Powdered laundry detergent
To make one quart powdered laundry detergent, you need these items:
- 32-ounce or larger container with lid
- 1 (5-oz.) bar Fels Naptha laundry bar
- 2 cups (14 oz. ) borax
- 1 3/4 cups (14 oz.) washing soda
This product is available in the laundry aisle of many supermarkets and department stores like Walmart and Target, and the soap I use in powdered detergent. However, you may prefer to substitute with 5 oz. of a similar product such as ZOTE, Dr. Bronner’s Castile bar or Ivory.
You can find Twenty-Mule Team borax, or any brand of borax, in the laundry aisle of your supermarket or a department store like Walmart or Target.
Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (sodium carbonate) is the brand of washing soda available in many supermarkets and stores like Walmart and Target and online.
An alternative to branded washing soda is soda ash (also just plain sodium carbonate). Soda ash is the generic form and exactly the same thing as Super Washing Soda (not to be confused with baking soda) and is used in swimming pools to fix the ph. It’s readily available in pool supply stores or even larger department stores that carry pool chlorine and so forth, or online.
Grate the entire bar Fels Naptha or other laundry bar soap using the fine side of a cheese grater.
Pour grated soap, borax, and washing soda into a large mixing bowl.
Stir to mix well then transfer mixture to quart-size or larger container. Apply the lid and label (which, clearly, I failed to do before snapping this photo!)
To use: Add 1 tablespoon powdered laundry detergent to the wash load. You may need to adjust depending on your conditions and washer size. You will not need much to produce excellent results.
Pro-tip: This recipe for powdered laundry detergent multiples well. Shake or stir it a bit before each use to keep everything evenly distributed.
Frequently asked Questions
This recipes has, over the years, prompted many questions from my readers. What follows are those asked most frequently:
Which is better, the liquid or powdered version, and why?
That’s a tough question because there are so many variables. I prefer the liquid version because my HE washer uses so little water, I find the powdered version doesn’t dissolve well. That’s why I recommend powder users to throw the powder into the washer itself (not the dispenser) first, before the clothes. Now it will get hit with water first, giving it more time to dissolve and get to work. The liquid version does involve a few more steps which is why some readers do prefer it.
Can I use homemade laundry detergent in HE washer?
Yes. Both this powdered and the liquid version are non-sudsing, even though they contain soap. What makes the HE-compatible is that the soap becomes highly diluted. Remember that this homemade detergent—either version—is not going to produce bubbles or suds. If you need that to be satisfied, you won’t like these recipes! The proof for how well they work is in the dirty water you’ll see. It’s amazing that so little homemade detergent can produce such great results.
Won’t borax, washing soda or Fels-Naptha void my washer’s warranty?
Please consult your owner manual. While many manufacturers recommend a specific brand of detergent because they have marketing partnerships with major brands, I have yet to see where any warranty was put at risk in writing for using borax, washing soda, Fels-Naptha or another laundry bar soap in the machine.
I’ve used all of those products including white vinegar (1 cup in the final rinse) by the gallon in my machines and have never had a repair issue, let alone warranty problem. However, please make this determination for yourself. I cannot guarantee your outcome.
Are these recipes fragrance-free?
Technically, no. Dawn does have some amount of fragrance as does Fels-Naptha. But again, compared to fragranced commercial brands of laundry detergent, it’s minuscule. Remember the dilution with these recipes. You can substitute ZOTE laundry bar soap for the Fels-Naptha, which is all-natural and fragrance-free.
How much should I use per load?
Start with 1 tablespoon. And do not judge the outcome by the number of bubbles and suds you can observe during the wash cycle. Know now that you will see none.
Do I still need to pretreat stains, or will these recipes take care of that?
Absolutely, you need to pretreat stains. Without question. You have many very effective options: Dawn, Lestoil, Soilove, Fels-Naptha (dampen a corner of a Fels-Naptha bar and rub it into the stain). Treating stains ahead of time is another reason you can use so very little detergent in the wash load.
Why has this homemade detergent turned my white things gray and towels stiff and stinky?
Remember what I said about learning things the hard way? This is it. I know from experience that using too much detergent will make white things dingy, and towels and other items stiff, scratchy, and stinky too. The problem is the detergent you’ve added to the wash cycle was too much to get rinsed out fully.
Detergents build up in fabrics and become breeding grounds for bacteria. Those bacteria and all that build-up of detergent create that grayish color and the stink, too.
Why should I bother to make my own laundry detergent?
Two reasons: You’ll save a ton of money and you’ll know what’s in it. These days, many laundry detergents and softening products are laden with harsh chemicals and overpowering fragrance. And compared to the basic ingredients that go into them, they’re expensive!
Over the past 20 years, the price of ingredients for homemade detergent has pretty much held steady. I can still make my own for less than a nickel a washload. Compare that to these currently published prices for popular commercial options:
- Tide Pods $.34/load
- Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day $.20/load
- Kirkland Ultra Clean liquid $.20/load
- Kirkland Laundry Powder $.16/load
Can I use these recipes to wash clothes in cold water?
Yes. However, I prefer the liquid option with cold water as there is much less product that needs to get dissolved for the detergent to work well.
First published: 5-13-13; Most Recent Update: 9-30-19
Powdered Laundry Detergent
- 1 bar (5 oz.) Fels-Naptha laundry bar (Note 1)
- 2 cups (14 oz.) borax (Note 2)
- 1 3/4 cups (14 oz.) washing soda (Note 3)
- Grate the entire bar Fels Naptha (or other laundry bar soap (Note 1) using the fine side of a cheese grater.
- Pour grated soap, borax, and washing soda into a large mixing bowl.
- Stir to mix well then transfer mixture to quart-size or larger container (Note 4). Apply the lid and label clearly.
- To Use: Add 1 tablespoon powdered laundry detergent to the wash load. You may need to adjust depending on your conditions and washer size. You will not need much to produce excellent results.
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