I started making my own laundry detergent to save money and for the health of my family. This recipe is definitely a cost savings, much better for us than commercial detergents, easy to make, and it really works! I wash a lot of pee soaked toddler bedding and soiled cloth diaper wipes, and this detergent gets them all super clean.
*I like using the liquid laundry detergent better because it lasts longer, and since the soap has been previously dissolved, it works better, but you could also just not add water and use it dry (just make sure you’re washing with hot water).
- 1 Bar of Soap: I like to use Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Castile Soap or Kirk’s Natural Castile Soap, which is a little cheaper.
- 1 c. Washing Soda: Get some here or find it in the laundry aisle at your grocery store for about $3.50.
- 1 c. Borax: Get some here or find it in the laundry aisle at your grocery store for about $3.50.
- Cheese Grater: I like using this stainless steel stand up grater.
- 2 Quart Pot Filled with Water
- 1 5-Gallon Bucket: Get one here.
- *Oxygen Booster Get some here. You can add this separately to your wash cycle to get whites whiter.
- *Fels Naptha: Get some here. This works really well to get out tough stains. You can add a grated bar to this recipe to make it really powerful, or just grate some up in a bucket of hot water to soak the stained garment. *Warning: Once I washed Jack’s baby blanket with this and he got a really bad rash on his face, so I don’t use it anymore.
Directions for Liquid Laundry Detergent
- Boil Water: I like using a two quart pot, but really any size will do.
- Prepare the Soap: Use a cheese grater to grate an entire bar of soap. You could also cut the soap into slivers with a sharp knife or cut it coarsely and put it into a food processor. Basically anything that will help the soap to dissolve quickly.
- Add the Soap: Add the soap to the boiling water, turn the burner down to a 6, and stir with a wooden spoon until the soap dissolves.
- Add the Borax: Add the Borax first because it doesn’t react as volatilely as the Washing Soda! I like to use a liquid measuring cup and slowly add the Borax while stirring with a wooden spoon until it is dissolved.
- Add the Washing Soda: Keep your eye on this one because too much heat can make it bubble over and not hot enough won’t allow it to dissolve. Continue stirring with a wooden spoon until dissolved.
- 5-Gallon Bucket: Once everything has dissolved, pour into a five gallon bucket. Fill to the top with hot water. I like to use the sprayer on my sink to do this. 5-Gallon Bucket Filled with Liquid Laundry Detergent
- Stir: Stir two or three times a day for the first two to three days until it reaches a gelatinous consistency.
- Use: I do a lot of laundry and a lot of big dirty loads, so I usually use 1 cup per load, for smaller less soiled loads, you could use ½ cup.
(To make a dry laundry soap, just mix the dry ingredients together and don’t add water, store in a mason jar, and use 2 tablespoons per load. I personally feel like the liquid soap is better and lasts longer, however.)
- What about HE washers? This detergent isn’t very sudsy and should work just fine in HE washers.
- Why hot water? The next time you make some hamburger patties, try running your hands under some cold water to get them clean. Doesn’t work so good, does it? Now try adding some soap. Still doesn’t work too good. Now try rinsing your hands with warm to hot water. Pretty cool, huh? Now, try adding a little soap to some warmish hot water and notice how your hands are finally clean. Keep this in mind when doing laundry. 🙂
- Why washing soda? The high alkalinity of washing soda helps it act as a solvent to remove a range of stains. You can heat baking soda to make your own washing soda.
- Why borax? Borax works by converting some water to hydrogen peroxide which increases the effectiveness of other cleaners. This chemical reaction works best in hot water. There is some debate as to how “green” Borax is, but it’s just a laundry booster, so you could skip it entirely and this would still be a good recipe.
- Why soap? Soap is an emulsifier which means that it can suspend oil and dirt in a way that it can be removed.
- How much does it cost? If you buy the washing soda and borax at your local grocery store and get some good organic soap online (Like Dr. Bronner’s) I figured out the cost of each 5 gallon bucket to be about $3 for 80 loads of laundry (if you use 1 cup per load), which is about $0.04 per load.
- What about really soiled clothes? If I have something with really tough stains, I keep a stain remover stick like this around to pretreat the stain. Then I grate up some Fels Naptha (about a quarter cup grated) along with a cup of my liquid detergent to a small bucket with really hot water. Then I soak the soiled garment for at least 20 minutes or so. I have not encountered any stain that couldn’t be removed this way.
- The Harm of Dryer Sheets: In addition to being made with a laundry list of toxic chemicals with negative side effects, the artificial fragrances are a carcinogen and coat all of your clothes.
- White Vinegar: If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll add ½ cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle to reduce static cling. Don’t worry, it won’t make your clothes smell like vinegar at all!
- Dryer Balls: We have also used dryer balls. They are supposed to soften the clothes as well as reduce static cling. *But in all honesty, I usually don’t add anything to the dryer. Something about having five kids made me not care about static cling anymore. Go figure! 🙂
The History of Laundry Detergent
Did you know that the use of “laundry detergent” as we know it today took off because during WWII the fats and oils used to make soap were needed to manufacture nitro-glycerine into explosives? Another source had to be used, and that’s when the synthetic form of laundry detergent using a base of petroleum became widespread. (Read more about the history here.)
Harmful Ingredients in Commercial Laundry Detergents
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate – Used as a surfactant (lowers the surface tension between a liquid and a solid – helps the water to get everything wet), detergent, and emulsifier in thousands of industrial cleaners and cosmetic products including shampoos, toothpastes, body washes, and laundry detergents. 16,000 studies have been published showing the dangers of this chemical including irritation of the skin and eyes, organ toxicity, developmental/reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, endrocine disruption, ecotoxicology, and biochemical or cellular changes, along with possible mutations and cancer.
- Dioxane – It’s not really an ingredient, but rather a byproduct of ethoxylation which combines low sudsing ingredients with ethylene oxide to produce softer detergents that produce more suds. It has been found in about 2/3 of all detergents (excluding USDA certified organic brands). It has been found to cause cancer and to be potentially toxic to the brain, nervous system, kidneys, liver, and respiratory system.
- Nonylphenol Ethoxylate – An inexpensive nonionic surfactant that is an endrocine disruptor and estrogen mimicker that can potentially cause hormonal problems or even cancer. It has also been shown to cause kidney and liver damage, decreased testicular growth and sperm count, disrupted growth and metabolism, and increased mortality.
- Phosphates – They break down the dirt particles and remove stains by softening the water and allowing suds to form, but they can cause nausea, diarrhea, and skin irritations in humans, and they are difficult to remove from wastewater and often end up in rivers and streams where they increase algae growth which starves the animal life of oxygen. 40 states have currently issued phosphate detergent bans.
- Other Harmful Ingredients: Linear alkyl sodium sulfonates, petroleum distillates (which have been linked to cancer), phenols (which can cause toxicity throughout the entire body), optical brighteners (which cause bacterial mutations and allergic reactions, and can be toxic to fish), sodium hypochlorite (bleach), ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate, and artificial fragrances (which have been linked to various toxic effects on fish and animals, as well as allergic reactions in humans). (Source)
Making your own laundry detergent is really easy once you get in the habit of it. With a large family and the high cost of laundry detergent, this has been very helpful for our budget. Not only that, but it is a definite health improvement from using the commercial toxic laden detergents. This recipe will make enough detergent to get you through about 80 loads.
For Further Reading
“Are You Poisoning Your Household With This Chore?” by Dr. Mercola – A very in depth look at why commercial laundry detergent is bad that cites many more sources for even further reading.
*You might also like my articles about: