Knowing how to make your own laundry detergent can help you save a small fortune. Plus, it fights crime! What, you think I’m exaggerating? I’m not: apparently there’s a black market for bottles of Tide stolen from grocery stores, with some places losing over $10,000 each month to theft.
Now, if you ask me, the real crime is how incredibly expensive commercial laundry detergent is. Sure, it comes in a pretty bottle, but by the time you’ve washed an article of clothing a few times you’ve spent more on the detergent than on the item of clothing itself. And what do you have to show for it? Just that article of clothing. So why are we spending so much on the detergent?
Somehow over the past couple of decades, detergent manufacturers have managed to convince us that we need all sorts of secret stain-fighting ingredients… and I do mean secret. Go look at your bottle of laundry soap, and chances are you won’t find a list of what’s in there. Know why? They’re considered “trade secrets” so manufacturers don’t have to tell you what they’re using. And if they don’t have to tell you what’s in there, you won’t know what you’re being exposed to.
If you’ve been washing laundry long enough, you probably remember how the formulas have changed. First we learned that most commercial soaps contained polychlorinated biphynels (PCBs) and then we heard they also contained phthalates. Given the link between those and infertility (not to mention environmental damage), it’s not surprising the government made them change their formulas.
Then we began seeing all sorts of “New and Improved!” ads for the detergents we’d been using for years, with very little explanation to the consumer why these changes were needed. Out went the PCBs, and in their place manufacturers began using sodium lauryl sulphate, which some believe to be linked to cancer. Along with the SLS, manufacturers began using a slew of other ingredients which even the EPA notes pose both health and environmental concerns.
In other words, using commercial detergents doesn’t necessarily get your clothes any cleaner, but it does lighten your wallet and may very well pose other health concerns. So why not make your own homemade laundry detergent for a fraction of the price?
How To Make Homemade Laundry Detergent
You’ll need the following ingredients:
- 1 bar non-moisturizing soap, like Fels Naptha (get it for $1.11 per bar here)
- 1 cup washing soda (not baking soda!)
- 1 cup Borax
- 10-15 drops essential oils (optional, but nice for fragrance)
- Grate the soap on a cheese grater using the large holes. This goes faster if you microwave it for 20 seconds or so first.
- Combine all three ingredients in a plastic container with a lid. Be careful when pouring the powders into the bucket, because you don’t want to inhale them.
- Add essential oils for fragrance if you’d like. The Fels Naptha has a nice clean scent on its own, but sometimes I like adding lemon or lavender to change things up.
- Put the lid on and shake the heck out of it.
To wash: Using homemade laundry detergent is simple, even in High Efficiency machines. Just shake the bucket every time before use to make sure the ingredients are well-mixed, then add 1-2 tablespoons to the water as your machine fills — without the scary ingredients, artificial fragrances, and extra water the commercial companies put in, that’s really all you need. One other thing: be sure to store your unused Borax in an air-tight container. When exposed to humidity or moisture, the stuff gets hard as a rock!
To pre-treat: For tough stains, make a wet paste of water and laundry detergent and apply it to the stain. Grab the fabric on either side of the stain and gently rub the paste into the stain, then launder as usual. (For advice on specific stain treatments, see here.)
Where to buy? Many grocery stores stock all of the ingredients you’ll need to make your own homemade laundry detergent. If you can’t find the ingredients in the detergent aisle, look in the cleaning section. I’ve also found them at hardware stores, too. Oh, and Walmart often stocks all three ingredients right next to each other! Or buy them through Amazon if you prefer: I’ve linked the ingredients for you below.
I generally do 5-6 loads of laundry each week, and one batch of this lasts me all month. Since you can make about 5 batches before the boxes of washing soda and Borax are gone, I recommend buying 5 bars of soap when you pick up the other ingredients so you have everything you need to make more.
Equipment I Use For This: