Saturday, January 19, 2013

DIY Cheap Laundry Detergent

DIY laundry detergentI don't consider myself a tree hugger, but I do consider myself cheap. Sure, I care about the environment so I recycle and I do the whole paperless billing thing, but if we're going to be honest then you should know the truth. I care about learning how to lessen my environmental impact especially if it’s convenient and more cost effective in the long run. Yeah, yeah, yeah… maybe I’m a little selfish. I’ve accepted it and you probably should too.

A friend of mine, Leslie (love ya!) gave me the idea about making my own laundry detergent a few years ago. It is not only more cost effective, but it's gentler on your body and the environment, so I thought why not? 
Plus, if you have ever heard my ramblings about how evil GMO products are or that high fructose corn syrup is basically Satan in food form then you know how I feel about additives and chemicals. My rule is that if I can’t pronounce it or it sounds obviously processed, then I don’t buy it. That, my friends, is a much easier rule to follow concerning foods. I have yet to find cleaning products, shampoo, conditions that I actually know what all the ingredients are. Even those "natural" and "organic" products have some strange ingredients-- just look at the labels!

This homemade laundry detergent consists of 3 ingredients:
  • Bar Soap
  • Borax
  • Washing soda
Bar Soap
You can actually use ANY plant based bar soap like Tom's of Maine, Dr. Bonner's castile soap,  or Mrs. Meyers. Some people even use Ivory soap. But there are a lot of debates about which is the safest and the most efficient. All I will say that is that none of them are perfect, so make sure you know read the labels and get to know the products so that you pick the one that's right for you.

I've used quite a few of them, but in this recipe I'm using Fels Naptha mainly because I found a box on sale (remember-- I'm cheap). Lots of people have been asked me, “What the heck is Fels Naptha?! Why can't I just use regular soap?!” To which I reply it is a soap, but it’s not just any soap-- it's made to clean. It’s been around for over 100 years and it’s pretty heavy duty.  However, it is NOT body soap. It’s a cleaning product. So, please, for the love of God, do not eat it, wash your child's mouth out with it or anything else that would involve putting this inside of your body. 

So, what’s Borax
It’s Fels Naptha’s cousin. 

The product consists of 99.5 percent pure, naturally occurring borax so there’s no synthetic, man-made chemicals involved at all … no bleach, fragrance, or colors. But it is still not nontoxic, so treat it like you would any other cleaning product and don’t feed it to your cat or add half a box of it to your bath.

Okay, but what does it do? It can help soften hard water, be a house hold cleaner, a deodorizer, unclog drains, and can be used in some arts and crafts projects like making candles. Pretty handy stuff, right?

Washing Soda is baking soda’s bully of a sister. It has a higher pH so it packs a bit more of a punch. 

It has similar uses as Borax: water softener, bleach alternative, deodorizer, you can use it to shine your silver, and you can use it on heavy duty spills. It also should NOT be substituted for baking soda and it should not be consumed. It is even recommended that you wear gloves while handling this product due to his high pH. However, I don't and my hands are just fine. But, of course, you should wear gloves because I'm all about safety. Your safety. 

Here is what you need to make your own Laundry Detergent:

Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe 
  • 1 bar of plant based soap, shredded, grated, or whatever (see below)
  • 1 cup of Borax
  • 1 cup of Washing Soda
The hardest part is cutting up the bar of Fels-Naptha, but you have three options – chop it into small blocks, rough chop into slivers, or grate it. The first two will require the use of a food processor so if you don’t have one, then you only have one option! Lucky you! It's a pain, but look at the bright side-- you'll have really nice arms. 

Make laundry detergentMy favorite option is to take the knife and rock it back and forth close to the end of the bar. By doing this little broken slivers will fall off.  Think about breaking down chocolate– very similar idea here.

Anyways, THAT is what it looks like.

As I break down the bar, I toss it into the food processor. If you have any thick pieces it will look like crumbs once you pulse it a couple of times. Trust me-- it's fine.

Now add the Borax and the washing soda to the food processor and just pulsed it a few times. The soap will just melt into the other products and it will be a nice uniform consistency. It’s ready to use! Put it in a container and stick that bad boy in your laundry room.

This is how to use it

Laundry detergent with 3 ingredients For large loads the recommendation is 1 tablespoons, but for small loads ½ tablespoon is just fine. 

This single recipe lasted me for about 6 months when I was single and since I found The Man it lasts around 4 months now. I found the products at Ace Hardware, Walmart and Publix (Florida Grocery Store).
  • Fels-Naptha: $0.99 at Publix, $1.49 at Ace
  • Borax: $3.99 at Publix, $4.99 at Ace
  • Washing Soda: $2.50 at Publix. Didn’t find it at Ace.
You can use the borax and the washing soda to make about 4 recipes, so if you break it down-- the cost is minimal. I love cheap stuff! 

When I find cheap things that are better for me than more expensive things it makes me feel like I’ve conquered something truly menacing… and maybe even evil. Yeaaahh… evil. I’m totally like the Harry Potter of the domestic world. Badass.

Wanna Go All Natural For Your Laundry?  
DIY Detergent Borax Free
Laundry Spot Remover
Dryer Balls
Soap Nuts
Fabric Softener 

Looking for Other Ways to Reduce Indoor Air Pollution: 
Clean up Indoor Air Pollution with these easy steps 


  1. I made this today, added some tea tree and lavender oils, and instead of chopping or grating by hand, I used the food processor's grating attachment to grate the bar, then pulsed it with the blade and it worked really well, and the bar fit in the chute of the food processor without any chopping at all! It's in the washer now and smells great.

