Homemade Laundry Soap Detergent

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Green Laundry!I’ve recently been on a “do it yourself” kick when it comes to things in the home, whether it’s cooking more often or planting a garden. One of the most popular “frugal personal finance blogger” rites of passage seems to be making your own laundry detergent. While the prospect of saving money on each load of laundry is appealing, my main motivation for doing this was so that I could understand the process, see what the excitement was all about, and gain a greater understanding of how something so basic as laundry detergent worked. I don’t change the oil in my car entirely because I want to save money or time, it’s because I want to gain a better understanding of my car and how to properly maintain it. I feel the same about laundry detergent.

In terms of money savings, we’re talking a few dollars over the course of several loads of laundry. It’s not inconsequential but it’s not life changing. I think the biggest gains come from avoiding harsh chemicals. I know making detergent is very popular, with good reason, with people who have sensitive skin or allergies and so any time you can avoid those is a good time. Ultimately, when you see how dead simple this recipe is, you’ll be amazed at the laundry list of chemicals in detergent (get it? laundry list? ha ha).

How Detergent Works

Detergents contain surfactants, which reduces the surface tension of water. This makes it easier for the clothing to absorb water and for the water to absorb the components of your stains, like dirt. The machine shakes things around so the water gets nice and absorbed, pulling the junk out of your clothes and then out the drain. Detergents will also contain water softeners and enzymes to break up stains made up of proteins (protease), fats (lipases), or carbohydrates (amylases).

Simplest Laundry Detergent Ever

Making your own homemade laundry soap detergent is dead simple and, unlike some recipes, you don’t have to make five gallons of the stuff at once. All it takes is a bar of soap, a cup of borax (sodium borate), and a cup of washing soda (sodium carbonate). For the soap, a lot of folks recommend Fels-Naptha, rather than bath and body soap, because it’s a laundry soap that has been used for centuries. All you have to do is shave the bar soap (or cut it up and food process it, whatever it takes to get it into very small pieces), mix in the borax and washing soda for about five minutes, until you’ve made yourself a powder that you can use on laundry. All it takes is about a tablespoon for a regular load of laundry.

  • 1 bar of Fels-Naptha
  • 1/2 cup of Borax powder
  • 1 cup of Washing Soda

Remember all the different ingredients in commercial laundry detergent? The soap is essentially your detergent. The borax, short for sodium borate, and washing soda, short for sodium carbonate, are water softeners. They’re still necessary even if you don’t have “hard water” because the water softeners will compete with whatever magnesium and calcium ions are present, so they don’t bind to the detergent. Washing soda is also good at removing oil, grease, and alcohol stains.

The Power of Borax
Finally, what’s nice about borax is that it has a million household uses – my favorite is how borax can be used to kill ants. You’ll likely use up an entire bar of fels-naptha but you’ll be left with some borax and washing soda after making a batch of detergent.

Do you have any tips for making your own laundry soap detergent?

(Photo: Diego_3336)

{ 23 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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23 Responses to “Homemade Laundry Soap Detergent”

  1. Rhonda says:

    I used this recipe, or variations on it which added oxy-clean, and it had a hard time keeping my little boys clothes clean. Worse, all of our whites became dingy. Several of us, in our friend circle, who were using this complained of the same things.

    I think it’s a great recipe IF you have softer water than our municipality does; IF you don’t deal with grass stains and greasy stains; IF you have a top loader machine that allows you to soak a load over night.

    All that said, I love that you posted this!

    • Shirley says:

      Our community also has mineral laden water and it would take much more Washing Soda per load to clean the clothes.

      • terri says:

        ***Only uses 1 tablespoon per load- heavy or extra soiled load use 2 tablespoons
        1 (4 lb 12 oz) Box of Borax- laundry booster -Borax will: whiten your whites, soften hard water, remove soap residue from your clothing, neutralize any laundry odors, disinfect clothing, increase the stain removal ability of your detergent
        1 (3 lb 7 oz) Box of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda adds extra cleaning and freshening power remove stains especially greasy stains
        1 (3 lb) Container of OxyClean- brightens laundry,helps to remove odors
        4 (14.1 oz) Bars of Fels Naptha Soap-soap removes stains and powerful cleaning of clothing
        1 (4 lb) Box of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda-give you whiter whites, brighter brights, and odor free clothing.
        2 (55 oz) Bottle of Purex Crystals Fabric Softener- (If you are okay with no scent in your clothes, you can omit this)- helps clothing smell so yummy!!

  2. SavingFreak says:

    I see no reason to make my own laundry detergent when I get it so cheaply at the grocery store.

    I recently stocked on All Free Clear when they went on buy one get one free at my local store. The regular price was $3.99 so the dealcut the price to $1.99 and I had a $1 off coupon. Thus, for $0.99 I got 32 loads of laundry.

  3. We just started making our own with a similar recipe last year. It costs a fraction of the price to buy the ingredients and make it ourselves, and like you said, we know exactly what’s in the detergent.

    Homemade dishwashing detergent on the other hand… I have had HORRIBLE luck with making my own. We have very hard water, and I have tried several different recipes, and they always end up leaving a bad film on the dishes. I even tried filling the liquid rinse compartment with vinegar at the recommendation of others. After each batch I tried (of different recipes), I ended up having to soak them in vinegar water, and scrub to get all of the film off. So, I’ve gone back to the pricey Cascade. 🙁

  4. Wendy says:

    Thanks for posting this, Jim! I’m interested in alternatives to products which are tested on animals, so your article was very timely.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Can it be used in washing machines that call for HE detergent only?

    • skylog says:

      good question. i was wondering this as well. i like the aspect of using products “free” of extra chemicals, but i am not certain i am up to taking this step.

  6. Brian says:

    As a University professor who has taught a lot of chemistry, I can make a few suggestions to try:
    – Use 2- 3X the amount of borax and washing soda if you have hard water. Maybe even if you don’t. Mix these powders, and add several tablespoons for an average load. Dissolve them in the water FIRST (use at least lukewarm water). This will soften the water.
    – Next add Fel-Naptha or “Kirk’s HardWater Castile soap” – keep shavings in a air-tight jar, and add a teaspoon to tablespoon. Now the soap can dissolve in the softened water. Rub some of the bar on dirty areas or spots, as well. (Often a store which carries a good selection of wonderful Hispanic and Mexican foods and spices will carry a laundry bar soap – try it!!!! I use it with ordinary detergent as well.))
    – Thirdly, add the clothes. Let them agitate, then shut the machine off for a while. Let the chemicals work. This soaking helps with all cleaners. Then finish the cycle.
    – You can add Oxy-Clean. It is cheap. Really just a peroxide, non-chlorine bleach with washing soda added. For dingy clothes, I’d add it to the rinse water when the tub refills, and let it soak, too. Then do a second rinse. Won’t cost much if you use cold water. This might work better than adding to the regular wash.
    – An overnight soak has always worked well. Consumer Reports still endorses it.
    – Try adding a few tablespoons of white vinegar to the rinse water, to help the water rinse away residues.
    – Keep a $1 plastic can of GOOP on hand to use for pre-treating stains. Buy it at Wally-World or an auto parts store. Rub it in and let it sit for a few hours to days. Add a little more detergent when you wash that garment.
    – Whites, like undies and handkerchiefs of cotton, you can always boil up on the stove to help brighten them. “Washerwomen” used to boil clothes this way. It’ll sterilize the hankies as well. Pour the hot water into the water of the washing machine so as to not waste it.

    One reason our clothes don’t LOOK dingy is that commercial products use optical brighteners, which make whites and colors appear brighter. It is not a bleaching process. (The chemicals change UV light inot reflected visibile light – google optical brighteners) Using a commercial detergent every third or fourth load might do the trick, and STILL save money.

    A lot of this advice comes from watching my grandmothers wash clothes, using wringer washers. They rubbed Fels on the collars and cuffs and any spots, and used washing sod with hot water. They also had washboards.

    For the dishwasher, using plain washing soda will work. Maybe mix it with a little borax.
    But the commercial prodcuts like Cascade are hard to beat – just try using less of them. Most people use too much. Call your water dept. and ask about the water hardness. They usually can tell you how much to use.

  7. Diana says:

    Hi, I’ve only just started making my own laundry liquid.
    I’m from England and you can’t get Borax here. If I made my detergent without Borax and increased the amount of Soda, would it work?
    I’m also in a hard water area.

    • Bryan says:

      Hi Diana – I have the same problem – I live in Ireland. I use Ecover non chlorine bleach instead – it is colour-friendly and has the deodorizing properties of borax. It is also totally environmentally sound. It’s expensive but you only use a few tea spoons per gallon of your home made liquid. Increase this if it is not enough. A few drops of essential oils are a must for fragrance (I use lavender). All the best with it

    • qmplus7 says:

      We had hard water in Idaho and Nevada. One of my best friends started me making my laundry soap. One of her boys had skin sensitivities so she did not use the borax but made up the difference with the washing soda. It works fine. The only thing is maybe the whites don’t get as white.(Depends on the area though I think. In Nevada we washed clothes sometimes where the water was colored to start with! YUCK!) I also found that pouring oxy-clean in the tub with the clothes will help with the dingies.

  8. Sherrie says:

    Good news! There is a way to make your own washing soda out of regular baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).

    Difficulty: Easy
    Time Required: 1-2 hours
    Here’s How:

    Preheat your oven to approximately 390° – 400° Fahrenheit. (200° C)
    Pour a box (or a few cups) of baking soda (not baking powder) onto a baking sheet, and put it in the oven.
    Bake the baking soda from 30-60 minutes. I’ve seen reports of people baking it as little as 30 minutes – and people baking it as long as 2 hours. It doesn’t appear that over-baking it is a problem…so I’d recommend 45-60 minutes just to assure that the chemical reaction is completely complete.
    After pulling the baking sheet out of the oven and letting it cool, store the washing soda in aclearly labeled airtight container. The washing soda can “convert” back into baking soda if it’s exposed to air.
    Use your washing soda in your homemade laundry soap!
    What You Need:

    Baking soda
    Baking sheet
    Airtight storage container

  9. Anonymous says:

    Can this be used in the HE machines?

  10. Nancy Wright says:

    Can these be used in HE machines?

    • Donna Dupont says:

      I make my own laundry detergent and yes it works great in HE machines. I use the dry formula and only 1 TBLS per load…. awesome!!!

  11. Shannon says:

    I use 1 cup borox ,1 cup sun oxy glen and a bar of soap. I started making my own laundry soap because most companies test on animals. None of the stuff I use is tested on animals. It is safe for HE machines.

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