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How to Make the Best Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent

I’m not proud to admit it, but there was a time that I would’ve rather shoved toothpicks under my fingernails than be bothered with making my own homemade laundry detergent. Are you kidding me? Why on earth would I do that? I’m happy to live in modern times, not the stone age for goodness’ sake!

Oh my, how arrogant and ignorant I was. And deeply, horribly in debt to prove it. Long story short, I learned how to cut expenses—to scrimp where it doesn’t matter in order have what matters most. And yes, I most willingly learned to make my own homemade laundry detergent for cheap—less than a nickel a load, giving up spending $ .35 or even $.50 a load for the ready-made options. And I got paid off a massive amount of credit card debt, now happily debt-free with more joy than I can possibly express.

 

 

Look, I’m not saying that making laundry detergent is going to get you out of debt. That one move on its own will, at best, make a small dent in your weekly grocery tab. But add that to hundreds of other changes (hang around me with and I’ll teach you), and your life will change in dramatic ways. Just think about it.

In the meantime let me show you how quick and easy it is to do this:

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How to Make the Best Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent

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

 

Ingredients for homemade laundry detergent powder

Three ingredients required for homemade laundry detergent powder.

Fels Naptha

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.

Borax

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.

Washing soda

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.

Step 1

Grate the entire bar Fels Naptha or other laundry bar soap using the fine side of a cheese grater.

Ingredients for homemade laundry detergent powder

The pile is the result of grating one full soap bar. The wrapped bar in the back is a prop, and good to have on hand for the next batch.

Step 2

Pour grated soap, borax, and washing soda into a large mixing bowl.

 

Ingredients for homemade laundry detergent powder

It’s not cheese!

Step 3

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!)

 

Ingredients for homemade laundry detergent powder

This is how it looks mixed up and ready to go. Just one tablespoon is likely all you’ll need per wash load.

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

Making laundry detergent is easy, cheap, and effective in standard and HE washers. Save money and avoid harsh chemicals with this ORIGINAL recipe and procedure for making powdered homemade laundry detergent. It is so good and costs less than 5 cents per load.
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Housekeeping
Cuisine: Laundry
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 75 wash loads
Author: Mary
Cost: $3

Equipment

  • 1-quart (32 oz.) or larger container with lid
  • cheese grater

Ingredients

  • 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)

Instructions

  • Grate the entire bar Fels Naptha (or other laundry bar soap (Note 1) using the fine side of a cheese grater.
    Ingredients for homemade laundry detergent powder
  • Pour grated soap, borax, and washing soda into a large mixing bowl.
    Ingredients for homemade laundry detergent powder
  • Stir to mix well then transfer mixture to quart-size or larger container (Note 4). Apply the lid and label clearly.
    Ingredients for homemade laundry detergent powder
  • 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.

Notes

Note 1: Or ZOTE, Dr. Bronner's Castile Bar, or Ivory.
Note 2: Twenty-Mule Team Borax is one brand, which is available in the laundry products aisle of most supermarkets and stores like Walmart and Target. 
Note 3: Super Washing Soda is a brand name by Arm & Hammer. The product is sodium carbonate (not the same as baking soda). Soda ash is its generic name and much cheaper! Buy soda ash in swimming pool supply stores, or online for a fraction of the cost. 
Note 4: Alternatively, you can pour the mixture into your blender or food processor to create a fine powder that will dissolve more readily in a cold water wash cycle. It's a messy process because you'll create a lot of dust needs to settle before proceeding. Be careful not to breathe that fine powder that will be produced.
Pro-tip: This recipe for powdered laundry detergent multiples well. Shake or stir it a bit before each use to keep everything evenly distributed.
Pro-tip: This recipe for powdered laundry detergent multiples well. Shake or stir it a bit before each use to keep everything evenly distributed.
Tried this recipe?Mention @EverydayCheapskate or tag #EverydayCheapskate!

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How to Make Sure You are Using the Right Amount Laundry Detergent

As you know, and only because I do mention it from time to time, I get a lot of email. If I were to respond to each and every message, that is all I’d ever do, and still not get through the piles that replenish daily.

So, I use the subject line method of quick elimination to winnow the pile to something I can deal with. Negative subjects lines are the first to go—instant delete. Subsequent passes from there get my messages down to something manageable, with the most interesting and useful rising to the top of the pile.

 

Pouring laundry soap into machine

 

Dear Mary: I love all of your washing machine tips, but can you guide us on using the correct amount of detergent? I know you say small amounts, but I hate to do a load with too little or too much. It feels like a guessing game. I tried googling this, but the information I found was not helpful.

You are such an expert on these things that I thought you might have some additional tips—if you can bear the thought of another post about laundry, that is! Hugs to you for such fantastic work. Your Anonymous Fan

 

Dear A.F.: Great question. And yes, flattery did get your letter to the top of the pile so good job on that!

Most of us use way too much laundry detergent, which can present all kinds of problems like skin irritation, grayish looking whites, and stiff scratchy clothes and linens.

