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: 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 brightly-colored bottle, but it’s priced as if the main ingredient is gold when it’s water. Not that you’d know it by reading the bottle. Go ahead and take a trek to your laundry room to check the ingredients on that bottle of pricey detergent. I’ll wait.
Back yet? Bet you didn’t find a list of ingredients, did you? That’s because, while manufacturers can advertise that their detergent contains stain-fighters or softening agents, they don’t have to tell you exactly 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 biphenyls (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.
So we began seeing all sorts of “New and Improved!” ads for the detergents. Out went the PCBs, and in their place manufacturers started using sodium lauryl sulfate, which some believe causes 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 Laundry Detergent
- 1 bar non-moisturizing soap (I use Fels Naptha but even Ivory works)
- 1 cup washing soda (not baking soda!)
- 1 cup borax
- 10-15 drops essential oils (optional, but nice for fragrance)
- Grate the soap with a cheese grater or using a food processor. This goes faster if you first microwave it for 20 seconds.
- Combine the grated soap, washing soda, and borax 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 well.
To wash: Shake the bucket before each use to make sure the ingredients are well-mixed, then add 1-2 tablespoons to the water as your machine fills — without the mystery ingredients, artificial fragrances, and extra water the commercial companies put in that’s all you need.
To pre-treat: For tough stains, make a wet paste of water and laundry detergent then 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. Here are more tips to removing laundry stains with cornstarch, plus how to get ink stains out of clothes.
• Be sure to store unused borax and washing soda in air-tight containers or they’ll absorb humidity and turn rock hard.
• 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 do 5-6 loads of laundry each week, and one batch of this lasts me a couple of months. Since you can make about five 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.