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Homemade Laundry Soap Detergent

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 [3], 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.

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 [4] – my favorite is how borax can be used to kill ants [5]. 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 [6])