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.

Freebies

Popular Articles

{83 Comments}

  1. W. Franklin:

    For those of you who are having problems finding the laundry soda (sodium carbonate), it is the same thing as PH Up in the pool chemical dept. Just make sure it says 100% sodium carbonate.

    I use a homemade powder recipe, it seems to work pretty well…:0)

  2. Cheyenna:

    Mine is

    3/4 washing soda
    3/4 borax
    1 bar soap (Ivory/zote/Felsnaptha)

    grade soap and melt in 4 cups of water
    Add powered ingredients and 6 more cups of water. Boil till dissolved.
    Add mixture into a bucket with 1 gallon and 1 quart of water.
    I let mine sit for 24 hours, stirring after that. You can fill old containers 3/4 the way full add shake before using.
    1 cup large load
    3/4 cup smaller loads

    I make 2 batches at a time and add one container of regular liquid detergent. It makes a 5 gallon bucket full.
    it’s cheaper and saves

    If you are worried about your white/whites, add some baking soda to the wash.

  3. Cheyenna:

    You can obtain the Washing Soda ( Arm and Hammer) a Krogers, it’s the only place I could find it besides online. I use Ivory ( plain bar) soap but I’m going to try Zote today
    It does not suds so is great for the HE washers
    and online you can easily find a powered version
    I make it 4 gallons at a time and usually add one container of my normal laundry detergent in it too.

  4. christy:

    You can get Fels Naptha at Ace Hardware. I live in Tx and this is the only place I could find it.

  5. Scott Perry:

    Holey cow! Next thing you’ll be doing your own surgery! Folks, this is NOT how to be frugal. This recipe doesn’t have a fraction of the technology that goes into modern laundry detergents and it is incredibly bad for the environment. The best option is to go to the Dollar store and buy what is on sale that is a NAME BRAND. You’ll get a better deal, preserve your clothing and keep from killing off the fish. Trust me…20+ years making consumer products.

  6. Dava:

    Use Oxiclean instead of washing soda. It was easier to find, and if you buy it in bulk at a hardware store, it doesn’t really change the savings. I thought it worked really well.

  7. Brad:

    To: Lets break down the cost. You didn’t add in the amount that comes from the bar of soap. That is about a cup, for a total of 4 cups. A 2 cent difference, 6.5 cents per load, not big but cheaper than store bought.

  8. Becky:

    I just made my first batch of laundry dtergent and I am excited to try it. How long does it stay good for and does it cause any build up in you machine?

  9. Lynnae:

    Thanks, Quilter Mindy. I know nothing about septic systems.

    If you do prefer liquid laundry detergent, there are plenty of recipes floating around the internet. If you do a search for homemade laundry detergent, you’ll be sure to find something. I’ve tried both, though, and I prefer the powdered kind.

  10. I’m guessing that your husband is thinking of detergent added sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP) (phosphates)???
    I believe the recipes above are ok with septic systems. I have had no problems with mine, and have been using this soap for many years.
    Here is a good page with phosphate info
    http://www.phosphatesfacts.org/what.asp

    There are some misconceptions as to exactly what phosphorus and phosphorus compounds can do.

  11. This sounds like a good recipe, however, my husband always tells me to purchase liquid laundry detergent as it is safer for our septic system. Do you happen to have a recipe that is septic system safe?

  12. karissa:

    BORIC and BORAX are 2 different things!!

    just as washing soda and baking soda are. 8-)

  13. YES, you are right karissa! Boric acid and Borax are different. Borax is the salt of Boric acid. Borax is what you want for cleaning.
    Boric acid is the active ingredient in the commercial bug things, and in Terro ant killer, but I’ve mixed Borax with honey and it seems to work just as well.
    My son the biologist told me that it kills them by weakening their exoskeletons so they die. It will kill them if they just crawl through the dust. I tried it with a dusting of powder about an inch in diameter and a drop of honey in the center, and the ants seemed to disappear. Of course, they may be hiding out there somewhere, just laughing at me…

  14. Erin:

    I cant find washing soda, only baking soda that is sitting by the borax. Also, I can’t find the Fels Naptha soap……..

    Help do you know any places to look?

  15. Stephanie:

    Found Fels Naptha today at Kroger also A&H super washing soda right beside the Borax.
    Fels $1.29 5.5oz bar.
    Washing soda $2.99 5.5 oz box.
    Those were the two toughies to find. I was surprised Walmart did not carry either. But right there as it always is at my local Arkansas Kroger store.
    Can’t wait to try these recipes out!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Stef

  16. Paige:

    Just so you know Borax, according to wikipedia, is the salt of boric acid. I don’t think you need to worry about this:

    Leslie on March 13th, 2008 3:09 pm
    Just be safe! and informed re borax.

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

  17. Becca:

    A word of warning about using Dawn as a stain remover. DONT put it on a stain and then toss it into the hamper. It will leave a blue stain. Wait til you are ready to wash the item first. I ruined several blouses like that.

