Homemade Laundry Soap

Laundry has never been my friend.

I need to make this perfectly clear.  I’ve never liked it; emptying pockets, washing clothes, drying clothes, folding and sorting clothes and putting them away.  Ugh.  I am not naturally inclined toward good housekeeping.  I’d much rather sit down with a cup of tea and a good book or some knitting or quilt blocks.  I might even rather have extensive dental work done rather than tackle a pile of dirty clothes.

Over the years, my ability to ignore laundry has become legendary.  And the problem has grown as my family did. 5 active boys + 1 Evil Genius + 1 clothes horse/baker/homeschooling Mom = 1 big-old-laundry pile.  And thus far, my patient and studied approach of ignoring it long enough for someone to invent self-cleaning/folding/putting away laundry* has gone unrewarded.

*To my husband, The Evil Genius:  Hello, sweetie.  If you read that paragraph above, please know that I am in no way disparaging your progress in inventing self-cleaning laundry.  I understand that it is lower on the priority list than ruling the universe, tesseracting, and DIY space/time continuum rift kits, but if you get a few spare moments…

And I have another good reason to detest laundry.  We have many allergies in our family.  (I’m convinced that I  have an allergy to laundry and they just haven’t discovered the test to prove it.  But that’s not my point; I am referring to my kids’ perfume and dye allergies…) This means that I’ve sprung mad cash on ‘Dye Free/Fragrance Free’ laundry soaps over the years.  Mucho deniro.  Beaucoup d’argent.  Mega bucks.  And I am cheap.  It pained me to spend so much money on an activity that I dislike so very much.

So, when I did began the series in early January on saving money around the kitchen (see Parts I, II, III, and IV ) and I asked for readers’ money saving tips, I was intrigued when I read these two comments:

“Jennifer

I make my own laundry soap. I can make a batch that lasts me the month for approx $1.”

and

“Marcia

I make my own laundry soap, which costs about 1 cent a load. I am going to try the twix bars, they look wonderful!”

Jennifer and Marcia had my interest.  A buck a month?  A penny a load?  Well, geez.  Even I could get excited about THAT little laundry innovation.  I got in touch with Jennifer (because -quite conveniently- she is married to my cousin.  Does that make her my cousin-in-law? ) and she was kind enough to share her recipe for homemade laundry soap.  She also told me that she’s been using this homemade laundry soap for about four months and that she does a great deal of laundry.  (Poor thing.  She has my sympathy.)

Laundry soap for a penny per load was not a difficult experiment to sell to The Evil Genius because his affinity for saving money overrode any skepticism he may have had over the science of the endeavour.  I made a batch.  I tried the soap.  I rejoiced.  Let me tell you, this laundry soap is -in a word- awesome.  My laundry -without using any fabric softeners- came out of the washer and dryer more soft and supple, more vibrant, and better smelling than it has with even the best allergen free laundry soap I’ve ever bought.

No cries of foul allowed; I have a high efficiency washing machine, Jennifer has a 13 year old regular top-loader.  If it worked for both of us, it’ll work for you! I washed an incredibly dirty load that included jeans my son had worn to dirt bomb down our hill and jeans that I had worn for a marathon baking session.  They both came out cleaner than I could have ever imagined.  Go on and look at me.  Am I getting excited about laundry?  I have photographic proof:

Aidan’s jeans after dirt-bombing.  These jeans sat in the hamper for 9 days before being washed.  I had written them off completely.  (I TOLD you I’m bad at laundry.)

Before:

Okay, it didn’t get the stain out.  But the light stain?  That was nine-days-in-the-hamper-my-fault.  It ended up much, much better than I expected and the resulting jeans are perfectly acceptable for everything from visiting with friends to spending the day in town.  That is an improvement over the ‘only-good-for-further-dirt-bombinb’ appearance I expected.

After:

Now, for my jeans.  Check out the fact that the entire leg is dusted with flour while there are many little areas of ground in, caked on bread dough.  If they were human I’d tell you to look at their pallid color; all dingy and faded.  So sad.  I feared for my jeans.

