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.


{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

angela June 14, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Greetings from Hartland, Michigan

I use it for the frugality! IMHO it cleans better than the .05 per load deal detergents. I have tried for years to find something that cleaned as well as Tide, and this does the trick.

Hanging items in the sun to dry also goes a long way stain removal.

ivorysoap76 June 14, 2009 at 5:48 pm

@ angela–AWESOME! I’m always glad to hear that something DIY works as well, or better, than the store version.

Margie June 29, 2009 at 2:28 pm

I ran out of detergent today, so i made this recipe. To tell you the I’ve never found anything to work this good. Zote was the soap we used when I was growing up and loved the way it clean. I add some lavender oil and it smells as good as any leading brand. Thanks, is it o.k. for me to pass this along to others. Margie

Ivory Soap June 29, 2009 at 8:18 pm

@Margie–Pass away! The world needs homemade laundry soap evangelists!!!

Sarah July 18, 2009 at 5:45 am

I LOVE your blog.

I have an infant with somewhat sensitive skin. Can I use this to launder her clothes? What about her diapers? The labels on them all say to use additive free detergent. Do I just need to pick a soap that is free of dye and perfume to make this comparable to store-bought free & clear?

Ivory Soap July 24, 2009 at 8:19 am

Yep. Just get some ivory and you’re good to go. It’s even freer and cleaner than anything you can get in the store. Only three ingredients.

Adica July 27, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Do you know if the liquid version be ok to store in an old laundry detergent bottle, or would it be hard to pour? Would I just be better off keeping it in a wide-mouth plastic container?

P.S.: Thanks for the recipe, by the way! I boughtmy Ivory, washing soda, and borax, and I’m just about to start grating!

Chelle August 4, 2009 at 12:02 pm

I have been wanting to make this for a while now and finally did so last night. When I woke up with my baby in the middle of the night I stirred it. Wow did it get super thick! I was comparing this to another recipe that called for the exact same meassurements, but you use a 5g bucket and almost 4 g of water. So there was a huge difference. Now this morning I opened my ice cream pail (my container of choice) and it was in almost a solid form. You think this will affect how much I should be using? I used Fels Naptha if that matters. Next time I think I want to use something more ‘free and clear/green’ because I wash for a baby. And yes I totally agree about the soap not dissloving. First made this in powder form a couple of months back and had to use really scalding hot water to disslove it and was still left with little bits of soap. My goal was to use cold water to wash my clothes. And this might be a goal out of reach due to my VERY hard water. I have the same prob while attempting to make dishwasher detergent. So I hope that my goop works because it’s more the consistency of mashed potatoes…..anyone else have this happen? I used more than a gallon of water too. (Ice cream pail holds about 4.75 quarts) I’m going to go give it a try right now. 🙂

Jennifer August 7, 2009 at 7:26 pm

I have been looking for Washing Soda for over a week. I finally called arm and hammer and they said my local Kroger had it, I guess I missed it when I went. I called to verify because I went to 3 different wal-marts with no luck. They had it, I don’t think I have ever been so excited about any thing in my life (that might be sad). I cannot wait to use this!

lorrwill August 8, 2009 at 12:25 am

Well I couldn’t find washing soda locally but Meijer sells it online for way, way less than I would have paid at the store anyway (but you have to buy a case of 12 boxes). So once it gets here I will have oh I guess a couple of years worth of washing so. I am looking forward to making this!!!
(to use with my hand washers)

lorrwill August 15, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Things I have learned since my last comment:

The commercial liquid I was using was costing me about $0.30 a load (YIKES)
AND it doesn’t rinse worth a darn (GRRRR). This costs about $0.05/load. $0.15/load since I used distilled water for the liquid version.

A case of washing soda weighs like a ton! And after having made a batch and a half of soap, I can safely guesstimate that the case will last me at least 5 years.

You add hot water to the melty because room temp makes it go congeally in a weird way. But if you leave it on the heat and keep stirring, it gets nice and melty again. (I forgot the HOT water part even though you put it in caps and everything. My bad.)

Ivory soap is more than enough scent on its own for this girl.

ashley August 31, 2009 at 12:05 pm

If you add baking soda as well as washing soda for a more deodorant effect will that work too ?
Here’s what I was thinking of adding baking soda, washing soda, zote, borax…thanks in advance.

Ivory Soap September 1, 2009 at 11:51 am

I’ve heard of people putting in baking soda. There’s certainly nothing wrong with it.

Sarah September 2, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Ivory soap is smaller than Zote or Fels Naptha, isn’t it? Is it still just one bar per recipe?

