There are a number of reasons to take the plunge and try your hand at homemade laundry detergent.

  1. You just finished your bottle of store bought detergent, there’s a fierce snowstorm raging outside, your baby just spit up, and you happen to have a box of borax lying around.
  2. A chatty friend is dropping by and you want him or her to spread the word that your green efforts go beyond recycling newspapers and beer bottles.
  3. There’s only one 20 dollar bill left in your wallet and you’d rather save it for a rainy day than blow it on laundry detergent. 
Whatever the reason, making your own batch of laundry detergent is light on the wallet, gentle on clothing, and great for the environment. A typical batch of homemade laundry detergent using the recipes below will cost approximately three dollars, less than half of the leading national brand.

All you need to do is collect three simple ingredients and a few kitchen items to make a powder or liquid detergent, safe for both front and top loading machines (it produces very low sudsing action).

Here’s the breakdown of the ingredients in homemade laundry detergent and their function:

Bar Soap – The most crucial ingredient, soap gives the detergent its cleaning power. DIYers recommend several brands to use in homemade detergents, including Kirk’s Castile, Dr. Bronners, Fels Naptha or Zote. These last two are marked laundry soap and work very well in homemade detergent.

Borax – Also known as sodium borate, borax is a naturally occurring mineral that acts as a whitener and deodorizer.

Washing Soda – not to be confused with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), washing soda is sodium carbonate, also known as soda ash, and it helps to remove dirt and odors.

Fragrant or essential oils – you can add some of your favorite oil essence to give a nice fragrance to your detergent. Recommended amounts are one to two ounces per load. Tea tree oil has the added benefit of acting as a disinfectant, so it’s great for washing cloth diapers, hand towels or linens from a sick family member.

Powdered Laundry Detergent

1 bar of soap

1 cup borax

1 cup washing soda

Use a grater to shave the bar of soap into small flakes. Mix well with borax and washing soda until you achieve an even, fine mixture. Store in labeled, air-tight container. This recipe makes approximately 32 ounces of detergent; use one to two tablespoons per load depending on size.

Liquid Laundry Detergent

1 bar of soap

1 cup borax

1 cup washing soda

You’ll also need a grater, a medium sized pot, five-gallon bucket and some water.

Use a grater to shave soap into a pot. Add two cups water, turn heat to low, and mix until combined. Remove pot from heat and set aside. Pour borax and washing soda into bucket and mix. Add soapy water from pot and mix quickly and thoroughly. Add enough water to fill three-quarters of the bucket, and continue stirring. Allow mixture to set overnight. Use one-half cup for small loads or one cup for large loads.

You can pick up empty five gallon buckets at a hardware or home improvement store, or check your local deli to see if they’ve got an empty one you can have for free with your turkey on rye.

Once you’ve mastered the art of creating your own homemade laundry detergent, you can move on to bigger and better things. Check out the following articles on how to make your own disinfectant spray, sugar scrubnatural body lotions or homemade toothpaste.

Tried your hand at homemade soaps or detergent? Share your feedback in the comment section below.