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Laundry detergent is an easy switch from store bought to homemade. DIY alternatives are often just as effective and much less expensive. I’ve shared my Homemade Laundry Soap but this variation is formulated for high-efficiency washers.
I first considered the idea of homemade laundry detergent when a friend’s mom made hers while I was visiting their house 15 years ago (wow, I just felt old!). Once I started doing my own laundry, I experimented with recipes for laundry soap. This HE version is an updated take on my original creation.
Laundry Detergent vs. Laundry Soap
It is important to note that laundry soap and laundry detergent are not the same thing. A soap is by definition a mixture of fats and oils with an alkali or base, like this recipe for crock pot soap that uses a mixture of olive and coconut oils with a lye and water base.
Detergent, on the other hand, is typically synthetic (at least partially) and is typically designed for a specific purpose, such as to dissolve even in hard water or cold water. Most recipes for “natural” laundry detergents are almost always talking about soaps, and recipes for actual detergents are seldom natural.
Since store bought versions are called “laundry detergents,” I’ve opted to call this tutorial a DIY Laundry Detergent recipe, though it uses a soap base.
Natural Detergent (That Works)
Detergents are designed to work in hot or cold water and to clean inside the fibers of clothes effectively. Depending on water quality, some people find that natural laundry soaps don’t work well on their clothes. Others may notice build up or a dingy color over time.
There is one natural cleaner (not technically a soap) that I’ve found is highly effective and that works as well as high-end commercial detergents. Instead of laundry soap, using 2 Tablespoons of Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds per load gets clothes really clean without the added fragrances and harmful chemicals.
High Efficiency Safe?
That is the question I’ve gotten the most in the 100+ comments on my original laundry detergent recipe tutorial. I don’t personally have a high efficiency washing machine but have heard from dozens of readers and friends who do and they’ve used this in an HE washer with no problems.
The main concern with a high efficiency washer is creating too much suds, so a low-suds soap or detergent is suggested. This recipe is low-suds by definition and should be safe for HE, but always check with the instructions that came with your machine to make sure before using.
Safe Laundry Detergent Ingredients
Many readers questioned the safety of Borax in my original recipe. After much research, I (still) feel completely comfortable using Borax in laundry soap and other uses that do not come in direct contact with food. Here’s my take on Borax but do your own research and make sure you are comfortable with it (or any ingredient) before using!
A simple borax-free option (that doesn’t require grating) is:
- 2 Tablespoons Sal Suds
- 1/4 cup baking soda OR 2 Tablespoons washing soda (optional)
Just add those at the beginning of the wash cycle. For an extra boost, add 1/4-1/2 cup white vinegar to the rinse cycle. This step is entirely optional but seems to help keep clothes from pilling and looking worn.
Why Natural Laundry Detergent?
I switched to natural homemade laundry detergent/soap to avoid the harsh chemicals, fragrances, colors, and additives in many regular detergents. It turns out that homemade is also much less expensive and incredibly easy to make! I also started making my own linen spray.
Even if you’re just starting out with natural living and wouldn’t dream of making your own deodorant, laundry soap is a simple switch you can make without much effort and without expensive speciality ingredients.
Laundry Detergent Ingredients…
This homemade laundry soap recipe uses three basic ingredients:
- Borax: A naturally occurring mineral- I get mine here.
- Washing Soda: Also called Soda Ash, this helps remove oils and residue. Available at most local grocers or here.
- Grated Bar Soap: Like Dr. Bronners or homemade. I now use this coconut oil laundry soap recipe for our homemade detergent. Many recipes call for Fels Naptha which works well but has some questionable ingredients so we avoid it. I personally think the coconut oil laundry soap works better anyway.
Optional Add-Ins: I’ve also experimented with adding Oxi-Clean or oxygen boosters to this recipe. I’ve found that they don’t do much good when mixed into the recipe, but can be great when added to especially dirty loads of laundry along with the homemade soap.
Another optional addition is essential oils for scent. I prefer lemon or lime essential oils added to the powdered recipe, though most of the scent is gone after drying.
Clean Laundry: Two Ways
This recipe can be made two ways: as a powder or a liquid. The powder is much faster to make and requires much less room to store, but the liquid is more effective for stain treating. The liquid also seems more effective for those with hard water.
