Homemade Laundry Detergent

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Small lifestyle changes around the home can add up to big savings. If you have committed to saving money this year, go beyond just clipping coupons and join me as I learn new frugal ways.

Many of you have been asking for a good recipe for homemade laundry detergent. This recipe is simple and easy to make, with just four ingredients, including two of my Top 10 Frugal Musts. It was passed on to me by a very wise frugal friend who swears by it for all her laundry needs.

But first, why bother making homemade detergent? Isn’t buying detergent on sale, with a coupon, just as frugal? I used to believe that was the case. Making my own seemed like a huge hassle. But when I did the math on this recipe, I found it is FAR cheaper than store-bought detergent. It also contains fewer chemical ingredients and is one more step I can take to reduce the toxins in our home.

This recipe is powdered. Note that there are recipes out there for liquid laundry soap, but those typically require a large stock pot and hours on the stove. With a busy one-year old at my feet most of the day, I opted for the easy route.

You will need:

1 bar of Zote (14 oz)
1 bar of Fels Naptha (5 oz)
4 cups Borax
4 cups Washing Soda (NOT baking soda)

First, either hand grate the bars or run through a food processor with a grater blade and S-blade until finely ground. (Slice each bar into 3-4 pieces first for best results). Then combine all four ingredients and mix well. Store in a large sturdy lidded container. That’s it!

Notes:

Use just 2 tablespoons of detergent per load of laundry. This will not suds up like normal detergent, so don’t worry about not seeing bubbles. It is safe to use in front load HE washers. It does have a light scent, which you could enhance with some essential oils if you prefer.

This makes a large batch that will last for a very long time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another load of laundry to do! ;)

Linked to: Works for Me Wednesday

Comments

    • Bethany says

      I substitute Kirk’s Castille soap instead of Fels Naptha on all clothes except for my husband’s work clothes (I use Fels Naptha in his recipe). The Kirk’s Castille soap is a basic, all natural soap (and I believe it is hypo-allergenic) that has been around for a very long time. Hope this helps. It really works well! @Stephanie,

      • Denise says

        @Bethany, Also I just read something because I just bought a ZOTE soap to use for this recipe, but after reading something that someone told me I might change. They have an HE machine. And after using the homemade detergent for a long time it ruined their machine because of the animal based fat soaps like fells naptha and zote. She didn’t want to discourage anyone from making their own soap but rather reccommended what the repair man did which is the Kirk’s Castille soap or other vegetable based fat soaps that break down. When they took apart the drum of the machine it was filled with soap scum from the other soaps that did not break down right. So consider use castille soaps which are vegetable fat based soaps that break down and using vinegar as your softener in a downy rinse ball to help cut down any left over residue. :)

        • Kelly says

          @Denise, I am not sure it was the Fels Naptha that made the soap scum. Not to dispute your friend, or the repairman, but Fels just does not seem to make “scum” at all. It does not bubble or make suds, so I am a little sceptical that it would leave a residue. Just commenting.

  1. Kathy says

    Just wondering where you were able to find the ingredients. I’m in Georiga and the only one I’ve ever even seen is the Borax…..but that’s probably because I’ve never looked for them. Any suggestions on where to look for the others?

    • Alyssa Francis says

      @Kathy, I agree with Phoebe. I had never looked for these, either, but I actually found both at Kroger and Walmart! Just be sure to look up high or down low, as they will likely not be at eye level on the shelf.

    • jennife brown says

      @Kathy, My Publix, in North Florida carries the Fels Naptha($0.99), Borax($3.99), and Washing Soda($3.29), I dont use the Zote in mine, however my Walmart ($0.97) sells it. I also make mine in liquid form on the stove in about 10 minutes.

        • Trish says

          @Nicki,

          Liquid detergent recipe (only takes 15 minutes!)
          1/2 bar Fels-naptha
          1/2 cup Arm & Hammer washing soda
          1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax

          grate 1/2 bar of soap into 10 cups water. heat on stove until dissolved. (just use a large cooking pot, don’t need a huge stock pot) Add washing soda and borax. stir until it doesn’t feel gritty anymore on your spoon. In 3 gallon bucket put 22 cups (1 gallon + 6 cups) cold water. pour in soap mixture. stir well. let sit for 24 hours (I don’t worry about that) Use 1/2 cup per load. makes 64 loads. This works great for me, Haven’t bought detergent in over 6 months! increase borax to 1 cup if you have hard water and your whites start to look dingy.

          Now i need a recipe that works for bum genius type diapers. I don’t think they’re supposed to be washed in borax. any ideas?

