Non-Toxic and Cheap Homemade Laundry Detergent

homemade laundry detergentI always wonder what this world would be like if we didn’t have to wear clothes.

Did I make you spit up your morning coffee? Sorry. 

Seriously, can you imagine all the clothing related industries that would become obsolete if we were allowed to run around with our birthday suits on?

I say this to my daughter every time I iron her khakis, and she’d plug her ears with her index fingers and shouts, “La la la la la…”, as she runs away.

But, really, if we didn’t wear clothes, the fashion industry, of course, would be obsolete. There would be no pollution related to clothing manufacturing!

We wouldn’t need to buy iron and ironing board.
…and you know how much I hate ironing – more than scrubbing toilets!

We wouldn’t need dry cleaners…we wouldn’t need dressers or armoires…we wouldn’t need luggage to pack clothes when we travel…no hangers…

And no laundry detergents and all the other related laundry products. And imagine all the energy we’d save for NOT washing clothes. We consume up to 35% in energy using washer/dryer.

B U T …

I can dream, right?

Well, I guess I have to stop day-dreaming and do some laundry. And iron. Grrrr….and *Sigh*

But you know what? As long as I have to do laundry, I decided that I am going to make my own, well, not really make, but come up with my own non-toxic laundry detergent recipe. Actually, this formula is nothing new. There are a ton of recipes like this on the web and I tried many variations and in different methods but this formula seem to work best for me.

No, it’s not Cheddar Cheese.

Non-Toxic and Cheap Homemade Laundry Detergent

My front loader has a drawer that has four compartments: Prewash, Wash, Bleach, Fabric Softener, and Bleach. I put my powder mixture in the “Wash” compartment.  I never use bleach so “Bleach” compartment never gets used. To make the laundry smell nice, I use about 1/2 TBSP. of  Dr. Bonner’s Rose Castile liquid soap in the “PreWash” compartment because I don’t want to make the powder ingredients get all clumpy and get stuck to the drawer.

You’ll Need:

*For convenience sake, I scoop out the following and store in separate containers for use.

*White Distilled Vinegar – 1/2 C per load (see Where do I put all this stuff section)
*Dr. Bonner’s Castile Liquid Soap – 1/2 TBSP (see Where do I put all this stuff section)

Direction:

Directions on some websites say mix all three and use 1 tablespoon of the mixture per load. However, I found it hard to know if Borax and Washing Soda were thoroughly mixed. Also, when I added grated Fels-Naptha soap to the mixture, it stayed on top and I couldn’t really get to the rest of the powder.

So, while it might sound like it’s inconvenient, I use 1/2 Tbsp each of Borax, Arm & Hammer Washing Soda, grated soap, Castile Liquid Soap for one load of wash. That way, I know for sure I’m using all the ingredients in my wash.
clean front loader bottomAnd this formula is good for High Efficiency front loading washer too. Not only is this recipe cheaper than commercial detergent, it also cleans my front loading washing machine. Remember I posted awhile ago how I had to ‘clean’ my washing machine because it smells like mildew? Since I’ve been using this powder formula, it smells less and I think it’s cleaning the drum much better than the liquid detergents I used to use. It’s so much better than the plant based, non-toxic, fragrant free, phosphate-free detergents I used to use. The fragrant-free detergent was gentle on the skin but it didn’t make my laundry smell fresh, especially when my wash machine started to smell mildewy. And using the Castile Liquid Soap and White Vinegar make my laundry fresh so I don’t even need a fabric softener.

Where do I put all this stuff? 

My front loader has a drawer that has four compartments: Prewash, Wash, Bleach, Fabric Softener, and Bleach. I put my powder mixture in the “Wash” compartment.  I never use bleach so “Bleach” compartment never gets used. To make the laundry smell nice, I use about 1/2 TBSP. of  Dr. Bonner’s Rose Castile liquid soap in the “PreWash” compartment because I don’t want make the powder all clumpy. And I use 1/2 C of White Vinegar as fabric softener in the “Fabric Softener” compartment. But your machine can be differently configured so you’ll have to decide what to add to which compartment. Also, if you have hard water, you should use more vinegar.

