Monday, July 16, 2012

10 Homemade Laundry Soap Detergent Recipes

Here is a nice stack of different recipes for making homemade laundry detergent that I’ve collected over the years. Do they work? Yes, I’ve had good luck with them. At the time I was using them, we had a relative who was in trade school living with us. Every day he was mechanic grease from head to toe–the clothes still cleaned up nice!
Liquid BottleMaking your own is a discipline and it’s not for everyone, but it definitely saves money–sometimes just costing pennies a load! Before you get started, here are a few tips:
  • For the bar soaps required in the recipes, you could try Fels-Naptha, Ivory, Sunlight, Kirk’s Hardwater Castile, and Zote. Avoid using heavily perfumed soaps.
  • Washing Soda and Borax can normally be found in the laundry and cleaning aisles.
  • Some people with really hard water or well water may have to adjust the ingredients if the clothes look dingy.
  • Although several of the recipes have the same ingredients, the measurements are different–some contain a higher soap to water ratio. Test and see which works best for your needs.
  • You can make huge pails of this at once, or smaller quantities. Also if you can get your hands on a few empty liquid detergent bottles, they work great for storing large batches. Just make a big batch and pour in bottles, cap then use as needed–shake before use.
  • Some of the recipes call for large amounts of water. Check with a local restaurant to see if they have any empty large pails from deep fryer oil–that’s how many restaurants buy the oil. See if you can have one or two of the pails after they’ve emptied it–just wash them out really well before using. They’re big, heavy plastic and very sturdy when stirring the soap and hot water.
Here are ten different recipes you can try, I’ve also added a very useful Frequently Asked Questions section at the bottom of the page. Lots of info here to get you started, good luck!
1 quart Water (boiling)
2 cups Bar soap (grated)
2 cups Borax
2 cups Washing Soda
  • Add finely grated bar soap to the boiling water and stir until soap is melted. You can keep on low heat until melted.
  • Pour the soapy water mixture into a large, clean pail and add the Borax and Washing Soda. Stir well until all is dissolved.
  • Add 2 gallons of water, stir until well mixed.
  • Cover pail and use 1/4 cup for each load of laundry. Stir the soap each time you use it (will gel).
Hot water
1 cup Washing Soda
1/2 cup Borax
1 Soap bar
  • Grate the bar and add to a large saucepan with hot water. Stir over medium-low heat until it dissolves and is melted.
  • Fill a 10 gallon pail half full of hot water. Add the melted mixture, Borax and Washing soda, stir well until all powder is dissolved. Top the pail up with more hot water.
  • Use 1 cup per load, stirring soap before each use (will gel).
Hot water
1/2 cup Washing Soda
1/2 cup Borax
1/3 bar Soap (grated)
  • In a large pot, heat 3 pints of water. Add the grated bar and stir until melted. Then add the washing soda and borax. Stir until powder is dissolved, then remove from heat.
  • In a 2 gallon clean pail, pour 1 quart of hot water and add the heated mixture. Top pail with cold water and stir well.
  • Use 1/2 cup per load, stirring before each use (will gel).
Powdered – Recipe #4
Scoop2 cups Fels Naptha Soap (finely grated – you could also try the other bar soaps listed at the top)
1 cup Washing Soda
1 cup Borax
  • Mix well and store in an airtight plastic container.
  • Use 2 tablespoons per full load.
Hot water
1 bar (4.5 oz) Ivory Soap – grated
1 cup Washing Soda
  • In a large saucepan add grated soap and enough hot water to cover. Heat over medium-low heat and stir until melted.
  • Fill a large pail with 2.5 gallons of hot water, add hot mixture. Stir until well mixed.
  • Then add the washing soda, again stirring until well mixed.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • Use 1/2 cup per full load, stirring well before each use (will gel)
2.5 gallons Water (hot)
1 Bar soap (grated)
3/4 cup Washing Soda
3/4 cup Borax
2 TBS Glycerin
  • Melt grated soap over medium-low heat topped with water, stir until melted.
  • In a large pail, pour 2.5 gallons of hot water, add melted mixture, washing soda, borax and glycerin. Mix well.
  • Use 1/2 cup per full load.
2 cups Bar soap (grated)
2 cups Washing Soda
2 – 2.5 gallons hot water
  • Melt grated bar in saucepan with water to cover. Heat over medium-low heat and stir until dissolved.
  • Pour hot water in large pail, add hot mixture and washing soda. Stir very well.
