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Homemade laundry soap for pennies a load

About 3 weeks ago I got fed up with the detergent we were using.  Our clothes didn’t smell clean and stains were not coming out. I won’t call out the company that made the stuff, but let’s just say the brand rhymes with tALL tree and tear.

Now maybe you’re saying that perhaps my clothes didn’t smell clean because I was using a non-scented detergent.  Scented detergents do not get your clothes any cleaner – they simply mask any odors left on the clothes by the icky phosphate soap that damages water pipes and ecosystems.  Clean clothes should smell like nothing but air.  Remember being a kid and playing under the clothesline while sheets were drying?  THAT is the clean scent I’m talking about.

So, I went on to the interwebs to find a recipe to make my own.  A good friend of mine uses this recipe, but I didn’t have a big enough container, or lets be honest – the patience to make a liquid.  I ended up using a recipe for powder, and so far it’s working GREAT!  Our clothes smell super clean, stains are disappearing, and we’re saving buco bucks.

Handmade Herbal Laundry Detergent

Approx 4 oz. grated soap (comes out to about a standard sized bar)
Postscript: I found that 2 cups of grated soap was the most effective
2 cups borax
2 cups washing soda
1 cup baking soda
essential oils (optional)
Normal loads use 1TBSP – 1/4 cup.  I’ve been using about 1/8 cup with great results.

I used this bar soap (much cheaper at Target and my local grocery) and grated it in a cheese grater.  That definitely took the longest cause my wimp-ass arms kept tiring out!

When my parents moved out of their house they owned for about 19 years, my sis and I had 27 hrs to pack them up and get them moved.  While packing up their bathroom closet, we found a little box full of tiny bits of discarded bar soap that looked like it had been hidden away by a family of cheap squirrels.  THIS would be a great use for those nubs for additional savings.

Borax and washing soda can be tricky to find, but I found them in the laundry aisle at our Fred Meyer grocery store (Fred Meyer is owned by Kroger, so if you have a Kroger or a Ralph’s, you may be able to find it).

Because we have sensitive skin in our house, I decided to not use essential oils.  Instead I used homemade scented baking soda to add a little natural fragrance to our laundry.

Costs (be impressed, I don’t just “do” math for anyone)
-Bar of soap – $3 (5 oz)
-20 Mule Team Borax – $2.79 for 76 oz = $.0367 per oz
-Arm & Hammer Washing Soda – $3.29 for 55 oz = $.059 per oz
-Arm & Hammer baking soda – $5 for 12 lbs (192 oz) = $.026 per oz

Costs per batch – note the interwebs say 1 cup = 8 oz
-Soap – $3 (could find this cheaper for sure)
-Borax – $.587
-Washing Soda – $.957
-Baking Soda – $.208
Total: $4.752

If I’m using 1/8 of a cup (1 oz) per load, that works out to $.1056/$.11 a load.  Had I used my parent’s creepy doomsday soap, it would be $.0383/$.04 per load.

Compared to tALL tree and tear, where I was paying $.249 per load, that is a damn good savings!  Plus, I’m keeping waste out of the landfills, and chemical crap out of the waterstream.

Making laundry soap isn’t going to make you a millionaire, but I’ll just reiterate when you’re watching your budget, every penny can make a difference.

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43 comments on “Homemade laundry soap for pennies a load”

  1. Thanks for the recipe! I will have to give this a try.
    Also, creepy doomsday soap made me laugh so hard (and I’m at work, oops!) because it sounds like something my mom would totally do too.
    I’m glad I found your blog!

  2. Thanks for the monetary breakdown! This is the recipe I use but it’s much more persuasive when you include just how much money we’re saving. I love never having those giant containers around! THank you for contributing to Simple Lives Thursday!

  3. I’ve been thinking about this but didn’t know how. The cost info is really interesting.

  4. I have the ingredients for a very similar recipe, but because I have hard water I have to use a liquid recipe. So its the same ingredients plus lots of hot water and it actually decreases the cost. For dirty, dirty loads I am told I can throw in about 1 c of Borax.
    I am off to try this this weekend (while out camping – what better time to grate a 4 oz bar of soap) and then boil it up on return and use it to do the laundry 🙂
    Glad I found your blog, your funny and remind me a little of me… with a better sense of humor 🙂

  5. I love making homemade laundry detergent! We switched over about a year ago and I will never go back!

  6. I have made homemade laundry detergent for some time now. I was using Fels-Naptha for my soap component originally but switched to Zote when I accidentally let myself run out of the other. I noticed that the Zote soap absolutely would not dissolve in cold water. It ruined three of my good sweaters as I had soap stick to them and not wash out, even after three more trips through the washer without detergent. I say all of this to ask if you are happy with the Dr. Bronner soap dissolving in cold water? Thanks!

  7. Cookie, yes I’m very happy with the Dr.B’s! I also used to use Fels Nelpha, but my husband complained that it smelled like an “old folks home”. LOL

    We wash all our clothes in cold, so this hasn’t been an issue.

  8. Do you just mix all the ingredients together? No water, no boiling? Just mix and add to laundry?

  9. Mommy of monkeys, yes, I just throw it in a big plastic container and shake it up. No water, no boiling. There are recipes out there for liquid detergent, but they take too long to satisfy my instant gratification personality.

