10 Things You Should Know Before Making Homemade Laundry Detergent

by Ivory Soap on 05/30/2012

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I have spent HOURS on the this database researching all of the possible chemical formulations of laundry detergent, and like dishwasher detergent, it has completely CHANGED how I make homemade laundry detergent!

Cleaning Power

1. NO commercial detergents contain BORAX and WASHING SODA together.

It’s an either/or.   Powder is washing soda.  Liquid detergents have borax, usually with alcohol.  End of story.  My guess is that washing soda loses its poop over time in water and borax doesn’t.

This may also be why powder detergents are supposed to be more effective than liquid.  Borax only lets the cleaning pH go up so far.  And borax is most effective in hotter water, so since most people wash in cold these days, it’s not useful enough to include in commercial detergent unless it’s pre-dissolved in a liquid?

Conclusion:  Borax is fine, but if you’re having trouble getting things CLEAN (which is not the same as WHITE), replacing borax with washing soda will make it more powerful.  If you want to make liquid detergent, washing soda may not be a good choice, however, I have no idea how that alcohol/borax thing works out.  Good luck.

2.  Only Purex and Seventh Generation use salt.  Nobody else does.

Purex powder is almost 50% salt.  Seventh Generation uses a tiny amount in some of their liquids.  Salt *is* a water softener, but it’s WAY weaker than washing soda.

Conclusion:  If it works for you, great.  But if you’re having problems getting things CLEAN, ditch the salt and put in more washing soda.

3.  NO detergents contain BAKING SODA

Not even Arm and Hammer.  Baking soda is only half as strong as washing soda at softening water and doesn’t allow the cleaning pH to go nearly as high.   And if you have a stronger product on hand, why dilute it with a weaker one?

Conclusion: Like salt, and borax, if you’re having trouble getting something clean, eliminate the baking soda and replace with washing soda.  But if you’re washing delicates, tossing in a buffer like baking soda is a good idea!

4.  ALMOST ALL commercial detergents contained some kind of SOAP or NON-SOAP detergent

Grate up that Ivory (SUPER FINE so it dissolves well) or whatever you have around.  Pure tallow or lard soap has less cleaning power than anything made from coconut oil, but coconut oil is super bubbly.  Ivory is a split between the two.  I love it.

5.  Most detergents contain enzymes. (UPDATE 7/4/2012:  Old timers use MEAT TENDERIZER for protein enzymes.  I don’t know how it would do IN your washer, but it would work just fine in a soak!)

Enzymes eat your protein stains. You can buy Biz or another enzyme cleaner and add it in, OR you *could* make your own.  These enzymes are from cultured bacteria from three places:

  1. B. Subtilis, which is found in ropy bread (a type of spoiled) and the Japanese food, Natto.  You could culture it from that if you like.  Red Devil Drain Maintainer liquid, and Rid-X Septic System treatment Ultra Liquid are both 100% Subtilis bacteria.  If you have easy access to any of those, a tiny squirt in your wash should be AMAZING.
  2. B. Lichenformis, which is found in the chest feathers of ground dwelling birds and somehow contributes to their molting schedule.  I am totally going to swab the chicks and try to grow that for fun.
  3. B. Cereus, which is not widely used yet, but comes from un-canned fermented cabbage.  Cultured kraut juice should do the trick.  Maybe buzz and strain some of the kraut itself it for more power.

I’m going to make all three with the kids this summer for fun!  I’ll tell you how it goes…

Conclusion:  It’s hard to get out many stains without an enzyme cleaner.  Buy one unless you want to culture one of the above three bacteria.

Now, Let’s Talk Whites

6. ONLY powdered commercial detergents use an oxygen bleach. 

Oxiclean looses it’s poop in liquid form.  You can make your own Oxiclean POWDER by mixing peroxide and washing soda and dehydrating it, but there’s really no point.  In water, Oxiclean becomes peroxide and washing soda.  It’s easier to just dump peroxide in your bleach compartment or make a solution of half peroxide half washing soda for immediate use on stains.  Probably more frugal is a scoop of Dollar store Oxiclean.  Borax has been touted as an oxygen bleach but it’s weak and doesn’t work in cold water at all.

7. Vinegar dissolves the salt deposits on your clothes. 

You can just put ½ cup in your rinse compartment, but it you have really hard water and a top loader, it might not be enough vinegar to make a dent.

