Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Homemade Laundry Detergent

True confession: I have been making our laundry detergent for over 3 years now. This is generally the kind of revelation that results in many people squinting at me like I'm a wild woman of the mountains who also makes her own moonshine and possum sausage, but that's not the case! (Well, only during a full moon and depending on the price of corn ... kidding, kidding, kidding ...) Anyhow, let me tell you a little bit about my reasons for making laundry detergent, so that even if you never make your own, you understand a bit of the perspective of those that do!

Not pictured: baking soda, which was being a bit of a diva with the whole "No pictures, please!" act. Whateva!

1. Major money saver part 1: ingredients
In my area, bar of Zote soap costs 0.79, baking soda's about 0.45, and borax and washing soda are each about $3.80/box. Now, you won't use an entire box of the borax or washing soda to make one batch (typically one bar of soap will yield 4-6 grated cups of soap in my experience, and only 2 c. are used at a time), but even if you did, your cost would be just $8.80 (will vary by region). Compare this to a box of Tide, Gain, heck, ANYTHING, and you immediately see the cost benefit. One caveat: your savings will be diminished greatly if you cannot find your components locally, so try smaller grocery stores and see if they'll order washing soda (typically the hardest-to-find ingredient) for you.

My original caption was gonna be "Et tu, Zote?" but I didn't want to make Shakespeare roll in his grave. I cut my bars in half lengthwise so they fit in the feeder tube of my food processor.

2. Major money saver part 2: concentration
There are no fillers in this detergent and I am able to confidently use no more than 2 tablespoons of the mixture per load, even for my hubby's stinky gym clothes (I love him, but it's true). Compare to the huge cupfuls required by storebought detergent, and it's easy to see that this alternative will last much longer, too. Just for your own comparisons, I wash all clothing in cold water with exception of whites, which are washed in warm. Our water's pretty hard here, and my machine's a top loader. My mother and grandmother have softer water and front loaders, and use the same soap recipe with good results. Works great for delicates, too!

The pile of white stuff on the counter is borax and not Colombia's finest. Ha.

4. Less obnoxious fragrance
The Zote soap I use has a light lemon fragrance that does not irritate my nose like commercial detergents. Now that I am accustomed to my own soap, walking down the detergent aisle in Wal-Mart literally gives me sneezing fits. I also have dry, sensitive skin, and in my own humble opinion, this has been a healthier option for me with less itching and irritation. Your results may vary, of course, and in no way do I uphold my own experience as a substitute for a dermatologist's advice.

See? Looks just like regular powdered detergent at this point! Except pink!

4. Feeling capable and creative
I am a very tactile person and it's important to me to make things, whether it's food, art, or home improvements. Making the laundry detergent for our little family of 2 makes me feel proud of myself because it's a meaningful way that I contribute to our needs and make wise use of the money we earn. Skills like these are valuable and often taken for granted in our society, which contradicts itself by bemoaning the loss of a "simpler time" while turning its nose up at anything homemade! My own great-grandmother made lye soap from wood ash, and in a small way, this helps me feel connected to earlier generations and times gone by.

Lest you think this stuff doesn't work, I've included a shot of a load of clothes in my washer -- you can see that it while it doesn't create bubbles, it does release a heck of a lot of dirt into the water. Gross, I know, but I'm just keepin' it real!

Last thoughts:
-- I do use a laundry pretreatment on greasy stains (e.g. Shout). This was also something I had to do when using storebought detergent, however. You can best believe that when my bottle of storebought runs out that I'll be trying a homemade version, though!
-- This mixture works well in front loaders in my family's experience (i.e., use your own best judgment and read your owner's manual) because it does not create heavy suds and result in overflowing.
-- A food processor is not necessary to make homemade laundry detergent! Before I got that one as a wedding gift, I used to plop down with a grater and a bowl in front of the TV and work that soap down into slivers, and then process it in small batches in the blender. If you go this route, you're gonna want more dry ingredients to soap in the blender as you blend so that the soap doesn't blob onto the blades and drive you nuts. Put the dry mix in first, and THEN the soap ... trust me on this one!
-- There are recipes out there for liquid homemade laundry detergent, and I've never tried them just because I don't care to deal with the bottles and a small plastic canister of the dry mix stores far more conveniently in my cabinet. However, many love and swear by this version, and if you're considering it, I encourage you to do a few searches and learn more!