Before:

Wowza!  Look how clean they got.  There’s no foolery here.  These are the same jeans! Not a trace of the full-leg coating of flour OR of the little mini-loaves of bread that were ground into the fabric.  Total, 100% win on these!

After:

Look at the advantages:

  1. It is really, really inexpensive.
  2. It is environmentally and septic-system friendly.  No worries about phosphates or other nasties.
  3. You can customize the scent of your laundry.  Want lavender, lemon, orange, fir pine, or coffee scented clothes?  No prob.  Just grab the appropriate essential oil.  Want to repel mosquitos with your clothes?  Add citronella essential oil.  Want no scent at all?  Don’t add oil!  Piece of cake!
  4. It’s really cheap.
  5. It is allergy-sufferer friendly.  You can use the mildest bar soap on the market (Dr. Bronner’s Mild All-In-One for Babies gets my vote.)
  6. There are no dyes in it to irritate sensitive skin.
  7. Did I mention it saves you a ton of money?

Let me break down the cost for you:

The amounts needed end up costing this:

  • Washing soda: $0.35 for one batch (10 batches worth in the box.)
  • Borax:  $0.17 for one batch (24 batches worth in the box.)
  • Soap: $0.50 for one batch (3 batches worth in the three-pack.)
  • Essential Oil: $0.10 (this is an estimate based on pure guess work.  It’s a big bottle of oil and I used very little.)

Total cost for the batch: $1.12.  If I left out the essential oil, the batch would have cost $1.02.  Let me repeat: $1.12 for nearly five gallons of allergy-sufferer friendly, superior laundry detergent.  Beat that.

For a photo-free, printer-friendly version of this ‘recipe’, click here!

Homemade Laundry Soap

Ingredients:

  • One five gallon plastic bucket with a tight fitting lid.  (Can be found at Walmart or Home Depot near the paint sections.)
  • One bar of gentle soap  (You can use Ivory, Dr. Bronner’s or any other non-beauty bar.  In other words, no lotion in the soap!  My Amish friends told me they use 1/3 of a bar of Fels-Naptha for their homemade soap.  That’s a little harsher than I want to use on my allergy-prone babies, but there’s no doubt that’ll get dirt out of anything…)
  • 1 cup Washing Soda (This is available in the laundry aisle at Walmart and my tiny small-town grocery store.  I’m sure you can find it.  If you don’t have luck, Amazon.com carries it.)
  • 1/2 cup Borax (This is also available in laundry aisles and Amazon.com.)
  • 4 cups warm water plus 4 gallons warm water, separated.
  • Optional, 10-40 drops of essential oil of your choice (Strictly optional, folks.  But shhhh… I used 35 drops of lavender essential oil.  Don’t tell the menfolk.  They don’t care for smellin’ purty.)

Grate the bar of soap on a metal cheese grater.

There is a large part of me that is so conditioned to what you normally do with cheese graters that I had to restrain myself from eating the soap.  Doesn’t it look like a beautiful pile of mozzarella?  It looked so good that I was tempted to cuss just so I could try washing my mouth out with it.  But I didn’t…

Do not use a plastic cheese grater as plastic is more likely to absorb odors from the soap. Put into a stainless steel or glass saucepan on the stove with 4 cups of warm water.  The same warning applies here as to the cheese grater. Don’t use a pan that will absorb odors.  Non-stick surfaces are more likely to soak up that soapy scent and flavor.

Heat while stirring until the soap is all dissolved.  Set aside.

Put 4 gallons of warm water into the large bucket and thoroughly stir in the Borax and Washing Soda. When those are dissolved into the water, stir in the melted soap. After pouring the melted soap into the bucket, plunge the pan up and down in the water a few times to stir the contents.

Look at that squeaky clean pan.  Stir and clean at the same time?  I’m all about efficiency!  But don’t forget to rinse it thoroughly before drying.  Nothing like soapy soup to bring you down.

Stir in the essential oil at this point if you are using it.

