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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. Kirsten says:

    Hi, I live in Denmark.
    I wanted to make my own laundry detergent, but couldn’t get the fels naptha bar.
    I called the institut for consumerproducts in DK to see if the could come up with a soap like it.
    The woman from the institut was very helpfull and wanted to look into it.
    She called me back and from what she could read from files about the fels naptha it contains among other things – terpentine!!??!!
    So i had to find another soap, of course Idon’t wan’t to was my kids close in that, then I could just as well continue with conventional laundry detergent.
    So I found this soapbar totally organic

    http://sonett.eu/1eng/spotre.htm

    I use 1 bar pr. 2 cups of washingsoda.
    Just use the foodprosser to grate soap and put aprox. 2 tsp. of water (so it dosen’t dust) when it’s fully grated add the washing soda.
    I dont use any perfumed oil like lavender, but that is optional.
    I use 1 tbsp. pr. load and if laundry is very dirty 1,5 tbsp. NOTE. this soap works best with hot water and not silk and wool.

    It works fantastic and the laundry is so soft even if I airdry it outside.so since I started using this soap, we haven’t used fabric softner.And we even have “hard water”.

    Please bear with me if my spelling is hopeless im after all, from Denmark;0)

  2. Leo Roderick says:

    Kristen, I “love” you typed with an ‘accent’! Please don’t appologise.

    I also liked your use of “Sonett” soap! And for same reasons you mentioned!
    Now I can’t find it via ‘net’ search! Had problems finding “Fels Naptha”. Bought 5 bars at $1.19 at Krogers.
    Do you have any suggestions where to find Sonett in Dallas, Texas? (hugz)

    • Kirsten says:

      Hi Leo:)

      Being from dk..I could only find theese links as I, of good reasons don’t shop around in Texas;0)

      Online shop
      http://www.novanatural.com/s.nl/it.A/id.1338/.f

      list of organic shops in texas- they might be able to get the soap?

      http://www.organicfacts.net/organic-stores/organic-stores/organic-food-stores-in-texas.html

      Hope you can use theese links
      And happy laundry detergent-making
      Kirsten:0)

      • Kirsten says:

        I did a calculation on the possible cost price.

        arm and hammer washing soda 3 lb box 2,49

        you only use 2 lb= 1,66
        gall soap aprox 4,50
        cost 6,16

        Price pr. load (I get 121 loads by 1 tbsp.dose)
        6,16 /121 =

        • Kirsten says:

          ups sorry forgot the load price:) =
          0,05 dlr.

          • Kirsten says:

            Ups again major mistake, sorry it’s early morning here in DK:)
            Forgot 1 gall soap in calculation but could not delete the posting….?

            washing soda 1,66
            2x gallsoap aprox 9
            cost 10,11

            121 loads(but try it out with your water in US)

            10,66 devided by 121= 0.08

    • Leo Roderick says:

      Kristen, since I can’t find any of your soap bar locally, have checked every whereever I shop. I found a laundry soap bar made with, …
      1. Coconut oil; (like Sonnet)
      2. Tallow soap; (like Sonnet)
      3. Sodium Silicate;
      4. Sodium Hidroxide;
      5. Abietic Acid;
      6. Sodium Chloride;
      7. Sodium Lauryl;
      8. Either Sulphate;
      9. Coconut Fatty Acid;
      10. Diethanolamide;
      11. Prefum and Dye.
      I still have a lot of “Fels Naptha” detergent, but, shall make another batch with this new soap called “Lirio” made in Mexico and weights 400g, about $.85 .
      PS. Also found a bar of “ZOTE”
      Shall report on it’s use.

  3. Leo Roderick says:

    A friend told me she had some t-shirts with ‘ring-a-round the collor, spots on front and could not remove with her detergent. I just layed it on flat surface, rubbed a bar in four directions of “Fels Naptha” soap (after dipping it in water). Didn’t even rub it between my hands. Threw them in washer, came out perfect! Now she wants to use the formula for ‘home made laundry detergent’.

    Lrod in Dallas

  4. Henry Norcross says:

    Hi,

    I’d recommend using recipes that doesn’t call for Borax, use baking soda instead. Also I use my homemade soap in the detergent.

    There are at least 4 reasons to use Baking Soda and not Borax.

    1. Borax is very toxic/poisonous.

    2. If you have hard water the baking soda will act as a water softener. Nullifying the need for the Borax, even though Borax works best in soft water.

    3. If you are using a gray water system, the Borax will kill your plants. Even though the water is filtered.

    4. If you are using a septic system the Borax will kill the micro-organisms necessary for your septic system to function properly.

    • Anonymous says:

      Borax is not “very” toxic/poisonous. Boric acid is… I think you have them confused. Its a lot safer than almost all comercial detergents.

