Maybe Matilda: Homemade Laundry Detergent

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent

I've been interested lately in using more natural, homemade cleaning products in my house--I wish I could say that this was for environmental, earth-happy reasons, but my main motivation was the other type of green . . . saving big bucks, baby! I do worry a bit about breathing in those awful smelling fumes, coating all the surfaces in my house with who-knows-what chemicals, and rinsing it all down the drain, so I loved the thought of actually knowing what's in the products I use to clean my house, as well as saving some money by using simple, cheap ingredients to make my own cleaning supplies.

I decided to start by making my own laundry detergent, and researched recipes online. Most of the recipes I found are quite similar--you can find a list of 10 detergent recipes here, and a rather in-depth post with a recipe, cost breakdown, and Q&A here . . . according to that last link, using homemade laundry detergent costs about a penny per load, a huge savings from the cost of using store bought detergent (roughly $0.50 per load). I was skeptical about how well homemade detergent would work, but I've found it to be just as effective as any store bought detergent I've ever used, and leaves our clothes just as clean and fresh-smelling as before. And the cost is just unbeatable--the supplies to make dozens of gallons of my own laundry soap cost about the same as one container of store bought detergent. Can't beat that!

What You'll Need:

1 bar of soap (many recipes call for Fels Naptha soap, which I read was rather harsh, so I used a bar of Ivory soap, but you can use whatever bar soap you have on hand)
1 cup Borax -- I found it at Smith's . . . there was none at KMart (the employee I asked made me repeat it 3 times before finally giving up and sending me away), and none at a store called, ironically, Cleaning Suppliers, where the employee finally called someone (who? no idea) to ask what Borax was
1 cup washing soda (not baking soda! There's a difference!)

Note before you get started: Unless you have a really, really big pot and bowl (more like a huge bucket) to mix this in, I'd recommend halving the recipe--I had to try and divide it into portions as I was adding ingredients because I couldn't fit it all into my biggest pot or bowl, and lost a few cups of detergent along the way.

Pour one gallon of water into a large pot, and grate your bar of soap into it; heat until the soap dissolves. Add the borax and washing soda and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, add a gallon of cool water, and stir it all up. Pour it into whatever container you plan to use (I used a milk jug and an empty container of store bought laundry detergent), and there you have it--two gallons of homemade laundry detergent! Add 1/2 cup of your detergent to each load of laundry. 

I find that my detergent's consistency changes over time--the day I made it, it was very thick, like jello (I had to scoop it out of the container to use). A few days later, it was kind of soupy with big gel-like chunks. Over time, it settled into a thick liquid, like regular store bought soap. I just make sure that, no matter the consistency, I give it a good shake before pouring it out to use, and it never seems to affect the laundry's cleanliness at all.

When my store bought versions run out, I'd also like to try homemade dish detergent, fabric whitener, shower spray, and all-purpose cleaners. What do you think of homemade cleaning supplies? Love 'em? Don't trust 'em? Willing to give 'em a shot?

EDITED 10/8/11
A few commenters (Mountainrose, Coffee Queen, and Bellamere Cottage) mentioned using this same recipe minus the water to make a powdered detergent. That sounded WAY better to me, since the most difficult part of the process was finding a pot big enough to hold all the wet ingredients, trying to mix it all evenly, transfer without spilling, etc. So when my wet batch ran out, I tried their idea--following the exact same recipe, minus the water, I ended up with a powdered detergent that I like SO much better than the liquid! Just add 1 tablespoon per load (I have a front loader and measure it out into the little detergent drawer at the top, then send a little water down after it to make sure it finds its way into the machine), and it works just as well as the liquid detergent. Smells fresh and clean, takes up so much less space in your cupboard, and is so much easier and quicker to whip up!

27 comments :

  1. My mom makes hers in 5 gallon buckets and my stepdad has an electric paint stirrer that he uses to mix it really well. Costs next to nothing, lasts forever, doesn't irritate Mom's sensitive skin!

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  2. My sister and I have made this a couple of times, and we divide it up between the two of us. Haven't done it in a year though. I like the idea of Ivory soap. Have to try that.

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    1. My mom and I use this recipe, only we add ivory soap too. So we use the fels-naptha and ivory soap. We love it.

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  3. Do you know if you can use this in a high efficiency washer? We used regular detergent once instead of the kind marked HE and had suds EVERYWHERE!

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  4. I've been trying to save money using coupons and I got a bottle of detergent cheap but I don't even like this detergent! LOL I will have to try this, ESPECIALLY since I can save money and we are all about green here!
    Hopefully I can find that Borax!

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    1. I found Borax at Target (in the laundry sections) a few months back.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Miss Meg, I'm not sure about a high efficiency washer--it works great in my front loader (I don't know if that's high efficiency or not!), but it's VERY low suds-ing (is sudsing a word?), so I can't imagine it would cause too much crazy suds overflow . . . but I definitely can't make any promises. Let me know if you try it out!

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  6. Thanks for sharing about this! I've read a lot of posts about homemade detergents, but I feel a lot more willing to give it a try now that I'm hearing about it from a blog I actually follow (especially after seeing the per-load cost breakdown!).

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  7. Inspired! I want to make it today.

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  8. Thank you so much for sharing I would LOVE to do this!!!! Thank you so much for sharing and for linking up to Show and Share #2. I hope you are having fun at the party :)

    A mommy's life...with a touch of YELLOW
    tyandwhitneyulrich.blogspot.com

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  9. I adore my homemade laundry detergent! I won't ever go back! It doesn't irritate my kids and works well on my running clothes and hubby's work clothes.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    Visiting from Southern Lovely!

