Homemade Laundry Detergent

I’ve been interested lately in using more natural, homemade cleaning products in my house–I wish I could say that this was for environmental, earth-happy reasons, but my main motivation was the other type of green . . . saving big bucks, baby! I do worry a bit about breathing in those awful smelling fumes, coating all the surfaces in my house with who-knows-what chemicals, and rinsing it all down the drain, so I loved the thought of actually knowing what’s in the products I use to clean my house, as well as saving some money by using simple, cheap ingredients to make my own cleaning supplies.

I decided to start by making my own laundry detergent, and researched recipes online. Most of the recipes I found are quite similar–you can find a list of 10 detergent recipes here, and a rather in-depth post with a recipe, cost breakdown, and Q&A here . . . according to that last link, using homemade laundry detergent costs about a penny per load, a huge savings from the cost of using store bought detergent (roughly $0.50 per load). I was skeptical about how well homemade detergent would work, but I’ve found it to be just as effective as any store bought detergent I’ve ever used, and leaves our clothes just as clean and fresh-smelling as before. And the cost is just unbeatable–the supplies to make dozens of gallons of my own laundry soap cost about the same as one container of store bought detergent. Can’t beat that!

What You’ll Need:

1 bar of soap (many recipes call for Fels Naptha soap, which I read was rather harsh, so I used a bar of Ivory soap, but you can use whatever bar soap you have on hand)
1 cup Borax — I found it at Smith’s . . . there was none at KMart (the employee I asked made me repeat it 3 times before finally giving up and sending me away), and none at a store called, ironically, Cleaning Suppliers, where the employee finally called someone (who? no idea) to ask what Borax was
1 cup washing soda (not baking soda! There’s a difference!)
Note before you get started: Unless you have a really, really big pot and bowl (more like a huge bucket) to mix this in, I’d recommend halving the recipe–I had to try and divide it into portions as I was adding ingredients because I couldn’t fit it all into my biggest pot or bowl, and lost a few cups of detergent along the way.

Pour one gallon of water into a large pot, and grate your bar of soap into it; heat until the soap dissolves. Add the borax and washing soda and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, add a gallon of cool water, and stir it all up. Pour it into whatever container you plan to use (I used a milk jug and an empty container of store bought laundry detergent), and there you have it–two gallons of homemade laundry detergent! Add 1/2 cup of your detergent to each load of laundry.

I find that my detergent’s consistency changes over time–the day I made it, it was very thick, like jello (I had to scoop it out of the container to use). A few days later, it was kind of soupy with big gel-like chunks. Over time, it settled into a thick liquid, like regular store bought soap. I just make sure that, no matter the consistency, I give it a good shake before pouring it out to use, and it never seems to affect the laundry’s cleanliness at all.

When my store bought versions run out, I’d also like to try homemade dish detergent, fabric whitener, shower spray, and all-purpose cleaners. What do you think of homemade cleaning supplies? Love ’em? Don’t trust ’em? Willing to give ’em a shot?

EDITED 10/8/11
A few commenters (MountainroseCoffee Queen, and Bellamere Cottage) mentioned using this same recipe minus the water to make a powdered detergent. That sounded WAY better to me, since the most difficult part of the process was finding a pot big enough to hold all the wet ingredients, trying to mix it all evenly, transfer without spilling, etc. So when my wet batch ran out, I tried their idea–following the exact same recipe, minus the water, I ended up with a powdered detergent that I like SO much better than the liquid! Just add 1 tablespoon per load (I have a front loader and measure it out into the little detergent drawer at the top, then send a little water down after it to make sure it finds its way into the machine), and it works just as well as the liquid detergent. Smells fresh and clean, takes up so much less space in your cupboard, and is so much easier and quicker to whip up!