Saturday, February 13, 2010

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Alright it's time to take a poll.  Raise your hand if you hate seeing your hard earned pennies washed down the drain!    It makes me sick when I see a "sale" on detergent for $10 or even $5 for a bottle of laundry detergent.  What a terrible way to spend your money!  I mean, come ON, seriously?!  I could think of a million other things I would like to spend 5 or 10 bucks on.  With a family of 6, the cost of washing things adds.  Well, today folks, you are going to learn just how easy it is to save some money on laundry.  There's no big secret to it, it's EASY!  Can you run a grater?  Can you measure water?  Can you boil something on the stove?  If you answered yes to all those questions, you have my permission to keep reading. 

The ingredients are:
lots of water
2/3 of a bar of Fels Naptha Soap
1 c. washing soda
1 c. Borax

Here's what all the ingredients look like, in case you need a visual aid to go get them from the store.

1.  Get out a 5 gallon bucket for this project.  I raided the garage and came up with several buckets, but chose the one that we use to wash the car with.  I figured that it had to be fairly clean...right?!?!  It also may be helpful to have a lid for your bucket.  If you don't have a lid, don't worry, you can improvise and use some saran wrap and a gigantic rubber band. 

2.  Next, start grating 2/3 of a bar of Fels Naptha soap into a large sauce pan or stock pot.  I like to cut it in half and use a parmesan cheese grater (the kind you crank by hand) on one chunk at a time.  You could use a box grater, food processor, or a knife to whittle it.  Just get the soap shaved up so it can melt easily in water.  If you trust your kids with any of these tools, I would suggest getting them in on the work.  It takes a lot of arm strength to grate this soap by hand. 

3. Now the work gets easier, put 12 c. water with the grated soap and heat it up on medium to medium-high.  Stir it with a long handled spoon.  Keep stirring and smushing until almost all of the soap chunks are dissolved.  I always seem to be left with some really stubborn chunks, but don't worry about them, they just want attention.  Forget about them and get along with the rest of the soap making, we don't have all day!

4.  Add 1 c. of washing soda and 1 c. Borax to your hot soap water.  Stir it until it's all dissolved.  Your water will most likely feel like it's beginning to gel.  This is a good thing.  If it doesn't feel like gel, that's fine too.  It's all the same in the end. 

5.  After everything is dissolved together, put 8 c. hot tap water in your bucket.

6.  Pour the soap/soda/Borax water into the bucket.  Stir.

7.  Next, you have to put in more water.  A LOT of water!  It will be helpful to have a larger measuring cup or bowl.  I used my 8-cup measurer.  You need to add 44 c. water to the soapy bucket.  Stir to make sure that everything is evenly distributed and put the lid/saran wrap on.  Let it sit for 12-24 hours.  That's it, you're done.  If you can't wait, go ahead and use it while it's still warm and watery, I won't tell.

Use 1/2 c. for each load.

Now, I know that a 5 gallon bucket of detergent is intimidating.  You can store it in the garage or elsewhere and just transfer some to an ice cream bucket with a 1/2 c. scoop in it, so that it is easier to handle.  You could also transfer some to an old detergent bottle and just shake it up before each use.

When the detergent is done curing, it won't be liquidy and syrupy like store-bought detergents.  It will be the consistency of hair gel or snot (sorry)...and it will look like snot too (sorry again).  It will also separate some, so just use your scoop to slosh it around a little.  It will be good to go.  The detergent will also not foam or be sudsy in the washer.  This is ok.  Other detergents have glycerin in them that make them suds.  Suds don't actually do anything for the cleaning process, they're there for effect and to remind you that you put soap in the wash. 

I've been told that this homemade detergent is safe for High Efficiency washers, but that it needs to be added in with the clothes, so it doesn't plug up the soap dispenser.  I can't speak for using it this way, since I have an old-fashioned top loading washer that is probably almost on it's last leg. Please use this recipe with caution, if you are protective of your new/expensive/fancy washing machine...I'd hate for you to go against any regulations it has and break your washer with my recipe (not that I think it will break anything, but I'm just sayin').  For the record, I have used this homemade detergent for a couple years and it cleans well enough to keep my clothes smelling fresh and looking clean.  If you have an extra grungy load, just add a little more soap. 


  1. THANKS, Julie. Question for you. Have any of your kiddos had sensitive skin, and if so, how was their response to this soap? Can you email me at (or Facebook) to let me know? I have to use the no-scent, no-dye stuff for Rowan, so I'm thinking it would be alright, but just wondering...

  2. I found a great use for the leftover 1/3 bar of Fels-Naphta makes a great air freshener in the bathroom. It's not overpowering like most plug-in air fresheners.