And now, the recipe itself.

Homemade Laundry Detergent
2 C. grated laundry soap (Zote, Fels Naptha, or Kirk's Castile)
1 C. borax
1 C. washing soda
1/2 C. baking soda

Combine all ingredients in a food processor bowl and pulse until combined. Store in an air-tight container. Use 1 T. for small or lightly soiled loads and 2 T. for larger or heavily soiled loads.

Bonus: Fabric Softener
Mix equal parts water and white vinegar and use in your fabric softener dispenser, Downy ball, or spritzed on a washcloth as a dryer sheet.

So what do you think? Could you see yourself making laundry detergent your next DIY project, or is this a "no way!" for you? Leave me a comment and let me know your stance!


I'm linked to Works For Me Wednesday and Penny Pinching Party -- go check these cool ideas out!


  1. Thanks for sharing not only your recipe, but the nitty, gritty details. :) I've tried this years ago and for the life of me, I can't remember why I stopped. I'm definitely going to try this again.
    Do you also make your own automatic dishwashing powder?

  2. Hello. I followed you over from WFMW. We love making our laundry soap too. They quit carrying Zote & Fels Naptha in our area, so I've resorted to using Ivory bars instead. It works, but I have to say I much prefer the other 2 ;) Great tutorial!!

  3. Heather, I answered you re: hm dishwasher detergent on your blog, but just to post it here, too, I haven't tried it but I'm open to it! Shelley, I find Zote at Save-A-Lot. It's good to know Ivory can be used for laundry detergent, too, especially if you can find coupons. Thanks for visiting me, ladies!

  4. I just might have to give this a try!! Thanks for giving all the details!!

  5. I have seen homemade laundry detergent before but never tried it because I have a front loader. This is just the detergent recipe I was looking for. I already have most of the ingredients and can't wait to try it. I'm featuring you at my Penny Pinching Party tomorrow, so stop by and grab an "I Was Featured" button.

  6. I use the same recipe, only I use Ivory soap (and I grate it with a cheese grater). The only problem I have is, if I use cold water, the soap sometimes doesn't dissolve all the way and leaves white soap marks on my clothes. But maybe if I used the food processor, and the soap was in smaller pieces, that wouldn't happen. Thanks for the tip, I'm going to try that.

  7. Thanks for the washing powder recipe - I'm going to try it out soon.
    I already use a homemade dishwasher detergent that I am trying to get perfected (getting close!).
    I use vinegar as the rinse aid in dishwasher (instead of JetDry) now (with a tiny drop of food coloring, so I can tell if there's still some in there), and works great, and is TONS cheaper!
    Wishing you lots of fun with your blogging!

  8. Hi, I saw the link for this post at The Thrifty Home- Penny Pinching Party and I just wanted to thank you for these instructions. Do you have any suggestions for someone who doesn't have a food processor? I'd read about using vinegar as a fabric softener before, but wasn't sure how to go about it. When I am out of dryer sheets I will try this.

  9. A friend pointed me to this link, and I am excited to try this. I'm looking for more economical and healthier ways to clean, and this is definitely something I want to try. Thank you for sharing it!

  10. kewkew, you can use a blender to mix the ingredients in small batches, too. Just make sure you add the powdered ingredients first, and then the soap flakes. You may have to take the blender pitcher off the base and tilt or shake it a bit, then blend again, but it will indeed work!

  11. Thanks for this recipe! I bought home made (oxymoron, right?) detergent a few years ago and LOVED it, but it was $15 for a teeny tiny bottle. I will try this, instead!


  12. Thanks for the recipe! My friend forwarded this link and I'm looking forward to trying it!