I started making my own laundry detergent a couple of months ago. I saw an article on it and thought it would be fun. Yes, fun. And it is. For me, anyway.

The number of recipes I found was overwhelming, but you can divide the recipes into two categories: liquid and powder. I choose powder. Why? Most of the liquid recipes just have the same ingredients as the powder detergent, but with a bunch of water added. You have to cook it and keep it in giant buckets. I don't have room and I don't want to spend the time. It just sounds messy. So I'll be talking about powdered detergents only.

The recipes all seem to have the same ingredients, too:

  • soap
  • borax
  • washing soda
  • baking soda
  • essential oil

Ingredients demystified


Soap. Have you ever thought about what soap actually does? Why do we use it? I found an excellent article here that explains it if you're curious. If you want the executive summary, basically, soap attracts dirt when combined with water. Two facts relevant to our detergent-concocting: (1) soap doesn't work well in an acidic environment, and (2) soap doesn't work well in hard water.

Borax. I found excellent articles on borax here and here. Borax is mined, and has been used for over 4000 years. It can also be synthetically produced. It is poisonous. Borax combines with water to make hydrogen peroxide, which cleans and bleaches. The hotter the water, the better it works. It is alkaline, so it helps soap work better. It also softens water and is safe to use with bleach.

Washing soda. Washing soda is mined or chemically produced from common table salt. It is used in some foods, like ramen noodles and fizzing candies, and also in toothpaste. Weird! (You still shouldn't be eating it, by the way; it is extremely alkaline.) Like borax, it lowers the pH of water. It can also help neutralize odors, soften water, and attract grease. (More resources here and here.)

Baking soda. Baking soda is chemically produced from mined soda ash or through an entirely synthetic process. As far as I can tell, it's like washing soda, only weaker (and gentler).

Essential oil. This is entirely optional, for people who want their laundry to smell pretty. I prefer mine unscented, so I haven't used it. However, if you do use it, especially for babies or pregnant women, be sure to research the properties of the oil you are using.


Making your custom blend

Okay, now that you know what goes in your laundry blend, you need to figure out how much of everything to use.

Your water. Do you have a water softener? If so, you probably won't need as much washing soda and borax. If you're like me, and you have really hard water, you'll need more. You can tell if you have hard water because it will leave marks in your sinks, showers, toilets, and any other wet place it can leave its pesky little scales.

Your washing machine. Do you have a new high-efficiency front-loader or a top-loader? If you have a front-loader, just be aware that the manufacturer wants you to use expensive HE detergent. Sometimes using normal detergent will void the warranty. I would assume that homemade detergent would do the same. They say that using too much soap will gum up the machine and create too many suds, causing it to perform poorly.

That said, I have a fancy new front-loader, and my homemade soap and the machine are both working beautifully so far. My suggestions are to use less soap in proportion to other ingredients because excessive sudsing can be a problem, use very little detergent (1 tablespoon for lightly soiled loads), and use vinegar in the rinse to help clean soap scum out of the drum (put it in the fabric softener compartment).

Your clothes. Is your husband a mechanic or does he work an office job? Are you washing dirty diapers? More dirt calls for more soap. More stink calls for more washing soda or baking soda.


Go to it, then!

Grate up your soap. I know of two different kinds of laundry soap: Zote and Fels-Naptha. Zote is pink, which is why I bought it for my last batch. It is quite soft and when you grate it, it keeps its shape, so you get a lot of pink shavings (see the picture at the top). I like yellow Fels-Naptha better, though, because it powders when you grate it and you get a more uniform texture. Both soaps have worked fine for me, though. Other people use Ivory or castile soap. I haven't tried these.

Mix it up with your other ingredients. If you're not sure how much of everything to put in, you can look at the recipes here to get some ideas of ratios. I personally use equal parts soap, borax, and washing soda for my front-loader with hard water and lightly soiled clothes. I might try using less soap next time. A lavender-scented linen blend might be in my future, too, with less soap (because they don't get so dirty) and more borax (for bleaching).

Experiment with how much your machine needs. I use a two-tablespoon coffee scoop for mine, but I think I could get away with less. Put it in a pretty glass jar and admire.


(Image by Walter Crane from The Song of Sixpence Picture Book)


28 Comments

  1. Wow that's cool. I have never thought about making my own laundry soap. Great post.

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  2. I've been doing this for a bit now and have been pleased with how well it works. I only use ivory, washing soda and borax.....a cup of each....but I'm going to play around with adding some oil "soon".

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  3. I made one batch of homemade detergent and wasn't impressed. I think now that my blend must have been off. Maybe I'll try again...

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  4. I LOVE this idea! I can't wait to try it!

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  5. I've been wanting to try this, but have NO IDEA what washing soda is, and what kind of soap to use in what form, and where to find everything. And help would be greatly appreciated!

    I'm also going to try making my own toothpaste and dishwashing detergent.

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  6. Also, do you grat ethe soap by hand or in a food processor?

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  7. Marie,

    Washing soda works similarly to baking soda, only it is stronger. If you can't find washing soda, you can probably just use more baking soda. If you have soft water, you might be able to get away without using it. If you're having trouble finding it, it is sold under the Arm & Hammer brand. I just get it at my grocery store, but you might have to do a little looking around. You'll find it next to laundry detergents and such.

    My favorite kind of soap is Fels-Naptha. You can find it in the laundry aisle. I have also used Zote, which I found at Big Lots, and it also worked well. I have also read that a lot of people use plain old Ivory soap.

