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. Lindsay Avatar

    Hi there!
    I purchased Dr. Bronner’s peppermint bar soap for making detergent. Do you think this is safe for washing baby clothes?

  2. Lindsay Avatar

    Thanks so much for your response. I’m new to this, and it’s now sorted out in my mind! I only added Mrs Meyers once it was a liquid. I will redo my mixture. I will have to do a bit more research on the effects of this on septic tanks, as that is what we have.

  3. Lindsay Avatar

    I have just tried making this recipe. Admittedly I changed it a bit… I used the Borax, Washing Soda, and as I had a bit of powdered oxygen cleaner left, I added that. The one thing I added that is not mentioned in this recipe, but is mentioned in other detergent recipes I have seen, is Citric Acid. I mixed the powders together – and when I wanted to use them 2 days later, they were clumped together almost as hard as a rock! I managed to separate most of it, putting it into a ziplock for easy dropping on the floor to separate! The rest I left in the container, and added water. Instead of the grated soap, I added a small amount of Mrs Meyers liquid detergent, and used my hand blender to mix it all together well. I went to use it today, most of it has formed into a thick liquid, but there is a hard layer on the bottom, the granules look fairly large. I broke the layer up and added more water, but the clumps are not dissolving. Do you have any idea what is causing it to clump like this? The only thing that normally gets hard in its box is the Borax.

    1. Jennifer Bowen Avatar
      Jennifer Bowen

      Wow, so much is wrong with you did. First of all, citric acid. Citric acid will cause all of your powders to clump. Normally citric acid is used to make dishwasher tabs or whatever you decide to put them in. Most people put them into molds to form them, because once you add the citric acid it makes the mixture so hard that you can’t scoop it. For this reason some people don’t even add the citric acid to the mix until the day they are ready to wash dishes and they put the citric acid in there separately. So I never use citric acid in my laundry detergent. Second, you can’t add liquid soap to a powdered soap and it still remain a powder. If you want to use liquid soap, you need to make the liquid recipe for soap. If you want to make powdered detergent, you have to grate the soap. There is no way around that, other than to buy Zote flakes. Zote flakes work very well, I have used them more than once. Third, once you make liquid laundry detergent, which you basically have now, it gels. Once you start mixing the powders with liquid it will be a smooth liquid, but in 24 hours you go back and look at it and it looks like egg drop soup. It will be liquidy, but it will have clumps of gelled soap in it. This is normal. You have to stir it very well every time you use it. What you have now, I would not use. It sounds like you need to start all over and decide if you want powdered detergent or liquid detergent and follow the recipe EXACTLY. You have a mixture of the two recipes with added citric acid….that’s why it doesn’t look right and has that bottom layer with grit in it. I used to use the liquid detergent and I got so tired of having to stir it all the time, it takes a lot more space to store, and it’s messy. Now that I only use the powder, it’s awesome!!! I make the big recipe which calls for almost the whole box of borax, washing soda and baking soda, oxyclean and grated soap. It fits in a 3 gallon plastic container and lasts me almost a year. It works great and dissolves completely with minimal storage. I put a smaller amount in a cute glass storage jar with a bow and coffee scoop (2 tablespoons) on my laundry shelf!

  4. Gail Avatar

    Sorry I should have read the comment policy before- thought I would try again, by changing some of this.
    I have used homemade laundry soap for years and I have found out in the past 2 years that it is NOT good for a septic tank. Without a huge story-the dry powders are not good as they do not dissolve, and the fats in the premixed gel stuff; clump together and cause the contents of the tank to be manually chunked off. We do have a large family, and we home school so many of us are home all day. But we had it pumped 2 times in the last 3 years and the results have been the same. It is cheaper to buy the soap then to repair the leach field. Trust me.
    My septic guy knew right away what the hard stuff was. And when I saw the fat in Zote and Fels naptha, it all made sense. Fat doesn’t dissolve. Causing build up and then the tank overflows into the next tank into the leach field. If I lived in town, I would be using my homemade again!

    1. Pam Owens Avatar
      Pam Owens

      Have you tried using Castile soap? It’s made from coconut oil.

  5. Sarah Avatar

    I have used homemade laundry soap for years and I have found out in the past 2 years that it is NOT good for a septic tank. Without a huge story-the dry powders are not good as they do not dissolve, and the fats in the premixed gel stuff; clump together and cause the contents of the tank to be manually chunked off. We do have a large family, and we home school so many of us are home all day. But we had it pumped 2 times in the last 3 years and the results have been the same. It is cheaper to buy the soap then to repair the leach field. Trust me.
    My septic guy knew right away what the hard stuff was. And when I saw the fat in Zote and Fels naptha, it all made sense. Fat doesn’t dissolve. Causing build up and then the tank overflows into the next tank into the leach field.

  6. Carrie Avatar

    Is there another alternative to coconut soap, or soap made without coconut oil at all?

  7. Cherise Avatar

    I’ve just made a batch of the powdered laundry detergent and was wondering how much do I use in each wash?