    Now I use Ajax dish detergent instead. It removes the stain and you can put it on the stain ahead of time!

  18. I have had a free recipe posted for homemade laundry soap at http://laptopquilts.com/quiltf.....cts_id=734

    My local WalMart sells BAKING SODA in a large box in the laundry aisle that looks nearly identical to WASHING SODA. Baking soda is Sodium BIcarbonate and Washing soda is Sodium Carbonate. One little atom of difference, but it is NOT the same. Washing soda lets dirt molecules release from textile fibers and helps soften the water for a cleaner rinse. It helps even if you already have a water softener.

    By the way, commercial detergents are only active in your wash water for 10minutes or less. They are chemically engineered that way, so if you do use them, add them last to your water, not at the beginning of the fill.

    About Borax: If you buy those plastic bug “house” things to put in your cupboards, etc to kill ants and bugs…read the ingredients. Borax is the active ingredient that kills them. It forms gas in them when they eat it, and they do not have the ability to burp or pass gas, so… I was told this once, but have not consulted an entomologist!
    Borax is considered safe to use as a cleaner, but like anything else, you wouldn’t want to drink anything containing it.

  19. Mary:

    Just a note on this tip:

    “My “tip ” . . . 2-4 tennis balls in the dryer – really fluffs things up & cuts drying time by 1/3.It is annoying to listen to – maybe, wait until you go out.”

    Great tip but please don’t leave your dryer on while you go out. I had a close call with a dryer once, it’s not worth losing your house over. I don’t even leave the house with my dishwasher going because the water got stuck on and it would have floded my house had I not been home.

  20. Heidi:

    I read the link about Borax (boric acid) if it is actually that dangerous, is there a safer alternative? Do the commercial detergents have dangerous ingredients in them? Is the amount of homemade detergent used per load small enough that the Borax isn’t a problem??? I know it’s been used forever & have never heard anything bad about it.

  21. Coline:

    Finally . . . home made detergent- thank you very much !

    My “tip ” . . . 2-4 tennis balls in the dryer – really fluffs things up & cuts drying time by 1/3.It is annoying to listen to – maybe, wait until you go out.

    Coline. Manitoba, Canada

  22. Kelly:

    I’ve heard the reason that the vinegar works so well as a softener is because it eats the soap or something like that…So there is no soap residue!

    Here’s what i found on a site
    “The acid in vinegar is too mild to harm fabrics, but strong enough to dissolve the alkalies in soaps and detergents”

    But the question I have is: are the alkalies what clean your clothes? if you put soap with vinegar, is the vinegar just dissolving the soap? is there a point to adding the soap then?

    Curious!
    -Kelly

  23. Jaymi:

    Dear Becky R in NJ,
    I read your comment on making liquid laundry soap. How much do you use per load? The powder recipe calls for 2T. per load.
    Thanks for responding. Great recipe. I’m definitely going to try this!
    Jaymi in Saudi

  24. Shirley:

    I don’t make my own laundry detergent, because I’ve been pretty happy with the prices I’ve gotten for different brand liquid laundry detergents that have a version free of dyes and scents. I am very sensitive to those. I prefer the liquid detergents for their ability to instantly dissolve in any temperature water. I also was always spilling the powdered detergent. However, I do use the vinegar as fabric softener. I also use Borax, but as my dishwasher detergent. Usually a tablespooon of Borax and a tablespoon of baking soda are all that are needed. I have been using the same box of Borax for years. I had forgotten about the Dawn hint. I know people say shampoo is also good. I need to try these again because I have a hard time getting oily/greasy stains out … just from food spills. Shout, Greased Lightning, Mean Green … none seem to work very well. Usually I put laundry detergent right on these stains, but you have to get it in the laundry right away or there can be discoloration. I used to use only cold water, but it really doesn’t get whites as clean. For really tough stains and multiple stains on clothes that are clothes to not being salvageable, I have used the recipe from Tightwad Gazette where you use super hot water from your tap (about 5 gal), 1 cup dishwasher detergent, and 1 cup Clorox II and soak overnight. It has saved clothes, particularly children’s heavily soiled items. It can fade them a little depending on the color, but in some cases that didn’t matter.

  25. Cindy:

    I too make my own laundry soap using ZOTE; it can be found at Latin or Mexican stores and usually cost around $1.49 per bar. It cleans really well and has a nice clean scent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclaimer and Legal Mumbo Jumbo

I'm just an average mom, trying to live a frugal life and get out of debt. I write about things that have (and haven't) worked to improve my family's financial situation. What works for me may or may not work for you, and you should always consult a financial advisor before making important financial decisions.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, I state that I have a financial relationship with companies mentioned in this website. This may include receiving access to free products and services for product and service reviews and giveaways.

Any references to third party products, rates, or websites are subject to change without notice. I do my best to maintain current information, but due to the rapidly changing environment, some information may have changed since it was published. Please do the appropriate research before participating in any third party offers.

For additional information, please review our legal disclaimers and privacy policy.