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.


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

  1. Beth Avatar

    What would you recommend as a complimentary natural fabric softener? I’ve noticed that my clothes feel kind of rough when just using this kind of laundry soap.

  2. Brunine Avatar

    I’ve noticed that if you grate the soap and then leave it in a bowl overnight (or a few hours, or days lol) the soap shreds get dry and then you can put those in the food processor and grind them. Then the soap is a powder, and I bet dissolves much easier.

  3. Linda Avatar

    Just wondering if the liquid form will grow harmful bacteria or mold? I made my own laundry soap years ago and read something about mold growing in the detergent that scared me off so I started using commercial detergents again.
    I wanted to try it again however so I made this recipe again last week and am hearing again about mold and bacteria. Is this true and how long will this detergent safely last?

    1. Jennifer Bowen Avatar
      Jennifer Bowen

      If you made the dry laundry soap, then you don’t have to worry about mold. It sounds like you made this recipe but in liquid form. I used to use the liquid, but then you have to melt it and store all of that liquid….now I make the powder recipe and you can just melt it in hot water in the machine if you REALLY want the liquid. I use it with cold and warm water and it works just as well in both temps. I LOVE this powder recipe!!! I was never totally satisfied with my homemade detergent in the past (made 3 different batches, liquid and powder) because I never felt like it took all the smells and stains away. Now I use this HE recipe which is a 2:1 ratio (meaning I have twice as much soap as my other powders) and now it works soooo well at removing smells and stains and I don’t even have to use bleach! Try the powder if you haven’t, it’s much faster to make and takes up much less space!!!

      1. Kimberleigh Avatar

        Jennifer, would you please include your exact recipe for the detergent you make? Thanks!

  4. Jeen Avatar

    Thanks for all the great ideas for making laundry detergent. I can’t wait to try a recipe. I have noticed comments regarding a bad smell coming from your washing machine. Clothing coming out of the washer had an odor too. I have a front loader washing machine and had the same problem. The odor occurs because of mold or mildew in your washer around the rubber ring on the door. My repairman suggested the machine be cleaned out. There is a product sold to clean out your machine. It is called Glisten Washer Magic and can be used on any washing machine. I bought the Glisten at a Maytag store. Just follow the directions and use it periodically. Or you could also run a wash cycle (nothing in the washer) with hot water and bleach to help clear out the smell. It is important to clean out the rubber ring around the door. I leave my washing machine door open when not in use so it has a chance to air out. Using energy efficient detergent helps to alleviate the odor problem in the washing machine. Hope this is helpful. Thanks. Jeen

  5. Debbie Avatar

    I have found that grating the bars in the food processor, then switching to the “s” blade and mixing it with the powder that way makes tiny bits of soap that dissolve much better. I also add the detergent at first with HOT water at least for a while and stir it a bit until I can see it dissolving. Then you can change the water temp as needed and let it agitate a bit before adding all the clothes. This has stopped my plastic filter from becoming clogged with bar soap particles!

  6. Lacey Avatar

    Hi there- I’ve been using this recipe for a year and a half and it was working great for us! Unfortunately, the bar soap (maybe?) portion was causing some clogging as it was clumping together in the machine on the way to the drum. This then resulted in some leaks! 🙁

    I’m going to have to find a liquid alternative. Just an FYI!

    Thanks for the recipe & the website!

    1. Linda Avatar

      The obvious solution to that is to place the detergent directly into the tub with your washing. Alternatively you could water it down before pouring the mix into your soap dispenser. The alternative I personally chose to go with was to turn it into a laundry sauce. The blending creates a very smooth cream that dissolves very easily when added to water. It also becomes much easier to recombine if or when the original blend separates.

      1. DeGala Kimble Avatar
        DeGala Kimble

        I have had problems with the creamy soap doesn’t desolve well not comfortable using but will try again. It is on top of water

  7. Ellen Avatar

    Hi. I am in the midst of making this HE laundry soap for the first time. I have used one cup of Borax and one cup of Washing Soda plus two tablespoons of Baking Soda. I have finely grated a 5 ounce bar of Dr. Bronner’s soap, which measures about 1 and 2/3 cups or so. Just want to be sure that that is not too much soap when combined with the amount of Borax and Washing Soda in the recipe. Appreciate your advice and the recipe!

