Homemade Laundry Soap!!

As with many of my undertakings that seem “weird” and novel at first, after I’ve Googled it, I then feel like I’m actually the last person in the world to do __________ .  Hm.  Not sure what’s up with that.

In this post, I mentioned that my daughter’s skin troubles were apparently caused by our laundry detergent (made by Melaleuca, by the way, which is supposed to be environmentally friendly and natural), and I asked for your suggestions for different natural cleaners.  Daja was first on board, and she linked to this post, which gives a recipe for homemade laundry detergent.

I truly strive to be a good steward of the world that God has entrusted to us.  This has been a longstanding goal, to the point where it annoys me that one can’t go anywhere the past couple of years, without being assaulted by admonitions to be “green.”  It seems more like a trend based in guilt and bullying than actual concern, because where were all these people ten years ago, like when I tried to cloth diaper and found no book, no resource, no one I knew who had cloth-diapered (except one who used a diaper service), NO ONE who could answer my questions, and it led to a three month effort that eventually failed.  In retrospect, it appears that all I needed was borax instead of bleach, both for soaking and washing.  What a simple fix!  Bummer.  Anyways.  Bitterness aside, the good news about the green trend is that there is a billion times more resources for anyone who wants to do anything more naturally.

However…  I’m pragmatic.  I need to save money.  I’m not willing — usually — to start Natural/Organic Whatever, unless it’s an even trade, or even better, saves money.  I do make a few exceptions.  I usually buy my eggs in a paper (recyclable) carton instead of the foam ones, even though eggs-in-cardboard are $0.10 more per dozen.  I figure it’s worth the extra 10 cents to not put more styrofoam in the landfills.

I had never seriously thought about making my own detergent.  But, after Daja’s tip, and reading the post to which she linked, and researching it some more, not only did it seem like a great idea, but it seemed like everyone and her sister were making their own detergent.

It was also important for me to be able to find the ingredients locally.  It’s great that you can find anything on the internet, but that uses fuel and costs a lot, especially when you’re shipping stuff that’s multiple-pounds heavy.  Plus, I’ve found with myself, if something is not convenient, I might try it once or twice, but it’s hard to make a habit out of something that is difficult to accomplish.  Know what I mean?

So, for my ingredients, I found:

  • Borax – 20 Mule Team brand, at Target, 4 lb box for $2.99.
  • Washing Soda – In my Google searches, I found out that what washing soda is, is sodium carbonate, and if one couldn’t find the Arm & Hammer brand (I couldn’t), to try a store like Home Depot, and get it in the pool supply section, where it’s used as an alkalizer.  Voila!  My husband picked up a six pound container of pH UP, and it was about $10.50.
  • Soap – The recipe I used recommended Zote soap, but after doing a little research, it seems like most any real soap will work, including Kirk’s Castile, which I found in my grocery store for $1.99 for 3 bars.  My mom, who was/is hippie-ish, bought Kirk’s Castile when I was a kid!  That was the soap we used my whole childhood.

I don’t have a food processor in which to grind the soap, as suggested in the recipe.  So, I just got out my food grater, and used the fine grating side.  That also answered my question about how many cups of soap a bar makes, and how many cups are in a pound.  I had found several places that sell soap flakes, both commercial and handcrafted, and they’re all sold by the pound.  A bar of soap is typically four ounces.  The recipe called for 2 bars.  After shredding my own soap, I now know that a bar of soap produces 2 cups of soap.  So, each pound contains 8 cups.

So… the recipe I used is a 1:1:1 ratio of borax, washing soda, and soap.  Since I had three bars of soap, I decided to grate all of them, which resulted in six cups.  So, I just I made a larger recipe and used six cups each of the other ingredients.

Even though I have soft water, I also was very skeptical of using one tablespoon (1/2 oz) of homemade laundry detergent per load, especially when you use borax or washing soda as a laundry booster, it is suggested that you use 1/4 to a whole cup of EACH!  So, after a little more research, I have found that most recipes suggest that you use a whole ounce, which is still only 2 Tbsp (which is equal to 1/8 cup, if you have a measuring cup that small!).  I used the scooper that came in my no-longer-used OxyClean container.

Also, after a little research, I found that if I want to wash in cold water, I either need to:

  • make liquid laundry soap, or
  • dissolve the soap in a little bit of hot water first.

