How to Make Homemade Laundry Detergent So You Never Have to Buy It Again
To clean clothes, you don't need a detergent packed with complex, smelly and harsh chemicals. Instead, you can quickly mix a few natural ingredients into an effective homemade laundry detergent.
Various liquid and powdered laundry detergents may fill supermarket aisles, but you need to search high and low for an option that’s fragrance-free, lacks harsh chemicals and allergens and remains affordable. Tucked on those shelves, you’ll likely also find the ingredients for homemade laundry detergent. And making your own detergent is a quick and easy DIY project that lets you skip the extras and cut your final cost to a few cents per load.
Buying the individual ingredients and putting them together yourself lets you choose exactly what goes into your laundry detergent. Homemade cleaners can be environmentally friendly too, both in their ingredients and in their packaging. Instead of buying single-use plastic containers of liquid detergent, you can make powdered detergent from ingredients packaged in paper and cardboard and store your final blend in a reusable airtight container.
Before You Start
Choose a soap that’s free of chemicals, fragrance and dyes, such as castile bar soap. Washing soda (sodium carbonate), sometimes sold as soda ash or crystals, is just baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) that has been heated to remove its natural moisture. It absorbs odors and brightens fabrics.
A few optional ingredients boost basic laundry detergent. Borax, a naturally occurring salt, acts as a softener and helps remove stains. However, a high pH makes it potentially irritating to skin, so leave it out if you have sensitivities. Keep the blend scent-free or, if you like a fragrant detergent, look for an essential oil at a local drugstore or natural goods store.
The powders in a detergent mix can be quite fine. If you’re concerned about breathing in the particles, put on a mask or choose a well-ventilated or outdoor space for detergent prep. Directly handling large volumes of the dry ingredients can be more irritating to skin than dissolving them in a load of wash, so pull on gloves before you begin.
It can be difficult to remove the soapy taste from the tools you use when making detergent at home, so you may want dedicated ones for this project.
How to Make Your Own Homemade Laundry Detergent
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This recipe yields about six cups of detergent, enough for up to 96 loads of laundry.
- 1 bar of soap, five ounces
- 2 cups baking soda
- 2 cups washing soda
- 2 teaspoons Borax
- 6 to 10 drops essential oil, such as lavender or lemon
- Cheese Grater: Choose a grater that will give you fine shreds of soap. The finer the shreds, the more easily the soap will dissolve in water.
- Large Mixing Bowl: A large, wide bowl lets you stir the lowest layer of powder into the mix without creating a cloud of particles.
- Half-Gallon Mason Jar with Lid: An airtight lid on a glass jar or other storage container will help prevent clumping.
Step 1: Grate the soap
Using the cheese grater, grate the soap into fine shreds. Measure two cups of soap shreds into a large mixing bowl, storing any extra soap in an airtight container to use in your next batch.
Step 2: Mix in the powders
Slowly pour the baking soda and washing soda into the mixing bowl. If desired, add borax and a few drops of essential oil. Using a large wooden spoon, stir until well combined, using a gentle motion to keep the particles from dispersing into the air.
Editor’s Tip: If you devote a food processor to detergent making, you can create a finer powder with the machine’s grating and blending attachments. After stopping the food processor, let the mixture sit for a couple of minutes, until the dusty powder settles, before opening the lid.
Step 3: Store the detergent
Slowly pour or scoop the detergent into a half-gallon jar and seal it with an airtight lid. Label container and store it in a dry place out of reach of children.
How to Use Homemade Laundry Detergent
On laundry day, measure one or two tablespoons, for a small or a large load, into the drum of your washing machine before adding the laundry and starting the machine. Adding the homemade detergent directly to the washer drum keeps soap flakes from clogging the machine’s dispenser. If you have hard water and notice soap scum, reduce the volume of soap in your next mix.
Homemade Laundry Detergent FAQs
Does homemade laundry detergent go bad?
Laundry detergent won’t spoil, but it can clump and harden. Mixing it frequently in small batches keeps the detergent loose and powdery.
The dryness of washing soda helps minimize the moisture in the blend, but it’s still important to keep the detergent in a tightly sealed container and store it in a nonhumid place. A dry upper cupboard is a better location than under the laundry room sink or on a shelf over the dryer.
Can I use homemade laundry detergent on whites and delicates?
DIY detergent brightens whites and gently cleans delicate clothing, so you can use it on all of your laundry. Adding borax can help tackle tough stains, but as a potential irritant, it may be best left out of detergent for delicates.
Homemade detergent can also be used to pretreat stains, but leaving it on too long might weaken delicate fabrics and affect colors. It’s better to load and start the machine than let fabrics sit overnight against the detergent.