How to Make Homemade Laundry Detergent

By Amanda Lutz Updated May 13, 2024

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:

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.


Materials Needed

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:


Ingredients

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:

IngredientPurpose
BoraxBoosts cleaning power
Essential oils (optional)Adds scent
Soap (bar or liquid)Main cleaning agent
Washing sodaRemoves 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 Detergent

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.

Recipe:

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

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. 

Recipe:

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:

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:

Cons of DIY Detergents

However, there are some drawbacks to making homemade laundry detergent. Consider the following cons:

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.


Our Recommendation

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.