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Manufactured and chemical laundry detergent can have a number of negative effects on our skin and bodies. Not only that, but it impacts the environment negatively too. Chemical detergents are slowly becoming a thing of the past, and it’s about time we all started making the switch to something a little gentler.
Natural detergents and washing powders are the way forward, and you’d be surprised by how well they work on clothes. They also remain an affordable choice, as well as easy to make. If you’re ready to delve into the world of homemade detergent, you better buckle up because it’s one exciting ride through a world of ingredients and combinations you never thought to use.
In this detailed guide, you’ll find a whole host of recipes, as well as more information about what natural cleaners are and why you should be using them. Plus, if you find yourself really inspired, you can check out my guide to cleaning your washing machine which is packed with great natural cleaning methods to keep your washer sparkling fresh.
Making Your Own
It’s a big step, and going natural isn’t always an easy path to take. However, it is so worth the end results, and it’s amazing how much softer your clothes can become when you aren’t using chemicals. In this chapter, I take you through the basics of natural laundry products to give you an introduction to this new world.
Why Switch to Natural Laundry Soap?
This is the big question, isn’t it? Why should you switch to natural laundry detergent? The main reason is that the stuff you buy in the supermarket is loaded with chemicals, and not all of them are kind to your body or your skin. In fact, many of them actually cause skin irritation; which doesn’t make much sense when they’re supposed to be used for cleaning clothes.
The ingredients found in your standard detergents are also toxic to marine life a lot of the time, and contribute to the epidemic that is poisoning our oceans. Not to mention that it usually comes in plastic bottles, another thing that we should all be trying to reduce our use of. It’s not just wildlife that the ingredients are impacting either.In fact, an alarming number of the chemicals in question are linked to conditions like cancer and lung disease – not something you really want to put on your body. Some detergents even have as many as 27 ingredients in them; why would you need that many for cleaning clothes? That’s why doing it yourself is such a good idea. In a world where we can’t trust laundry companies to keep our bodies safe, we have to start taking things into our own hands.
DIY Laundry Soap Ingredients
Ready to take your first step into homemade washing products? First, we need the ingredients. All of them are available online, in supermarkets, or in health and beauty stores that specialise in natural and organic products. Therefore, they shouldn’t be too hard to find. Here are the basic ingredients:
What’s in These Ingredients?
I’ve talked about how harmful standard laundry detergent can be so it’s only natural that you would want to know what’s in the DIY ingredients. After all, you need to know if this is actually the safer choice. Here’s a little more information about each:
Washing Soda. All this is, is salt and limestone; both of which occur naturally. It tends to be found as a deposit, or the salt and limestone is mixed manually. It’s amazing for cleaning clothes, but can also be used to wash your washing machine – something I go through in my washer cleaning guide.
Borax. This mineral actually occurs naturally, despite appearances. It is composed of sodium, boron, oxygen, and water. In fact, it is such a popular ingredient that it is used in pretty much every natural soap and detergent that is currently available to buy. I will note that it’s still cheaper to buy some yourself and make your own though.
Bar Soap. If you’re buying your soap from natural health and beauty stores, you will find that the ingredients are usually along the lines of vegetable oils, and pure organic oils. The list of ingredients will be exceptionally small, and that’s one of the important factors when you’re making your selection.
Making Your Own
Now that you’ve got the knowledge, it’s time to start making your own washing powder. This chapter is dedicated to some of the best recipes around, allowing you to try out a few and discover which one works best for you. Get the mixing bowls out, we’re going in.
Homemade Washing Soda
Want to save even more money? Making your own washing soda is the perfect solution. It takes a little more time, but it’s worth it both for the saved pennies and the fact you know exactly what’s in it. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
Step One: Set the oven to 200C or 400F and allow it to preheat fully.
Step Two: Pour a thick layer of baking soda into the baking dish and make sure it is evened out. The layer should be about a ½ inch thick for the best results.