  • Use 1 cup per full load.
2 gallons Water (hot)
1 bar Soap (grated)
2 cups Baking soda (yes baking soda this time–not washing soda)
  • Melt grated soap in a saucepan with enough hot water to cover. Cook on medium-low heat, stirring frequently until melted.
  • In a large pail, pour 2 gallons hot water. Add melted mixture, stir well.
  • Then add the baking soda, stir well again.
  • Use 1/2 cup per full load, 1 cup per very soiled load.
Powdered – Recipe #9
Scoop12 cups Borax
8 cups Baking Soda
8 cups Washing Soda
8 cups Bar soap (grated)
  • Mix all ingredients well and store in a sealed tub.
  • Use 1/8 cup of powder per full load.
#10 – (Powdered)
Scoop1 cup Vinegar (white)
1 cup Baking Soda
1 cup Washing Soda
1/4 cup liquid castile soap
  • Mix well and store in sealed container.
  • I find it easiest to pour the liquid soap into the bowl first, stirred in the washing soda, then baking soda, then added the vinegar in small batches at a time (the recipe foams up at first). The mixture is a thick paste at first that will break down into a heavy powdered detergent, just keep stirring. There may be some hard lumps, try to break them down when stirring (it really helps to make sure the baking soda isn’t clumpy when first adding). I used 1/2 cup per full load with great results.
Note For Liquid Versions: This will be lumpy, goopy and gel-like. This is normal. Just give it a good stir before using. Make sure to keep covered with a lid when not in use. You could also pour the mixture in old (and cleaned) detergent bottles and shake well before each use.
*If you can’t find Fels-Naptha locally, you can buy it online (check Amazon).
Optional: You can add between 10 to 15 drops of essential oil (per 2 gallons) to your homemade detergent. Add once the soap has cooled to room temperature. Stir well and cover. Essential oil ideas: lavender, rosemary, tea tree oil
*Admin Update: clarified instructions for Recipe #10 and liquid detergent notes.

Frequently Asked Questions

ScoopsUpdate: I published the above recipes in 2007 and this post has been one of the most popular articles posted here on Tipnut. I’m proud to say it’s one of the most informative resources available on the net for making homemade detergent (but maybe I’m biased ;) ), and it’s about to get even better with this compiled FAQ sheet.
With several hundred comments, many of them packed with helpful info, I’m finding that many of the questions posted in the comments area or sent to me through the contact form have been asked and answered several times, and that’s understandable since who can possibly keep track of all the information shared!
I’ve decided to gather together all the frequently asked questions into one handy information sheet so people can refer to it and find answers more easily.
Where Do You Buy Washing Soda?
  • The brand of washing soda I’m most familiar with is Arm & Hammer.
  • Look in the laundry aisle of your grocery store or Walmart, that’s where I find it.
  • You can order it online, do a search for “Arm & Hammer Washing Soda”.
  • It’s apparently also known as Soda Ash and can be found at art supply stores, JoAnn Fabrics, and other places that sell textile products.
  • Try asking your local grocer to order it for you if they don’t carry it. The UPC code is 33200-03020 or 033200-030201.
  • You can try calling Church & Dwight the suppliers/makers for Arm & Hammer Washing Soda…1-800-524-1328…give them a UPC # 33200-03020 and they can direct you on where to find it locally or purchase it through them over the phone. You can also contact them via their website here: Church & Dwight – Arm & Hammer.
Where Can I Buy Fels Naptha?
  • Check the laundry aisle in your local grocery store or Walmart.
  • Fels Naptha is made by The Dial Corp. You can check this website to locate the nearest store that carries this soap: Henkel North America – Store Location.
  • You can order it online at Amazon.
Help! It’s Too Thick, Too Watery, Too Chunky, It Separated, It’s A Solid Mass, It Doesn’t Look Like I Think It Should!
  • Making homemade laundry detergent is not an exact science. If it turns out differently than expected, still give it a try since the ingredients are all there. I can’t tell you what you did wrong or why a batch turned out differently than expected. If you followed directions to a “T” (stirred really well, used hot water, measured correctly, etc.), then the likely culprit is the brand of soap used. If the mixture gelled into a solid mass, try mixing in more hot water. If it’s too thin, try adding more soap or Borax or Washing Soda.
It Doesn’t Look Like Commercial Brands, It Looks Like Goopy Glop!
  • Congrats! That’s how it’s supposed to look.
