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Homemade Laundry Detergent – A Greener Way to Clean Your Clothes

by Tiffany in A Green Home

Black and White Laundry by Honey Tree on Etsy

So you’re a mom, and that means you have kids, and kids lead to messes, and messes make for loads of laundry…no pun intended! Who likes to do laundry? I know I don’t, but that’s beside the point. The point is, how can you clean all those dirty clothes cheaper and more naturally? As many of you have probably noticed, it’s not always cheap to be more eco-friendly and healthy. So when I come across something that doesn’t cost much money, is healthy for my family, and better for the environment, I’m ALL about it!

Well today is your lucky day because I have the solution to your laundry woes, and yes it’s cheaper {much}, healthier, and not harmful to the environment. It’s a recipe for homemade liquid laundry detergent that’s quick and simple to make, it costs about .03 cents per load, and has no harmful chemicals to absorb into your skin or your soil. Plus on top of that, it lasts FOREVER! Well not actually forever, but I think you get my point.

Baby Blocks Flannel Baby Wipes by Baby Swank on Etsy

So before I get to the recipe, I’ll start off by telling you how I came across this. When my first son was born I knew I wanted to try cloth diapering because of its benefits, and as many of you may already know you have to be careful about what you wash your cloth diapers and wipes in because of absorbency issues. I had looked at a few “natural” detergents in health food stores where I live, but everything was so stinking expensive. I was gonna have a new baby and I wasn’t going back to work when my maternity leave was up! There was no way I was going to be able to do expensive. I had to come up with something else because babies poop and pee A LOT, and that means lots more laundry…especially with cloth diapers and wipes. So I came across this recipe, made it, used it, loved it, and now here I am sharing it with you!

So here we go! You’ll need:

  • 1 bar of Fels-Naptha soap
  • 1 cup of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda {not baking soda}
  • ½ cup of Borax
  • Essential oils {whatever scent you like}
  • 5-gallon bucket

First you’ll need to grate the bar of soap and add it to a saucepan with 4 cups of water. Stir continually over medium-high heat until all the soap is melted. Second fill one 5-gallon bucket up half way with hot water then add your melted soap, washing soda, and borax to it. Stir well!  Finally fill that bucket the rest of the way up with water. Stir, cover, and let it sit overnight to thicken.

The next morning you’ll need to take a used, clean laundry detergent dispenser and fill it half full of your soap and then fill it the rest of the way with water. Now if you want it scented, you’ll want to put 10-15 drops of an essential oil in for every 2 gallons.

Viola! There you have it. Homemade, all-natural laundry detergent. Remember to shake it before each use because it will gel. This recipe yields approximately 10-gallons of detergent. For a top-load machine use 5/8 cup per load {approx. 180 loads}, and for a front-load machine use ¼ cup per load {approx. 640 loads}. So, you get all of this detergent and it only costs about $2.00 to make it! I don’t know of anything cheaper than that!

Do you have a recipe for an eco-friendly cleaner you’d like to share? Here’s your chance! Leave a comment and let us know what it is so we can try it out too!

Meagan Visser is the owner of Baby Swank, an online shop for trendy and eco-friendly items for babies and toddlers. She is a SAHM to two perfect little boys, and a wife to the love of her life. She lives in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee, and is working toward growing her business and helping other moms pursue their dreams of running a business while having a family. Connect with her at her shop, her blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

  • Wow. Love this recipe. Where do you get Fels-Naptha soap?

    • Tammy, you can get it in almost any grocery store in the laundry isle.

  • I use this same recipe and LOVE it! I made it back in October and still haven’t run out. I don’t think I’ve even used half of it yet. Check out my post for step by step directions.

  • Akemi S.

    Hey there! I usually use Seventh Generation liquid detergent, so I’m new to this whole idea of grating soap. This might sound like a really basic question, but do you have a separate grater that’s dedicated for this task? Is it hazardous to wash off the Fels-Naptha then use it to grate some yummy cheese? Just wondering because I’m trying to have less “things” in my life, so I don’t know if this requires buying a second grater to be safe.

    • Nah, its just soap so a trip through the dishwasher will clean it just fine.

      • Akemi S.

        Ah ha! Thanks for the info!

    • I checked Wikipedia for info on Fels-Naphta soap:

      Fels-Naptha used to contain Stoddard solvent, a skin and eye irritant. According to the ingredients list on the Fels-Naptha website, Stoddard solvent is no longer included in the soap.[1]

      According to the “Chronic Health Effects” section of the National Institutes of Health’s MSDS for the original formulation of Fels-Naptha:

      Chronic toxicity testing has not been conducted on this product. However, the following effects have been reported on one of the product’s components. Stoddard solvent: Repeated or prolonged exposure to high concentrations has resulted in upper respiratory tract irritation, central and peripheral nervous system effects, and possibly hematopoetic, liver and kidney effects.