Step Three: Put it in the oven and bake for one hour, or until both the texture and colour have changed. It should be stirred about halfway through the process. If you’re unsure how it should feel, washing soda is grainy and rough compared to the silky texture of baking soda. You have to be patient because the baking soda will need to reach the temperature of the oven for the change to take place.
Step Four: Take the washing soda out of the oven and place it on the side to cool. Then, pour it into a marked jar or container ready for use later.
Homemade Detergent Without Borax
Not everyone likes to use Borax, but before I continue to the recipe, I just want to state that there is no reason to worry about using it. The reason most people feel so uncomfortable about it is because they are afraid it’s toxic. I am here to tell you that it’s not, and that it’s completely safe to use. I’ll stop keeping you waiting now and get on with how to make this detergent.
What You Will Need:
Step One: Take 7 cups of hot water and half of the baking soda, combining it in a large bowl. Add half of the salt to the mix and stir until everything is completely dissolved. Next, pour it into a gallon jug (4.5L).
Step Two: Repeat the step above with the other half of the mixture. Then, pour it into a separate jug.
Step Three: Add a cup of liquid soap into each jug, as well as the 30 drops of essential oil. Secure the lid and then swirl the jug gentle to mix all the ingredients.
Step Four: Shake the container well before use to ensure any separated ingredients mix together again. Use ½ a cup in each load, although you can use more if it’s a particularly messy one.
Homemade Liquid Detergent with Dawn
Dawn is a type of dish soap that isn’t filled with any toxic chemicals, but it also tough on grease and stains. Why am I bringing this to you? Well, I don’t always want to grate my own soap. It takes time, I usually nearly grate my finger, and sometimes I want to be lazy. I’m using Dawn for this recipe, but you can substitute it for a dish soap of your choice if you want.
What You Will Need:
Step One: Take a 1 gallon/4.5L tub and fill it about a quarter of the way with boiling water. Add the washing soda and the Borax to the mix, and stir until dissolved.
Step Two: Add the dish soap and stir it in so that it mixes evenly throughout the solution.
Step Three: Add the rest of the water to the tub, and make sure you do it slowly. The slower you are, the less the detergent will bubble up. It’s ok if there are some bubbles, so don’t worry if there is a little sudding.
Step Four: Pour the detergent into containers of your choice, and swipe any bubbles off the top. Make sure to give it a little shake before each use to keep everything mixed together. Use between ½ and ¾ of a cup in each load.
Best Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe
We have the best laundry detergent recipe out there, and it is actually the same as our liquid detergent one below. So, instead of listing the steps and process out twice (which I know can be so annoying when you are reading guides this big) how about a video example?
You can also use the video above as a great little guide for making this liquid detergent. It’s nice to have an idea of what it’s supposed to look like, and even shows you how to give it a pleasant fragrance. Below, you’ll also find a little more information on what makes this such a brilliant choice. The facts below are based on you using ALL the ingredients listed in the recipe to make the maximum amount possible.
How Many Loads Does This Detergent Make?
This will make eight batches, each of which are 10 gallons (45L). Therefore, each batch will provide you with 640 loads for a front-loading machine, or 320 loads for a top loader. You certainly won’t be needing to buy or make any detergent for a long time after this.
Cost Per Load for This Homemade Laundry Detergent
Every load will cost you less than a penny to run. That’s amazing. If you think about the amount you normally spend on detergent every year, it’s a pretty big difference for something that cleans just as well; nearly 20p difference if we’re being exact.
Cost of Brand Detergent vs Homemade Laundry Detergent
So, this massive batch of washing powder will only cost you around £15 ($20) to make, as opposed to spending that each month on the store bought stuff. That’s an exceptional saving when you consider that you’re going to be getting over 5,000 loads of laundry out of the entire amount made. Where else can you get your washing clean for such a low price?
How Much Homemade Laundry Detergent to Use Per Load?