So, as long as we have to wear clothes, I am glad I found this safe detergent formula to wash my clothes with. Oh, and to make my clothes even more  pretty, I use these dryer balls I made out of orphaned socks. Can you spell fresh  + pretty?
Now, only if I can come up with ways for me NOT to iron…

If you are sensitive to Borax, you can check out my “Borax-Free Laundry Detergent Formula” —> here.

UPDATE:

Cost Analysis
Forgive me for being an idiot. I should have put this cost analysis in the post. I don’t know why I forgot to do that. But here is why this homemade detergent is cheaper than the commercial brands.

Ecover Laundry Detergent that I used to use was 100 liquid oz. I used to pay around $18 ~ $19 for 40 loads. So that equals 45 cents per load.

This homemade recipe costs as follows:

1 Box of Borax – ~ $4.99
1 Box of Arm and Hammer Washing Soda – ~ $4.86 – $8.99 (depending on where you buy it. I bought mine at $4.99. Or you can make your own!)
3 Fels Naptha Soap or Castile Bar Soap – ~ $4.50 (although my supermarket sells it for $4.19)

Total Cost = ~ $15 – $19

The above formula makes about 150 oz of detergent. And if you use 1.5 oz of combined powder you’ll be able to do at least 100 loads of detergent.

So that means, even if the total cost is $19, you’ll spend 19 cents per load…..less than half of any non-toxic commercial laundry detergent.

I’d say, that’s cheap. Don’t you?

Check out some of my other tips on —> “Homesteading” category

(Too funny of a word because I never thought of myself as a “homesteader”. Just don’t ask me if I have posts on how to have fun while ironing. Because that just never happens.)

*Amazon has a variety of prices so shop around for the cheapest seller if you are going to order from Amazon. And as you can tell, these are affiliate links below. Your prices will be same but I’ll make a few pennies to pay for blogging if you use the links below. Oh, and by the way, if you see laundry detergent ads on this screen, that’s because you Googled laundry related terms. These Google Adbots are smart little machines, aren’t they?

STANDARD FTC DISCLOSURE: In order for ecokaren to operate as a blog to provide information for my readers, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for our endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. Please note that I only ever endorse products that I believe would be of value to you and that I approve. Reviews and opinions are 100% mine.

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69 comments
Guest
Guest

I'm just being lazy and wonder if it's possible to substitute the bar soap with the liquid soap, so I don't have to grate the bar soap to save time? I'd really love to give this formula a try. Thanks for sharing!

spickler52
spickler52

I just made my first batch of laundry detergent! I was checking out your cost analysis and you have using only 3 bars of the soap for a box of the borax and a box of the Arm and Hammer laundry soda. I was curious as to how many batches I could get out of the box of borax and I measured out a little over 11 cups. My Arm and Hammer was some I had already and partially used so I didn't measure it but I estimated at least 8 cups or more in a box, so why just 3 bars of the soap if you use 1 bar with just 1 cup each of the borax and  A&H soda?

I paid $4.39 for the Borax and $1.19 for the bar of soap. I checked the price of the A&H washing soda and I think it was around $4. I remember thinking less than $10 for all. I am thinking I can make this for about $2 a batch, using 2 T per load I am getting 22-23 loads per batch, that makes it about 9 cents a load. I am going to try to find the other soap since someone commented that the Fels Naptha Laundry soap is made from animal fat.

MorganGypsyLoveZwick
MorganGypsyLoveZwick

Is this mix ok for super sensitive skin? If I have any kind of scented body wash or detergent, I get the worst irritated skin on my back, arms, and legs. I just got done with college and work an average of 60 hours a week, but I'm trying to switch to as many homemade options as possible, to lower the risk of skin irritants.

klawdya
klawdya

I love your blog and can't wait to try this laundry soap recipe. One question: Is there any reason NOT to just put the ingredients right into the washer with the clothes (instead of the dispenser drawer)? I understand why the vinegar would go in the fabric softener dispenser, but why have a dispenser for the other stuff? 

diya07
diya07

Hi Karen, I really loved reading this post. I have one concern following this receipe. On EWG site, Borax is listed as category 'F" and so i am not sure if i should be using it or not. Any other alternative for that ?

