Safe “Miracle” Laundry Whitening Recipes

by Ivory Soap

 Young Super Hero Standing on Laundry Machines

I mentioned in the last post that some laundry recipes online mix things that aren’t supposed to be mixed.  However, it appears that the users are putting them in the washer in such a way that there is no immediate reaction that chokes them out of the house.  But, rather than gambling on someone never dumping them in at the same time at the beginning of the cycle, let’s make a few versions that aren’t going to cause lung damage.

What’s in it?

Most of these type recipes include the following:

  • 1 cup DIY laundry detergent (my favorite site does Dawn, borax, and washing soda…freshly mixed I bet as all liquid detergents lose power over time.) 
  • 1/2 cup borax
  • 1 cup bleach
  • 1 cup commercial dish detergent (my favorite site uses Finish Advanced Deep Cleaning Orange Scent)
  • HOT water
  • LONG soak

Oxygen bleaches (peroxide, Oxiclean, Borax) react with chlorine bleach, creating a great deal of heat and harmful gases, and cancelling each other out to a certain degree.  The DIY detergent above contains borax, the commercial dishwasher powder contains a peroxide-type bleach, and the extra borax is, well, borax! Also of note is that ammonia is still found in some liquid dish soaps, and makes chlorine gas when mixed with bleach.  Check your bottle.

Then why does it seem to be “Miraculous”?

The short, non-chemical-formula version of the ingredient list is the following:

  • super hot water and a lengthy soak make any recipe work better
  • washing soda (found in all POWDER dishwasher detergents and POWDER laundry detergents)
  • detergent, not soap (only in commercial laundry soap or commercial liquid dish soap)
  • a whole lot of “suspension” water deposit preventers (only found in commercial dishwasher detergents, not DIY)
  • oxygen bleach activator (found in the particular dishwasher detergent mentioned above)
  • oxygen bleaches (decent one in the dishwasher detergent listed, also borax is a weak one, but in super hot water, high quantities, and the presence of the above activator…)
  • enzymes (found in the listed dishwasher detergent and some commercial laundry detergents.)
  • …and that’s before we even get to the CHLORINE BLEACH

Enzymes are awesome.  Hot water is awesome.  Long soaks are awesome.  Washing soda is awesome.  And because of the underlined ingredients, you hard water folks are going to find this recipe especially effective, since much of your dinginess comes from hard water deposits!  Andeven if the chlorine and peroxide bleach are cancelling somewhat, it’s not equal quantities, so some bleaching power remains after the reaction.

Make it Safe:  Separate the parts

Running the chemicals that interact poorly doesn’t help anything; running it all together could hurt something…you.  Do your oxygen bleaching first.

  • 2 T Dawn, 2T borax, 2T washing soda (Essentially the DIY detergent seen here without the water, which makes it lose power over a few weeks.)
  • 1 cup of fancy commercial, enzyme containing, oxygen bleach containing, dishwasher detergent POWDER
  • 1/2 cup more borax (or better, peroxide or dollar store Oxiclean POWDER)
  • HOT water
  • LONG soak
  • Vinegar in the rinse cup (to keep away skin irritation, remove deposits, and help banish yellowing)

Alternative option for the first two ingredients, but still gets all the fancy stuff in…

  • 1 cup of commercial POWDER laundry detergent with enzymes and oxygen bleach
  • 1 cup of cheapo generic dishwasher detergent POWDER (DIY doesn’t have the awesome suspension hard water killers)
  • everything else the same as above

If it’s still stained, use bleach safely

  • 1 cup bleach-safe commercial detergent (or bleach safe DIY = 2T ammonia free dishsoap, 2-4T washing soda)
  • 1 cup of chlorine bleach
  • HOT water
  • LONG soak
  • Vinegar in the rinse cup

If it’s not stained anymore, but it just doesn’t knock your socks off

  • Any laundry detergent you prefer
  • Something that will return the factory bluing and optical whiteners (like White Brite)
  • HOT water
  • LONG soak
  • Vinegar in the rinse cup
  • Dried in the SUN if you want the brighteners to REALLY fluoresce for you!