    I grate my soap by hand--actually on the same grater I use for cheese. I use the smallest holes. Then I wash it really well afterward. :) I haven't tried a food processor because I don't own one.

    I hope that helps.

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  8. Thanks, my parents just gave me a food processor for my salsa exerpimentation and I am enamored with it.

    I looked up the Zote soap and found that it can also be used as fish bait. Weird!

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  9. Hi there, I found your blog through the motherload. About the laundry soap, do you have exact measurements? Once you make a batch of it how much do you use for each load (i.e 1/2 cup, cup)? Also, can you use the borax on colored clothes as well? I have very soft water, so would this work for me? Thanks!

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  10. sockiepuppetsmom,

    Usually when I'm making it, I just grate a whole bar of soap, measure it, and then add equal parts of the other ingredients.

    I use two tablespoons in my loads. If you have a top-loading machine, you'll probably want to add more. You might start with 1/3-1/2 a cup, and see how little you can get away with from there.

    Borax is not a problem with colors.

    If you have soft water, you can probably get away with using less than people with hard water would. Also, you can use less washing soda.

    Good luck!

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  11. We've been making it for a couple of months now and have found customizing it to our needs makes it better than store brands! I have used ess. oils but find that the fragrance doesn't make it through the process of washing. I've tried using double, but have since given up.Not worth the expense. My husband then told me he actually prefers it unscented.I guess I'm just a girl!

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  12. It's so nice to find a recipe for powdered laundry soap. I'd looked into the liquid recipes, but like you said, you have to make so much and storing it when you have space issues is a problem. Thanks!

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  13. I tried the powder (not this recipe) and the soap never dissolved and the clothes would come out of the washer with bits of soap sticking to them.
    I have been making a liquid "detergent" instead.
    momof4sweetsisters: I have since given up the oils in the soap itself for the same reason, however, I keep a bottle of water and just enough EOs to scent it (20 - 25 drops of each oil in an eight ounce bottle and fill it with water) and just pour a little on an old wash cloth that I throw into the dryer with the clothes. I use this instead of a dryer sheet and the clothes come out with a light scent. Not perfumey like with dryer sheets.

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  14. This is a great post, Mrs. M. I never thought about essential oils. I will have to get some, because I saw Kelli's blog with some nice uses for it, too.

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  15. This is an excellent post! I have made my own detergent in the past, and I wasn't sure how to modify the amounts of the ingredients for the varying loads (husband works in steel factory). Thanks very much for this post!

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  16. Wow. That is really cool!

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  17. I'm curious about using homemade detergent, but I've heard that it is harsh. Have you ever used it on more delicate clothing. I'd be hesitant to use it on anything other than linens. Has this been your experience?

    Marie - food processors are AMAZING. Receiving mine kicked off a whole lot of continuing kitchen adventures!

    Allison

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    1. I've been making my laundry detergent for the last 2 years. My latest batch is dry, but previously it was liquid. I have horses, thus very dirty jeans, and a lot of very fragile, expensive, lingerie that is washed in a top loader with my homemade detergent atleast twice a week for the last 2 years and all of it is still in great shape. So I wouldn't be worried about it. Have fun!

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  18. That's so cool that you looked at what each ingredient adds to the detergent. I made mine with castile soap and no baking soda, but I wondered why some recipes called for it. I also added Oxy Clean. I was already thinking I'd leave that out next time, so I probably will since it does the same as the borax.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  19. This post is such a little vault of information - I'm so impressed! You presented it so well.

    Thanks so much for linking to the Laundry Recipe Round-up!

    -Lauren

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  20. Found your post on Mama Laundry's link up.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for explaining everything in cuch detail. You just answered every question I had about how the ingrediants work and can it be used in HE washers.

    Amazing information!

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  21. As a matter of fact, I like this post so much I've shared it with my readers.

    http://www.crystalandcomp.com/2010/03/homemade-laundry-detergent-recipe.html

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  22. Was wondering where I can buy the Fels naptha or Zote soap, and the washing soda and the essential oil. I'm very interested in making my own detergent. I live in CA, does Walmart sell these items?

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  23. Lanae, you might have to look around a bit. I've seen some of the supplies at Wal-Mart in the past, but I can find all of them at my local grocery store. I've seen borax at Target in the past, and I think I've seen Zote at Big Lots. I bought the essential oils online. And remember that if you can't find washing soda (I think it's the hardest to find), you can use baking soda. And if you can't find Zote or Fels Naptha, I've heard that some people use other types of soaps, such as Ivory or homemade soap. Good luck!

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  24. I made a batch recently, and liked it a lot! I also added some Purex fabric softener crystals for scent. My laundry smelled great!!!

    http://www.purex.com/products/softeners/purex-complete-crystals

    Since you are mixing then in with all the other stuff, I wasn't able to see big results as far as fabric softening goes. I ended up buying another bottle and adding a full "dose" in with the laundry detergent instead.

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  25. I made a batch recently, and liked it a lot! I also added some Purex fabric softener crystals for scent. My laundry smelled great!!!

    http://www.purex.com/products/softeners/purex-complete-crystals

    Since you are mixing then in with all the other stuff, I wasn't able to see big results as far as fabric softening goes. I ended up buying another bottle and adding a full "dose" in with the laundry detergent instead.

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  26. I tried the liquid detergent from a different person but the same ingredients and I didn't like it at all. It didn't work well. My clothes still came out dirty and left dirt marks on my white clothes, I event had someone else try it and the same results, not sure if I am the only one with this bad experience or its common.

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