    • Brandi says

      @Kathy, I live in a very small town and I find my ingredients at our local Ace hardware store. I have switched to using only Zote in my liquid version. I found that the Fels-Naptha seemed to make my whites dingy. We don’t have lots of really dirty clothes so don’t think we need the “cutting” power of the F-N. I do have to get Zote from Ebay or Amazon since there are no suppliers of that near me. You can probably find all the other ingredients on either of those as well. I’ve never seen a recipe using both bar soaps. Curious??

    • says

      @Kathy,

      I’m in Georgia. I get all of them at Publix (except the Zote, which I don’t use). The Fels-Naptha has been on the top shelf closer to the stain removers than the detergent.

      I use 1 bar of fels-naptha, 1 cup borax and 1 cup washing soda.

    • Gaby says

      I found borax, washing soda, and fels naptha at my grocery store (WinCo). They didn’t have the Zote, though, but we did find it at Food For Less. Don’t know if you have either of those. Just check the laundry section of whatever stores you shop at.

      Zote and Fels Naptha were each about $1 and the Washing Soda was $2.70. I already had the borax so I don’t remember how much it costs. Anybody else know?

    • Damon Barber says

      @Kathy, any kroger store will sell these ingrediants: naptha soap, washing soda, and borax. We have Fred Meyers (kroger) here in Washington.

  2. Paula says

    Do I use less in my HE washer? Is it safe for my HE washer—someone told me otherwise. I am all about saving money but don’t want it to damage the machine in anyway. Thoughts?

    • Jill says

      I use it in my front loader for about a month now and have no problems. After some experimenting I have found somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 cup works best depending on how dirty the clothes are.

  3. Viki says

    Hi. I have been making homemade detergent for years (6+), and it is great. However, my “tip” is that you don’t have to use the specialized soap. I found a lady who said that you can use a whole bar of regular bar soap as well. My recipe calls for 1 bar of soap, 1/2 cup of borax, and 1/2 cup of washing soda. That’s it. My recipe does call for the soap to be dissolved in water, so it ends up being a liquid detergent rather than the powder that your recipe ends up like. But this is just a variation. I use whatever bar soap that is on sale at the cheapest price. My family doesnt’ nave sensitive skin, but to answer the hypoallergenic question, I can say that if you use soap such as Ivory (or whatever kind doesn’t bother your family) it will work as well. I hope this helps. :)

  4. Angie W says

    Thanks for the recipe! I have been using a homemade liquid that I like (from the Dugger family) for several years. It works for me (with very sensitive skin) and I have used it for baby clothes too with out any skin reactions ,and it only takes about 10 minutes to make. It lasts my family a YEAR. :) Here’s the link: http://www.duggarfamily.com/recipes.html (third recipe down) HTH!

  5. says

    I’ve also been making laundry soap, with the same basic ingredients, but not the Zote…where do you find it. I’ve never seen it in store around here.

  6. Chhaya says

    This sounds like a very frugal way to get the laundry done without any added chemicals ! Just one question, though…has anybody used this detergent for cloth diapers ? Would make my day if this can be used effectively for washing cloth diapers , since the ones on the market are pretty pricey..

    • Ali says

      @Chhaya, I have used this with cloth diapers, in answer to that question. I don’t put Zote in mine, just Fels Naptha, Borax, and Super Washing Soda, plus a bit of lavendar essential oils. It’s all I’ve used with my diapers and it has worked fine for over a year now. I do find that it doesn’t remove stains. I sun for that. I also have to use bleach (as recommended by Bum Genius) once every 3-4 months to eliminate ammonia odors. Hope that helps!

  7. Mandy Hopson says

    I used this recipe for about 8 months. It seemed to clean the clothes but after a time all my whites got very dingy. I went back to store bought.

    • Kelly says

      @Mandy Hopson, My whites got dirty looking, which they did with store bought anyway, so what I do is when I notice that they look that way, I use very hot water, and an extra scoop of detergent, and I soak them for an hour or so, then wash as usual.
      Also, I use oxy clean (store brand) in my recipe.