      Stoddard solvent is another name for mineral spirits, which are, like petroleum distillates, a mixture of multiple chemicals made from petroleum. Exposure to Stoddard solvent in the air can affect your nervous system and cause dizziness, headaches, or a prolonged reaction time. It can also cause eye, skin, or throat irritation.[3]

  • Jennifer

    It’s funny and timely that you posted this…..I have been researching this and have seen some people who have used it comment about the scum that is left in your pipes and in your machine from the actual soap. Have you experienced this? If so, how have you handled it? I heard some people say that they periodically do a vinegar rinse and that takes care of it……Any thoughts you could share on this would be appreciated. Also, what about using a Dr. Bronner’s instead of the bar soap? Have you heard of this, or do you have any thoughts on it? Thanks!

    • Vinegar is the best way to get ride of a soap scum. I have heard that you should do a hot water vinegar wash once a month anyway to get rid of soap scum and other buildup. And Dr Bronner’s would work just as well as Fels I think, although I have only ever seen it used in homemade powdered detergent.

  • Anna

    I have made the dry version of this and it is faster and works fine in my washer as long as I let the water run and swish it before adding clothing. The grating is the most time-intensive part and having a nice grater works better but will cost you. I also calculated out the cost to be higher than 3c/ld but I’m not recalling what that was now. And I tended to be happier with the results when I used more than the recommended per load. Because I was only doing it in attempt to save money, I ended up being happier finding bargains on brand detergents for 5-10 cents per load. I like knowing I can make my own if I ever want to do it again.

  • Bill

    I’ve been looking for a natural detergent recipe for washing our baby’s clothes. This is fantastic..thanks!

  • Great comments!

    What I’ve found myself is that a vinegar rinse will take care of the soap scum issue. A lot of people add vinegar to their rinse cycle as a natural fabric softener so that could keep the scum issue to a minimum.

    As far as grating soap goes, I use my salad shooter which makes the job fast, and then I just run it through my dishwasher.

    I have never used Dr. Bronner’s soap with this recipe. I have used other soap besides Fels-Naptha…usually something else natural or even a basic plain soap like Ivory.

    Good luck to you all who are trying it! I hope you love it and save some cash!

  • andiscandis

    I just bought a jug of 7th Gen detergent for like $15. This seems like a *much* better option.

  • Amber

    I use the dry version. My mixture is 1/2 grated soap, 1/4 washing soda, 1/4 borax. To save even more money, you can do 1/3, 1/3 and 1/3 of each. I’ve also found that ANY bar soap works. I’ve used homemade soap, commercial (non-natural) soap remnants, old soap my friend made–anything will work.

    Have you seen the homemade stain bars? They’re on etsy. Haven’t made one yet, but sounds like an awesome idea.

    • Hope

      I was wondering if you could substitute baking soda for the washing soda? I also have an HE front loading washing machine so I didn’t know if that would make a difference on the amount of detergent required per load. I also wanted to use some white vinegar in the rinse cycle as a softener to get away from dryer sheets. I didn’t know if this would cause a problem with the detergent. Please advise. I really want to get away from buying laundry detergent but dont’ want to screw up my new washer. Thanks.

      • Amber

        I’ve heard several times that you can’t substitute bs for washing soda–though you can add bs to the load, if that’s what you usually do. If you’re having trouble finding washing soda, check stores that aren’t national chains, if your regular store doesn’t have it. Vinegar absolutely works with this, though i use either the softener receptacle in the washer or a Downy ball. As far as HE washers, i have no idea, but i’m sure that info’s not hard to find online.

        Also, with the recipe above, i neglected to state: use 1-2T./load.

  • Booyah

    Same as Amber we use the dry soap, don’t know why anyone spends all the effort and fuel to make a liquid. Recipe: 1 bar of soap (Kirk’s Castile preferred), 3/4 cup borax & 3/4 cup washing soda. Shred the soap and let it sit overnite to dry out to avoid clumping. Stir in with borax and soda then add to a blender to pulverize it. Only need 2 tablespoons per load in a HE washer along with 1/4 cup of homemade fabric softener (6 C. water, 2 C. hair conditioner, 3 C. vinegar, shaken not stirred).

    • I’m intrigued by this fabric softener. Is it correct to assume you add it to the rinse cycle (as opposed to the wash cycle with the soap)? Any idea how much soap and softener you use with a top loading machine?

    • Nancy

      Hi, do you find that fabric comes out too stiff without using a fabric softener? Do you line dry or use a typical dryer? Thanks!

