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For my hundred-years-ago tutorials that are out-of-date, but still frequented, go HERE.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


{ 64 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.

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