DIY Laundry Detergent

Last night I finally got around to making another batch of laundry detergent. We first tried this about 9 months ago, and so far we’ve really liked it. Not only is it greener than normal laundry detergent, it’s also a lot cheaper. It’s also better for sensitive skin, and unless you add your own essential oils it leaves no scent on your clothing. To me there’s something so fresh and wonderful about clothes that smell like nothing. I hate the smell that laundry detergents leave on my clothes to the point that I can’t stand wearing them and I throw them right back in the dirty laundry pile.

There are lots of recipes for laundry detergent out there, but my preferred recipe is just 3 ingredients: Ivory bar soap, Arm & Hammer washing soda (not baking soda!), and 20 Mule Team Borax (washing soda and Borax are found in the laundry aisle).

A lot of recipes call for Fels Naptha soap (about $1 per bar) which adds the little yellow flecks you so often see in pictures. We don’t use it not only cause it’s pricier than Ivory soap, but we’ve also heard it’s a bit more harsh. The recipe I use is very simple.

  • 1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
  • 1 cup 20 Mule Team Borax
  • 1 bar of Ivory soap
Since each bar of soap is a little over half a cup, it’s about a 2:2:1 ratio.
Eventually I hope to have a cuter container for my soap, but for now we’re using an old plastic pretzel container. It’s very empty. 🙁

First you have to grate the soap. Since I have a grater attachment for my food processor, I use it instead of grating by hand to speed up the process.

If you don’t have a food processor and don’t want to grate the soap, you can also try microwaving it (in small amounts) for about 30 seconds. It will puff up and get really dried out and then it just crumbles when you touch it. I tried this method once before.

But the soap becomes so light and powdery that it floats in the air and you can’t avoid breathing it in. It got into my throat, and boy did it burn! This happened every time we opened the container to use the soap afterwards, too. I wouldn’t recommend this method. So, microwave at your own risk!

I cut the soap in strips so it would fit into the hole in the top of my food processor’s lid.

And then grated away!

It looks like cheese. Too bad it’s not…

I moved it into a separate container so I could put my blade in and then added smaller amounts back in to mix with the washing soda and Borax. I’ve also heard you can use a blender instead.

A word to the wise: if you try to blend just the soap further with your blade, it will make it smushy and cause it to ball up, leaving you with a chunkier powder. If you put the grated soap with the borax and washing soda, though, it keeps it from sticking together and it all becomes a very fine powder.

Here is just one batch of my detergent. I ended up using the rest of my bars of soap and doing 4 batches. Plus, it makes a big, soapy mess so it’s easier to do a bunch at once.

And here’s my completed laundry detergent.

The Ivory soap is about 60 cents per bar, the box of washing soda was $2.23, and the Borax was $3.27. I’m a nerd, so I did all the math for this exact amount and it comes to about $5.08. We generally use 2 tablespoons per load, so this will do around 82 loads. That’s 6 cents per load, and it lasts forever! For that price you can afford to wash frivolously! Well, except the water part…

We don’t have any heavily soiled kids athletic clothes or anything of the sort, but we’ve been really happy with the cleaning power of this detergent. I’ve also heard of some people who use this for everything except whites, so they’re able to conserve their more expensive detergent, but we’ve even had good luck with our whites. Happy washing!

4 Responses to DIY Laundry Detergent

  1. Jeremy May 22, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    I haven’t seen this version of the recipe before, but if you have a septic tank BEWARE! My mom loved making that soap, until her drains stopped draining. When the guys came out to pump out the septic tank they found four inches of congealed nastiness blocking the pipes. She used the recipe that said to mix the ingredients in boiling water and then dilute in a five gallon bucket. I’m not sure if that makes a difference, but be warned.

    • Simple House Expressions May 22, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      Yuck! Lucky for us we don’t have a septic tank and we don’t do the liquid kind. We’ve never had any problems with it dissolving completely in the powder form, but thanks for the warning!

  2. Erin May 31, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    This is great! I’ve been reluctant to try the liquid version of this because it just seemed like a lot of work and I’m sure I’d make a big mess. I can’t wait to try this! I’ve been thinking about taking a Saturday and just making all new cleaning supplies. Have you tried the homemade dishwasher soap yet?

    • Simple House Expressions June 19, 2012 at 12:11 am #

      I haven’t tried homemade dishwasher soap. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but now I think I’ll have to look up how to make it and try it out!