Saturday, June 12, 2010

Natural Homemade Laundry Detergent

I've been tempted to try making my own laundry detergent for quite some time now -- but before marriage it didn't seem practical, and in the early (busy!) days of setting up house I opted for Arm and Hammer's perfume/dye free detergent. At least it didn't have most of the chemicals I objected to, and it really had absolutely no scent (I've seen plenty of "no scent" items that still list "fragrance" as an ingredient!). At around $6 per bottle, however, I knew that wasn't going to be cost efficient -- especially if our family grows, as we hope it will!

So when our Arm and Hammer ran out last month (I got about 4 months out of it, with an average of 2 loads per week -- it advertises that it does 32 loads, so I ended up with a few extra loads' worth), I decided to look into natural, homemade detergent once more.

And after scouting out the territory for a while (here's a website with several recipes that I found to be helpful), this is what I came up with! I'll expound on some of my choices and variations later on.



~ 1 bar of laundry-suitable soap (I used Kirk's Castile), about 4oz.
~ 2 cups of Borax
~ 2 cups of Baking Soda Note: See update at end of post

Yield: Approx. 6 cups
Use: 1 TBSP for average loads, 2 TBSP for heavily soiled loads
For: Top-loading machines (may work with front-loading, but I'm not sure)

Step 1

Grate your bar of soap, using a fine grater if possible. My 4 oz. bar made about 2 cups of grated soap.

Step 2

Measure out your Borax and Baking Soda into a large bowl -- If you're using a 1 lb. box of baking soda, just dump the whole thing in!

Step 3

Combine your soap "flakes" into your bowl and mix your three ingredients together.

Step 4

Store your detergent in an air-tight plastic container; to label it without damaging your container, write on a piece of packing tape, rather than the container itself.

Step 5

Measure and go!

The Results: I just did a load each of whites and darks, and everything came out beautifully! Actually, I think the whites look cleaner and brighter than they did with the Arm and Hammer or with Soap Nuts (which I've been trying for the past few weeks). There was no residue left on the clothes, and they smell quite clean (not a fragrance, just a clean smell, if you know what I mean!) I'm sold on this stuff!



Now for a cost analysis! After all, part of the appeal of homemade detergent is that it's cheaper than store-bought. Here's the breakdown:

~ KIRK'S CASTILE SOAP: $3.17 for a 3-pack at Publix ($1.06 per batch)
~ BORAX: $3.36 for a 4 lb. box ($1.33 per batch)
~ BAKING SODA: $0.44 for a 1 lb. box ($0.44 per batch) NOTE: It's usually cheaper to buy baking soda in the cooking aisle, not the laundry aisle! It was 50 cents cheaper to buy four 1 lb. off brand boxes, rather than the 4 lb. brand box in the laundry aisle.

TOTAL: $2.83 per batch

When you consider that the 6-cup yield of this recipe makes enough detergent for 50-90 loads, that comes out to 3 to 6 cents per load! Compare that to 18 cents per load with the Arm and Hammer.

Over the course of a year, with two average loads per week, that comes out to $3.12 for the homemade, and a whopping $18.72 for the Arm and Hammer detergent!


Now for some general observations!

~ Liquid vs. Powdered: I noticed that the majority of the homemade laundry detergent recipes were "liquid" recipes, which usually involve melting the grated soap over the stove, and then adding several gallons of water to the recipe. The laundry detergent that results is often described as "goopy", and requires a rather large container. I don't mind goopiness, persay, but as someone with a laundry *closet* rather than a laundry *room*, the storage issue was important to me. Also, melting soap on the stove just doesn't float my boat... As far as cost is concerned, the yield of the liquid recipes varies largely -- some would yield more loads, some would yield fewer. Anyway, I decided that I personally preferred a powdered detergent because it seemed easier to make, store, and use.

~ Soap: There are many varieties of bar soaps recommended in the detergent recipes I saw -- Kirk's, Ivory, Zote, Octagon, Pure and Natural (which isn't quite as natural as it advertises, by the way), and even Dial. One of the most common was Fels Naptha, which is marketed as a laundry soap/pretreating agent. I purchased a bar of Fels Naptha at Publix, thrilled that I had been able to find it locally! I was a bit concerned by its "Eye and skin irritant" warning, but couldn't find any ingredients listed on the label. The website (which I linked to above) does provide ingredients, and I wasn't exactly pleased with some of them -- especially the ambiguous "fragrance," which can contain who-knows-how-many chemicals. Wasn't that part of what I was trying to avoid in the first place? Plus, if this stuff really is an eye and skin irritant, why would I grate it up and potentially melt it? I may keep the Fels-Naptha to use as a pre-treat stick, but it won't be finding a place in my detergent (Note: I don't know of any harmful results of Fels-Naptha, I simply don't want to take the risk).
So I went back to Publix in search of an alternative (since Wal-Mart is singularly lacking in the "natural products" area). The only natural soaps I found were over-priced and not what I really needed. As I was pouting my way down the soap aisle, I looked down and saw the Kirk's Castile, looking neat and clean in its vintagey wrapping. The ingredients looked good (although "natural fragrance" still leaves me a bit skeptical -- but it's the last ingredient, and I decided to trust them! *wink*), and the price was fabulous. It has a natural "soapy" smell, but it's not strong and doesn't transfer to the clothes.

