Make Homemade Laundry Detergent

Edited by Shelley, Melissa Rae, Eng, Jen M and 1 other


Make your own homemade laundry detergent right in your own kitchen using common cleaning products. Save money, help the environment by reducing product packaging waste, and enjoy the pride of having made something useful all by yourself. Just think of it. From now on you can be free from ever having to buy commercial laundry detergent again.

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How Are Commercial Laundry Detergents Formulated?

Commercial laundry detergents are formulated to get your clothes clean with a combination of a surfactant and a builder. The specific surfactants and builders used in commercial laundry detergents vary among manufacturers. Manufacturers choose which ingredients to use in their formulations according to their cost and availability, as well as the purpose for which the detergent is designed. For example, a detergent specifically made for fine cloths such as silk will be very different than a laundry detergent made for all-purpose use.

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What Are Surfactants And What Do They Do?

Surfactants act on a molecular level to inhibit water beads from forming by breaking down surface tension in the water molecule. This both improves the fabric's ability to absorb water, and also enables the surfactant to gain access to oil and dirt in the fabric. The effect of a water molecule's surface tension can be understood with a simple experiment. If you place a completely dry sponge under running water, the water sits on the surface and simply runs off the top of the sponge. To get the sponge to absorb the water, you have to squeeze it and force the water into the fibers. Sodium tetraborate, sold under the brand name, Borax, is a common example of a surfactant.

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What Are Detergent Builders And What Do They Do?

Examples of builders used in commercial laundry detergents include sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium carbonate, sodium citrate and zeolites. Builders perform the function of reducing water hardness, which in turn allows the surfactants to better do their job. Builders are water softeners that act to adjust the pH balance of water. The most common example of a builder is known as washing soda. The quality of your laundry water plays a great role in how well your detergent performs, and how clean your clothes get. That's one reason why the addition of a builder in the detergent is so important; because builders enhance the water quality itself.

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What Supplies Do You Need To Make Homemade Laundry Detergent?

It's possible to make your own effective laundry detergent that contains a surfactant, a builder, and additional ingredients that can consistently give you clean and fresh smelling laundry. The ingredients can be purchased at most hardware stores if you can't find them on the shelves of your local supermarket.

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For this recipe, you'll need:

  • Washing Soda (½ cup)
  • Borax (½ cup)
  • Fels-Naptha (⅓ of a bar)
  • 2-Gallon Bucket with lid (heavy-duty)
  • Stock Pot
  • 2-Quart Pot
  • Plastic Cutting Board
  • Wax Paper
  • Box or Hand Grater
  • Kitchen Chef's Knife
  • Metal Whisk
  • Ruler or Measuring Tape
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Make Safety a Priority

Making homemade laundry soap requires working with potentially dangerous materials and items. You will be working with hot stove top burners and a sharp knife, shifting large quantities of boiling temperature water, handling chemical substances, and creating an extremely slippery soapy solution. Certain precautions should be taken to ensure safety for you and all members of the family:

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  • Youngsters should be kept out of the kitchen while you're making your homemade laundry detergent.
  • Either refrain from using a wooden cutting board or cover your board with a towel that can be laundered afterward. A plastic cutting board is best to use.
  • Keep all ingredients away from food products and serving items.
  • Thoroughly wash and rinse all items used to make homemade laundry detergent.
  • To prevent slips and falls, avoid spilling soapy water on the floor. If you spill any, wipe immediately with clean, clear water.
  • Use a heavy-duty plastic bucket. Thin, flimsy buckets don't retain their shape when filled with hot water, and could bend or break.
  • Don't be in a rush. Work slowly and methodically for best results.
  • Store all ingredients and the final homemade laundry detergent out of the reach of children.