Sarah September 2, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Okay, I just realized the recipe calls for 2 cups grated soap. Sorry about my last comment. Never mind!

jan September 13, 2009 at 6:32 am

Well, I got all my ingredients yesterday and I am ready to start grating soap this morning to make my first batch. I bought a tiny bottle of lemon scented essential oil to try a few drops for fragrance. I am so excited to try this! I might just become frugal and creative in other areas as well. I love reading your posts and trying new things. Just wish I could have some banty chickens. Oh well, will have to wait till we can move out of city limits.

Jenn October 3, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I just made my first ever batch of homemade liquid laundry soap! I’m new to reading this blog and I love it!! Ivory soap smells so good, I’m looking forward to washing some clothes when that soap sets up! Thanks for sharing your info!!!

Stephanie October 6, 2009 at 7:28 pm

I just TRIED to make the powder detergent. I obviously did it wrong because I left a mess in my kitchen! I grated the Ivory soap in my food processor and it came out in little balls. I then decided to make it liquid detergent. I measured out the dry ingredients and then measured 12 cups of water and boiled it on the stove. I poured the HOT water onto the dry ingredients and stirred and stirred and the Ivory soap was still little balls floating around. I then put it back on the stove to boil it down and it bubbled ALL OVER the place!!!! I am confused about the directions to: pour enough HOT water to equal one gallon. I figured that the 4 cups of ingredients and 12 cups of water equals one gallon?????? What am I doing wrong? HELP!

Sandra October 13, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Adding regular baking soda to your wash will help accomodate the hard water issue. As for boiling the soap, the recipes I have read say not to boil it just heat till melted. I make the powdered recipe, once I was out of the Fels Naptha and used the Ivory. I made no mention of that to my husband but he came to me and said his clothes smelled “sour” so I went back to Fels Naptha and have had no complaints. Ace Hardware sells the Washing Soda on their website and will deliver it to a store of your choice for no shipping. The price is reasonable also. I had my Mom buy out all her Kroger had in stock and bring it to me in NC. I shred the bar soap with a grater then use the blender to further pulverize the whole mixture, just make sure that the Fels doesn’t get clogged around the blades. I alread killed an old small food processor that way.
How do I know if my water is hard???

Toni October 15, 2009 at 5:42 am

Hi, wanted to thank you for this wonderful recipe. I learned a couple of tricks along the way in making this laundry soap. I live in Alaska and we have HARD water. The first time I made this, I ended up with a solid tub of laundry soap. I would scoop some out and mix with more water to get it back to liquid form. The next time I made it, well lets just say that you don’t put it on the stove and go work on something else around the house. However, I did learn that this laundry soap works great for cleaning the stove and cleans a kitchen floor like nobody’s business. The third time I made it, it came out just like in your pictures. While cooking your ingredients, scoop the suds off the top and make sure you don’t have any suds. When you pour it into your container to store it, scoop off the suds that come from pouring. Add the water to make a gallon and stir. It turns out Wonderfully! I just wanted to share some things that I found out from making this.
Thanks for sharing this it’s absolutely wonderful.

Toni October 15, 2009 at 7:56 am

Hi Sandra,
here’s a web site that gives you information on how to tell if you have hard or soft water.
I hope this helps. T

Darci November 4, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Is this detergent suitable only for whites, or can I use it for colors, too? I want to make sure I can use it for all of our laundry (of which there is a TON! Babies make EVERYTHING dirty 😀 ) before whipping up a big ol’ batch.

Ivory Soap November 5, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Darci, I use it on everything!

Chelle November 15, 2009 at 9:47 am

Well it’s been a couple of months now that I have been using this soap. I chose not to use it on my baby’s clothes. I felt that it didn’t dissolve (see above, due to the thick like butter consistencey) even when I ran it under scalding hot water and squished it through my fingers in the process of putting it in the washer. It might be due to the fact that I used Fels Naptha and it’s petroleum based. I’ve heard that if you use a veggie based soap this may help. Anyone know? I love this recipe and will definitely try it using a different brand of soap. I tell all sorts of people about it Ivory 🙂 Some roll their eyes and some are soo intrigued. I researched loads of recipes (no pun intended lol) and liked yours the best.

Toni- what do you think removing the suds does? I can live with the thickness as long as it will disslove in my water. Before adding my clothes you could just see it floating on top just like any other grease would in water. Thanx!

Tanya November 16, 2009 at 2:38 pm

I love this stuff! I have been making my own for over a year, and would never go back to store-bought. I have experimented with several soaps, and, although more expensive, Dove worked great and leaves clothes soft. Even after hanging out to dry, they aren’t stiff. So, during the summer, I use Dove, and in the winter, when most clothes go in the dryer, I use less costly varieties. Zote seems to work well, too, and the family likes the scent.

