Tag Archives: do it yourself

Changing the hot water heater unit in our trailer.

While we were at a family camping trip last summer we discovered that our hot water (combination electric or propane) was leaking. In the leaking water was antifreeze. After a bit of investigating we determined the water was coming from somewhere on the underside of the hot water heater. We shut off the valve that is supposed to by pass the hot water heater but we still had a leak. For the balance of our camping trip we had to do without running water. This was very upsetting because we thought we had a bypass. I eventually determined that the check valve installed on the hot water intake was not working. This meant the bypass was failing.

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Check valve that represents one half of the hot water bypass. This check valve failed.

After we returned I started telephoning the nearby RV repair places to find out about getting it fixed. I was horrified to hear the replacement was going to cost somewhere in the range of $1600. That is a lot of money and I decided before shelling it out, I would try to fix it myself.

The first step was to learn how to get at the tank. Stuff in RVs is packed in tight spaces and is very intimidating. Fortunately, I found this you tube video that described how to get the unit out. Thank you thank you

I watched it several time with my husband and we set out to remove the unit. We worked about 4 hours to get it out. A careful inspection of the unit and we found a small crack on the bottom. It was a tiny little hole looking to be about 3mm long and a half a mm wide. Yet it was enough of a leak to soak the floor in ten minutes. We are fortunate to have a neighbour who does a lot of welding and he kindly stopped by to check. His diagnosis was not good news. After poking the hole and banging and inspecting he said the tank was corroded on the inside. Probably the antifreeze in the tank due to the failed check valve had been a contributing factor. Welding it would be difficult since it was aluminum and it probably would either not work or the corroded tank would just start leaking somewhere else. He recommended replacing the tank.

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I did a bunch of research on line and compared the price of the entire unit versus just the tank. As is often the case, the additional cost for the whole unit was not that much more than the cost of just the tank. The seven year old unit was having some issues with a constantly leaking pressure valve and the ignition system, while working, was also corroding. We decided to just pay the extra to get a new unit.

We immediately came up against the Canadian problem. The new unit ordered from the RV dealers in the area was going to $850 to $1200. Ordered directly from a Canadian dealer it would be $850. If I ordered it from the USA I would have to worry about taxes, duties and brokers fees. If I could order it from the US, and have it delivered to the US, I could get it for $452 Canadian. I am not sure why Canadians have to pay double plus for RV parts but we do. We opted to replace the unit after arriving in the USA. Due to our very cold fall weather, even if the water was working properly, we would have the trailer winterized with antifreeze and unusable anyway.  I called the Laramie KOA we were planning on staying at for a full week while my husband attended a conference. They cheerfully agreed to accept the part there and hold it until we arrived. Meantime, I put the old unit back in without connecting the plumbing in order to fill the hole and make it proper as far as customs was concerned. I could legitimately tell them I had replaced a broken hot water heater unit with the same model while were in the USA. No duty, taxes or import issues that way. On arrival at Laramie our new hot water heater unit was waiting.

It took very little effort to remove the old one and set it beside the new one. Everything was a perfect match. I just pulled out the screws, cut the wiring and pulled the unit out.

The new unit looked so sharp and clean in it’s nice insulation box. It came with some extra corner braces and new hinge thingies for the door. It did not come with the door but that was okay because we had the old door.

I nearly made one potentially disastrous mistake. While I was proudly photographing the old and new tanks I heard a meow and turned around and spotted my cat checking out the new cat door. After chasing him back inside I propped the old outside door inside in order to keep the cat in.

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First step was to match up the wires. I decided not to touch the old connectors and risk mixing up the previous wiring job. I just connected to old wires at the point I had cut them. That way was really easy because it was all colour coded. I used regular twist electrical connectors. The new wiring had to be carefully tucked back in on the top right but it went in. It took a bit of fiddling and wiggling. The trickiest part of the slide in process was to get the propane connection into the hole. I did that by tucking the propane connection to one side until the unit was almost in and then I went inside and there was just enough room to nudge it into the general vicinity of the hole. I had to go back out and fish around to find it and then carefully finish the process of nudging the unit in. It was too bad hubby dearest was off at his conference because I had to take multiple trips in and out in order to get the unit finally seated properly. I was assisted by Misty decided to jump on me and give me many puppy kisses each time I was working from the inside. This slowed me down some, but did cheer me up.

