Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe
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The safety and efficacy of homemade laundry detergent is a very hotly debated topic. In fact, it’s up there with things like canning safety, and possibly religion and politics as well!
Many people claim that homemade laundry detergents are either bad for your clothes, bad for your washing machine, or both. I’ve read many articles that claim homemade laundry soaps and detergents either don’t work (ie. leave clothes looking and smelling dirty), have discoloured people’s clothes (leaving whites yellow and colours looking dull), or left soap residue in the fibres of clothes. Some say it even ruined their washing machines, specifically front loaders and HE washing machines.
Not to mention the many online sources that claim that if your washing machine goes on the fritz during your warranty period and you’ve been using homemade laundry detergent, your warranty will be void.
On top of all of that, borax -a common ingredient used in homemade laundry detergent- has been called into question for safety reasons, as it can be toxic and even deadly if ingested or used indicated on skin.
😱 No wonder making your own laundry detergent is such a controversial topic!
However, I’ve been making and using homemade laundry detergent for about 2½ years now and not only have I never had a problem with the recipe that I use, our clothes are as clean as ever, our brand new (as of three years ago) Electrolux-brand HE front loader washing machine still runs perfectly well and has no built up soap residue (although we do a vinegar rinse once every 50 loads or so… when our fancy washing machine reminds us that it’s time;).
Since we started making our own, we’ve easily saved a few hundred dollars on store-bought laundry detergent, which is honestly the biggest reason why we make our own at home.
I will say, most other recipes I’ve read call for grated bar soap, and this can definitely be a culprit for soap residue, so I’m thinking that the fact that I use liquid Castile soap in my recipe makes a big difference. I’ll talk more about ingredients in a minute, but keep that in mind… Do not substitute grated bar soap for liquid Castile soap, or liquid dish soap for that matter! You will not get the same results and I definitely wouldn’t use either of those ingredients in my own washing machine.
That being said, I’m going to share my recipe with you today, but as a disclaimer I will say you would be wise to check your warranty and do additional research if you’re worried at all about using homemade detergent in your machine. I can only share that this has worked perfectly well for us, and that we have never had a problem with this particular recipe.
I’ll tell you the exact recipe we use and the exact amount we add to each load, and I can say with certainty that we have never had a load come out of the washing machine smelling or looking dirty, and have never had a problem with soap residue gumming up our washing machine (or clothes). But I cannot be held responsible for any adverse results you may experience, just to be clear.
I’m just sharing what works for me and my family, and homemade laundry detergent is something I’ve been asked about multiple times over the years, so I figured now is as good a time as any to share my recipe and experience with you!
How much does it cost to make your own laundry detergent at home?
I wish I was one of those Type-A women who kept meticulous track of everything in her budget and that I had an exact cost per load to share with you, but alas, I am not that woman! What I can say is that I used to use a brand of all-natural detergent called Nellie’s All-Natural, which cost somewhere between $20 and $30 a box for powdered detergent which was meant to last for 60 loads, and I usually had to purchase around 3 or 4 boxes of this detergent per year, which means I spent between $60 to $90 per year on laundry detergent. Keep in mind that I’m also Canadian, so this was in CAD.
When I switched to making my own laundry detergent, I spent about $60 on all of the ingredients up front, but those ingredients have now lasted us about 2½ years, and we still have some ingredients leftover. This works out to around $25 per year (a savings of $35 to $65 per year based on what I was spending before).
Not bad if you ask me! But again, this may also depend on where you live, your currency and how much the ingredients cost in your area (if purchasing them locally).
Regardless, homemade laundry detergent will save you money one way or another.
Is homemade laundry detergent all-natural?
Another reason why I prefer to make my own laundry detergent is because I’ve been on a years-long mission to eliminate synthetic fragrances and chemicals from our home. Store-bought detergents often contain an array of harmful synthetic chemicals including sulfates, synthetic surfactants, phenols and petroleum distillates to name a few. Not to the mention synthetic fragrances that are in most conventional laundry detergents. Those store-bought detergents that smell like “lavender,” “fresh cotton” or a “tropical sunset” are full of synthetic chemicals that stay in your clothes and can cause irritation. I’ve used detergents before where the smell was so strong that it gave me headaches. This concoction of chemicals can be absorbed by your skin as well. For this reason, I switched to an all-natural detergent a number of years ago, but like I said, it still easily cost me between $60 to $90 per year just to clean our clothes. So I decided to start making my own for a fraction of the price and haven’t bought laundry detergent since!
The homemade laundry detergent recipe below uses all natural ingredients, all of which are safe when handled and diluted correctly.
Ingredients in homemade laundry detergent
Different recipes for homemade laundry detergent call for different ingredients. Some of them call for grating a bar of soap. Some of them call for borax while others omit it, and some I’ve seen even call for using Dawn dish detergent (which I wouldn’t recommend due to the crazy amount of suds this can produce –and leak out of your machine– as well as the soap residue it can leave behind).
I also don’t recommend using grated bar soap as this can also leave behind lots of soapy residue, both in the fibres of your clothes and in your washing machine.
Instead, I use Dr. Bronner’s liquid Castile soap, and I’ve never had a problem with soapy residue.