8. ONLY Tide Tablets (old product) contain CITRIC ACID. 

As you add more acid to the mix, and decrease the possibility of deposits, you are neutralizing the washing soda.   To use it with washing soda, you have to overwhelm the citric acid with washing soda to make sure there’s enough left to do it’s high pH cleaning thing.   In Tide Tablets, it’s at least a 4 parts washing soda to 1 part citric acid.

Conclusion:  Use 1 cup of washing soda for each 1/4 cup citric acid.  If I still get sediment, use more detergent, and switch the acid in the rinse compartment to citric acid.

9.  Whites aren’t REALLY white in the real world.  

Most whiteness is an ILLUSION.  There’s two fancy chemical families in most commercial detergents that trick your eyes into seeing WHITE.  They boil down to BLUING and FLUORESCING.

  • BLUING has been around forever.  Most white garments come from the store with BLUING in that eventually wears off.  This bluing DYE counteracts the natural yellow cast.  If you want that brilliant white back, you need to BLUE it periodically with THIS or use a combination commercial product that has that effect.
  • Another option is FLUORESCING, often tagged as “optical brighteners.”  This is in Zote soap.  These chemicals activate in light.  So if you soak something in Zote (or any other product with brighteners) and put it in the sun….it gets REALLY bright.

But, but…. 

10.  If you really think it’s not getting clean try using T.A.C.T.

Temperature, Agitation, Chemistry, Time:

  • Increase the temperature of the wash water. Oils especially don’t want to come out in cold water.
  • Put your detergent in FIRST and less clothes in the wash so they tumble better.
  • Use more detergent and/or make sure the detergent you are using is rinsed well
  • Soak the load before you run it.

For me, I use half washing soda and half grated Ivory or homemade lard/coconut oil soap…REALLY FINE GRATED. The older your soap (even Ivory), the more brittle and easy to grind. 3T in the washer, 1/2 cup vinegar in the rinse. For lights and whites, I use hot water, 1/2 cup peroxide in the bleach compartment, unless I have the presence of mind to remember the Dollar Store Oxiclean.

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen S. June 5, 2015 at 11:40 am

I make up a huge painter’s container of a powder laundry detergent that contains 1 part Raindrops water softener (http://www.amazon.com/Rain-Drops-Water-Softener-Ounce/dp/B005NZ4MGU), 2 parts old fashioned Borax Hand Soap (borax, powdered soap http://www.amazon.com/Dial-02203CT-Powdered-Original-Unscented/dp/B0011FR66E/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1433525709&sr=8-2&keywords=borax+hand+soap ) and 1 part Oxyclean or its equivalent, and 1/4 -1/2 part TSP (which can be left out, but really works to get the conditioner out of the towels). I use ECOS liquid detergent as a pre-wash in heavily soiled loads or for the satisfaction of others, but often times just my powder. I use this on my pots & pans, floors and it cuts down greatly on the need to scrub. Make sure you keep your powder dry, so get a good lid.

NicoleIsOutmsartingLife June 8, 2015 at 4:56 pm

Wow, thanks so much for this! I’m making my own for the first time, and I really appreciate all the research behind your work. I’m going to try your recipe; many of the others are too complicated or contain too many ingredients. The water where I live is really hard, so hoping it works!

Liz G. June 18, 2015 at 5:31 am

What precautions if any,should i take with a side loader washing machine that requires the low suds detergent?

Danielle July 2, 2015 at 8:44 pm

Regarding the enzymatic cleaners – a lot of the commercial cleaners contain enzymes made by genetically modified forms of b. Cereus, b. Licheniformis and friends. In their wild states they can still make these enzymes, but probably not to the same strength as the commercial cleaners. I like your idea of using a pre-made microbial cleaner for stains; if you have a commercial cleaning store nearby you can get large bottles for relatively cheap, and they should last a very long time.

Safety note: some forms of b. Cereus can produce toxins that are very bad for people, so please please please be careful if you’re trying to culture bacteria for cleaners! Keep it away from kids and any animals that you like!

Michele July 26, 2015 at 7:19 pm

Homemade detergents aren’t made for HE washers. You got to use detergents that is recommended for HE washers. Or, you’ll run into problems with your HE washer.

Luella July 29, 2015 at 10:16 am

I have a question in regards to Michelle’s statement about homemade detergent isn’t made for HE washing machines.may I ask why? Is it the suds or something else.

Ivory Soap July 29, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Yeah, I’ve never heard that. I read that it was just a smaller amount.

shahid September 29, 2015 at 9:48 am

Is borax and baking soda same?
How to make enzymes at home?