I Want To Use My Favorite Brand Of Soap In The Detergent, Can I?
  • You’ll have to experiment by making a batch first to know for sure. I would cut batches in half (or even less) when first experimenting with a soap. This way there won’t be as much waste if it turns out poorly.
  • You don’t want to use anything heavy with perfumes or oils since this may transfer to your clothing (stains). They may also cause a chemical reaction with the other ingredients.
  • From the comments area: You can use any soap that lists sodium palmate, sodium cocoate, sodium tallowate, etc. Just be sure you are using real soap and not detergent beauty bars with added free oils. (i.e. dove, etc).
  • I wouldn’t use beauty bars or shower gels or body wash.
Are There Alternatives For People Who Have Allergies Or Sensitive Skin?
  • Try soaps that you know you’re not allergic to, but watch the ingredients in the bar to make sure it won’t react with the rest of ingredients of the detergent. The only way to know for sure is to try it.
How Do You Grate The Bars?
  • I use a handheld cheese grater but you can also use a food processor (just make sure you clean it well after use). Grate the soap first before adding to a food processor and chop until fine.
Can I Use Liquid Instead Of Grating A Bar?
  • Again, making homemade detergent is not an exact science–there’s lots of room for experimentation. For liquid varieties, I myself have not tried using liquid soap instead of bar soap. I think Liquid Castile would be ok, you might want to dilute it with water first (no, I don’t have a dilution ratio to suggest). If you do try it, let us know how you made out in the comments area below.
What Is The Difference Between Washing Soda And Baking Soda?
  • Washing soda is Sodium Carbonate Decahydrate. Baking Soda is Sodium Bicarbonate. No they are not interchangeable and results will vary if substituting one for the other.
How Long Can It Be Stored For?
  • The powdered version seems to last forever, but I have no exact expiry date to advise. The liquid detergent also lasts quite awhile, but will thicken up over time. It was also suggested in the comments area that bacteria may grow in the detergent if it’s stored too long–what too long actually is, I can’t answer.
Can You Safely Use It With A High Efficiency Washer (HE Machine)?
  • I have no experience with this but there are lots of comments that say it’s fine to use. Be aware that using anything other than what your machine manufacturer recommends may void your warranty.
  • Go through the comments in the original post and you will also find several recipes offered and recommended for HE machines.
  • Homemade detergent is low sudsing which is important for HE machines.
Can You Use It In a Front Loading Machine?
  • I have no experience with this but there are lots of comments that say it’s fine to use. Be aware that using anything other than what your machine manufacturer recommends may void your warranty.
I Have Hard Water & My Clothes Don’t Come Out That Clean, Suggestions?
  • Try adding baking soda or oxyclean or vinegar as laundry boosters, suggestions for baking soda are to start with 1/2 cup per load.
Aren’t Washing Soda & Borax Caustic? Poisonous? Are They Safe To Handle?
  • As with all cleaners, common sense is needed when handling soaps and detergents. Going against dire, dire warnings about how dangerous Borax and Washing Soda are to the skin, I handled all ingredients with bare hands and experienced no burns and all flesh is still intact. If I had small cuts or scrapes on my skin, my experience may have been different. To be safe you may wish to use rubber gloves. Avoid breathing in any of the powders and ingredients. I imagine breathing in a mouthful of commercial laundry detergent, or getting it in my eyes or up my nose, would be very uncomfortable and unwise, the same goes for homemade detergent ingredients. It goes without saying: Don’t eat it to find out if it’s poisonous or not. And of course: Keep this out of reach of kiddos just like you would for any other cleaner, detergent or soap.
Can It Be Used In Cold Water Instead Of Hot?
  • Sure it can. If you notice clothes don’t come out as clean as you’d like, try a laundry booster such as vinegar or oxyclean.
Can It Be Used For Washing Baby Clothes & Diapers?
  • This question is asked for two reasons: Will it irritate baby’s skin and will it be strong enough to clean nasty diapers. Although I’ve never used homemade detergents for this purpose myself, I don’t see why it couldn’t be used. Martha Stewart recommends both Washing Soda and Borax as laundry boosters when washing diapers. The instructions on the box for Arm & Hammer suggest it be used as a diaper soak. Many have affirmed that baby items wash up nicely with no ill effects.
How Fine Do You Have To Grate The Bar?
  • Grating the bar soap first is done so that it melts faster when heated or dissolves better in the wash. The finer it is, the quicker it melts.
