How to Make Your Own Homemade Laundry Detergent

Laundry can take up a lot of time, money and energy. I’m always on the lookout for ways to save money on washing and drying clothing. I do things like re-wear clothes before washing them, cutting dryer sheets in half, and line drying my clothes when the weather is nice outside. I thought I was doing well.

Then I wrote a post about homemade cleaning products a few weeks ago. Jessica, one of my readers, left the following comment:

I make my own laundry soap! Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 bar bath soap
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1 cup 20 Mule Team Borax

Grind together in your food processor. Use 2 Tablespoons for a full load. I also use it for general housekeeping. It costs 2 or 3 cents per use.

I also use Dawn to fight laundry stains, and white vinegar as a fabric softener. (The smell disappears when the clothes dry.)

White vinegar is so versatile! I love using it as a rinse aid in my dishwasher, as well as for keeping ants off my counters. (Bugs can’t stand the taste of acid.)

Your blog is awesome, Lynnae–keep up the good work!

Thanks for the compliment on my blog, Jessica. Now it’s time for me to thank you. I thought I’d do a comparison between my usual laundry detergent and Jessica’s recipe. I was skeptical, because I’ve made my own liquid laundry detergent before, and I was less than impressed. It took a long time to make, too. Still, I had to try.

Making the Detergent

I made one small adjustment to the recipe. Instead of using bath soap, I used 1 bar of Fels Naptha. It’s a soap especially made for laundry, and it really cleans things.

I used the food processor to grind everything up, just like Jessica recommended, and this laundry detergent literally took me 5 minutes to make. It was so easy!

Still, I didn’t know how it would work. So far I’ve used it on 4 loads of laundry, and it’s worked really well! I don’t think I’ll be going back to the commercial stuff anytime soon.

The Cost Break Down

Let’s break down the cost. I didn’t have any of the ingredients on hand, so I bought everything last Wednesday.

  • I bought one bar of Fels Naptha and used the whole bar. Cost: $1.19.
  • A 3.5 box of Washing Soda is 7 1/3 cups and cost me $2.39. I used 1 cup, which comes to 33 cents.
  • I bought 1 4-lb box of baking soda, which contains 8 1/3 cups. I paid $2.12 for the box. The recipe uses one cup, so that comes to roughly 25 cents for the baking soda.
  • Finally, I bought a 4 lb 12 oz. box of Borax for $2.67. The box contains 9.9 cups, and I used one. Cost of one cup: 27 cents.

The total cost for one batch of homemade laundry detergent was $2.04 for 24 loads of laundry.

So far, very good! The recipe made 3 cups of laundry detergent. There are 16 tablespoons in a cup, so there were 48 tablespoons in the recipe. At 2 tablespoons per load, that’s 24 loads of laundry.

Total cost per load: 8 and 1/2 cents. That’s roughly the same as the Arm & Hammer laundry detergent I normally buy. The Arm & Hammer came to 8 and 2/3 cents a load for a $6.99 box that washes 80 loads.

However, I think the homemade stuff has been cleaning better. It’s also not heavily scented, and I’m not trashing the environment by continuing to buy boxes of detergent. Plus, I can use the baking soda and borax for other cleaning tasks, so I’m not buying lots of different products. That saves much needed space in my cupboard.

The Verdict

Though the actual cost of the two detergents is about the same, the homemade detergent saves on both packaging and space in my home. It’s more natural, too. And if you were to use regular bath soap instead of Fels Naptha, the cost would definitely be less than store bought detergent, since the Fels Naptha was by far the most expensive ingredient. I’ve heard Zote works well for laundry, too, but I’ve never seen it around here.

The Winner: Jessica’s homemade laundry detergent! Thanks for the tip, Jessica!

Now I need to dry Dawn as a stain remover and vinegar as a fabric softener!

Update: Since this post, I’ve cut the amount of Fels Napthala to 1/2 bar per batch, and it works just fine. That brings the cost per load down to just 6 cents per load!

For other versions of homemade laundry detergent, see the following sites:

How do you save money on laundry? Share your tips in the comments!



Author

By , on Mar 4, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{83 Comments}

  1. Joan Rouck:

    What is washing soda?

  2. Yvette:

    If you add Mrs.Stewart’s Bluing to your liquid detergent it makes the liquid a yellow color but won’t transfer to your clothes and it helps keep your clothes from fading. It is good to use on your whites over bleach. You usually can find this at your smaller local stores and every once in a while at Wal Mart. Hope this helps.

  3. jane:

    I have been making homemade laundry soap for years and love it. Now I have been making it for a 188 person, homeless shelter. They have been using the cheap industrial stuff, so I hope they like the homemade stuff better. I hope everyone will share this with those in need, since it is so cheap to make.

  4. Jo:

    PS. I’m all about inexpensive, simple, and efficient! The above does all these things without the additional labor of boiling water and mixing and all that… Too much for busy households with busy lifestyles.