I currently use the powdered version and use other natural products for treating stains (see below). Both recipes use the same natural ingredients, so just pick the one that is most convenient for you. This recipe is my powdered version, and the liquid version is in this post.
Laundry Soap Ingredients
- bar of grated bar soap (homemade or natural store bought)
- 1 cup of washing soda
- 1 cup of borax (or additional washing soda)
- 20 drops of lemon or lime essential oils
- optional: 1 cup of oxygen booster (This one lasts us a year.)
How to Make Laundry Soap
- Grate the soap using a hand grater or food processor. Grate into fine particles so it dissolves easily.
- Carefully mix with the washing soda and borax (use gloves or a spoon as these can by drying if used directly on skin)
- Add essential oils and stir.
- Store in an air-tight glass jar.
- Use 1-2 tablespoons per load. Add 1 tablespoon of oxygen booster if needed… I use this on white loads.
Natural Stain Treatment
Homemade laundry detergent works well, but it won’t work as well as chemically formulated stain-release and cold water formulas from the store. I keep a variety of natural stain treaters in my laundry room and use them depending on the stain.
This post has the full list of natural stain treaters and a printable chart to keep in your laundry area.
I also keep a small bottle of diluted Sal Suds in my purse for immediate stain treating on the go and it has worked really well. Even on wine. And mustard. Or red clay from the baseball field. And… well, you get the idea.
Bottom Line: Which to Use
Confused by all the options above? Here’s a simple way to figure out which method will work best for you:
Simplest Natural Option
Want the fastest & easiest method with no extra work required? Do this:
- Use 2 Tablespoons Sal Suds (here’s where I get it) per load just like you would a regular laundry detergent
- Add 2 Tablespoons washing soda or 1/4 cup baking soda if you want to for an extra boost (you can actually do this with any laundry soap or detergent)
- If you’re feeling like an over-achiever, add 1/2 cup white vinegar to the rinse cycle.
- Voilà! Clean laundry!
Inexpensive Natural Option
Want to save money and avoid the harmful ingredients lurking in many traditional laundry detergents? Use the Laundry Soap recipe above. Just note that it may not work for all water types and you may need to experiment with soap/washing soda combinations and ratios to find out what works best.
Favorite Pre-made Laundry Detergent Brands (More Expensive but Convenient!)
Homemade may be the least expensive way, but over the years as life has gotten busier, I’ve often bought my laundry soap. Here are some of my favorites:
- My Green Fills Laundry Detergent – Smells fantastic, works well on dirt and stains, and cuts down on plastic waste with concentrated refill packets so you can reuse the same bottle.
- Ecover Zero Laundry Detergent– Works well, relatively cost effective and low/no risk of developmental or reproductive toxicity and cancer according to the EWG.
- Emma Eco Me Detergent – Also rated well by the EWG and cleans up to 64 loads for $12. Good scents.
- Planet Natural Detergent – Relatively eco-friendly and cost effective at $9 for 32 loads.
- Branch Basics – Not only is this a great for laundry, it is also a basic cleaner that you can use around your house. Multiple functions in one!
Obviously, the most frugal option is to make your own, but these natural alternatives are a good choice if you aren’t able to make your own or don’t want to.
Best for Really Hard or Soft Water
If you have really hard or really soft water, the Sal Suds method above may be the best bet.
Do you make your own laundry detergent yet? Will you consider starting now? Share your experience and recipe if you already do!
Discussion (198 Comments)
I think I’ll try this one! I already have all of the ingredients at home. I like that this recipe is in a smaller quantity, so I can try it out first, without having to commit to a huge quantity. I’ve been on the search for a safe laundry detergent for some time now, we have very sensitive skin at my house. However, my boyfriend is a welder and I haven’t found ANYTHING that gets the stains completely out of his clothes.
I was making my own for awhile, but then the laundry started conf out smelling funny. We have a front loader, any thoughts? I would love to go back to homemade but can’t have stinky laundry.
I just heard about front loading washers and MOLD!! People were commenting that there washers were stinky, and this was the reason. Please check this out as we all know how dangerous mold can be.
Sarah, do you think you might have some mildew in the washing machine and/or the rubber seal? We use a front loader too and unless everyone leaves the door open after a wash, mildew begins to build. I have run it empty with white vinegar and used a white vinegar wash to scrub the door and seal, which has worked for me.
