Learning To Live Cheaply and Green-ly with Homemade Laundry Detergent

When I moved to Kansas almost 2 years ago, my love for our beautiful rural area caused me to think of ways to live more gently on the land and to leave less of a footprint, especially where chemicals are concerned.

{Word of warning: this blog post takes on a life of its own.  Translation:  it's long.}

I must admit I find myself on a roller coaster where "green" is concerned... one day I want to be more economical and more environmentally conscious, and other days I feel like it's too much effort. So I won't lie, it can be a struggle at times. Sometimes it's easier to revert to what appears to be easier. Honestly, if you really think about it, using prepackaged detergents and cleaners is not EASIER (and it's definitely NOT cheaper!), it is simply that we have become accustomed to buying many of our home cleaners "off the shelf", for the sake of perceived convenience. I believe that if we can adjust our habits, then those new habits will eventually become the "new" easy.  And we'll feel really good about it too.  A big bonus.

There is no shortage of recipes for all types of home cleaners on the internet.  But let's start with something simple.

Dear readers, I am going to give you a recipe to make your very own homemade laundry detergent.  I feel that this particular challenge is possibly one of the easiest first transitions to make.  And if you are saying "I don't think I'm inclined to make my own laundry detergent", well, then, I'll give you some tips later to save with what you ARE using.

First, the recipe:
• 4 cups of water
• 1/3 bar of cheap soap, grated
• 1/2 cup washing soda (not baking soda)
• 1/2 cup of Borax (20 Mule Team)
• 5-gallon bucket for mixing
• 3 gallons of water

Tips:  You can use Fels Naptha or any regular bar soap for the cheap soap.  Washing soda and borax can both be found in the laundry aisle at your grocery store.  {Usually.}  Except at Walmart in Kansas.  What the heck??!

First, mix the grated soap (I'll be using Lever, since we have a bunch of it) in a saucepan with 4 cups of water, and heat on low until the soap is completely dissolved. Add hot water/soap mixture to 3 gallons of water in the 5-gallon bucket, stir in the washing soda and Borax, and continue stirring until thickened. Let the mix sit for 24 hours, and voila! homemade laundry detergent.

Yep. That's it.  Simple, huh?

The savings?? You can save 90% of the cost of store-bought by making it yourself. Total cost per load? In the neighborhood of 2 cents. Store-bought detergent, depending on what you buy and where you buy it, can cost about 20 cents per load -- 10 times more.

I'm buying the washing soda and borax as soon as I can find it somewhere here in the land of Oz, so I will let y'all know what I think of homemade detergent once I've had the opportunity to mix my own and try it out.

Now, here's another novel idea that's been hashed out in the public biosphere:

Is detergent even necessary?

Seventh Generation's co-founder, Jeffrey Hollender, wonders why more people haven't stumbled upon laundry's big, dirty secret: "You don't even need soap to wash most loads," he says. "The agitation of washing machines often does the job on its own."

Wow!  Really, Jeffrey, he-who-heads-up-a-household-cleaner-company?  Are you totally serious??  I applaud you for even uttering this statement, when you obviously stand to profit from selling as much laundry detergent as you can!

As it turns out, something that may be even more effective than soap is agitation. Ancient people used rocks and rivers, but your modern washing machine can clean lightly soiled clothes by just pushing them around in water.

So when you think about the way our forefathers did laundry, it does make you wonder:  Is the laundry detergent industry a huge sham, just a way for others to profit from our ignorance?? One thing I can assure you: the powers-that-be are surely not unhappy when you use TOO much of your fancy-schmancy concentrated detergent.  Read this recent eye-opening article from the Wall Street Journal to learn more about The Great American Soap Overdose.

The blog Funny About Money decided to conduct experiments using only water in their washing machine.  Their final analysis?   "By and large, all of the freshly washed clothing came out with an odor: It smelled of clean water!"

If washing your clothes in plain ole water just doesn't float your scuzzy boat, nor do you really want to make your own detergent, here are some other good alternatives:
  • Use half the amount of detergent you normally use.  By and large, you will not see any difference at all - your clothes will be just as clean as when you use tons of detergent.
  • Try one of the new eco-friendly detergents on the market -- you'll use less, and be gentle on our environment at the same time.  
  • I highly recommend Method - only 4 squirts from the bottle for most normal loads! And it's high-powered, plant-based formula is made using 95% natural and renewable ingredients. It's readily biodegradable and non-toxic in use, for skin-friendly clean clothes.  I got my 10 oz. bottle of Fresh Air scent (smells extra good!!) at Lowe's for $7.99 - you can get a $2 off coupon at the Method website.  
  • Other eco-friendly detergents to try: Seventh Generation, greenworks by Clorox.

Costs for the above alternative detergents:
Method, 25 load size, $7.99/btl, 0.3196 cents per load
Seventh Generation, 99 load size, $19.99/btl, 0.2019 cents per load
greenworks* by Clorox, 60 load size, $7.97/btl, 0.1328 cents per load

*I think the greenworks was on sale at Lowe's, about $2.00 off.  I think... can't remember??? Regardless, it's still the cheapest of the bunch overall.

Ok, y'all, that's my two cents worth on laundry detergents.  There is tons more information out there on the big ole internet, if you need it.

I'm really getting into this self-sustainability gig, and it sure makes me feel good to reduce my reliance on Walmart and other big industrial giants.

If you've made your own detergent, or dishwashing detergent, or mayonnaise (yes, you can make your own mayo too!), then do tell me about it. I'd love to hear your story!


  1. you know I have started using less laundry detergent when I wash my clothes and they still get clean...if something is really dirty I just put s little on the spots and scub...it is amazing how much more laundry you can get out of one box or bottle if you just cut back to 1/2 and you still get clean clothing....