  1. 1
    Place the Fels-Naptha bar on a plastic cutting board.
    Avoid using a wooden board because the soap could get into the wood fibers and impart an unpleasant taste to the next food item you cut on the wooden board. The plastic cutting board should be washed inside the dishwasher or thoroughly scrubbed by hand after your project is completed.
    Shelley Branch cutting board.jpg
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  2. 2
    Using a standard kitchen chef's knife, cut the Fels-Naptha bar into thirds.
    You'll use only ⅓ of a bar each time you make this recipe. I've already measured the bar for you, as you can see in the image. A Fels-Naptha bar measures 4-¾ inches long, so each third needs to measure 1.56 inches in length. To avoid waste through chipping, measure and score the bar with the knife before cutting, as pictured in the image. Cut slowly and methodically to achieve an accurate cut. Tip: Instead of pushing your way through the soap with the knife, allow the soap to "give way" beneath the blade. You will now have three equal pieces of Fels-Naptha.
    Shelley Branch fels naptha.jpg
    Shelley Branch measuring soap.jpg
    Shelley Branch cut soap.jpg
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  3. 3
    Store the two extra pieces of Fels-Naptha inside the original wrapper (for identification purposes), and seal inside a kitchen plastic bag for future use.
    Shelley Branch sealed soap.jpg
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  4. 4
    Lay a piece of wax paper atop the plastic cutting board.
    This will make it very easy for you when it comes time to lift and spill the grated soap into the pot later.
    Shelley Branch wax paper.jpg
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  5. 5
    Use either a hand or box grater to grate ⅓ of the Fels-Naptha bar.
    Tip: For best results, use the medium grate size, not the smallest grate size. The smallest size tends to retain too much of the soap particles, and you'll end up wasting a lot of it.
    Shelley Branch grater.jpg
    Shelley Branch grated soap.jpg
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  6. 6
    Place a metal stock pot on the stove top, and fill it with 6 cups of tap water.
    Immediately add the grated Fels-Naptha soap.
    Shelley Branch stock pot.jpg
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  7. 7
    Heat the water and soap to a moderate temperature, with the object of melting the soap.
    Use a metal whisk to aid with the melting. Important: Don't walk away from the stove during this part. As you can see from the image, the suds rise quickly, and you could return to find suds spilled all over your kitchen range and floor, which creates a hazard for slips and falls.
    Shelley Branch whisk.jpg
    Shelley Branch heating soap.jpg
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  8. 8
    When you think the soap flakes are melted, move the suds over with your whisk for a better look at the water.
    When the Fels-Naptha soap flakes are completely melted, add ½ cup of washing soda and ½ cup of Borax. Stir with the whisk to combine. Turn off the heat, remove the stock pot from the burner and set aside.
    Shelley Branch adding soda and borax.jpg
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  9. 9
    Place a 2-quart pot on another burner on your stove top, and fill with 4 cups of tap water.
    Heat to boiling.
    Shelley Branch boiling water.jpg
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  10. 10
    Place your heavy-duty, 2-gallon bucket on a chair near the stove.
    You'll be pouring large quantities of hot water, and this will make it easier and safer.
    Shelley Branch bucket.jpg
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  11. 11
    Carefully pour the 4 cups of boiling water into the bucket.
    Shelley Branch pouring soap.jpg
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  12. 12
    Next, pour the soap mixture from the large stock pot into the bucket, and stir well with the whisk.
    Shelley Branch pouring soap into bucket.jpg
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  13. 13
    Measure out 16 cups of tap water (room temperature is fine), and add that into the bucket.
    Stir well with the whisk to combine.
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  14. 14
    Secure a lid on the bucket.
    The bucket in the image has a snug snap-on lid, but you can also use a lid that screws on. It's important to have some kind of lid on the bucket to aid in the preservation of the soap solution, to keep other items from falling in, and to keep dust and other air particles from contaminating your soap solution.
    Shelley Branch bucket lid.jpg
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  15. 15
    Label the bucket clearly.
    Since your bucket is a generic one that came from a store, there would be no other way for your family to identify its contents unless you label it. A handheld label maker, with the font size set to large, works well for this step. If you don't have a label maker, consider printing a label from your computer and printer. Otherwise, you can print neatly on a piece of masking tape. If you have none of these supplies, you can simply print in large letters directly on the bucket with a dark colored marker. The key to identify the contents in a clear and obvious way to avoid accidental, inappropriate use.
    Shelley Branch label.jpg
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  16. 16
    Set the bucket someplace out of the way where it won't be disturbed, and let it sit overnight, or for several hours at a minimum.
    You are waiting for the soap solution to solidify to some extent. The final result will be a gelatinous substance.
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  17. 17
    The next morning you can open the lid and inspect the detergent.
    If you've followed these instructions to the letter, you'll find that the contents have solidified into a gel-like substance. If you touch the top with your fingertips, you'll discover that the surface bounces back.
    Shelley Branch detergent.jpg
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  18. 18
    Store the laundry detergent near your washing machine for convenient use.
    Use your homemade laundry detergent as you would any commercial brand. One cup of homemade laundry detergent will clean one load.
    Shelley Branch storing.jpg
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A Few Words About Savings

You may be curious as to how much you can save by making your own homemade laundry detergent. The answer depends on current economic prices, where you live, and where you do your shopping. But generally speaking, at the time of this writing, a bottle of brand name liquid detergent costs about $8.00 and does 24 loads. This recipe for homemade laundry detergent makes 32 cups, which equates to 32 loads. Here is how this recipe breaks down in cost, according to how much the ingredients cost:

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Borax (½ cup) = 37 cents Washing Soda (½ cup) = 36 cents Fels-Naptha (⅓ bar) = 60 cents

Total cost: $1.33 for 32 loads of laundry

Obviously, this makes homemade laundry detergent one of the most cost effective things you can cook up in your kitchen.

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Final Notes

  • If you like to use other laundry aids, such as fragrance enhancers, fabric softener, bleach or all-fabric bleach, you can do so while using your homemade laundry detergent.
  • The Fels-Naptha soap imparts a pleasant, clean scent to this homemade laundry detergent recipe. However, if you prefer a different scent, you can easily add a few drops of essential oil to this detergent for a detergent scent that is uniquely yours. The time to add the fragrance oil would be after all the water and soap solution have been added to the bucket. Simply drop in the scented oils in whatever quantity is suitable, give a final thorough stirring with your whisk, and continue through the steps as outlined above.
  • We'd love to hear about your experience after trying this recipe, as well as any ideas for improvement. Please leave your comments below!
  • If you have problems with any of these steps, ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


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Recent edits by: Jen M, Eng, Melissa Rae

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