How to Make Homemade Laundry Detergent
Commonly used cleaners, from countertop sprays to laundry detergent to dish soap, all contain chemicals and potential toxins you may not feel comfortable with. Whether you have sensitive skin, own delicate clothes, or simply want more control over the chemicals you’re exposed to, making your own cleaner is easy and affordable.
With just a few ingredients and a little time, you can make your laundry detergent. Learn more about the benefits of homemade laundry detergent, and look through our recommended recipes to find the right one for you. We also provide helpful tips for different laundry load types so your clothes come out of the wash smelling fresh and clean every time.
Why Make Your Laundry Detergent?
Laundry is a chore, but creating homemade laundry detergent can make it much more fun and rewarding. You can control all the cleaning agents, make your laundry routine, and enjoy softer, more luxuriously scented laundry that’s less likely to irritate your skin.
You might be interested in making laundry detergent at home for many reasons: Perhaps it’s to save money or minimize exposure to laundry detergent chemicals like formaldehyde and dioxane. Consider these three big reasons to make your own laundry detergent:
- Customizable scent: When you make a base do-it-yourself (DIY) laundry detergent from washing soda, borax, and soap, it has a clean, fresh scent. Keep that unscented smell, or add a few drops of your favorite essential oils, which aren’t as harsh as artificial fragrances.
- More affordable: Using homemade laundry detergent can help you save money, especially if you usually buy liquid detergent. Did you know that liquid laundry detergents include the water’s cost, the shipping weight, and the heavy plastic container? But homemade detergent recipes use just a few ingredients that you can easily buy in bulk.
- Nontoxic and gentle: Typical detergents include many chemicals, such as carcinogens, artificial fragrances that may irritate your skin, and nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) that can disrupt your hormones. Homemade laundry detergent has more natural ingredients that are less reactive.
You may also have other reasons for switching from commercial detergent to homemade options. Whether you want to experiment briefly or make the switch permanently, knowing the ingredients and the process will give you options.
Making laundry soap is a fun and simple project, but it does require some tools. You will need a knife or grater to prepare some ingredients, a bowl and spoon to mix the soap, and a storage container for your finished product. While you may already have most of these supplies in your kitchen, we recommend keeping separate tools so you don’t reuse them for making food.
Purchase the following materials:
- A sturdy wooden spoon: Choose a stiff spoon that can easily combine large quantities of powder or a thick liquid soap.
- Grating tools: You will need a grater or old food processor to grate bar soap into small pieces.
- Large bowls: Use one bowl to mix the ingredients and a smaller bowl to hold grated soap or measure ingredients.
- Storage containers: You must store powder and liquid detergent in airtight, durable containers. Look for containers that you can easily label, have a handle, and easily pour from.
There are many recipes for homemade laundry detergent online; some may be simple, and others may require a long list of ingredients. While we recommend choosing simple ingredient lists that don’t include multiple unknown chemicals, effective recipes will have at least three ingredients: washing soda, a bar of soap, and borax.
Here’s a brief list of the most commonly used ingredients and the purposes they serve in laundry soap recipes:
|Boosts cleaning power
|Essential oils (optional)
|Soap (bar or liquid)
|Main cleaning agent
|Removes stains and odors
These ingredients are easy to find at your local grocery store or big box store.
Recipes and Formulas
Like when purchasing laundry detergent at the store, there are two main types of homemade laundry soap: liquid and powder. You can easily make either type of detergent based on your preference.
Both options work best in different conditions and with different types of stains. Liquid detergents work best with cold water wash cycles because they dissolve easily. Powder detergent works best in hot water cycles and can better clean soil and dirt stains.
Here are our favorite recipes for both powdered and liquid laundry detergent. We also discuss how much soap each recipe makes and how many loads each batch will yield.
Powdered laundry detergents are fast to make and easy to store. You can make a simple recipe by stirring bar soap, borax, and washing soda together. Then, store it in a cool, dry container between loads of laundry.
- 2 cups grated unscented bar soap, such as Fels-Naptha soap
- 1 cup borax
- 1 cup washing soda
Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly. You can make smaller or larger batches of powdered detergent by maintaining the same 2:1:1 ratio for the ingredients.
You only need two tablespoons of detergent per load, so this 4-cup recipe is enough for 64 medium-sized loads. Increase the amount to 3 tablespoons for large or heavily soiled loads, or decrease the amount to 1.5 tablespoons for small loads of delicates.
Liquid detergent is also easy to make but requires a few more steps. Boiled water is the base of the detergent, so you can dissolve the cleaning agents and create a gentle, nontoxic liquid.
- 2 gallons and 1 quart of boiling water
- 2 cups borax
- 2 cups washing soda
- 1 grated laundry bar of Fels-Naptha soap or castile soap (5 ounces)
Begin by boiling the water. Add 2 gallons of the boiled water to a bowl or 5-gallon bucket, and mix in all the borax and washing soda. Then, mix the remaining boiling water and grated soap until thoroughly combined. Pour the soapy water into the borax-washing soda mixture.
Once the soap has cooled for approximately an hour, pour the detergent into a storage container. This recipe makes 320 ounces of soap.