Please, please don’t use vinegar in your clothes washer. It will destroy it! Vinegar is a corrosive. It will destroy your washer. The previous owner of our home ran them. One day, my washer drum collapsed. When the repair man came he showed me the drum which was completely rusted out. It looked like Swiss cheese. He asked if I had run Vinegar cycles. I said no b/c I knew it was bad. Thanks to the previous owner it cost me over $700 fix. Use bleach to clean your clothes washer or a cleaning product made for clothes washers. You CAN use Vinegar in your dishwasher. Your dishwasher IS designed to take corrosive food. So you can use it to clean it. Please save yourself hundreds and don’t use vinegar.
I would recommend checking with the manufacture. It could be the age of your washer that was why vinegar was an issue. We have a 2 yr old washer/dryer pair and when we had warranty service for a sock stuck in the filter (we didn’t know the at the time toddler size socks could get sucked into the machine woops!) and our tech said he recommended vinegar as fabric softener over commercial softeners in our machine. And to clean the machine as well. He also talked about using small amount of laundry soap, smaller than is recommended by the manufacture and soap companies because it’s too much for the machine, even with an HE washer. He tossed a clean towel through the rinse cycle and got suds. We were using the recommended amount of commercial detergent.
I’ve been using a cup of vinegar at in the rinse cycle for about a year and a half with no problems. A cup in a big tub of water couldn’t possibly harm metal. I also rinse my hair with it and it’s a stronger solution than that, no problem. If it could destroy a washing machine, I’m afraid I wouldn’t have any hair and probably some holes in my scull.
I read vinegar can rust your machine. Well that explains why our machine was all rusty. I was using the vinegar cause it was suggested you run the machine once with vinegar and another time with baking soda. This is supposed to help get rid of that new clothes smell. It did not really help much to get wide of the smell, so why bother. We have a new machine and I am not going to use vinegar it this new one.
It is entirely possible some vinegar was spilled near the lid because that is were the rust was gathering
I am using enviro one as a laundry detergent. I read this can also create problems.
I was using vinegar instead of a dishwasher rinse aid. It did not help much, and again I stopping using it because of possible rust problems.
I am going to begin to look for a safe rinse aid, or try to find a natural recipe for one. Our dishes come out with dish washer detergent on them, no matter what detergent we use.
I have used vinegar as a softener for about 7 years and have never had a problem. My washer is sparkly clean with no mold or mildew problems. I think the vinegar helps keep it clean. I do leave the washer door open to air out after each load though.
It most likely isn’t the soap, but the rubber gasket around the door that is the problem. It holds water/moisture after each load and if not cleaned out regularly, will begin to produce mold. Also, check out the ‘drawer’ that you normally put the soap and additives in, it gets mold on it, too ( funny, that something that SOAP goes into gets dirty!) these should be cleaned every few loads or so, to avoid having heavy buildup that is nearly impossible to clean once it gets there.
Rub the gasket with a dry rag after each load, and I put a few drops of tea tree or lavender essential oils on it between loads of laundry. I never was able to get the mold from the drawer off fully because I didn’t notice until it was pretty ingrained and even with a toothbrush after removing it, was not able to get it all off, or off of the underside and the machine where it came into contact. I stopped using it, and just threw the soap in with the clothes, and since I don’t use bleach, it was fine. I did however use it to put my vinegar in for softening/soap removal in the rinse cycle, since I don’t use dryer sheets or commercial softeners.
Front loaders are nice, but they do have drawbacks, and the gasket and ‘detergent’ drawer are two of them.
You need to add a maintenance wash to your routine. Every month or so you should put the washing machine on a boil wash cycle (90° or 95°) with detergent but no laundry (you may need to do this more than once) – the high temperature will kill any lurking bacteria.
Alternatively you could run a wash cycle, again without the laundry, with soda crystals. These are excellent for removing any hidden causes of odour, grease and calcium build up. Word of warning though – if you live in a hard water area and have an old machine calcium deposits may have built up in the hoses. These slowly rot the pipes from the inside out so that, when the soda crystals break them up, you might find you have sprung a leak!
I have been using the naturally detergent know for couple of months and noticed that I have a 3 to 4 inch ring around the top of my wash machine of what looks like soap scum. I try to clean it off yesterday with a toothbrush and used everything in my house to try to cut through it and knocked it down about half of what it was this is only occurred since I’ve been using the laundry detergent I haven’t Kenmore wash machine. Any ideas about why it’s happening and what I am in the recipe might be doing it?
