Homemade Laundry Detergent–Dry and Liquid

by Daisy on 07/29/2008

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**Update 5/31/12**  Old recipe.  Liquid loses power over time.  See THIS post for new tutorial.

To make your own low-bubbling detergent for both high efficiency and traditional machines, you need four ingredients: Borax, Washing Soda, Soap, and Water

Borax and Washing soda can usually be found in the laundry aisle of any good grocery.

Pretty much any soap is suitable for laundry use, however, some soaps are so GOOD or so EXPENSIVE that it would silly to buy them for laundry. If you aren’t making your own lard or Crisco soap, or don’t have a bunch of old soap bits lying around, Ivory (25 cents a bar at Walmart for the 16 pack) is your best bet for versatility and price. Fels-naptha and Zote are also fine options. Zote may be as economical as Ivory or homemade since it comes in such a large bar, but I haven’t found it in my area.

Kirk’s Castille is JUST FINE for laundry, but at 1$ a bar, I would never buy it for that purpose. However, I did buy it to make shampoo, but because of the ADDED EVIL GLYCERIN, it makes my hair GREASY, so for our demonstration this afternoon, Kirks will be the LAUNDRY bar. (Grrrr.)

Powdered Laundry Soap:
2 cups finely grated soap (Ivory, Fels Naptha, Zote, homemade, or a combination)
1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda

Mix and store in a coffee can or what have you. Use 1-2 T per load.**

If you intend to use this detergent DRY, then I highly recommend that you buzz it in the coffee grinder or food processor to get the soap really fine.

**NOTE: There is a great degree of debate about this laundry powder and others like it. Some find that the laundry comes out clean as a whistle using the usual 1-2T per load. Others find that their clothes come out smelly and dingy. Here is the MAGICAL solution. Because of water differences, soil differences, and washer sizes, it will take SOMEWHERE between 1TBSP and 1/2 cup of this detergent. (Mine is 6T for a super-size white load) BUT, once you find your magic amount, it will be the cleanest, whitest laundry you ever had.

Depending on WHY you are choosing to make your own, this may or may not discourage you from continuing to use it. If, for example, you are doing it to be better for the environment, more self-sufficient, reduce chemicals in the home, or because you hate shopping–it won’t affect you. However, if you are doing this solely for the purpose of being frugal, you may find that your perfect amount of powder exceeds the 5 cents a load that you can squeeze out of a wholesale club bulk buy.

Now, onto the liquid.

Liquid Laundry Soap— (*****EDIT 7/2012  This liquid version WILL lose power over time, so make smaller batches.*****)
2 cups finely grated soap
1 cup borax
1 cup washing soda
water and bucket (> 1 gallon)

1. If you tried the powder version and want to switch that batch to liquid, cook it all in the saucepan together over medium until the soap melts OR if your ingredients are still separate, melt the soap over medium in a few cups of water and add the rest right after you take it off the heat and stir to dissolve.

2. Pour in pail and add enough HOT water to equal one gallon. Stir well.

3. Let set up overnight.

4. Stir. It will be a soupy gel.

5. Use between 1/4c and 2 cups per load. (**See above note)

This stuff also works well as a pre-treater. I’ve found it especially effective with those phantom water drip looking circles that appear on my t-shirts. I’ve also used it to scrub the bathroom and in my dishwasher in a pinch.


{ 115 comments… read them below or add one }

Ivory Soap September 27, 2012 at 8:34 pm

check out our category DIY, cleaning products. I’ve done LOTS of research on this. I’ve worked up the chemistry for the soda, but I haven’t made a firm decision on the optimum amount of surfactant. I know what I use and like, but I don’t have research to back up the soap amount. I haven’t found anyone who does.

GracieB October 10, 2012 at 10:34 am

I followed the instructions for the liquid detergent; I used Dr. Bronner’s pure castille (baby mild, unscented) All-One! bar soap. My detergent is more of a solid gel (similar consistency to Crisco), and when I peek in the washing machine, there are NO SUDS. Are my clothes actually getting clean? I read on the label that the soap is some kind of organic oil soap.. is this the reason for the lack of suds? I’m very confused and concerned that my things aren’t getting clean..

sherry October 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm

We all are made to think that SUDS means CLEAN.. well it is not the case. It is an additive to make suds which is not needed. laura sulfate is what makes suds and you don’t need it to be clean. Homemade laundry det. is not going to suds like we expect and it really is cleaning your cloths. I have been learning how to make all my items i clean with and wash with and even bath with free of chemicals and lake of suds is in all of it.. but i feel great and my house and self are clean and happy…

Kri5tle October 27, 2012 at 10:47 pm

I am interested in making my own laundry soap, but is it as effective in cold water? I do not use warm water for laundry. Thanks!

