Homemade Laundry Detergent: New Tutorial

by Ivory Soap on 09/24/2012

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Homemade laundry detergent, one of the simplest DIY projects, can be really confusing for a first timer, so here’s an updated tutorial.  But first……..


I just needed to get that off my chest before people start asking me about it.  ANY baking soda, washing soda, or other basic solution (like lye) reacts with air and completely loses potency over time.  In a chemistry lab, these things are kept in liquid form, but only in tightly stoppered little bottles.

So, I no longer make liquid detergent.  Our old liquid detergent post is still popular, but I want to make it clear that it’s obsolete.

No Borax?

Borax is found in commercial LIQUID detergents only.  It’s not very strong compared to washing soda, and requires HOT water to really do it’s thing.  I have omitted it, and am VERY pleased with the results.

However, if you insist on making liquid detergent, PLEASE use borax.  The gelling will help keep it stable for a while longer than washing soda alone.

You will need:

      • 2 cups washing soda
      • 3 bars of soap
      • cheese grater
      • some sort of electric grinder
      • measuring cups
      • scale (optional)
      • an old baby formula container, or the like


1. If you have whole bars, use 3- 4oz bars.  If not, you can weigh out 12 oz of random chunks.

2. Grate on a cheese grater.


3.  Add the washing soda NOW.  (Soap doesn’t grind well without the dry soda in there to break it up.)


4.  Put batches in your grinder and make it tiny.

5.  Use three tablespoons per standard load.  Half that if you have a high efficiency.

More about laundry

To see how I use it in my laundry, go HERE.

To hear all kinds of nerdy chemistry babble about detergent, go HERE.

For all kinds of troubleshooting, or if you have sensitive skin, go HERE. 

For a DIY stain routine and lots of nerdy babble, go HERE.

For my hundred-years-ago tutorials that are out-of-date, but still frequented, go HERE.

Tips and FAQ

      • You do not need a dedicated grinder, bowls, etc.  Just run it through the washer.
      • The finer the grind, the better your dissolving
      • The older and more dried out your soap, the easier it is to grate and grind
      • Borax is unnecessary for powder and absolutely necessary for liquid (if you want it to keep any potency).


{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Muzhik October 28, 2013 at 5:00 pm

David, figure out how many ounces of material you’re using to make your batch; figure out how many ounces are in each tablespoon; figure 3 tablespoons per load (to start) and that will give you an idea how many loads it will do.

Ali December 1, 2013 at 2:16 pm

What kind of soap do you use to grate?

lucydawn January 28, 2014 at 8:27 pm

I’m allergic to ivory soap!! Also I’ve been dealing with a contact dermatitis for years. The only makeup and face care products I can use is Chanel. What would you suggest for a “Miss Itch”like me??

Michelle Oaks February 26, 2014 at 6:34 pm

This is a different recipe than what we have been using -which we included in our recently published book on self-sufficiency, homesteading, etc.
How do you like this recipe? Does it clean and remove stains well?

Lara April 7, 2014 at 8:29 am

Lucydawn. I use pink Zote for, my daughter had Eczema, and it seems to help.

Marilyn April 7, 2014 at 9:09 am

Please learn to make soap . . . it’s so EASY – really it is!!! You can make it out of all vegan oils, special oils/butters or just using tallow or lard which makes a LOVELY soap – esp. for washing clothes – – – you use a lot more lye in a cleaning soap than you do for a skin product, but it’s super easy and you can make batches that you can make once and use for years before you make another . . . online tutorials are fabulous. But start out with a 1 lb batch no matter what – make it in a trash bag lined box or a “Pringles” can or whatever – since you’re going to be grinding it anyway. Just my 2 cents worth . . . soap made at home is pennies on the dollar and you can know exactly what’s in it . . . the ground soaps now have stuff in it that they do not have to disclose just like foods . . . MW

Janet July 4, 2014 at 5:04 am

Just a couple of questions…
1. How does this powder do in a HE front load machine on cold or warm water? I rarely use hot water to wash clothes.