Darci November 20, 2009 at 11:03 pm

I have all of my ingredients assembled, and as I read through the comments, and a few other websites, I have 2 questions.
1) Approximately how much baking soda should I use?
2) Would citric acid help with hard water? If so, how much should I use?
I’m thinking probably like, a Tbsp or so should work. Not sure. Any advice would be wonderful.

Ivory Soap November 21, 2009 at 4:13 pm

Darci, I don’t usually use baking soda and I have heard that citric acid helps something. You’ll have to google it.

Toni December 18, 2009 at 1:07 am

I’m not sure what removing the suds does. I’ve noticed that if I don’t remove the suds before storing the laundry soap, they all settle to the top and dry there and I have to break through the “crust” to try and mix it again. When I remove the soap suds before storing there is no “crust” left. I’ve had batches of this laundry soap come out exactly as is shown in the pictrues above (for liquid) and some batches come out as a solid and I just mix some up with a little bit of hot water at a time to return to a liquid, that works great. I’m not sure if the “suds crusting” over is from the extremely hard water we have here in Alaska or not.
I use Ivory soap and all the liquid laundry soap I make dissolves completely, even in cold water. I have noticed, since using this laundry soap, I use less bleach, and our laundry comes out brighter. I absolutely love this laundry soap!!

Keziah December 18, 2009 at 7:34 pm

does anyone know about a product called Boraxo? can it be used in place of the soap and borax to make the powder detergent? it says it is made of borax and soap only. i just don’t want to make the liquid if i don’t have to. i think i’ll try it with some old towels and see what happens.

K.N. July 14, 2010 at 10:00 am

I’ve been using homemade liquid detergent for a few weeks now. I noticed that you mentioned phantom water drip spots. I have something similar and it is getting so frustrating. Have you figured out what caused them? Did you see less when you switched detergents?

Sandra RN September 2, 2010 at 4:33 am

I use 1C Borax, 1C Arm n Hammer washing soda, 1C Baking soda, 1 bar of finely grated Fels Naptha. Mix well, place in any type container or zip bag. (I put any lumps through a strainer). I use 4T for a large load plus a half C of borax (the above recipe is the laundry detergent, not the additives like borax, so I still add the extra 1/2 C borax like when I used Tide) Clothes come out beautiful and smell so fresh. The trick with powdered detergent is to add it first, then the clothes on top. Never have a problem. I would never mess with the liquid gloppy stuff.

Shannon September 15, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Does anyone know if you can use the dry detergent with a HE washer? I was making and using this in my mom’s washer and loved the way it cleaned, but now I have a new HE washer where you are supposed to add liquid HE detergent. A friend of mine said her mom uses it but I am nervous about it not dissolving. I just don’t want to get involved with the “liquid” making” . Thanks

Marty October 5, 2010 at 3:45 pm

To avoid the goopy gel in the homemade liquid detergent, I add 3 full Gain lid/cups (What does that measure? 1/2 cup?) of store bought detergent (any brand will do) to my 5-gallon recipe. There is an anti-coagulant property in store bought detergent and this little bit seems to do the trick, plus it smells nice. Any less is not enough, any more is a waste. $5 for a 40-ounce bottle of liquid Gain lasts me through about 20-25 gallons of homemade detergent. When I am finished making and pouring into the detergent bottles I recycle over and over, I rinse out and dry the 5-gallon container, and put the remaining powders and Gain and my funnel into that bucket for next time. It’s nice to have it all handy for next time.

Marty October 5, 2010 at 4:15 pm

After reading Chelle’s comments, I am compelled to add my recipe. It works great and isn’t gloopy and thick. It’s actually thinner than regular liquid Gain or Tide and after critical comparisons, I find it works equally as well.

*1 bar Fels Naptha, grated fine, melted into a big pot of boiling hot water.
*1 cup Laundry Soda, melted into that pot of hot soapy water
*1 cup Borax laundry booster, melted into above.
*Stir well.
*Put 5-gallon bucket in one side of sink and fill halfway with hot water, using spray hose.
*Pour in pot of soap mixture, rinse with hot water and pour that soapy water into bucket.
*Add 8 ounces of store bought liquid laundry detergent (STOPS gloopiness)
*Add water until bucket is about 4 inches from the top.
Stir really well, then use a funnel and fill recycled detergent bottles in the other side of the sink. Filling bottles in the sink is the easiest and most tidy way to go about filling bottles. Using the detergent out of the 5-gallon container is sloppy and gets everywhere. This recipe fills three 210 ounce containers plus a gallon vinigar bottle about 3/4 full each (I stop when bubbles reach the top.

If you don’t have detergent bottles, watch your neighbors recycle bins! Look for the large Tide/Gain bottles, but avoid the giant push-button box/bottles, as they are messy.

