let me know! Follow me on Instagram at @villageboundquilts and post a photo of your homemade laundry soap. Be sure to use the hashtag #VBQnaturallaundrycare so I can follow along!


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