Sarah November 1, 2012 at 8:30 am

I wash everything except whites and towels in cold water, have been using this homemade detergent for over 3 years and think that it works great!

Amber November 8, 2012 at 1:36 pm

I used some dial bars from the dollar store, plus a container from there and just shook it up (with some essential oils). Smells awesome and my grater has never been so clean!

Joyce December 14, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I am wondering if this will work with my hard water, / well water. I also have a rust problem with my water.

Joyce December 14, 2012 at 10:39 pm

I have well water that has rust in it. Any suggestions as to something I could add to the dry recipie to help with the rust? Will my well water make it so the soap does not clean as efficiently?

Wanda Jones February 16, 2013 at 10:31 pm

I am considering on making my own laundry detergent. One of my problems is trying to determine what type of essential oils I should be using and where to get them. I don’t want to stain my clothes. I is it found with the candles or in health and beauty aid( bath oil).?

ANA MOLINA February 21, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Well it be ok to add a few drops of any fragrance oil for a good smell in the liquid detergent?

christine April 11, 2013 at 8:53 am

i used 2 cups zote, 1 cup washing soda, and 1 cup borax. I made 1 gallon and let it sit over night. Now it’s 1 gallon of solid soap. Granted, it’s softer and more malleable than the original bar of zote. What did I do wrong? Is there a way to fix it?

sat March 11, 2015 at 3:03 pm

I found that the original liquid recipe with washing soda and baking soda and soap did not get all my laundry clean if-body odors-some people are more potent than others, some dirt(stains, heavy soil, cuffs, collars, socks imbedded with dirt from walking around with no shoes can be removed by pre-scrubbing with lots of water and direct application of an extra soap bar or a special soap paste/sun technique).

My improved homemade recipe uses baking soda instead of washing soda, and adds 1/3 cup of Kosher salt per cup of borax to soften water and improve greatly the surfactant property( decreases surface tension and improves wetting quality-so clothes are able to absorb more water and dirt gets pushed out-it is water that cleans not the soap-but you must be able to push the water in and out the material to clean by later rinsing out the dirt well. this is the science of cleaning-soap, detergent is needed because most dirt is bound by oil which is hydrophobic-does not release in water-soap takes care of this problem. Without the oil you could clean with water alone. As for suds- an unhealthy chemical sodium lauryl sulfate or its counterpart SLES(cancer, neurotoxic) creates suds which is simply for your viewing pleasure.

I actually hand wash some items-white socks, kitchen linen-cannot stand that greasy smell that remains after washing even with traditional detergents-that also cover up odors with all that heavy perfume which makes me sick now that I have not used it for 5 years or more. simply scrub with bar soap, rub material against itself and rinse twice. For stubborn stains or other types-expose soaped item(can make a paste and apply to stain) to sunlight, a great stain remover, whitener and disinfectant-scrape off soap paste and stain is gone. rinsing well imperative.

Clothes last longer-environment is protected and I am exposed to far fewer toxins. think of doing laundry as exercise-burning calories.

My dry recipe:
600 gm or 21 oz of grated soap: Zote, Tepeyac, Lirio, Fels Naptha-I generally use 2 types of
soap(bath soaps or other scented soaps can contain fragrances which stain due to the oil)
2 cups of Borax
2 cups of baking soda-bicarbonate of soda (not washing soda) at Costco you can get 11 lbs
2/3 cup of Kosher salt

Use 1-2 heaping tablespoons depending on size, water conditions, and dirtiness of load-experiment. Keep an unused bar of soap for stain removal, pre-washing instead of those awful chemical sticks and sprays. for cold water, dissolve soap in jar of hot water before adding to load

essential oil optional-they do not stain because they are not oily-they are the volatile distillates of plant materials. make sure you have pure essential oil and not infused ones that are mixed in carrier or fragrance oils-these are cheaper and will stain-personally the smell of clean is enough for me. caution with lavender especially and possibly tea tree oil-question of hormone disruption causing breast dev in prepubescent boys and problem with pregnant women-estrogen like effect and anti-androgen(male hormone) so I would not use if you have family members in this category until facts better known

Rebecca May 31, 2015 at 5:56 pm

So I have your book and love to go thru your website. Something conflicting on the liquid laundry soap recipe…..in the book it calls for a total of 2 gallons of water but on your website it says a total of 1 gallon. Which is it?? I know the liquid laundry recipe is said to be obsolete on the website but I really still prefer liquid. Thanks! You book is great!

Newbie August 19, 2015 at 12:51 am

I’ve mixed the grated soap, washing soda and borax. And now I feel like the soap should be ground up more. It’s not a powder. I tried to use a sieve to make sure there are no chunks and noticed that the soap was having a hard time going through the sieve. Is it OK if I put it back in the grinder even though there is borax in the mix note?

Daisy August 19, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Newbie–I can’t see how it would hurt.

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