I add about a tablespoon of baking soda to individual loads (or half a cup to the recipe above) and it takes care of odors on my clothes AND in my washer 🙂
If you put fabric booster crystals in the Homemade laundry detergent or you can put a gallon of fabric softener in your detergent but again my opinion is that crystals makes it smell awesome you can get them at Dollar tree 3 for $3 and that’s all you will need or Dollar General Fred’s or Walmart it will just be higher thanks have a nice day
Kind of defeats the purpose of a “natural” laundry soap though if you’re using crystals chock full of nasty chemicals.
Oh wow Katie! So you use Heather’s coconut oil soap for laundry!? I just made her coconut oil soap for bathing and I love it! I want to make her laundry soap soon! Oh and thank you so much for the referral for the oxygen booster! I have been looking for one that is not as harsh as some other name brands, because even though I love my homemade detergent, my whites are not as white as my clorox bleach days. Do you use it on plain whites or whites with a bit of color print on them? I am going to order this now! thank you so much!!
About how many loads would u say a recipe of the homade laundry detergent makes? I’ve really been looking into it but would like to compare loads as well with it ! Thank you 🙂
I made a batch of laundry detergent on Feb.4, 2015 and I am just getting ready to make a new batch. I used :
1 box 20 Mule Team borax
1 box of Super Washing soda
1 4lb box of baking soda
2 bars of Zote soap
3 bars of Fels-Naptha soap
(I use a lemon zester for the bar soap. It is extremely fine and dissolves easily.)
* I use 1 to 2 Tablespoons depending on the size of the load and how dirty.
Love this detergent. Saves a lot of $ and is mild on the skin. My skin is very sensitive and I have had no problems.
On the link for making coconut oil soap (mommpotamis) she uses lye in her laundry detergent, why don’t you? Does it work as well on smells and stains?? Thanks
Katie - Wellness Mama
In this recipe, I’m recommending using her soap in the detergent (not coconut oil by itself!!!) Her post has a recipe for coconut oil soap and coconut oil laundry soap. I use the coconut oil laundry soap.
I’ve never seen it mentioned, so I’m mentioning it. There is a brand of soap out called KIRK’S Original Coco Castile. It is manufactured in Kentucky, USA. The ingredients are: Coconut Soap, Water, Vegetable Glycerin, Coconut Oil and Natural Fragrance. It’s sells in three packs at grocery stores, dollar stores, Wal-Mart and some drugstore chains. I’ve never seen it advertised, but it is a very pure castile soap with no chemicals. The price usually ranges from $1.99 to $4.00 for the three bars, so it’s not as expensive as some of the other “pure” or castile soaps. I find it just as good as the more expensive brands and it saves making your own. Pick up a three pack and try it on your skin and you will love it. It works great making the homemade laundry detergent too. I and my family have lots of allergies and lots of sensitivities and we’ve had no allergic or sensitive issues whatsoever with it. I hope you find it, love it, and are able to use it. It’s certainly priced right too. Hope this helped make someone’s life a little easier.
bIG Lots has it on clearance for $.75 per bar!
In your recipe for the laundry detergent above – you say to use 1 bar of soap…how many ounces should this be? I just made soap for the first time using the link you provided for Mommypotamus and I cut them into bars…but they are all different sizes.
About 5 ounces…
Thank you so much!! PS – your site is amazing and is such a life changer for me!
I have been using the borax/washing soda/grated bar soap for over a year now, but my washer is a REALLY old and awesome Maytag. The problem is that the bar soap doesn’t dissolve completely and gets caught in all the plastic mesh of my filter. I have used Ivory and Dr. Bronner’s. Any ideas? I was wondering if making my own soap would help or dissolving the stuff in hot water before adding to the machine. I do grate it finely… Thanks!
I also use grated Dr. Bronner’s bar soap and washing soda for my laundry soap which I’ve also found doesn’t work well in cold water. Before adding the clothes, I turn my machine to hot water and once it gets hot, I toss in the laundry soap under the running water which dissolves it almost immediately. After a couple seconds, I turn it back to cold and add the clothes. I haven’t had any issues since doing that.
I have tried that, but it still doesn’t fully dissolve. I think I may have to dissolve it separately and dump it in to see if that helps. It isn’t a big deal, but gets clogged eventually and is hard to clean. Thanks!
