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Save Money And Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

Updated on July 12, 2011

Easy-To-Make Detergent

The Ingredients
The Ingredients
Grate the soap like cheese - It's easy!
Grate the soap like cheese - It's easy!
The soap is soft, so it goes quickly
The soap is soft, so it goes quickly
Put the grated soap into a pot of hot water to melt
Put the grated soap into a pot of hot water to melt
Mix the melted soap and the borax and washing soda into a clean 5-gallon bucket. Add enough water to fill it halfway - then let it sit overnight.
Mix the melted soap and the borax and washing soda into a clean 5-gallon bucket. Add enough water to fill it halfway - then let it sit overnight.
Now it's a laundry gel! Fill an empty detergent container halfway with the gel and add water to fill it. Shake it up and you're ready to wash!
Now it's a laundry gel! Fill an empty detergent container halfway with the gel and add water to fill it. Shake it up and you're ready to wash!

15 minutes is all you need for 2 cents a load

Why pay a multi-national company to sell you inexpensive ingredients mixed with water? You’re paying for marketing, taxes, plastic containers and shipping – because, let’s face it, water is heavy.

It won’t involve more than 15 minutes of your time and it will cost you about two cents (U.S.) a load.

I’m kind of a fusspot about the scents used in detergent, liquid soap, moisturizer and deodorant. I like things to smell good, but not overpowering. More than a few people complain about the heavy perfumes in the detergent aisle at the grocery store. (Once, when I bought fabric softener sheets, the box was loaded next to bread in my bag. By the time I got home, the bread had absorbed so much of the perfume, I had to throw it out!)

For these reasons, I’ve taken to making my own mixtures of personal care products, so I recently tried a recipe for laundry detergent that looked easy, inexpensive and fun. Here’s what I used to make 5 gallons of liquid detergent as good or better than anything available:

  • 1 Bar of Zote. This sells for .97 cents in my town. You can also use Ivory Soap or Fels Naptha.
  • 1/2 to 1 cup of 20 Mule Team Borax. The box sold for $2.98 – use the rest for making dishwasher detergent with the Washing Soda! (If you add more it will help defy stains)
  • 1 cup of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda: $2.48 for the box. (Not Baking Soda)
  • Your favorite scent: either essential oils or a few spritzes of fragrance.
  • 1 5-gallon clean bucket with a top
  • Leftover detergent bottles

All of these were available at my local Walmart, except for the fragrance. You probably have something you like that you can spray into the mixture, or put in several drops of essential oil to give it a nice scent.

First put on a big pot of water on the stove and heat to a warm, not quite boiling, temperature. Don’t worry about how much is in here since you’ll be adding enough water to fill up the 5 gallon bucket halfway.

While that’s heating up, grate the Zote with a cheese grater. This took me less than 5 minutes (probably 3 minutes) and it was a lot less work than I suspected. Once the water is hot enough, mix in your grated soap.

Stir it up until the soap melts, which will happen quickly. Then (carefully!) pour the entire mixture into your 5-gallon bucket.

Measure a ½ cup of borax and 1 cup of washing soda and pour into the bucket. Stir.

Add enough water to fill to the halfway mark. Mix in your scent or fragrance and stir.

Let the whole thing sit, covered in a warm place overnight. I set mine outside, since it’s very sunny where I live, and the bucket would stay warm.

By the next day, you will have a soapy gel. Stir it up well and fill half an empty laundry bottle with the gel, adding water to fill the rest of the bottle. Shake it up well, and there you have it!

You will have just made great laundry soap for a tiny fraction of what you would have paid at the store. By my calculations, I will be paying about 2 cents a load.

Use just ½ a cup on average for each load (top loaders), and try 1/3 or less in front load washing machines.

Too Much Soap?

Vernon Schmidt, an appliance repairman who self-published a book “Appliance Handbook for Women: Simple Enough Even a Man Can Understand,” writes that we use too much soap in our laundry. “Most people use 10 to 15 times more soap than they need,” he told the New York Times.

You can check to see if you are using too much soap with this test: Take four to six clean bath towels, put them in your front-loading washing machine (one towel for a top loader). Don’t add any detergent or fabric softener. Switch to the hot water setting and medium wash and run it for about five minutes. If you see suds or residue, you’ve been using too much soap.

Putting It To The Test

I have tested the homemade soap against a popular brand ("All" Detergent) to see how well it would take out a mustard stain on brand new, white washcloths. I buy these washcloths in bulk to use around the kitchen, so they look pretty ugly after a year.

In both cases, the mustard rinsed out well and turned pink when it reacted to both detergents, but didn't take out the stains entirely. If anything, the homemade detergent did slightly better.

I rinsed both wash cloths seperately in an oxygen cleaner, which is basically more of the washing soda along with sodium percarbonate. After this, the homemade detergent washcloth came out practically like new, while the store detergent didn't quite make the same improvement.

After this test, I can say that the homemade detergent should use as much washing soda as borax, so in future mixes, I'll make that change. Others suggest simply putting in a cup of an oxygen cleaner into the mix to 'turbo charge' your homemade detergent.

It's up to you, but when you do make your own, try the mustard test yourself to adjust your mixture to your liking.


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    • Felina Margetty profile image

      Felina Margetty 

      9 years ago from New York, New York

      Wow I had no idea, this is a great hub and this is the environment we live in. Like my Great Gran who fills me with stories about life in her era, life without convenience.I mean they did not go down to the East River and wash their cloths on rocks but they sure did a lot of stuff we would never consider. If this GFC gets any worse we will all be using tips like this hub to save money. Cheers F.

    • GracieLake profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Arizona

      Thanks for the comments! I am really excited about this and boring my friends (alas), with tales of detergent-making, since most people would rather just buy the stuff at the store. But it was fun to make and it makes me feel more self-sufficient.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      It's definitely worth a try. Thanks!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Wow, this is a fabulous recipe for laundry detergent, Gracie. I'm definitely sharing it with my network. Rated up and awesome!


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