Whatever amount of detergent you use, it must be completely rinsed away for the results to be beautifully clean, whiter-than-white, brighter-than-bright colors; soft clothes and linens.

Variables

Generally, (there are variables, which I’ll touch on shortly) if you have soft water use 1 tablespoon (1/16 cup) of HE (high-efficiency) detergent per wash load in a front-loading machine; for top-loading refer to your owner manual, or about 1/4 cup if you can’t find it. If you have hard water use 2 tablespoons (1/8 cup), which begs the question “How do I know if my water is hard or soft?”

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Ask Me Anything: HE Detergent, Makeup Primer, Cordless Vac, Slow Cooking, DIY Degreaser, Cloudy Glassware

My fondness for TV game shows’ lighting rounds—the duration of the round is a pre-determined length of time, and the goal is to accomplish as much as possible within that period—may have something to do with my attention span. Lightning round questions are short, the answers quick and concise.

I see we have lots of questions in the audience, so let’s set the clock. Ready? Set … Go!

.

Q: Do I HAVE to use HE labeled laundry detergent only in my new Whirlpool washer? Why? Pegg

A: Yes. If the owner manual recommends HE detergent, that means it is a high-efficiency washer. HE washers use considerably less water and have sophisticated computer-like electronics. They’re very smart!

HE detergent creates no suds or bubbles. The presence of too many suds can confuse washing cycles, cause delays and make proper rinsing of clothes difficult if not impossible.

By the way, you can make your own detergent is HE because it creates no suds or bubbles. Recipe and tutorial HERE. Make sure you measure the detergent in every load. I use 2 tablespoons in my HE machine, which seems like not nearly enough,  but it is! Using too much detergent can cause all kinds of problems. Read your manual.

Q: Do you have a favorite makeup primer? I’m wondering if using a primer will help hide some of those tiny lines. Jeannine

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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.

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. (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  Read more

Using Regular Detergent in a High-Efficiency Washer is Risky Business

If you’ve ever wondered what’s the difference between regular laundry detergents and those designated as “High Efficiency” or HE, if they’re interchangeable and if you could possibly make your own to cut the cost, you are not the only one! Those are questions that frequently show up in my mailbox.

Washing machine and 3 bottles laundry detergent

Dear Mary:  First, thank you for your column, I love it! I just inherited several bottles of regular laundry detergent. I have a HE front-loader washer. Is there a way to use or modify regular laundry detergent for HE use? Christin

Dear Christin: Standard washing machines that use traditional laundry detergent (the type of detergent you’ve inherited) use up to 35 gallons of water per load. Full-sized energy efficient top-loaders like my beloved LG High-Efficiency Top Load Washer (which I loved and gifted it to my son when we moved and our new laundry room configuration could not accommodate it), use about 13 gallons of water per load—a savings of more than 3,000 gallons of water per year—operate much differently than a standard machine. This is one of the reasons that HE detergent is quite different than the standard type of detergent.

So, can you use standard detergent in your HE machine? I must advise you that your owner manual is not likely to support such an idea, potentially putting your warranty at risk. That being said, I will admit that I did use standard detergent from time to time in my LG top-loader that required HE detergent. But I used MUCH less per load because it uses so much less water.

Too much detergent will clog up the machine because the amount of water it uses is not sufficient to rinse it out. That build up can cause the machine to malfunction and to eventually create an offensive odor.

When I say “less” I mean a lot less. Like one-fourth the amount you might normally use. I measured it in tablespoons, not capfuls. And I diluted it in a large container of water before pouring it into the machine.

Would I do that again? Yes, but not on a regular basis. I want you and all of my readers to know that to do so would be, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, taking a potential risk should the machine require service under its warranty.

Given the potential harm you could do to your machine, you might want to consider re-gifting the detergent to friends, family or a shelter in your area that uses traditional washers. Then make a big batch of my new and improved liquid homemade HE detergent (read on to learn more about that). That way others win and you win, too. Hope that helps. And thanks for loving EC.

Dear Mary: I made up the laundry soap recipe that you published back in 2012. It seems like there is way too much Fels-Naptha soap for the recipe. I bought a similar jar of laundry soap mixture at the local Farmer’s Market and the vender did not have nearly as much soap in it. It did quite well in my HE washer. I just want to make sure there wasn’t a misprint in your article.

I look forward to your articles each time they are in my local newspaper. Thank you for your diligence and pithy advice. Cheryle

Dear Cheryle: The recipe for powdered laundry detergent you refer to (1 cup grated Fels-Naptha soap, 1/2 cup Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda and 1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax) is correct. It may seem like a lot of Fels-Naptha but keep in mind, you use only 2 tablespoons of the final product per washer load.

This recipe is suitable to be used in any clothes washer including those designated “high efficiency” or HE, as this detergent does not create suds. You would want to use a bit more in a standard washing machine, however.

Since that column ran more than three years ago, I’ve discovered what I believe is a much improved  recipe for homemade liquid laundry detergent; one that does not require Fels-Naptha soap (somewhat difficult to find these days plus all that grating!) and is also HE compliant. I find it performs better, too.

P1010868-e1343926177307

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