Homemade HE Laundry Detergent Recipe (Laundry Soap)

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Wellness Mama » Blog » Natural Home » Homemade HE Laundry Detergent Recipe (Laundry Soap)

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!

Borax-Free Option

A simple borax-free option (that doesn’t require grating) is:

  1.  2 Tablespoons Sal Suds
  2. 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

How to Make Laundry Soap

  1. Grate the soap using a hand grater or food processor. Grate into fine particles so it dissolves easily.
  2. Carefully mix with the washing soda and borax (use gloves or a spoon as these can by drying if used directly on skin)
  3. Add essential oils and stir.
  4. Store in an air-tight glass jar.
  5. Use 1-2 tablespoons per load. Add 1 tablespoon of oxygen booster if needed… I use this on white loads.

Natural Stain Treatment

small Wellness Mama Stain Treatment Laundry Guide smallHomemade 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! 

This homemade laundry detergent uses coconut oil soap, borax, washing soda, and optional essential oils to naturally clean laundry effectively. HE safe.

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


205 responses to “Homemade HE Laundry Detergent Recipe (Laundry Soap)”

  1. Adrienne Avatar

    I’ve been making laundry detergent using this recipe, and no matter how hard I try I can’t seem to replicate the great results that people are having with their own homemade recipes. The problem seems to be that the clothes themselves appear to be clean, but sometimes certain “heavier duty” clothes retain some smells. I never had a problem with that until I started to make my own laundry soap. I’ve experimented with adding OxiClean just as you have, but the result seems unchanged.

    I use regular white Zote soap, washing soda, and Borax. The recipe I found on Pinterest uses a 2:1:1 ratio, that is 2 cups of Zote for every 1 cup of washing soda and 1 cup of Borax. I’m not sure if this is where the problem lies. Also, because of the smell issue I use an entire Tide cup full of detergent as opposed to a teaspoon or tablespoon, but as I said even with that substantial extra amount, it doesn’t seem to be very potent.

    Any help is greatly appreciated, thanks!

    1. Jennifer Avatar

      I had the very same issues. My towels, workout clothes and nursing gear all still smelled bad. After awhile the smell in my towels was pretty potent. I didn’t find a solution and had to go back to store bought. I tried adding oxiclean and used a large amount of detergent as well. ?

      1. Debbie Avatar

        Maybe try Dr. Bronner’s bar soap that has a scent or add more essential oil? I found the scented soap has helped. I always have an extra large load in a Maytag that is an ancient workhorse, so I upped the amount of detergent to 2 Tbsp per load and dissolve it first in hot water. This combo helped me but the towels and “heavier duty” items do start to smell sooner than with store bought stuff…

  2. Heather Avatar

    How does this work for cloth diapers? I’ve been having stink issues and switched from Seventh Generation to using Tide. *gasp* I want to go back to a natural option and want to make my own. I’ve read on some cloth diaper forums that homemade detergent with borax and washing soda won’t clean diapers because those are essentially water softeners and not cleansers. (that info is from a rather snobby group tho that thinks their routine is the only way). Just wondering if you or any of your readers have experience with this on cloth!

    1. Jennifer Avatar

      I used it with cloth for several months and then went back to store bought eco friendly. It wasn’t cleaning my clothes or diapers well at all. They were very stinky. I would try stripping your diapers and sunning them. Since you have been using Tide you may have to strip a couple times. I use seventh generation on my cloth as well and just strip and sun if we have stink issues. ?

  3. Kate Avatar

    is the essential oil needed for the recipe to work or is it just for smell? I am worried about using the essential oils in it

  4. Bridget Avatar

    Has anyone noticed elastic on their clothes deteriorating after using this soap? We suddenly noticed several elastic bands in clothes have been ruined and the only thing we’ve changed is using this soap. But I have no idea how it would affect elastic?

    1. Leanne Avatar

      Maybe the lemon essential oil? i know if its true lemon it can start eating away at plastic. I remember going to a Do Terra essential oils home party and the lady suggesting using the lemon essential oil in her water but warned about putting it in a plastic bottle because it would eat it. I could be wrong tho. Just a guess

  5. Alicia Avatar

    Thanks so much for this recipe! I just made my first batch yesterday and was eager to try it to today. I’m very pleased with the results so far. I’ve been buying natural laundry detergent for years and I’m so glad to now have an alternative. In addition to saving lots of money by making my own for pennies per load, I’ll also be saving money on utility bills. Previously, I was using a longer wash cycle as well as an extra rinse cycle, but with this much more effective and very low sudsing formula, I’m able to use a shorter wash cycle and only one rinse cycle. This also saves me a whole lot of time, which is important to me! Like others on here, I also have hard water, a septic system and a high efficiency washer, but after doing some research on the ingredients, I have no worries at all about using it. I’m looking forward to trying more of your recipes and suggestions!

  6. Bunny Avatar

    I haven’t made this recipe as of yet, I’m still using my DIY liquid detergent. My question is, when do I add the essential oils into the recipe? It doesn’t mention the oils in the instructions.

  7. Theresa Avatar

    I just made the dry detergent, then noticed comments that it won’t work in cold water. Will it work to put the whole mixture into the steps for the liquid? That’s assuming the liquid can be used in cold water. I have a front loading machine, so disolving as it fills isn’t an option.

  8. Kate Avatar

    Vitacost has kirks Castile soap bars for $1-$1.30 each and they are a great scent free option and much more reasonable than dr bronners at $4 each (though I love the smell of those!)

