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Dec 182012
 
 December 18, 2012  Posted by  At Home
laundry-detergent-leah-ingram

When our family started living frugally, we looked at all aspects of our daily life to find ways we could cut back. One money-saver I never considered was homemade laundry detergent because I didn’t think anything but the store-bought kind worked. Boy, was I wrong.

Three years ago, I came up with a recipe for do-it-yourself, or DIY, laundry detergent that allows me to wash our clothes and get them clean for pennies a load.

I wrote about my recipe on my Suddenly Frugal blog. More than 1,000 days later, that post is still the most visited on Suddenly Frugal. Since Pinterest showed up on the social media scene, lots of frugal fans have pinned my recipe on their boards.

How did I come up with my recipe? I researched various laundry recipes out there on other frugal-living blogs, and cobbled together my own formula. I decided to go with the powdered version because DIY liquid laundry detergent requires heating it on the stove. That’s too much work for me.

What I like best about this DIY laundry detergent recipe is that it has only three ingredients. They are:

  • Arm and Hammer Washing Soda
  • 20 Mule Team Borax
  • Bar of Fels-Naptha Soap

You can find all three of these ingredients in most supermarket laundry aisles, at Target or Walmart. For some reason, my grocery store has stopped stocking Borax. Now I have to go to the local hardware store for it, where I discovered I also can buy Fels-Naptha soap and washing soda.

Not only is buying the ingredients for my DIY laundry soap easy, so is making the recipe. Here are the steps:

Combine all of the following:

  • 2 parts washing soda (I do this quite literally and start with two cups of washing soda).
  • 2 parts Borax (again, the literal approach with two cups).
  • 1 part grated or chopped Fels-Naptha soap (I’ve read that some people put the soap in a food processor to get it into tiny bits; I just get out my cheese grater and put it to work).

Because I store the detergent in a reusable Rubbermaid 10-cup container with a lid, my “mixing” of the ingredients involves putting the top on the container and giving it a few good shakes.

It takes me only five minutes to put this all together. Really, only five minutes. Grating the soap is what takes  the longest.

Most recipes recommend using about four tablespoons of detergent for a regular-size load of laundry. I decided to use one-quarter cup and put that size measuring cup in my container so I never have to look far when I need to measure detergent.

Originally, I was using my DIY laundry detergent in a top-loading washing machine, and it worked fine. Now we have a front-loading washing machine that requires HE or high-efficiency laundry detergent. Because my DIY laundry detergent recipe doesn’t make bubbles – it doesn’t bubble at all like traditional soap – I’ve discovered it is safe to use in the front loader as well.

Everything comes out looking clean and smelling good. I’ll admit that when it comes to my children’s athletic gear, I have to add some Tide with Febreze (purchased on sale and with a coupon, natch) to really kill the smell of sweat and dirt. But for everyday loads, this stuff is a real winner.

If you can’t find Fels-Naptha soap in the store or don’t want to spend money on a “special” soap, you can use any bar of soap you have. Have you stockpiled little bars of soaps from past hotel visits? Use them in this recipe, and they will work just as well.

Another frugal tip I’ve discovered: When you need a stain remover, reach for clarifying shampoo. It is much cheaper than liquid laundry detergent or commercial stain removers, and does just as good a job. I often can  pick up a bottle of clarifying shampoo on sale at CVS for about 79 cents. You’ll never find a stain stick this cheap in the store.

Photo by Leah Ingram. All rights reserved.

Leah Ingram

6 comments on “How to make your own laundry detergent

  1. Carole on said:

    I’m going to try this. I started using Borax several years ago, replacing half of the detergent with borax. Borax was recommended by my doctor (allergist/M.D.) to denature the dog dander on my clothes (when washed at 140′F). We had two big fluffy dogs at the time sadly, they are no longer with us…). I’ve liked the way the addition of borax got the clothes very clean and fresh smelling and I’ve continued to use it to this day.

  2. JulieCC on said:

    I’ve been making my own laundry soap for years now. I like the powdered version. Since the Fels-Naptha soap is so hard to grate and I have arthritis, I started using it without it. However, I’ve always added Oxygen Cleaner to my recipe. So now I just use equal parts Oxygen Cleaner, Borax, & Washing Soda. I haven’t had any problems with clothes not getting clean.

    They sell laundry scent boosters now if you want to add some scent. I’ve also found some great bars of soap at Big Lots called “Zote” for 50 cents. They are very similar to Fels-Naptha and pink. They still take a bit of work to grate, but they have a better smell, IMO.

    Also, a very good pre-wash treatment, that I’ve had get out nearly everything is Oxiclean’s laundry spray. It’s amazing!

  3. JulieCC on said:

    Yes, using Borax, and also Oxigen Cleaner has seriously reduced my use of chlorine bleach. About the only time I use that is if someone gets ill and I want to sanitize their laundry. Otherwise, the other two do a fantastic job of whitening and I don’t have to worry about spilled/splashed bleach ruining things.

  4. Tex dakota on said:

    This is great information and just the kind of do it yourself stuff i like. I will be trying this out soon and posting info about it on my blog Cheap-ass-living.blogspot.com. May I have permission to post a link to this article?

  5. LOTC Staff on said:

    Yes you are welcome to post a link. Thanks for asking.

  6. I’ve used this recipe for years. The only problem I’ve ever had with it is if I use too much. Stick to the recommended 1/4 cup (or even less, depending on the capacity of your machine).

    To de-stinkify stinky clothes, add baking soda to the mix and try white vinegar instead of fabric softener. Since I don’t have a fabric softener cup in my frugal machine, I got a pair of empty plastic Downey balls and just add the vinegar to them.

    If clothes need more softening, consider making or purchasing felted wool dryer balls. They last forever, cut down a bit on drying time, and do a nice job of fluffing.