Add a quarter cup to small loads or high-efficiency (HE) washers to use the soap. For larger loads or older machines, use 1/2 cup per load.
You can customize either of these recipes by choosing different types of soap or by adding your favorite essential oils.
Tips for Using Homemade Laundry Detergent Effectively
DIY laundry detergent is simple to make, but the handy tips below can make using it easy, too.
How Much to Use per Load
While store-bought detergents have helpful instructions on the box, homemade laundry detergents don’t. We recommend using these amounts for small, medium, and large laundry loads:
- Small loads: Use 1 tablespoon of powdered detergent or 1/4 cup of liquid detergent.
- Medium loads: Use no more than 2 tablespoons of powdered detergent or 1/4 cup of liquid detergent.
- Large loads: Use up to 2 1/2 tablespoons of powdered detergent or 1/2 cup of liquid detergent.
Be careful not to add too much detergent, even for large or soiled loads, as the soap can build up in the machine or on the fabric. Remember that front-load and HE machines need less soap than conventional top-load machines.DIY soaps also don’t have the same de-clumping and desiccant chemicals as some mass-manufactured detergents. We recommend shaking or stirring both powdered and liquid detergent before every use to break up clumps. Also, if you just made a fresh batch of liquid soap, let it cool thoroughly. While it’s essential to use boiling water in the recipe to help dissolve the ingredients, it should be at room temperature before you use it.
Storing Homemade Detergent
Store your detergent in airtight, sturdy containers in your laundry room. You can store powdered detergent in glass or mason jars to add style. For liquid detergent, a wide-mouthed container with a handy cup or dispenser can safely store the soap and make it easy to pour.
DIY vs. Store-Bought Detergents
Both DIY and store-bought detergents can clean clothes with daily stains or deeply inset dirt. Both options have their pros and cons. Some people prefer the convenience and specialized effectiveness of particular brand-name detergents, while others want more control over their detergents’ ingredients and per-load cost.
Pros of DIY Detergents
DIY detergents have several advantages, including the following:
- Cost savings per load, especially if you make laundry soap in bulk
- Fewer carcinogens or toxic chemicals
- More control over the ingredients, which is ideal if you or someone in your household has allergies or sensitive skin
- More control over the scent of the detergent, either by keeping a clean, unscented base recipe or by adding essential oils
Cons of DIY Detergents
However, there are some drawbacks to making homemade laundry detergent. Consider the following cons:
- Homemade laundry detergents can have a bit less cleaning power than store-bought options.
- It can be inconvenient to make natural laundry detergent, especially if you use a recipe for small batches.
- Some store-bought soaps include chemicals to minimize buildup in your washing machine, and DIY soaps don’t.
Some companies make store-bought laundry detergents from safer formulations that can give you peace of mind without the work of making your own detergent. There are also online databases where you can search for green household cleaners, learn about different chemicals, and assess third-party-rated products to see if they match your needs.
Troubleshooting Common Problems
As you’re experimenting with different laundry detergent recipes, you might encounter a few challenges the first time you use DIY laundry soap.
One common challenge is suds production, as your preferred soap may produce too many bubbles. Suds can generate buildup in your machine or even on your clothes. If this happens, use less detergent or consider switching the soap you use in the next batch you make.
Another common challenge is the smell. You can change your detergent’s smell with essential oils, but too much may stain your clothing or create a heavily perfumed scent. If you see stains on your laundry, try spot-cleaning it with a DIY or green stain remover.
If you have hard water in your home, try adding a 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the laundry load to break down buildup. Vinegar can also act as a natural fabric softener.
We recommend starting with an unscented recipe and adjusting over time. To avoid essential oils entirely, add a sachet of lavender seeds to a container of powdered detergent.
Using homemade laundry soap can give you much more control over your detergent’s cost, ingredients, and scent. While it may take a bit of experimentation to find your favorite recipes and routines, it’s a fun way to make your own supplies and feel better about the soaps you use.
We recommend starting with a small batch so you can adjust how much detergent you use and trying different recipes for eco-friendly detergent until you find one that works for you.
How to Make Homemade Laundry Detergent FAQ
What is the best homemade laundry detergent recipe?
The best laundry detergent recipes use three main ingredients: borax, bar soap, and washing soda. You can add a few drops of essential oils to change the scent but try to minimize the total number of ingredients.
What can I use instead of borax in homemade laundry detergent?
You can create a substitute in your homemade laundry detergent instead of using borax. Mix together one part baking soda and one part citric acid with two parts washing soda. This mixture is a one-to-one replacement for borax in detergent recipes.
How long does homemade laundry detergent last?
Homemade laundry detergent can last several months, especially if stored in an airtight container. Depending on the size of your batch, it may last from a couple of weeks to several months.
Can I add essential oils to homemade laundry detergent?
You can add essential oils to homemade laundry detergent. Add the drops slowly at the final stages of the recipe and thoroughly incorporate them to minimize the risk of staining or clumping.
Why does my homemade laundry detergent make too many suds?
Your homemade laundry detergent can make too many suds because it doesn’t include surfactants and other chemicals that minimize suds production. You can solve the problem by reducing the detergent you use for each load.