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How to Make Your Own Natural Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipes

By Heather Levin

towels laundry detergentIf you buy name brand laundry detergent, it probably contains toxic chemicals. According to an article in Science Daily, researchers from the University of Washington tested all top-selling laundry detergents and found that every single one of them contained at least one chemical regulated as “toxic or hazardous.” However, the ingredients did not list the hazardous chemicals.

The Environmental Protection Agency provides a breakdown of the common chemicals found in most detergents. Many of these chemicals may cause cancer, reproductive abnormalities, and disruptions in endocrine, which controls the metabolism, reproduction, and growth.

Brand name detergents also contain chemicals classified by the EPA as toxic to aquatic plants and animals. The wash water going down the drain contains chemicals that promote the growth of damaging algae, and also negatively impacts the health and reproductive abilities of aquatic animals.

You can easily make chemical-free laundry detergent at home, and save a lot of money in the process. Homemade laundry detergent costs pennies compared to what you pay for name brands like ALL, Clorox, Gain, Purex, and Tide. How much you can save depends on how much you spend on detergent. Most people who make their own detergent say that they save at least $0.10 to $0.20 per load. If you do five loads per week, that’s $0.50 to $1 in savings each week. More importantly, you don’t expose yourself, or your family, to all of those toxic chemicals.

Laundry Detergent Ingredients

The supplies needed to make homemade laundry detergent cost around $10, and most of these recipes make an enormous amount of detergent. You can find nearly all of the ingredients in the laundry or cleaning aisle at stores like Target or Walmart. You can also find these ingredients at discount stores, such as Big Lots, and at ethnic grocery stores.

homemade laundry detergentSome of these recipes call for bar soaps, including Fels-Naptha, Ivory soap, Kirk’s Hardwater Castile, Sunlight, and Zote. You can usually find Fels-Naptha and Ivory soap in stores, or you can order all of these soaps from Amazon.

Additionally, some of the recipes call for washing soda, which refers to Arm & Hammer washing soda. Washing soda is almost the same as baking soda, but is more alkaline, thus making it much stronger. You can use baking soda in homemade laundry detergent, especially when washing baby clothes, but it may not get tougher stains out of your clothing.

Try different recipes and ingredients until you find a mix that works best for you. Keep in mind that you can always scale these recipes up or down. Making larger batches often doesn’t require too much additional effort, and lasts a long time.

Note: You can use these laundry detergent recipes even if you have a High Efficiency (HE) washing machine. If you have an HE washing machine, you need to use a detergent with less of a “sudsing” factor. Recipe #2 is a great one to use for HE washers because it produces fewer suds, but still gets your clothing just as clean. Most of these recipes won’t have the same amount of suds found with commercial laundry detergents. The suds don’t clean your clothes; the ingredients in the detergent work to get your clothes clean.

Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipes

homemade liquid detergentRecipe #1: Liquid

Ingredients:

  • Boiling water
  • 2 cups grated bar soap
  • 2 cups Borax
  • 2 cups washing soda
Directions:
  1. Add the grated bar soap to the boiling water, lower the heat, and stir until melted.
  2. Pour the liquid soap into a large pail or bucket, and add the Borax and washing soda.
  3. Add 2 gallons of water, and stir well.
  4. Cover and store detergent. Use 1/4 cup per load. The mixture gels while sitting, so you have to stir it before each use.

Tip: This detergent does not have much of a smell. You can always add a few drops of essential oil, such as lavender, lemon, mint, or eucalyptus, if you’d like a scent. You can buy essential oils in health stores and online.

Recipe #2: Low Suds Powder

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup grated bar soap
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 cup Borax

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients together. You might want to put them into a food processor to get a really good blend.
  2. Use 1 tablespoon per load, and 2 tablespoons for heavy or stained loads.

Recipe #3: Liquid

Ingredients:

  • 2 gallons hot water
  • 1 bar soap, grated
  • 2 cups baking soda

Directions:

  1. Melt bar soap in a pan with just enough boiling water to cover. Stir until the soap is completely melted.
  2. In large pail or bucket, pour in two gallons of hot water. Add the melted soap.
  3. Add the baking soda, and stir well. Use 1/2 cup per load, or more for oversized or very soiled loads of laundry.