  8. Anna Avatar

    Hi, I am interested in makeing the laundry dertergent, I do have a few questions thou
    1. Can I use palmolive bar soap instead?? I have like 10 bars and want to use them up.
    2. What can i use to clean out a washer thet was bought used 4 years ago?? I have used several liquid detergents (gain, Doller store bargins, amway and a smell is still there. Not sure if I have hard water either.
    Thank you for any advice, in advance.

  9. Sharon Avatar

    Which laundry sauce recipe do you use? There are many versions when googled? Thanks

  10. Lauren Avatar

    I use your laundry powder recipe and love it!! I am pregnant and recently received clothing from someone.. I am having a terrible time removing the synthetic frangences out of the clothing… I have already soaked and washed in vinegar with baking soda and tried washing at least 4 times… I had the clothes out of the clothes line for 2.5 hrs and still no success!! Any suggestions??

    1. linda Avatar

      2½ hours out in the sun probably isn’t long enough. I would think they’d need at least all day, if not a week, if they smell that badly.

      Since you have an outside line, you could try hanging them out in the rain. Rain is a wonderful refresher (and softener). Not to be advised in hurricane season though 😉

      If you have access to one, you could try rubbing the clothing with steel soap – that removes strong odours from hands. Not sure if I’d go out and buy one for the purpose though.

      You could try wrapping all the clothes in a bin bag with some charcoal briquettes for a week (or more). As the charcoal absorbs the odour change them for fresh (and the bag too if that becomes smelly)

      You could try soaking the items overnight, or longer, in a diluted solution of fabric softener (with a fragrance you can live with) in the hope that this relaxes the fibres enough to give up their smell.

      There is a chance that, if these clothes have been tumble dried, the scent is ‘baked’ in for life and nothing will work.

  11. Bryan Garey Avatar
    Bryan Garey

    I make it liquid. 1 cup of each soap plus 1 bar grated, boiled in 1 gal of water and 3 gals of water into a 5 gal bucket. This lasts for over a year. 1/2 cup per load.

  12. Maile Avatar

    Hello there WellnessMama,
    I’m wondering about scenting the soap. Do you think using Dendritic Salt with the essential oils would work out?
    I’m so so grateful I found your site! You are contributing to the wellness of our whole wide world. Thank you WellnessMama 🙂

    1. linda Avatar

      Moisture is more important than air, in this situation. Air tight is better, though not necessary, but do make sure the powder remains moisture free if you are going to store it for any length of time.

  13. Nancy Underwood Avatar
    Nancy Underwood

    Ive been making my own powder for about 3 years. I grate 1 bar of the pink zote. It smells so good. I let it set in a paper plate for 2 or 3 days to dry out good. I then add 1 1/2 cups each borax and washing soda. I take about 1 cup of the mix at a time and blend in my magic bullet. It pulverizes it to a fine powder. Its so fine I have to take it outside to open the bullet because its powdery fine and you dont want to inhale it. I keep it in a glass container, and use 2 tab per load, 4 tab for large or extra dirty. I also use 1 or 2 downy balls with vinegar. I haven’t had any trouble with this recipe. I also make it for family and friends. They love it. It makes a very good christmas gift to give away. I also add a coffee scoop which is 2 tab measure. Put in a glass or plastic container with a ribbon and bow. Very nice gifts.

  14. Lori Avatar

    This may have been asked and answered already, but I just haven’t found it yet. I am wondering about the Natural bar soap. I was looking at your recipe for making my own, and saw that you have instructions for making it specific for laundry detergent. I am unclear on if that would work for liquid soap, or if those instructions are specifically for the powered soap?

  15. Denise Avatar

    Trying this tonight. My first load is in the washer 🙂 couple of questions…

    1. Cloth diaper safe/effective?

    2. There was no sudsing when I dissolved the detergent. Just flat, milky looking water. No bubbles. Is that normal?

    3. Lots of back and forth on the HE issue. Is your washer HE? Have you had issues?

  16. Eva Vanvactor Avatar
    Eva Vanvactor

    Canyou use liquid soap instead of bar soap in the laundry detergent

  17. Hannah Boies Avatar
    Hannah Boies

    I have made and used my own laundry detergent before and it has lasted me and my husband for almost a year and a half. One of my frustrations is that it does not get out smells and most of the time stains. Is there something I can add to the mix that will help with this?

  18. Ammy Avatar

    I’m afraid this statement is not true “The main concern with an HE washer is creating too much suds, so a low-suds soap or detergent is suggested.” If it were only that easy! If an HE machine needs maintenance one of the first things they do is check for soap residue from oils in regular detergents. If any is found the warranty is considered void. As much as I love homemade laundry soap (I make my own bars with only 1% superfat) I can guarantee they create as much or more (even with 1% superfat) residue than regular detergent.

    Furthermore, the smell that a few people are complaining about IS caused by their detergent. It is caused by the residue build up in the drainage pipes mentioned in the previous paragraph.

    So far I can find no safe alternative to HE laundry detergent other than soap nuts – which I have never used and know little about. So… no new machine for me for awhile…

  19. James M Avatar

    Im using a cup of the liquid at a time and not seeing any suds in the wash. My socks still come out a little smelly also. Any ideas?? I’m sitting on gallons of this stuff now and would like to utilize it somehow, just not finding it very effective! Thank you!

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