Frugal Living 

Why Homemade Laundry Detergent Rocks!

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Laundry LineFrugal Dad recently wrote a post about why he doesn’t make his own laundry detergent. He wrote that there are some things he refuses to give up, and store bought laundry detergent is one of those things. To his credit, he correctly stated that frugality is an individual thing, tailored to each person’s priorities in life.

I, on the other hand, proudly make my own laundry detergent (here’s my homemade laundry detergent recipe).  While saving money on homemade laundry detergent is nice, it’s not the only reason I take the time to make it.

I Know What’s In It

I have two children. I have sensitive skin. Too many times I’ve bought detergent that irritates somebody’s skin. By making my own detergent, I control what goes into it. There are no unnecessary perfumes. The detergent is as strong or weak as I make it. The first time I made homemade laundry detergent, I put too much Fels Naptha soap into it. The second time, I cut it in half, and it was perfect. My clothes were clean, and my skin wasn’t irritated.

Do you ever wonder why new mothers are encouraged to wash their babies clothes in pure soap, rather than laundry detergent, for the first month? It’s because laundry detergent is harsh. And if it’s harsh on skin, it’s probably harsh on clothing, too.

I try to take this attitude in all areas of life. I make dinner from scratch, because I know what goes into our bodies that way. I don’t want to be eating dinner made of stuff I can’t pronounce!

It Gives Me a Sense of Accomplishment

Instead of running to the store to buy something my family needs, making it from scratch serves as a reminder that you don’t need to buy something for every need you have.

Too often in our society when we need something, break something, lose something, (insert your reason here), we run to the store to purchase a replacement. Making my own laundry detergent reminds me that often what I need is at my fingertips, if I use a little creativity.

The other day I was making crockpot macaroni and cheese. Too late, I realized the recipe called for two eggs, and I didn’t have any. Instead of piling the kids into the car to run to the corner (and expensive, I might add) market, I thought about what else I could use as a binder. I ended up using a little corn starch and water, and it turned out just fine.

Making my own laundry detergent is just one step in my effort to see what I can reduce, reuse, recycle, or do without.

It’s All About Attitude

I like knowing that I’m able to do things that companies tell me only they can do for me. I make laundry detergent, household cleaners, and even my own mochas. I somewhat enjoy going against large retailers and doing things myself.

I’m not a total killjoy, though. There are things I splurge on from time to time. Clothes, dinner out, and yes, every once in a while a mocha from Starbucks. But I know when push comes to shove, if the economy tanks and we’re in a dire financial situation, I know how to do for myself.

Homemade Detergent & Cleaners Recipes

Simple Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe

If you’re interested in making your own laundry detergent, my favorite (and the easiest) recipe is for powdered laundry detergent.

  1. Grate 1/2 bar Fels Naptha soap (or you can try other soaps) in a food processor.
  2. Add 1 cup Borax,
  3. 1 cup Washing Soda, and,
  4. 1 cup Baking soda.
  5. Process until mixed.

That’s it.  It takes 5 minutes. Use about 2 tablespoons per full load of laundry. You’ll be surprised at how little detergent it takes to get your clothes clean!

Simple Homemade Bathtub Cleaner

My favorite bathtub cleaner is super-easy, too. Besides being easy, it works better than a lot of commercial cleaners!

  1. Put 1/2 cup regular Dawn dishwashing liquid (or 1/4 cup of the ultra kind) into a spray bottle,
  2. Fill the rest with white vinegar.
  3. Give it a good shake to mix and you’re ready to go!

Now you can spray it on the bathtub and wipe off. It’s as easy as that!

If you find you enjoy making your own cleaners, there are tons of cleaning recipes on the internet. Just google “homemade [insert whatever you want to make]”, and you’re sure to find tons of options!

(Photo: Lall)

{ 125 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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125 Responses to “Why Homemade Laundry Detergent Rocks!”

  1. Tarah says:

    I thought about doing this, but I calculated the costs with shipping and it wasn’t cheaper. I guess if Fels Naphta and washing soda were available in the stores, that might be a different story.

    • holly says:

      You can use Classic Ivory soap or another light or no scented soap instead, just use the whole bar. Also, soda ash is the same thing as washing soda and can be found in stores that carry chemicals for pools. It’s just sodium carbonate. Hope this was helpful.

    • Jessica says:

      I found the washing soda in a major grocery store- you dont need to use the fels naphta soap you can use a mildly sented soap like dove or ivory. keep looking for the soda- i live in a very small town in Alaska and was able to find it-

    • Debi says:

      Fels Naphta can be found at Kroger food store for approx 1.29

    • briana says:

      Making your own laundry detergent and other household cleaning items is not just about the money you can save….

