Close-up Of Female Hands Pouring homemade laundry detergent In The Blue Bottle Cap

Is Homemade Laundry Detergent Safe to Use in Today’s Washing Machines?

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.

Close-up female hands pouring homemade laundry detergent bottle cap

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.

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.

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9 replies
  1. Catherine says:

    As an owner of an appliance repair company and approved warranty providers, you should absolutely follow the advice of trained professionals and not someone writing a blog. . . I also have not heard of board being an issue by dawn dish soap is and so is any home made detergent that has bar soap. Bar soap is not the same type of surfactant that is used in detergents and it does build up in your drum and cause major issues to your machine. Just because you can’t see it or know what to look for doesn’t mean it’s not causing damage. Dawn soap has thickening agents in it that is hard to rinse off, so it will also build up in the drum. Eventually you’ll get black marks all over your clothes and think it’s grease or something. It’s not, it’s the soap scum inside the machine. It’s really irresponsible for this article to counter the advice given by a trained professional that in the end will have the final say of if your warranty is void. The sears man works for the warranty provider not this lady. Remember that.

    Reply
  2. Barbara says:

    I have been making my detergent since 2013. I use a coffee scoop per load. And knock on wood I have had zero problems. Anyone know why you should not use Borax in your detergent?

    Reply
  3. Cheryl a Geisbauer says:

    You know, I started making my own laundry detergent about 20 years ago. My clothes started getting dingeier and dingier until it looked like we weren’t washing our clothes. I thought it was my front load Maytag washer, so I bought a new top loader. That made a really big difference. I always said you can’t get twenty pounds of clothes clean in two gallons of water. Anyway I bought some Persil pods and you wouldn’t believe this but my clothes came out sparkling including my husband and son’s white socks. Before I had to prewash all of my laundry but to no avail, still gross looking. So for me, it’s so worth the money to buy a very hi quality detergent and I recommend Persil. I’d be interested what others who have gone back to store bought think.

    Reply
    • Jenni Glenn says:

      Consumer reports said Persil is the best stain remover! I now use that, but only for stain removal. I use strictly homemade with vinegar in my fabric softener dispenser. I have a front loader (my last) and don’t have trouble with soap residue. I also use wool dryer balls. I only use about a tablespoon of laundry detergent. My only complaint is that the borax doesn’t stay dissolved.

      Reply
      • Barb says:

        I also have trouble with borax clumping up. I’m making 1/2 gals. at a time now & it gets used up before it has a chance to clump up.

  4. rose freitas says:

    I just ran my washer with no detergent at all. I have been using the homemade recipe for 6 months. Absolutely no sudsing. Pure water. Model is whirlpool stacking wet4024hw0 fyi

    Reply
  5. Cath says:

    Regarding the issue of why manufacturers include plus and superplus wash cycles, I rather suspect it is a marketing tool. Everybody wants to get a ton of laundry done in one go. Not having the option of doing a large load would be a minus if you were at the appliance store comparing washers to buy. The question is, why wouldn’t they design the machine not to allow spillover. Because they’re trying to have the biggest profit margin on their machines as possible. If you can’t see the inside of the machine when you’re shopping, you’re not going to notice the shortcuts they’ve taken in manufacturing the washers. You’re going to focus on that sleek control panel with enticing labels like “gigantic supersized washload.” I just dismantled a generic brand electric teakettle because the plastic hinge on the lid broke. I broke the hinges off completely, then I took the lid apart to insert a piece of wire that I fashioned into a handle. Now I can lift the lid off and on like a traditional tea kettle lid. In doing so, I noticed all the very flimsy plastic pieces hidden away inside the teakettle with the sleek stainless steel sheathing. Most of the tea kettle is plastic. It is doomed to fall apart eventually. It also explained why I could never get the lid to spring open easily with the push of a button. I always had to wrestle it open with my fingernails. These days we have to treat our appliances with kid gloves, because they ain’t gonna last long.

    Reply
  6. Carlene says:

    I’ve been following you for years and you’ve not steered me wrong yet. As for the repairman on the washer, I’ve had to have mine repaired once but I believe at the time it was under warranty and it was a circuit board and it’s a front loader. At that time, he told me not to follow the instructions that come directly from the manufacturer, that clearly state to run the cleaning cycle every month. I’m still following the manufacturers instructions and my machine works great! Also, I make sure my washer’s front door stays propped open a little when I’m done washing also.

    Reply

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