Have you ever watched shows like This Old House or Survivorman or MacGyver and wondered how people learn the skills that essentially allow them to fabricate pure awesomeness using nothing but their bare hands?

I am proficient at the creative arts. I can write, photograph, draw, whip up a graphic design, cook, etc. But somehow that doesn’t translate to manual dexterity. I am not – I repeat, AM NOT – a handy guy. The rule in our house is that when something starts to break, I’m not allowed to touch it, or I’ll break it worse. Granted, I’ve enjoyed a few small victories. I installed a dishwasher and two ceiling fans in the house we lived in 7 years ago, but I also moved away shortly after that, so who knows if it’s still standing? Jamie, on the other hand, is a whiz with her hands. She can make, fix, bake, braid, bend, twist, glue, mix – you name it. And it just about always comes out well.

But just because I’m at a disadvantage when it comes to MacGyvering, doesn’t mean team Skojec can’t come in for the win. Especially when it saves money. And lately, we’ve found a few tricks for doing just that. Most notably, we’ve begun making our own laundry detergent and deodorant. And it’s cheaper and works better. I mean, a lot cheaper and a lot better. The detergent gets out just about any stain you could ask for, and costs less than a buck for about 10 gallons. The deodorant is unscented (though you could add scent if you wanted to) and works longer than my Speed Stick Ocean Scent. I’d guess it costs us less than a quarter to make a stick, but I’m not sure. The most expensive ingredient in the deodorant is the cosmetic-grade coconut oil, and we got a five gallon bucket of that for nothing from someone on Freecycle.

Now, compare that to buying Tide, even at Costco, or a two pack of my Speed Stick. Tide in the family size is roughly $20 at the best price you can find. We go through 1-2 of those a month with five kids. And Speed Stick is a cheap deodorant, but it still goes for about $4 a two pack, and lasts maybe a month or two for just me. There are two other people in the household using deodorant, though, and we can make enough for all three of us for less than a buck. (There are a number of health benefits to using homemade deodorant vs. the chemistry set you buy in the store.) I haven’t added up all the savings we’re getting from this, but I’m guessing it’s significant overtime. Detergent alone was probably costing us at least $500 a year.

Next up, we’re going to tackle making our own dishwasher soap. We’ve got all the ingredients, we just need to do it.

And I should mention something else: it’s easy. This isn’t like homebrewing (which we’ve also done) where you have to invest a whole bunch into equipment and then buy expensive ingredients and do a ton of work and then eventually wind up with a beer or bottle of wine that’s 50 cents or a dollar cheaper than you get in the store. Homebrewing isn’t something you do for financial reasons. You do it because it’s fun. But with these common household products, you can make them with items you probably have lying around the house, or can buy on the cheap. Off the top of my head, I don’t know the exact recipes we use, but I’ll give some close estimates based on what I could pull off of Google with a 2 second search.

Laundry Detergent:

Homemade Laundry Soap

  • 1/3 bar Fels Naptha or other type of soap, as listed above
  • ½ cup washing soda
  • ½ cup borax powder

~You will also need a small bucket, about 2 gallon size~

Grate the soap and put it in a sauce pan.  Add 6 cups water and heat it until the soap melts.  Add the washing soda and the borax and stir until it is dissolved.  Remove from heat.  Pour 4 cups hot water into the bucket.   Now add your soap mixture and stir.  Now add 1 gallon plus 6 cups of water and stir.  Let the soap sit for about 24 hours and it will gel.  You use ½ cup per load.



6-8 Tbsp Coconut oil (solid state)
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup arrowroot powder or cornstarch (arrowroot is preferred)


Combine equal portions of baking soda & arrowroot powder.
Slowly add coconut oil and work it in with a spoon or hand blender until it maintains a firm but pliable texture. It should be about the same texture as commercial deodorant, solid but able to be applied easily. If it is too wet, add further arrowroot powder/cornstarch to thicken.
You can either scoop this recipe into your old deodorant dispensers or place in a small container with lid and apply with fingers with each use. Makes about 1 cup. This recipe lasts about 3 months for two people with regular daily use.

Dishwasher Soap:

Homemade dishwasher detergent (soap) recipe

1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
1/2 cup citric acid
1/2 cup kosher salt

You’ll notice a common theme in these items. Baking or washing soda and borax are real workhorses for home cleaning and do a great job. And they’re really cheap. These two things should make you smile again and again.

I’d like to take some of these thrift projects to the next level, and start making real handicrafts that are also useful around the home. We’ve talked about making some artisanal soaps, homemade candles, and so on. I think that could be fun, even therapeutic. I’ve said it before, but I’m a maker in a doer’s job. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as I have an outlet for my creativity. It can be tough to make time for that – it’s been a while since I’ve taken any photos, done any design work, or sat down and sketched out a drawing or painted a picture. But projects like these, gardening, and so on – they’re good for you. They can also save you money and even make you money. So get on it!

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