Thank You

amerilla75
amerilla75

I just made a batch of this up and thought I would share what I did. I cut my bar soap into chunks and then buzzed it around in my blender until it was pretty fine. Then I added the washing soda and Borax and buzzed it all together. It made for a very nice, fine powder that is all mixed together. No separating of the soap.

Iris
Iris

Do you feel that this removes stains as well as conventional detergents? Do the sock dryer balls combat static cling? Thanks for answering.

obsidiankitten
obsidiankitten

20 Mule Team Borax rules...it's good for so many things! I put BonAmi in the same category...super-inexpensive, no chemical fragrances, and I use it to clean my kitchen sink, scrub the toilet, clean the tub, etc.

Priscilla
Priscilla

Hi Karen, I just washed my first load of clothes with my homemade detergent. I used 3 TBSP (it was a large load) of a Borax/washing soda/shredded Dr. Bronner's lavender soap mixture. I also put vinegar in the fabric softener compartment (which I always do). Some of my husband's shirts still smelled "unpleasant." Everything else seemed good though. Do you have any suggestions?? It seems to me that 3 TBSP of detergent was a lot. Let me know if you have anything else for me to try. Thanks! Priscilla

Susan
Susan

Can you substitue the bar soap with the Dr. Bronners Liquid Castille Soap with fragrance? In the next couple of weeks I need to make laundry and dishwasher cleaners, I would love any help on figuring the liquid into the process. Thanks, Susan

Kim
Kim

You're right. I am so used to using liquid detergent, I completely forgot about the basket needing to be out for powder.. Ha. I even took it out when trying to determine what went wrong. Thanks. I think we have the same washer. Looking forward to the next load.

Kim
Kim

Has anyone had the problem of the three soaps not dissolving in the soap dispenser. After the load was finished, there were still soap shavings and also it seems the others had a reaction and were hardened. I threw out a hard piece of something and had shavings left over. Vinegar in fab softener and rose Castile in pre-wash were all gone. I might have to blend up the shavings a bit more, but the hardened chunk isn't going to work very well. Have only done one load so far so will try again. I'm scooping separately.

Jen
Jen

We just got a front-loader and was warned to wipe it down. After reading your post and all the comments, I'll definitely start making my own. One question. My washer has only 3 compartments: bleach, wash, and fabric softener. No pre-wash. If I made the detergent (and didn't mix it, as you are doing), would I put the Borax, Washing Soda, and Shredded Soap in the "wash" compartment, vinegar in the fabric softener compartment, and the Castille Soap (liquid, I assume?) also in the fabric softener compartment? Does it matter if the vinegar and castille soap are in the same compartment?

Chris
Chris

Karen, Thank you for all of your answers & suggestions. READERS: Karen is incredible at getting back to you, if you have any questions at all! I made her laundry soap recipe, and used vinegar (in the fabric softener dispenser) as she suggests, and I absolutely LOVE the way my clothes come out! They just feel cleaner! I'll NEVER go back to store-bought detergents again! Much thanks, Karen!

lisa
lisa

ok now im not sure if this works ive never tried it but to get wrinkles out of cloths you hang them up and spray them with a vinegar and water mixture (one part vinegar to 3 parts water in spray bottle shake well) and it is supposed to relax the fabric and Voila! no ironing :D

Michelle
Michelle

When you use the soap shreds, do you also use 1/2 Tbs? Do you use the shreds in addition to the liquid soap...and do you use the same scent for both? I'm so OVER the smelly front loader and the price/quality of commercial detergents and softeners, so I'm really anxious to try this!

Morgan Taylor
Morgan Taylor

I make my own laundry soap too. I did want to comment on the fact that the traditional laundry bars like Fels Naptha are made with Tallow. That comes from animal fat. I use Kirk's pure Castile soap and it works great. I also sell my Vegan laundry soap to friends and neighbors. They appreciate the fact that I can put Vegan on my products. Plus the thought of washing my clothes in animal fat in GROSS!

