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Amid recent reports of price fixing among of all things, toilet paper manufacturers, I return time and again to the things that are difficult, impossible or expensive to buy in Santiago. I had always noticed that toilet paper seemed disproportionately expensive, at somewhere around 80 cents US a roll, but what am I going to do about it? It’s not like I’m going to keep a cloth in the bathroom and… do I really need to finish this sentence?

So when the reports came out that there was collusion in pricing, as there had been among pharmacies a few years earlier, I was not surprised. I was also not surprised that proposed penalties don’t even come close to covering the ill-gotten-gains of the perpetrators, never mind punitive damages, or the chilling effect it might have had on other independent makers or sellers of same. hmmm, I thought. I won’t make my own meds. Or my own toilet paper. Guess I’m just locked into this system.

But then a while ago I took a course on natural cleaning products, which I figured would look like this: use vinegar. Also, baking soda. And while it did, the instructor has a PhD in molecular biology and she also gave me some other ideas, including, why exactly am I not making my own laundry detergent? It seems so easy, smells like nothing (unless you want it to). Also, with my new surprise allergies (surprise! I have allergies, every year!), it seemed like using low-allergen detergent to clean the actual allergens out of my linens and clothes was a no-brainer. I had taken the course at Huerto Hada Verde, and they teach lots of courses, and you should go check them out, and say hi when you get there. We’re old friends.

So yesterday I rode my bike over to the chemist, where I mean the actual chemist, where they sell chemicals, which in my case was Distribudora Cientifica (Aldunate 1475), and bought a kilo each of borax and sodium carbonate, which if you live in the US, is called washing soda, and they sell it in the detergent aisle. I duly brought these home and then followed a recipe similar to this one, for natural laundry detergent, and had great fun with the grating and mixing and stirring and such. I used Ivory soap, because I bought some last time I was in the states, for just this occasion (and because I use it to wash clothes when I am traveling at times). The total cost for the chemicals was 3090 CLP, or about $4.41. The soap cost maybe 50 cents, as I bought a large pack. I have about 800 grams remaining of both of the chemicals, which I can use to clean various things in my house, or, in FIFTY SIX washes from now (for about a dollar?!) I can make more laundry detergent.

This is probably part of a larger rant about questioning what we buy and are sold. You can and should buy whatever you want. But you have to ask yourself who’s getting soaked (ha), when a 5 kg box of my formerly favorite laundry detergent costs $21, and even washing more than twice a week, I won’t have to buy more detergent for 6 months, at a cost of a single dollar.

I can’t wait for the next price fixing story to come out. I hope it’s not for the tin foil I’ll need for my hat. Though who am I kidding, I buy my foil in the states. Also, the washing soda is a controlled substance here, for reasons I don’t quite understand and am not planning on looking up, but when the very nice woman who was helping me at the chemical supply shop asked me for my ID, she explained, and I asked her if I should tell her what I was doing with what I was buying, she told me to basically, “save it for the (local version of the) FBI.” I only hope I’m doing laundry when they pop by.