Thursday, March 10, 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent

I make my own laundry detergent for a variety of reasons:
  • It is incredibly inexpensive!
  • I don't have to haul home heavy buckets or jugs from the store.  Plus, it makes so much that I make it very every 2 months.  This makes it more convenient than driving to the store, buying detergent, and driving home!
  • The supplies are compact/concentrated, so I can keep enough for a few batches in the laundry room and never have to worry about running out of detergent at an inopportune moment.
  • It doesn't contain any optical brighteners or other ingredients that could interfere with my cloth diaper laundering.  My version does have a small amount of fragrance (in the Fels Naptha), but much less than store-bought detergent.
  • It really gets rid of odors well.  
  • It washes out extremely well, so I don't need to use fabric softeners.
Note on fabric softener:
I started thinking about ditching my fabric softener in college because it was one more thing to remember to take to the laundry, and one more thing to buy.  I have never gone back.  Here's why:
  •  I don't really care if two socks are static-ed together in the laundry, and everything feels soft after you wear it for 5 minutes anyway.
  • Fabric softener decreases how well fabric absorbs water, so it is contraindicated for towels, wash-cloths, dish rags, cleaning rags, cloth diapers....anything you want to be absorbing water.
  • The fragrance content of fabric softeners has been gradually increasing over the years, which makes me wonder if normal laundry detergents are getting worse at removing odors?  Or we are just fragrance-obsessed in this country.  Either way, if I want to smell like something all day, I'd rather pick the scent out myself, instead of just smelling like whatever was cheapest in the laundry aisle.
  •  Dipalmitoylethyl hydroxyethylmonium methosulfate ?  No thank you!
  • If you really want to soften your fabrics, you can use 1/4 cup vinegar in the rinse cycle instead of fabric softener.  It works just as well to soften and reduce static cling, plus it's insanely cheap and doesn't contain weird ingredients with names I can't pronounce.
Anyway!  On to the laundry detergent!

  • 1 bar Fels Naptha  (This is a stain-fighter that is usually used for a pretreatment.  I have only found it at City Market so far, which is the same as King Soopers or Kroger.  I can't find it at Wal Mart, but our Wal Mart is extra-tiny, so maybe yours will carry it.)
  • 2 cups Borax (Often called 20 Mule-Team Borax, available everywhere, I think)
  • 2 cups Washing Soda (This is NOT Baking Soda, it is Sodium Carbonate, not Sodium Bicarbonate.  I get this at City Market/King Soopers/Kroger, too, but I've heard it's also available at pool supply stores.)
  • 2 gallons hot water, plus an extra few cups
  • 1 large container to hold your liquid detergent.  I got a big (4 gal?) plastic storage container that lives on top of my dryer.  It's probably best if the container has a lid.
  1. Shred the Fels Naptha.  I use my cheese grater.  It takes about 2 minutes, and I'm not a fast grater. Note: if you do this, make sure you tell your family or rinse the grater immediately so they don't shred cheese with the soapy grater and put it on their nachos for lunch.  This might possibly have happened in our home.
  2. Put the grated Fels Naptha in a saucepan with some water, and heat it very gently until the Fels Naptha is dissolved.  Don't boil it.  This takes 5 minutes or so.
  3. Put the hot mixture in your large container.
  4. Add dry ingredients and stir a little to break up any clumps (my Borax gets really clumpy.)
  5. Add 2 gallons hot water and stir again.
  6. You can use this right away if you stir it right before, but you can also leave it overnight, and then give it a good final stir in the morning.  The consistency becomes kind of jello-y as it cools.
  7. I use about a 1/2 cup of detergent per load, but you may want to experiment with your own laundry.
More Notes:
  • This detergent doesn't contain "sudsing" ingredients, so it will not get bubbly.  The test of clean clothes is not whether the soap bubbles, but whether the clothes get clean and the water gets dirty!  Because it doesn't suds up, this detergent can be used for HE washers, I think.
  • Although this detergent removes dirt and odors incredibly well, I pretreat grease stains.  It is not quite as phenomenal on them.  But I usually had to pretreat them anyway with my old cheapo store-bought detergent, so I don't mind.
  • I keep an old cleaning rag on the lid of my detergent container with a spatula on it that I can use to stir if necessary.  The rag just keeps the goopy spatula from getting the container messy, and I can toss it in the wash whenever necessary.


