DIY: Make You Own Laundry Detergent

Thursday, September 3, 2015


I have had some requests to show how I make my own detergent that our household has been using for years.  Yes, we even prefer it to the commercial stuff.

Instructions, video, and more to follow.


So, this recipe consists of 3 ingredients:


You will need borax, washing soda (not baking soda), and a laundry bar (not a body bar.)  All of these ingredients are usually found in the laundry aisle. I have found all three at my local Walmart and Kroger stores.

The two main laundry bars that I use are: Fels Naptha and Zote.  I have heard of people using Ivory with some success, but I have never tried it myself.  You definitely DO NOT want to use a bar soap meant for the body.  It contains extra oils to moisturize your skin which translate to oil spots on your garments in a laundry detergent application.

If using Fel Naptha the recipe is as follows:
  • 1 bar Fel Naptha, grated
  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • Yields about 1 quart
If using Zote, because it's a much bigger bar then the Fels Naptha, I double the other ingredients:
  • 1 bar Zote, grated
  • 2 cups borax
  • 2 cups washing soda
  • Yields about 1.5-2 quarts

Other stuff you'll need: 
  • grater with a fine grate (dedicated to soap, Dollar Tree sells them most times)
  • large container to grate the soap in
  • measuring cup
  • something to mix with or something to shake the detergent up in
  • a container to store your detergent in (1 quart or 2 quarts)
  • funnel if your storage container has a narrow top

Now, for the least fun part, grating the soap:


The soap needs to be as fine as you are able to get it.  I use the tiniest size as seen in the picture above.

I just set the grater on its side inside of a larger tupperware type container so I can grate while I watch Netflix of something.  It usually takes me about 5-10 minutes to grate one bar.

A helpful tip:  Sometimes when you first buy the soap, it is still somewhat soft or creamy.  It will not grate well at all like that.  It will just gum up the grater and leave you wanting to throw things.  So, what I do to make sure that it will grate up nicely is that I unwrap all the bars that I will be using and set them in a basket.  I leave space in between them, and leave them for 2 weeks or even longer to completely dry out.  This ensures that your bars will be nice and crumbly and will make a fine powder instead of a gummy mess of doom.

Once you have that bar completely grated up:

You need to add your borax and washing soda in the amounts listed in the recipe above.  Break up any clumps that may be in there.  Then, mix the fool out of it.

I have a lid for the container that I grate in.  So, I just take the grater out, leaving the soap, and add the other ingredients in and shake it with the the lid.

Then, I use a funnel to put my detergent in a jar like the fancy pickle jar that is shown in the pictures.

Now, you got some laundry detergent! Oh yeah!


The Fels-Naptha recipe makes about a quart, and the Zote makes about 2 quarts or a half gallon.  That may not sound like a lot, but...

You don't need to use near as much of this as you do the commercial stuff.

You only need one tablespoon for a regular load or two tablespoons for a big or heavily soiled load. That's it!  It's mainly, because this stuff just doesn't have any of the fillers that the store bought does.

Given that there is 64 tablespoons in a quart.  You will 32 large loads or 64 small loads out of this one batch.

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Other Things to Mention:

Is it safe for HE?

We have had a front loading HE washer for over 5 years now and have used this stuff almost exclusively.  We add it directly to the drum before adding our clothes in there.  Never had a problem.

It doesn't "suds up" like the other stuff.

It really doesn't.  I'm no scientist.  From what I've read, it's because it doesn't have the extra sulfates and whatnot that the commercial stuff has in it that makes all the pretty bubbles.  Again, not a scientist.

Does it really clean your clothes?

Yes!  We found some great coupon deals for store bought detergent and tried to switch back to it a couple times, but it just didn't do as well as this stuff for us at all.  I have really sensitive skin that reacts to a lot of commercial detergents, and my dad has really dirty clothes with all kinds of stains from the workshop, too.  The homemade always does well for the stains and everything else. 

Which laundry bar should I use?

The Fels-Naptha is more heavy duty and has more powerful stain fighting, but it's a bit harsher.  The Zote is gentler, better for more sensitive skin, and works better for delicate things.

I always have batches with both on hand.  I use the Zote for most things and the Fels-Naptha when I need some extra power.

Is it cost effective?

I think so.  Borax and Washing Soda will run you about $4-5 each nowadays since the price has gone up a bit.  You get 7-8 or more quart batches out of them.  The laundry bars are about a dollar each.

So, to give an easy estimate, one quart batch runs you about $1.25-$1.50 depending on which soap you use for 32-64 loads.

What about fragrance?

I don't add anything else to mine.  I did try the essential oil thing that I have seen some variations suggest.  I found that it didn't work at all, though, and you risk having oil spots on your clothes.

I would say that if you just have to have a strong and long lasting perfumed fragrance to your clothes, then I would suggest things like the Purex Crystals or the Downy Unstoppables to add separately to your load.  I use them for my linens, and they make them smell quite magical. 

Otherwise, the detergent doesn't seem to leave much of a fragrance which I actually prefer for most things.  It's kind of like getting it professionally washed, and it just smells clean.

Does it leave your clothes white?

This recipe doesn't have any special whitening stuff added, and I also don't wear much white.  My dad says that he adds a scoop of an oxygen cleaner to his load of whites such as Oxyclean or the Dollar Tree version that we use more often with pretty good success.

Some people also use bleach, but we don't use bleach in our laundry after we had to get our washer fixed and learned some things.  That's a whole 'nother story for a whole 'nother day.

Well, what if I make it and I don't like it?

Then you don't like it?  Haha!

People do tend to either love this stuff or hate it, especially people that have never made their own stuff before or are convinced that a brand's label automatically means better quality, performance, or something else.

If you just want to try it, then make the smallest batch possible.  Or make a batch to share with some peers.  If you don't have many friends, then put the remainder in a fancy, pinterest decorated mason jar with a cute gift tag and a ribbon and...Boom!  You have yourself a present to give out to score yourself some points with the fancy DIY crowd.

Seriously, not everything is going to work for everyone.  Such is life.

What about a homemade fabric softener to use with it?

I could make a whole separate post, but I'll just put this here.  I don't use commercial fabric softener either.  I haven't for years.  I honestly just use distilled white vinegar.  Yep, vinegar.

It works much better than any of the other stuff we've used.  It doesn't leave a film on our clothes or in our washer.  It doesn't mess with the absorbency of fabrics.  It keeps our washer smelling amazing.  It's also cheap especially when you buy the big jug like we do.

We just add it to the softener slot in our washer.  If you don't have a pre-measured slot like that, I've heard that you should use a quarter to a half a cup per load depending upon how hard your water is.

And no, your clothes won't smell like vinegar.  Seriously, they won't.  Vinegar is awesome stuff.

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Video:



Or watch on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5A80jTm7uCE

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*Not sponsored.  I hate that I have to even put this on just about every post of video that I make now, but shady people ruin everything.

*Also, this is not my original recipe.  We found this years ago in some old 101 DIY book or something like that.  It's a really old recipe.  I don't try to claim that it's my invention like other people have done.

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