  8. Jennifer Avatar

    Hi, I’ve made homemade detergent off and on over the years, but recently was inspired to do so again. While looking up recipes to refresh my brain, I came across your site and saw your mention of Branch Basics. I just got my starter kit in today and I am TOO excited to start cleaning with it! I am overjoyed with the thought of one soap to do it ALL and the fact that it is all natural just thrills my soul! I’m getting ready to do my first load of laundry with BB, and we’ve already cleaned the bathroom, washed our hands with it (of course) and cleaned some spots off of the counter. I hope that it blows me away and we can rid our house of all of our toxic cleaners!

  9. Drea Avatar

    On a previous post for laundry detergent you recommended 2:2:1 ratio and using 1/4 cup per load for the powered detergent. Here it looks like 1 bar of soap, 1 cup Borax, 1 cup washing soda and using only 1-2 tbsp per load. Which do has worked better and do you recommend? Thanks so much!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      They both work well. This one simply produces fewer suds, which is necessary for an HE washer, but not a concern for regular washers. I recommend using the detergent that is appropriate to your machine.

  10. crystal Avatar

    I have not had any luck with keeping my HE laundry machines working. We JUST bought a new one and the guy said that I HAVE to use the soap with the HE symbol on it. He was horrified that I make my own soap and said that it will ruin this machine. Something about “clogging the gasket” or something. Anyone have any advice on this? I saw that you addressed the HE issue in this article, but I am not worried about too sudsy, I am worried about breaking a machine I can not afford to buy again. Also, let me add that I love this soap and have been using it for a long time so I do not want to stop. I was wondering if I should put it directly in the load or continue putting it right into the powdered soap slot?

    1. Vicki Avatar

      Crystal, I have a friend that makes her own detergent and has convinced me to do so as well. Last summer I bought Persil (German made detergent) from Amazon because of reviews. It does not specify HE but does say to reduce amount of detergent for front-loaders and to apply detergent to the wash basket first, before adding clothes. That has worked very well with Persil, so I figured I would try with my homemade detergent also.

  11. Olga Avatar

    Does this make you itch?? Or irritate the skin? Is safe for babies??

  12. Heather Avatar

    Is it safe to use bleach with the above Laundry detergent recipe? I use bleach for my husband’s whites and I want to keep doing that if it won’t react badly to the homemade laundry detergent/soap.

  13. Su Avatar

    Hi there,

    I have a HE front load Washer, how to I add essential oil into my wash load? Do I just add drops of the oil into the liquid detergent dispenser? Pleas advice. Thank you kindly.

  14. Janice Ma Avatar
    Janice Ma

    Hi, wondering if there’s a big difference between Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap (the liquid) and the bar soap? I live in Hong Kong so it’s hard enough already finding the other ingredients. I already have 2 big bottles of Dr. B’s that I bought back from the States, so hoping I could use that.

    1. jolene Avatar

      Have you found out yet if we can use the liquid castile soap in the homemade laundry detergent? I see nobody ever replied to your question comment. 🙁

  15. cid Avatar

    I have heard that the essential oil or oil in the bar soap can cause oil spots on the clothing during laundering, is that true?

  16. sindhu Avatar


    I tried your receipe but my problem was , the powder got very hard after 3 to 4 days. It was very difficult to scrape and use it. Did any one face the same issue ? how do i resolve this ?


  17. Debbie Avatar

    So, is it liquidy – does the powder dissolve in that much liquid soap? Thanks!

  18. Michelle Avatar

    I’m lazy and use Dr Bronners Liquid Castille soap instead of grating a bar of soap, it seems to work just as well and allows me to be lazy and just combine a cup of everything in hot water and stir.

    1. jolene Avatar

      Oh! Great! Thanks for sharing that you use the liquid castile soap instead. So glad to hear it works for you since I was interested in doing the same thing. How exactly do you mix it? Do you add everything to hot water and stir and then store it like liquid laundry detergent?

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