  5. Leo Roderick says:

    I think it past time hat we gave our ‘new’ love a name!
    Read someone referred to it as ‘like snut’! Not arguing with that, but, too good for such a name. How about “Fels-a-tergent”, Jel-a-tergent, “Iva-tergent”? Anything but, “snut-a-tergent”! (wink)

  6. Leo Roderick says:

    Help! I am out of control!

    I have developed a new habit of going straight to detergent section of every new grocery store I visit. If I find a new bar of laundry detergent,…..I buy it! So far I have 5 different names.
    Here is where I lost it. I have 3 different 5 gal. buckets half filled homemade laundry detergents! I am running out of buckets! I don’t “need” this many! Another thing, there are only two of us in household, so I don’t wash that often! LOL!
    I live in Dallas, do you need someone to make your detergent? Think I need to get it out of my system.

    • Theresa says:

      I thought I was the only one who got bit by the detergent making bug. My husband thinks I’ve ‘gone nuts’. I LIKE making the detergent. I LIKE tweaking the ingredients. I have tried different soap, but like Fels best. I made a batch out of Ivory, English Leather Lavender, Lirio. I still have to try a batch with Zote Pink. A close second was Fels mixed with English Leather Lavender. It just SMELLED GOOD.

      So far, they all have cleaned the same. As did a comparison test with Tide. Using white wash cloths, I put ketchup & mustard on 2 wash cloths. Washing one in Tide & one in Homemade detergent, one did not wash better than the other. Neither got out all the stains. Tide did not do any better, as I thought it would. They both left the same amount of stain. The condiments sat longer on the wash cloth, waiting for the Tide cloth to finish washing. That said, I can say a lot of money using the homemade laundry detergent.

  7. kala says:

    my mother makes goats milk soap and she puts alot of different scents in them.

  8. Tom Jagninski says:

    Does anyone have any opinions on soaking and rinsing laundry? Let’s take rinsing first. For many years I washed my clothes, all cotton, in liquid soap rather than detergent because it was easier to get the soap out. Now that washing soap is almost impossible to get, I use detergent and wash by hand so I can rinse in hot water, as commercial washing machines rinse in cold water, which I understand prevents the cotton fibers from releasing the molecules. For that to happen you have to use hot water, and if anyone has a chemical explanation why this is so I would be interested to hear it. From my experience, if you place a cotton shirt in hot water after it has been washed by a commercial machine you will see detergent come out, and the hotter the water the more of it. FYI I had a cousin who sold washing machines and I asked him if there was a machine on the market which you could program yourself, all the ones I have seen rinse in cold water. He said one manufacturer did make such a machine, but stopped because consumers were not interested in programming. Actually there is a way round this, which is to use one of those top-loading machines that draw water from taps in the kitchen sink. When I had access to one I would do several cycles with only the hot tap open, one cycle with soap added, the others without as rinses. Upon drying in the sun the towels were so detergent-free they were almost stiff, which was a real discovery. Now for the subject of soaking. Soaking was brought to my attention in a book by Slavenka Drakulic, a Croatian journalist who writes for the London Guardian, and who like Laura on this site combines practicality with philosophy. In the course of describing her life Drakulic mentions her grandmother’s advice to soak sheets for the night before laundering them. I now do this with all my laundry, including white towels and underwear, which I soak in cold water with a bit of bleach added, and I think that makes washing easier. Would it be better to use hot water? For washing, I use the Arm & Hammer perfume-free detergent and although I use very little I still find it takes many rinses to get the detergent out, though never all of it. They recently increased the concentration, not sure what for, unless it is a marketing ploy. People will still use the same amount, but because the concentration is higher they pay more for it. From talking to one manufacturer I gather they are aware people habitually use too much detergent. In any case, soon all that will be in the past, now that I have discovered this site, thanks to its contributors I will make my own washing soap.

    • sue says:

      Just wondering about the hot water rinse—I don’t know if it would work, but…….what if you switched hot and cold water connection hoses–it would mean you would have to re think the programming of your wash cycle, as hot would be cold and cold would be hot.

      • Lori says:

        Sue, I like your idea.

        I often rinse my clothes with warm water. They do seem to be cleaner when I do, plus they dry faster.

      • Susanna says:

        There would be a problem with some newer machines switching the hot and cold hoses, as they have internal thermometers and adjust the amount of hot/cold mix, and if reversed would completely foul this up and the machine would kick an error code and quit. :)

  9. Nicole says:

    I use a slightly different recipe and wondered if you thought it was too concentrated.
    1 bar felsnaptha
    1 1/2 C borax
    1 1/2 C washing soda
    Put in 5 gallon bucket and mix with hot water until dissolved.
    I use 1/3 per load. This seems to be twice the strength at least that the Duggars use. What do you think?

