We made it!: Homemade laundry detergent

A few years ago, one of my friends who was cloth-diapering part-time and concerned about the phosphates (not to mention the cost) of commercially-made laundry detergent, asked me how I made my own laundry detergent. I always said that I’d write it down for her, but kept forgetting to do so, and time went on even as my recipe was being tweaked. Of course, I certainly didn’t invent it, and merely modified other recipes that I’ve found on-line over the years. But now what I have is a lovely detergent that works well, and has a scent that I can custom make to our family’s liking.

Although many laundry detergents nowadays are phosphate-free, there are still great reasons for making your own detergent. First off, the savings (see below) are significant—2.5¢ per load compared to 10¢-30¢ per load (depending on the brand). Second, making your own detergent means that you can control the amount (if any at all) of scent that go into your clothes. That’s always been one of the things that bothers me about laundry detergent—the strong, cloying smell on your clothes (not to mention the fact that you smell like everyone else who uses that detergent). Experiment with a few different essential oils to get the natural scent that you’d like in your detergent. We prefer citrus scents. Third, believe it or not, it’s easy and fun. It really doesn’t take that much time and effort, and the kids and I love running our fingers through the gel-like texture.

I recently discovered this recipe for laundry detergent on David Suzuki’s site. If homemade laundry detergent is good enough for Dr. Suzuki, it should be good enough for the rest of us. Although his recipe differs slightly from my own, his page has an easy-to-understand how-to video.

Below are my recipes for both liquid and solid versions, along with an estimate on how much it costs per load. (I edited this to take out mentions of Oxi-Clean, since I’ve discovered that that stuff’s not so great for the environment, and is essentially just an expensive version of hydrogen peroxide + washing soda).

Your kids will love running their hands through this!

Homemade Laundry Detergent (liquid)

Step 1:
> 1 bar of soap (Ivory, or any soap that is free of added scents, moisturizers, oils, etc.)
> 2 litres of water

A) Boil water in a large stock pot. While water is boiling, grate soap. Tip: Soap is easier to grate if you’ve frozen it for a bit. You could try to grate soap in a food processor, but some soaps (like Linda’s Laundry Soap) grate well, while others (like Ivory) end up clumping and forming little balls that stick together.

B) Pour soap into boiling water and stir to melt.


Step 2:
> 250 mL (1 cup) of borax (found in the laundry aisle of many grocery stores now)
> 250 mL (1 cup) of washing soda (also found in the laundry aisle)

C) Combine these powdered ingredients into a large container (I use washed buckets that held kitty litter or snow-clearing salt).
D) Pour hot soap mixture into powdered ingredients, and stir to dissolve.


Step 3:
> approximately 14 litres of water

E) Pour 14 litres of water into the above mixture, and stir. Can be used immediately, or let cool and set into a gel (several hours).
Use 125 mL (1/2 cup) per load. I tend to use 250 mL (1 cup) for heavier loads.

Works perfectly in our HE washer.


Homemade Laundry Detergent (solid)

Measure the same amounts of soap, borax, and washing soda as in above recipe. Mix these ingredients together dry, without water.

Use 1 tablespoon per load.


Cost comparison (all prices in Canadian dollars, rounded)

Homemade laundry detergent
Ivory soap, 10-pack: $4.00
Borax, 2 kg: $5.00
Washing soda, 3 kg: $5.00
Water: nominal cost
Total cost: $14.00, yielding enough detergent for 56 loads
= 2.5¢ per load


Store detergent
Cheaper brand: $6.00 for 60 loads, or 10¢ per load
Expensive brand: $9.00 for 30 loads, or 30¢ per load


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