Homemade Laundry Detergent

March 18, 2010 at 9:40 pm 13 comments

When I first started making homemade laundry detergent, most everyone thought I was crazy.  Then when I started raving about how much better than regular detergent and how ridiculously cheap it is to make, people were constantly asking me for the recipe.  So I figure I should put it here and save myself some email time.

Seriously, this Barney household is likely to never buy commercial laundry soap ever again.  It’s been well over a year that we’ve started making our own and I can’t fathom any reason to go back.  About 10 years ago, I started having a terrible reaction to regular laundry soap and had to switch to perfume and dye-free soap.  This stuff is not cheap, even being the big coupon shopper I am.  However, if this recipe was just cheap but wasn’t effective or didn’t do a good job washing our clothes, I wouldn’t keep using it just because it’s cheap!

Only a handful of times have we had incidents in which we couldn’t remove stains (i.e. a huge grease spot on a shirt).  Also, it’s gentle enough but effective enough to use on Aaron’s cloth diapers.  It doesn’t compromise the cloth at all, and it’s extremely gentle on his skin.  Baby detergent such as Dreft is NOT cheap.  I’d say with cloth diapers, this alone saves me a couple hundred dollars a year.

It’s been at least a year and a half that we’ve been using this soap and it has cost us no more than $11 for the entire year.  Sure, it’s about 30 minutes worth of work every few months, but that’s a reasonable sacrifice in my opinion.

We also stopped using commercial fabric softener and dryer sheets.  Instead, we add ½ cup of vinegar to the fabric softener compartment.  No, your clothes don’t come out smelling like vinegar. And unlike fabric softener which fades your clothes over time, vinegar neutralizers the hard water, softens your clothes and eliminates static electricity for the most part (the only time I’ve ever had any was when I washed our huge Woolrich fuzzy blanket).  I bought two of those spikey balls for the dryer and there’s no need for the dryer sheets.

Here’s the recipe for the homemade laundry detergent:


1 Fels-Naptha Soap Bar

1 Cup Washing Soda

½ Cup Borax

4 Cups hot tap water

The trickiest part might be finding the Fels-Naptha Soap Bar or Washing Soda.  I found both of them at Kroger and they are always stocked there.  Wal-Mart and Target never carry them, as these items aren’t really a hot commodity.  I would check in your oldest or most ‘old-fashioned’ store or grocery you have in your area.  If you can’t find them, ask the store if they’ll do special orders, as I’ve heard several chains will do that for you.  If all else fails, several bars can be ordered online for as low as 99 cents a bar (and to me it would be worth it).  I always buy several bars at one time.

The Fels-Naptha Bar will be in the laundry detergent section, usually with the stain removal products.  Look carefully because it’s easy to miss.  It’s the size of a regular bar of soap and looks like this:

Washing Soda is NOT baking soda.  Arm & Hammer is the only brand I’ve ever seen or heard of and it’s also found in the laundry detergent section.  It’s technically an additive and is often used to boost the power of commercial detergents.  This, too, can be ordered online for a few dollars if all else fails.  I’ve heard of people finding it at Ace Hardware and other small stores.  I just ran out of my first box with the batch I made tonight.  It looks like this:

Borax is a pretty common product and unlike the other two ingredients, it can be found at Wal-Mart and even Target.  A box of this will last you at least 2-3 years if you’re just using it for this recipe.  Borax looks like this:

1.  Grate bar of soap and add it to saucepan with the hot water.

2.  Stir continually over medium-low heat until soap dissolves and is melted.

3.  Fill a 5-gallon bucket half full of hot water.  Add melted soap, washing soda and Borax.  Stir well until all powder is dissolved.  Fill bucket up to top with more hot water.  Stir, cover and let sit overnight to thicken.

4.  Stir and fill a used, clean laundry soap dispenser half full with soap and then fill rest of the way with water (this means you’ll actually get 10 gallons of laundry soap out of the 5-gallon bucket you just made!).  I use an old All container, the larger kind that has a spout on it.

5.  Shake the container before each use as it has a tendency to gel up between uses.

6.  Optional:  You can add 10-15 drops of essential oil per 2 gallons.  Add once soap has cooled.  Popular choices are lavender, rosemary, tea tree oil, citrus (sweet orange is my personal favorite).

Yield:  Liquid soap recipe makes 10 gallons.

Top Load Machine:  5/8 Cup per load (approximately 180 loads)

Front Load Machine:  ¼ Cup per load (approximately 640 loads)

As I mentioned above, we only use vinegar in place of conventional fabric softener.  I keep a 2 gallon spouted container in the laundry area and just add it as I would fabric softener (about ½ cup per load).