Allow the soap to sit, tightly covered, overnight.

The next morning you will find the soap to have a thick, gelatinous appearance.  Use a long spoon to break it up and stir it.  And don’t forget- use a spoon that won’t soak up the scent or soap flavor.

Hey look- this soap looks like brains.  The kids have been sick and I’ve had very little sleep. You could probably transplant this into my cranium with no appreciable difference in performance.

You will probably not be able to completely break up the lumps, but this is not a problem.

Congratulations: You have now joined the Tightwad Fraternity.  But you don’t have to tell anyone.  Just reap the compliments when people remark that your clothes look so nice and so clean and smell so fresh.

This is now usable!  Store tightly lidded for up to two months.*

*If you cannot use this quantity of laundry soap within two months, you can definitely reduce it.  To make a much smaller batch: use 1/4 of a bar of soap, grated into 1 cup of warm water; 1/4 cup of washing soda, 1/8 cup of Borax, and 1 gallon of warm water.  If you opt to use the essential oil, you would use between 3 and 10 drops in the micro-batch.

To use:

Use one cup (8 liquid ounces) of the laundry soap per load of laundry.  As this soap does not create suds, it is acceptable for use in high-efficiency machines as well as being good for the standard top-loading machines.


Comments

  1. I CAN NOT wait to try this. Will pick up the ingredients during the week, but the science experiment will have to wait until after this weekend passes. LOTS of things going on this week and not su Still have a little left of the store bought stuff, but this post is perfect timing for me.

    Am I correct in my reading that the large recipe will yield a 5 gallon bucket of detergent which equals 80 loads of wash? It’s late and I’ve had little sleep too. :)

  2. *LOTS of things going on this week and not sure where I would fit this into the schedule. :)

  3. And how much does the smaller batch yield? Last question, promise…

    I’m so excited to try this for us. I’ve been a member of the tightwad fraternity for a while now. Guy’s habits have rubbed off in the eight years since we met. These days, I actively seek out new ways to save. This doesn’t look too time consuming and for $1 a load in detergent it’s worth however long it takes. :)

    • Julie- I’m going to say the smaller batch is going to yield a bit over a gallon. And it’ll cost you less than a dollar to make. And you were correct in reading that the large recipe yields just shy of 5 gallons of detergent. Which means the smaller batch will yield over 16 cups. The larger batch should yield in excess of 68 cups. One cup=one load. So for about $1.12 (roughly) you get about 70 loads and for about $0.20 (the smaller batch) you’ll get approximately 16 loads. Not too shabby, eh?

  4. Thank you so much!!! It also means all the products needed to make the soap will last me that much longer :)

  5. Saving money in recession times, is always a must :)

    Rebecca I’ve 2 awards for you, waiting at my blog!

    All the best,

    Gera

  6. This intrigues me, as I have the worst sensitive skin (using even too much detergent gives me rashes) and am a major cheapskate.

  7. Rebecca, I’m so glad that you are sharing this with your readers. I love the opportunity to “convert” people over to the dark side of savings and letting their inner hippie come out!

  8. I just stumbled across this site for the first time today. I’m so glad I did. I too am not naturally inclined toward good housekeeping, and reading almost always wins out over anything else. There is currently a gigantic pile of (thankfully) clean laundry on our bed, and I just can’t seem to bring myself to fold it. At least it’s clean! My husband is in grad school (plus we have two daughters), so we’re always trying to be cheap. I’m going to have to try this. Thanks, and I’m looking forward to reading more, instead of doing laundry ;o).

  9. I love this soap. I made it at Grandma’s and put it to the acid test; a throw rug that the plumber had tracked up with all sorts of icky stuff, and a pink top that had dried blood on it…both came out clean as can be. Lisa is letting her girls make it, and I have my batch stirred up for here at home. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  10. Gera- Many thanks.
    Katie- Let me know if you try it. It works well on my sensitive-skin boys!
    Jennifer- Thank you a million times over for sharing the idea and the recipe.
    Jenny- I’m so glad it’s not just me! I’ll do my best to keep the writing coming in order to enable you to avoid more chores.
    Aunt Vicki- I don’t even have words to say how excited I am that you, Grandma and Aunt Molly are into this soap! I hope Lisa and her girls love it, too.