Mystik December 21, 2010 at 9:59 pm

So far so good, my detergent is mixed up, poured into a gallon jug and waiting for tomorrow. That wasn’t hard at all! I’ll let y’all know how it turns out tomorrow.

Mystik December 22, 2010 at 11:45 am

UPDATE: UGH! My detergent is a solid mass? This started late last night, I added a couple lid/cups of store bought and a kettle of hot water and it looked great before I went to sleep, upon waking this morning it’s solid again. 🙁 I have to use it, somehow, I suppose mixing with hot water before putting it in the washer will work. I used Ivory soap and followed the recipe as written, I’m wondering if maybe the water should be increased by more than double? Anyone else solve this problem?

Ivory Soap December 23, 2010 at 11:06 am

Just add more water and hit it with your stick blender. I don’t know why it seized up on you. But dilution is never a problem. Mine turns to a solid-ish gel. Soft-serve ice cream. Is it a brick?

Ivory Soap December 23, 2010 at 11:07 am

I have also heard that Ivory soap has changed their formula. Maybe all my bars are still the old style.

Jared March 12, 2011 at 7:27 am

I have been a fan of this site for at least 3 years now and have been making a few of the products with outstanding results, every time. for some reason, the last two times I’ve made this detergent with Ivory(same as always) it turned into a solid-ish lump of soap, about the consistency of a slightly waxy Go-Jo or Goop hand cleaner (the later works as an excellent wallet and eco-friendly stain remover). The only thing i can think of that i have altered, is two detergent batches ago, I added some TTO to the batch while it was cooling, just for a fresh smell, that batch and the two since it have failed just like the Mystik?

Jared March 12, 2011 at 7:29 am

o and it totally separates from the water, no dillution whatsoever, just re-solidified soap

Lori March 25, 2011 at 8:19 am

Great site! I was reading all the posts and thought that maybe I have an idea for those who are having a problem with the bar soap not melting or re-solidifying. I don’t know if Ivory soap makes this, but if you use the liquid hand soap instead of the solid bar, would that make a difference? Just a suggestion.

Theresa April 17, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Is anyone else making a Concentrated Paste/gel Detergent?

I’ve been making this detergent for about 4 months now. I love it. Last week I tried making a Concentrate of it, using the same amount of Soap (1 bar Fels), Borax (1 cup), Washing Soda (1 cup), and only 1 gallon total of water. I made it the same way, making sure to use a container that had a large mouth on it, so I could stir it easier since it would be thicker. It is somewhere between a gel & a paste. I only use a little less than 1 1/2 tablespoons per load (I have a top load washer). It seems to be doing the job as well as the regular recipe, but now I only have to have 1 gallon container of detergent sitting around instead of 5.

I’m not a fan of powdered detergents, so that is why I went with the liquid in the first place. I put the Paste version in the washer with the clothing, and it dissolves easily. My niece just made her first batch ever, using the Paste version, and has an HE washer. She said it all dissolved for her also and things seemed to come out just fine.

Just thought I would pass it along to see if someone else has tried making a concentrate also.

Theresa April 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Oops, it should say I LOVE making liquid detergent & have been making the liquid for 4 months now, but I just started making a Paste/gel Detergent last week.

Tonya May 2, 2011 at 8:36 am

Remember the old hand-held graters with the barrels and the handles? You can find them on e-bay, if nowhere else. I have two that came from my grandfather’s house. Those are the best thing in the world to grate your soap with!!

suzie May 6, 2011 at 10:24 pm

I use the Fels Naptha, Laundry Soda, and Borax laundry booster. Once the mixture has completely dissolved on the stove I pour it in a 5 gallon bucket and add water almost to the top. I let it sit overnight and stir it again. Then I used old laundry detergent bottles to store it in. For the smoothest consistency simply push the laundry detergent bottle’s pour spout back into the bottle so it rattles around. Then pour the soap in the bottle. (use a small pitcher to scoop and pour) Just give the bottle a good shake before measuring it out and the loose spot agitates the soap and makes it super smooth.

jessica May 15, 2011 at 10:33 pm

I tried making this last night, melting Fels Naphtha soap in water on medium heat. It melted, but it was melted together in big clumps floating in water, not a smooth melt like a creamy soup. Is that normal? I was afraid to continue the process with big clumps of soap in the water.

jessica May 15, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Is it okay if the water boils when you’re melting the soap?

Ivory Soap May 16, 2011 at 7:12 pm

totally fine

Solomon May 31, 2011 at 6:12 am

I have read the process how to make the liquid soap but i need to change it to bar (solid) of soap not liquid b/c here in my country the demand is in bar of soaps, can u pleas tell me easy way to change this liquid to bar or solid soap.
Thank u solomon

Ivory Soap May 31, 2011 at 1:05 pm

I have no idea how to do that. sorry.

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