  8. Jamie says

    I made my own detergent also. I tried powdered before but tried liquid the last time and I really like it. It really didn’t take that long either. I think homemade detergent is great! I also was able to find all the ingredients at Kroger. I did post about making homemade detergent on my blog if you want to check it out :)
    Jamie´s last blog post ..Barbecue Red Bean Burgers

  9. says

    I’ve used a similar recipe…and posted it on my blog not too long ago. This time around I used pink ZOTE soap. I can’t find it locally, so I ordered mine from Lehman’s in Ohio. Oh, it’s pretty, pink…and my laundry smells divine :) :) I loike your version using a combo of Fels Naptha and the ZO TE soap. It make the laundry powder look like rainbow sherbert :) :) Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather :)

  10. Heather says

    The recipe I use for liquid soap only takes as much time to melt the fels napath soap, then you combine with hot water with the borax and soda. So if you wanted to consider the liquid variety and this recipe makes 10gallons! I am working on over 4months with one batch and I have even shared with my in laws. And I still have over half of it left!

  11. melissa says

    Do you have any trouble with it dissolving in the water? I’d made a liquid version to avoid that problem, but would much rather have the powdered because it’s easier to store.

    for the dingy whites I use blueing every couple times I do a load of whites and it works REALLY well.

  12. Betsy says

    I’m in North Georgia and found the Fels Naptha at Ace Hardware – the other products I’ve seen at Kroger……I’ve been making my own detergent for years (liquid) and I’ll never go back.

  13. says

    I just created a liquid dishwasher soap I am enjoying.
    1 cup Borax
    1 cup baking soda
    1/4 cup Castile soap (I like Dr. Bronner’s b/c it lasts forever and has tons of great uses. You can also make it yourself without too much hassle.)
    2 cups warm water
    Mix together in a large bowl. It will be sudsy and then look like homemade buttercream icing. I actually “piped” my soap into its container because it was so thick! My dishes are wonderfully clean, and they smell pleasant as well. If your dishes aren’t as sparkling as you’d like, put some vinegar in the rinse agent spot.

    Hope you guys enjoy using this recipe as much as I do!
    Gaby´s last blog post ..Financial Lessons from Disneys The Princess and the Frog

  14. Jayme says

    I MUST try this! We are a family of 9 and the laundry is never-ending! :) I think this will save us big $$. Thanks so much! :)

  15. Jen says

    Homemade Liquid Laundry Soap- Front or top load machine- best value

    4 Cups – hot tap water
    1 Fels-Naptha soap bar
    1 Cup – Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda*
    ½ Cup Borax

    – Grate bar of soap and add to saucepan with water. Stir continually over medium-low heat until soap dissolves and is melted.

    -Fill a 5 gallon bucket half full of hot tap water. Add melted soap, washing soda and Borax. Stir well until all powder is dissolved. Fill bucket to top with more hot water. Stir, cover and let sit overnight to thicken.

    -Stir and fill a used, clean, laundry soap dispenser half full with soap and then fill rest of way with water. Shake before each use. (will gel)

    -Optional: You can add 10-15 drops of essential oil per 2 gallons. Add once soap has cooled. Ideas: lavender, rosemary, tea tree oil.

    -Yield: Liquid soap recipe makes 10 gallons.

    -Top Load Machine- 5/8 Cup per load (Approx. 180 loads)

    -Front Load Machines- ¼ Cup per load (Approx. 640 loads)

    *Arm & Hammer “Super Washing Soda” – in some stores or may be purchased online here (at Meijer.com). Baking Soda will not work, nor will Arm & Hammer Detergent – It must be sodium carbonate!!

    Powdered Laundry Detergent – Top load machine

    1 Fels-Naptha soap bar
    1 Cup – Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda*
    ½ Cup Borax

    -Grate soap or break into pieces and process in a food processor until powdered. Mix all ingredients. For light load, use 1 Tablespoon. For heavy or heavily soiled load, use 2 Tablespoons. Yields: 3 Cups detergent. (Approx. 40 loads)

    *Arm & Hammer “Super Washing Soda” – in some stores or may be purchased online here (at Meijer.com). Baking Soda will not work, nor will Arm & Hammer Detergent – It must be sodium carbonate!!

    TIPS FOR LAUNDRY SOAP: We use Fels-Naptha bar soap in the homemade soap recipes, but you can use Ivory, Sunlight, Kirk’s Hardwater Castile or Zote bars. Don’t use heavily perfumed soaps. We buy Fels-Naptha by the case from our local grocer or online. Washing Soda and Borax can often be found on the laundry or cleaning aisle. Recipe cost approx. $2 per batch.