  5. Jo:

    I too have been making my own soap for about two+ years. Equal parts borax and washing soda. This mix (by itself) is what I have used for a dishwashing ‘detergent’ for 2 years as well. Does a beautiful job.
    I make up a batch of this mix and keep in a jar in the kitchen. I keep another batch in another container by the washer along with a small cheese grater and a bar of Fels Naptha. To wash clothes I add 2 TBS of the above mix to the soap dispenser, grate a few times with the soap & add 2-3 TBs vinegar to the softner dispenser. Clothes ARE clean, smell clean, it’s very cheap.
    The only problem I have is my daughter LOVES the smell of the Fels so she wants to grate the soap all the time. I’ve let her grate and add to the container but she tends (as do most people) to put WAY too much soap.

    • carrie:

      wow you can use this for dishwasher??? i use these mixes for general household cleaning, works great on my floors and stuff but never thought of dishwashing soap. Do the dishes rinse clean? how much do you put in dishwasher for washing?
      Thanks,
      Carrie

    • Beverly:

      Love the homemade laundry soap. However I use ivory soap instead. Read the phels naptha soap could cause kidney failure and or liver failure and be irritating to the lungs. You might watch your daughter about smelling it. I responded to it and it irritated my lungs is why not using it.

  6. TJ:

    I have been debating to try these recipes but I have one last question before I dive in. Has anyone made a comparison between the effectiveness of the powder homemade vs. the liquid homemade. My daughter made the liquid and I was going to make the powder but why do that if others have strong opinions or have already done the comparison?

    • JAcque:

      I’m about to make the comparison tonight. I’ve tried the powder and am going to give the liquid a try. According to the Dugger Family Recipies, the powder recipe makes 40 loads and the liquid makes 180 loads using the same amount of everything. No one is that busy that they cant stop and boil a little water if it’s going to make 10 gallons of liquid soap!

  7. Lisa Smith:

    After much trial and error I have found a really great recipe for use in hard water.

    8 ounces Ultra Joy hand dishwashing liquid
    4 cups washing soda
    1 cup finely grated Fels Naptha
    1 cup all fabric bleach
    2 cups borax
    1 cup oxi clean

    Mix the Joy with the Washing soda and let dry overnight (or longer if needed). Break this up in chunks and put through the food processor.

    Mix all the other ingrediants. Use 1/4 cup for a large, moderately soiled load washed in cold water. Start the load off in hot and swish the detergant around for a second, then switch back to cold water.

  8. Lizzy:

    Nice, thank you for posting this. You can also use borax as a natural ant bait if you have trouble with ants in your house.

  9. Mindy:

    Cut cost on fabric softner: 1 bottle of Name brand fabric softner.

    Pour fabric softner into 5 gallon bucket or container of choice, then fill with water twice and mix (2 parts water- 1 part fabric softner).

    Cut 4 inexpensive sponges in half and put in mixture. When ready to use, squeze excess liquid from 1 sponge and put in dryer.

  10. kim:

    I haven’t seen any postings on how this works with these new HE (high efficiency) wash machines. Any comments?

    • Carrie:

      As with any HE machine or soft water you just use a little less. I haven’t priced HE soap but I hear it is expensive. When I visit my sister, who has an HE machine, and do her laundry I cut her one ounce liquid by a fourth and the laundry still comes out clean. They didn’t know they were using way too much soap. You can try experimenting with half the recommended usage then cut down from there and find the right amount to use.

    • Christine:

      Homemade laundry soap works really good in HE washing machines because they are low-sudsing, particularly if made with Fels Naptha ;)

  11. Side note: You can easily print coupons from Arm and Hammer’s website – I always get my Washing Soda for $1 off this way. :)

  12. I’ve been making homemade laundry detergent for a couple of years and love it. The recipe I use is a liquid version of the above recipe, available at the Duggar family website under ‘recipes’. I leave out the baking soda.

    I haven’t noticed my whites graying. Perhaps it depends on your water?

    • Ronda Kaufman:

      that’s the same recipe I use and I love. It has helped with my mild skin allergy and I don’t itch anymore. I only liquid becuase we have a septic and can’t use powder.

  13. bronislawa blumschaefter:

    why do you grind up bar soap, instead of just pouring in liquid? I use liquid castile soap, which is phosphate-free, comes in a number of nice fragrances (or unscented) and works great – it’s not cheap, but I need so little (a tablespoon or two per load, along w/baking soda, borax, and white vinegar) that it goes a long way.

    • dianna:

      where can you find castile soap?

  14. I’ve been making my own laundry soap for about 2 years now. I use milled goat soap as my soap, baking soda & borax. White vinegar as my fabric softener. I work in a very nasty environment, grease & such. AND my clothes come clean! With my work clothes I do put it on the pre soak cycle for 15 m inutes and add a little extra borax and it works every time :) I strated using white vinegar as a fabric softener when I found out that regular fabric softeners are flammable. My clothes caught on fire at work as I was welding! Not any more :) And you control static by just drying enough. Over drying is what causes the static. It’s trial and error but we now know where to set the dryer for dryness :)

  15. Adam:

    Just made some last night with 2 bars Fels Naptha, 2 cups Washing Soda, and 2 cups Borax. Maybe next time we’ll try adding 2 cups Baking Soda as well, like your formula. Our costs for the Washing Soda and Borax were quite a bit higher than yours. At least we were able to get it at a local hardware store. I’ve also read that we only need 1 Tbsp. So it’s a fair bit less expensive that way that what we were using, but using the Baking Soda might make it even less expensive.

