Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Think back to the last really good deal you got on laundry detergent.  How much did you pay for it?  Did you pay more than .29 a gallon?  I make my own laundry detergent, it cleans great and deodorizes - just like the stuff you buy in the store.  But, it costs 29 cents a gallon

Interested?  Here's how I do it:

The ingredients
That big chunk of soap was made by my lovely mother-in-law, Anna.  I have at least 5# left.  It keeps forever as long as you keep it dry.  You can buy Fels Naptha, which is the same thing.   I found the 20 Mule Team Borax and the Arm & Hammer Washing Soda in the laundry detergent aisle in the grocery store.  The Fels-Naptha can often be found there or at the hardware store.

Your initial investment will be around $12.00 and will make a LOT of detergent.  This recipe will yield 2.5 gallons of liquid detergent.

Here's the math:
Fels Naptha Bar Soap  $1.75  makes 3.5 recipes  .19 per gallon
Washing Soda $4.95 makes 27.5 recipes .07 per gallon
Borax  $4.99  makes 76 recipes .03 per gallon
Save up some old laundry detergent or screw top milk bottles.

Use a box grater to grate 1.5 ounces of bar soap (not bath soap).  Put a cup of water in a very large stainless steel pot and add the grated soap.  Stir with a non-wooden spoon until the soap melts. 

Add 10 cups hot tap water, stir. 

Weigh out 2 ounces of washing soda onto a paper plate.  If there are any lumps, squish them out with your fingers.  Add to the pot, stir.  Weigh out 1 ounce of borax, remove lumps like before, add to the pot and stir.  Cook, stirring until both powders dissolve.

Add 10 additional cups of hot tap water and cook until it is all quite hot.  Cover, turn off the flame and leave undisturbed overnight.

 The next morning, there will be a thick layer of gel floating on top of liquid.  Whisk it very well until all gel particles are very, very small.

Look at your old laundry detergent bottles; how many ounces does the label say is inside?  You will fill your container with HALF that amount of water and the rest with the laundry detergent.  For best results, place the bottle in the sink and measure in the water and detergent with a measuring cup and funnel.  Adding the water first helps prevent foaming.  You want to be pretty accurate - too much water can affect how well the detergent works.

Testimonial:  I have been using this detergent for over a year now.  It's low sudsing and hasn't caused any problem with my front loading HE washer.  My whites get white and my pastels aren't muddy and my darks don't fade.  My clothes look great; they don't smell like anything but cloth. My husband doesn't smell like flowers and I don't smell like a pine forest. If you want scented detergent, you can add essential oil to the mixture. 

I don't use fabric softener, but you can fill your softener dispenser with white vinegar if your clothes are a little scratchy.
One recipe cost less than .72 and filled all these (the milk bottle is 1/3 full).
Here's the recipe in condensed form, which I adapted from The Dugger Family site:

Liquid Laundry Detergent
makes 2.5 gallons, 160 (1/4 cup) loads

1 cup hot tap water
1.5 ounces grated soap (Fel Naptha, Zote or homemade)
2 ounces washing soda
1 ounce borax
10 - 15 drops essential oil (optional, I don't use it)

  1. Put the hot water in a very large stainless steel pot.  Add the grated soap.  Stir continually over a medium-low flame until soap melts.
  2. Add 10 cups hot tap water.  Stir.
  3. Add washing soda and borax.  Cook and stir until the powders dissolve.
  4. If desired, add essential oil to scent the detergent.
  5. Add 10 cups additional hot water.
  6. Stir, cover and leave overnight to thicken.
  7. Whisk very well.
  8. Fill clean containers HALF full of water (measure it!); then fill with detergent (measure it).
  9. Shake container before each use, as it will gel.
Use 1/4 cup per load in front loading machines; 1/2 cup in top loading machines.

Remember, this is a low-suds detergent.  You will probably not see any suds.


  1. Hi! Jen pointed me here. Just wanted to say thanks for posting this recipe.

    I have ridiculously sensitive skin and recently switched to Charlie's Soap. I love everything about it, and so does my skin, but it's more money than I'd like to spend on detergent. I'm going to try this out and compare. As much as I love Charlie's, if there's a cheaper, comparable alternative, I'm all over it!

  2. One of the nice things about this detergent is that it doesn't have any fragrances. Jen is very sensitive to fragrance. It may make your clothes slightly scratchy. I've only notice it with whites, which I also bleach, which may be the culprit. I've found using a little white vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser helps with that.

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  4. Update: My daughter told me she adds all the water the same day and bottles it immediately. Great idea! No difference in the detergent, and saves your arm from having to whisk up that gelled mixture. It also eliminates all that measuring the next day. At step 5 add 20 cups of water. Stir well and pour into bottles. Stir well between bottles to keep it from separating between filling bottles. Wipe down the bottles and put out of reach of the kids. Don't forget to give the bottle a good shake up before each use.


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