Note: This recipe specifies baking soda, not washing soda.

homemade powdered detergentRecipe #4: Large Batch of Powder

Ingredients:

  • 12 cups Borax
  • 8 cups baking soda
  • 8 cups washing soda
  • 8 cups grated bar soap

Directions:

  1. Mix the ingredients into a large bucket. Add a few cups of the ingredients at a time, to make it easier to blend the ingredients.
  2. Use 1/8 cup per load, or more for larger or soiled loads of laundry.

Recipe #5: Liquid

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups of water
  • 1/3 bar of Fels Naptha (grated)
  • 1/2 cup super washing soda
  • 1/2 cup of Borax
  • 2 tablespoons of glycerin
  • 1 quart of hot water

Directions:

  1. Mix the grated soap in 6 cups of water. Heat the soap on low until dissolved.
  2. Stir in the washing soda and the Borax. Stir until thickened and remove from heat.
  3. Pour 1 quart of hot water into the 2 gallon bucket. Add in the soap mixture and glycerin and mix well.
  4. Set aside the mixture for 24 hours to gel. After 24 hours, add a couple of cups of hot water to the mixture and stir in order to liquefy.
  5. Pour mixture into a covered container, such as a lidded bucket.

Warning: If you have a septic system, you might not be able to use some of these recipes. Some people have reported that the washing soda can negatively impact the balance in the system, unless you offset it with a vinegar rinse. It’s very important to check with a professional to decide whether or not you can safely use washing soda with your system.

Final Word

Making your own laundry detergent is a wonderful way to save money, and keep your family healthy at the same time. The process is easy and inexpensive, and if you make a large batch, it can last you for months.

Also, using essential oils in homemade laundry detergent helps keep clothes smelling fresh. Experiment using a variety of essential oils in your homemade laundry detergent, to find the scent that works best for you.

Do you make your own laundry detergent? What are the recipes that work best for you?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • http://www.madatdebt.com/ Scott Neumyer

    I’d never even considered making my own laundry detergent! Interesting! I might have to give this a try. Thanks for the tips!

    • Casey Slide

      You’re welcome, and good luck!

  • not given

    I heard if you add a little bleach to the liquid kind you can use it as a dishwasher detergent, too

    • Casey Slide

      Cool! I’ll have to look into that! Thanks for the tip!

  • Stacey Patterson

    I’ve been making the powdered detergent for about 6 months now and it is wonderful! I love it… BUT I would like to know how you are grating your soap? I have a hard time finding the right way to grate the soap. Suggestions?????

    • Casey Slide

      That is by far the most, and only, difficult part of the process. I use a cheese grater. If I had a better food processor, I might try putting the soap in there. Another idea would be to use a paring knife. I have not tried this, but it is worth a try.

      • Chris

        Casey I use a vegetable peeler to do the soap part. I peel it just like you would a potato until I have it down to a small piece that I can just crumble with my fingers. Depending on what type of soap you are using will depend on how it does with this process. The dryer soaps will be like sand when you do it this way and the ones with more moisture will be in little curls resembling greated cheese. The ones that are curls or strans I will then put in the food processor and finish grinding it down. I have a very old food processor, so I’m afraid to put big chunks in it, but doing it with the peeler first and then the processor works perfect. You can do the peeling part while you are just sitting around watching TV or just resting. I just put a large bowl in my lap and sit here and peel away until the bar is gone.

        I’ve done this with quite a lot of different types of soap as I also take bar soap and turn it into liquid hand soap or body wash.

        Hope this makes it easier for the ones of you who are having issues grating or processing the soap. I love doing it this way and it saves my fingers from niks on the grater.

        • Heatherllevin

          Chris, thank you for this tip! I use a grater with my Fels-Naptha soap, and I’ve come away with more than a few grated fingers since I started making my own detergent. I never thought to use a vegetable peeler, but will from now. Thank you again!