Once the unit was in place I was able to reconnect the propane and I used the nice shiny new corner braces with the old screws. The flange arrived sticking out and had to be bent back but it went easily. There was more than enough putty left to easily seal the new flanges.

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And it is done! At least on the outside. Now that I no longer needed the door to prevent the cat from escaping I put it on over the nice new shiny unit.

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Once the unit was in place outside, it was time to go to the back and connect the wiring and plumbing inside. I decided this time I was putting in a valve that manually opened and closed instead of a check valve. That way, if this ever happens again I can actually block off the hot water heater from the rest of the system and not be stuck with no water at all. Of course now that I have planned on it, it will never actually happen. I ended up making a couple of trips to the hardware store to get the correct new manual valve and some new connectors. Here you can see just before I started connecting the plumbing and electrical. I used lots of teflon tape on metal parts and I tightened as much as I could. It was a bear of a job because it was in such a small space but my vise grip sure came in handy.

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And finally I needed to reconnect three wires from the trailer electrical supply from the unit. It’s now in and reconnected.

We are in an area where the forecast says it is still too cold to risk adding water to test the new unit. I expect to see lots of leaks at various points in the plumbing connections that will need more tightening. I am not that strong and it will have to be something hubby dearest does. I am assuming, of course, that the new unit is not defective. I suppose we could fill and test in a few weeks and discover something wrong and have to take it all out, send it back and start all over again. The company I dealt with is not one where I have ever had any issues so I am not expecting any. I am counting it done.

So we saved will over $1000 by doing this fix by ourselves and arranging a delivery of the new unit in the USA. It was not a hard fix. It was a multicuss job with lots of fussing but it was not hard. Even taking into account some six hours of work figuring things out and removing the unit the first time and four hours of putting the new unit back in, I figure my effort was worth about $100/hour. And that is a good thing.

Update Nov 22: We finally got far enough south to be able to use our water system again. As I expected I had two joints that needed tightening to stop leaks. One connecting elbow broke instead of tightening more. (ARRGG!!) I had to make another trip to the hardware store to replace that. The unit itself is now working perfectly!

 

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Does Anyone Remember “In Season”? On making relish.

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When I was a little girl I recall wanting to have a fresh peach so badly the craving had me near tears. It was February and peaches were simply not to be had in Canada. I just had to do without. Peaches were only available in the late summer and early fall when big trucks came labeled with BC Fruits. The closest you could get to a fresh peach outside of their appointed season was to eat peaches in a can.

There is a Jewish tradition of each Sabbath and holiday finding something that is a treat to eat that has just come into season and to say a special blessing as you eat it for the first time in the year. I have noticed that it has become increasingly difficult to find something like that because with our globalized world there is very little that is no longer  available all year. I can always find peaches in the grocery store because peaches come from South America and cold storage has extended the harvest year. I don’t eat canned peaches anymore because I don’t want the sugar in the syrup they are canned in. Yet I find I don’t eat peaches very often anymore either.

Now that I am gardening again, the cycle of the gardening season is back in my life. I planted snow peas, edible pod peas and mid season peas which require shucking. The snow peas were ready first and we had three glorious meals of snow peas before they were all gone. The edible pod peas came next and we feasted on those and they were so delightful we didn’t miss snow peas. The midseason peas arrived and were so delicious we found ourselves eating them straight from the pod. It just didn’t seem worth cooking them. The midseason peas are nearly done but it doesn’t matter because the garden has begun producing green and yellow beans. The corn I planted has just sent up the pollination stems so I expect by the time the beans are finished, we will have fresh corn. And so, through the garden cycle we have a succession of wonderful food to eat but each one is only there a little time to enjoy and then it is done. It is a lot easier to find something for the Sabbath blessing when you have your own garden.

Have we lost or gained by the factory food that is available year round? I suppose in some ways it is always nice to be able to have a peach anytime you want. And yet this has made peaches common place and there is no longer the wonder of a fresh peach in season. And so I am left to wonder, is it that we are accustomed to having peaches all the time that has made them ho hum? Or is it that the factory farm methods that allow mass produced peaches year round have robbed us of taste? Are our palettes dulled or is the fruit itself dull? I suspect the latter. On our trip to BC in fall a few years ago, I happened to drive through a place selling peaches right off the tree. Eating a fresh peach in season directly from the orchard, makes you realize how bland and plain the store bought peaches, readily available year around, actually are. I just don’t like those peaches very much.