Disclaimer: This post may contain a link to an affiliate.
TerriSue January 4, 2014 at 11:05 am

I guess I just don’t care enough to have super white clothes to use some of the things you suggested. I have tried so hard to get away from the commercial cleaners. There always seems to be something in them that is harmful to our water supply. I do line dry all of my laundry and I figure that the sun is doing a good enough job. When I am sorting laundry I keep a green brand spot remover by me to spray on any stains. Since I don’t use the drier I usually catch any stains that did not come out when I am hanging things up. This is rare though. If I do have a stain I bring it back inside, use my homemade castile soap and a washboard. I have as of yet not been able to get a stain out with enough elbow grease. After a thorough rinsing I put it up on the line. When I look at my whites the only ones that seem a little gray to me are my kitchen cloths and my kitchen hand towels. I can definitely live with that knowing I am not putting anything harmful into our water.

Dianne January 4, 2014 at 12:37 pm

So, do you have a recipe for detergent that works in cold water? We do not even have the hot water hooked up to our washing machine. I made the dry detergent…soap does not seem to want to “melt” in the cold water…and it is really evident when I wash a dark load of laundry. I have been thinking about making the liquid detergent for some time now….would really like to hear you opinion on the matter. Thank you…and thank you so much for your site….I love what, and how, you write…and it always seems to be written JUST to me! LOL

Muzhik January 4, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Once again: when making DIY cleaners (laundry soap, dish soap, whatever) if your recipe calls for water YOU MUST USE DISTILLED WATER!!! If you don’t, then the minerals and/or chemicals in your water WILL react with the chemicals you’re using to make your DIY soap and you won’t get what you’re trying to get.

Michele January 4, 2014 at 3:23 pm

Dianne~ I also wash only in cold water and I use my own powder detergent (baking soda, borax, fels naptha, washing soda, oxyclean) because I have children with skin problems. I also had problems with the fels naptha not “melting” so now I start the washer on warm, put in my scoop of soap, switch to cold and fill the washer with the clothes. If your warm water isn’t hooked up, I would think that the same process would work with cold. I think the pressure of the water coming out along with slowly pouring the powdered soap into the stream helps with dissolving. I do have an occasional small piece of fels naptha (we grate it with a hand held cheese grater), only on something I hung to dry and nothing in the dryer at all – certainly not enough to quit making my own soap. I also use vinegar instead of softener and wool dryer balls in the dryer for static. Love my naturally clean wash!

Linda J January 4, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Is there something to use on a small shadow stain showing on a dark piece of clothing after regular pre-treatment [commercial spray] & soaking/washing? This is a piece of women’s clothing my daughter brought by today & something not recommended for hot water [& line dry]. The stain appears to be perhaps an oily stain from food or another similar substance. Thanks for any ideas.

Ben Gamerz January 14, 2014 at 10:18 am

@Dianne Do try the liquid detergents, they work really well on everything I have done! Also, for your ‘no hot water’ problem, you could simply swap the line over which is attached to your cold water pipe! No?

Maryanne January 30, 2016 at 8:52 am

I make my own “laundry butter” which is 100% natural handmade coconut soap, borax and washing soda. It’s great in Cold water wash. I also use Mrs Stewarts Bluing, and have had no issues AT ALL. My colors are bright, my darks don’t fade and with the addition of the bluing…my whites are sparkling. I also use my handmade stain stick bleach involved….and needs a bit of a rub, but all environmentally friendly.

Trisch April 25, 2016 at 3:27 pm

I have been experimenting and tweaking DIY laundry soap for about 2 years now. I tried liquids and butters — all FAILED. They left gloppy smears of undissolved residue on the clothes. To bypass that, I had to dissolve in 4 C of near boiling water and then pour into the machine. Too much headache and they took much more time to make up than I cared to spend. I was having to use nearly 1C per load to get laundry that even remotely smelled fresh and but it wasn’t always the case.

I moved on to the powders and had similar residue issues, until I realized that grinding the bar soap to a much finer grain fixed that. That said, I found an electric kettle to keep in my laundry room in teh clearance aisle at W*M, so I still heat up some water and pour it in after the powder.

Whether I use the liquid or the powder, I often find that my clothes still carry a little odor. (My daughter’s use perfumes and body sprays, which don’t always go away after laundering. One of them is a runner at school and her active wear is super stinky after a workout. My teenage son is well, enough said — right?) So, I have been increasing the amount I use and am now up to nearly 1/2 C of powder per load and I still don’t think they smell clean.

