I’ll never buy laundry detergent again (and here’s my super-simple recipe)

Ingredients: Borax, washing soda and soapI know this isn’t the first post on the internet about making homemade laundry detergent. When I decided I wanted to make my own, I found literally dozens of them. But I’ve shared this recipe with so many people that I know, and it’s so simple that I can’t help adding my two cents to the mix.

Homemade laundry detergent is inexpensive, non-toxic and super-simple to make. It only has three ingredients. From start to finish, it takes less than 10 minutes. This recipe makes a powdered detergent works in my front-loading washing machine. High efficiency, check! Low-suds, check! There really isn’t a down-side.

Assemble your ingredients: Borax, washing soda and a bar of soap. Borax and washing soda are next to each other at the grocery store…if you find one, you’ve probably also found the other. (Note–washing soda is like baking soda, only stronger. Both of these products have other cleaning uses, so the leftover will be handy to have around.) As far as the soap…from what I gather, it really doesn’t make a big difference what kind you use. I found the Fels Naptha brand on the recommendation that it was cheap and worked well, and I’ve been pleased enough to not try any other kinds. Why mess with a good thing?

The hardest part will be grating the soap. I use a box grater and grate the whole bar finely. It takes a little while…but you’ll get through it. Since it always takes a bit of psyching myself up to go through the trouble of grating the soap, I always just double the recipe and grate two while I’m at it. I’ve never actually calculated, but I think a double batch lasts us three to four months.

When you’re done grating the soap, you’re rewarded with a wonderful little pile of little soap curls. I like to stop at this step and just admire the pile for a little while. It’s pretty, and it smells SO good.

Grated soap curls.

After you’re done playing with the pile, you need to get the pieces just a bit smaller. I have a little food chopper that works well for the job, or if I’m making a large batch I pull out my food processor. In a pinch, I’m sure you could just run your knife over it for a while, but the mini appliances sure make it easy. I pulse it until the pieces look about like grated parmasean cheese out of a can (or a little bigger than that, but you get the picture.) The smaller pieces will dissolve faster in your washing machine.

After the soap is fine enough, it’s smooth sailing. Combine the soap with the two white powdered ingredients, and mix well. Ta-da! You just made laundry detergent.

Finished! Homemade laundry detergent

The only issue we’ve had since we started using this recipe is that my husband’s super sweaty workout clothes seemed to smell a bit after washing them; we started adding about a half a cup of vinegar to those loads, and they smell fresh as daisies after being laundered. Or as close to daisies as they’ll ever get.

Cost Breakdown
***Update 4.11.12***

After publishing this, I thought it would be interesting to add a breakdown of the cost associated with the detergent. Here are the non-sale prices for the three ingredients at my grocery store:

  • Soap → $1.25 (5.5 oz bar)
  • Borax → $5.19 (76 oz)
  • Washing soda → $3.45 (55 oz)

One batch of homemade laundry detergent works out to about $3.34. Assuming I use a tablespoon for most loads and 2 tablespoons for a few heavy loads, I’d guess we get approximately 65 loads from each batch. That’s 5 cents per load of laundry…not too shabby!

Homemade high efficiency laundry detergent

Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe

2 cups Borax
2 cups Washing Soda
1 bar of soap, grated finely and chopped in a food processor

Mix ingredients and store in an airtight container. Use 1-2 tablespoons per load.

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  • Linda Beth

    Please let me know where you buy the Fels Naptha. I have been looking for it for 2 years, on and off, and can’t find it anywhere that I normally shop. Thanks.

    • Michelle

      Hi Linda – Both of the grocery stores here in Winona have Fels Naptha, it’s typically in the cleaning product aisle near the laundry detergents; at our grocery store, it’s about two feet away from the Borax. You can also find it online pretty easily, click here to see the search results from Amazon.

    • Elizabeth

      Linda/Michelle
      I have used this for years. Here locally I found it in Walmart and our local grocery stores. It is found in the bar soap area on the bottom shelf, sells for 99 cents.

      • Yvonne

        I use a whole box of Borax, a large box of washing soda, a large box of baking soda and 3 grated Felsnapha bars of soap. I grate my soap, but not small like you do, and it dissolves wonderfully in my front load washer. This makes a huge batch which will easily last me four months. I also use homemade fabric softener, which I am sure is better than anything I have ever bought, and much cheaper. My clothes are much softer. I found you on Pinterest, which is where I found my other homemade recipes. The homemade bathroom cleaner is the best also. All these are so simple and much cheaper than store-bought products, and not toxic. Kudos to you and all of those who put in a little extra time to make a safer product for themselves and their families.

        • rosyblu

           Thanks for the comment Yvonne! I’d love to see your recipe for homemade fabric softener…I don’t currently use any at all, but would be interested in trying it.

  • Jessi

    Hey Girl! Beautiful picture of the soap curls. I applaud your efforts, though I admit this is one area I may never get around to DIY-ing.

    • Michelle

      Thanks Jessi! But why not? It’s so easy. I bet Liam would grate the soap.