~ Washing Soda vs. Baking Soda: One thing that almost every laundry recipe I found had in common was a warning against using Baking Soda. They all seemed to say Washing Soda (which is available in the laundry aisle, even at Walmart) is quite different -- which it is -- and it's Washing Soda that you want. I wasn't keen on having to buy the stuff, though, since it's about twice as expensive as baking soda. But I came across several people who mentioned using baking soda with no problem, and when I found this article, I decided to give the baking soda a try. Two loads later, my clothes seem quite clean! I may give Washing Soda a try next time, but at this point I'm inclined to stick with baking soda unless I have a problem.


Well, there's my "dissertation" on homemade laundry detergent! These posts always end up being much more loquacious than I had anticipated. But hopefully it will prove helpful to those of you who, like me, have been on the fence about homemade laundry detergent. And hopefully those of you who have some experience with this, or have other laundry tips, will feel inclined to share your wisdom in the comments section! *wink*

Update: I've done several loads of wash now with this detergent, and think I might add some washing powder to the mix -- the clothes come out clean, but I've noticed that a few of my husband's t-shirts still have some deodorant residue.


  1. This is so helpful! I already use that coconut soap for my bathroom and like it. I have also been using the Arm & Hammer detergent you were using, but I bought my bottle for only $2 on sale. I've never liked the idea of using a store-bought detergent though and have been wanting to switch over to something homemade for some time now. Thanks for your recipe (and exposition!) :)

  2. I may try and make my own detergent/ We use "eco-balls" which you re-use, and we worked out that they cost about 3 pence a wash. We got them in October and haven't had to replace them yet. The only problem is they aren't suitable for heavy duty washing, like towels and bedding, and when using the soak setting to get out stains - I tend to revert to normal washing powder for those, so I may have to try your "recipe" :-)

  3. As someone who spent yesterday upset in Walmart over the laundry detergent choices, I am going to give this a try when I run out of what we have. Thank you for sharing your recipe and your thoughts :)

  4. Thank you for doing a post about this...this is such a great idea.

    I have known about homemade landry detergent for a little while now but have not really had any opportunity to follow through with trying it.

    This is a great way to add to my homemaking skills and save money as well.

    Thanks for the post and keeping me motivated.

    Other recipes I know are from the TLC show which follows the 'Duggar Family' and if you go to their website, they have family recipes, which includes homemade laundry detergent, I believe liquid, not sure of powder.

    Check it out.

  5. I know this is kind of an old post, but I thought I'd toss in my two cents about the Fels Naptha soap. We've used it for years, for stained clothes, washing very dirty hands, and cleaning poison-ivy-infected skin. (I also vividly remember a couple occasions when I got my mouth washed out with it - yuck!) I've never known it to be a skin irritant though, and it's EXTREMELY good at getting out tough stains - dried blood, etc.

    I'm going to have my own apartment this year with a washer and dryer, and I think I may have to try this recipe. Money is in short supply at college!

  6. Gillian, thanks for the first-hand knowledge of Fels Naptha! I didn't return my bar, and I might give it a try the next go around.

    Anonymous, I actually ran across the Duggar's recipes while searching online! I believe they have both a liquid and powder recipe, but I don't remember for certain. Thank you for the suggestion!


  7. You have a lovely blog. I'll be visiting often!

    I came across the "cooked" laundry soap recipe about 15 years ago and used it successfully. I use liquid castille soap for other cleaning recipes I have, and decided I'd try it for laundry. It works the same as the cooked version and is much easier to make. Find the recipe here...


  8. I just wanted to say how great it is you make your own laundry soap! My mother, sister, and I started making our own about a year ago and love it! Our dad was not too sure about it at first, but now he does not even notice the difference. We have taught lots of our friends how to make it as well! I will have to experiement with your recipe sometime! I am so glad to hear that you are doing it too!

    Do you ever make soap for hand washing and the like? My mother wants to start experimenting and making bars of soap as well in August. We are excited! I would love to hear about it if you have done that too.

    It is inspiring to see your posts as a new home maker!

  9. Hey! You can make Washing Soda by baking Baking Soda just do a quick google search for a method :)


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