2. Marilyn, what easy recipe do you use for skin soap and for laundry soap making? I have been frightened of the lye. And I don’t have a scale to measure by weight. Is there a recipe that uses volume measurements instead of weight?


Linden March 28, 2015 at 4:16 pm

I used this for about nine months before switching back to Tide. It seemed to be getting my clothes clean–I understand that they don’t need to be perfumed to be clean–but after about month 5 or 6 I noticed that any clothes that sat in drawers for more than a week, would start to stink like they were still dirty. They would smell clean right out of the washer, even the dryer, but not after sitting for a bit. I was potty training my son at the time, and his “clean” underwear would smell like a diaper pail after just a few days! We have soft city water so I messed with formulations (more washing soda like recommended, more detergent in a load, etc.) but nothing helped. Also, vinegar does help strip residue from your clothes, but in my experience, it does not soften or remove static nearly as well as commercial softener. However, I am using less softener now than I used to, to stretch it more and because I know it’s not absolutely essential. I’m considering trying a different homemade recipe, the “Mom’s Laundry Sauce” one. It’s like a cream formula of soap, washing soda, and borax and is supposed to be super concentrated.

Chrissy April 11, 2015 at 3:09 pm


I”m wondering if this will fade dark clothes over time, and if so, do you have any adjustments to cater to keeping fabrics dark?


Daisy April 11, 2015 at 9:41 pm

Chrissy–I suppose just the regular rules that apply to washing darks in general: inside out, darks of similar weight together, cold water, short cycle (to minimize friction that makes clothes fibers break down) line dry out of direct sun, if dryer dried use low temp.

Fergus September 4, 2015 at 12:13 pm

I need cloth diaper laundry advise!! I am going to try this recipe for my regular laundry, but I have read in so many places (including here) not to use soap with cloth diapers. Should I just leave it out?
I am looking at buying OxiCean Baby (it gets an “A” rating on EWG, which is better than other OxiCleans). The only ingredients are sodium carbonate peroxide and sodium carbonate. Has anyone tried adding that to their DIY diaper cleaner? I would like to use vinegar, but am scared to put it in my HE, front loading washer. I have read that it rusts(?) or corrodes the parts, as it is an acid. I’d like to keep the diaper cleaner as simple as possible 🙂 Maybe I should add that I live in CO and am pretty sure that our water is on the soft side.

Lara September 4, 2015 at 12:48 pm

While I never used cloth diapers, due to day care. I have heard several times that this is fine for cloth diapers. I actually make mine because my daughter has Eczema, and used it exclusively when my son was a baby. I think you could use vinegar in your HE washer as you can use it to clean the machine.

Alisha October 2, 2015 at 11:38 am

If I calculated this correctly, this recipe is MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE than even high priced natural detergent. I can get 58 regular loads from nature clean powder detergent for $18.99 or 36 loads from this recipe (doubled) for $43.50! It will cost me $3.50 for 4 cups washing soda and $40 for 6 castile soap bars to double this recipe. Double Recipe: 4 cups washing soda = approx. 946 grams + 6 x 4 oz castile soap = approx. 680 grams makes 1,626 grams or 108 tablespoons, dived by three equals 36 loads. Am I crazy? I was really hoping to save money on detergent!

Nandita November 29, 2015 at 2:10 am

Alisha. I buy my castile soap bars from Amazon 6 for $25-$26. I have a front loading machine so I use 1-2 TBS. It works great.

MC December 8, 2015 at 10:06 pm

Alisha- you can also make your own washing soda for less money as well. Good luck.

Sheila January 17, 2016 at 10:54 am

Alisha- holy moly! I can get a box of washing powder and Ivory, Kirks, or Zote soap for very cheaply at Walmart. Less than $10 total with several bars of soap. And Zote soap is huge, so you probably only need 1 bar vs 3, but check the weight. Or make your own soap out of coconut oil, water, and lye. It is very cleansing and easy to make. Use only 2-3 T per load, less of for front loaders. Don’t spend money on Dr Bronners. I think it is very expensive and will be using alternatives myself.
Adding eucalyptus, Rosemary, tea tree, and lavender oils in very small amounts kills germs, kills and repels lice and bedbugs, and gives it a nice clean smell.

