Thursday, October 20, 2011

DIY Laundry Detergent

I have a confession.  I want to be a little Susie Homemaker.  I want to know how to sew so I can make little dresses for Phoebe and simple things like burp clothes, curtains, and valences (mostly straight lines...).  I want to clean with natural products.  I want my own little garden to grow vegetables.  I want to make my own granola bars (Chris eats a lot of these). And I want to eat organic.

As far as the sewing goes, my mother-in-law gave me a sewing machine for Christmas last year and I'm ashamed to say I've only gotten it out twice to play with it.  But I've just signed myself up for a sewing 101 class at Jo-Ann's fabric in a couple weeks and I am planning on finishing my first sewing project by the beginning of December.

Eating organic has been a goal of mine for awhile.  I tried to switch over to organics about a year ago, but just couldn't swing it into the budget.  Now that Phoebe's here I'm determined to try again.  Organic meat is my first priority.  Well, in order to do that I've got to start saving some money in other areas.  The monthly income isn't changing so we'll just have to shift where we spend our money.

I've been wanting to make my own laundry detergent for awhile now, but just hadn't done it- until now.  Turns out making your own laundry detergent is SUPER easy and SUPER cheap.  Helps me towards my goal of being able to afford organic meat.

1. Borax (found on the laundry detergent isle)
2. Arm&Hammer Washing Soda  (found on the laundry detergent isle)
3. Bar soap  (You can use Ivory, Fels Naptha, Zote, or Krik's Castile soap.  The last three are laundry soaps, so I would recommend one of those.  However, they are also a little bit harder to find- or at least they were harder for me to find.  I wanted to use Fels Naptha or Krik's, but could only find them on Amazon and they were a bit more expensive.  I found the Zote at a Hispanic grocery store for VERY cheap so chose to use it.)
4. Essential Oil (optional)

Now you have two options powered or liquid.  The powdered is a little bit easier and takes less time to make, but you can add essential oil to the liquid to create the scent of your choice.

Powered Laundry Detergent
1/2 cup finely grated soap
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda

2 Tbls/load

Yep, that's it.  Now, of course you could double, triple, or quadruple the recipe to make more.  I just wanted to make a small amount this first time to see if I liked it.  I used the food processor to grate the soap.  The whole process from start to finish took me about 20 minutes.

Much easier to grate in a food processor than to grate by hand

Liquid Laundry Detergent
1 quart boiling water
2 cups grated soap
2 cups Borax
2 cups washing soda
2 gallons water (8 quarts)

1. Add soap to boiling water and stir until dissolved.  (This took about 15 minutes)

2. Pour soap/water mixture into 5 gallon bucket with lid.  (Apparently you can get used oil/pickle buckets from restaurants- you'll just need to rinse very well.  I find that a little gross; I bought a bucket from Home Depot for less than $3.00)
3. Add Borax and washing soda.  Stir until dissolved.

4. Add 2 gallons of water.  Stir until well mixed
5. Cover and let sit overnight.  Stir in the morning and you're good to go.  This will be gelatinous and will have some chunks.  That's ok.
6. Optional- add 5-7 drops of essential oil of your choice/gallon of detergent.

Use 1/4 cup per load.  You will have to stir/mix the detergent before each use.  It will gel.

This whole process took me about 40 minutes, so twice as long.

I used a large funnel to pour the detergent into a used/clean laundry detergent container and then just marked the cap with a sharpie to know how much to use.  I'm storing the rest in the bucket in the garage.  I had some Bergamont essential oil from Aveda (Aveda = another guilty pleasure of mine) that I added to the detergent.  The laundry detergent container that I used was a little less than a gallon.  (Maybe 3/4 of a gallon??)  I added 5 drops to begin with and didn't notice any of the scent on the first load that I washed.  So then I added 5 more drops for a total of 10, and after the second load I still can't really notice it.  Oh well, the clothes are clean.

Also FYI- homemade laundry detergent is low-sudsing.  So you will not see suds in your washer if you open it to look.  No worries, your clothes are still getting clean.  Suds are not what do the cleaning.

So...what is the cost benefit?

Cost of commercial laundry detergent
Well we use Tide at our house.  Granted this is not the least expensive detergent out there, but its what Chris likes.  With sales and coupons I've found that I can get 150oz (96 loads ) for $14.99, which is a pretty good deal.  Without sales/coupons you would pay at least $3-4 dollars more.

Tide = .16 cents/load

Cost of homemade laundry detergent
Washing Soda: I paid $2.50 for a 55oz box.  So this is .045 cents/oz.  1 cup of washing soda weighs 8.4oz.  So 1 cup of washing soda costs .38 cents.

Borax: I paid $2.99 for 76oz box.  So this is .039 cents/oz.  1 cup of Borax weighs 7oz.  So 1 cup of Borax costs .28cents.

Zote: I paid $1.19 for 1 bar.  This one bar made 2 1/2 cups of grated soap.  So 1/2 cup of soap costs .13 cents.

My batch of powdered detergent (2 1/2 cups or 40 Tbls) cost (.38 + .28 + .13) 79 cents to make.  If one load is 2 Tbls then there are 20 loads in my batch.

Homemade powdered detergent = .04 cents/load

My batch of liquid detergent (36 cups ) cost (.38 +.38 +.28 +.28 + .13 +.13 +13 +.13) $1.84.  If one load is 1/4 cup then there are 144 loads in my batch.

Homemade liquid detergent = .01 cents/load

Final Thoughts

I'm a convert.  I will make my own laundry detergent from now on.  I've always preferred liquid detergent over powdered detergent and the homemade is no different.  Even though the liquid takes a bit longer to make, it makes more, its cheaper, and I like using it better.   I will probably "splurge" and use the Kirk's Castile Soap next time.  The more I read about the different companies the more I am interested in Kirk's and for about $1-2 more per bar I don't think it will add a significant cost to the detergent.

UPDATE- I have found Fels Naptha at Walmart, and it is what I used in my latest batch.  However, I did like the Kirk's Castile soap better because it is more natural.  I also thought the Fels Naptha had a bit of a funny odor.  I don't smell it on my clothes at all, but noticed it while grating it. 


  1. That's exactly the same recipe I use! I was able to find Dr. Bronner's castile soap at Target and Whole Foods. I guess it depends on the store if they sell it or not.
    I am glad you made some!

  2. I haven't tried making liquid laundry soap mainly because I didn't like liquid Tide when I was using it, it feels sticky!
    I've found Fels Naptha on the laundry aisle in grocery stores and in Walmart :)
    Thanks for sharing your laundry detergent recipe with me! :)


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