Kim
Kim

When you use your OxyClean or Washing Soda to help with keeping your bright whites, which dispenser do you put that in? The bleach dispenser?

mamamello
mamamello

Hi Karen!! I just found your site thanks to Pinterest!! It's really interesting because I have a front loader again, and it's been great for the last 8 mos or so. And wouldn't you know it, all of the sudden the darn thing smells like sewage..its super foul. I have ran 6 empty loads, with the specific purpose to remove the oder - much to no avail!! It still reaks. After the 2nd one, as I was cleaning the rubber gasket I learned for the first time that not only does it have that fold, but that you can pull it back and dear me it was so disgusting. So I cleaned it out, it reminded me of cleaning a clogged sink - EWE!! 4 more sanitizing/disinfecting loads later I'm still dealing with a stinky washer!?! I've been scouring the internet for pointers and have definitely learned that I'll be ditching the liquid detergent. After reading your post I will most likey go back to making my own. I was concerned about it not doing so good in the He, but it seems that doesn't seem to be a problem!! I think I'm going to try making a scrubbing paste out of bkg soda and hoping that scuffs off some built up slime?! I also went and bought a drain snake thingy and I'm going to give that a whirl in the drain for the washer..hopefully I'll be back in business tomorrow!! 3 very active boys + hubs + myself = a whole lot of laundry!! Thank you for sharing your post!!

Sena Garrett
Sena Garrett

I may try this. I also read your 2009 post about how your front loader was starting to smell moldy. Our stupid front loader is starting to smell moldy too. This is the second one that has done that. After our first one did that, I purchased one of the new top loading non-agitators for our laundry room. But we also needed to put a small stackable in our master closet and the smallest one that fit best was a stackable front loader. I dreaded buying it, for that very reason. I have been very good about trying to keep it clean, but alas, it is starting to stink. I will never buy a front loader again. There is a major design flaw there, as I have heard tons of complaints about this. I am going to follow your post about how to clean it and see if that works and I'll try to use your homemade detergent. Thanks for sharing. xo, Sena

Minnesotamom
Minnesotamom

I used that same recipe for years with my top-loader, but once we got the front-loader, I was scared that the soap shreds would clog it. Have you experienced that problem at all? If not, I might return to my soap-making ways...

sarah
sarah

Hi karen, How would you rate your mixture for cleaning the clothes vs. the commercial brands you used to use? do you spot treat more often? just cleaned my washer, and would love to cut down on the "smell" have tossed many towels that we just could not remove the stink from

Carol
Carol

Do you put it in the soap dispenser drawer or in the drum of the front loader?

christina
christina

i saw you're scooping each ingredient seperately, have you tried the liquid version? same ingredients, just melt the naptha in a pot of water first. next add other ingredients, disolve, remove from heat. add hot water till you get two gallons (i start with two gallons measured before i melt and just keep going till its gone). at first it looks way too watery but in about an hour its nice store bought gel consistancy. use half cup per load

Kathy
Kathy

My husband is so sensitive to commercial laundry soaps and I have been on the hunt for one that won't make him itch. Thankyou so much for these recipes!

ecokaren
ecokaren moderator

@klawdya Great question! The only reason *I* put them in separate drawers is to avoid any chance of powder discoloring the clothes. Also, prewash drawer gets released before the main wash cycle so there is that reason too. But if you don't care about that, then, by all means, you can dump the whole thing in the drum before putting your clothes in.  It does make it much easier to dump the whole thing in the drum at once. Thanks for your kind words about my blog. Welcome! 

ecokaren
ecokaren

Hi Iris, For my family's wash, it cleans just as well as commercial detergent...mind you, I used to use Ecover and not Tide or anything with strong chemicals or stain removers or color safe colorox. And this formula does take out the stains from the edges of sleeves and collar. But I have grown ups in my house and no one who rolls around in the mud, like little kids do. But I alway pre-treat any stains so that might also help. I just put the detergent mixture and a little bit of Hydrogen Peroxide in warm water and soak the stain area for a few hours before washing them. Here is my post on stains. http://www.ecokaren.com/2011/06/7-natural-stain-removers-for-fabric/ My dryer balls are great for static cling. But I only have cotton clothes and no synthetic. And I take out my clothes before they get really really dried since I hate to iron (see my comment in the post?) so that might help the static issue. I think polyester and acrylic might create static more. I understand every family's needs are different so you kinda have to play around with it a bit. I tried all different kinds of combinations of things before coming to this particular formula that worked for me. I read many different versions for solving laundry dilemma and tried a few. So far, I'm happy with this one. I hope that helps. :)

ecokaren
ecokaren

Yes, Bon Ami is great! I used to use Bon Ami! And when my local grocery store ran out and didn't restock, I looked for other options. But I should look for that again. Thanks for reminding me!