Entry filed under: Urban Homesteading, Natural Parenting & Hippie DIY Stuff. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sasha Johns  |  March 18, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    I have had the stuff for awhile now to make it, but just haven’t sat down to make it yet.

    Question…I have had several folks tell me that it is not the greatest for whites because it makes them a little dingy. What is your experience with that? Also, what kind of vinegar? Just plain white?

    • 2. patrioticquilter  |  March 18, 2010 at 9:58 pm

      Do it! I understand… I tend to drag feet on this task until I absolutely have to, then I’m forced to. With the cloth diapers, I try my best to pay attention to when I’m running low, though. It literally takes less than 30 minutes, though. One piece of advice – the Fels-Naptha bar is a bit fragrant. You might not want to deal with that or the powders. When I was pregnant, I made Paul do the work!

      • 3. Sasha Johns  |  March 18, 2010 at 9:59 pm

        What about the whites? I take it you haven’t had the same experience? do you use any bleach on the diapers for instance?

      • 4. patrioticquilter  |  March 18, 2010 at 10:19 pm

        Oh, I totally missed that question – so sorry!

        Okay, for Paul’s socks and undershirts, I still use regular bleach at his request. Once a month or more often if needed, I use OxyClean for us and OxyClean Baby on Aaron’s stuff (diapers included) to prevent the dinginess. Now that it’s warmer, I’m having Paul put some clothes lines up for me since sun is the absolute best bleaching agent. Honestly, we’ve been using the same 5 dozen flat folds since Aaron was born and they don’t look dingy at all – some of them have light stains since those are too small to use as diapers and we use them as spit up rags and general cleaning cloths. I’m guessing it’s because we religiously use the OxyClean to prevent graying or discolor?

      • 5. patrioticquilter  |  March 18, 2010 at 10:19 pm

        Oh, and yes, regular old white vinegar : )

  • 6. Sasha Johns  |  March 18, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Ok, one more question…do you use the oxyclean WITH the homemade detergent or instead of. (never used it before)

    • 7. patrioticquilter  |  March 19, 2010 at 8:06 am

      I use it with. OxyClean is a booster or additive that prevents your clothes from getting dingy. So I use it like maintenance. With cloth diapers, I try to use it a little more often since they get washed a lot more often than regular clothing, maybe once every two weeks. I just put a scoop in with the load. And you can ask all the questions you want : )

  • 8. Sharon  |  March 20, 2010 at 12:27 am

    As a supporter of using cloth diapers I used them for all 3 of my kids now all adults , but I used borax and water in the diaper pail so the diapers soaked until wash day, I washed about every other day so I would just pour the water off the pail into the toilet then dump the diapers into the washer and run them thru a rinse and spin then wash and for kid one I only had a clothsline the other two I had a dryer but always white and clean and no diaper rashes for my kids
    Good for you young moms for going back to cloth

  • 9. Brother  |  March 21, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    Got the stuff to make this today. Found Fels-Naptha bar at the Shallowford Publix, 99 cents. Also Washing soda. Already have Borax. Gonna try to get it made some time this week. You’ll hear from me if I have questions!

    • 10. patrioticquilter  |  March 22, 2010 at 1:20 pm

      Yaaay! Let me know how it turns out. I am sure you’ll have no problem. It’s really easy. But if you do have questions, don’t be afraid to call.

  • 11. D in San Bernardino  |  March 22, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Thank you for this recipe. I found the washing soda (soda ash) at the pool supply store for much less than arm and hammer. It is the same thing without any fillers. The soap is working great and your hints really helped.

  • 12. Carrie  |  December 15, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    Found you through Emilee’s blog! I also make homemade detergent and will be using it on cloth diapers next spring/summer, so it’s good to know it works!
    I basically use the same recipe except I use Ivory soap, I like the smell and it was the brand used where I first found the recipe.
    I also add in 1 Cup of plain old baking soda! I love the affect of baking soda on my clothes. 🙂 Helps with smells too!

    • 13. patrioticquilter  |  December 15, 2010 at 10:03 pm

      Thank you for your comment! Congratulations, and I’m always SO excited to hear about someone else committing to cloth diapers. I can’t imagine it any other way. One word of advice, though – I have shifted away from using this recipe on the covers or wraps of my diapers. Anything that uses the PUL material, because the Borax can and does cause delamination of the material. I switched to using Rockin’ Green on all my diapers. It costs a little bit more, but two big bags of it lasts me 4-6 months at least.


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