Mar 22, 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent: An Experiment

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.

Gathering Supplies
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.


  1. I'm so glad I saw this, Kristina. I've always wondered how it would all work out. Thanks!

  2. I have made my own liquid laundry detergent for several years now and have been very happy with it. You save more money by making the liquid detergent with the same amount of ingredients. Washing soda is VERY IMPORTANT as well as the type of laundry soap bar you use. You can find Fels-Naptha in the grocery store laundry aisles and hardware stores. Our local hardware store had it for $3.50 a bar and our local Albertson's had it for $1.50 and the Fred Meyer had both Washing Soda and Fels-Naptha bars. The bars were $1.25. I would recommend trying again with the liquid version since it makes 10 gallons.

  3. Thanks, Jessie. How much do you save over store bought? Since I can find neither Fels-Naptha nor washing soda locally, this is one home made thing I will probably skip - at least for now.

  4. I don't use the grated soap at all, I don't need it. I do use the washing soda tho. The thing is, you only use 1 or 2 tsps per load, so your box of homemade stuff will last much longer than if you use those scoops.
    I would encourage you to measure it.
    I can make over 250 loads for about half the price I would normally pay to wash 60 loads.
    Also, I don't have to use fabric softener because this makes my clothes so soft I don't need it! I was using vinegar as a softener, but found I don't need that also.
    I would say if you sift out your soap pieces in a spaghetti colander and measure your laundry soap, you will be fine. If you're concerned about the baking soda being sufficient to clean your clothes without soap, add some vinegar and Tea Tree Essential oil which kills as much or more than regular soap.
    I just mix a cup at a time - equal parts borax and washing (or baking) soda. Then you don't have the messiness of making and storing the liquid. However, I only do clothes for the two of us, maybe you will go thru the 10 gallons fast enough as Jessie has had success with it.

    Here's my recipe for the dry stuff:

    If you do sift your soap pieces out and use it dry, you can melt your soap down, mix it with as much brown sugar and some olive oil, or veg oil and pour into molds for 24 hours, (lightly greased milk cartons, tupperware containers) you'll have homemade soap that will last much longer and have exfoliating and moisturizing components to it. Allow to dry for a couple weeks after you take out of molds.
    Bless you!

  5. Thanks for chiming in, Pura Vida!

    Removing the grated soap would make my homemade detergent workable - good point. Although it still wouldn't be cheaper for me. I use a tiny amount (not more than 2 teaspoons) of commercially made laundry detergent, too. Learn why here:

    I have no doubt some women save money making their own laundry soap; and I know many people make their own detergent for other reasons (allergies, for example). But for my household, it just isn't worthwhile.

  6. I have made homemade laundry detergent since November of 2008. I haven't had to purchase new boxes of borax or washing soda as of yet. My recipe is the one that the Duggars from 19 Kids and Counting use and it works well. It only calls for one laundry soap bar, 1 cup washing soda and 1/2 cup of borax. It makes 10 gallons of liquid laundry soap and generally lasts me between 6 and 12 months. I initially purchased the borax for $3.33 at Walmart and the Washing Soda at Fred Meyer for around the same amount. So all I have to do is buy a new bar for $1.30 everytime I make the soap which is once or twice a year. You do the math. :) Where are you located that you can't find the soap bar? I really had to search around and around for it until I found it. I mean I literally went to every single store that sold remotely similar products.

  7. The liquid version that I use can be found here.

  8. Jessie, that sounds more promising. I've never used liquid detergent before, but it doesn't seem like 10 gallons would last our family nearly that long. Still, it's worth trying.

  9. You'd be surprised at how long it lasts!! I have three kids and it lasts that long. For the Duggars it lasts 2 months or so.

  10. Kristina, I encourage you to try the Duggard's laundry detergent recipe. They have a recipe for both powder and liquid. I have recently made changes to my laundry items and although I haven't figured my exact savings I know I am saving $100.00 a year on laundry detergent alone. I have also stopped buying fabric softener, dryer sheets, and stain removers. The Fels Naptha bar is a stain remover and costs under $2.00. I pick up two bars: one for the detergent and one to rub on severe stains. It lasts longer than the Spray n Wash we were using and works better, too. I now use 1/2 to 1 cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle to stop static cling. This is WAY better on the washer's hoses and the dryer too. I'm estimating a savings of $200.00 a year on all of my laundry items. I've figured the ingredients for homemade laundry (liquid) detergent will last me two years at a rounded cost of $11.00 plus the cost of vinegar. That makes it all worth it!

  11. Loretta, the Duggard powdered detergent recipe is the same one I used. I've never used liquid laundry soap, but I might consider making some someday soon. Maybe I can just buy my laundry detergent cheaper than other folks, because for me it's not a money saver. I'm interested in trying vinegar, but I'd have to hover over my washer to make that work...which isn't practical for me.

  12. Came over from the cleaning the tub post. Like you I was very skeptical about homemade laundry detergent.

    I use Tide free & gentle, the one that is $17.oo per 100 fl.oz bottle. Very expensive! My DH has very sensitive skin so I didn't know if the homemade laundry detergent would work. I tried changing brands before and had huge skin reactions here, so...

    I used the Duggars recipe (for the liquid detergent) but instead of diluting it I just put it into a 5 gallon container and I have been using it for 2-3 months now. We are a family of 6 - 4 children under 9 y.o. and I wash clothes almost every day. My container is almost empty. I might be using too much, but 3/4 C of the detergent per big load didn't seem like enough.

    Conclusion: The liquid detergent does its job. It cleans the clothes. No skin reactions or allergies triggered in my home. I do use vinegar to rinse, with the exception for linens, I used fabric softener (just a bit) :)

    It saves me money... I live in a town with 5000 people and I found all the ingredients at my Walmart. The soap bar was less than a $1.00.

    Kristina, it all comes down to what works for you. This thing about following trends, just for the sake of it, is silly. You found what works for you. Stick with it!! :)

  13. Tereza, you're not the first one to suggest the Duggar liquid recipe is cheaper. I would try it, too, except I can't get all the ingredients locally - which means I definitely wouldn't save money. But if that ever changes, I'll give it a go!

  14. I'm sorry if something similar has already been said. I didn't take the time to read all comments. However, I just wanted to tell you about the recipe I follow. It's the same ingredients, but less amounts.

    1 cup (or 1/2 a bar) Fels-naptha
    1/2 cup washing soda
    1/2 borax
    ---use 1 tbsp for light loads or 1.5-2 tbsp for large loads.

    I prefer the dry detergent to the liquid because it's simpler/quicker to make and takes less room to store.

  15. I have seen numerous recipes for homemade detergent and the one that I think works really well (it is a liquid not a powder) is here: I think we pay pennines per load and I have a 5 gallon bucket worth of detergent which should last my family of 5 the entire year. I hope this helps and I love reading your blog!