  16. Amy says

    Hello, I live in Italy (my husband is in the Air Force), well I really want to make my own soap but the BX doesn’t carry Zote, and when I asked them about it they looked at me like I was a crazy lady.. Nor do they carry Fel Naptha or the washing soda.. Is there any other ways to making soap? I use Arm&hammer soap now and I want something that has a smell that last on my clothes. I love the smell of Gain but I can’t use it, If I do… well lets just say it gets ugly! Thanks for sharing all of this neat stuff with us!
    Amy

    • says

      @Amy, We have used Fels Naptha soap, but also Ivory (any soap will work). I find personally that washing with cold water makes it less effective (but maybe that’s just me!). I would see if maybe someone stateside would send you the Washing Soda – as all the research I’ve read says you NEED it. I’ve been using a form of this recipe for almost 2 years now and LOVE it!!
      http://moneylessmomma.blogspot.com/2009/10/laundry-soap-recipie.html
      Jessica´s last blog post ..Twice-baked potatoes

    • Tara says

      @Amy, I have read that you can bake your baking soda in the oven and when heated it raises the ph level, turning it into washing soda! you just have to keep it stored in an airtight container. Something about the air will turn it back into baking soda. I haven’t tried it yet, but google it for the exact instructions ! I can’t remember the measurements!

  17. says

    I’ve been using Ivory bar soap in my homemade laundry soap and it works well. My son was prone to breaking out in hives from many commercial detergents, but he has never had a problem with the homemade stuff made with Ivory soap. I’ve also found that adding a little Oxi Clean to the white load helps too.

  18. says

    I have been making my own detergent for a few months now and love it! 2 girls with sensitive skin + I am a total cheapskate :) I have never heard of this Zote soap though..I use this recipe on my blog (http://barillafab4.blogspot.com/2010/04/1-of-my-least-favorite-taskslaundry.html) but its with only fels naptha, what are the differences in the 3 versions of Zote? just fragrance or more to it? That is the 1 big thing I miss about store bought detergent, the fresh smell of laundry!thanks so much for sharing this & now I will be on the hunt for that Zote soap!

    • Brenda says

      @Nichole,

      Zote gives the laundry a great fresh scent. It has optical
      brightners that makes whites whiter and color brighter.

      I also think it works better then feles alone.

  19. Cathy says

    I use a Parmesan cheese grater to grate my bar soap as it dissolves quicker in cold water, especially for the HE machines. It takes a little more work but just think of the calories you burn.

  20. says

    I have made similar recipes before and have been fairly happy with them. I’ll mention, like Cathy just said, that sometimes the soap takes awhile to dissolve if the water is cold. If I’m using homemade detergent, I’ll usually wash on warm to help the soap dissolve. That probably cuts into the financial savings, but I’m not sure how much.
    Jeni´s last blog post ..WFMW- Baby Steps toward Organization

    • Brenda says

      @Jeni,

      To solve the dissolving problem I run the powder in my
      Blender to make the powder fine. I also dry out the soap
      So it breaks down better. Is also not waxy this and doesn’t stick
      to my blender.

  21. Jill Johnson says

    Ive used one for a few years now that is all the ingred you listed minus the Zote and its liquid! Im excited to try! I like the liquid but did recently here from a person who works for a washing machine company that powder is easier on your machine?! I’ve never noticed Zote though! I’ll be lookin! Thanks for sharing! Cant wait to see what else you have on here to save some money!
    God Bless!

    • Jenni says

      @Jill Johnson,
      I always heard that powders are harder on the machines. The problem, as I’ve heard it, is that the powder residue builds up in the pipes and can eventually clog them. You have to periodically treat the pipes to clean them out if you regularly use powdered detergents.

  22. Gin says

    Does the Zote make your whites change to pink??

    In Oregon I have seen Zote bars in BigLots and in the Mexican grocery stores.

  23. Jenni says

    We have a water treatment system for our home which makes our water extremely soft. Any guidance on how much detergent to use for soft water? We typically use less than half of what is prescribed on the store bought detergents.

  24. Michelle says

    I too have soft water from a water treatment system, how much should I cut the usage. Does anyone know if it’s safe for a septic system?

  25. Gaby says

    I made this today! Super fun. But….I’m still convinced that it’s cheaper to use coupons and buy it unless you can get these 4 ingredients cheaper or with coupons. I made half a batch and it made enough for 32 loads. With the math it cost about $2.50. I got a 52 load Arm and Hammer Free and Clear for $1.99 with coupons.
    Thoughts yo make homemade cheaper?

  26. Lisa says

    Looking for something more natural myself, I started researching homemade detergents. Love the idea of using less chemicals. My sister, who is big on organic and green products and was pushing me to try Borax in laundry sent me this information last night.
    Based on this information, I will not be using Borax. This is just my opinion, but as an expectant mother, I just don’t want to take any chances.