  11. We are about out of our batch of soap so tomorrow will be soap making day. I am so excited. I’d like to try some essential oil but Grandma likes hers straight up. Since we wash our clothes together, it would not benefit us to split the batch. I can’t thank you enough for this wonderful recipe. Homemade soap may just save the world! xo

  12. well…i followed this recipe to the ‘T’ TWICE and it didn’t get thick either time…it’s just a bit thicker than water and doesn’t seem to have mixed well- any solutions? i really want to use this recipe but it’s not working..anyone else have that problem? please message me if so. thanks

  13. My solution did not set up either. It looks like runny water. I did use it anyway and the clothes did come out clean. Connie

  14. My commercial detergent finally ran out and I made this (small batch b/c hardware store did not have the 5 gal lidded buckets in till later this week- so made do with the gallon bucket)

    Mine did not set up firmly either, but works just fine!
    Thanks for posting this!

  15. How did you use it in a high efficiency machine? Did you put in with the clothes in the drum area or were you able to put a full cup into the dispenser area? And do you use a full cup for the HE machine (usually the packages seem to specify smaller quantities for the HE washers)?
    Thanks.

    • Rebecca says:

      Mandy, Connie and Kellie- I’m wondering if there’s some commonality here. What brands of Washing Soda and Borax did each of you use? My other thought is that it may have something to do with the water. Perhaps super hard or super soft water affects how it sets up? Hmmmm… but at least yours works well, eh, Connie and Mandy?

      Cathy- I put it into the dispenser. It may come in at slightly less than a cup, but if you can fit the cup in go for it. The reason it’s fine is that it is a non-sudsing detergent.

  16. I used the same Borax and Washing Soda and Ivory Soap you did. I do have hard water. It did set up a bit, just not as much as yours. Works great either way and I am thrilled with it!
    (wow thrilled with laundry soap… hmmm sad but true!)

  17. I have been doing this for quite a while, but I prefer the dry version. Laundry is not at all about soap … just making the water slippery enough to remove the dirt in the clothes. I use one grated bar of Fels Naptha, 2 cups of washing soda and 2 cups of Borax. I grate the soap as fine as I can on my box grater and it dissolves well in cold water. Instead of fabric softener, I put white vinegar in the dispenser for the final rinse in my wash. I have a front loader that is now 10 years old and going strong. Since I long ago realized that the laziest person finds the easiest way to do things, I applaud all the effort you put into “cooking” your detergent … but you really don’t have to! For those who have to travel (as I do in the winter in a motor home)or use a laundromat, the dry version is really easier, no? LOVE your site!

  18. I have just tried the “cooked” method and like it fine, but as Carol mentions above, does the water need to be slippery. I am thinking that it does, and I have to use almost 2 cups of the “gelled” soap to get the slip. The no-suds part I am fine with, just not sure of the no-slip….

    Any ideas anyone? Is my water too hard?
    Thanks

  19. spandangly says:

    Just wanted to send this out for anyone who can’t find washing soda in their area–I have literally been to every store within 30 miles. You can call A&H distributors for Arm & Hammer Super WASHING Soda(company called Church & Dwight) directly, and as of my writing today, they will ship directly to you! No shipping fees! A huge box (~3.5 lbs) cost me $3.99 today, no shipping! Hooray! Call here 1-800-524-1328, you can identify the product by UPC 33200-03020. And, for reals, the nicest Customer Service person I’ve ever talked to hooked me up! :) This is not a paid endorsement, haha!

  20. spandangly says:

    Forgot to mention: they will also tell you where to find it in your area, in case you want to be able to run out and get it.

  21. Tried this; but mine did not thicken overnight. Any idea what I did wrong??

    • Michelle- There seems to be a pattern with folks who have really hard water. Do you have exceptionally hard water? I’d say try the soap anyway!

