So I did it. I broke down after years and years of saying I’d never make my own laundry soap and I did it. If you do a quick search on Pinterest, you’ll see a lot of recipes that makes a 5 gallon bucket of thick white (or off-white) gloppy laundry detergent. With two curious kids under 5 years old, I didn’t think having that around my house would be a good idea. Plus, where the hell would I keep it? Our garage isn’t attached, and my washer and dryer are in a closet in the hallway. 5 gallons of water weighs 40-ish lbs, so 5 gallons of liquid laundry detergent would be about the same, maybe more. That’s a lot more than my poor, flimsy laundry closet shelf could handle!
However, after tons of research and testing out ingredients, I cobbled together a recipe for powdered Laundry detergent. Here are the ingredients I used and the reasoning behind each one:
1 Large Bar Zote Soap, grated: My great Grandmother used this soap (as well as Fels-Naptha, but I couldn’t find it in my local store) to wash their laundry in the days before they had indoor plumbing in their farmhouse (BTW, that was the 1950’s). She had an old style washing machine like this, complete with ringer. Her laundry was always super clean, so I knew that starting with a good soap was key. (It makes roughly 4 cups of grated soap) If you don’t care for Zote or Fels Naptha, I’ve seen others use Dr. Bronner’s Castille bar soap.
4 Cups Borax: This is a pretty controversial ingredient because Borax is toxic if ingested. News Flash: DON’T EAT LAUNDRY DETERGENT. You wouldn’t pop a Tide Pod in your mouth and start chewing, so home made detergent shouldn’t be any different. Borax is great in your wash if you have gross little boys (or not so little boys). Here is a pretty good article that talks about how Borax works. I use a little Borax in every load of laundry, with commercial detergent too!
4 Cups Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (NOT BAKING SODA- THIS IS AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION!!): Washing Soda is also another ingredient that people get crazy over. It’s NOT baking soda. It is not to be ingested, it is slightly caustic (I wear gloves and a mask when I work with it). This page tells you about it and how it works. Basically it acts as a solvent to help removes stains, it also helps soap or detergent foam and clean better!
Directions are easy: Grate your soap. I used a hand grater, but you can also use a food processor (I don’t have one).
Mix all your ingredients together and store in clean, dry jars. I used Ball Mason Jars because it’s what I had on hand, but whatever you have will work. A friend re-uses her empty protein powder canisters.
All you need is 1-2 tablespoons per load (for the record I use 2 T. per load because our clothes get really dirty playing outside and exercising every day).
Using 4 cups of each ingredient will yield a little less than 12 cups of detergent (The grated soap settles down once everything is mixed together) which is approx 144 loads of laundry. I paid about $12.50 for all of the ingredients, and I still have leftover Borax and Washing Soda for my next batch.
This detergent will not get sudsy/bubbly, however, your clothes are getting clean. Our clothes have never been cleaner and honestly, it’s one of the few detergents I’ve used (and trust me, as a couponer, I’ve used pretty much every brand of laundry detergent there is!) where I don’t have to pre-treat every single stain and scrub.
Scent: Some recipes call for essential oils or even Downy Unstoppables to add scent. We personally don’t like over scented detergent, so the light lemony scent from Zote is more than enough for us. If you like you clothes to smell like something, you can add 10-20 drops of Essential Oil (lavender is popular), or 1/4 cup of Downy Unstoppables (I REALLLLY don’t recommend this since it has softeners in it too).
About Fabric Softener: We don’t use fabric softener like Snuggle or Downy Unstoppables because it just coats the fabric with a waxy residue and leaves a film on it. After years, towels can stop being absorbent, and clothes can feel sticky or turn another color. If you need fabric softener or something to keep the static down, I recommend a vinegar rinse in your washer (like you would with liquid Snuggle), or wool balls in your dryer.