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. I have been using this recipe for about two years now, and have had no problems with it in cold water. My only complaint is that my whites don’t come out as white. Had anyone else seen this?

  2. Jason Jordan:

    I use only cold water for laundry to save electricity. Would this work in cold water or needs warm, or hot water to work?

  3. OMSH:

    Hey, I’m an editor at sk*rt and added this article. Thanks!

  4. Leslie:

    Just be safe! and informed re borax.

    http://www.strobel.com/studies.htm

  5. Thanks, this is great. Will see where I can get the ingredients and have a go. I use vinegar for fab softener but haven’t tried washing powder yet.

  6. Josephine:

    Great recipe! Also Borax is a great bug deterrent. Just sprinkle a ring of borax around your foundation to keep ants and other creepy crawlies away. When I lived in a small room in College (in Boston) there were roaches everywhere, so after I swept my room, I would sprinkle borax all around the walls and no more roaches. And put the washing soda mixed in water with some aluminum foil on the bottom of any non-metallic container (i.e. glass or plastic) and put in your silver, tarnish will be gone!

  7. Marla Daniels:

    I like the idea of making my own detergent. I’m not too keen on having to buy the Borax. What I plan to do is to drive down to Death Valley and obtain my own borax from there. That way I can do not have to pay for any commercial ingredients.

  8. Unfortunately, our food processor doesn’t do well with liquids. It doesn’t seal right (works for carrots and such, though). But I’ll remember this anyway, in case someday I have one.

  9. Anitz:

    Thanks so much for the tip to check wikipedia… they have also got many articles in German and you can see if someone has already submitted an article on your choice subject by hitting the appropriate language button in the right side bar…

    so now I have the absolute information I need… now just to get down to finding out where to get this stuf…!

  10. Lynnae:

    @Anitz – I couldn’t find the chemical name on either of the boxes. This is what I found on the web.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borax
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_carbonate

    @Lisa, I’ve only been using this for about a week, so I haven’t experimented with amounts yet. It seems from reading other laundry detergent recipes that I could probably get by with only using 1/2 bar of the Fels Naptha when I make the detergent. If I can’t cut back the amount of my recipe that I use per load, I may try using less Fels Naptha next time, which would make each load considerably cheaper.

  11. Lisa:

    I’ve been thinking about this, but as of yet haven’t had a reason to try it. It only costs me 3 cents a load (or less) to do laundry anyway. (Or at least it will for the next year since that is how much detergent on hand.) I combined sales and coupons and only use 1/4 to 1/2 of the recommended amt. of detergent and my laundry still comes clean.

    Have you tried using 1/2 of the homemade stuff? I was wondering if it would still work.

  12. Anitz:

    Two questions:

    what is washing soda
    and what is borax?

    I live in Germany and we can get baking soda here… we need the chemical names… (baking soda is bicarbonat)

  13. Lynnae:

    I’m back with the suds report. There are no suds, so I would think it would work OK in high efficiency washing machines.

  14. michelleh:

    Hi Lynnae,
    Any idea how this compares to Sam’s detergent in the big bucket. I’ve used this for serveral years and it’s pretty economical. It does however fade colors after a while. Thanks for the recipe – I may try it out.
    Blessings!

  15. Toniette:

    I’ve been thinking about trying homemade detergent for a while… but I was wondering if it was safe for high-efficiency washers? I’ve heard that lots of suds can be damaging for HE washers…
    thanks!

  16. Lynnae:

    @Toniette – I know the liquid recipe that Bev posted doesn’t suds much at all. I don’t think mine does either, but I haven’t checked. I have another load to throw in the laundry in a little while, and I’ll see how many suds it makes. I’ll be back with the definitive answer later. :)

    @michelleh – I really don’t know how it compares to Sams. We don’t have a Sam’s Club here, so I’ve never tried it.

  17. This is so GREAT! When I run out of laundry detergent (2010??) I will do this, lol. My dad bought my and my sister laundry detergent and dryer sheets in bunk in 2005 and I haven’t run out yet! I have to say: Dad – that was a great housewarming gift :D

  18. LJ:

    This is pretty cool, I will definitely try it. I have been trying to use all homemade cleaning products, but have never tried a home made laundry detergent before. If it saves me some time and space in my cupboard, I am on board! I do roughly 20 loads a week!!!! That can really add up!

    Take Care

    LJ

  19. Lynnae:

    @Dearest Jessica – I forgot to tell you that it was really easy to clean the food processor. I just washed it in the sink, like I do with all my dishes, and everything came right off.

    @Bev – Thanks for sharing your recipe. I know some people really like the liquid recipes, but I’ve always been more of a powdered laundry detergent gal. Plus, I have a hard time finding room to store a big bucket. :)

  20. Angie Hopkins:

    I have never been able to find washing soda anywhere! I have seen Zote before but I can’t justify buying the ingredients online and paying shipping costs.

    My strategy is to maximize coupons and shop at either CVS or Walgreens. This week I was able to get bottles of Tide for only $.50 each after I worked a few deals. I bought 8 bottles and am stocked up for awhile.

  21. Lynnae:

    @Angie – That’s a great deal on Tide! Our area never has coupons and sales that are THAT good!

    For those looking for ingredients, the washing soda is Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda. I can get both the Washing Soda and the Fels Naptha at both Fred Meyer and Winco, but I think both of those stores are pretty much only in the Pacific Northwest, so I’m not sure that helps much.

    And it probably would not be worth it to buy the ingredients online and pay shipping.

    Here’s what the Washing Soda looks like:
    http://www.soapsgonebuy.com/Pr.....ow=ExtInfo

    And you can click on the Fels Naptha link in my post to see what that looks like. It’s always nice to know what you’re looking for.

  22. I also make my own laundry soap. I love it. It is non sudsing and it cleans my clothes without the added extra scents that regular detergents leave behind. Plus it is great for my sensitive skin. My receipe:
    1/2 bar Fels Naptha Soap grated (I use a grater I got at dollar store cause it seems to reatin soap taste.)
    1 cup borax
    1 cup washing soda
    big pot
    5 gallon bucket

    put 4 cups water & grated soap in big pot and cook over low heat until all mixed (stir alot)
    once soap is dissolved add 1 cup borax

    pour mixture into 5 gallon bucket
    add 3 gallons hot water from tap
    stir
    stir in 1 cup washing soda
    mix well

    let set 24 hours

    this will be a gel, not really liquid or solid.
    This can fill 3 empty 100oz. laundry detergent bottles, and then some. Great cost, great product. No suds, but cleans great. Takes a alittle time to make but works out to like .4 cents a load.

    Thanks! -Becky R in NJ

  23. I have a few questions.
    1. Where did you get the ingredients? I use Borax in addition to laundry detergent, but where do you find the other stuff?

    2. How easy was this to clean out of your food processor?

    Thanks this is a fun site!

  24. Bev:

    I’ve been using homemade laundry detergent for a few years now and have tried different variations of ingredients and found the right amount of each to get my clothes really clean, the recipe I use is here:

    http://www.christianhomekeepin.....rgent.html

    Bev

  25. This is very good information. I’ve never made my own laundry detergent, but I’d like to try. Hmmm, I’m a bit unclear on the washing soda, I’m afraid. Where can I find this? Is there a certain brand?
    Thanks!

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