For a front loader, you will only need ¼ of a cup for each load. A top loader will need ½ a cup. Even compared to the stuff you can buy from the supermarket; this is a tiny amount that’s needed for each wash – saving you even more money.
A Healthy and Inexpensive Alternative to Fabric Softener
It’s hard to resist that warm and snuggly feeling when we’ve used fabric softener on our clothes. I know that it makes me feel like all my problems are gone. But what if I told you that fabric softeners are actually some of the most toxic laundry products out there?
The best natural fabric softener isn’t just cheap, it’s also likely to already be hidden away in your cupboards. White vinegar is the answer, and it is such a versatile ingredient that you can even use it for cleaning and disinfecting. All you need is a cup or two in your load, and your clothes will come out silky soft.
They won’t smell of vinegar either, as the smell vanishes as they dry. It’s gentle, easy to find, and will also help get rid of any residue that’s lurking inside your machine. Plus, there are no negative health effects to worry about. What more could you want?
Homemade Detergent with Baking Soda
It’s probably sitting in your kitchen cupboard right now, and it has so many uses. Baking soda is almost as versatile as white vinegar, and it’s going to serve you well when cleaning your clothes. Here’s my favourite recipe for a simple powder detergent that will leave clothes clean, fresh, and ready for action.
What You Will Need:
Step One: Using either a grate or a food processor, grate/mix the bar soap until it is finely ground. If you want a little fragrance in your washing powder, you can choose a bar with natural fragrance to give your laundry a lovely little hint of freshness.
Step Two: Take a large bowl and mix two parts washing soda, two parts Borax, and one-part soap. This would equate to one cup of Borax and one cup of washing soda to one bar of soap.
Step Three: Once it has been mixed thoroughly, pour it into the container of your choice. Make sure you shake it thoroughly before each use so that you get an even mix of ingredients.
Step Four: Use between 2 tablespoons and ¼ of a cup for each load of laundry.
I love this video because it gives you a really clear look at how to make this recipe, as well as the measurement you need for a massive batch that will last you a good few months.
How to Make Liquid Laundry Soap
Sometimes, liquid laundry soap is the best way to go, and I understand that. It takes longer to make than the powdered stuff, but it also creates bigger batches that last longer. Following on from our best homemade detergent section, this is the recipe you’ve been waiting for.
What You Will Need:
Step One: Using a grater or a food processer, grind the soap until it is nice and fine.
Step Two: Heat a pan and pour the soap into it alongside two quarts of water. Heat until the soap has fully dissolved.
Step Three: Take a 5-gallon (20L) bucket and pour 4.5 gallons (19L) of hot tap water into it. Then, stir in two cups of Borax and two cups of washing soda until these have completely dissolved.
Step Four: Pour the soap mixture into the bucket, and mix thoroughly.
Step Five: Cover the bucket and leave it overnight.
Step Six: The next morning, stir the mixture and pour into jugs of your choice ready for use later.
Step Seven: Use between ½ and 1 cup per load. Shake well before use as the ingredients may separate when they are sitting in their container.
Will it Get My Clothes Clean?
Yes, it will get your clothes clean. Each of the recipes listed above are perfect for cleaning clothes thoroughly, and just as well as anything you buy in the store. I can tell you that you will almost certainly find your clothes to be even softer once they are dry as well; not to mention gentler on your skin. Even better, it will work on clothes that smell less than favourable after sports, and will also work out tough stains. Just because it’s homemade doesn’t make it inferior; in many ways it is a lot better.
What Does Homemade Laundry Detergent Smell Like?
It doesn’t really smell of anything unless you use a naturally scented soap in the ingredients. On the plus side, this means you aren’t left with any chemical odours once they are washed and dry. These scents from the chemical detergents are actually added to mask odours already in clothes, and they add nothing to the cleaning power. When using natural detergent, you will instead find that they smell clean and fresh, but they won’t have any specific smell. You can change this, however, by adding some essential oils as detailed in the next section.
