UPDATED: 4 Easy Steps for DIY Laundry Detergent

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It’s been 3 years since I originally wrote this post, and much has changed in my laundry life. Since this continues to be the most popular post on my blog, I decided to update it in May 2012.

dsc00023I always try to do inventory of the house before I go grocery shopping. In the past when I haven’t done this, I’ll come home with, say, two bottles of maple syrup, only to discover I already had two bottles in the pantry.

The same is true with checking other household goods. That’s why I’m glad I checked in the laundry room before heading out to the store earlier this week to go food shopping. I picked up the bottle of liquid laundry detergent and gave it a shake–there was barely anything in it. OK, I thought, now is the perfect time to finally experiment with making your own laundry detergent.

I’d read about this practice of DIY laundry detergent on a number of blogs and websites, including Frugal Dad, who said that homemade laundry detergent wasn’t for him. I’d seen recipes for liquid detergent (some involved boiling your DIY laundry detergent on the stove; no thanks) and recipes for dry detergent.

Since the dry detergent seemed to be the easiest to make, I figured I’d give it a go. So that night I went shopping, I added the three ingredients I would need to make my own laundry detergent to my shopping list:

  1. Arm and Hammer Washing Soda
  2. 20 Mule Team Borax
  3. Bar of Fels-Naptha Soap

Thankfully, I was able to find all three items at my local supermarket in the laundry aisle.

At first I’d looked for the washing soda in the bakery aisle, because I figured baking soda? washing soda? Must be the same thing. But it’s not. Washing soda is in the laundry aisle.

I’m already a huge fan of Borax for its stain-removing abilities so I knew where to look for it with the commercial laundry detergents.

And right above the Borax were the bars of Fels-Naptha Soap. My take on Fels-Naptha stuff is that it is like an old-school stain-removal stick except it comes in bar form.

Once I got the stuff home, making the laundry detergent was pretty easy. My plan was to store everything in a reusable Rubbermaid 10-cup container with a lid. So as I went through the steps below, I just dumped the ingredients (shown below) right into this tub.

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  1. 2 parts washing soda (I did this quite literally and started with two cups of washing soda)
  2. 2 parts Borax (again, the literal approach with two cups)
  3. 1 part grated or chopped Fels-Naptha soap (I’d read that some people put the soap in a food processor to get it into tiny bits; I just got out my cheese grater and put it to work)
  4. Mix all ingredients (I put the top on the container and gave it a couple of shakes. I could have stirred it with a spoon)
  5. Do laundry (I dropped a 1/4 cup measuring spoon into the container for doling out the detergent. Most of the recipes I’d read recommended using anything from 3 tablespoons to 4 tablespoons of detergent in the wash. I figured why not just measure out the 1/4 cup–which equals 4 tablespoons–and be done with it)

It took me five minutes only to put this all together. Really, only five minutes. Grating the soap is what took the longest.

I have a top loading washing machine (came with the house), so I’ve gotten in the habit of pouring/dumping my laundry detergent in first and letting the tub fill before adding the clothes. Waiting like this allows the detergent to dissolve. In the past I could usually tell that the dissolving was occurring because I could see bubbles. With DIY laundry detergent? Not so much. Actually, not at all. And that had me worried.


Update: I now have a front-loading washing machine that requires HE or high efficiency laundry detergent. Because my DIY laundry detergent recipe doesn’t make bubbles–it doesn’t bubble at all like traditional soap–I’ve discovered it is safe to use in the front loader.

But I dumped in my first load of clothes, let it run its course and came back when I heard the washing machine turn off.

Everything looked clean. And everything smelled clean. I figured, OK, this might just work. And I tossed the wet clothes in the dryer for five minutes to get out the excess water (like I always do), and then started hanging up the items one by one to dry.

I started a second load, then a third and now here I am, four days later, and you know what I’ve discovered? This stuff works.

The only problem is that we, as Americans, have been brainwashed–no brainwashed is too strong a term but it’s a good pun since I’m talking about laundry right–or led to believe that the more bubbles in a cleaning product, the better.

Bubbles=clean.

And when you’re using DIY laundry detergent, you just don’t have the bubbles. And you need to get over that.

Besides, here’s the upside to my DIY laundry detergent experiment:

  1. I made my own laundry detergent. (How cool is it to be able to say that?)
  2. I spent about $6 in the process, and I imagine that this laundry detergent is going to last me a long, long time–much longer than $6 spent on a commercial brand would.

The one downside to my DIY dry detergent? Since I’m still scarred by those “ring around the collar” Wisk commercials from the 1970s, I’m pretty anal about trying to get those rings out of my husband’s work shirts. In the past I would pour the liquid detergent on the “ring” and then sprinkle some Borax on it. Usually just water and Borax didn’t do the trick, which is why I added the liquid detergent to the mix. So when Bill’s shirts came out of the laundry yesterday–and hadn’t been pre-treated–the ring was still there. I considered investing in a small bottle of liquid Tide, just to keep on hand.