In the old days, everything was seasonal and there was always the long winter to fear when no airplane and ships could bring bounty from the southern hemisphere. Those long dark times of potential ever present hunger meant our forebears never took for granted anything grown in summer. You had to put food by for winter and no one would ever waste food by allowing it to rot. Mothers encouraged children to eat more than they should because that layer of fat acquired just before winter might mean making it through the winter when times were lean. If you had an excess of something you put it by anyway because you could always trade it or sell it to someone less fortunate in winter.

Relish is one of those foods invented to avoid wasting food and provide food in winter when food was otherwise scarce. There are at least as many forms of relish as there people who make it and I think perhaps even more because no two relishes made from your own garden produce are ever exactly the same. A traditional relish is put together with vinegar and sugar and salt to preserve it until winter. It is cooked to sterilize it when it is put by so moulds and bacteria don’t eat it in the meantime. A short boiling water bath fixes the seal. Very little else is constant about relish. I hate relish myself but my husband loves it.

Relish is designed to be made from the excess of the garden so it doesn’t go to waste. Too many cucumbers to eat now? Some green tomatoes the slugs munched on that will rot not ripen? Not a problem because these are the staple ingredients of a good relish. And why not throw in the leftover raw store bought corn from three cobs left in the fridge after the big feast, some zucchini tops from zucchinis where blossom rot has ruined the ends, onions accidentally pulled too soon while weeding can be chopped and added, raw cabbage from the end of the head, a bit of horseradish root the neighbour dropped off, and a few hot peppers just starting in the garden but knocked off while hunting peas. Some judicious cutting and soon the pot is full enough to make relish even if there is not enough of any one thing to do anything else.

My husband likes his relish spicey so I used a hot dog relish recipe that called for spice and included turmeric and red pepper and mustard. He tasted it while it bubbled in the pot and pronounced it perfect. And now what was potential garden waste is six jars of very fine hot dog relish. My husband laughed and said for him it is a two year supply. But that’s all right. At some point this winter he will open a jar of hot dog relish and memories of summer will come with the taste and smell and it will all be worth it. And because I made it exactly the way he likes it, instead of the way some large company designed it aimed at the lowest common denominator, chances are it will not last two years. I can’t help but think my great grandmother would be proud of me for growing my own food and using up garden snips and bits instead of just purchasing a jar of relish from the store.

Home Made Turkey Soup Base

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We had the absolutely best turkey dinner ever at my son’s home. He used a recipe that among other things called for a bed of vegetables and oranges. My son and DIL work full-time and so don’t have extra time for things like soup from scratch. When she offered me the turkey carcass, I jumped at the chance. I added everything the turkey had cooked with but the oranges to my big stock pot. I also added enough water to halfway cover the carcass.

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As you can see the turkey came with carrots and celery and seasoning already part of it. I also made sure to scrap the pan of the brown stuff on the edges and bottom of the pan. That brown stuff makes the broth really tasty. I also scrapped up all the fat and seasoning stuff as well.

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After a slow simmering for about two hours, the turkey falls apart easily and the broth has taken on the creamy colour you can see here. (Steam on the camera made the picture steamy but you should be able to see the difference.)

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The next step is the most tedious and took about twenty minutes. Separating the mixture from the pot into bones to be discarded on one plate and meat and veggies to go back into the pot on the other. One needs to work fast to avoid giving the stuff time to cool. Cooling food left standing around is bad. It can grow nasty bacteria if you aren’t careful. Also if you are canning you have to be extra careful about washing your hands and using clean utensils. I emptied the plate back into the simmering stock pot several times to keep the separated stuff hot.

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I had no need for turkey soup right away. I wanted to have it handy “put by” in case one of us is not feeling well. There really is nothing as tasty as homemade soup if you’re feeling ill but if you’re not feeling well, then who has the energy to cook soup from scratch? I ladled the soup into well cleaned and rinsed jars that had been sterilized with an extra boiling water rinse.