    1. Yay! I'm so glad you like it. I really enjoy your idea of using the food processor's attachment! That's brilliant! I'm definitely going to do that next time! Thank you!!

  2. You can also microwave the soap it becomes a foam and when dry it breaks into powder easily just be careful not to burn it.

    1. Ohhh! Awesome idea! Thanks for sharing :)

  3. Do you have an HE front loading washer?

    1. Good question! Yes, I do! When I bought a front loader, I made sure that the DIY laundry detergent would work. What I was told is that the HE front loaders require lows suds and this detergent really doesn't sud at all. I've been using it without a hitch for over two years. I love it! :)

    2. Did you make the liquid soap for your front loader? Or do you put the detergent in the tub rather than in the dispenser? I've made the liquid soap and am frustrated that it comes out in inconsistent consistencies. That sounds impossible, but it isn't! I'd love to try a dry formula.

    3. The liquid detergent is pretty much a pain in the booty--- the dry is soooo much better! You can still use the wet for the front loader if you use a non-suds soap like fels naptha for the base and I used it in both the dispenser and the tub, but I don't think it makes a difference. Personally, making the liquid detergent is time consuming and dealing with it can be a mess-- I don't really like it and I don't recommend it unless you're set on liquid detergent. The dry takes 5 minutes to make and it won't change consistencies at all. I put the dry detergent into the dispenser and it works just fine every time. It also is much smaller quantities so it takes up less space, but it lasts forever because you end up using so little in each load.

      If you want I can dig up the old recipe that I used for a liquid detergent, but I think you'll like the dry formula a lot better! :)

  4. Hello! I'm new to your site and are loving your ideas, but I had a quick question... Do you recommend using Fels-Naptha soap as a safe natural alternative? I've seen mixed reviews and some recommend Dr. Bonners. Have you tried any other bar of soap? I'm new to making my own products, so the laundry detergent will be my first attempt. Thanks, Janine

    1. Ah! Janine! Good questions!

      First, I want to congratulate you for taking the leap into making your own DIY cleaning products! Get ready because it's a fun journey which will lead to more and more DIY cleaning products :) Laundry soap was my first project too and I think you'll be really impressed and then you'll be surprised at how much money you'll save!

      Okay-- back to your question. Dr. Bonner vs FelsNaptha

      I have tried Dr. Bonner's and (also Kirt's Castile) in this recipe and I was a little disappointed. I feel as if Fels Naptha did a better job cleaning than the Dr. Bonners brand (which is sad because I LOVE Dr. B. brand!) However, if you add a natural bleach remedy it does help a little bit (I'll be posting on that soon!). But feel free to use Dr. Bonner's-- I just felt like it didn't quite handle the whites as well as FelsNaptha.

      Is Fels Naptha safe? Well, it's definitely not perfect. It contains not only added chemicals, but artificial fragrance. And in the world that we live in, the manufacturer don't have to disclose the ingredients in a signature fragrance. But it's still better than what commercial detergents have in them and it's great for sensitive skin.

      You can actually use any plant based non-suds soap in this recipe like Dr. Bonner's, Mrs. Meyer's or Tom's brand. So, you can look around to find the soap that fits your needs. You don't have to be tied down to any one soap. ;) I'm sorry I can't point you to the best of the best-- I wish I could! I think it really depends on what you're looking for.

      I hope that answered your question!


    2. Janine, after you contacted me I have been doing some additional research. The FelsNaptha scored a C on safety (not great but not horrible), but the borax scored an F… yikes! I know that it's not safe of ingestion but the newer info looks like it can cause hormone disruptions if used in larger quantities.

      HOWEVER, I don't think this laundry detergent is considered a "large" quantity considering how little each load takes to clean, but I am currently doing research to make a new non-borax super green laundry detergent. Thanks for making me look!!

  5. Hi Martha, I would like to know if you think I can make this recipe only using marsella soap (I read is very good for the skin) and Laundry soda without the Borax, do you think it would work?

    1. Hi Madeleine, you should be able to substitute the fels naphtha for the Marseille soap, but make sure that you get a true marseille soap since there are lots of companies that use that name, but end up using animal products and all sorts of chemicals!

      As for just skipping the borax-- I can't speak to how that will turn out because I haven't tried it. I'm currently doing research to do a borax-free version and so far I'm finding out that baking soda and citric acid are almost always used in successful recipes along with the washing soda and the soap bar. So I'm going to start experimenting this week with a new recipe. I'll let you know how it goes!

  6. Hi there,

    Can the recipe be used to hand wash clothes?

    And also to hand wash dishes?


    1. Hi! Good question.Hmmmm... I don't know exactly how well the formula would work to hand wash clothes. I would worry that it might be irritating with the pH of the washing soda. You can use the fels naptha to hand wash by itself-- that's what it was originally intended for back in the day. I use it if I need to get a stain and it works really well and I've heard other people who have had similar experiences.

      I definitely wouldn't recommend it to wash dishes simply because of the borax. Although Borax is natural, it is not safe for consumption and I wouldn't want any residue to be left on your dishes. I am working on making a DIY dish soap, but it's currently in the experimental phases. I'm hoping to have it done soon though!

  7. I tried this exact laundry recipe. I felt like my clothes came out dingy and not clean. I like my clothes really clean and bright looking. I decided to go back to Tide... :(

    1. I'm sorry you felt that way. {sad face} Natural cleaners often do not make whites quite as bright, but I find that if I use any kind of bleach along with it, then this problem is solved. I use a mix of water, citric acid, lemon essential oil to "bleach my whites" which works for us. I understand that DIY isn't for everybody, but I'm glad that you gave it a shot!

  8. How would you suggest mixing the ingredients if you don't have a food processor?


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