Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Polly's Lathered Up...

You know what? I am lathered up, or maybe that should read in a lather. Why? Because I've had this mad notion of making my own soap powder for the washing machine for ages and ages, I've had the ingredients, yes! all of them for even longer. I've simply never got around to committing myself to the act itself.

Initially I had thought I was going to have to make liquid soap, given that the first recipes I came across involved rather a lot of water and large storage buckets. Eventually I happened across some slightly simpler recipes which omitted the fluid part, thus reducing the overall volume of the finished product and the speed with which it is made.

Most recipes call for a bar of Fells Naptha Soap, we don't have that over here so I used  an inexpensive scentless white soap from a local supermarket chain instead. My first step was to grate it and then to pulverise it into the smallest pieces possible in my food processor. I was pleasantly surprised at how well this part went.

Then I measured out a large quantity of washing soda, only to discover that the two to one ratio would be thrown out somewhat by the fact that I only had a third of a cup of ecover washing bleach (sodium percarbonate) which meant that I had to put all the washing soda back into its packet and start again! Next I measured out a cup of baking soda and a cup of citric acid. I mixed these together in a bowl with a pouring spout on it and then added the powder to the pulverised soap in the food processor and gave it a whirl which resulted in a thorough mixing.

What happened next came as a bit of a surprise. The resulting mixture was not the fine, but slightly lumpy (the soap) powder, rather it turned itself into a granular white gooey paste! Slightly puzzled but not put off I decided to pop the whole lot into an empty kilner jar and wait for the washing machine to finish its load of red towels so that I could give this stuff a go. Unfortunately, while the white compound did fit into the jar it didn't want to stay in it and so proceeded to expand up to and beyond the rim...

I patted it back down and waited a few seconds while it did its trick again. And again. Eventually I figured that I should simply scoop a couple of spoons off the top of the jar and leave it at that, finding an alternative home for the excess. It continued to rise. Interestingly enough whatever was making it rise was odourless, colourless and pretty much invisible, although if I put my ear to the mixture I could hear a distinct fizzling sound!

So, while I am still waiting for the wash cycle to finish so that I can put this stuff to the test I have tried to find out what the constituents would result in once combined. Having forgotten what I once learned about chemistry some thirty years or so ago, I decided to try an online chemistry calculator. That was a resounding success - not! The live 'tutor' is quite obviously a robot whose sole function is to get you to sign up to their site and doesn't understand the simple and perfectly polite "No Thank You." answer I gave it!

In addition to that the calculator itself isn't complex enough to be able to add up 2+2. Okay, 10/10 for use of the hyperbole there were four different chemical formulae to add up, but I thought it was a chemical reaction calculator so I typed them all in. My mistake.

If anyone can remember back to their organic chemistry I'd love to know what these add up to:

NaHCO3 + C6H8O7 + Na2CO3 + Na2CO3.1.5H2O2 =

 x =?

Meanwhile, I think I heard the spin cycle on the washing machine a few moments ago. So, I'm off to see what is sitting on my kitchen table and put some into the dosing drawer and start another cycle, hopefully it will wash my laundry and not disolve it or the washer!!!

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