karen
karen

Hi Priscilla, Try adding baking soda for eliminating odor. My kids' sports uniform is really stinky and I've used 1 Tbsp of BAKING SODA per large load + Dr. Bonner's Rose Castile Liquid Soap for fragrance and that seems to make the wash smell fresh. On regular washes, I skip the baking soda and just use Dr. Bonner's Rose Liquid. Try the radio of one tbsp of Baking Soda to one tbsp of your mixture, and 1 tbsp of Dr. Bonner's Liquid Rose Castile Soap for extra odor control. And I would use only 2 Tbsp of the mixture for a large load. And remember, the mixture doesn't create a lot of suds, which is the reason why it's great for front loaders. Hope that helps.

ecokaren
ecokaren

Hi Susan, Do you have a front loader or a top loader? I wouldn't recommend using liquid for front loader as many of the commenters states and I also experienced, liquid detergent makes front loaders smell mildewy and moldy. If you have a top loader, it doesn't matter. In fact, I think out of all tutorials on making detergents, this is the best recipe I found. BUT I never made it because I have a font loader and don't want to use liquid detergent. Liquid Laundry Detergent 4 Cups - hot tap water 1 Fels-Naptha soap bar 1 Cup - Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda* ½ Cup Borax - Grate bar of soap and add to saucepan with water. Stir continually over medium-low heat until soap dissolves and is melted. -Fill a 5 gallon bucket half full of hot tap water. Add melted soap, washing soda and Borax. Stir well until all powder is dissolved. Fill bucket to top with more hot water. Stir, cover and let sit overnight to thicken. -Stir and fill a used, clean, laundry soap dispenser half full with soap and then fill rest of way with water. Shake before each use. (will gel) -Optional: You can add 10-15 drops of essential oil per 2 gallons. Add once soap has cooled. Ideas: lavender, rosemary, tea tree oil. -Yield: Liquid soap recipe makes 10 gallons. -Top Load Machine- 5/8 Cup per load (Approx. 180 loads) -Front Load Machines- ¼ Cup per load (Approx. 640 loads) *Arm & Hammer "Super Washing Soda" - in some stores or may be purchased online here (at Meijer.com). Baking Soda will not work, nor will Arm & Hammer Detergent - It must be sodium carbonate!! ~from the Duggar Family Website

ecokaren
ecokaren

Awesome! Try it without the basket and let me know how it turns out. Love solving these kinds of mysteries. And they might help others too! Thanks for posting! :)

ecokaren
ecokaren

Hi Kim, Sorry you are having clumping problem. But I never had that problem. My drawer is always clean after the wash. Are you putting it in the "Powder" compartment? The reason I ask that is because, my detergent compartment has a lift out basket that is for liquid detergent. When I take the basket out, that compartment becomes for powder. So I don't use the basket and I put the powder directly in the drawer, in that compartment. Is yours like that too? Maybe the powder is not being totally washed down with water for some reason and the moisture is just making the powder harden & can't be washed down to the drum. My only other suggestion is to make the detergent into a liquid detergent. Let me give you that link if you want to try it.

ecokaren
ecokaren

Hi Jen, I would put the vinegar in the Bleach compartment and the Castile soap in the Fabric Softener compartment. When I mix vinegar and Castile soap together, it gets cloudy and a little clumpy. I never mixed the two for the wash so I couldn't tell you if anything would happen. Since you are using the Castile soap for fragrance, putting it in the fabric softener compartment won't be an issue. The little suds it creates will be gone by the time the wash is done. Do a wash with the two mixed together and see if you smell the nice fragrance from the Castile soap. That's the only was to tell. ;)

ecokaren
ecokaren

Awwww.....thank Chris! So glad we worked it all out! Here is to clean and non-toxic clothes! Cheers!