You Can Add Essential Oils for Scent
We all like our laundry to smell good, and the natural odour that comes with homemade detergents doesn’t always remind us of the warm feeling that freshly washed clothes have. Essential oils are the perfect way to get that lovely scent back, and the bonus is that many of them are great for helping us relax and lowering stress levels; especially lavender. All you need to do is add around 10-20 drops to your detergent and you’ll find the finished result really captures the scent without it being overpowering.
Soap vs Detergent
There is a difference between soap and detergent, and not just in name but chemically too. With your standard laundry detergent, it has been designed to work in a washing machine, complete with a specific chemical makeup that helps it thrive there. On the other hand, a lot of soaps have been created with your skin in mind, and so they are not as strong. Additionally, you may find that soaps leave a gunky residue in your washer over time.
It should be noted that soaps, unlike detergents, may not be suitable for every type of washing machine, and so care should be taken when you are trying new ones out. You can add natural detergents to the laundry soap if you want to create something that’s really effective. I would recommend 2-3 tablespoons per load for the best results.
I’m pretty sure that not every question and concern was answered above, so I’ve also compiled this little FAQ for you to browse through if you want more information. Hopefully, they will be able to ease your mind as well as show you how superb natural cleaning products are compared to chemical ones.
Does Homemade Laundry Soap Clean as Well as Store Brands?
Yes, homemade laundry soap does clean just as well as the brands you find in the supermarket. I would even say they do a better job because there are no harmful chemicals and they don’t cause things like skin irritation.
Can I Use Homemade Laundry Detergent in My HE Washing Machine?
Yes, you can use most homemade laundry detergents in a HE washing machine. These machines require soaps and detergents that are very low in suds, which is why homemade is such a good choice. Each recipe is very low in suds, so you can use them with your machine without worry.
Where Can I Find Borax and Washing Soda?
You can find both Borax and washing soda in your local supermarket. They are usually on the washing and laundry aisle. If you struggle to find them there, however, you can also pick them up online. Websites like Amazon have both of them available. You can find a great washing soda here, and some Borax here.
Is Washing Soda the Same as Baking Soda?
No, they aren’t the same at all. However, you can use baking soda to make washing soda. I have a great recipe for it in chapter two that you can use. It only takes an hour, and it is even cheaper than buying washing soda outright.
Where Can I Get Borax in the UK?
You can find Borax in supermarkets in the UK, but you can also pick it up online through Amazon. You’ll find the links a little further up under Where Can I Find Borax and Washing Soda? You can also pick it up in Bulk from places like Costco.
Where Can I Find Borax in Australia?
You’ll find that Borax in Australia actually comes under a range of different brand names; the same goes for washing soda. It is found in a few supermarkets, as well as Coles. You can also buy it online and have it delivered to your home.
Is Borax Highly Toxic?
There are some articles out there intending to scare you out of using Borax. The thing is, Borax is not highly toxic at all. If you decide to eat it, it may make you feel pretty sick but most of us are unlikely to put it in our mouths. As a washing detergent, there is no risk of toxicity at all. Just don’t confuse it with boric acid, because this is actually really poisonous, and you should avoid it at all costs.
Do I Use an Entire Box of Borax and Washing Soda to Make the Detergent?
No, please don’t use an entire box of Borax and washing soda. As the recipes I have listed in the previous chapter state, you only need a cup of each (maybe more depending on the recipe). Those boxes of ingredients will make loads of batches over the course of the year, so keep them safe.
My Detergent Looks Too Lumpy/Watery/Solid
It’s ok if this happens because your detergent is going to look different every time you make it. Whether it looks watery or thick and pulpy, it doesn’t matter. As long as the key ingredients are in there it’s going to work just as well as it would if it had the perfect consistency.
How Long is Homemade Detergent Good for/Does it Go Bad?
