What’s Up with the Clumps of Crystals in My 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. I needed to ask him about minerals and crystals and why something called borax can be powdery soft one day and hard as a rock the next.

Dear Mary: Your Everyday Cheapskate column 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. Your Italian Sausage Soup and Bread Pudding recipes are five-star and often served at our house. Practically all of our dinner guests have raved and asked for both recipes!

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 crystalized 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. (I know you probably can’t answer this, but 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: Let’s start with the Homemade Laundry Detergent issue—clumping, or as you call it “crystalized 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.

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 usually end up with some at the end, and I always use them at the end in a load of laundry.

One of the properties of borax which is a naturally occurring mineral, mined from underground, is that it clumps easily when exposed to humidity. The clumping or hardening action is hastened with heat.

Our recipe for how to make laundry detergent instructs 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 nave 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 significantly enough that I have amended the recipe to just water, not “hot” water. Instead, 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, your mileage may vary.

Here’s what you need to know. Whether presenting itself as a lovely soft powder or a mound of rock-hard crystals, the cleaning (dare I say nearly magical) properties of borax 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. If you are still bothered by these crystals, consider making smaller batches of laundry detergent that you will up more quickly.

To keep the box of borax 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 of you own a FoodSaver or other vacuum sealing machine.

Hope that helps.

You mentioned two recipes that have become your signature dishes. I am so happy to hear about this, but not surprised because both are truly fantastic. That you’re becoming known for your culinary prowess puts a big smile on my face—and your very kind comments have found a warm spot in my heart. Thank you for being such a loyal reader.

For other readers interested in the recipes, here they are again:

Italian Sausage and Vegetable Soup

  • 1 pound Italian sweet sausage (or hot, if preferred)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 2 14-ounce cans beef broth
  • 1 14.5-ounce can Italian-style stewed tomatoes
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 1 14.5 ounce can great Northern beans, undrained
  • 2 small fresh zucchini, cubed
  • 2 cups spinach, packed, rinsed and torn into small pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. In a large pot, brown sausage with garlic. Stir in broth, tomatoes and carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 15 minutes.
  2. Stir in beans with liquid and the cubed zucchini. Cover, and simmer another 15 minutes, or until zucchini is tender.
  3. Remove from heat, add spinach. Replace lid allowing the heat from the soup to cook the spinach leaves for just 2 or 3 minutes so the spinach remains green and slightly firm. Soup is ready to serve and wasn’t that quick!

Really Good Bread Pudding

  • 10 slices stale bread, cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 eggs
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups hot milk
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  1. Heat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine bread cubes, melted butter, raisins, and cinnamon. Mix well, and transfer to a 2-quart baking dish.
  3. In the same bowl beat the eggs. Stir in sugar, vanilla, and salt until sugar is dissolved. Slowly whisk in the hot milk. Pour egg mixture over bread cubes, sprinkle with nutmeg, and set aside to soak for 5 minutes.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
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2 replies
  1. Cally
    Cally says:

    I have two Arizona Tea gallon jugs that i alternate for homemade laundry soap, as soon as one is empty, i make a new gallon in the second jug. in the first jug i mix up half the water and powders, they sit in the jug until the other mix is used. Then i add the rest of the water and the Dawn detergent. The powders and water sit for a couple of months, i shake the jug once in awhile…my hope was that more time would allow for better dissolving. I still get “crystals/rocks” in the jug. I’ve become accustomed (resigned?) to clumps that will break up some when i shake the jug. the detergent works so well i will just live with “rocks”. ( a laundry detergent that rocks!?) 😉

  2. FrugalAnnie
    FrugalAnnie says:

    Why no onions in the soup? Is it because the stewed tomatoes will have onions?

    I had the clumping problem with the Borax also, but my main gripe was that there would be huge chunks in the box and it isn’t easy to break up for measuring. I finally just quit making the stuff because it was so annoying to me.


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