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Nana's Homemade Laundry Detergent

Updated on May 30, 2016

As the price of nearly everything climbs, it is comforting to know there are a few things we can make at home that will save a significant amount of money over time. Laundry detergent is one of those things. Making laundry soap at home is easy and inexpensive. Yes, it works, and works well.

Borax, Fels-Naptha & Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
Borax, Fels-Naptha & Arm & Hammer Washing Soda | Source

Ingredients & Supplies

Large pot (I have a dedicated pot just for soap making)

Cheese grater or sharp kitchen knife

2 quarts Water (boiling)

1 bar Fels-Naptha® or Zote® soap

¾ - 1 cup 20 Mule Team Borax®

2 cups Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda®

4 gallons hot water

5 gallon bucket or other container(s) of choice*

Shaving off bar soap with kitchen knife.
Shaving off bar soap with kitchen knife. | Source


1. Put 2 quarts of water in pot on stovetop with temperature set to high.

2. While waiting for water to boil, grate the bar soap into small pieces - the smaller the better. A cheese grater comes in handy for this step but you can also shave the pieces off the bar with a kitchen knife.

Shaved bar soap added to boiling water
Shaved bar soap added to boiling water | Source

3. When the water begins to boil, stir the soap pieces in using a long handled spoon. Set the burner to low or medium-low. Slowly stir soap pieces in pot until all have melted.

4. Pour melted soap into the large container. Add borax & washing soda, stir. Add approximately four gallons of very hot water and stir until all the powder has dissolved. Cover and let your detergent sit a few hours before using. This will allow it to gel.

Fels-Naptha soap melted in 2 qts of boiling water
Fels-Naptha soap melted in 2 qts of boiling water | Source

You will need to stir the detergent again when you are ready to use it. You will probably have to wash several loads before settling on just how much to use per load. I tend toward ½ - ¾ cup per load for my laundry, which includes my gardening clothes. I am happy to say that I have not had to rewash a single thing since I started using this detergent.

Nana's homemade laundry detergent (gel) bottom of bucket
Nana's homemade laundry detergent (gel) bottom of bucket | Source

The detergent will turn into a very thick gel. That is great! It should be like that. The first time I made it, I thought I had done something terribly wrong and would have to start over.

I do keep a piece of PVC pipe near my washing machine to stir the detergent around as often as it needs to be stirred/remixed. This piece of pipe has also come in handy to push rugs into bleach water in the washtub.

I use a large cat litter bucket for my detergent. It is a good size and takes up less room by sitting flat against a wall (unlike a round five-gallon bucket) because it is more of a rectangular shape.

I also like that the lid is attached; only opening on one side. I do not have to chase down the lid that rolled across the room or clean up the mess where the lid fell soap side down on the floor.

Cat litter bucket
Cat litter bucket | Source

*A warning about the bucket - If you have small children living or visiting in your home, you will want to make certain these large buckets are locked away to prevent children from falling over into them where they could drown. If this is a concern in your home, mix your detergent in the larger container but store it in smaller containers such as recycled store-bought laundry detergent jugs. Ask family and friends to save theirs for you and you will have enough in no time.


  • I personally love the scent of the Fels-Naptha® soap but some people do not. You may also use other bar soaps. I have had good success with Zote® pink bar soap. I know others who use Ivory® and Sunlight® soaps. It is really a matter of personal preference. I simply prefer Fels-Naptha® or Zote®.
  • You may also wish to add a few drops of your choice of essential oil for a uniquely scented detergent.
  • If you feel you have a buildup of detergent on your clothing, you can add ¼ - ½ cup of white vinegar to the rinse water. (I have never had this problem)


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    • bredandagnes profile image

      bredandagnes 5 years ago from Ireland

      would love to try this-is it messy?

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 5 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      I would much rather make my own Laundry Detergent and really appreciate this hub. Thanks so much and voted up and sharing. And thanks for the follow :)

    • Meadow Kelly profile image

      Meadow Kelly 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Hi Jennifer,

      I haven't made the powder mix detergent because I prefer the gel-like detergent to powder especially in my new washer which doesn't seem to mix the powder well.

