We’re trying to do more and more on our own in a DIY green-living kinda way. It might sound like a lot of work to some, but it’s not that bad. In fact, I actually enjoy knowing that I’m doing what I can to help my family save money, live healthier and protect the environment a little at the same time.
I’ve been wanting to make homemade laundry detergent for a while. There are TONS of recipes, how-to’s and tutorials all over the internet on homemade laundry detergent. This is my recipe.
Why Make Your Own Laundry Detergent?
Aside from the cost difference (which we’ll cover a little later), this stuff is MUCH safer than the stuff on the shelves at the store. Regular detergent has lots of harmful man-made chemicals including diethanolamine (which may burn skin, and eye contact with the chemical may impair vision) and quaternium-15 (which can cause contact dermatitis, a symptom of an allergic reaction, especially in those with sensitive skin, on an infant’s skin, or on sensitive areas such as the genitals). Our homemade laundry detergent is much safer!
The Science Behind How It Works
The ingredients may be natural, but as we have learned with the citrus cleaner, sometimes natural is powerful, too! There’s no need for toxic, corrosive chemicals just to get your clothes clean.
Borax is a natural mineral compound that has been used as a laundry booster for decades. Its superb ability to clean and bleach is because it converts some of the water molecules to hydrogen peroxide. This also makes it a great disinfectant! It is an ingredient found in most conventional natural detergents available today. Borax is also one of the best mold killing products available to the general public, so if you have been in a moldy environment, it will help kill the mold in your clothes when you wash them.
From the Borax website:
Borax is the common name for sodium tetraborate: a naturally occurring substance produced by the repeated evaporation of seasonal lakes.
20 Mule Team® Borax is 100% natural, and 99.5% pure (there is about a half of 1% of naturally occurring trace minerals). Once removed from the ground it is washed, dried, and boxed for consumers.
Because of its high alkalinity, washing soda acts as a solvent to remove a range of stains. Unlike bleach, it doesn’t take the color out of fabric. Washing soda also binds to the minerals in hard water, which allows clothing to come out cleaner and without any residue. Do not get “washing soda” mixed up with “washing powder” or “baking soda” — they are all different. “Washing powder” is basically just powdered soap — which, technically, we will be making in this post.
As for the difference in baking soda and washing soda, the Arm & Hammer website says this:
Baking Soda is made of 100% Sodium Bicarbonate. Super Washing Soda is made of 100% Sodium Carbonate. While they sound similar, they are not the same. Both products can be used to improve liquid laundry performance for cleaner, fresher clothes. Both products can also be used for cleaning around the house. Baking Soda can be used in baking, as a dentifrice and as an antacid, Super Washing Soda cannot. Super Washing Soda should never be ingested. Be sure to check product packaging for specific uses and recommendations.
Fels-Naptha soap is manufactured by Purex and helps eliminate residual stains and works as a stain remover for tough stains. For really tough stains, rub the stain with a wet bar of Fels and let it sit for a few minutes before adding it to the wash. For our recipes, you will need to grate the soap on a cheese grater or you might want to use a food processor to get it into finer pieces. Fels has also been used as a home remedy for exposure to poison ivy and other skin irritants.
How to Make Powdered Laundry Detergent
First, grate your bar of Fels-Naptha. For this powdered recipe, you want to make sure you get it really fine, so I would definitely use the food processor.
Then, mix the grated Fels with 2 Cups of Borax and 2 Cups of Super Washing Soda. If you want, you can leave the Fels in the food processor and add some of the powdered ingredients in there and pulse it some more. This will ensure you get the bar soap as fine as you can get it — the powdered ingredients will stick to the soap and help keep it from clumping back together.
How to Make Liquid Laundry Detergent
Liquid laundry detergent is made a little differently than the powdered stuff. Start by grating the bar of Fels-Naptha. This time, you don’t have to make sure it is grated so finely. Add the grated soap and 2 quarts of tap water to a pot and heat over medium heat until the soap is completely melted — stirring frequently.
While soap is melting, add 4.5 gallons of HOT tap water to a 5 gallon bucket. Mix in 1 Cup of Borax and 1 Cup of Washing Soda and stir until dissolved.
When Fels has completely melted, pour mixture into 5 gallon bucket with Borax/Washing Soda solution. Stir well. Put lid on bucket and let mixture sit overnight to combine and cool.
This mixture will congeal, so you will have to stir it up and mix it all together again. It will thicken each time it sits, too, so don’t freak out.
Use 1/2 to 1 Cup of liquid detergent per load of laundry.
You can pour the mixture into smaller containers, or you can just dip it right out of the 5 gallon bucket each time. I recommend putting it into smaller containers — you will need to shake or stir the mixture before pouring each time.
What is the Cost for Making Your Own Laundry Soap?
This is the cost breakdown for the powdered detergent. You can get all of these ingredients just about anywhere. They are available on Amazon, but the prices I use below are from purchasing the ingredients from Wal-Mart (as of April 2014).
- Borax: 76 oz box for $4.49 – $0.06 per oz – 16 oz used in recipe – cost for recipe = $0.96
- Washing Soda: 55 oz box for $3.79 – $0.07 per oz – 16 oz used in recipe – cost for recipe = $1.12
- Fels-Naptha: 5.5 oz bar for $1.29 – 1 bar used in recipe – cost for recipe = $1.29
- Total cost for the recipe = $3.37
Recipe makes roughly 5 cups of detergent (16 Tablespoons per cup = 80 Tablespoons). If you use 1 Tablespoon per load, that’s it comes out to $0.04 per load. If you use 2 Tablespoons per load, that’s it comes out to $0.08 per load. You’ll probably have some of each, so your average cost per load will be between 4 and 8 cents! Most conventional laundry detergent is around $0.16 or more per load. That might not seem like a big difference by looking at those numbers, but think about the big picture! 8 is half of 16, right? So the high end of my detergent (8 cents per load) is still half the cost of the lower end (16 cents per load) of the conventional stuff! I’ve effectively cut my cost in half, and the detergent works just as good!
One of our readers, Karen B, tells us:
I use the exact same recipe. I make 6 batches at once and it lasts me about five months. I do the grating and all in my food processor. I also use 1T per load and have an old tablespoon I just keep in the canister. I keep mine in a glass one gallon Anchor Hocking cracker canister and the bit that won’t fit goes in another canister I used to keep tea in on my kitchen counter.
Questions Answered About DIY Laundry Soap
There have already been some questions about this recipe, so I have decided to answer them as they come in and update the post as I do. Have a question not listed? Ask in the comments. 🙂
- “Is this recipe safe for a HE (High Efficiency) washer?” Yes! Many people use this recipe (or something very similar) in their HE washers with absolutely no problem!
- “Is this OK for sensitive skin?” My daughter has extremely sensitive skin, and she tolerates it fine; however, I would recommend making 1 batch and testing it with your family just to be safe.
- “Can I use Zote soap instead of Fels-Naptha?” Absolutely! If you use Zote, you can double the amount of the powdered ingredients since the Zote is twice as big as the Fels-Naptha.