  • Breanne S.

    This works BETTER than any detergent I have ever used. It is cheaper and my clothes come out so so soft, even without fabric softener. I was an avid Gain user. That is the only brand I would buy. Now I use this homemade stuff plus gain fabric softener for the smell. To give you an example My husband worked on his car and got grease and garage floor dirt all over his jeans. Another pair he did yard work in  so it had dirt and grass stains all over it. I use 2 tablespoons of this stuff on super wash in my HE machine and the jeans came out clean…NO stains at all. Holy Cow. I will never use another detergent again. Oh and I use my food processor to shred everything. Way easier.

    • rosyblu

      Thanks for the comment, Breanne! I did my own test with this detergent versus a store-bought one, using grimy towels I had used to clean the stove top. The handmade detergent cleaned just as much off as the store-bought detergent (although both had a faint shadow of the stain, because I didn’t pre-treat). Good to know you use your food processor for grating too–I’ll have to try that!

  • sciquest

    Food processors have grating attachments.

  • Houseofmcrae

    I have been using the liquid form of this recipe for about six months. While it cleans well, I find our clothes are left with what I can only describe as a stale odor. They are definitely clean, and my hubsand says the clothes smell just fine. I have added some lavender essential oil to it, but still not diggin’ the smell – or lack thereof. Anyone else have this experience, and can you offer some solutions? I really don’t want to return to commerical dtergent. I have the ‘old-fashioned’ top loading machine.
    Many thanks,
    Sandi
    House of McRae

    • rosyblu

       Hi Sandi, have you cleaned your washer lately? I’ve heard that both
      front and top loaders need to be cleaned every once in a while to
      prevent mold and mildew, which can cause an odor.

      If there is a bad smell, I’d say to use vinegar. The lack of smell hasn’t
      really bothered me, although I do use dryer sheets, which makes the
      laundry smell a bit fresher. Have you tried homemade dryer sheets? Soak a
      small square piece of flannel in softener, then hang it to dry. After
      it’s dry, it can be used 30 or 40 times in the dryer.

      Hope that helps!

    • onnie

      Sandi I have been making my laundry detergent for two years. After changing the recipe several times I have found one that works better for me. 1 cup of washing soda,1 cup borax, 1 bar Irish spring soap. better cleaning ,great odor. . Been using this one for one and half years. My son works in a garage and his uniforms do great with this one. I have a top loading washer and find it is better to put the soap in on clothes than putting it in the detergent dispenser.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ruth.walker.923 Ruth Walker

    If you put your soap in the microwave and let it puff up like a marshmallow before you grate it, it is WAY easier to grate. And faster too!

    • rosyblu

      Oooh, I’m going to try that next time! Thanks, Ruth!

    • Jerilinda

      I used my Salad Shooter to quickly grate the Fels Naptha then I used my Ninja blender to reduce the shavings into a pile of powder. I did two bars of soap & it took me less than 4 minutes from start to finish.

  • mrsdmitch3

    How much research did you all do with regard to borax? From everything I read it is toxic and a poison. Please refer me research articles where this product is deemed safe and natural?

    • rosyblu

      Thanks for your comment! Borax is a naturally occurring mineral, and it is rated “not acutely toxic” at pesticideinfo.org. From what I have learned, actually eating the stuff is discouraged, but I haven’t found any indication that using it as a laundry detergent is harmful to your health. You can read more here:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borax

      That said, if you have any recommendations for another ingredient that could be used instead, please share!

  • Cynthia

    In my home town we have 2 grocery stores and neither carry any of the ingredients?! I was surprised? I did find it at our local True Value hardware store, they carried the bar soap, borax, and washing soda!

    • rosyblu

      Good to know, Cynthia–I’ll be passing that on to others who are having a hard time finding the supplies! Thanks for sharing.

  • Cynthia

    I Love the recipe! My teens are doing their own laundry now days and they all like our new homemade laundry soap! Thanks!

    • rosyblu

      Fantastic, so glad to hear it!

  • catherine

    I use my cuisinart and grate my soap (4 batches at a time, so I’ve only ever done this once!) and then I ‘food process’ it to make sure they are uber small pieces of soap. I think laundry detergent is my favorite DIY project to brag about! That and dishwasher detergent!

    • http://www.rosybluhome.com/ Michelle Urbick

      Next time I see you, we need to compare recipes for dishwasher detergent!

  • Mollee

    Just an FYI that Fels Naptha is made from the fat of cows and pigs. For me, that is a deal breaker. I do not like to have dead animals in my products when there are plant alternatives! Dr. Bronners is known for its purity, plant-based ingredients, and its support of environmentally responsible practices. So, if you are interested in DIY soap for environmental and ethical reasons (in addition to saving money), you might want to work with an ethical, environmentally friendly soap other than Fels Naptha.

    Thanks for the recipe! It’s good to have one that is tried-and-true. :)

    Source: http://bit.ly/FelsNaptha

    • http://www.rosybluhome.com/ Michelle Urbick

      Good to know—thanks for the comment, Mollee!

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