      How important is it for you to:
      *use fewer unnatural chemicals:phospates, dyes, unnatural perfumes for the comfort/wellbeing of your family?
      *put fewer chemicals into the environment, sewer or septic system?
      *have clothes come out cleaner?–I can’t believe how much brighter/whiter the clothes appear
      *feel quite a sense of accomplishment after you finish the soapmaking process?–You won’t believe how simple and fast it it, and how fun it is to watch such simple ingredients transform into a basic household staple!
      *save time?: once you have the ingredients (the soda and borax last through many batches, so get a few bars of soap to keep on hand to make it easy) you truly can make a batch of soap faster than a trip to the store; besides you won’t need to purchase it very often since you will have quite a large supply.
      *AND of course to SAVE MONEY?: you will save because you will find the ingredients w/o shipping costs–they may just in places you didn’t expect or think about yet.


      #1.)you can get Fels Naptha at a lot of smaller neighborhood or local grocery stores and drug stores and even at the dollar store. I have found that the big box stores don’t always carry it, but the local grocer and pharmacists do! (and I have moved three times this year so I’m not talking in just one town) Note: Even before trying our own laundry detergent, we always keept PN around because it is the best ever cure for poison ivy: just wash the affected area with it a few times–depending upon the severity it is gone in a few short days!
      #2) If you can’t find Fels Naptha there are other bar soap options–like Ivory: it is found at any major gocery or big box store chain.
      #3.)”20 Mule Team” Borax is commonly stocked at many of your most common chain stores including places like Cub, Walmart, and even Dollar Tree stores
      #4.)Try Menards, Home Depot, Lowes or the local hardware store too–they often carry some or all of these itmes!
      #5.)When looking for any “hard to find” items
      At most stores this costs you nothing and you can get the items from a place you would usually shop already. Yes, your local grocer, pharmacist, and even the department manager at your favorite Wal-Mart, Target, etc–can and will, actually order these items for you. (They often call when the items come in too.) If YOU want an item, it is likely somebody else does too (just look how often these items come up online). Share your thoughts with the managers where you shop, you’ll be surprised at the results.

      BONUS: there are multiple uses for all of these ingredients that you will be plesantly surprised to find. My family is hooked now and keep them stocked for multiple uses!

    • Dee says:

      I found Fels Naphta, washing soda, and Borax at my local Publix.

    • Lacy says:

      You can actually use any kind od pure soap like Castile soap (homemade) or ivory or another gentle soap. Don’t use one with a lot of perfumes in it. As for washing soda, you can find it in the stores. Some walmarts carry it but grocery stores do to. It is in the detergent isle. I had to go to three different stores where I live to find who had it.

  2. Chuck says:

    I assume you have a separate “food” processor for this?

  3. Tim says:

    Wasn’t there a Borax Laundry Detergent you use to be able to buy?

  4. Michelle says:

    I have found the Fels Naptha is both local supermarkets & drugstores, but I did have issues finding the Washing Soda, so I called Arm & Hammer. Actually, the parent company is called Church & Dwight Company, Inc.
    The toll free number is (800) 524-1328… give them your zip code and they’ll tell you what stores to find it in & of you are too far away, they’ll send it to you.

    Good luck!

  5. FW says:

    I couldn’t find Fels Naptha anywhere, but I found a bar of Zote laundry soap at Target that I’m pretty sure will work just the same — It’s on my list to try very soon!

  6. MissMartha says:

    I also use Fels Naptha for posion ivy outbreaks! Its very handy to have around.

    • Lori says:

      We keep lye soap on hand for poison ivy, and it also works great. I’m wondering how it compares to the Fels Naptha and if it (lye soap) could be used for homemade laundry detergent. Does anyone know?

      • Anonymous says:

        Lye soap works great!

      • Lacy says:

        Castile (lye) soap can be used as well. I found a wonderful liquid detergent recipe that I absolutely love. I am not much for powder detergents.

      • Dee says:

        Same here, Lori….for the poison ivy/poison sumac. I just lather it up on the affected area and leave it. Kills it out quickly!

  7. jessica says:

    Two things–I love fels namptha–I even took a bar of it with me to Africa last year not knowing what their detergents would be like. That said, does your detergent recipe work in front loader washers? I think my washer is supposed to only use liquid detergent. Has anyone tried it?

    Second thing… any way I can get your slow-cooker mac and cheese recipe? That sounds YUMMY!

  8. I can’t bring myself to make my own soaps. I have sensitive skin and I have to use the “Free and Clear” brands of detergent, I would hate to change what works, in fear of hives. I definitely agree that making dinner from scratch is the best thing you can do for your family.

    • Bev says:

      Try some goat milk soap. It is very good for sensitive skin.