    Kirk’s Natural Castile Soap Original — 3 Bars

    – SKU #: 639844100081
    – Shipping Weight: 0.89 lb

    PRICE: 4.59 sale price $3.06

    1. K.s. Pierce Avatar
      K.s. Pierce

      I love Kirk’s Castile. It’s inexpensive and no additives or chemicals. My dermatologist gave me a list of soaps I could use, which included Dove. Dove changed it’s formula in the late 90s and began adding several chemicals which I and my family were severely allergic to, without informing the public. We never suspected Dove as the culprit. I was hospitalized several times for the severe rashes and infections. Once we stopped using Dove and switched to Kirk’s, all is okay again.

  9. Patricia Avatar

    Just make this up and looking forward to trying it, but unsure how much to use per load? Thanks!

  10. Sarah Hamrick Avatar
    Sarah Hamrick

    Katie, how many ounces of soap do you use per batch? The recipe says 1 bar. I just made a batch of the coconut laundry soap, and was wondering how to cut my bars the right size to get the amount of ounces needed for a batch. Should I make a 5 ounce bar like the Dr. Bronner’s bars? I just want to make sure I get enough soap in relation to the other ingredients. 🙂 Thanks!!

  11. Melanie Avatar

    I just wanted to comment on this. I made the powdered version and used for about a month in my HE washer then my washing machine started to leak water out the front. A repair main came in and checked my seal and there was a build up of the undissolved soap causing a leak. I recommend trying the liquid version in an HE washing machine.

    1. Nikeva Avatar

      My washer just started to leak today. I’ve been using the powder version of the detergent for almost two weeks. I need to switch to the liquid ASAP. It seems like the leakage is coming from a seam that’s on the front of the washer but below the door. I certainly hope I won’t have to incur a repair bill to fix this problem.

      1. Gabenthad Avatar

        Under the rubber seal on your door is a hole. This hole can become clogged, we had to take the rubber seal off and clean it out. We have a dog and cat and it gets clogged at least once every couple of months. Also when you open the door take a rag and wipe around the window. Hair gets stuck under there as well and ca cause it to leak. Hope this helps

  12. Carleen Avatar

    I used to make my own laundry detergent with a similar recipe but eventually started buying free and clear stuff again-seemed to get smells out better, but I think I mostly just got lazy. I’ll be a new mom very soon so I’m thinking about giving the homemade idea another try. Do you know if this will work effectively/safely for cloth diapering? The special detergents recommended for cloth diapering tend to be expensive-it’d be nice to cut down on the cost!

  13. Chris Avatar

    My daughter (6yrs old) has very sensitive skin. Will this be ok to use for her clothes. We currently have to buy “all clear” detergent.

  14. Mandie Avatar

    How diluted is your bottle of Branch Basics for spot treatments? I love this idea – Tide pens always worked so well; I was a little sad that I couldn’t use them anymore once I went natural. 😉

      1. Jennifer Avatar

        Do you still dilute 3:1 with the new 2X Concentrate? Or more like 6:1? Then instead of 50:50, wouldn’t it be 75:25?

  15. judith Avatar

    Fels Naptha does not contain napthalene, as some bloggers have claimed. It might irritate your skin if you are washing your hands with it, but that’s not what it’s for. I use Fels Naptha bar soap as part of my home made laundry soap. I have an HE washer and have experienced no problems whatsoever with its ability to dissolve. If you feel strongly against using it, use Ivory soap in bar form instead. Here’s the recipe I have used for well over one year with excellent results:

    One four lb. box Baking Soda
    One four lb. box Borax
    One four lb. box Washing Soda
    three grated bars Fels Naptha soap (use a cheese grater)

    I store it in an old cat litter bucket with a tight lid. Use two tablespoons per load. Works well in cold water, which I use for jeans, sweaters, and dark items. Works equally well in hot water, which I use for sheets and towels.

    As far as HE washers “smelling bad.” Don’t shut the door when the washer is not in use. Use chlorine bleach occasionally (I use it for white towels and bath mats). This keeps your washer clean and is not corrosive. I have never had a problem with a bad smell emanating from the washer. Now, for heavily-soiled loads and sheets, I will add a small scoop of BIZ. I have no idea if this is natural and don’t want to know, because it works GREAT. For treating stains before washing, I have some WISK in a small squirt bottle that does the trick 99% of the time. For blood stains, I have some hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle, which I will apply two or three times before putting the item in the wash. I have NEVER had a blood stain not come out.

    I did not know vinegar was bad in a washing machine, and will stop my occasional use of it. I do like to put it in the “rinse aid” box on my dishwasher, however.

  16. Donna Avatar

    Hi Katie, can HE soap be used in a regular washing machine? I love all of your emails. Thank you

  17. Jenn Avatar

    I have used this recipe only the liquid version with liquid Dr. Bronners and I wanted to love it but after a few months my towels smelled weird and so did my cloth diapers. I hated to go back to store bought but nothing I did cleaned them well enough. Any helpful suggestions?

      1. Jennifer Avatar

        Katie, what do you use for fabric softener with branch basics? I’ve only washed 2 loads so far and the first one I didn’t use any softener, the second I used white vinegar in my rinse cycle. I recently got the starter kit and am just beginning with it, but I have noticed that my hands feel a lot dryer than normal…I wash my hands like crazy and usually I use Dawn with Hand Renewal because it’s the only soap that doesn’t dry my hands out from repeated washing. Have you noticed BB drying your skin? I was wondering if I need to start applying lotion every time I wash my hands. I want to try it as a body wash, but I’m scared that it’s not moisturizing enough for me. I washed my face with it last night and it felt dry as well. I really like it as a cleaner though, just not sure about for my skin.

  18. jeanette Avatar

    I have very hard water in the country—I find that the laundry does not come as clean—what can I do

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