You can try the recipe for “awesome laundry sauce”. It uses the same ingredients, but is a concentrated liquid. I love it!
Which laundry sauce recipe do you use? There are many versions when googled? Thanks
That’s why I make the liquid soap. I love it.
Debbie, I take the wrapper off my Fels Naphtha and let it dry for a couple of day. I then cut it into chunks and put it into my Ninja blender, a few chunks at a time, with a couple spoons of one of my powdered ingredients and it blends it into a fine power and just add it in to the other ingredients. No problem with it dissolving. I use a recipe that I found online. The batch has lasted me 8 months already. I think I paid about $30.00 for the ingredients. I just helped my daughter make her first batch. I have used the liquid and powder and I love the powder. Less storage problems and less mess making it. I am ready for a new batch now.
When and where do you put your dry powder in washer? Do you put it in with clothes?
Must Barbara! ‘Cus HE is liquid.
Please tell what recipe and items you use for soap that lasts 8 months for thirty dollars. Was it this one posted or another? And what is fels naphtha ?
I use an old food processor(only for the laundry soap) to mix the washing soda and finely chop the bar soap at the same time. Using the washing soda helps the bar soap grate up very fine and that helps it dissolve faster in cooler water temperatures.
What are your thoughts on soap nuts?
I have used them before: https://wellnessmama.com/7553/soap-nuts-laundry-care/
I have made my own laundry detergent for well over a year now and will not go back to store bought!!! Recently, we got a HE washer, and I have no problem using the homemade detergent!! I got sick of measuring, so I use an empty covered bucket, Into that bucket, I use 1 box of borax, 1 box of washing soda, one small container of off brand oxy clean and 2 grated bars of castile soap. It lasts my family of 4 well over a month. My husband is a chimney sweep and this soap gets out all of the soot off his clothes and the white tarps we use to protect the customer’s furnishings/floors!!
How much do you use per load?
1-2 tbsp. per load
“5.Use 1-2 tablespoons per load. Add 1 tablespoon of Oxygen booster if needed… I use this on white loads.”
Isn’t that to small of amount? Does it vary with how much clothes you put in?
No, this stuff is concentrated. No fillers. Not 95% water. You can double the amount if the clothes are super dirty.
Does it suppose to make bubbles or subs?
Thank you so much! I’ve been looking for a recipe that uses the whole box of those items!!!
Just had our HE washer serviced due to a scraping sound when it was running. The man told told us it was the oxy clean we were using. It degrades the steel. Just though I would share that.
Does it have to be washing baking soda? or can it just be regular baking soda?
If you bake the baking soda in your oven it then becomes washing soda
Laundry detergent is one thing I don’t bother making myself. I have been so very happy with Molly’s Suds laundry powder. It’s all natural and non-toxic… and it works great! I find it affordable too! I use white vinegar in my rinse cycle. The Molly Suds dryer balls work great too. I like to add a few drops of essential oils to the dryer balls, for a nice smell. Lavender oil smells great!
Yes! Just the kind of recipe i’m looking for. Goodbye all other laundry detergents.
Does the mixture have to be gel-like to be efficient. I use the liquid Castille soap instead of bar soap shavings. Is that ok?
Hi, have you been using the liquid castile soap in the homemade laundry detergent? If you are, has it been working for you?
I felt it was important to let DIY’ers know something I just found out. Apparently, pathogens will STAY on your towels, even if you wash them! It is recommended that compromised towels (kitchen towels that got any chicken juices, bath towels that might have come in contact with some sort of skin infection like an eye stye, etc) should be washed with BLEACH, hot water, and a hot dryer. For a bit more info, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdnS2NO0wm0
This is NOT my video. I just found it, and I’m trying to let people know.
Oh dear Jen, don’t start a panic just because you have learnt something new about your hygiene standards today. Towels are not the only item in the wash likely to harbour germs. Underwear, outerwear and bedding all have the same potential. Common sense dictates that anything likely to have picked up an infection be treated accordingly.
Chlorine bleach is harmful to the environment – in production, in use and in waste. Bad enough when used on its own, it can prove lethal in combination with many common household products.
Most DIYers use combinations of vinegar and/or soda to more than adequately combat the majority of situations involving germs. Where these cannot cope then hydrogen peroxide is a far safer (and much kinder all round) control.