  10. Will this work in HE washing machines?
    Love your Blog!

  11. Anonymous–it DOES! Because it doesn’t suds up it works great! I just made some of this with adding a bit of oxyclean as well! I LOVE it! :)Oh–and Sarah–the instant gratification thing–TOTALLY me! Thanks for all your info!

    • Nikki, do you put “make to do list” at the top of your to do lists just so that you can mark something off right away? If so, I think we might be soul mates! ;-D

  12. Do you happen to use this in your diapers? (Although I’ve pictured you as a soap nuts gal. lol) I’ve wanted to try a version of this I found for diapers, it’s essentially the same except without the grated soap bars. I don’t want to risk making an entire batch and it give DS rashes, but I’d like to get on a more natural soap, plus it’s not as hard on his fitteds. Thanks 😀

  13. An easier way for the soap is to put it in the microwave 30 seconds at a time. It will puff up like a marshmallow. Let it cool down and then it crumbles into a powder.

  14. Where on earth are you finding Washing Soda? I can’t find it in any local stores, and it seems ridiculous to pay $8 shipping on a $9 item.

    • Do you have any small scale hardware stores? Sometimes it is there. You might also have luck at Wal-Mart (see below). I’m not sure where you’re located, but Fred Meyer is owned by Kroger in the PNW, so if you have a Kroger near you, they may carry it!

  15. I found the Borax and Washing Soda at my local Wal-Mart. Also for diapers – when my kids were little – grown and married now – I used Dreft. As a child I suffered a burn on my leg from scalding water – the doctor told my mother to put a little Dreft in my bath water. Not sure why exactly but she did it – I have almost no scar at all now from it and it was a pretty bad burn. I dunno. Just throwing in a little trivia for ya.

    • So interesting about the Dreft for the scar!

      I can’t use Dreft though; can’t even be near it. The fragrance in it is so strong that I’m instantly sneeze city!

  16. I tried the microwave trick today….total time saver! After it cooled down I pulverized it in a blender. Great tip!

  17. You can “make” washing soda. I couldn’t find it in my stores. I did find a recipe on pinterest for it. Basically you put baking soda in the oven on 350? ( don’t remember, sorry) and stir occasionally. It turns into washing soda and is much cheaper. I found it by searching – making Washington soda.

  18. I grate my soap in a food processor which works amazing AND I use felsnaptha soap in the laundry section for 97 cents bar! 🙂 It works great!!!!! I add oxyclean also…

  19. I and mine have so many allergies that making our own works the best for us. I use a mix of Fels Naptha and Ivory for the bar soap component and I half the borax (my sensitivity).

  20. what do you do with your essential oils since its a powder soap?

  21. So I decided to give this a try. My kids think I am crazy for making laundry soap when you can go buy it at the store, oh well. I am washing my first load with it, we shall see how it works!!!

  22. I can’t stop clicking on ALL of your stuff. Keep up the cool ideas and especially the frugal ones.

  23. My recipe is similar but I use Fels-Naptha bar soap (find it @ Wal Mart along with the washing soda) and my clothes come out sparkling clean. My husbands greasy spots from food and work come out with no pre treat and since I have an HE machine this is safe cause no bubbles. Then use white vinegar as fabric softener and towels are so much fluffier and clothes softer since it rinses off any soap scum.

  24. I’ve been using the liquid recipe for three years now. We are a family of seven with the kids ranging in age from 5 to 18 and a farm. Trust me, we’re doing an average of three big nasty loads a day minimum! I use the Fels Naptha bar and/or my own homemade soap. I make 5 gals 3 times per year for around $12!!!! I cannot tell you the swelling of smug satisfaction I get when wheeling my cart past the laundry isle without buying a $24 bottle of name brand goo 😉

  25. I have been loving all the links on your blog here… but I have to pass a linky on to you about borax. The Environmental Working Group says it’s not as safe as we thought. There are alternatives that can be made with washing soda, though. Just google homemade borax free laundry soap recipes. Here’s the latest:

  26. please read this article on borax. It is no longer believed to be safe.

  27. I just made a batch of this using one of the many hard-milled gift soaps I have scenting my dresser drawers (the scent fades then I have extra bar soap….), The grating did not take as long as I thought it would — I made a batch in less than 20 minutes. Thanks!

  28. I have to leave a comment here to say, “thanks!” for all the great tips/recipes for cleaning supplies. Probably half of the page views on this post are because I keep coming back to double-check your proportions and ingredients. You have helped us streamline our lives and made this house wife feel really empowered through making my own stuff. Thanks again – keep it coming! 🙂

  29. I have a similar recipe. I use Fels Naptha soap, you can get it in Walmart for .97 cents a bar. Never buying laudry soap from store again. I love the way my laundry comes out so clean and it smells great too.

  30. Pingback: Confessions, July - Frugal by Choice, Cheap by Necessity

  31. I love the thought of homemade soap however, I find they are missing key ingredients, cleaning agents. I have yet to find a recipe that acutally has cleaning agents in it. Yours is the best one I have yet to find, but I know it work on our clothes or worse yet, our diapers. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  32. We’re definitely going to give this one a try. We use powder detergent, and we even add color safe bleach just to make our clothes smell better. We’re doing it totally wrong!