Daisy September 30, 2015 at 8:41 am

shahid–No, baking soda(NaHCO3) and borax (Na2B4O7·10H2O) are different. We don’t cover how to make enzymes. I’m not sure how to direct you, it’s not a commonly done practice in the home.

bette October 22, 2015 at 12:21 am

I make homemade laundry soap and use 2Tbsp only (the same measurement as a tide pod) in my machine, an HE washer with no problems.

Beth October 30, 2015 at 7:32 am

Thanks so much – I bookmarked this page and am glad I finally got back to it. You helped me see it was redundant to use sodium percarbonate and sodium carbonate (washing soda) together, as I was doing. I was using grated Marseille soap, those two ingredients & baking soda with a vinegar rinse. Now will just choose the percarbonate for whites. PS I’ve ruined some man-made materials and narrowed it down to my vinegar rinse, I believe, so that’s another factor to check out.

Caroline November 18, 2015 at 1:09 pm

First thanks for all the tips you have given me… And this does work in an HE WASHER that’s all we have in the UK.. Not a lot of top loaders… What we do have is very hard water depending where you live in London… I only make the liquid laundry soap… I do prefer this …yes it doesn’t
Suds up …but the question should be does it clean the clothes…and I have to say a big YES.. 5 kids .. 2 Dogs … And it’s true cleans the pans great…make sure you rinse in cold water… Again many thanks for all the info….

Jaslyn Begni November 21, 2015 at 9:04 am

Hi I live in Italy and found a website hosted by a industrial chemist who has posted household cleaning recipes. He also answers any queries and advice on your recipes… albeit in Italian. I was quite excited to stumble across it as I, like you, was looking into sodium silicate and enzymes for my home made cleaners… with no end in site! He says that enzymes in laundry detergents cause allergies and can even break down fabric. For stains, take some of the laundry detergent mix, (recipe below) add water to make a paste and smear over the stain. Wash article of clothing before the paste dries.

Take 2 Tbs of grated laundry Soap (we use Marsiglio from olive oil) and mix with a heaped Tbs of Percarbonate of Soda. In a separate container add Bio dishwashing liquid to a level Tbs of Carbonate of Soda (Washing Soda). Mix all ingredients together. Dosage is as a normal commercial detergent. Only for use 40°C (104°F). This Recipe will last for months and months without any problems but in a COOL place, otherwise the percarbonate of soda will degrade
If you have hard water add one or two cups of Sodium Citrate to the washing powder dose ( citrato di sodio)

In a glass or stainless steel container, dissolve 200g/7 oz of citric acid in 750 ml/25 0z water. Now SLOWLY add Bicarbonate of Soda until there are no bubbles ( about 350g) +/- 12 oz. Set it asidefor a few hrs, preferably in a warm spot ( house radiator) and its ready to use.

I obviously cannot answer any questions on this, just wanted to share what I’d found from a reputable source and also add to the citric acid /alkali combination that a lot of people have queries about.

If this does work and you would like any of his other recipes let me know and I can translate them for you. I’ve had enough of research, so I’m happy to take his advice and get on with my life .

Jaslyn Begni November 21, 2015 at 9:10 am

Sorry forgot to add the SODIUM CITRATE is the WATER SOFTENER

tcbaaa December 8, 2015 at 12:54 am

I have a question. do you use this homemade laundry soap mainly for whites? have you encountered any discoloration using it with colored clothes?

i am relieved and happy that someone has gone this far to research on homemade laundry soap. i’ve been making homemade laundry soap for months and using all those ingredients stated above …so now, i will just use washing soda and ivory soap together.

QUESTION: can i add oxyclean to washing soda + ivory soap? is this just for whites?

thank you

Jane December 12, 2015 at 7:30 pm

Great read, I’ve been making my liquid soap for 4 years now and the cost is cheap! I use fells-Napha soap grated, washing soda, borax &
because I have hard well water I add a TBS. of Epsom salts to each load to soften the water. ( I add vinegar too sometimes.) I also add one TPS. Epsom salts to a large glass of water to rinse my hair after washing it. Don’t rinse it out and your hair will be soft & shiny .

lisbeth January 1, 2016 at 9:50 am

Is it really so hard to come up with a descriptive adjective other than “poop”? How about power, strength, efficacy… it makes you sound more literate.