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  10. Yay, I've been waiting for this post! Can't wait to try it out for myself! Thanks for sharing this friend!

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  11. So, I've been interested in homemade cleaning products of late, but haven't really done much about it. I do use vinegar+water on hard floors and countertops and it works great. Thanks for the tips on the homemade laundry detergent. I will make this when mine runs out, I think!

    P.S. One of your commenters when to high school with me (Whitney Ulrich). The blog world is a small world.

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  12. Did you know, if you prefer powdered laundry soap. you can just mix up the gratedd bar soap, Borax (20 mule team, usnally on the top shelf at the local market) and washing soda in a container, and then just dish out a 1/4 cup per average load, using just as you would your store bought powdered soap.

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  13. Oh Need a bathroom sink scrub? 1/2 and 1/2 Borax and Washing soda on a damp rag works wonders on the sink and tub.

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  14. Oh Need a bathroom sink scrub? 1/2 and 1/2 Borax and Washing soda on a damp rag works wonders on the sink and tub.

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  15. I use this same recipe minus the water and just make a powder detergent. I use 1 Tbls. per load and it works great. It is totally safe for an HE machine as it is a very low suds formula. I also have ditched my fabric softener and just full my softener cup with white vinegar. Works great!!!

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  16. What does it smell like? I tried switching to fragrance free and all of our clothes smelled dirty...which probably means my washing machine isn't doing it's job...

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  17. I make my own soap too.... but leave it dry... I think it cleans BETTER than detergent and my clothes are softer too. LOVE it....

    I use Shaklee Basic H for most of my cleaning needs. I don't think you could replicate it as inexpensively. It costs about a penny to make a Windex bottle full of window cleaner.... ONE DROP! HOLY MOLY... it has NO smell and cleans better than anything I've ever used. It replaces EVERYTHING in your cleaning cabinet. AWESOME. I bought the 1/2 gallon size... I think it was about 30 dollars, but will last me until I'm in heaven.

    Warm blessings,
    Spencer

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  18. I made some like this just last week! I love it! It saves so much money!

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  19. AWESOME IDEA! love it! I will have to try it!

    I would love it if you would share this and/or any other projects you have been up to at Tuesday Talent Show at Chef In Training Tomorrow! Plus there is going to be a fun giveaway too! Thanks so much and I hope to see you there!
    -Nikki
    http://chef-n-training.blogspot.com/

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  20. Well, I know I'm a little late in commenting, but I prefer homemade cleaners too, for mostly the same reason you do and because my lungs are offended by the large amount of Lysol All-Purpose spray my husband uses (my bank account is offended by the huge amount of paper towels he uses when he cleans).

    I use Dr Oz's safe cleanser recipe for counters and sinks. It works great, lasts a long time and gets the metal very shiny! I don't bother with the essential oil and the vinegar doesn't bother me at all.

    For a shower/bath scrubber I just mix some baking soda with dish detergent (I use 7th Generation) then add vinegar to make it foamy.

    And finally, I clean my mirrors and windows with plain water and a reusable cloth. Walmart has cloths that are specific for kitchens/bathrooms/glass etc. and they work great! I think mine are Quickie brand.

    Happy Greening!

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  21. This is belated, but do you know if you use the same amount for a regular washer? A lady I work with gave me some to try (she made it using the exact same recipe) but I don't have a front-loading washer.

    Any advice?

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  22. I have been using the powder version for a long time. I have a front load HE washer and use 1 tablespoon for general not too dirty laundry and 2 tablespoons for the work clothes. I also buy the oxygen cleaner from the dollar tree and put a scoop of that in with the work clothes when necessary. I think the best way to add the detergent is to put it in the tub of the washer and then add your clothes. After making this so much I have found that there are a couple of things that help make it better. Unwrap your soap and let it dry out for a few days or more before you grate it. Use a cheese grater, the one that has the small holes, to grate it. Once it is grated I let it dry for another day or so and throw it in the food processor to get it really fine. I usually make 4 batches at a time so I will throw a cup of borax and washing soda in after the soap is ground up to get it really nice and fine. Then I add the rest of the borax and washing soda needed into a large container and shake it up. Do remember that you should not breathe a lot of the dust from these products so make sure you seal it tightly when shaking it. As long as I have been making this not one member of this family has realized that I have changed detergents with the exception of them thinking I found a better stain removal spray. I love it and you can't go wrong on the price and it is so easy to mix up. Besides using vinegar for your softener you can soak a wash cloth with your favorite softener and wring it out well and throw it in the dryer. You will use less softener but it gives better results. My apologies for the long post but I love this detergent so much better than the manufactured products so I love to convert people. Plus I have a septic system and it seems to like it better since it is low sudsing. Also lots of people like Zote bar soap but ivory is not recommended. Zote can be found at Home Depot and online.

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  23. Is there a similar recipe for dish soap. I love the idea of making my own detergent. Do you know if this homemade laundry detergent is phosphate free too?

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  24. Rachel, the Fels Naptha isn't all that harsh really. But then, I make my own soap. =) It is the very best cleaner I have EVER used! As a general purpose cleaner or laundry detergent using your recipe. It cuts grease and smells better than any other I have tried.

    Thank you so much for sharing this and so much more.

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Thanks for commenting!

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