As with most of my DIY and natural living journey, I started experimenting with making my own laundry detergent back in 2013. My oldest son was suffering from severe eczema, and even buying the laundry detergents that were supposedly super sensitive and all that, STILL seemed to bother him. In addition, such detergents tended to be on the pricier side. Eager for a more natural solution that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, I began my search for a natural laundry detergent that was inexpensive to make, had natural ingredients, AND cleaned the clothes well. Over the years, I have tried a total of 6 recipes, although I have looked at many others. I tried ones that had lots of positive feedback and/or were more popular among DIY’ers, appeared to be cheap to make, AND seemed to be fairly fool-proof to make.
Recipes with Borax
The first two recipes I tried contained borax. Before I get into what the DIY’s I tried were, I want to voice some thoughts on borax. Initially, I thought this was a pretty safe and natural ingredient. As time has gone on, I have questioned how natural and safe it is, based on recent information I have come across about it (information linked below). For instance, it is known to cause skin and eye irritation as well as hormone disruption. I will say this much in that I believe it is MUCH better than the random chemicals that are often found in even the “natural” detergent’s sold at the store. Have you ever noticed how store bought detergent’s don’t typically list their ingredients on the bottle/box? I don’t know about you, but that’s a bit sketchy to me. As with anything, I encourage you to do your own research and decide for yourself what would work best for your family. Since my oldest son has such sensitive skin, it seemed like a wiser option to forgo making laundry detergent with borax once I came upon such information on borax.
Here are a couple of links if you want more information on the safety of borax:
The 1st recipe I tried: Dry recipe with borax
Link for recipe: https://happymoneysaver.com/making-your-own-laundry-detergent-worth-the-cost/
Essential oils/Purex crystals (I use essential oils in my laundry detergent instead of Purex crystals)
Ease in making: It’s super easy to make. I typically would just hand grate the Fels Naptha when I made it, although I’m sure it would be even easier using a food processor to grate it. At the time, when I used to make this, I didn’t have a food processor. However, the Fels Naptha grates pretty easily so it really wasn’t much of an issue. That is the hardest part of the recipe (and really, it isn’t hard at all). After that, you just measure out and add in the rest of the dry ingredients and mix it up. It’s as simple as that! Just be careful not to breathe it in while you’re mixing it up since the borax is not safe to breathe in.
Results: It works well in cleaning clothes and getting the stains out BUT if you choose to leave out the Purex Crystals (as I did) it needs essential oils in place of the Purex Crystals. Otherwise the scent of the laundry afterwards is kind of weird. Also, it works best if used when washing with warm or hot water, or clothing may smell a little weird afterwards (even with essential oils). That is what I personally discovered anyways. I live in an area with hard water, so maybe that is the cause of that?
Naturalness: You already know how I feel about the borax. Although I think it’s better than store bought laundry detergent ingredients it’s safety and naturalness is questionable. Also, the Fels Naptha doesn’t have the greatest rating. It contains dyes and some other ingredients that have been linked to cancer and respiratory problems (to read about it’s rating, go to this link: https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/441-FelsNapthaHeavyDutyLaundryBarSoap#.W012n9VKipo). However, all the other ingredients are considered to be natural and safe.
Cost: According to the writer of this recipe at happymoneysaver, it only costs about 4 cents per load to make this detergent. Bluntly put, it’s WAY cheaper than store-bought laundry detergent although not quite as cheap as borax liquid DIY laundry detergent. For comparison, most Tide laundry detergent is about 12 cents per load, so triple the cost! I would typically only buy the Oxi-clean for this recipe when it was on sale at Costco. I would also buy the baking soda in bulk at Costco. The rest of the ingredients are pretty cheap at either Walmart or on Amazon.
The 2nd recipe I tried: Liquid detergent with borax
Recipe link: http://www.thefamilyhomestead.com/laundrysoap.htm
Ease in making: It’s a little harder to make than the dry detergent due to having to cook it. When I say “cook it” though, that process really isn’t that complex. Basically, you grate the soap and melt it in heated water on the stove top. Once the soap melts, add in the rest of the ingredients and then more water until it gels, stirring occasionally. I’ll be honest, when I first came across this recipe I hesitated because of the whole “cooking it” thing. I feared it would take a long time or I would somehow mess it up. If I recall correctly, the whole process of making this soap took a bit longer than 30 minutes and it made enough for 64 large loads. Also, I DIDN’T MESS IT UP! Admittedly, it is the “hardest” and takes the longest of the 6 DIY recipes I tried, but the results are well worth it. If you’re wanting to try it but the whole cooking thing or time it will take is freaking you out, don’t be afraid! Take my word for it that it’s really quite straightforward and simple.
Results: It worked better than any other laundry detergent I have made. It was amazing! It doesn’t matter whether you use essential oils or not with it. It doesn’t matter if you are washing on hot or cold. It works great and without any kind of laundry boost such as Oxi-clean. Honestly, if it weren’t for the borax in it I would make this regularly. But, since it DOES contain borax and since my family (not just my oldest son) has sensitive skin, I haven’t made it in awhile. That being said, if your family doesn’t have sensitive skin and you need a detergent that can perform well on its own this is the detergent to make!
Naturalness: Aside from the borax and Fels Naptha (which I’m not going to repeat myself about because BORING!) this is a pretty natural and safe detergent. After all, it IS mainly water. Unless you are using contaminated water but why would someone even do that?