Will It Fade Dark Colored Clothing?
  • I have noticed no fading or damage to clothing. I’ve laundered work clothes, everyday clothes and office attire in homemade detergents.
Freshly Washed Clothes Smell Like Nothing! Can You Add Essential Oils For Fragrance? If So, How Much Do I Add?
  • You bet! Essential oils are a nice touch to homemade detergents (freshly laundered clothes really don’t have any nice fragrance added with homemade detergent). How much you add depends on how strong the fragrance is that you’ve chosen and what recipe you are using. Experiment for yourself to see what you like best. For starters you can try these two suggestions as guidelines: Recipe #4 (Powdered) I’d start with 5 drops, mixed in very well. Recipe #9 (Powdered) I’d start with 20 to 25 drops, mixed in very well. Also noted in the original post: You can add between 10 to 15 drops of essential oil (per 2 gallons) to your homemade laundry detergent.
Can I Still Use Bleach?
  • Bleach has been used by myself successfully with no harmful effects. You will want to watch the ingredients in your soap items though (make sure the bar you use can be mixed with bleach safely), bleach will react negatively with vinegar for example.
Is There A Residue On Clothes After Washing?
  • I haven’t noticed it but if you do, here are a couple things you can try: Increase the water amount, decrease the load size or decrease the detergent used per wash. You can also try a vinegar rinse by using a Downy ball or add vinegar during the rinse cycle.
Can I Safely Use the Gray Water In My Garden?
  • I have no idea, sorry.
Are These Safe For Septic Tanks?
  • I have no idea, sorry.
Why Aren’t There Any Suds In The Water?
  • Homemade detergents are low sudsing, you won’t see many suds in the wash. No worries, this is normal and your clothes will still come out clean.
After Mixing Ingredients Together, The Mixture Smells Really Strong & Foul–What’s Wrong?
  • The brand of soap you used is likely causing a chemical reaction with the other ingredients. Throw out the batch (don’t get it on your skin or breathe it in) and use a different brand.
It Isn’t Completely Dissolving In The Water, Why?
  • If you’re having problems with chunks of detergent not dissolving, try mixing it in some hot water before adding to the load.
  • If you are using the powdered version, try grating your soap into finer pieces.
Any Ideas Of What I Can Use For Storing The Liquid Version In?
  • Use pails made from heavy plastic, make sure there’s a lid or cap to keep it sealed. I found some big heavy pails through a restaurant, if you know someone working in a restaurant, see if they can help you out.
  • Comments have suggested using empty plastic vinegar jugs.
  • Comments have suggested using the large plastic kitty litter containers.
Is Borax or Washing Soda Safe For The Environment? I’m Trying To Find An Eco-Friendly Solution!
  • According to this website, washing soda is environmentally friendly:
  • Borax is an ingredient included in many “Green” recipes.
  • I would guess that it’s not the most environmentally friendly option out there, but it would be better than most regular commercial detergents.
How Much Should I Use Per Load Of Wash?
  • Read the instructions for the particular recipe you’re using, each of them have suggested amounts to use. Feel free to adjust as needed.
Ugh! This Stuff Didn’t Clean My Clothes At All!
  • It could be one of two things: not enough detergent used in the load or the brand of bar soap used in the recipe. Experiment with the amount of detergent you use in the wash, you should discover the needed amount. The suggested amounts to use per load may not be right in your case since the brand of bar soap you used might not be as good a cleaner as others.
Is It Really Worthwhile Making Your Own?
  • The powdered laundry detergents are the easiest to manage in my opinion (for both mixing and storing). It doesn’t cost that much to give it a shot and see how you like it. If you do find it works well for you–imagine the money you’ll save over time!
Adding Some Antiseptic Quality
This is a great tip sent in by Susan and I think it should be added to this main section so it doesn’t get missed (thank you Susan!)…
  • For readers who were worried about bacteria surviving in the wash using cold water they could try using Dr. Bronner’s teatree soap or adding teatree oil to their detergent for it’s antiseptic properties. I’ve had some success with this. I used this soap on my son when his winter eczyma became irritated and resulted in a bad skin infection. It cleared up in about half the amount of time his pediatrician predicted. Also, adding vinegar to the fabric softener cup on the washer will help to keep things more sanitary by breaking up leftover wash residues.
I’ll add to this list as questions arise. If you have any advice to offer, feel free to do so in the comments area below, and thanks again to everyone who shared their knowledge!


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