Homemade Laundry Detergent 101

flickr photo by lavocado

I admit it; I make my own laundry detergent. Across the web there are die-hard laundry soap makers and serious detractors. The die-hards laud the money savings and claim their clothes get cleaner. The detractors believe that it’s a waste of time; after all, time is money. Those in the middle applaud the desire to be more frugal, but ultimately feel that it’s not worth it for them (see Frugal Dad’s post on this topic). My story goes something like this . . .

About a year ago I read an article somewhere long forgotten about a person who made his own laundry detergent. He said it was easy and cheap. I was intrigued, so I Googled. What I found were hundreds of links and at least a dozen different recipes for detergent. Most of these recipes involve cooking up a liquid brew and storing the concoction in a 5 gallon bucket. Because I was going to be making and storing this stuff myself, I opted for what looked like the easiest option: powdered detergent. The first go-round, it took me about 20 minutes to mix up a batch that lasted for months. I’m now down to 10 minutes, tops, but it’s really closer to 5-7. Once I’ve invested this minimal amount of time, I’m set for at least 3 months. Then I do it again.

Here’s my base recipe:

1 bar Fels Naptha soap (I buy mine from Soaps Gone Buy for less than $2/bar)

1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (NOT baking soda) I get this at Kroger, in the laundry aisle

1 cup 20 Mule Team Borax (from Target)

That’s it. I grate the bar of soap by cutting it into chunks and putting it in my food processor until it’s pulverized. Then I combine the ingredients in an airtight container and use 1-2 tablespoons per load of laundry. I multiply the recipe based upon the size of my container; usually I make it in 3 bar/3 cup batches. It’s naturally low-sudsing so it’s perfect for HE front loading washers like mine. It works fine in standard washing machines, too.

I started making my own laundry detergent because I was curious about how easy it would be and how well it would work. It really couldn’t be easier and I do believe it cleans better than the very expensive brand name I’d been using for years. I’ve continued to make, rather than buy, laundry detergent for the past year for several reasons:

Cost. For me, it’s come out to about 5 cents per load compared with the 32 cents per load I was paying. I do a lot of laundry which has equaled a significant savings.

Less Packing which equals less waste. I’ve been able to avoid a year’s worth of plastic jugs.

Fewer chemicals, both down the drain and next to our skin. There was some concern about Fels Naptha containing petrochemicals, but according to the MSDS sheet, it does not. It does contain hydrocarbons, which I’ve learned are an organic compound made of hydrogen and carbon. The health risk, according the MSDS sheet, is a 1, which is low. As Allie pointed out with baking soda, there are few perfect products out there. But I do know the mixture I’m now using has fewer chemicals than what I used before.

If you decide to give it a try, let me know how it works for you.

Photo credit: lavocado on flickr.