I’m going with plan B.  I did find a surprisingly large number of liquid detergent recipes, but they all sounded like a pain to concoct, and the results are gray goopy glop.  I’ll stick with powder, thankyouverymuch.  (On the same site with the recipes, I also found a very helpful Homemade Laundry Detergent FAQ page.)

So, how much does this stuff really cost?  I used about half a package each of the borax and sodium carbonate.  (I know the poundage is different on the packages, but the sodium carbonate is definitely more dense and fine, so six cups of that is heavier than six cups of borax.)  I didn’t measure out my final product, and I know it’s not always that 6 cups + 6 cups + 6 cups of product results in 18 cups;  ingredients are funny like that.  But, assuming they do, that’s 144 loads of homemade laundry soap for about $8.75,  or about $0.06 per load.  To compare, I’d been using both MelaPower detergent and MelaBrite non-bleach brightener (plus OxyClean in my whites and light colors, but for the sake of simplification, I’m not figuring that into the cost here).  Using the cost of “old formula”  MelaPower, it is about $23.50, including tax and shipping, for what is supposed to clean 96 loads, but for me only did about 65 loads.  And, the MelaBrite is about $30.00 with tax and shipping for 96 loads… If my math is right, that’s about $0.67 per loadSo, my homemade detergent is less than 1/10 the cost of my old stuff.

I’m still using vinegar in the final rinse water, and I need to buy my vinegar at Costco, because it’s $3.99/gallon (only 16 cups/loads) at the grocery store, and that’s $0.25/load.  I think the vinegar is about $2.50 for a 1.5 gallon container at Costco, which would be about 10 cents per load.  Still, with the vinegar, that’s only $0.16 per load, saving me more than 50 cents per load.  That’s significant, especially since I do about 10-14 loads per week.

Now, we’ll just see if it works well.  My first load is in the dryer right now.  I am an absolute stickler for clean laundry.  I want my whites WHITE and everything clean and fresh-smelling and stain-free.

I feel really good about this!!  I’m excited to see the results.

About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on April 27, 2009, in Allergies, Babies, Budget, Housework, Shopping. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. I’m thinking this could be marketable! For those that want to use this kind of soap but don’t have the time, patience or interest! Just a thought.

    I’m anxious to hear how it works. As a stay at home mom I’m always looking for ways to help my hubby’s hard work go farther! Sounds like a big undertaking…but so did making granola until I started doing it and got used to putting it in my schedule!

    Blessings to you for doing all of this research and passing it on to others!

  2. glutenfree4goofs

    Well, at least if MelaPower doesn’t work for my kiddo’s I know what to do! Can’t wait to hear how it goes.

    • So far (four loads) it’s working great! Clean, fresh-smelling clothes. 🙂 I’m suspending final judgment until I really get a grasp of how well it removes stains, how my kids’ skin reacts to it, etc. But, it really is cleaning full, large loads of laundry with 2 Tbsp, which is amazing to me.

  3. I’m curious … what makes soap “real soap” ??

  4. I’m surprised you would post this before seeing the results.

    • Weellllll, a blog is often about the process involved, not just the successes. Mine is, anyways.

      It’s not just the “successful” experiments that are beneficial.

      So far, so good, though.

  5. so my question is this – when do you sleep dear friend? Making rice milk, your own bread and now laundry detergent. I get tired reading your blogs! I hope it works well for you and works well on Miss Fiala’s beautiful skin. You’re amazing! And I love ya!

  6. I got the ingredients last night. Saw a lady down the aisle before I got there picking up Borax and Washing SOda. Thought…Hey…you’re doing the same thing I am! She was gone before I got down there.

    Anyway… question. Does using your food processor for this require any special cleaning after? I’m nervous about using it for soap and then food. I know it’s soap but…????

    • Tina, I don’t have a food processor, so I just used the fine-shred side on my box grater. And, I just wiped it down under running hot water afterwards.

      I’m still amazed and happy about how well this is working. I hardly pretreat anything, and it all comes out totally clean in the wash. I am still doing a second rinse with 1/2 cup of vinegar (instead of a full cup, as I mentioned above). Make sure you don’t put the vinegar in with the wash water, or the alkaline of the detergent will work against the acid of the vinegar and they’ll cancel each other out.

  1. Pingback: More baseball, grown-up conversation, birthing regrets, the heroic hubby, and I guess I really am crabby (and more) « Only Sometimes Clever

  2. Pingback: My one concern about homemade laundry detergent « Only Sometimes Clever

  3. Pingback: *UPDATED* Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe « Only Sometimes Clever

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