ecokaren
ecokaren

Never tried that mixture! Gotta try it now. Thanks Lisa!! :)

ecokaren
ecokaren

Hi Michelle, Yes, I use 1/2 Tbsp each: Borax + Washing Soda, + shredded soap + Castile Liquid Soap (optional but it makes clothes smell nice). I try to use the same scent for both but sometimes when I run out, I have mixed the scents. But they weren't a big issue. DON'T use fabric softener in front loaders. It contributes to the foul smell. Use vinegar instead. Hope that helps!

ecokaren
ecokaren

EWWWWW.........really? Didn't know that! I better update my post then. Thanks for letting me know!

ecokaren
ecokaren

Washing Soda is mixed in with Borax and grated laundry soap bar. I put that in my powder compartment. I don't use Oxy Clean but I'd imagine if it's powder, you can mix it in with the rest of the powder. If it's liquid, I would put it in where bleach would go. Hope that helps.

ecokaren
ecokaren

Hi mamamello, Thanks for sharing your icky story...lol...but I hear ya! I was in the same boat until I discovered my powder detergent. My hubby thought fabric softener would make it better but it made it worse! Try the powder detergent for some time...like a month or so. I still use vinegar to wash the machine, once a month, without any clothes in it, to disinfect it but I haven't smelled the fowl sewage smell since I started using this mixture. Good Luck and please come back and let me know how it worked out for you!

ecokaren
ecokaren

Yeah, unfortunately, the design of the front loader makes it difficult for the water to completely drain like the top loader. So a little bit of pooling of water in the gasket is inevitable. I read somewhere that liquid detergent coats the rubber gasket and creates a breeding ground for mold and mildew. But powder detergent doesn't stick to the lining or the gasket. I never used the powder laundry detergent because it's expensive. This mixture seems to work on the stain and the mildew! Let me know how it works for you!

ecokaren
ecokaren

No. I never had clogging or clumping issues. And I use cold water for my wash. If you are worried about the big "shredded cheese", you can use a blender to blend the soap to finer size. I know some people had same worries so they use the blender and blend everything together. Personally, I never did - I was too lazy and there is the yucky factor (even if it's all safe) of blending my smoothie in the same blender as my laundry soap. But again, I never had the issue of soap clogging or clumping. Hope that helps. :)

ecokaren
ecokaren

Hi Sarah, I've used Ecover before I used my concoction and honestly, I don't see any difference. In fact, I can add a little more of my mixture if the wash is 'dirtier' than usual - my daughter's sweaty softball clothes - and they come out clean. My kids are older so I rarely spot clean their clothes. However, if my husband spills something on his t-shirt, then, I use the mixture and Dr. Bonner's Castile soap, and let it soak and it comes out clean. I know what you mean by stinky towels! Been there, done that. But I haven't cleaned my washer since I've been using this mixture - honest! It's crazy weird. I used to clean it every month before! Try it. It can't hurt! And let me know how it works for you!

ecokaren
ecokaren

I put the powder in the detergent compartment in the dispenser drawer. And add vinegar to the compartment for fabric softener.

ecokaren
ecokaren

You know, I read about making it into liquid and I just didn't want to go through the hassle. (call me lazy. :P) Also, I heard that powder detergents prevents HE front loaders to not smell as mildewy and that's true. My washer doesn't smell anymore! Besides, I have 3 small containers on top of the washer and it's no trouble at all to scoop up the amounts, varying them according to what I'm washing. But I might try your method, when I get bored or if someone spills the powder all over the place, which is quite possible since I have 3 other people in my house who use the washer. :) Thank you for the directions in making it into liquid.

ecokaren
ecokaren

Hi Kathy, Try a small item for your hubby. Like Beth said in the comment, some people might be sensitive to Borax. I have kids with Eczema and they seem to fine with this recipe. But everyone is different. Good Luck and let me know if it works fro your hubby.

Michelle
Michelle

Thanks, Karen! One other question...can OxyClean be used in place of Arm and Hammer? I only ask because I have a lot of it!

ecokaren
ecokaren

No, I wouldn't replace A&H with Oxyclean. I would add a little bit to exceptionally dirty loads. Oxy clean never go bad so I would use them when you need it.