Why Soap Suds Are Bad for California + Homemade Dish Soap Recipe

There are enough posts on the internet about the evils of sodium laurel sulfate (some of them rather ridiculous) that I don’t think I need to go into that, but I noticed one thing lacking from each anti-SLS article I read (besides citations): they all mentioned that the suds produced by SLS are unnecessary, but not one mentioned the real danger that they waste water.

I live in Southern California where we are experiencing the worst drought in our recorded history. Every drop of water we save counts.

Washing dishes poses a particular conundrum: what saves the most water? The dishwasher? Filling sinks? In my house, it takes a long time for us to fill the dishwasher, and by the time we run the machine, a lot of food has caked on, requiring that we either pre-wash (might as well actually wash) or re-wash. Running the dishwasher when it isn’t full is an obvious waste, so we generally skip the machine unless we’ve had a dinner party.

I grew up in a family of six where filling one soapy sink and one rinsing sink was the obvious water-saver (this was before we got a dishwasher), but after I moved out, I did some experiments to see if filling the sinks was worthwhile. Generally, for two people, it isn’t. (How did I test it? I plugged up the sinks while I washed and rinsed. If the sinks weren’t each half full by the time I was done, then not filling the sinks saved more water. I’ve done this test enough times now that I can generally eyeball if I need to fill the sinks or not.) Not running water the entire time helps, too. I put some soap on the dishes or on my sponge, get them and my sponge wet enough to wash, scrub with the water off, then rinse.

Which leads me to why soap suds are bad. It takes way to much water to rinse away those suds, even when I hardly use any soap. Sometimes I’ll have to rinse out a glass several times before the suds are gone, and even if I’m still using less water than a full sink, it’s a waste.

So once that half inch of dishwashing liquid is used up, I’ll be refilling it* with my own, non-sudsing soap made from a bar of Kirk’s castille soap, water, and lemon juice (we have a lemon tree, so that ingredient is free). I tried my recipe (combined and adapted from numerous recipes online with various proportions) on my super greasy stove this morning, and it was amazing. With soap or even Bon Ami, the grease from animal fats and vegetable oils turns into a sticky, hard to remove paste. It also takes several rinsings of the dish towel or scrubber to remove all the suds and considerable elbow grease to remove caked-on food. I expected a cheap, homemade soap to make the washing harder, but I was pleasantly surprised. Grease and caked-on food were removed effortlessly and in one or at most two passes of the towel. I only had to rinse once, and the stove was shiny and had a pleasant (but temporary) smell of fresh lemon rather than a chemical smell. I’m convinced.

25 Cent Dish Soap Recipe:
Prep time: 15-30 minutes
Yield: 13oz

13oz repurposed glass container (I used an old jar of Litehouse Bleu Cheese Dressing, which is a delicious way to get glass jars)
1/4 bar Kirk’s castille soap (which is wrapped in paper)
Juice from 1/2 medium lemon
12oz water

1. Fill container with water, then transfer water to tea kettle and heat to boiling.
2. While the water is boiling, cut off 1/4 of the soap from a bar of Kirk’s. Finely chop (or grate, if you prefer). The smaller you make the pieces, the less time this recipe takes.
3. Pour the soap bits into the jar.
4. Pour the boiling water into the jar and give one quick stir.
5. While waiting for the soap to dissolve (10-20 minutes depending on the size of your soap bits), go out to the garden and pick a lemon if you’re lucky enough to have a lemon tree. Squeeze the juice from half a medium-sized lemon or all of a small lemon. Remove any seeds.
6. Once the soap has dissolved, add the lemon juice and give a quick stir.

In a lot of internet recipes, vinegar is used and then the smell masked by essential oils, but I prefer the smell of lemon, and it has the same grease-fighting properties as vinegar. That said, I don’t know if it will keep as long as a vinegar soap, so that’s one reason I made a small batch.

You can, of course, adjust the ratio for a thinner or thicker soap. This is pretty watery, so it may take getting used to (especially when it comes to not pouring too much), but it works just fine.

Update: My husband walked into the kitchen and immediately commented on how nice the counters and stove looked. He’s never done that any other time I’ve cleaned the kitchen (he thanks me, though, of course). Could it be the soap? Hmmm.

*Another update: I cleaned out an empty glass bottle of Tapatío, and it’s the perfect dispenser for this soap. Because the soap is thin, it pours out rather quickly from a regular bottle. The little plastic top on the bottle that keeps you from dousing your food in hot sauce is perfect for only dispensing the amount of soap you need. It’s easily removed with a butter knife to be cleaned.

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