Patricia January 13, 2016 at 11:07 am

I actually have a jar of sodium silicate on hand, which I purchased a million years ago when I was trying to make my own dishwasher detergent. Would it add anything meaningful to my homemade detergent?

Sandy January 22, 2016 at 8:21 am

I make homemade laundry powder using grated homemade bars, borax, washing soda, oxiclean, and baking soda. Would you recommend adding grated Zote soap or just using it as a separate treatment? Did you ever make those enzymes and did you use them in your laundry? Do you use just the regular peroxide from the dollar store or something stronger?

Ivory Soap February 17, 2016 at 11:59 pm

I have used it for whites and colors. It is most successful with colors since it doesn’t have the brighteners we associate with whites.

Oxyclean is fine with the above ingredients. It is color-safe.

Amy Higgins March 7, 2016 at 4:43 pm

Actually SOAP is not what commercial detergents contain. Commercial detergents contain surfactants which are a totally different story. Unless you are using an old fashioned washing board you should not use SOAP. Modern washers are not designed for it, leaving build up on your clothing and in your washer. In fact the use of soap in your washer voids most manufacturer warranties. If you’re a long time user of homemade laundry soap I suggest a strip of your laundry, particularly your towels and other absorbant items. I have no personal stake in this, I’m not selling anything, just passing along some science 🙂

nicole March 8, 2016 at 4:52 am

I have a recipe for laundry soap it is 9 ounces finely grated bar soap ( I make my own artesian cols process soap) 2 cups washing soda, 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup oxi clean

nicole March 8, 2016 at 5:00 am

its suppose to say cold process soap and I use 2-4 tablespoons per load it depends on the load size I also use hot water to start the empty washer then I add my clothes and turn the water to tap cold and it works good for me.

Ivory Soap March 9, 2016 at 7:04 pm

All of that is fine. The baking soda isn’t necessary if you have the washing soda in there, as far as I know.

Ivory Soap March 9, 2016 at 7:04 pm


June April 5, 2016 at 2:54 pm

I have been using homemade laundry soap for almost 5 yrs now in my front loader and never had a problem with it. Always my clothes are clean with no issues. I use washing soda, baking soda, borax, oxiclean and finely ground zote soap if I don’t have goatmilk soap around and that seems to work just fine for me. I started making laundry soap when my daughter was suffering horribly from eczema and was on 2 strong steroids to help it. No matter what I used commercially even the hypoallergenic stuff wasn’t helping so I decided to give it a try and she has been eczema free since we changed over. I pretty much got rid of all chemicals in our house and now it’s just baking soda, vinegar and peroxide to clean with, and goat milks soap to bath with. All of us are much better for it. Also on a side note I never experienced and soap residue on our clothes but really saw it in the commercial stuff no matter how little I used. I also prefer the no smell from that homemade detergent I mean who needs Mountain rain daisy flower lavender fresh scent anyways 🙂

mikebrady April 10, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Do you think “Bonner’s” lavender soap bar would work in place of “Ivory” bar when added to washing soap for this recipe? I use a T. of “Bonner’s Tea Tree” Liquid soap and a T. of “Oasis Laundry Soap” in small loads with hot water. I get clean clothes but it’s $$.

Leanne Raymond April 10, 2016 at 2:33 pm

Awesome post! Thank you so much for sharing!

Ginger April 15, 2016 at 7:33 pm

Hi! I just made my first batch of powder laundry detergent using 1 cup borax, 1 cup of A&H super washing soda and a finely grated bar of the Fels-naphtha. Well, I washed a medium load of towels in cold water, used 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of the homemade powder. My towels have blue spots on them. It’s no biggie on our old towels but now I’m afraid to use it on a load of clothes. Please help! What do I need to do? Change the recipe? We have well water and no softener needed. I am just stumped as to what to do. Thanks so much for any advice anyone can give. I really want to continue to make this and save money.

Ivory Soap April 28, 2016 at 11:53 am

I’m sure Bronner’s will work, but like you said, it’s PRICEY

Ivory Soap April 28, 2016 at 11:54 am

I can’t imagine what would have made blue spots! I’ve heard a lot of laundry bloopers over the years, but that is a new one. You sure there wasn’t a crayon in there? That happens in my house with some regularity.

