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:
I make my own laundry soap. I can make a batch that lasts me the month for approx $1.”
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.)
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.
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.
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!
Look at the advantages:
- It is really, really inexpensive.
- It is environmentally and septic-system friendly. No worries about phosphates or other nasties.
- 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!
- It’s really cheap.
- 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.)
- There are no dyes in it to irritate sensitive skin.
- Did I mention it saves you a ton of money?
Let me break down the cost for you:
- Box of Borax: $4.00 at my local small grocery store (Dial #00368 76OZ 20 Mule Team Borax)
- Box of Washing Soda: $3.50 at my local small grocery store (Arm & Hammer Super Wash Soda, Detergent Booster 55 oz (1559 g))
- Water: FREE baby, free!
- Essential Oil: $4.50 for a 2 ounce bottle in the Walmart craft section (Essential Oils)
- Ivory soap: $1.50 for a three-pack of bars at my local small grocery store
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
- 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.
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.
Pat Sturtevant says
I made the laundry soap two days ago, but it is still totally liquid! I did follow the directions carefully. What now?
As I wasn’t there, I can’t really figure out what went wrong, but you should still be able to use the soap.
Tori M says
Oh, and everyone, I’d suggest not buying buckets! Just go to the bakery department at Sam’s Club or Safeway or wherever, and see if they have any frosting buckets. They are usually more than happy to give them away for free. 🙂
Tori M says
Excited to use my soap! Put clove and sweet orange oil in it 🙂 But, hoping it turns out right, was 1/3 of a bar of Fels Naptha right for a 5 gal. ish batch?
That sounds perfect!
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. =)
Oh… that no vanilla/Ivory soap combo is good to know. I’m fond of vanilla! 😀
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!
Melissa M says
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.
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.
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!
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?
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!
So, could we use the liquid castile soap and skip the grating step?
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!
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!
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.
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
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?
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!
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?
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!