  16. Ann:

    Laundry soda is made by Arm and Hammer. Look for their traditional trademark same as what is used on baking soda boxes.

  17. Amy Schmidt:

    I live in Florida and have not seeing “washing soda”. Could it be under any other name, or brand name? I love the recipe and am eager to try it. By the way, Fels Naptha is a good skin soap to treat poison ivy. Thanks!

    • Kay:

      Publix and some Ace Hardware stores have washing soda. :-)

    • Andee:

      Might want to check into the washing soda online, I had never heard of it either and googled it. I found that it is caustic and not recommended for laundry as it breaks down fibers of clothing and can be hard on your machine. However, it can be used for occasional tough stains. I found this info here: http://www.diaperpincorner.com.....hing-soda/
      That’s all the looking I did, you may find other info. ???

  18. Cuppie:

    I plan to try this very soon. I have been using Dawn as a spot treatment for those oily type stains (think olive oil or mayo or dressing on a shirt) for awhile now and it’s all I use for those. It works extremely well. I don’t use anything else.

  19. Peggy:

    I use essentially the same recipe – skipping the baking soda and adding a generic oxy powder and using Sunlight laundry (bar) soap instead since I can’t find Fels Naptha up here. I also use only one tablespoon per load (since that is what was indicated on the recipe I used) and find that the clothes get just as clean as with commercial detergent.

    I love my homemade detergent!

  20. Organic Mom:

    I think the whole point of making homemade laundry SOAP is being missed here. The recipes are for SOAP and NOT for DETERGENT. Detergents are chemically based (petroleum) and Soaps are natural. The choice is not limited to saving a little money, but to clean with safe and natural ingredients. Tide and Gain contain really high concentrations of fragrances and other cleaning chemicals that many people are allergic to. If you have tough stains, you can always use extra borax, Dawn dishwashing liquid (original for greasey stains), or even commercial spot treatments on them. One of the purposes of homemade soap is to get away from petroleum-based-laboratory-laundry and use green and natural solutions for everyday problems.

    For really white whites, sunshine is the best bleaching agent there is, and it contains no chemicals and is absolutely free. I do a LOT of gardening and barn cleaning, and homemade soap workd great on natural dirt. The red in red clay soil is iron oxide, so you would have to use a rust remover type of cleaner to get it out. It’s probably one of the chemical agents in Tide & Gain, whether you need it or not.

  21. Jean:

    I made my own laundry detergent and then spent the day experimenting with several brands to see which one cleaned the best and was economical too. I used white hand towels for the test. I took the towels outside and ground them into the dirt (Georgia red clay!). Then I washed each towel with a different detergent. After washing all the towels I placed them side by side to compare how clean they were. The most expensive detergents were Tide and Gain. I also used home made, Extra, Arm & Hammer, Shaklee Basic L. Tide and Gain cleaned the best and when purchased on sale and with a coupon were quite economical. The home made, Extra, A & H, were not acceptable in cleaning whites. Now, if the load was not noticeably dirty the type of detergent might not matter. I also repeated the experiment using OxyClean with the detergents that needed a boost. The towels still were not as clean as the Tide and Gain towels. I also repeated the experiment using wet towels ground into the dirt. I had the same results. I did not expect to find that Tide & Gain won because I was using whatever was on sale. In fact I hoped they wouldn’t perform better. Now I use Tide & Gain exclusively and have cut out OxyClean. This was my experience with detergents, you might experience something different, especially if you don’t have dirty dirt.

    • Lona Ritchie:

      I added a scoop of OxyClean and one to two capfuls of good old Clorox Bleach…..depending on how O.C.D. you are. I found that it not only helped whites but colors as well. The amount of Clorox depends on how much soap you have in the container. I saved an ALL container….the ones with the push button tap….and I use it constantly for my soap. For that size jug I used 2 capfuls of Clorox and 2 small scoops of Oxyclean.
      Of course use less for the smaller containers.

  22. a:

    I’m going to make two comments.

    From the frugality perspective. I’d say rock on. You’ve got some good cost savings. I spent ~$10 on a bottle of detergent and figure its going to last me about 8 months. Of course I’m only one person who doesn’t generate too much laundry. If you had a family and were really cranking out the laundry the little extra effort you spend making your own detergent really adds up to significant savings.

    Now onto chemistry. Your recipe lacks any kind of a whitening agent, thus your clothes will fade or dull over time. This may not be an issue for you but it is something to consider when making the trade off between do-it-yourself detergent and store bought. There may also be some other benefits to store bought detergent that are worthy of consideration before you make the jump to homemade.

    • bronislawa blumschaefter:

      The whitening agents are very overrated – they work in the short term, but since they don’t rise out as easily as the home-made brews, they leave deposits on the fabrics that actually attract dulling dirt/grime. I use white vinegar, which strips out all the deposits, and throw in a scoop of oxyclean every few loads as needed – my clothes are as bright as they’ve ever been.

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