    • Jennifer Essary profile image

      Jennifer Essary 6 years ago from Idaho

      Very useful recipe. I've never tried making laundry soap but this is the second article I've read in a week on doing so. The other version was a dry powder. Have you tried the two? Do you have a preference of liquid soap over dry? Just curious : ) Voted up, useful, and sharing.

    • Meadow Kelly profile image

      Meadow Kelly 6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Hi Jamie,

      I've been away and missed your comment before I left. So sorry.

      I've never tried using a liquid detergent with the borax and washing soda. My reasons for making my own soap(s) are not only about the cost differences but also about knowing what sort of chemicals (or not) I am using in my home. You will always want to check the ingredients before mixing anything! Many years back, I knew a lady who mixed Dawn dish soap and Clorox bleach in a mop bucket and wound up in the hospital from the fumes. I'm not sure what is in Tide so, I'd make extra certain there is nothing in it that would cause you to become sick or worse.

    • Jamie Brock profile image

      Jamie Brock 6 years ago from Texas

      I have heard of this before and I LOVE the idea of this! I wonder if instead of boiling the bar soap if you could substitute with liquid tide instead... do you think maybe it would help stretch the use of the tide a bit longer? I love Tide and it would be hard to give up but this is very tempting, I must say. Thank you so very much for sharing this.. Voted way up, useful and interesting!

    • Meadow Kelly profile image

      Meadow Kelly 6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Thanks, Seeker. I really do prefer my detergent to any commercial brand. I would like to know how you find it when you try it at your house. There are other recipes out there - for instance, IsadoraPandora has her own recipe that she likes much better than mine. She is also a hubber and will be posting her own recipe soon, if she has not already done so.

      Thanks for voting up! :-)

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      An excellent hub and what a great idea!

      I had never thought about making my own detergent and at least when it's home made you've a good idea what's in it. Even many of the detergents that are suppose to be for 'sensitive skin' can make me itch and it costs the earth to buy, so will have this home made detergent a try.

      Many thanks for sharing. Voted up!!

    • Meadow Kelly profile image

      Meadow Kelly 6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Jen - Doing it that way would certainly cut down on the prep time. Do you use the borax and washing soda straight from the box with each load or do you mix it up in another container?

      Thanks for the tip.

    • profile image

      Jen Katzenberger 6 years ago

      I put my Fels-Naptha in my food processor to grind it up into small, tiny pieces. I don't melt it to a liquid, but keep it solid and add it to my laundry water first before adding my clothes to the machine. I make about 6 lbs at a time and place it into old 3lb. potato salad containers. I use just a tablespoon or two for each load of clothes. I have a top load washer, BTW.

    • Meadow Kelly profile image

      Meadow Kelly 6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Susan - Mine tends to be one big lump when it first sets up. It is so thick when I mix it up with the pipe, I poke the pipe down into it where it pulls up perfectly round, long 'gummy worms' that I have to tap the pipe to release. I just keep poking and mixing it with the pipe until it is loose enough to dip out. It is actually more lumpy than gel, I suppose.

    • Meadow Kelly profile image

      Meadow Kelly 6 years ago from Deep South, USA

      Maria J - That's interesting. I have not tried that but I am so stuck on my Fels-Naptha and Zote that I probably wouldn't unless I just could not get to the store to pick a bar up when I needed it. ;-) Thanks for the tip.

    • profile image

      Susan 6 years ago

      We've been using this for about the last year. My big problem is that it only gels for me 1 out of 3 times...still works but wish it would gel instead of lump...and I've done the same thing all three times, same ingredients, but it gelled up last time. Oh well.

    • profile image

      Maria J 6 years ago

      You can also use a cup of dish liquid in place of the bar of soap, but if you do the mixture will stay a liquid, but cleans just as good.


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