Even though the stuff is still really hot, you can see how the fat is separating and collecting on top. If you dislike the fat you can skim it off at this point. Personally I think the fat gives the soup more taste and fat has been given a bad name it doesn’t deserve so I left it on. I also added a dash of salt and a tablespoon of lemon. The lemon makes the soup slightly acidic which discourages nasty bacterial growth. Salt is also a preservative and brings out the flavour. I know salt is bad for us, but a dash in a whole jar is not that bad.

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I then capped the jars and put them in the pressure cooker for one hour.  It is not safe to put anything into jars with meat or any low acid food, without using a presser cooker. Boiling water simply doesn’t get hot enough. You need the extra pressure of a pressure cooker to get the internal temperature high enough to kill nasty bacteria. That has to be done according to your pressure cooker’s manufacturer’s directions. The amount of time required varies depending on the kind of pressure cooker you have, the size of your jars, what your home’s altitude is, and the size of the individual pieces in the broth.  If I had added say, a whole potato or dropped in big meatballs I would have left it in my pressure cooker for an hour and a half. After the jars came out of the pressure cooker I left them to cool. The seals popped tight almost immediately. They continued to bubble for a long time afterward as they cooled because of how high the internal temperature got. I left them undisturbed until morning.

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Now the jars have cooled. The seals are on properly and the fat has settled on top again. The jars can be left for up to a year so they need to be dated so you don’t forget to use them up before they age too much. Now whenever I want to make turkey soup, I can open a jar and reheat it in a pot or the microwave. I do it in the pot and I add vegetables (which this batch won’t need) and some rice or noodles or maybe some potatoes and cook them in the broth at a slow simmer before serving. This is also great with a loaf of homemade bread. The one litre jar is just right for the two of us.

If you don’t like canning you can freeze the soup. I have found freezing changes the flavour and not in a positive way. Jars of home made soup taste nothing like a tin from the grocery store. One of the nice things I have found is home made, home canned goods taste just as good as home made just made. And you can’t beat the cost of doing it yourself.

Garden Plans and Other Winter Dreams

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Oh winter, when things are cold, the ground is frozen and one can only dream of summer. (I am spending my winter in Florida so I really can’t complain too much!) And I am dreaming! Oh how I am dreaming. Since my garden last summer was such a great success and produced so much lovely food I am full of dreams of this year’s harvest. Things never come out as perfectly as the retouched garden pictures in the seed catalogues. I don’t care. I enjoy dreaming over them anyway. I made many notes for my failures and successes of last year and my plans are in full swing.  The Canadian dollar has dropped to .69 on the American with the result being all foods in our grocery stores that are imported have skyrocketed in price. And so my Canadian dollar invested in garden seed has the potential to produce food worth a lot more if it comes from the garden making a pay off even more likely.

I purchased a small greenhouse and a plant starting light. If I get even half the plants I normally buy at the nursery that investment will have paid for itself this first year. I have tried starting things from seeds before but they always got spindly and sickly and never amounted to any size worth the fuss. Maybe with lights and a mini greenhouse they will this time.

Last year I had some weed issues. We had a fellow come in with a big tractor at the beginning of the year and he did a fine job working the garden up. I could have used a second tilling before planting but I was too impatient. The garden is only as good as the soil so this year I have done two things. First I made a great big note to till twice before planting anything. I also bought myself a small tiller. I will have the man with the great big one come in to do the first till and then I will my small tiller to do a second tilling as I plant and I will have the new tiller to do the rows in between as well. That should make my life easier and the weeds less trouble.

Worms got my turnip crop last year so this year I will be putting them in a different location, sprinkling the area with diatomaceous earth after each rainfall and picking a lot earlier. I will also try the trick of planting some marigolds in among the turnips. Hopefully I won’t have maggots this year.

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I have on my list saskatoons and strawberries. Getting fruit to grow in our climate is problematic but these grow wild in our area and we love eating them. So it should be possible to have two cultivars that give big abundant fruit planted. We won’t get much this year but the future looks bright. I may have to destroy some of the bushes the previous owner planted that do nothing but look pretty before I can find room but I will. I’ll take a tree/plant that gives me something to eat over one that looks pretty anytime. I may make an exception for marigolds if they keep the root maggots away.

