January 23, 2012

How to Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

Why would you want to make your own laundry detergent you ask?

I can tell you why I wanted to...I'm sure others have different reasons...

A little more than six years ago, when our second daughter was just a few months old, she began breaking out in hives for no apparent reason. Huge, raised, red hives. They were horrible, and we couldn't figure out why she was having them. We spent significant amounts of time and money going to doctors, getting tests done, filling prescriptions and seeing allergy specialists. And in the end, guess what they told us? NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. Well, not true...they told us she was allergic to peanut butter and shellfish and we should start avoiding both like the plague. I knew, from doing my own elimination diets with her, that she was absolutely NOT allergic to either of those. Ugh.

I did, however, figure out that she was very possibly allergic to Red 40, the artificial food dye. Eliminating that took care of a good chunk of the problem. The rest, I was finally able to attribute to chemicals in laundry detergent. (This whole experience is what originally prompted me to start researching food and chemical use in the first place).

Ok, so that's the main reason. There are others; we'll get to them.

Here's what you'll need for this little project:
1 Cup Borax
1 Cup Washing Soda
1 bar Fels-Naptha laundry soap

All these can be purchased at either Wal-Mart or HyVee.
Honestly, Fels-Naptha is not the MOST "eco-conscious" option because it does contain some fragrance additives. The BEST option would probably be a bar of castille soap, but it's more expensive, and the Fels-Naptha doesn't seem to harm my girls' skin, so for now we'll stick with it.

I probably should have added "food processor" to things you need.
Put the shredding disc on the food processor and shred up the bar of Fels-Naptha.
Yes, it's OK to put soap in something that will eventually have food in it.
Yes, I know it looks like cheese.

This is what it looks like after it's shredded.

Next Step: Remove the shredded soap to a different bowl (I use the ice cream bucket that I keep my finished soap in). Then fit the food processor with the slicing blade and add 1 Cup of Borax and 1 Cup of washing soda. Process for a few seconds just to make sure all the lumps are broken up.

 Add the shredded soap back to the food processor with the powders.

Process all of this together until it reaches a fairly fine powder.

The soap will not process quite as fine as the white powders, but that's OK.

It should look like this when finished.

One of the best things about this detergent is you only need 1 tablespoon per load. Maybe 2 if you're stuff is REALLY dirty. Does it really get clothes clean? Yes, absolutely! I've been using it for about 6 years now and have never had a load come out still dirty. 

I usually make a triple batch. This fills up an ice cream bucket about 3/4 full and last me several months.

Now for the second reason that I continue to make my own detergent: PRICE!
When we were teaching Financial Peace several years ago, I actually calculated it all out and used it as an illustration for class. I'll copy it below (but keep in mind this was almost 3 years ago so the prices may be off).
Borax: $3.36
Washing Soda: $2.38
Fels Naptha Laundry soap: $.98

Total spent on initial ingredients: $6.72
I estimated that I used 1/15 of the box of borax and about 1/10 the box of soda. You only use 1 tablespoon per load (unless it's really dirty), so that measured out to be 30 loads for my doubled recipe. Add the costs together and it came out to 1.57 cents per load.

In contrast, my previous laundry detergent, HyVee brand perfume & dye free, costs $3.00 for a 32 load container (which is still significantly cheaper than most other brands), and that calculates out to 9.37 cents per load. So, 1.57 vs. 9.37 is a pretty significant savings over time.

1. Easy on skin. 2. Easy on the wallet. 3. Easy on the environment. And it cleans well. A win in my book!


  1. Is there a way to make it if you don't have a food processor?

    1. Sarah - I had a friend who just grated her soap by hand with a cheap cheese grater. Then she left it shreds and said it still dissolved. However, even if you had a very small processor so you could at least chop of the grated soap and add it to the powders, I think that would work better than just leaving it shreds.