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homemade laundry detergent

A few years ago, I decided to try my hand at homemade laundry detergent. I was interested in saving money, but I was also tired of paying more for laundry soap designed for “sensitive skin.”

The recipe I started out with was a liquid laundry detergent using borax, grated soap, washing soda and hot water.

It worked well – my clothes came out clean, though my cloth diapers always needed an extra rinse and Bac-Out to come out smelling fresh.

However, I wasn’t fond of the way it clumped up and I’d have to shake it to evenly distribute everything again.

We shall not discuss the time I shook and the lid wasn’t properly secured …

After that batch ran out, I knew I wanted a powder. Over the years, liquid laundry detergents meant another mess for me to clean up and I was done with it.

I found this recipe from my friends at diyNatural and used it for quite a long time (using grated castile soap). It was very simple and used the exact same ingredients as the liquid laundry detergent had.

However, after a while, I noticed that I’d have to do an extra hot soak to get the smells out. Four kids, a crunchy mama and a husband who loves to run create some interesting smelling clothes.

I switched from a castile bar soap to Fels Naptha, which was much cheaper. I was hesitant at first because of the fragrance, but the smell doesn’t linger (or is maybe hidden by my essential oils) and it does not irritate my skin, which was my main concern. The new soap helped, but by that time I was itching to create something new.

It was time to experiment.

I needed something that would be tough enough on the smells we were dealing with and, ideally, something that wouldn’t require making new laundry detergent every month.

Fortunately, I found a recipe that sounded promising. It promised to last for a year, so I made the recipe and sold 1/3 to my mom and 1/3 to my sister-in-law (they like my homemade detergent but don’t want to make it, so I earn all the money for the ingredients and a little extra).

They loved it. But I didn’t.

The recipe called for a fabric softening product to be added that I didn’t like (they did) and I couldn’t stand the smell of it (which is why I like natural products – no noxious smells). Thankfully, I added the fabric softener after I took some laundry detergent out for myself, and that actually worked pretty well.

I ended up tweaking the recipe a little and have a powder laundry detergent that handles our tough smells (and stains) well. It also lasts me about 4 months.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Here’s what you need (I get almost all of the ingredients in the laundry soap aisle of my local Kroger):

  • 1 box Borax powder (yes, I’ve read the arguments for and against it and still use it – it has not caused us any problems)
  • 1 box Washing Soda
  • 3 bars coconut oil soap (or try it with this olive castile soap – use coupon code SM1 to get $2 off a pound of castile shreds)
  • 1 32 oz. container oxygen bleach (I like this one)
  • 40 drops essential oil (I like to switch up combinations and use lavender/lemon, lavender/wild orange, peppermint/orange, etc.)

Grate the soap and then run it through your food processor to break it down into smaller pieces. I usually do this in batches, using 1 cup of oxygen bleach and one grated bar of soap – my machine seems to like that more. I just do the essential oils in one of the batches.

My kids love making this stuff. And we all cover our mouths with our shirts when we’re pouring all of the powders.

homemade laundry detergent helpers

I pour each batch into the bucket I store the laundry detergent in (I use one with a lid). After I’ve added the grated soap/oxygen bleach/essential oil mixture to the bucket, I pour in the box of borax, the box of washing soda and any remaining oxygen bleach.

I then secure the lid (tightly!) and start shaking it to get everything mixed up. I usually ask my husband for help, too. And, for good measure, the kids shake it up a little as well.

To use, I add 2 tbsp to each load of laundry. 

Want more natural cleaning recipes? Check out this awesome post from Groom and Style for all sorts of non-toxic homemade cleaners.

Update 4/16/15: Reader Karen had a great recommendation:

I use almost the identical recipe but I add 1 lb box of baking soda.  I also made my own softener to add with the detergent.  I used epsom salts and put it in a large jar and added the essential oils to it, sealed it up for about a week before I made the detergent and then added it to the detergent.  I had originally used the purex crystals but I didn’t like the the coloring added to it….and I wanted to have a greater choice scents that I liked.  Anyway it has worked out beautifully and if I don’t want a scent then I just use the plain epsom salts and it really softens clothes well !  I so love this site !!!!

Have you made your own laundry detergent?