Last year I got sloppy about labelling rows and ended up with rows I knew were beets, turnips and kale but I couldn’t tell which was which. We ate a lot of really great green salad from when I was thinning the plants but this year rows will be properly marked. Plus I am adding some cooking greens that can be preserved in addition to spinach, collard and mustard. If I succeed I will have a little of the south in the north this summer.

Some other notes were to grow cucumbers on tomato cages like my neighbour did with hers to make picking easier, plant smaller amounts but more varieties of herbs and plant more varieties of beans. I have always had bad luck with peas but I think I will try them this year as well. If anyone has a foolproof way to avoid having them turn white and fungus filled peas, I am all ears.

My garden seed list is now at almost $250 the largest part of the seed expense being Saskatoon and strawberry plants, seed potatoes, and other larger “stuff”. Last year I kept careful track of my seed and plant costs and the garden more than paid for itself. In fact, I still have one last lonely container of frozen tomato sauce and some beet/horseradish spread. It makes me wince to think of hitting the send button on that order but spring will come, a gardener’s hope springs eternal, and the winter does end. Those cans of tomatoes look like I preserved the sunshine and warmth of summer.

I would love to hear if anyone else is planning their summer garden and what they are planning.

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My House is Painted!

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Before

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After

My tiny house on the prairie is painted! Oh Happy Dance! I started in August with scrapping and then oiling the deck and then everything got a coat of primer. This was followed by two coats of paint. (In stages around the house.) We had one rotting window which we replaced this summer and we will replace the three remaining, one on the west wall and two on the south wall next spring, I hope. The front windows will be replaced after that. The garage will done next year. The exterior doors will also be done next year.

In case you are interested we used Bull’s Eye 1,2,3 by Zinsser as our primer. I really liked that primer because it went on easily and well over really badly weathered old exposed wood, with lots of peeling old paint. It’s thick almost a paste and dried very fast. It’s touch dry in 30 minutes and you can recoat in only one hour. Some of wood had some early rot. The worst spots we did with primer twice. The primer seemed to work very well soaking in deeply and really sealing that wood. In the near to rotten stuff is where we had to put two coats because the first coat basically nearly vanished it sucked in so deeply. This is REALLY GREAT stuff, for paint. It was normally about $39/can but we stocked up when Canadian Tire had sales so we only pain $26/can.

We designed our colour scheme on the Benjamin Moore’s website. Our color scheme using the Benjamin Moore colour maker was Wildflower 325 for the light yellow body, Sunbeam 328 for the dark yellow and Lighting bolt 323.  I will be doing the doors in Golden Bounty 294. That gave me a nice picture to work from.

Color Scheme

Because my daughter works as a secret shopper and she can get paint for free as part of that work, we ended up using Exterior Dulux Diamond Coat (satin). To translate the Benjamin Moore color to Dulux I used the Dulux ap Pull Color From A Photograph to match the color pdf I made with the Benjamin Moore app. My Dulux colors are Citron Ice 348 for the main color, Lemon Zest 602 for the darker yellow, and Soft Yellow 180. For the doors I will be using Tiara 587. Deluxe is doing something with their website now and promising great things. I hope Dulux can make their own site as good the Benjamin Moore site.

The Dulux paint works reasonably well but it does not give one coat coverage that Benjamin Moore promises. (To be fair, I don’t know if Benjamin Moore would deliver.) The Lemon Zest 602 went over a dark teal and even with two coats I’m not sure it is covered. I may add another coat in the spring. My daughter has super duper color vision and she can see the teal under the yellow. I can’t. We went with Dulux mainly because the price was right (i.e. free to me) even if the many reviews I read suggest Benjamin Moore is very slightly better. Both are expensive high end high quality paints. Having worked with both the cheap and the expensive varieties over the year I would have to say paint is not something you should go cheap on.

(No one paid me anything for my blog.)

A work in progress that is progressing!

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Exterior house painting is hard work. Scrapping old paint with a scrapper, then using a wire brush to get the little flakes, then a coat of primer over bare wood, a second coat of primer where stains showed through and then two coats of paint over the primer. Hours and hours of work. It is also a good workout. I have been going to be each night sore and tired. Who needs a gym?