  22. Rebecca Burden says:

    I love this and it cleans great, but I have undissolved lumps in the washer after the complete cycle ends. I did not in previous batches but I swear I followed the same steps each time. Why undissolved lumps. Help?

  23. spandangly says:

    another update: mine also was a jelly consistency, but still worked really well. I also left mine in the bucket with the lid on top–but not closed (was in no way air-tight)–for 4 months, no problems. Thanks so much for this… off to make another batch today!

  24. WildChildT says:

    Why is it only good for 2 months? What would go “bad” in it? Also if you add something like Lavender e.o. isn’t that itself an anti-bacterial which would increase the longevity of the soap? Just wondering why it would need to be used in 2 months?

  25. Hi, I was wondering from Carol’s post, June 15,2010 how much of the dry she adds to a load?? A large load would be how much and a small load would be how much?? Would any one be able to answer this? I have small space and dry would be easier to store. Thank you

  26. I use the dry and have been making for over a year now….I use 2 TBS for reg load and three for large or very dirty :) hope that helps.

  27. I made the large batch tonight, and can’t wait to use this! I think I spent too much on the essential oil though at some little hoity-toity place. Next time I’ll try to find some at Wally World.(I bought grapefruit and lavender) Thanks for the recipe!

  28. Kathy Hodges says:

    I cook my washing soda and borax in after my soap disolves in the water. Then I add it to my large quantity of hot water. I then use a large whisk. I keep my whisk just for my soap making. I whisk the solution 3-4 times in the next 24 hour period. My soap gets plenty thick. The whisk makes a big difference. Try it!

  29. Does anyone know what soap you can use instead of Ivory? I am allergic. Thanks!

    • Shay- You can use Dr. Bronner’s bar soaps or any other castile soap! Ivory is not necessary, but is given as an example because it doesn’t contain lotion. If you use a lotion soap, it will not work!

  30. I could not find essential Oils at walmart or any where in the town I live in. What does the bottle look like that you use?

  31. Deborah Jennings says:

    I do love homemade laundry soap. Have you ever thought about making your own soap for the laundry soap? That is what I do. It cleans everything! Try it on some grease on your stove. WOW It cleans better than any other cleaner ever! Be sure to use some vinegar in the final rinse to cut the soap and to soften your clothes. I got the dryer balls for my dryer. WOW No wrinkles!

  32. After stumbling onto your website about 6 months ago, I finally got around to making this laundry detergent. WHY DID I WAIT!!! I will never buy detergent again. This works sooo well, plus my clothes seem softer.

    One question…
    when using the fels-naptha, do you completely replace the ivory? or is it in addition to? or do you use a 1/3 of f.n and 1/2 bar of ivory soap

    Love the site and I shouldn’t of procrastinated.

  33. Can’t wait to try this (and the homemade body soap)! I absolutely adore your humor and enjoy reading your posts. Thanks for sharing. I’m gonna be smellin’ good!

  34. I just made my third batch of laundry soap, and I’ll never, ever go back to buying it. I have a large family – my husband, three boys (2 of them teens), and an infant daughter. This soap gets EVERYTHING out! PS – Vanilla essential oil smells weird with Ivory Soap. So don’t do that. =)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] a month ago, I made up a batch of her Homemade Laundry Soap Recipe. I had snagged the recipe a few weeks prior, and my local WalMart was out of both of the main [...]

  2. [...] already told you about my happy, happy, super cheap and mega-effective homemade laundry detergent and my allergy-sufferer friendly unbelievably easy homemade air fresheners. You know I love to make [...]

  3. [...] But anyway, now I use this scaled-down recipe. It may not look quite as fancy as the store-bought type, but it gets my clothes plenty clean and it smells legit. There are a million recipes online; I am using this one. [...]

  4. [...] really search to find a recipe that was not the large, fill up my garage stash of soap.  I found this recipe on another blog.  She went through the trouble of working on the directions and taking [...]

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