Making Laundry Detergent–Yes, I’m Serious

I updated my facebook status on Saturday saying that I was making laundry detergent. My fabulous friend Betsy implied some mocking disbelief in her comment, and Dexter’s uncle Matt said, “That’s what you kids are calling it these days? Wow, I’m old!”

I’ve been getting low on detergent, but avoiding buying it again. We’re trying to purchase cruelty-free products, and unfortunately, for cleaning supplies, that often means buying this brand (which is great, but expensive) or make my own. I don’t buy Windex or any other multi-purpose cleaners anymore because pouring some vinegar and water into a spray bottle is ridiculously easy and cheap. It works as well or better, too. My friend Sarah is an expert on green living, and you can read about her going green efforts here and here.

I had heard of making laundry detergent. My scientist grandmother makes her own just for fun! Then Money Saving Mom wrote a post about how to save money on detergent. She suggested things like not committing to one brand of detergent (which is hard if you’re aiming for cruelty-free), using less detergent than recommended (which I already do), and re-wearing clothes that didn’t get too dirty (college was not that long ago…). She also suggested making your own. She featured a video by The Simple Dollar, which I thought was cool since it was made in Ankeny! I watched it and began scheming.

The next time I went out shopping, I bought a 5-gallon bucket, some cheap measuring cups, borax, and bars of soap. I was almost ready! Then I realized that the soap I had bought was bright blue. I bought 12 bars. Luckily we love it because it makes our bathroom smell delightful all the time. But I didn’t want all my clothes to turn blue.

Enter Grandma. I told my grandmother what I wanted to do. She gave my some recipes that she had used and recommended a special laundry bar soap called Fels Naptha. I left the recipes in Des Moines, but luckily remembered the gist of things.

I also struggled with finding “washing soda.” The brand that is most common is owned by a company that tests on animals. It’s the kind of company you can’t escape from because they make everything from toothpaste to peanut butter. I found out that washing soda is actually a fancy name for sodium carbonate, which is also used to change the pH in swimming pools. I found my sodium carbonate in the swimming pool section of Walmart. I don’t really know if it’s cruelty free or not. (I just found out that Borax and Fels Naptha are made by Dial…so that’s a little disappointing. I could have just bought Purex.)

Here’s how things went for me.


My materials: 5-gallon bucket, food processor with grater blade, 2 qt pot, large measuring cup, 1/2 c. and 1 c. measuring cups (not pictured), borax, sodium carbonate (otherwise known as washing soda or pH plus), and 1 bar of Fels Naptha soap (or another soap).

The food processor made grating the bar of soap a snap. I tried using my box grater to get the little chunk left at the top, but gave up and just threw it in with the rest. I decided that “it would be okay” not to use the little plastic insert that keeps things from flying out the side of the processor. I probably should have looked a little longer and used it.

Then, bit by bit, I added the grated Fels Naptha to my quart of boiling water. Be sure to keep an eye on it or it will bubble over.

Also, be careful not to add too much, or yours will clump up really bad like mine did.

I dumped my hot soap-water into the 5 gallon bucket. Then I stirred in 1 c. sodium carbonate and 1/2 c. borax. Then, I added 3 gallons of hot water and stirred. (Simple Dollar says to do the hot water first, then add the soap-water, sodium carbonate, and borax, but I didn’t.)

I put the lid on my bucket, Dexter carried it to the basement, and it sat there for 23 hours to gel. It looks a lot like the fat you see on TV liposuctions.

Here it is in the washer. It didn’t break up and disperse right away like I wanted it to, but it cleaned our clothes just fine! It also doesn’t create a lather, so it’s a little hard to believe that there’s really soap in there. But just try to believe. Or add in a little traditional detergent like my grandma does.

I’m very satisfied with the quality and price of the detergent. Each batch should wash about 52 loads of laundry. The ingredients cost me about $1.90 for one batch (Although you have to buy more sodium carbonate and borax than you need for just one load.) My detergent ends up costing less than $.04/load, which is great considering that a “good deal” is usually around $.10/load. Because this endeavor didn’t end up being cruelty-free, I probably will use up my supplies and not make it again when they’re gone. However, it was fun to try and was a good financial decision. In the mean time, I’ll probably keep my eyes open for good deals on cruelty-free laundry detergent.


5 thoughts on “Making Laundry Detergent–Yes, I’m Serious

  1. I’m pretty impressed by your efforts! I’ve never ventured into laundry detergent. When I first started making our products, we bought a new washer and Jonathan drew the line with laundry soap. Plus, it’d kill out our warranty… which we need and have used already. 😉

    Also, New Pi has 7th Generation on sale for $9.99 for all of April. There was another rebate floating around, but it expired. Bummer. But, I know there should be one on 7th’s site for $1 off. Not much, but $8.99 beats the normal $21.99.

    • Where do you get your soap nuts? I’ve been doing a little research on them and trying to find out what a good price is. Have any solutions for fabric softener or dryer sheets? I’m considering the little blue dryer balls, but haven’t decided. They have some on sale at Aldi this week (I think).

  2. This was the recipe I used to use, however Fels Naptha is not cruelty free. You should try and replace that with Dr.bronners bar soaps. There are also a couple the dollar store sells that are cruelty free. It’s kind of a shame fels naptha isn’t cruelty free because it worked so well with fighting stains. I’ve been trying to find a cruelty free version of fels.

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