I did and do put vinegar in the rinse cup, but my top load HE machine only accommodates about 1/8 of a cup — hardly seems like it is effective. I even tried doing shorter loads and then running a separate rinse cycle with 1 cup vinegar, but that took a lot of extra time and with 4 kids, that didn’t last long.

So, my 1st question is — do you think I would have better results with 20% or even 30% herbicidal strength vinegar to make the vinegar rinse more effective?

I had noticed my whites were really dingy, even using oxiclean, Zote in my mix and vinegar in the rinse. I bought bluing squares and dissolved one to a gallon of water and added 1C per load with the soap and I think that definitely helped some, but again it is another step in the process and I am all about making this easier for myself!

Which brings me to my 2nd question — What do you think about adding some bluing squares when grinding up the powder ingredients?

I had read your post about not needing to put Borax in the powder mix a while back. Since I had to mix up a new batch of laundry powder this weekend, I decided to swap it out for additional washing soda. I never liked the results of any liquid, butter or powder with only F. N. or only Zote, so in my tinkering I ended up with a concoction that uses both.

My mix:
2 bars Fels Naptha – chunked
1 lg. Zote bar — chunked
3 C A & H Wash Soda
3 C Borax (Now removed & replaced with additional 3 C Wash Soda)

Grind in Cuisinart till very fine powder

I have hard water, which we have a water softener to help with. I have not tried castille soap, though I keep thinking I should, since we love Dr. B’s in the shower. I once tried Ivory and didn’t think it cleaned very well, but that was when I first started out, so I may need to give it another go. I am about ready to try Simple Green at this point! 😉 Any suggestions/thoughts on my questions/problems would be appreciated!

Ivory Soap April 28, 2016 at 11:57 am

Bluing will make a difference. The newest Oxy product out there has the whiteners and brighteners added (read: bluing and fluorescing compounds). “White” is not really white. It’s a trick of the eye that has to be added. Also, I would definitely try Dr. Bronners in the laundry. It will work great. It’s just pricey!

Trisch April 28, 2016 at 8:21 pm

I tried that new Oxi-clean for whites, and it seems OK, but it is super perfumed! My son didn’t love the smell on his socks and skivvies– “too girlie” smelling! HAHA!
We buy Bronner’s by the gallon. I saw a recipe somewhere where you put the Washing Soda in the Cuisinart and pour liquid into the powder and mix until a fine powder results. Now, I just have to find it again!

dniezby July 2, 2016 at 8:07 am

As a Paramedic and trained in Hazardous materials I can tell you that mixing Chlorine and Ammonia does NOT make Chlorine gas. It makes an even more dangerous and deadly gas called cyanide gas. Yes, the same gas used in the gas chamber for executions.

NEVER EVER EVER MIX CHLORINE AND AMMONIA. You will get whiff of wonderful almonds and…dead. Then it will kill anyone in your home next when they come to help you and anyone that is not protected before it disapates.

Always know what you’re mixing before you mix it. Research WILL keep you alive.

Daisy July 2, 2016 at 11:08 am

Dniezby–Thank you for the warning. Here’s some of what I found on the subject: Very interesting!

dniezby July 3, 2016 at 10:58 am

That is good. However it doesn’t come out and tell you in English what happens. So, here is a just.

You get chlorine gas from mixing Chlorine and Vinegar. Don’t do that either. Bottom line,
Chlorine is just really bad to have in your home. Period. Even if you have a spill of JUST chlorine, it’s recommended to call the fire department. However, all we do is clear the home and ventilate with big fans. If you ever have a spill, IMEDIATELY start on venting the home. The fumes will burn your airway if exposed too long or too much. Of course we wear masks and air tanks.

When one is entering the world of homemade cleaners and soaps etc. one really needs to learn about acids and bases. That can mean the difference between life and death – Literally.

Q June 7, 2017 at 11:39 pm

A family memeber mixed Dawn and bleach and got very quickly quite ill, she said, from the fumes. May have been 20 yes ago…quick fyi

Q June 7, 2017 at 11:41 pm

**EDIT: “years,” not, “yes”

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