But then I thought, wait! Maybe I should try rubbing the Fels-Naptha soap on those rings.

With the next load, I’ll have to give that a try. And I’ll let you know how that goes.

Update: I’ve found that clarifying shampoo–much cheaper than liquid laundry detergent–is a great stain remover!

75 thoughts on “UPDATED: 4 Easy Steps for DIY Laundry Detergent”

  1. I’ve been making homemade liquid detergent for about 4 months now. I love it. Last week I tried making a Concentrate of it, using the same amount of Soap (1 bar Fels), Borax (1 cup), Washing Soda (1 cup), and only 1 gallon total of water. I made it the same way, making sure to use a container that had a large mouth on it, so I could stir it easier since it would be thicker. It is somewhere between a gel & a paste. I only use a little less than 1 1/2 tablespoons per load (I have a top load washer). It seems to be doing the job as well as the regular recipe, but now I only have to have 1 gallon container of detergent sitting around instead of 5.

    I’m not a fan of powdered detergents, so that is why I went with the liquid in the first place. I put the Paste version in the washer with the clothing, and it dissolves easily. My niece just made her first batch ever, using the Paste version, and has an HE washer. She said it all dissolved for her also and things seemed to come out just fine.

    Just thought I would pass it along to see if someone else has tried making a concentrate also.

    Reply
  2. another way to be frugal with your detergent is to just use a 1/4 to a 1/3 of the regular amount of detergent. Instead of my box of original tide powder lasting me 120 loads it lasts me 480 loads. 🙂

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  3. Are the homemade laundry detergents safe for he washing machines? I would like to try something like this but I am afraid it may damage my expensive washing machine. I imagine I would need to use less per load as well, since the machine only uses 10 gallons of water for a wash cycle.

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    • I use 1/3 of a cup of the dry detergent. I don’t know if they’ve been “approved” by the washing machine manufacturers but the ingredients themselves aren’t so far out there as to kill a machine, I would imagine.

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  4. This has not been mentioned, but if you have hard water and get “greying” or just notice a “greying” of your laundry try using Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing. Just a couple of drops of it in the rinse cycle (some say it works just as well in the initial wash cycle) and the clothes come out sparkling. If you can find it locally, great! If you buy it from mrsstewart.com they will charge you about $7.45 per 8 oz. bottle when you buy three bottles which includes shipping/tax. I’ve found they are the cheapest online supplier. But remember, there are 3,648 drops in 8 oz. and you only need a couple drops in each load!

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  5. It takes 5-10 minutes of boiling to dissolve the soap shavings. A minute or two of stirring for the powders to dissolve. I usually make 10 gallons at a time, and store it in old laundry soap bottles. I currently have about twenty five bottles in my basement. The only problem I’ve run into is sometimes if it gets really cold it thickens. Add a little water and it’s just fine again!

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  6. To make a liquid detergent instead (that you can pre-treat stains with), melt your grated soap (and kirk’s castile is great for hard water, but fels-naptha is awesome too) in 4 cups of water. Add this to half a 5 gallon bucket of hot water. add borax and washing soda and stir until dissolved. Fill bucket with hot water, cover and let sit overnight to thicken. You can then either mix it 50/50 with water or I use it full strength and it’s like a gel. My clothes are clean and smell great, and if you start to notice discoloration, well just add a cup or so of white vinegar to the load and that’ll fix that problem! It costs literally less than two cents a load-a little more if you use the vinegar.

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  7. what about skin irratations from the Borax? is there any feedback from that? Our kids have sensative skin but thinking about trying it.

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    • If I get the Borax powder on my skin when it’s wet, it can sting. But remember: the Borax and washing soda are being dissolved with like, 100 parts water to the one part Borax. I imagine it will be so diluted as not to cause a problem.

      Why not check your favorite allergy-free powdered detergent and see what the ingredients are? Maybe you can replicate them in your own DIY recipe.

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  8. You can also use Zote. I have bought it in Walmart or Big Lots. It is a dollar or less per bar and is a nice lemon scent.

    Be careful with Borax. If you use hot water it can turn to hydrogen peroxide and “bleach” some colors. It is extremely toxic if ingested. It can be used to kill insects.

    You can use Zote in a pinch to wash dishes and it is used down here in the south as catfish bait.

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  9. 50/50 washing soda and borax does well and you do not need the fels naptha soap.

    I use magnets and add washing soda to help reduce the impact of the hard water.

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  10. The best (and Cheapest) way to get rid of that “ring around the collar?” Use shampoo! Yes, a regular shampoo for your hair will do the trick nicely. And for a LOT less.