This picture is so encouraging! You can actually see the two main yellow shades I picked coming together. I am very very pleased with the results! I started using this to visualize and it is working!

Thank you Benjamin Moore for a great website.

Color Scheme

http://www.benjaminmoore.com/en-us/for-your-home/personal-color-viewer?action=category&page=/en-us/photos/exterior

Homemade Liquid Laundry Soap – Easy cheap and it works.

I suffer from a host of allergies and my lungs respond to irritants that most people are blissfully unaware of, lucky creatures. A while back I got onto the kick of making homemade cleaners as a way to both save money and reduce the irritants in my life. For years I assumed that I wheezed when I cleaned because cleaning stirred up dust and allergens. I have since discovered that if I use my own liquid cleaner scented with stuff that doesn’t bother me (my own pure orange distillation I make from orange peels), I can clean wheeze-free. It was the cleaner I used for years and years, regular Mr. Clean, that was causing my allergic reaction not the dust! Most likely it was that pleasant clean lemon fresh scent I love so much. It was in that vein that I started looking for a do-it-yourself replacement for laundry detergent.

I got this recipe for liquid laundry soap from the Wellness Mama. I decided I would wait until we had actually used the stuff for a while before reporting upon how it worked. I used to use Tide Free and Gentle, the one they made for people with allergies and skin sensitivities. It is not completely wheeze free for me but it is pretty close. I am also fussy about the laundry getting clean so I have kept using Tide even though it is higher cost because with cheaper store brands the clothing tended to get dull and stains accumulated, especially on my white socks and grease spots from cooking on my white T-shirts. I like the soles of my white socks to be white when I put them on and I throw away T shirts with grease stains. I have to avoid almost every other brand of laundry detergent out there in any case because of the heavy scent load. I can’t use regular Tide for example. For me personally, Gain, which is very heavily scented, is an absolute nightmare. I can’t even stand to stay in a laundromat if someone else is pouring Gain (which is how Hubby Dearest ended up doing most of the laundry) and I can have trouble with my allergies if a coworker has Gain scent on their clothing.

We have now been using our DIY laundry soap for three months. I am pleased to report the following. My white socks are clean and bright. I have seen no accumulations of stains on my T Shirts nor any laundry dullness. The product is as easy to use as any liquid detergent. We do not normally add any form of pretreatment or bleach. It seems to get the grease stains out as well as or maybe even better than Tide. I can now recommend this recipe to all do-it-yourselfers and people who wish to save money, or those who have scent allergies. The cost is a teeny tiny fraction of using Tide Free and Clean, mere pennies per load. Thank you Wellness Mama!

Disclaimer: My personal issues with scented products and cleaners should not be taken as me saying I think they cause health problems for other people. Most people are not cursed with my allergic hypersensitivity. If you are using these commercial products I have named and you like them, then please continue to do so with my full blessings. Since my standard in homemade cleaners is high because of the effectiveness of the named products then you can consider this an endorsement of them if you don’t have scent allergies and you prefer to buy your cleaning products.

To make Liquid Laundry Soap:

  1. Grate one bar of soap (I used Kirk’s Castille) with a cheese grater (I used the cheese grater) or food processor.
  2. Put grated soap in pan with 2 quarts water and gradually heat, stirring constantly until soap is completely dissolved.
  3. Put 4.5 gallons of really hot tap water in a 5-gallon bucket (available for free in bakeries at grocery stores, just ask them) and stir in 1 cup of borax and 1 cup of Washing Soda until completely dissolved. (It is easy and cheaper to make your own washing soda by baking regular baking soda in the oven at 400F until it changes consistency. I did not find any one site I liked that described this so I suggest Googling it until you find one or figure it out for yourself by checking several.)
  4. Pour soap mixture from pan into 5-gallon bucket. Stir well.
  5. Cover and leave overnight.
  6. Shake or stir until smooth and pour into gallon jugs or other containers.
  7. Use 1/2 to 1 cup per load.

I used half the water in the last step and we add only 1/4 cup for each load not 1/2. My slightly altered version gives us a gel. Hubby dearest reports he shakes the milk jug before pouring to break up the gel into a pourable liquid slightly less thick that liquid laundry soap.