washing soda borax on white laundry

Help! I Get Clumps of Crystals in My Homemade Laundry Detergent

Several times over the past years, I have wished with all my heart I could call Mr. Migaki, my favorite teacher of all time who sparked curiosity and the love of science in my fifth-grade self.

washing soda borax on white laundry

I needed to ask him about minerals and crystals and why borax and washing soda—both of them ingredients in our homemade laundry liquid and powder detergents—can be powdery soft one day and hard as a rock the next.

I was reminded once again of this curiosity when I received this message from EC reader Pat.


Dear Mary: Your Everyday Cheapskate newsletter is one of the few emails I receive that I open and read every day, without fail. Both your product recommendations and your recipes are wonderful.

I also use your homemade laundry detergent recipe, and it works well to clean our clothes, but I have a question about it. The last batch I made went into two clean gallon containers, and as I was pouring the last out of the first container, I got a lot of white crystallized lumps at the bottom. So I strained the contents of the second container into another jug and got a lot of the same white crystalized lumps from it. So:

1. Did I do something wrong? The previous several batches were fine and lump-free, and I followed the same recipe with the same ingredients. Maybe other readers have reported the same phenomenon?

2. Do you know what these lumps are?

3. Is the strained liquid going to be an effective cleaning agent? Where I live in Southern California we’re still under drought water-usage rules. I don’t want to waste a couple washer loads of water with useless detergent if I don’t have to. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated! Pat


Dear Pat: First, thanks for being an EC fan. That means the world to me and I hope you’ll consider sharing EC with your friends and family, so they get it in their inbox every morning, too!

OK, let’s talk about this clumping, or as you call it “crystallized lumps.” This happens for me and I’ve heard from lots of readers who experienced the same thing. I notice this happening not right away, but maybe a couple of weeks after I make up a new batch of detergent.

Annoying but harmless

I’ve been conducting my own research on this and am satisfied (not alarmed) by what I have learned. These crystals are completely harmless, if only slightly annoying. I shake the container in an attempt to break them up, but even if some remain at the end, I use them as if they were still liquified.

One of the properties of both borax, and super washing soda, which are naturally occurring minerals mined from various places around the globe, is that both clump easily when exposed to humidity. The clumping or hardening action is hastened with moisture and heat.

Our original recipe for how to make liquid laundry detergent instructed you to mix the borax and washing soda with hot tap water to dissolve them before proceeding with the other ingredients. That’s the way I have always done it but have been experimenting with changing that to regular cold tap water.

While this has not stopped the crystallization completely, I believe I see less of it—and significant enough that I have amended the recipes to mix with cold water and shake well.


With that said, keep in mind that I live in a very dry climate, with very little humidity. Depending on the climate conditions where you live in California, your mileage may vary. And of course, this can change from day to day.

Here’s what you need to know. Whether presenting itself as a lovely soft powder or a mound of rock-hard crystals, the cleaning properties of borax and super washing soda are not affected. If you end up with a giant crystalized rock-thing in the bottom of your laundry detergent, whack it with the end of a wooden spoon or some other implement to break it up then use it up as if it were completely liquified—crystals and all. Your laundry will still come out clean and lovely.

Keep it small

If you are still bothered by these crystals, consider making smaller batches of homemade laundry detergent that you will up more quickly.

To keep the box of borax and or washing soda powdery once you’ve opened it, don’t leave it in the box. Instead, store it in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid or a sealed Mason jar. Or vacuum seal it if you own a FoodSaver or other vacuum sealing machine.

Hope that helps!


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Updated 5-31-23

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17 replies
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  1. Becky says:

    I wish I had known when I first opened the large Borax and Washing Soda boxes what was going to happen to the powders in this humidity I live in. Thankfully, I’m almost to the bottom of each brick-hard block that I have to chop on to get small enough chunks to finally dissolve! I’ll know better with the next boxes. Love the result, though, thanks!

  2. Julie says:

    When my washing soda or borax get hard and lumpy, I put about a cup of washing soda and/or borax into an empty plastic cereal bag and crush it with a rolling pin. Sometimes I use a screwdriver to break up the hard clumps in the box. Works great.

  3. Belle Mieloch says:

    Mary when I see the crystals forming I put the them in my Ninja blender. This seems to help brake them up. Some may reform but it works well most of the time.

  4. Wendy S Trehus says:

    Mine turned to a pudding like consistency. I just cut the jug open and dumped in a large plastic coffee “can”. I just throw a scoop full in washer. Still works geat. Thanks Mary. Fan of yours for decades.

  5. Debbie says:

    I started using borax and washing soda in my washing machine and I can’t seem to get the crystals to dissolve … the dark clothes have all this whit powder on them … any suggestions?

    • Mary Hunt says:

      I’m guessing that you are using too much of the powders relative to the amount of water in your machine. I would cut the amount by at least half. Then if the problems still persists, eliminate the washing soda—borax only. It also could be that you have especially hard water. Best advice: Experiment!

  6. pat syblik says:

    When I make your laundry detergent, I make it in a large gallon jug. (except for the Dawn. After it is finished and well blended I pour it into three large (Dawn Bottles) in equal amounts. Then to that I add 1/4 cup of Dawn to each bottle shake well. I use the bottles to squeeze the Laundry detergent into a small measuring cup for each load. There is a little bit of the fine crystals in each bottle, but I shake it every time I use it. I tried adding the Dawn to the other parts of the Laundry detergent, but it was harder to pour into my bottles as there were too many bubbles. I’ve been doing this for about four years now and the laundry comes out great each time.

  7. Janet says:

    I have an apartment size washer and it says on the instructions use cold water only can I use this laundry detergent in that

  8. Cally Ross says:

    I had wondered if it was our well-water, I know it has minerals in it, the evidence accumulates around every faucet in the house! would distilled water help? I, too, use boiling water to dissolve the powders before adding Dawn. I’ll have to try it with cold water… maybe I’ve been going at it the wrong temp all along…

    • Mary Hunt says:

      The best option is to not allow water to sit in those areas. Clean it up immediatley with a microfiber cloth. Squeegee walls and doors in showers and tub surrounds, too to make sure you don’t accumulate hard water marks.

  9. Penny says:

    Not sure if my way affects the properties of Borax or washing soda, but the trick I use is heating water on my stovetop and when hot, I add the 2 powders and stir til the water gets just to the boiling point and turning off the heat and continue to stir til completely dissolved. I have found that this method has stopped the bigger clumps although the smaller crystals still appear after a week or so in storage.

  10. Bill says:

    When the soda/borax has built up enough, I’ve been putting it in a large coffee mug, filling it up with water, then standing my everyday stainless steel knife/forks etc. in the cup. They all come out sparkling.

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