  10. jessica says:

    Nicole, I made mine that way once and tried using 1/6 cup instead of 1/3. It doesn’t work. That version is just too concentrated and it forms into a nasty sticky lump that you practically have to carve pieces off of. Use the same ingredients, but make 10 gallons.

    Good luck,
    Jessica

  11. I have a high energy-efficent (he) front loading machine, and wonder if these recipes are okay to use in it? (I hope, I hope, since I’ve been using it for over a year…) Does anybody know? (I hate to call LG and tell them I spent $900 on my washer so I could have a steam cycle, but am too cheap to pay for the detergent!) I also wanted to point out to everyone that the liquid version lasts longer. MUCH longer, in fact. I used a five-gallon bucket to mix it in, and filled it up to the top after the first 24 hours of sitting (don’t forget to cook it). Anyway, it lasted me seven months, but the powdered version was gone in less than one month, with the same amount of product used. I’ve always preferred the powder as I’m really messy with liquids, but I’ve learned to love it…especially the way I can put it directly on stains.

  12. Cindy says:

    I read through all the posts and have a few questions. Is the homemade powder form OK for cold water washing in a front loader? and 2nd question is: Someone mentioned not to use borax if you had a septic system (which I do), what would you use in place of borax?

    • Anonymous says:

      Borax is better for your septic than almost all detergents. Do not let other people’s ignorance sway you.

    • Theresa says:

      I looked at Tide’s MSDS, and it uses Borax. My septic has withstood that for over 25 years.

  13. Lindsey says:

    I am not sure this question was ever answered for anyone, but the liquid form of the soap (found on the Duggar website) is for all “HE” or front load washers. You just need to adjust the amount you use. If you go to the Duggar’s website you can get more details! They also have ideas for adding some essential oils to make it smell good. I just made my first batch last night so I am not sure how it works yet! Just thought I would let you know it does work with front loaders!

  14. Thanks, Lindsey! Now I need to figure out what to do about all the Borax I already mixed into it, since we have a septic system. Grrrrr.

    Merry Christmas, everybody!

    • Debi says:

      I’ve been reading all of the posting on homemade soap, I’m going to make my first batch. Heard about it back in July and still haven’t done it. Today it’s cold in Texas and seems like a good day to try it. I heard that the borax helps septic systems; that would be good because I have a septic system. Also a plumber told me that it is good maintenance to pour 1/2 gallon of buttermilk down the commode monthly would help.
      Anyways about homemade soap, I usually use all cold water to save on energy bill. Does this clean well with cold water?

      • Leo R. Guajardo, 11 says:

        Debie! PLEASE re-read the posts about using ‘borax’! Maybe you are blond! Don’t waste your good buttermilk. Give it to me, am in Dallas! Posts state ‘borax’ KILLS the good microbs that work WITH a septic tank.

        I ‘always’ use cold water and my wash is just fine. Since ‘FelsNaptha” is made with petroleum, try some of the other non-oil based. I reccomend:
        1. Lirio;
        2. Zote, has two versions.

        Lrodshy57@yahoo.com

        Sincerely, Leo Roderick Guajardo, 11

  15. Henry Norcross says:

    I have a recipe for a powder laundry detergent.

    Ingredients:

    1. Baking Soda

    2. Washing Soda

    3. Grated Bar Soap (I use my homemade soap, and it works very well in it)

    4. Ground Citrus Peals (optional, or use any plant waste that will not stain)

    Mix equal parts, by volume not weight, of Baking Soda, Washing Soda, and the Grated Bar Soap in small bucket with a lid.

    Add as much or as little of the ground citrus peal as you would like.

    Use 2 Tablespoons for a medium/large load, and adjust as needed for small or extra-large.

    • Henry Norcross says:

      Something I forgot to mention is that if you’re washing in cold water you’ll want to dissolve the detergent in 1-2 cups of hot tap water before adding to the washer.

      Also use approximately 1 cup of white vinegar instead of fabric softener. It will help to keep any powder residue from forming on your clothing and the inside of your machine. It helps to deodorize your clothing, and when it’s dry it doesn’t have an odor.

  16. KSue says:

    I started making my own laundry soap about a year ago,using the grated Ivory ,Borax,baking soda and Washing Soda recipe.It worked pretty good but I would occasionally see little flakes of soap in my clean wash. I started mixing my Borax,baking soda, and washing soda together and adding any fragrance to it. In a glass half gallon jar I dropped three bars of Ivory soap and added hot water to the top. In about twenty-four hours it formed a gel on top.I simply dip out about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the gel and about the same of the powder for each load. I then fill the jar back up in the stream of warm water filling the washing machine.Simple as that,no grating,smells great and no more left over flakes. Cheap too. Those three bars of soap last a long time.

