It’s been many years now since I switched from commercial laundry detergent to making it myself—both powdered and liquid homemade laundry detergent. The ingredients are simple, the process quick and easy. But the real reason I made the switch? Money.
It costs from $.30 to $.50 a wash using store-bought, name-brand laundry detergent—but only about a nickel per load to make it myself.
From time to time I’ll hear from a reader who has been warned that homemade detergent is not safe to use.
Dear Mary: Today a Sears repairman came to put a new part in my washing machine. He saw soap residue on the inside and told me I was using way too much detergent. Also, he didn’t like that I was using a homemade detergent that contains Dawn liquid.
He said borax should never be used for laundry in modern washing machines. Mine is 10 years old. He also said dish detergents, especially Dawn, should never be used because they don’t rinse out completely. That leaves soap residue which becomes a medium for mold and microbial growth.
Modern detergents, he said, should be used at the rate of one tablespoon per load. The water level should be medium, large at the highest, and never the super or plus level I often used. That leads to spill over which results in soap residue in various unreachable parts of the machine (unreachable unless you take the machine apart, as he did).
He showed me all the mostly dried residue, which he cleaned and vacuumed out before putting the machine back together.
He also recommended a second rinse to get rid of soap residue. I had been using only one rinse on most loads. The repairman went on to recommend a product called Affresh, which is supposed to clean out residue.
He says you can tell if you’re using too much detergent or the wrong kind of detergent by filling the tub with water, adding nothing to suds and noticing if there are suds in the water.
Now I’m flummoxed as to whether or not I should continue to use your homemade washing machine detergent recipe.
Thanks for any advice you can give on the subject. Jean
Dear Jean: Using too much of any product in a washing machine is not good for it—and even worse for your clothes and other laundry items. So whatever product you use, you need to measure carefully, erring on the side of too little, not too much. So I absolutely agree with your repairman’s suggestion that 1 tablespoon of modern HE detergent is sufficient in most washers. That is exactly the amount of our homemade detergent that I use in my front loading washer.
I am curious about why a manufacturer would create a super or plus level if doing so is bad for the machine. But I’ll leave that decision up to you for whether to use that option.
I do take issue with some of the information he gave you. Dawn is a safe product for clothes washing provided you are not using too much! So is borax. Occasionally, I get letters from readers saying that borax will ruin your machine, but I can find no credible evidence for this statement, nor for your repairman’s suggestion to not use Dawn!
I am convinced that our homemade HE laundry detergent is better than anything you can buy—and thousands of your fellow readers agree.
- LIQUID: How to Make the Best Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent
- POWDER: How to Make the Best Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent
As for his recommendation for the Affresh Washing Machine Cleaner, it is an excellent product for washing cleaning. Some manufacturers, such as General Electric (I currently have GE front loading washer and steam dryer), have specific instructions in the manual for how to use chlorine bleach in a cleaning cycle, together with exact instructions for how to use the “basket clean” setting on the washer once every couple of months. I’ve been following this directive for years now, without any failures or problems.
I regularly use the extra rinse option along with 1/2 cup white vinegar, to make sure all detergent is getting removed, leaving clothes soft and fluffy without any softening products.
So there you go. Who can you believe? I guess in the end you must go with your heart. As for me, I’m sticking with the homemade laundry detergent recipes. It’s better than anything I’ve ever purchased and I’ve been using some version of homemade for many years. I haven’t seen a washing machine repairman in more than 30 years.
Thanks for writing, it was great to hear from you.