For years, I've read about women who swear by their homemade laundry detergent. One friend says she saves over $10 a container every time she makes her own powder detergent. So last week, when I ran out of my regular detergent, I decided to give it a try.
My first challenge came right away. I could not find the three necessary ingredients in my home town (which has a population of about 9,200). Since I currently do all my shopping in town, this was a pretty big draw back. However, the next time I was in a bigger town, I visited the local Wal-Mart superstore and found in the laundry aisle:
* 1 (12 oz.) box Borax: $2.98
I couldn't find washing soda, so I assumed the large box of baking soda in the laundry aisle was equivalent:
* 1 (4 lb.) box Arm & Hammer Baking Soda: $2.12
Once I got home and researched it, though, I discovered washing soda is much stronger and more caustic (harsh) than baking soda. Nonetheless, I decided to follow my recipe for detergent exactly, substituting baking soda for washing soda.
I also couldn't find the Fels-Naptha bar soap most people say is ideal for homemade laundry detergent, so I substituted with a type of soap a few websites recommended:
* 3 (3.1 oz. each) bars Ivory soap: $1.07
Total Cost: $6.17.
Putting it Together
I think the best way to store home made laundry soap is in an airtight plastic container. You can buy these at the Dollar Tree or you can reuse a container used to hold coffee or similar grocery items. (To remove smells from re-used containers, soak them in white vinegar overnight.) Then you can either re-use the measuring cup from an old box of laundry detergent or you can buy a kitchen measuring cup set at the Dollar Tree.
However, this was just an experiment for me, so I didn't want to make even a small investment in a container or scoop, so I reused the box and scoop from my store bought laundry detergent. Then I:
1. Measured 8 cups of baking soda and poured it into the box with a lid.
2. Measured 8 cups Borax and poured it into the box.
3. Grated the 3 bars of soap. You could use your food processor, but I just used a hand cheese grater. Then I poured the soap gratings into the box and stirred with a spoon. (If you have a secure, lidded container, you can just put the lid on and shake.)
This process took me just 3 minutes, with interruptions from my kids. When I was done, I had about half the amount of laundry soap I'd normally purchase at one time. I used all the ingredients purchased, except for a small amount of the Borax.
The Wash Test
You only need about 3 or 4 tablespoons of home made laundry detergent per large load. I didn't measure, but just sprinkled in a small amount. (For more about using small amounts of detergent, check out this post.)
I was pleased with how well the first load of clothes came out. They both looked and smelled clean. However, I noticed on my second and third loads that little bits of the grated Ivory soap had not dissolved during the washing and were sticking to the clothes. Perhaps this is because I wash almost everything in cold? Or perhaps it's because I used Ivory instead of Fels-Naptha? Either way, I had to pick the bits of soap off the clothes so they wouldn't ruin my dryer.
UPDATE 3/23/11: Yesterday, I
tried a load of laundry with hot water and my home made laundry
detergent and still found the soap shavings did not melt.
The bad new is, I saved very little. Normally, I pay $12.47 for a 14.4 lb. box of laundry detergent (Arm & Hammer brand). Since I made about half what I normally buy, the home made detergent would have to cost less than $6.24 a batch for it to save money. Therefore, I only saved $0.07. Although home made detergent isn't difficult or time consuming to make, it just isn't worth it for my family.
UPDATE 12/08/12: Because so many people told me repeatedly - even
after reading this post - that homemade detergent is cheaper, and
because a local store finally started carrying all the ingredients, I
decided to price it out again. At our local Wal-Mart, washing soda is
$3.24, Fels-Naptha is .97 cents, and Borax is $3.38. That's $7.55 total,
more than when I originally made this post. A 14.4 lb. box of Arm &
Hammer laundry detergent is still $12.47. It is now officially cheaper to buy my laundry detergent.