    • Lacy says:

      The thing is that homemade detergents and soap are more natural and hypoallergenic than people think because the ingredients are absolutely natural. Do research on the ingredients and you will see borax and washing soda are derived from salt and lye is actually a compound of wood ash and water. It becomes caustic in original state but once mixed with olive oil for castile soap and it sits for about a week it be ones almost as ph balanced as water.

    • Lacy says:

      The lady who wrote this artice has sensative skin. Try it and see. The ingredients come from the earth. Less people are allergic to natural ingredients then to manmade chemicals.

  9. Rosa says:

    I started making my own laundry soap over a year ago and haven’t stopped. It lead me to making my own soap from scratch for bathing. I am obsessed with soap! I still have a lot of Fels Naptha (purchased on ebay)which I use for the clothes. When that runs out I’ll use some of my handmade soaps that didn’t turn out right. I cannot find laundry bar soap in my area, except for some made in Brazil and it doesn’t smell as nice as the Fels or Zote.

    I buy the washing soda at the supermarket, the Borax at Wally world or Home Depot and it works out great. I don’t have a food processor, I use a cheese grater when my arm gets tired I make my husband do it 🙂

  10. Lynnae says:

    @FW – Coming to this post late, but yes, Zote would work fine. The original recipe actually called for any bar soap, but I like the power of Fels Naptha.

    @Jessica – I don’t know if it would work in a front loader or not. It doesn’t create suds, so it wouldn’t be a problem from that standpoint. But I don’t know enough about front load washers to be sure. Also the mac n cheese recipe can be found on It’s called “All Day Macaroni and Cheese.”

    @Chuck – I actually use my regular food processor and just wash it in the dishwasher. I haven’t died yet.

  11. I, too, have been making my own soap for more than a year and don’t think I’ll ever go back to buying it. I use exactly the same recipe Lynnae wrote about in her post. I do have a front-loading machine and have never had a problem. There really aren’t any suds with this recipe. My clothes come out smelling clean, but not perfumed.

  12. I use Castille soap instead of Fels Naptha. I’m curious what purpose you feel baking soda plays in your recipe. I make a liquid soap so I use several gallons of water and the process is different but, with the exception of the baking soda, the ingredients are the same. I can’t figure what the baking soda does for you that washing soda doesn’t. Just curious.

    • Monica says:

      Did you ever get an answer to this? I was also wondering what baking soda did.

      • donna says:

        Baking soda changes the ph of the water allowing any soap to do its job better. I used to add it to all of my laundry loads and it can be used as a basic ingredient for many household cleaners.

        • Mike says:

          The Washing Soda (Sodium Carbonate) already raises the pH.. It is also sold as “PH Up” for swimming pools..

    • briana says:

      it acts as a brightener and stain remover

      • Lacy says:

        So does the washing soda. The are both used as brighteners and whiteners. I don’t think there is any need for the baking soda. My recipe doesn’t cAll for baking soda.

  13. Patrick says:

    I clean my entire house with household cleaners and I must say they are great. I currently use an environmentally friendly laundry detergent and I really should switch to a homemade recipe like the one you describe. I know with making cleaners, it’s so much cheaper than buying them and work just as well if not better.

  14. erin says:

    i was thinking of doing this (homemade laundry soap) and mentioned it to my mother. she told me that people have had health problems related to borax. mostly just if allergies already exist or asthma. other sensitive systems. have you heard or experienced this? just wondering. if there’s not truth to that, maybe i’ll consider this again.

    ps. a similar recipe also will work in your dishwasher.

    • Lacy says:

      People can have allergic reactions to anything. Borax is probably one that doesn’t cause many allergic reactions as I have never met anyone allergic to it.

  15. Kara says:

    I make my own soap too. I had a hard time finding the Fels Naptha soap, so I subsituted ivory bar soap. I use roughly the same recipe, only I leave out the baking soda. I works wonderfully. I have sensitive skin too, and I switched from the “free and clear” stuff to this. I even wash my newborn’s clothes with my home-made soap. I’ll never switch back.

  16. jimmydageek says:

    Enviromental FYI: Fels Naptha Soap is not environmentally friendly as it contains something called “Stoddard solvent” which is a petroleum derivative. Here are some Wikipedia links:

    • Lana_Ivy says:

      I just want to point out that jimmydageek’s statement is incorrect. Fels Naphtha does not contain Stoddard solvent. That ingredient was removed years ago. The wikipedia links he gave supports. Also, anyone trying to avoid phosphates, should know that commercial detergents no longer such ingredients. IMHO, the best reason the make your own is the control the formula so that it works best for you. I used the add borax to every load when I used store bought detergent. Now that I take the time to formulate my own, I don’t have to add anything extra.