  1. Oh, I've heard of the recipe, and I thought the idea was fantastic ... until I read the part about shredding the bar of soap. Coming from a mom who works, and whose husband works 2 jobs, that kinda just put me over the edge. I am interested in living more simply, and I am sure this works great for stay at home moms and families who homeschool (a great idea) who have more time than I do. For me, this will be a process and I am not even sure where to start simplifying. This sounds like it takes more time. Any thoughts or ideas?

  2. Anonymous:

    The key thing to add to this post is that this will make a ton of you're not grating a bar of soap each time you wash. You could make this detergent much faster compared to if you had to drive to the store, buy some, and then drive home.'s WAAAAAY cheaper!!

  3. Thank you, Ross, for pointing that out. I will edit the post to reflect your comment! Anonymous, if you read this, shredding the soap takes about 2 minutes, and I only make the soap about once a month, if that (I do a lot of laundry)! Very worth it.

  4. My biggest problem is finding the ingredients! I really just need to go order them online, but I never seem to remember until I am standing in the aisle at the store wondering where on earth they are. I get some weird looks from the teenage stockers when I ask for washing soda!

  5. Does anyone in your family have sensitive skin? If so I am wondering if the home made detergent works well? Maya has super sensitive skin so we have to buy the free and pure detergent (All or Tide). It is super expensive and does not work that great (Tide works much better but is like $4 more). Let me know. Also, my favorite part of the blog was using the cheese grater and accidentally making soapy cheese nachos. I laughed out loud at my desk. Thank you!

  6. Jackie, good luck in your ingredient-hunting! I am so lucky to be able to find everything I need at my local grocery. Is it the kind of thing your local store would stock for you? I wonder if anyone else in your area is looking for the same thing!

    Amy, we don't have any sensitive skin. The only problem I think there could be with the homemade detergent is the fragrance in the Fels Naptha. It's not as strong as normal detergent, but it's definitely present. The other ingredients don't have any fragrance or dies. I'm glad you enjoyed the cheese grater sidenote. Unfortunately, it ruined a good plate of nachos. :)

  7. Thank you Danielle. That was fabulous!

  8. Thanks, Amanda! Hope it is helpful!

  9. I am wondering how far a certain someone got to eating the soapy nachos before realizing they were soapy. hahaha. I may invest in this laundry recipe. What does this slight fragrance smell like? Do you smell it in your clothes after they are washed?

  10. What a great idea! I'd never thought of it :) I found you via La Bella Vita - so nice to 'meet' you! XOL

  11. Hi, Cassie! That certain someone was actually Joel, and I stopped him right before he dug in. Maybe I should've waited 'til he tried a few bites. :) The fragrance is not very strong. If you decide to make it, you can just sniff the bar of Fels Naptha soap through the package and see if the fragrance is okay with you. it doesn't linger on clothes at all.
    Happy Homemaker UK, thanks for visiting! I'm excited to come by and visit your blog as well!

  12. I got all my supplies today in my local grocery store. I thought it might be a little difficult to find them all due to my middle of Kansas nowhere location but they were all right beside each other on the top grocery shelf!

  13. Amanda, I'm glad the supplies were so easy to find. Can't wait to hear what you think of the end product!

  14. My family has extremely sensitive skin and I have been using a similar version of homemade laundry detergent for over a year with no reaction. I only use about 1/2 a bar of fels naptha for each batch and everything always comes out clean.

  15. How much do you use for a load of laundry? I have a front load washer.

  16. Has anyone used this detergent recipe in an HE washer? If so, how much do you use to wash the clothes. I have a top load HE washer and I am curious about this.

  17. I just bought the Washing Soda and Fels-Naptha at Ace Hardware. Seems to be the only place you can actually go pick it up and not pay shipping.

  18. So glad you found it! I am able to find it at my local branch of Kroger, too, but that may not be an option in your area.


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