    From the National Institute of Health:

    The infant death rate from boric acid poisonings is high. However, boric acid poisoning is considerably rarer than in the past because the substance is no longer used as a disinfectant in nurseries. It is also no longer commonly used in medical preparations.

    Studies by the EPA have linked it to reproductive problems, kidney and liver problems, nervous system issues, and it is a skin and lung irritant. The other big issue with borax is that it accumulates in your body. So, the more you use it the more toxic it becomes to your body. Chronic exposure is especially harmful in children.

    As far as green, borate is an open-pit mined mineral and borax is toxic to aquatic life. An article by Environmental Working Group’s senior scientist Rebecca Sutton states:
    From Rebecca:

    Borax and its cousin, boric acid, may disrupt hormones and harm the male reproductive system. Men working in boric acid-producing factories have a greater risk of decreased sperm count and libido. According to EPA’s safety review of these pesticides, chronic exposure to high doses of borax or boric acid causes testicular atrophy in male mice, rats and dogs.

    Animal studies reviewed by the EPA indicate that while the female reproductive system is less sensitive to borax, exposure to it can also lead to reduced ovulation and fertility. Borax and boric acid can cross the placenta, affecting fetal skeletal development and birth weight in animal studies of high-dose exposures.

    • Heidi says

      Isn’t it mostly talking about injesting Borax on a daily basis? Or is it dangerous to wear clothing over a long period of time washed in Borax?

  27. Linda says

    I just made this over the weekend, and did a couple of loads so far in my front loader HE machine. Hope it doesn’t cause any problems! I’m excited about using it though, as my clothes do smell very nice and appear to be clean. I use only one TBS per load so far (we don’t get very dirty), and will probably use two TBS in my husband’s work clothes. I use white vinegar in the rinse cycle – any ideas on whether that’s OK or not?? My aim is to try and help cut down on any buildup in the pipes.

  28. Stephanie says

    I have a new baby coming and I’m getting ready to wash his clothes. Do you think it’s mild enough for a newborn?

    • Viki says

      Stephanie, I have used this laundry detergent four my last four babies, and it hasn’t bothered them at all. I usually use the cheapest bar soap I can get, but if it ever gets to be a problem with your baby, I would recommend using something like Ivory or some other really nonsensitive soap. I hope this helps.

  29. Melodie says

    How well does this work for the new HE washers??? Mine is very sensitive and if I even put half of what the load calls for of the HE soaps it says suds on the screen and has to be rinsed and rewashed without soap.

  30. Cari says

    I also use a tub of OxyClean ….
    Also, putting bleach in with any detergent will tend to yellow whites, so it’s better to put the bleach in during the rinse cycle.

  31. Shay says

    I have all the ingredients except for the Zote. Should I substitute with something else or double the Fels Naptha? Or do I just use the washing soda, the Borax and the Fels Naptha ?

    • Brenda says

      @Shay, I use Fells Naptha and castelle soap you can get 3 bars of castelle for 1.70 here. I cant get zote where I am at. It works great for me.

  32. nolimitflush says

    hi everyone in the past I’ve used HE commercial liquid detergent made specifically for HE LG Washing machines . I had to call the repair man twice to clean out my pump because of soap buildup. After this experience, one of my friends gave me a recipe for homemade detergent. She said this detergent was better because there is less sludge and build up. CONCLUSION: After using homemade detergent i realized it worked better then commercial soaps. Ive been using home made detergent for 4 years and haven’t had any issues with my HE washing machine.

    peter

  33. Kelly says

    I have been using a similar recipe for almost 6 months, and I love it. My kids love it as well. My clothes smell very neutral when I take them out of the dryer–not detergent-y or overwhelming. As I said above, I do add oxy clean, so I don’t have as much of a problem with whites getting dingy. They do after awhile, as they did when I used Tide, so I use hot water and soak them, adding an extra scoop of powder, and this does the trick. I only very occasionally bleach. One batch lasted me almost 6 months, and I had given quite a bit away. It cost me about $25 to make. Before, I went through 1-2 jugs of Tide, at $10.99 at the very cheapest if it was on sale, every month. Definitely a savings. Also, several people in my family have sensitive skin and it does not bother them at all.

  34. Amy says

    I came across this blog when I was looking for feedback on powder vs liquid and F-N vs Zote. I used to make liquid with FN and just tried a small batch of powder with Zote. I can tell a HUGE difference in the clothes using the powder w/Zote! It came out brighter, more stains came out, and it smells more clean (if that makes sense). I have to order Zote online because none of my stores carry it.

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