Grit Blogs > City Gal Moves to Oz Land

Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

A photo of Oz GirlWhen I moved to Kansas almost 2 years ago, my love for our beautiful rural area encouraged me to think of ways to live more gently on the land and to leave less of a footprint, especially where chemicals are concerned.

I must admit I find myself on a roller coaster where being environmentally “green” is concerned ... one day I want to be more economical and more environmentally conscious, and other days I feel like it’s too much effort. So I won’t lie, it can be a struggle at times. Sometimes it’s easier to revert to what appears to be easier. Honestly, if you really think about it, using prepackaged detergents and cleaners is not EASIER (and it’s definitely NOT cheaper!), it is simply that we have become accustomed to buying many of our home cleaners “off the shelf,” for the sake of perceived convenience. I believe that if we can adjust our habits, then those new habits will eventually become the “new” easy. And we’ll feel really good about it too. A big bonus.

There is no shortage of recipes for all types of home cleaners on the internet. But let’s start with something simple. I feel that this particular challenge is possibly one of the easiest first transitions to make.

I am going to give you a recipe to make your very own homemade laundry detergent. And if you are saying “I don’t think I’m inclined to make my own laundry detergent,” well, then, I’ll give you some tips later to save with what you ARE using.

First, the recipe:

  • 4 cups of water
  • 1/3 bar of cheap soap (Fels Naptha), grated
  • 1/2 cup washing soda (not baking soda)
  • 1/2 cup of Borax (20 Mule Team)
  • 5-gallon bucket for mixing
  • 3 gallons of water

Washing soda and Borax

Tips:  You can use Fels Naptha or any regular bar soap for the cheap soap. Washing soda and Borax can both be found in the laundry aisle at your grocery store. (Usually.) Except at Walmart in Kansas. What the heck??!

First, mix the grated soap (I’ll be using Lever, since we have a bunch of it) in a saucepan with 4 cups of water, and heat on low until the soap is completely dissolved. Add hot water/soap mixture to 3 gallons of water in the 5-gallon bucket, stir in the washing soda and Borax, and continue stirring until thickened. Let the mix sit for 24 hours, and voila! homemade laundry detergent.

Yep. That’s it.  Simple, huh?

Or, if you prefer powder detergent, it’s even easier:

  • 1 cup grated Fels Naptha soap
  • 1/2 cup washing soda
  • 1/2 cup Borax

For light loads, use 1 tablespoon. For heavy or heavily soiled loads, use 2 tablespoons.

The savings?? You can save 90% of the cost of store-bought by making it yourself. Total cost per load? In the neighborhood of 2 cents. Store-bought detergent, depending on what you buy and where you buy it, can cost about 20 cents per load – 10 times more.

(I’m buying the washing soda and Borax as soon as I can find it somewhere here in the land of Oz, so I will let y’all know what I think of homemade detergent once I’ve had the opportunity to mix my own and try it out.)

Now, here’s another novel idea that’s been hashed out in the public biosphere:

Is detergent even necessary?

Seventh Generation’s co-founder, Jeffrey Hollender, wonders why more people haven’t stumbled upon laundry’s big, dirty secret: “You don’t even need soap to wash most loads,” he says. “The agitation of washing machines often does the job on its own.”

Wow!  Really, Jeffrey, he-who-heads-up-a-household-cleaner-company?  Are you totally serious??  I applaud you for even uttering this statement, when you obviously stand to profit from selling as much laundry detergent as you can!

As it turns out, something that may be even more effective than soap is agitation. Ancient people used rocks and rivers, but your modern washing machine can clean lightly soiled clothes by just pushing them around in water.

So when you think about the way our forefathers did laundry, it does make you wonder: Is the laundry detergent industry a huge sham, just a way for others to profit from our ignorance?? One thing I can assure you: The powers-that-be are surely not unhappy when you use TOO much of your fancy-schmancy concentrated detergent.  Read this recent eye-opening article from the Wall Street Journal to learn more about “The Great American Soap Overdose.”

The blog Funny About Money decided to conduct experiments using only water in their washing machine. Their final analysis? “By and large, all of the freshly washed clothing came out with an odor: It smelled of clean water!”

If washing your clothes in plain ole water just doesn’t float your scuzzy boat, nor do you really want to make your own detergent, here are some other good alternatives:

  • Use half the amount of detergent you normally use.  By and large, you will not see any difference at all – your clothes will be just as clean as when you use tons of detergent.
  • Try one of the new eco-friendly detergents on the market – you’ll use less, and be gentle on our environment at the same time.
  • I highly recommend Method – only 4 squirts from the bottle for most normal loads! And it’s high-powered, plant-based formula is made using 95 percent natural and renewable ingredients. It’s readily biodegradable and non-toxic in use, for skin-friendly clean clothes. I got my 10 oz. bottle of Fresh Air scent (smells extra good!!) at Lowe’s for $7.99 – you can get a $2 off coupon at the Method website.
  • Other eco-friendly detergents to try: Seventh Generation, greenworks by Clorox.

Eco-friendly laundry detergents

Costs for the above alternative detergents:

  • Method, 25 load size, $7.99/btl, 0.3196 cents per load
  • Seventh Generation, 99 load size, $19.99/btl, 0.2019 cents per load
  • greenworks* by Clorox, 60 load size, $7.97/btl, 0.1328 cents per load

*I think the greenworks was on sale at Lowe’s, about $2.00 off.  I think ... can’t remember? Regardless, it’s still the cheapest of the bunch overall.

Ok, y’all, that’s my two cents worth on laundry detergents. There's tons more information out there on the big ole internet, if you need or want it.

I’m really getting into this self-sustainability gig, and it sure makes me feel good to reduce my reliance on Walmart and other big industrial giants.

If you’ve made your own detergent, or dishwashing detergent, or mayonnaise (yes, you can make your own mayo too!), then do tell me about it. I’d love to hear your story!