        • Chris

          Heather I peel pulling the peeler towards me just like I do when I’m using a paring knife. Not sure it would work real good if you peel by going away from yourself. Hope you understand what I’m saying here. With the Fels Naptha it is a very moist soap and it will peel off in curls, then you can either put it in the processor if you want to get it real fine or you can break it up with your hands, prior to melting it in hot water.

          If any one is using Ivory it peel off looking like sand. Won’t need to put it in a processor of break it up prior to putting it in the hot water.

    • Erica

      My food processor has grating tool, so it literally takes me only seconds to grate. However, I have read that putting the soap in a bowl (no water, please) and then putting it in a microwave for a minute will reduce it to powder. I haven’t tried that method myself, but it’s worth a look into. :)

      • Jkluck

        I also use my food processor to grate the soap then I use the regular processing blade to “blend” my powdered detergent. I think it makes it dissolve a lot better in cold water this way.

    • Mrate13

      I use a microplane…gets soap super fine and I can get 5 cups of soap out of one regular sized bar.

    • J Guyer

      I use an old “box grater” on the wide side with smallest holes……when done, put the grated soap in a gallon zip bag and roll with a rolling pin……..comes out to a very fine powder. I use 2 Tbls of the homemade powder soap in my HE washer using cold water and have never had any particles left on any clothes. I fill the softener dispenser cup with white vinegar.

    • klwells

      I use my magic bullet. I cut the soap into cubes and mix it with some powder and blend it tat way. It makes grinding way easier and it gets the soap more powder-y.

  • Liz

    Would this work in a front load HE washer if you can’t put the soap in ahead of time?

    • Casey Slide

      Liz – I do not have personal experience with front loaders, however, it is my understanding that it is alright to use. Check out this website and search on “front load”. Many people have made comments on how they use homemade laundry detergent in their front loaders. http://tipnut.com/10-homemade-laundry-soap-detergent-recipes/

    • Heather

      Liz, I believe these recipes will work in an HE washer because they are low suds. I don’t have an HE washer myself, so I can’t test them out on that type of machine. But they should be ok.

    • deb

      I have been using the homemade laundry soap for two years in my front load HE washer. It works great. Doesn’t suds up like regular store detergent and you use less also.

  • http://www.financialmoneytips.com @Moneyperk

    I never knew you could make your own detergent, I guess you learn something new every day! I am definitely going to try this, not to save money, but to keep my family and myself from those harsh chemicals! To me, it’s not worth the trouble to save a dollar a week, but it is most definitely worth it to keep me safe.

  • Red Sweep

    Adding tri-sodium phospate increases cleaning power enormously. Just add one teaspoon to a regular load along with your regular detergent. Mass manufacturers, distributors and dealers may not add this chemical to their detergent mix because it supposedly fouls waterways, but the facts are not conclusive.

    As far as I was able to determine it is not against the law for private individuals to add tri-sodium phoshate to their wash loads.

    Tri-sodium phosphate was used in almost every deteregent pror to the EPA ban because it was the most effective cleaner for clothes (and dishes).

    I bought 10 lbs. from an online chemical dealer for $30 and it should last me the rest of my life. My clothes are now cleaner than ever before – just amazing!

    • Red Sweep

      In case you’re wondering I should have stated that trisodiumphosphate is a very safe chemical and even has the EU approval as an additive to food.

    • Heather

      Red Sweep, thanks so much for that info! I hadn’t heard of tri-sodium phosphate being added to more natural recipes. I’ll look into it for myself, and I’m sure other readers will as well. Thanks again!

    • BDJgirl

      This sounded promising so I decided to look up Trisodium Phosphate (TSP). What I discovered, however was that it is classified as a “strong chemical” and “Poisoning occurs if you accidentally swallow, breathe in, or spill large amounts of this substance on your skin.” – Here is the web page for the info I found on TSP. It is provided by the “U.S. National Library of Medicine” of the “National Institutes of Health”.