I also use Arm & Hammer brand washing soda, which is similar to baking soda, but has a slightly different chemical makeup which is much more alkaline than baking soda. Washing soda is an 11 on the PH scale whereas baking soda is an 8. The high alkalinity of washing soda makes it a more effective stain remover than baking soda, which is an essential component of a good laundry detergent.
And finally, I do use borax in my laundry detergent, which I’ll touch on in more detail in just a moment.
Borax is also a very alkaline substance (around 9.5 to 10 on the PH scale). Once again, this is what makes borax an effective stain remover, just like washing soda. But this high alkalinity means that even though both of these ingredients are natural, they must be handled with caution and you should avoid touching them with bare skin. This is very similar to using lye in homemade soap: There’s nothing inherently dangerous about making homemade soap or using lye (which is even higher in alkalinity at about 14 on the PH scale), but if handled with bare hands, it can irritate or even burn skin.
Personally we don’t use gloves when making our homemade laundry detergent, but if you want to play it safe then gloves couldn’t hurt.
Otherwise, I do like to add some essential oils to my laundry detergent for a nice scent, but this part is totally optional. Sometimes I omit the oils and just add a few drops of essential oils to my wool dryer balls to add a little fresh scent to my clothing in the dryer.
What is borax?
Borax is a natural boron compound that is mined from mineral deposits that (from the research I’ve done) were left behind from hot springs in places like Death Valley. In fact, according to popular borax brand 20 Mule Team Borax, “U.S. Borax traces its roots to California’s Death Valley, where borate deposits were discovered in 1872. The first 20 mule team hauled borax a sweeping 165 miles through Death Valley in 1883.”
According to the Death Valley Natural History Association website, “borax belongs to a group of boron minerals called borates resembling quartz crystals, fibrous cotton balls or earthy white powders. They originated in hot springs or vapors associated with the outpouring of volcanic rocks such as the colorful formations of Artists Drive. Seeping groundwater formed glassy borate veins in the extinct lake beds of Furnace Creek and has moved soluble borates to modern salt flats such as the floor of Death Valley. There, evaporation has left a mixed white crust of salt, borax, and alkalies.”
While borax is a natural substance, it can be dangerous if ingested and can cause skin rashes, eye irritation, nausea and, if ingested, it can even cause death! But then again, so can bleach.
Borax has also been used as an effective detergent in laundry rooms across North America for decades. The first box I got was from my grandma who used to use it to do her laundry. While it must absolutely be handled with care and caution and kept out of reach of children (we keep ours high up on top of our standing freezer by our washing machine), borax is perfectly safe to use diluted in homemade laundry detergent.
So, now that we’ve got all of those disclaimers and cautionary tales out of the way, let’s move on to the recipe.
How to make your own liquid laundry detergent
To make your own liquid laundry detergent, start by bringing 8 cups of water to a boil.
While your water is boiling, add one cup of borax and one cup of washing soda to a large jug or bucket. I find that a gallon jar is just a little bit too small for this recipe, so if possible use something a little bit larger. We use an old 5 litre vinegar jug and just mix everything in there.
Once you’ve added the borax and washing soda, add one cup of liquid Castile soap, then add 8 cups of boiling water and mix it well to dissolve all the ingredients. (If using a jug, I find it’s useful to use a tea towel or oven mitts to hold the jug and shake it up as the boiling water will make it quite hot).
When it’s well mixed and the ingredients have fully dissolved, add another 8 cups of cold water and mix again.
At this point, you can add some essential oils if you like. I like to use either lavender or Plant Therapy’s Deodorizing Blend. I know moms people who suggest lemon essential oil, but I don’t risk using lemon oil as it has the potential to stain your clothes. Plant Therapy also has their own set of laundry blends if you wanna mix it up!
If using essential oils, I like to add about 50 drops and then mix all of the ingredients together one more time.
Let your laundry detergent sit until it cools to room temperature. It will likely start to congeal to a thick white consistency.
To use, add about ¼ cup of laundry detergent to each load. We have a pre-measured ¼ cup scoop that we use to measure out our detergent, although in all honesty, I’ve been free pouring for about the past 6 months or so.
Do be careful not to add too much though as I’ve read that this can cause the issue of soapy residue!
How I dry my clothes
As a self-proclaimed “homesteader,” I feel like I’m expected to line dry my laundry and love the feel of crisp cotton on my skin, but in all honesty, I don’t. I might start line drying our laundry someday, but I’ll still probably throw it in to the dryer for a quick refresh to soften it up. that being said, I don’t like using dryer sheets for the same reasons I don’t like using conventional laundry detergent: They’re expensive, full of synthetic chemicals and can be harmful to our own health and to the environment.
But I also hate static cling, so I opt for using wool dryer balls instead.
I’ve been using dryer balls for longer than I’ve been making my own laundry detergent for, and they work just as well as dryer sheets but are 100% natural and can be reused over and over again.
Personally, I like to add a few drops of essential oils to my dryer balls before I toss them in with our laundry. HOWEVER, a reader recently informed me that adding essential oils to dryer balls has been linked to dryer fires as the oils can hit their flashpoint in a hot dryer and ignite! So I would definitely caution against this. The dryer balls on their own, however, are definitely worth the small investment up front as they will last for a very long time.
And that’s all you need for your natural homemade laundry routine!
Tell me, what does your laundry care routine look like? Do you line dry your clothes or do you prefer the dryer? Let me know in the comments below:)