  17. anna says:

    I have tried homemade laundry detergent and i’m hooked, i don’t buy commercial stuff anymore. I used borax, is it really dangerous? I asked my friend to try this homemade detergent and she was skeptical because of the low suds thing, but i assured her that my clothes came out really clean,white and soft. Can washing soda increase suds if i add more? what do you think?pls.email me back.

    • Henry Norcross says:

      I put a non-borax powder detergent recipe on this board. It’s 2 posts up from yours.

      I also included some reasons not to use borax.

      There are at least 4 reasons to use Baking Soda and not Borax.

      1. Borax is very toxic/poisonous.

      2. If you have hard water the baking soda will act as a water softener. Nullifying the need for the Borax, even though Borax works best in soft water.

      3. If you are using a gray water system, the Borax will kill your plants. Even though the water is filtered.

      4. If you are using a septic system the Borax will kill the micro-organisms necessary for your septic system to function properly.

      • Leo R. Guajardo, 11 says:

        Henry Norcross,
        I never doubted ‘borax’ was toxic. “jimmydageek, said ‘since it is dug out of the earth, is organic (?????), well just about every substance (posonus or not) is ‘dug out of the earth’! I used it to de’roach’ my entire house! 1/2 sugar and borax. It worked!

        Regarding that ‘new’ soap I found! “Lirio” has ‘coconut oil, talow, perfume, etc and used 1/2 a bar, borax, washing soda. Clothes came out nice, fresh smelling. May not use ‘FelsNaptha” anymore. Might make another batch withOUT borax later. Have soft city water in Dallas.

  18. Hi, Anna-It is a misconception that suds increase cleaning power, and they are so harmful to the environment! Toothpaste shouldn’t foam; neither should shampoo. We have to teach ourselves that bubbles are not as beautiful as we have come to believe. And, no, washing soda would do nothing to increase suds. You don’t want suds. Suds are what cause the squiggly white lines on black denim. Do you REALLY want to have to rinse things three or four times to remove the dulling soap suds? (Also more appropriately called soap scum.)

  19. anna says:

    I added coco fatty alcohol sulphate (CFAS) to my laundry powder detergent to produce suds and it did, CFAS is from coconut oil but i’m not sure if i can still call my detergent “all natural” .What do you think guys?

  20. anna says:

    Another observation I had regarding this homemade detergent, the shaved ivory ( i powderized in a blender and sifted w/ a strainer)still floated in water but is dissolved after a few minutes.
    I use a top loading washing machine, i use low water level, in washing soiled floor mats i use 5 scoops (4 tbsp /scoop). Is it too much?What about you guys, how much detergent do you use?

    • me says:

      I just started using the liquid laundry detergent (ivory soap flakes melted in water then added to 3 gal of hot water with borax and wash soda) and using vinegar as fab softnr. So far I like it but am noticing stains don’t come out as well. I have been adding baking soda to the wash and seems to help but am wondering if this isn’t cleaning as well as my prev store bought free and clear det. I have sepotic system too (borax really bad or not???). Any ideas on the stains (bottom of socks, mud stains, overall brightness) and to borax or not? I refuse to waste my 5 gallons I am so proud of making!

  21. Kay says:

    I have been making my own homemade detergent for just over a year now and my husband read on the borax box that it is bad for septic systems and we have one. Does anyone know about this? I would hate to stop making it.
    I can’t have it eat away my septic system though. Please help if you know if it’s ok.
    I might look to see if there is a place to email or call the borax company.
    Thanks, Kay

    • me says:

      says right on the box, just noticed, that borax is safe for septic systems. I had the same question.

  22. babyanne168 says:

    hi. how is cfas added to the soap?

  23. Cory says:

    Can someone please tell me how thick the Duggars liquid version of homemade detergent is supposed to get overnight? mine has been sitting several hours and is still very watery…

    this is the first time i’ve made this soap btw! but i followed the recipe perfectly

    • me says:

      you really need to let it sit for 8 hours at least. It will gel on the bottom 3/4 but will be watery on top, always. Everytime you use it, you will need to stir it since it gels as it sits.

    • me says:

      in other words, it’s normal for it to be watery on top as long as you have let it gel overnight or 8 hours.

  24. darci says:

    your laundry detergent recipe is very similar to others i’ve found. EXCEPT yours is half the amount of fells naptha and adds baking soda. and your instructions show using much less (others say 1/2 cup to 5/8 cup. just tried my first recipe last nite… guess it will be trial and error to find which i like best:)

  25. darci says:

    “According to the ingredients list on the Fels Naptha website, Stoddard solvent is no longer included in the soap. “


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