      Now…. With that said – This is NOT to mean that a very small amount in your detergent WILL cause harm, but I personally would weigh on the side of small amount. It could be, like so many other things, that a little is much and much is detrimental… but I am Not a chemist, doctor or any other sort of educated professional on this subject. Take my words cautiously.

  • Roni

    I have been using the last recipe and making my own laundry soap since early 2009. I also have the HE front loader washer/dryer and I do use the white vinegar in the rinse container, not store bought softener. Sometimes, for my Dog Bedding or my throw rugs I do use the Softener, but only once in a while. However, my husband who has always insisted on washing his own clothes (lucky me) uses the store bought detergent,and softener. My Aunt who has bad skin allergies to the toxins in store bought detergent thanks me every load of her wash for sharing the recipe with her. I taught her how to make her own and I get her the ingredients. Her skin all over would break open and be bloody from using detergent, dishwashing soap.(Fels Naptha is not widely available in all areas so I can get that for her and the washing soda as well. Not widely available here either. I buy that at our pool supply store called Soda Ash.) Note: I stopped trying to “fragrance” my soap, as the HE seems to rinse it so well, that there was always only a faint fragrance when washed, and after it dried almost nothing at all. So I stopped wasting the expensive essential oils for doing the laundry. Clothes come out with no smell just really clean. I spot treat with my soap if needed, and most stains come out. Cooking Grease needs a boost, b4 washing,so I use Soillove in the green bottle, and other spot treaters work as well. Petroleum based products break down the fibers in fabrics much faster, and using your own soap seems to leave less lint in the lint trap of the dryer, and less lint means longer life for the fabrics. I found that interesting.

    • Heather

      Roni, thanks for such a great personal story! I’ve had a hard time finding Fels-Naptha in my area too. And you make an excellent point about lint in the dryer; I agree that making your own soap extends the life of your clothes because it’s less harsh, so the fabric breaks down slower.

      Thanks so much for these excellent points!

  • Roni

    I should also add that I will add 1/2 cup for regular loads to my HE Washer and 1 cup for throw rugs and dog bedding ( I have 3 dogs). I also add it right on top of the clothes. Never never, have I had any discoloring problem with this method. I rarely rarely rarely use bleach.
    I also, always double the batch. Yes it will always separate and I use an old stainless steel whisk that I leave in the lidded paint bucket to stir it up before use. I made up 2 double batches yesterday. I also only use this soap for any dishes, not heading to the dishwasher. My stainless steel cooking pans are always shiny. I use this as my Multi-purpose household cleaning product. My tile floors, mirrors, windows etc is all cleaned with this soap. I have learned that you absolutely have to keep the washing towels clean when doing the windows and mirrors or you will get streaks. Dirt still in the towels will go right back on the mirrors, glass and that is when you get the streaks. Only use the wash towel damp…not wet. Wring it out really good. The hotter the water the better. I clean my stainless steel appliances with a fresh hot batch and keep rinsing out the microfibre towel till the water is very clear. This way I never have streaks, and I don’t have to buy window cleaner, or counter cleaner. It works great on my marble counters. It has not harmed anything that I have cleaned yet.

  • Sue

    I would love to try making my own detergent but am a little concerned about what I have heard how it affects the PH in an aeration system. Does anyone have an answer to this? Thank you!

  • Organicmom

    When the recipe calls for bar soap, do I have to use the types listed in the paragraph above the recipes? I love some of the french milled soaps in Whole Foods&Vitamin Cottage and would like to try them. Will they work also or do I need to stick to a specific type of soap?

    • Organicmom

      BTW, I am referring to the dry soap recipes.

      • Heatherllevin

        Organicmom,

        I’m really not sure! All the recipes I’ve ever seen call for these specific brands: Ivory, Fels Naptha, or even Zote. I did a quick search on the Internet, and found the same thing. It might be something you’ll just have to experiment with!

        I use Fels Naptha myself, and am really happy with it’s ultra-light scent and it’s ability to clean my clothes.

        If you end up trying it, could you let us know here? I’d love to know if you can do that!

