A few years ago I aggressively dove into making my own homemade products, including homemade laundry detergent. These products ranged from beauty products for my face and body, to household cleaners. My goal was to live more green, be more frugal and have some fun at the same time. Some of these products stuck and I continue to use and make them today.
Others, for various reasons, did not work long-term for me. One of those was homemade laundry detergent. While this experiment remained in place for about two years, I did end of switching back to commercial laundry detergent. However, I know some people who continue to have success with the homemade version, or are curious about what it is, and for that reason, I wanted to cover this topic.
Homemade Laundry Detergent
Why I Made Homemade Laundry Detergent
I first made homemade laundry detergent in 2013. At the time I was anxiously waiting for my commercial laundry detergent to run out. I could not wait to make my own! I read about a liquid homemade laundry detergent on another blog (which is now defunct). Liquid sounded complicated, so instead, I made a dry powdered version – similar in consistency to something such as Tide powder.
Prior to making homemade laundry detergent I wasn’t very rigid about what clothes detergent I would use. Most of the time I would buy Purex or store-brand – pretty much whatever was on sale. I wasn’t particular about smell or function or anything. I was really particular about cost and saving money wherever I could on household items.
I was not using any fabric softener or laundry sheets – and I still do not. I like to keep laundry basic. We also hang dry almost all of our clothing and linens (except towels, bed sheets and a few miscellaneous items) on wood or plastic drying racks. This is another tactic to save money on utility bills. I also find provides less wear on clothing and our clothing lasts longer.
Another reason I made the homemade laundry detergent was because I was striving to “go green” with our household. Many commercial laundry detergents are full of difficult to pronounce ingredients. Some people develop allergies to detergent, too. The ingredients in the homemade laundry detergent are all-natural and easy to pronounce.
Homemade Laundry Detergent
How Long I Used Homemade Laundry Detergent
After I first made the homemade laundry detergent, I continued to make and use the same detergent for two full years. I used the detergent to wash all of our clothing and homemade items – except athletic wear. I am a firm believer in using athletic wear laundry detergent on those items.
I have tried a few different brands over the years but the one I like the most is Nathan Sport Wash. I have found that using a regular laundry detergent on these items leaves them with an odor. The athletic detergent is liquid and formulated for the moisture-wicking fabric which is so common today. It leaves the sports clothing smelling clean and free of odor.
Ingredients Needed for Homemade Laundry Detergent
In order to make homemade laundry detergent you will need to purchase or gather a few household supplies. You will need an air-tight container for storing the detergent. I purchased this one by Sterilite which is 2.2 quarts, has a sturdy handle and has a small pop tab allowing easy pour.
The container is needed to store the detergent and to keep moisture from ruining the mixture. You will also need measuring spoons and measuring cups to measure out the ingredients and you will need a fine cheese grater. I used my kitchen utensils for this and made sure to wash them thoroughly after use.
The ingredients for the homemade laundry detergent are as follows:
- 2 Cups of Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
- 2 Cups of Borax All-Natural Detergent Booster
- 1 bar of Fels Naptha Laundry Soap (or a bar of Castile Soap)
- A few drops of essential oils such as Tea Tree Oil and Lavender Oil (optional)
How to Make Homemade Laundry Detergent
If you want to make your own homemade laundry detergent, here’s the exact recipe and steps I used to make it. Making the homemade laundry detergent is very easy. The hard part was sourcing the ingredients, which I’ll explain a little bit more in a bit. The most time-intensive part of the process once you have the ingredients is using a cheese grater to grate a bar of soap – but it was a good workout!
- Use a fine cheese grater to grate the laundry soap into a large mixing bowl
- Measure and add the dry ingredients to the bowl
- Add a few drops of each essential oil
- Use a fork or spoon to fully mix the ingredients
- Transfer the ingredients into your air-tight container
The essential oils are optional. I added them to provide a pleasant scent to the detergent. Tea tree oil also has natural antibacterial properties. As I mentioned, I did have a little trouble finding all of the ingredients locally. The ingredients can easily be purchased on Amazon.
If you live in a suburban area and want to buy them in store, I was able to find Borax easily. However, the only local stores I found laundry bar soap at were Giant Eagle and Ace Hardware. Then for the washing soda, I was only able to find it at Ace Hardware. All of these ingredients should be located in the laundry detergent aisle of the store.
How Much Homemade Laundry Detergent Do You Need?
I would make the detergent every few weeks to every month. It really depends on how many people are in your household and how much laundry you do. At the time there were only two adults and one dog in our household.
Also, it is important to measure the homemade laundry detergent when you use it. If you just pour it in the wash or “eyeball” the measurement you can easily use too much and then you would need to make it again more often or sooner than expected. Also, more detergent does not equal cleaner clothing.
- Use 1 Tablespoon per small or medium load of laundry
- Use 2 Tablespoons per large or extra-large load of laundry
- Put the detergent in first and let it dissolve in the water before adding clothing or linens
Pros to Homemade Laundry Detergent
There are definitely a few benefits to making and using homemade laundry detergent.
- Saving Money: The ingredients to make homemade laundry detergent are not very expensive. If you have a coupon or buy on sale you can save even more. At one point I had a bunch of laundry bar soap coupons and stocked up with about eight bars of soap!
- Using Natural Ingredients: Again, the ingredients used in the homemade laundry detergent are easy to pronounce, all-natural and have been around for decades. This gave me peace of mind. However, natural the ingredients are, they are not edible and I was always mindful to wash my hands after making the mixture.
Cons to Homemade Laundry Detergent
There are also some potential cons to homemade laundry detergent.
- Time Consuming: While the overall process isn’t incredibly time-intensive, you do need to spend some time about once a month sourcing ingredients for and making a new batch of homemade laundry detergent
- Color Fading: One of my friends struggled with color fading of clothing when using the homemade mixture. She believe she used too much detergent, so it is important to measure portions
- Clothing Not Coming Clean: This is the main concern I had after using the mixture for two years. I began to have concerns about whether the homemade laundry detergent was cleaning the clothing fully. I also wanted to use cloth diapers for our daughter. I ended up switching to Tide powder. I do, however, still use Borax as a water softener and I have used the washing soda, by itself, to deep clean clothing.
If you decide you want to make homemade laundry detergent, in order to live frugally or go green, these are the exact instructions, portions and recipe I used for two years. In the end, it’s really up to you to find a cost-effective and functional laundry detergent.
I hope these pros and cons to homemade laundry detergent are beneficial in making your decision. When I used the homemade laundry detergent the clothing came out smelling like clothing. I did not notice any odor or any overly-strong detergent smell.
I also used the detergent in a regular clothes washer and in a HE clothes washer, without issue. Both machines were top-loading. I used both warm and cold water to wash clothing. These are common questions I received regarding use of homemade laundry detergent.
*This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated and republished for accuracy and comprehensiveness.