Loren Amelang April 28, 2016 at 12:22 pm


I know you said “no softener needed”, but your blue spots sound exactly like what happens with my hard well water – if I just dump in the soap and clothes and start the machine. If I leave the clothes out, let the machine fill with water, then put in the soap and run it for a minute until the powders are all dissolved, and then add the clothes, no problem, even with nasty hard water. Try it…

Leslie Landry June 1, 2016 at 12:40 pm

I let the water fill up with the clothes in. (Clothing absorbs a lot of water so to be sure there is enough water I do it this way )
I dilute soap in a cup of hot water , start the wash and add soap while agitating . For a front loader I would mix soap in water add and toss in clothes and carry on. Don’t know if it works as well as the top loader . I have both and will take the top loader any day of the week .

Mandy June 27, 2016 at 5:56 pm

Wow! You have really done some great research – thanks so much for this – I have a costume shop and spend a huge amount of time and money on laundry – I’ve thought about making my own but been a bit scared to try – this helps heaps!

Abigail June 27, 2016 at 7:06 pm

Homemade liquid deterg comprised of washing soda, borax, Dawn Dish liquid (orig blue), Bronner’s, and water– does not clean my clothes, plus leaves a horrid ring on the inside of my washing machine every time. Ive tried using more and less of the liquid detergent to no avail. It did not remove simple water-based paint from my son’s t-shirt, but liquid Tide removed it. Everybody loves this homemade liquid detergent; why is it not working for me?

Seasud June 28, 2016 at 1:15 am

Washing soda doesn’t lose efficacy in liquid concoctions. Tide powdered contains only borax and not washing soda, and it’s consistently a top preformer in consumer reports tests. Borax is more expensive than washing soda and doesn’t dissolve as quickly, but it softens water more efficiently and is more effective against mildew. Probably a good choice in hard water areas, but perhaps not necessary for soft water.

For enzymes, use the sprays meant for pet accidents. Cheaper than bac-out. I like the earth friendly brand because it’s not so perfumey. I spot treat soiled areas with a spray bottle.

Seasud June 28, 2016 at 1:19 am

Few detergents contain real soap. Soap leaves behind residue, particularly in hard water, which reduces absorbency and grays fabric. It might take a while to build up, but try boiling a clean towel that’s been washed with real soap for a year. It’s disgusting. In the old days when real soap was all they had, boiling clothes was a regular part of the routine to counteract the buildup.

Dish soap is an easy to obtain detergent for a homemade laundry detergent. Or for a single ingredient, orvus paste shampoo can frequently be found at feed stores. Very effective degreaser, a little goes a long way making it very economical. Its used by quilters and conservationists for washing fabric.

Ivory Soap July 4, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Thank you for your insights!

Ivory Soap July 4, 2016 at 2:00 pm

This is why commercial detergent is so successful. It’s dependable. It’s formulated to work in any water, any temperature, all that. It sounds like you ahve really hard water.

Ivory Soap July 4, 2016 at 2:06 pm

Great! Glad it helps!

Abigail July 4, 2016 at 11:52 pm

Thank you Seasud, for your reply explaining soap vs detergent; why can’t we find detergent to use in our homemade concoctions? In lieu of that, I purchased a box of TSP and have added 1 tablespoon to a load of laundry using homemade powdered detergent– washing soda, borax, and Fels Naptha. Let’s see if that helps. Or perhaps I shall go back to Tide.

Aaron Cash September 20, 2016 at 3:08 pm

You cannot “make” enzymes. They are a naturally existing substance and cannot be reproduced synthetically. You can cause them to precipitate from other substances but involves time pressure and temperature controls you aren’t likely to obtain in a home environment.

Aaron Cash September 20, 2016 at 3:20 pm

This article (and another like it) has a fundamental misrepresentation of PH, it’s role in cleaning, and chemicals involved in changing the level of PH, mostly because you say that washing soda is more ‘powerful’ than substances like borax and baking soda. I think it’s because adjusting PH also requires one Adjust the Alkalinity. Hey are different measures that often move together in response to the addition of these chemicals- and to be honest it all depends on the water you have in your home. So what is effective in Florida is not going to be the same in the Midwest. Baking soda is used to increase PH and Alkalinity, washing soda will only increase PH and borax increases both but also introduces borites to the water and will increase PH much greater than Alkalinity. Also PH effect is one that is a matter of canceling out acidicicy , and balancing the water in a way that allows the water to remove the ‘dirty’. Likewise soap is a surfactant which reduces the surface tension of the water. So soap reduces surface tension and PH balances acidiciyand then water can more easily bond to the molecules or “dirty” and casting them out in the drain

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