  • toffy

    “When the recipe calls for bar soap”…..You can use other bar soaps. I use Fels Naptha because it cleans clothes….period. I also add Zote, because it is a large and cheap bar of soap that smells lovely. That is why I use the Zote. I add 2 cups of grated soap. One cup of each…and not packed down in the measuring cup. Sometimes I just toss in 2 handfuls of each, and do not measure. Making homemade soap is not a science…
    I make only the liquid. Use French milled soap if you want too…but it is a waste of money unless it is cheap. And the fragrance you get when making it and storing it…is nice…but it doesn’t transfer to the clothes after they are washed and dried. I used to add 1-2 tbls of Fragrance Oils to my Homemade Liquid Soap….that was a huge waste of money. My clothes never had any fragrance left in them when dried.
    So here is my take on this….
    You are making a cost effective product in the first place, and keeping the costs down to begin with is only a plus. As well as the “green” thing of course, and the non-use of some chemicals.
    I had an experience making a “bad” batch back in early June….out of state at my Granny’s. I think the Fels Naptha was too old and dried out, as well as the bar of purchased soap I got was also quite old. Old Soap takes forever to melt down, and if you are making “dry” soap powder you might find bits and pieces of soap in the clothes that did not completely dissolve. That doesn’t hurt anything, but in a load of dark or black work slacks….and short on time in the morning you don’t want to find bits of soap stuck to the front or back of the black slacks…Been there done that….

  • Dartmuffin

    For those that miss the fragrance of store bought detergent and fabric softeners, this is what works for me:

    I have an HE washer, I use two tablespoons of dry, homemade, laundry detergent. I follow with a half vinegar, half water rinse. (You don’t smell the vinegar once your laundry is dry.)

    Then in the dryer I put a ball of aluminum foil and a few balls of felted wool. I add about 7-8 drops (total) of lavender essential oil to the wool balls. Throw the laundry, the aluminum ball and the wool balls in the dryer. The felted wool is supposed to speed the drying time, and it acts as a fabric softener by “beating” your laundry. The aluminum foil is supposed to cut down on the static (I’m not sure if it works, but I do it anyway).

  • Jaqmarie

    just started my first load with my first batch fingers crossed we like it! My house smells wonderful from melting the fels-naptha!

    • beeda

      which on did you use?

  • Sabeeramuhammad13

    why do you use glycerin in number #5? and what does it help do?

  • beeda

    on recipe #1 how much water do you use when you boil it

  • Andreave

    My baby has eczema… I want to make my own laundry soap (detergent free – All Free and Clear isn’t working), but I don’t even know what this means… which recipe should I try out first?

  • Aisha

    I have been making my own for so long that I have developed my own formula. It gets my clothes clean, bright, soft, and they smell great. I do not use fabric softener or dryer sheets any more! Also, no static cling. I love my detergent.

    • Jamidayle

      I am curious to know what your recipe is…if you don’t mind sharing. I have been unable to find a recipe that gets my clothes clean and I am in desperate need of one to do so. We live on a farm and these ones just don’t seem to work…Please help!! :)

  • Trent Britten

    I tried the easy liquid recipe, the #3; When the product is finished, it’s hot then warm. What long should it wait until I can use it? Should it be allowed to cool? How long does it store? Is it good for whites and coloured loads? At what temperature should it be stored? How particular should I be with the bar soap I use? What is Borax? Because when I looked it up, it said that it had detrimental health problems (which was the entire reason I found this page!)

  • Jeri

    I use #5 without the glycerin. I love it. Also use a vinegar rinse. I have a septic tank. Use white vinegar with lavender essential oil…Smells good. Rinses clothes very well.

  • Jamidayle

    adding some citric acid to your homemade laundry soap will boost its power!!! It is an awesome water softener and it also whitens and brightens your clothes. It neutralizes the washing soda,so you have to use enough washing soda to overwhelm it. The recommended amounts I have found in some recipes is 4WS: 1CA. So, 1 cup of washing soda to 1/4 cup Citric acid in your laundry detergent recipe. Look up citric acid in Wiki and scroll down to read about its amazing cleaning powers!!

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