Matthew G. January 27, 2016 at 2:35 pm

I’m trying this recipe as we speak (the first load of wash is in the dryer). I’m a soap maker so I formulated a bar specifically for laundry using a 50-50 mix of coconut and lard. My recipe includes sodium acetate (the result of neutralizing distilled vinegar with lye) as I have reason to believe this might be a better chelating agent than sodium citrate (citric acid neutralized with lye). I scented my soap as well, and the final cost per load is $0.18 if using 2 Tbsp, and $0.27 if using 3 Tbsp (as a comparison, the commercial liquid I use is $0.17 per load).
I do have reservations about using vinegar in the rinse water–even though everyone does it. I understand the reason: to balance the pH. But as a soap maker I know that acids will break soap back down into fatty acids (think oil). I fear that if all of the soap is not rinsed out of the cloths, adding a vinegar rinse will only make things worse (i.e. dingy cloths). Unfortunately, I can’t find any information to substantiate this and I’m not a chemist. . . . Any thoughts?

Greener Goods January 28, 2016 at 6:09 pm

Castille soap is CHEAP! The price to make this is SUPER cheap–and I make a bigger batch when I make it. Lasts for a long time! I use 1/8c scoop or two in my HE front loader washer, depending on size of loads/ soil level.

My recipe is a little different:
1. 6 bars of Kirk’s Castille Soap at WalMart: $8 or less (less than $4 each per 3-pack)
2. 2 16-oz boxes of USP Baking Soda, baked* to convert to washing soda: $1 (50 cents each)
3. I 16-oz box of baking soda (not baked, just used as baking soda) .50 cents

TOTAL : Less than $5.50

I go outside on the porch, due to dustiness when using food processor and these ingredients.
Take 1 hour to make your washing soda from baking soda (see below). Once done, run your soap through the shredder, one bar at a time. Now run THIS shredded bar through the grinder with 1/3 of the dry washing soda and 1/3 of the baking soda above–you’ll do three batches to make this. The powder helps the soap mix up nice and even and not stick. It takes maybe 5 minutes to make this whole batch.

When I’m done with each batch, I like to add in fresh lavender buds from the bush over by the porch–and handful or two–and then mix and grind them in. I also add some lavender essential oil. Smells lovely! If you use Zote instead of Kirk’s castille, the lavender addition makes them smell oddly like lemon cookies (odd, since Kirk’s is citronella scent). The Kirk’s itself has no scent at all really.

*How to Make Wahing Soda from Baking Soda–super simple!
Turn on oven to 400. Pour two boxes of baking soda evenly on a cookie sheet, give it a shake to sort of even it out a bit, and put it in oven. Walk away, set timer for 1 hour, and you’ll make washing soda. When timer rings, remove, cool and then store in a airtight container or gallon ziploc storage bag, label and use in laundry detergent recipe above 🙂 . You can test conversion by sight, but I always HAVE to do the taste test to be sure, and I kind of like this step: wet a rice-sized bit on the tip of your finger with your tongue, dip is washing soda, taste on tip of tongue. It should not taste salty like baking soda, but bitter and “tingly” . I then spit it out, swish with a drink of water, and that’s it.

Greener Goods January 28, 2016 at 6:22 pm

Whoops. typo up there since I figured single-batch price first. Mine at a double batch would be $9.50 or less . Sorry about that. I realize this is an older thread but receiving new comments, so I thought I should update. I started leaving Borax out of my laundry detergent about 4 years ago when I began makign this recipe. And it’s really a laundry soap, not a true detergent, right? I guess it doesn’t matter. I have read something on the difference between laundry detergents vs. soaps, but this soap works well. I rotate between using Kroger’s Simple Truth “Free” organic detergent and this. Sometimes, this soap doesn’t seem to work on pet or stinky teenage boy clothes as much as I’d like it to0, even with using oxiclean (store brand) and enzyme pre-treaters for odor/stains.

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