Making your own laundry detergent is a cost-effective, eco-friendly alternative to commercial products. Or, if you’re trying to avoid certain chemicals because of sensitive skin or allergies, using DIY laundry detergent may help.
Granted, homemade laundry detergent isn’t as easy as grabbing a your usual brand at the store, but neither the powdered nor the liquid versions below are hard to make. You just need to grate, measure, and stir.
Why Make Your Own Laundry Detergent?
Manufacturers of laundry products don’t have to disclose their ingredients—even those with known health hazards. And if they don’t have to tell you what’s in there, you won’t know what you’re being exposed to.
That’s why, despite not being the crunchy granola type, I started making homemade laundry detergent: my son kept having rashes and hives without warning. We went through a lot of trial and error until we found the brand I’d been using was to blame.
What the Ingredients Do
Whether you make the powdered detergent or the homemade liquid one, the ingredients are the same: borax, washing soda, and bar soap. They each play a distinct and important role in the laundering process.
Sodium borate, known commonly as borax, is a powdery mineral which contains a combination of boron, sodium and oxygen.
Borax is known for its ability to remove tough stains and brighten whites. It also softens water, allowing the soap to more effectively remove dirt and oils.
Washing soda is a naturally occurring chemical compound also known as soda ash or soda crystals.
This very alkaline solvent has excellent degreasing and stain removing abilities. Like borax, also it helps soap clean better by softening the water.
Bar soap contains surfactants which reduce the surface tension of water so it can more easily penetrate soil. It also creates suds which help loosen dirt and body oils.
It’s important not to use a bar soap that contains dyes, antibacterial ingredients or added moisturizers since these can interfere with cleaning. Fels-Naptha, Castile bar soap, Ivory or Zote are all good choices.
Use as a Stain Pre-Treatment
To use homemade laundry detergent as a pre-treatment for stains, mix a little of the powder with water to make a paste. Apply the paste or the liquid detergent the liquid directly to the stain using your fingers or an old toothbrush. Wait 15 minutes for the ingredients to loosen the stain, then rinse the area and launder the item immediately.
Using DIY Detergent with Well Water
The high mineral content of well water, especially wells with high levels of calcium or magnesium, can affect how homemade laundry detergent cleans. The water softening impact of borax and washing soda can help. Experiment with the recipe until you are happy with the results.
Using Homemade Detergent with Septic Systems
The ingredients in both DIY laundry detergent recipes are natural, biodegradable, and low sudsing. They’re usually safe for septic systems because they don’t harm the bacterial balance or lead to blockage and overflows. Monitor your system to see how it reacts.
Gentleness: Homemade laundry detergents do not have the strong chemicals and enzymes of commercial products, so they’re typically more gentle on clothing.
Heavily soiled or oily clothes: Since DIY detergents are more gentle, they’re less aggressive on heavy organic matter. To improve their effectiveness, pre-rinse heavily soiled or oily clothes.
Fading or bleaching: Borax and washing soda have mild bleaching properties when used in large amounts, especially in hot water. Follow the recommended measurements and use cold water for darks and brights.
Wool and silk: Avoid using homemade laundry detergent to wash wool or silk garments which need a more neutral pH.
Keeping your machine fresh: Since these DIY detergent recipes use natural soap instead of synthetic ingredients, it’s a good idea to clean your washing machine weekly to keep it fresh.
Running an empty cycle with hot water and ½ cups of white vinegar will get rid of any soap residues, body oils and soap buildup, and help your homemade laundry detergent continue cleaning your clothes well.
Homemade Laundry Detergent: Powder or Liquid
Equipment and Materials
- Measuring cup
- Large bowl for powdered version
- Cheese grater or food processor with grating disc and S-blade
- Air-tight container 4-cup for powdered detergent or 1.5 gallon for liquid
- Bar of soap Fels-Naptha, Ivory, Castile or Zote soap
- washing soda
- 10-15 drops essential oils optional, for fragrance
- 16 cups water for liquid detergent
Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent
- Finely grate 1 bar of soap.
- Combine soap, 1 cup washing soda, and 1 cup borax in a large bowl.
- Stir in essential oils if using.
- To use in top loader: Add 1-2 tablespoons per load.To use in front-loader: Dissolve 1-2 tablespoons in 1 cup of warm water and add to drum before adding clothes.
Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent
- Grate the bar of soap.
- Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Turn off the heat. Stir in the grated soap.
- Add 5 cups of warm water. Stir in ½ cup borax and ½ cup washing soda until dissolved.
- Add 5 cups of cool water. Add essential oils if using.
- Let the mixture cool for a few minutes then pour it into a large bucket and put on lid.
- Store your detergent away from head and direct sunlight. Because of the soap’s surfactants, it’s normal for the mixture to gel during storage—simply stir before use.
- To use in top loading machines: add ¼ cup of laundry detergent to each load.To use in front loading machines: Dissolve 2 tablespoons in a cup of warm water and pour this into your washer drum before adding clothes.