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  11. I used this for quite a while but then my whites and light colors started to look kind of dingy and now I am using regular detergent again. I am thinking though that maybe I can get away with using the homemade stuff if I use store bought once a month or so to brighten things up…. just a thought

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    • Glad to know that you have a similar recipe that’s working for you and is good for your septic system, which we have, too! Thanks for posting a comment.

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    • I don’t have an HE washer so I can’t tell you from first-hand experience BUT I know that the special HE detergents are designed to be less sudsy than regular detergent’s and my recipe doesn’t have ANY suds.

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  12. Daisy said something about coffee stains… you know there are still other stain techniques to add-in. Coffee, tea, mustard, ketchup, berries, blood, grass, etc – take 1/2 tsp of your DIY soap and abt 2 tsp of water. Add white vinegar – 1 to 2 tsp. Apply to stains. Vinegar CAN bleach things, so be careful if it’s not “color safe”, but I never had trouble with this. Owned an espresso bar – coffee stains daily. I actually just added some vinegar to my work clothes loads 😉 But the mix as a stain remover for these types of stains works excellent. Use a nail brush or old toothbrush to work it in if it’s bad or set.

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  13. While making your own laundry detergent is economical, make sure it has the right formulation for your washing machine. Front load washers require HE detergents. That is because front loaders produce more suds than regular top loaders. If you have a front loader, it is better to use HE detergents. Otherwise, you will shorten the life of your washer.

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    • Well, then, my DIY recipe is PERFECT for front loaders because it doesn’t suds at all! Good to know.

      Leah

      Reply
  14. I have been making me own laundry soap for over a year now and will not go back to commercial soap ever again. Some of my children used to have skin irritations from the soap but not any more. I have a frony loader, so I make it liquid which only takes about 20 munites longer to make. If any one has made their own shampoos I would really like your recipes. I have tried but haven’t figured out the right recipe yet.

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  15. I am going to try this!

    For the soap I plan on using Sonnet Gall soap. I found a couple places online where sometime tried this with great success. I’ve been using it to treat stains for years – I love it! It. works. every. time. Seriously.

    Unfortunately the only place I can find it is Nova Natural Toys, it’s $5 a bar, and costs $5 to ship.
    http://www.novanatural.com/s.nl/it.A/id.1338/.f?sc=19&category=20910

    I’ve talked so highly of it it that many of my friends wanted to try it, so last time I ordered more. I think it was 11 or 12 bars, and then shipping worked out to $1.50 a bar. It seems pricey, but *it works* and it lasts me between 6-9 months.

    So this time I’ll order 2 bars, one to be grated into my homemade laundry detergent (they are about the 1/2 to 1/3 the size of a fels naptha bar) and one for stains.

    I’ll let you know how it goes!

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  16. I found Arm & Hammer Activated Baking Soda Deodorizer. Do you know if that is the same thing?

    I have not found the fels-naptha bars yet, but still have a few more places to look. Target did not have them. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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  17. I also start making my own laundry powder recently. I learnt the recipes on the web which are mostly American. It is not easy to get the ingredients here in Hong Kong. I have to buy borax from Chinese Medicine stores (yes, you read it right). Washing soda from home supplies stores and there is no Fels-Naptha Soap here. But I found the FAN laundry soap works very well.

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  18. Fels Naptha should not be used as an overall body soap or regular laundry additive since it contains Stoddard solvent, a skin and eye irritant, and formerly used in dry cleaning.

    According to the “Chronic Health Effects” section of the National Institutes of Health’s MSDS for Fels Naptha:

    “Chronic toxicity testing has not been conducted on this product. However, the following effects have been reported on one of the product’s components. Stoddard solvent: Repeated or prolonged exposure to high concentrations has resulted in upper respiratory tract irritation, central and peripheral nervous system effects, and possibly hematopoetic, liver and kidney effects.

    Stoddard solvent is another name for mineral spirits, which are, like petroleum distillates, a mixture of multiple chemicals made from petroleum. Exposure to Stoddard solvent in the air can affect your nervous system and cause dizziness, headaches, or a prolonged reaction time. It can also cause eye, skin, or throat irritation.”

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  19. Pretty cool. I will definitely try this. Every time I spend over $20 on laundry detergent, I ask if there isn’t a better way. My kids suffer from eczema so I”ll have to check the ingredients very thoroughly.

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  20. I’m glad you like this “recipe.” I just made myself a new batch today. Since I’m out of Fels-Naptha soap, I just shredded one of those free bars of soap you get at a hotel. So far it’s working just as well as the other kind of soap–and it’s cheaper, too.

    Leah

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  21. Thank you so much for posting this! I have been using this for about 2 months now and I just love it!! I love the smell of the fels-naptha 🙂 and I have also noticed that old stains are disappearing. I have been using 1/4 cup, but after reading the comments I think I will try cutting it back. Thanks again!

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  22. i have read that both fels naptha and borax are toxic??? has anyone else seen this? i really want to make my own detergent, but i am nervous about putting these chemicals on my kids…

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  23. If you really want to save money while going green, check out the Biowashball. I like it better than detergent because it doesnt leave any residue and for $34 a ball, it lasts for 3 years or 1000 washes. My clothes are softer and they dont smell like detergent or essential oils, just clean clothes…

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  24. I don’t see why it wouldn’t. When I had a front loader, I would use powdered detergent in it. But since I don’t have a front loader now, I can’t give you first-hand feedback on it. Sorry.

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  25. For those who launder in cold water, just dissolve the borax and other ingredients in a bowl of hot water first by stirring it. Then add it to the cold water wash. No problem.

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  26. I have been making my own Laundry Soap also. My recipe is a bit different. My cost is about $2.oo per 5 gallons which makes 10 gallons if you want to half it again with water. I also add Downey essential oil. On my site I also have Fabric Softener and many other Homemade cleaners. I love them as much or more than the store bought cleaners. I can’t believe how much money I have been saving. Our clothes are clean and our home is bright and shiny. We are pocketing the extra cash!
    These are the things our Grandmothers did before Walmart! It is so fulfilling creating my own Homemade Cleaners!
    http://farmingonfaith.blogspot.com/

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  27. I remember those ads! I can hear the parrot chanting “ring around the collar!” My biggest trouble is coffee stains. I think the borax would do the trick. Is this mix safe for delicates?

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  28. Wow! Does this bring back memories. I remember sitting at my Grandmother’s kitchen table on many a Saturday afternoon cutting bars of American Family soap into pieces with a paring knife.

    I recommend shampoo for ring around the collar — generic or Suave of course.

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  29. Glad to see it’s working out for you. We’ve only been using one tablespoon and it has been working – of course since we don’t have kids home any more our clothes might not be as dirty.

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  30. I do wash in cold water only–it’s the frugal way to save energy–but I’ve never noticed residue from Borax at the end of the wash cycle.

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  31. Do you wash in cold water? Have you had any problems with your detergent not dissolving completely? I use borax and liquid detergent made into a paste for pre-treating stains and have noticed I will sometimes see bits of the borax in the bottom of my washer since I always wash in cold water.

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  32. Can someone please report back with a cost analysis? Is it that much cheaper to make your own laundry detergent? I’d like the fiscal facts! 🙂

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  33. Well, I have a septic system so knowing that this change to DIY laundry detergent might do my septic good is all the more reason for me to do it! Thanks for letting me know that.

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  34. I have been using this recipe for about 6 months or more and it works great. I use a 2:2:2 ratio and can’t purchase Fels Naptha here, so I use Ivory soap.

    I honestly think my clothes are cleaner than when I used commercial laundry detergent.

    On another note, a friend had problems with their septic system and the company that fixed it said it was caused by all the fillers in laundry detergent mucking up the system. I didn’t know laundry detergent even had ‘filler’.

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  35. This is the same recipe I use for my laundry…it is fantastic! I have a four-month-old son, so I use a bar of Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild soap instead of Fels Naptha. I use the same homemade detergent for all of our clothes as well as my son’s cloth diapers. Haven’t had a single problem, and no need to strip the diapers.

    I grate the soap in the food processor, twice. I also use only two tablespoons of detergent, with great success.

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  36. There is still residue from your previous detergent on your clothes. You might try washing them once or even twice without any soap at all. Seriously. That is how those “magic laundry balls” work. Pre-soaking helps loosen the dirt, so rub on some soap, scrub it with a nail brush and water and then wash it. If that doesn’t work, then soak the shirts overnight in a bucket and then wash them, like you do with the dirty socks, but in another bucket 😉
    regards,
    Theresa

    Reply
  37. No. The Fels-Naptha soap has a distinct odor, which I find refreshing. It smells “clean” to me. I’ve heard that some people also grate Ivory Soap, if that smell would be more pleasing to you.

    Leah

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  38. This is the same “recipe” that I’ve been using. Except I think I was doing a 1:1:1 ratio with all three products. I do think that it’s working as far as general cleaning goes. I’ve had some items that I’ve needed to treat with stain remover and rewash that may have come completely clean with a regular detergent. But knowing that now, I can be more diligent with pre-treating stains. (Or possibly use more detergent.)

    I’m still testing the frugal aspect of it. My first batch seemed to be used up rather quickly and I was only using 2 Tablespoons for a regular load (one for a small load). I made a double batch last week and I’ve set up a hash mark list in laundry room to keep track of how many loads of laundry I get out of it.

    You’re right about the “brainwashing” thing though. It took me a little while to get used to the fact that I wasn’t seeing copious amounts of suds and it made me wonder if everything was really getting clean.

    Reply

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