  17. Leo R. Guajardo, 11 says:

    Hi, ‘dageek’! Since naptha, borax, soda are NOT organic, does that mean that I should NOT recycle my wash water on lawn? I don’t have any vegetables on my yard, just grass,few flowers.
    I used to recycle all wash water when I used bio-digradable detergent.

    • Shauna Carr says:

      I would say no.

      Borax is used as an herbicide and insecticide, so it may kill off your lawn if the lawn and flowers get too large a dose. As it’s a mineral, I suspect it will build up in the soil as you add more.

  18. jimmydageek says:

    I suppose if borax and soda break down naturally, it isn’t a problem. But borax is organic as it is dug out of the ground. I was just pointing out for those people that care, that homemade stuff is not necessarily better than store-bought stuff.

  19. Corinnea says:

    I love the homemade soap and have turned alot of my friends and relatives to it. In a five gallon bucket I have about $2.50 in it and it lasts me 6 months. I spent way more than that on store soaps. I have found some Lavender Ivory that makes an awesome soap. If you find this you must try it.

    • Debbie says:

      Corinnea, I to started making homemade laundry detergent in a 5 gallon bucket. My son love’s it and it is cheaper than buying in the store. I love how you can change the soap to different scents as you make another batch. Will not go back to store detergent again.

  20. sw7 says:

    I made the homemade laundry soap with these ingredients and it turned out fine with one exception. It cleans well, but I am having a problem with any of the synthetic fabrics that we wash in it. They do not smell clean at all. They look fine and clean, but the smell is a musty kind of smell. Anyone have suggestions about that? (I am rinsing with white vinegar, and have tried baking soda to no avail.) I am afraid to use more of the mixture in the wash due to the Borax. My washer is Australian-made and is designed to save water, so I’m afraid the Borax won’t completely rinse if I use too much of the homemade soap. Anyone else have similar problems or better yet, a solution? Thanks!

    • cali says:

      SW, i have the same kind of washer – New Zealand i think it is made in. I have not noticed the smell issue at all, but i am using fabric softener in the rinse. I do find a musty smell if i leave the items in the washer too long when their done though 🙂

  21. jessica says:

    I asked earlier about if it would work in a front loader. I need a low-suds liquid or it’ll muck up my machine.

    I found a recipe in Jim Bob Duggar and Michelle Duggar’s new book “20 and counting” about their large family. They included a low-suds liquid detergent, so I’ll put the recipe here for others in my place with finicky machines.

    1 bar fels namptha, grated.
    1 cup washing soda
    1/2 cup borax

    Grate the soap bar into a small saucepan and cover with water. Heat and stir until the soap completely dissolves.

    Put the washing soda and borax into a 5 gallon bucket, pur in the hot, melted soap mixture. Stir well until the soap powder dissolves. Fill the bucket to the top with hot water.

    Stir, cover securely and let sit overnight.

    Mix equal parts soap concentrate and water in a smaller container, and shake before using.

    For front loaders, use 1/3 cup per load, and for top loaders use 1 cup per load.

  22. Dena says:

    I am wondering if there is a recipe for homemade laundry soap WITHOUT the use of borax, as I have heard it can be dangerous (allergies, asthma, pets, etc…)

  23. Carolann says:

    You don’t have to use Fels Naptha soap you can also use Zote soap which is also a washing soap. While searching the internet I seen that people also use just plain bath soap in their recipes, so I think it’s a personal choice. Also you can omit the borax if you have issue with it, it’s simply a cleaning booster, you may have to add more soap to your wash is all.

  24. LLnL says:

    I feel silly for not knowing that you can make homemade detergent. I can’t wait to try the “recipe”. I’m actually excited.

  25. Laura says:

    I found this when looking up homemade laundry detergent, I just made my first batch 🙂 Anyway, reading your thoughts I also realized that sometimes not only do we sometimes get robbed of creativity but we are almost on auto-pilot in life, for me, it never occurred to me that you could make laundry soap, you just go to the store and buy laundry soap! I had never thought that you could use vinegar for just about a million things instead of toxic chemicals, and for only pennies. Until my son got an egg allergy I didn’t realize how many things you could use to replace eggs in a recipe, no more running to the store for eggs for me either 🙂 Sometimes it’s hard to break out of the cycle of life where you do what you do because it’s what you always did. It’s just laundry soap but it’s really a metaphor for so much more.

    • Tom Jagninski says:

      I would like to discuss your: “It’s just laundry soap, but it’s really a metaphor for so much more.” If you are agreeable, kindly send your email address and we’ll get the ball rolling. I would rather not clutter this web site with a philosophical conversation. My email address is

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