No, it won’t go bad. The ingredients you buy and the detergent you make will last forever. There’s no expiry date, and it doesn’t lose its effectiveness over time.
Can I Make Homemade Laundry Detergent in a Powdered Form?
Yes, you can, and I have some brilliant recipes for that in the previous chapter. It works just as well as the liquid stuff. Some would argue that liquid detergent is more economical, but I feel they are equally good. You just get slightly smaller batches from the powdered form.
I Like the Smell That Brand Made Detergent Gives My Clothes
Don’t we all? The smell of brand detergent is often wonderful. Who doesn’t like to smell of cool mountain air? However, that fragrance is actually just loads of artificial scents that are masking the smell of all those chemicals. Essential oils or naturally scented soaps are a much better choice and they also smell really good.
Can I Add Essential Oils to Scent my Homemade Detergent?
Yes, and I encourage you to add essential oils to your home detergent. You don’t need a lot, but it will spread through each batch and leave your clothes smelling wonderful. 10-20 drops are usually all you need, but there are some recipes that might call for a little more. You can check out quantities in chapter two.
I Don’t See Any Suds. How Can This Detergent Be Cleaning My Clothes?
Suds do not mean clean clothes. We just like to think that, and detergent companies have sneakily implied it over the years. These recipes are low in suds but high in cleaning power. The suds in your store brand detergent? Those are actually caused by a load of chemicals to make you feel like everything is getting really clean.
I Can’t Get Ivory Soap. What Other Kind of Bar Soap Works for Homemade Laundry Detergent?
Every natural soap is a good choice. One of the most popular out there is Zote or Ivory soap. However, the bar you pick from your natural health and body store will be more than enough. Just make sure it’s a nice chunky bar.
Will This Detergent Work on a Really Grimy/Dirty Load of Laundry?
Yes, even the grimiest and dirtiest load of laundry can be tackled by homemade detergents. Each of the recipes I have listed for you will be able to counter body odour, grass stains, and dirt with no effort. So, if you play sports or have kids that like to get mucky, you can still use this detergent without feeling stressed about the results. If it’s a really bad load, you can boost the cleaning power by chucking in a half cup of Borax or washing soda before you switch it on.
Will This Detergent Work if I Have Allergies and Sensitive Skin?
Yes, it will work if you have allergies and sensitive skin. In fact, it is better than store bought detergent because there are no irritant chemicals inside it. Just make sure that the soap you choose doesn’t contain anything you are allergic to, and you’ll be fine. In fact, it is sure to be a welcome change from scratchy store detergents.
Will Making This Detergent Ruin or Transfer a Soapy Taste to My Cooking Pot and Utensils?
Not at all. It’s just soap, which means that all you need to do is rinse the pan out afterwards. It’s very similar to dish soap, so there is no reason to worry about any potential to your pots and utensils.
I hope that this guide has been able to kickstart your passion for the world of natural cleaners. At a time when the planet needs us the most, it is important that we strongly consider the impact we’re having; down to the way we wash our clothes.
It’s really easy to make your own detergent, and the process only takes a few minutes out of your day. At the same time, it remains more affordable than the washing powder you get from the supermarket, and it tends to last a lot longer too. While there are some who fear the natural way is not as good as using chemicals, I can tell you that they are wrong. As long as you’re using the right measurements and ingredients, these homemade wonders will kill bacteria, remove stains, and leave clothes fresher than ever. It’s time to make the switch, and you won’t regret it.
What did you think of my homemade laundry detergent guide? Did it answer all of your pressing questions and fill you with inspiration, or did it fall a little flat? Your feedback is important to me, so make sure to leave a comment below.
Gemma Tyler is a freelance journalist with 15 years of experience writing for consumer publications. She has tested and reviewed a wide range of household items from vacuum cleaners to washing machines and dehumidifiers to steam irons. Her attention to detail and exhaustive testing certainly makes her an expert in her field.