  2. We made our first batch exactly three months ago and we will use up the last bit this weekend. 3 months, for a family of four! I like powdered soap myself, so we took one bar, grated, which came out to six cups, added equal amounts of washing soda and borax and voila. I swear it can't be more than a penny a load if that.
    The self-sustainability is awesome, isn't it? I love, love, love anything that I can rely on myself for AND go easy on the planet at the same time. My next mission is tackling deodorant. I have a few articles to read but I think it's worth trying. We'll see!

    Be well and keep safe around those tornadoes!


  3. What is washing soda? I have never heard of it..I will look and see if I can find it. I guess I would be tempted to do a partial batch..three gallons is a bunch of soap!
    I used to have a recipe for window wash..vinegar and dish soap I think..not sure what else. I also had a bug spray one..I will have to search for that one.:)

  4. 90% saving is absolutely unbelievable but true !! What if we could save 90% on every thing we use....I almost believe it is possible by using less, using things up before we toss the bottle and making our own products. One of my favorite tricks is ...say your shampoo bottle is empty (we think)..if you turn it upside down to drain or put a little water in it you are good to go for another week or so...makes me laugh. At least half the time I am washing the clothes I think to myself..."These are not even really dirty"...so using 1/4 of normal detergent is difinitely doable. I love the Method products..use it for almost everything. I think one of the best wedding shower or house warming gifts there is would be a big basket of Method or some type of natural cleaning products. The only thing I have tried that I did not like was the Seventh Generation dish washer powder....Good post..enjoyed it!

  5. Love the Idea and I certainly will give a shot! What do you keep the liquid soap in after making it -you don't just leave it in the bucket - do you?
    Kirstie Alley uses Vodka to clean with Hmmmm? wonder if it works or if she just likes vodka? LOL I have given up bleach and I was a bleach freak. That one was hard to do but the change has been great. One step at a time and laundry sounds like a good next step.

  6. I've been making my own now for about a year with a recipe I saw on the farmers wife blog. I like it and the $$ it saves! My kids that have moved out and are living on college students budget come home and fill a jug of my homemade...its cheaper at Mom & Dads and they are both kinda tree huggers and they like it. I also make my own fabric softner and my husband found me a recipe for dishwasher soap, but as of yet I haven't tried that one yet.

  7. I have way too many things to do, so making my own is not going to happen. I use a natural soap for laundry and it only takes a little. A gallon of liquid lasts a really long time. I do add borax.

    Another thing they get people on is that you need a hundred kinds of cleaners. I use a natural dish soap and borax for almost everything, including floors and carpets. I use Bon Ami for scrubbing the bathroom, including the toilet.

    Those are the only cleaning products I use. I refuse to allow any chemicals in my house, in fact I believe fabric softeners and air fresheners should be outlawed. Talk about creating a toxic environment in your home and on your body!

  8. I've been making the laundry detergent for about a year. Love it! I did try Method when hubby was still working for Lowes. They had lotsa free samples :) Great stuff.. and when it takes so little to do a load, I'd consider investing the 7.99 just to give myself a short break from making the detergent myself.

    This is a great post - and what a novel idea about not really needing detergent anyway. Hmmmmm, more to ponder :) Thanks for the info! -Tammy

  9. Oops, I forgot to say that if you have a supermarket (big or small), that's where I've had the best luck finding: Fels Naptha bar soap (my personal fave), Arm & Hammer Washing Soda, and Borax. Our walmart sporadically carries the Borax. I also went to a Latino Market to buy Pink Zote bar soap... made the prettiest powdered pink detergent you ever did see. We are definitely rural here, but if I travel an hour or so I can usually find what I need.. lol.

  10. Sounds like it's worth a try! If you are going to try the no soap method, there are supposed to be little laundry balls you can buy that go in the washer and help get clothes clean.

    Thanks for the recipe!

  11. I've made my own laundry soap, and dishwashing soap, plain ol' soap, and just about everything in between! There is one difference between store bought and what you are talking about making - we are making laundry SOAP at home, not laundry detergent. There are many resources that explain the difference, but here's one I just googled up http://www.care2.com/greenliving/detergent-or-soap.html# We get our clothes way too dirty out here for the homemade laundry soap. I was very sad to learn that :( And it took about 6 months of using the homemade soap for me to finally admit it. But if you have soft water and/or don't tend to get a lot of dirt/mud/grass/chicken poop/goat poop/etc. on your clothing, the homemade soap will probably do just fine. Our water is hard - very, very hard. And we get dirty. Very, very dirty. So I use laundry detergent. I wish I didn't have to, but it's the only thing that insures stain free clothes around here......

  12. I can't get any of those products here. Used to see them years ago but not now.

    I do use half of the recommended amount of laundry soap and it works just fine.

  13. I have been a big fan of washing soda, and borax for years. Adding a little bit of it to my laundry helps keep it fresh smelling, and clean. We use unscented laundry detergent, because of allergies. Someday when I get a moment, I think that I am going to give your recipe a try.

    And yes, I have made my own mayo, among other things. It tastes great.


  14. i have thought of making my own laundry detergent also and being like basicliving@backto basicliving our clothes also get way too dirty in the line of work that the detergents and hard water, even with a softner just doesnt come clean, (need some elbow grease).

  15. I'll leave that to you Suz. Life's too short to make my own washing powder :)

  16. This is a great idea. We do lots of laundry with being farmers and Hubs doing construction/remodeling.

  17. Thank you for your visit and comment.. I like the idea of making my own soap I will try that someday...I just hate the plastic jugs soap comesin...If only their was a recipe for kitty litter..