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Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

Posted Feb 01 2014 5:01pm

Over the summer I saw an article from Make Magazine  about  making your own laundry detergent .  While we’re talking about eating healthy on a budget , this is a nice time to talk about a slightly different way to save some money at the grocery store.  (On a non-food item of course, but still might be a part of your grocery budget.)

I like to buy the more earth friendly, natural brands of household cleaning products (Seventh Generation, Ecos, Citra Solv are a few of my favorite brands) for both the environmental and health concerns.  These natural cleaning products are typically more expensive than commercial brands and can quickly increase your grocery bill.  Much like saving money on preparing your own food – making your own cleaning products at home can totally pay off too.

When this homemade laundry detergent recipe presented itself, it looked promising and was I excited to try it out.  Would it work?  How much does it cost?  How much time is it going to take?  Can I get any more hippie?

Ingredients for Homemade Laundry Detergent

Yes!  We’re 6 months in to regular use of homemade laundry detergent and I’m here to tell you that it works great!  We had a bit of a bumpy start, but I eventually figured out I wasn’t using enough detergent in each load. (More details about this below.)

Borax (4 lbs, 12 oz) $3.79

Washing Soda (3 lbs, 7 oz) $3.49

Fels-Naptha (2 bars) $2.58

I can find all three of these items in the laundry detergent aisle at Wegmans, but any big shopping center should have them in stock.  You can also use any brand of bar soap, just beware of strong scents.

I use Fels Naptha and use two bars per “batch”, that leaves me with plenty of washing soda and Borax left over for a few future batches before needing to restock these two items.

From start to finish – from collecting and measuring ingredients, grating bar soap to putting everything away and cleaning up - I can expect to spend about 15 minutes making my own laundry detergent.

The most time consuming part of the whole homemade laundry detergent shebang is grating the bar soap.  It takes me about 4 minutes to hand grate each bar (I timed it!)  Alternatively, you can use the shredder attachment of your food processor, but in my experience, the set up and clean up of using the food processor made it a draw in terms of time and effort.  I’ve done it both ways and prefer to hand grate.  It’s simpler and gives me an extra arm workout to boot.  (Bonus!)

Shred Fels Naptha

Using one of the finer sides of my cheese grater , I pop it straight into the box and get grating.

Shred Fels Naptha

Each finely shredded bar of soap gives me about 2 cups.  The ratio of ingredients for bar soap : borax : washing soda is 2 : 1 : 1 

(I’ve got the ratio written right on the lid of the box so I don’t forget!)

I make a double batch each time with:

4 cups (2 bars) of soap

2 cups borax

2 cups washing soda

Homemade Laundry Soap

If you store your detergent in an air tight container, the Make article says it will last longer.  My container is not perfectly sealed, but it’s tight enough that I haven’t had any issue with my detergent going “bad”.  (Although let the record show that I do a lot of laundry, so mine isn’t sitting around for a long.)

Mix together and you’re done!  Use 4 tablespoons per load in a standard machine, 2 Tbsp if you have an HE washing machine.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Did you notice the 2 X’d out and replaced with a 4?  I was using 2 Tbsp per the instructions in the original recipe that did not give details or specifics about what kind of washing machine you have.  We have a standard machine and I quickly began to notice that while our clothes felt and looked clean, they did not SMELL very clean.  It was gross (and sort of depressing – I was so psyched for this to work!) until I realized I just needed to use more detergent per load, problem solved!

As you can see, once all the ingredients are combined, it’s not perfectly uniform.  I usually give it a quick stir each time right before scooping it out of the container and into the washer.  Like any powdered detergent, I put the detergent in as the washer is filling and let it begin to dissolve before adding clothes.  There are instructions in the original article for making a liquid detergent on the stove top with the same ingredients – it looks a little more time and labor intensive, but you can add some essential oil for scent that way if you like.

I wanted to know the cost of each batch of detergent so I could more easily compare it to what’s for sale in the store.

With a couple sheets of scrap paper, my trusty kitchen scale and a calculator, my math tell me:

Show Your Work

(My chicken scratch, show your work!)

Borax – $.05/oz

Washing soda – $.063/oz

2 c washing soda = 20 oz * .063 = $1.26

2 c borax = 14.75 oz * .05 =  $0.74

2 (5.5 oz) bars of Fels Naptha = $2.58

45.75 oz total weight, $4.58 per batch, which works out to be $0.10 per ounce.  Take a look at the unit price of what you currently buy and perhaps this is a savings for you! It definitely was for me.  I was spending a lot of money on natural laundry detergent and there is no question that this is saving us money.  I’ve only done a little reading about the environmental friendliness of  Borax and Washing Soda , mostly because what I’ve read hasn’t lead me to question what  Make has to say on the subject .

I took a couple of average scoops and weighed them – they varied from 2.75 oz to 3.25 oz each – so I get around 16 loads per batch.  This means that each load costs me about $0.27.  If you have a HE washer and can get away with less detergent, each load could potentially cost you 50% less.

Homemade Laundry Detergent Airtight Box

Since we’re talking about laundry, I’ll add that I stopped using fabric softener years ago but I just recently learned that you can use white vinegar in place of fabric softener .  I’ve been pouring a few tablespoons of vinegar into my fabric softener dispenser with each load too.

White Vinegar for Fabric Softener

Vinegar helps reduce static cling (especially right now with this dry winter air) and is said to help dissolve soap too.  I’ll say that I do notice my washing machine will sometimes smell like vinegar when I’m transferring clothes to the dryer, but our clothes don’t.  For $2.59 for a gallon jug of store brand white vinegar, it was a worthwhile experiment that is proving to work well for us.

What do you think?  Do you already make your own detergent?  Do you make other household cleaners?  I always enjoy reading your thoughts and experience in the comments, please share!

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