  • Jennifer Pruett

    This is the same recipe I have been using for a year and a half now. I will be making my 3rd 10 gallons this week. The only difference is I don’t use the essential oil as I really like the clean smell of the fels naptha. I also make my own fabric softener sheets. I use another bucket and mix 1 part liquid softener to 2 parts water and keep sponges cut in half in the mixture. I squeeze the excess out and throw in like a dryer sheet. It works just the same. I don’t think snuggle is green in any way so I’m going to try 7th gen if they have it for the next round. This has also lasted the same amount of time using the smallest bottle of softener. I’m struggling with dish detergent. I’ve used colgate octagon bar soap with washing soda like the detergent. I just can’t seem to get the right consistency. That is a work in progress though.

    • Amber

      If you mean dishwasher detergent, i use the following recipe with great results:

      1 c. Borax
      1 c. baking soda
      1/4 c. salt
      1/4 c. citric acid

      Use about 1 tablespoon/load.

      • Jennifer Pruett

        I mean the liquid stuff since I use it to clean my daughters cups. I do want to try a switch to the dishwasher as well. I will try this recipe for sure. Thanks!! Eventually I will switch from all this commercial stuff. If I didn’t live in an apartment complex I would be line drying my clothes. I used to love the smell of them when I was a kid. :-) Thanks again!!

      • Amber

        Liquid dish soap:

        Gently boil about 2c. grated soap in 2-3c. water. Careful or it’ll foam up and boil over. Cook until soap is completely dissolved. Pour into old pump or dish soap bottle. If it clogs up and gets REALLY gloppy, re-cook with more water.

        It’s diluted soap, so it won’t have long-lasting, abundant bubbles, but it works, and it’s cheap. :)

      • Jennifer Pruett

        Sorry Amber, I just saw this!! I’m gonna have to see if that measurement works better than mine. I ended up using an old plastic coffee container I had on hand to try and store it as it does get thick. Only problem was the soap rose to the top and left a layer of water on the bottom! LOL!!! It still works I just figured I screwed up somewhere! :-)

  • Beckie

    This sounds great! Can it be used in an HE washer?

  • Wendy

    My favorite cleaning ingredient has to be baking soda. It makes great fabric softener, but even greater “soft scrub” for anything and doesn’t scratch anything that I have ever noticed. Unfortunately I don’t measure much, but I mix baking soda, water and Dr Bronner’s liquid castille to form a semi runny paste. I haven’t used regular commercial cleaners in almost 2 years and we have 5 children. I add essential oils for their disinfectant and “anti” everything properties. The best part about natural cleaners is the fact that you can experiment until you find your favorite!

    • Jennifer Pruett

      I think I will try something like this for the liquid soap. Thanks for the info!

  • Janet

    Doesn’t the soap cause build up on the diapers?

    • Amber

      No, actually. The soap cleans, while commercial (non-enviro-friendly) detergents coat the diapers, sealing in what you want to wash out and reducing absorbency.

  • Cecilia

    I’ve been using this recipe for over 7 months and it works great. My husband works with metal and it cleans everything. i also have kids and it cleans great. I only made 5 gals (more concentrated) and I still have over half left. And I’ve gifted this to people too!

  • corinne

    I read that fels naphta and castille soap were very similar.
    I would like to use castille soap that i use widely at home.
    Shall I use it as a paste or already as a liquid soap and to what proportion please? Thanks. Corinne

    • Corinne, castile soap comes in bars too so that is what I think others were referring too. If you want to use liquid I am not sure of the measurements, it is highly concentrated.

  • jon

    I haven’t tried to make my own detergent, it sounds like a lot of extra work. I started using Legacy of Clean’s laundry detergent and all fabric bleach, it’s really easy on your clothes and works in cold water. I actually did a video of how amazing this stuff is, it uses oxygen and minerals to clean your clothes, not synthetic chemicals. It’s also environmentally friendly :)

  • Katy

    I love using Clorox 2 to disinfect my colored clothing in the winter when I can’t line dry (the sun works just as well to kill the germs). With a 3 year old in the house, with potty training, and my daycare, there’s sure to be a lot of bacteria that needs addressing. Is there a natural remedy detergent that also addresses this? I believe the active ingredient in these kinds of detergents is hydrogn peroxide.

  • Sharon

    Hello! I’m a SAHM and am looking to make my own detergent. I like your recipe, sounds pretty easy. Any idea where I can get the ingredients listed? Are they all pretty easy to find or should I start online? Thanks! I love your blog! I just bought my son the ECO glass sippy cups!

  • Mabel

    I am confused (sorry), you say to mix everything into a 5 gallon bucket but that the recipe yields 10 gallons?  

    • Per the article: The next morning you’ll need to take a used, clean laundry detergent dispenser and fill it half full of your soap and then fill it the rest of the way with water.  

  • Wcrockhold

    Love this recipe. Others I’ve found have way too much measuring :)