Cost: This is definitely the cheapest DIY laundry detergent you can make. For the breakdown on the cost, check out the link for the recipe. The writer of the blog post for it goes into the cost analysis but basically (depending on the cost of the ingredients in your area) it only costs 1 cent per load. ONE CENT!!! Of course, it is mainly water that you are using to make it BUT STILL. If you are going for the cheapest DIY laundry detergent, this is the recipe for you.
Recipes without Borax
Dry recipe #1 from myhealthygreenfamily blog
Glycerin bar soap (like this: Clearly Natural Glycerine Bar Soap, Unscented, 3 Count, 4 oz each)
Ease in making: Grating the glycerin soap bars by hand was torture! It was very hard to do since the soap is so slippery making it difficult to grate. Towards the last bit of the remaining soap bar, I finally just ended up dicing the remaining amount I was getting so frustrated. If you make this recipe, you MUST use a food processor. To see why, read below under the ‘results.’ I DID make this recipe a second time using a food processor to grate the soap and mix the ingredients and the results were much better AND it was easier to make. Cleaning the food processor afterwards is a little bit of a pain because the glycerin soap wants to stick to the food processor bits, BUT it’s much easier than grating it by hand.
Results: When I made this recipe the first time and hand grated the glycerin soap, the glycerin soap didn’t always dissolve all the way, even on a ‘hot’ wash setting. I think the main reason for this was because it wasn’t grated with a food processor, so it wasn’t grated finely enough. The second time I made it with a food processor, and there was no problem in the glycerin soap dissolving, even on a ‘warm’ wash setting. So, as long as you make this detergent in a food processor you shouldn’t have any problems. If you DON’T have a food processor, I would strongly recommend not attempting to make this. That being said, it cleans the clothes fairly well. I do have to add essential oils and Oxi-clean to the wash, and even then it doesn’t perform quite as well as other laundry detergents I have made, but it works sufficiently for my family’s needs. One annoying thing is that despite using a desiccant, with time I have noticed the detergent clumping together into one big blob in it’s container. It’s a loose blob so it’s not very hard to break up, but it IS a small annoyance I thought was worth noting.
Naturalness: None of the ingredients are considered to be even slightly questionable. It’s about as natural as you can get. Since it uses glycerin soap, which is PH balanced for our skin, I would rank it as the most natural of the laundry detergents and the best for sensitive skin. Although castile soap (which is featured in the other recipes) is good and definitely very natural, it isn’t PH balanced. It is alkaline, especially in comparison to the more natural acidity of our skin. Hence, my reasoning in ranking this laundry detergent as the most natural of the ones I made.
Cost: The cost analysis for this recipe was provided by the writer of the post for it on myhealthygreenfamily. Basically, from what they figured out, the cost can vary from 9 cents a load to 18 cents a load, depending on the cost of the ingredients in your area. They compared this against Tide Free and Clear, which they said cost about 22 cents a load in their area. In summary, it’s not as cheap as the liquid borax detergent BUT it’s still cheaper than store bought sensitive skin detergents.
Dry recipe #2 from Brendid blog
Castile bar soap that is unscented (like this: Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Bar Soap – Baby Unscented, 5oz. Bars (Pack of 3))
Oxi-clean (the author of this DIY recommends using the baby Oxi-clean, linked here: Chlorine-free Baby Stain Remover Gentle for the entire family, 48 oz by Oxi Clean (1 Pack))
Ease in making: As suggested on the blog that has this recipe, I made this recipe in the food processor. You CAN grate the castile soap by hand and then mix it in with the dry ingredients BUT the texture is a lot more uniform and granular with the food processor. Plus, with the food processor, it takes less than 10 minutes to make this. It’s definitely easy to make. The hardest part is just cleaning the food processor afterwards, but the soap and all of that comes off pretty easily so one really can’t complain.
Results: This recipe works amazing well in cleaning the clothes. I don’t need to add any kind of Oxi-clean boost to it, although I do add essential oils to keep it from smelling funky. I also wash on ‘warm’ or ‘hot’ setting. This seems to be what needs to be done for all of the dry DIY detergents, at least in my area. I don’t know if it has to do with the hard water in my area, because the authors of the dry detergent recipes don’t mention any issue with that.
Naturalness: If you use the recommended ingredients, including the baby Oxi-clean, everything is ranked “A” on the Environmental Working Group website. Basically, the ingredients are natural AND there are no known environmental or health concerns associated with the ingredients in this detergent recipe.
Cost: The author of this recipe at brendid blog figured out the cost to make this recipe was about 6 cents per load. It’s just barely more expensive than the borax dry detergent but completely safe and natural if you use the baby safe Oxi-clean. I think the extra couple of cents is worth the piece of mind, especially if you are using this detergent for babies or young children.
Dry Recipe #3 from thankyourbody blog
Castile bar soap that is unscented (like this: Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Bar Soap – Baby Unscented, 5oz. Bars (Pack of 3))
Coarse sea salt
Ease in making: Once again, just like the dry laundry detergent before this recipe, I made it in the food processor. It’s just so much easier that way and it combines and granulates everything so well. As stated before on the previous dry recipe, the only “hard” part is cleaning the food processor afterwards. Even that is pretty easy though, all things considered. None of the ingredients stick to it. They all wash away quite easily.
Results: It gets the clothes sufficiently clean but it is the least effective of the borax free dry detergents (although not as bad as the borax free liquid detergent). For example, stains on the cloth bibs I use for my youngest child often didn’t fully come out with this detergent, whereas with the other detergents it did. If you make this, I suggest adding Oxi-clean to loads you use it in for better results.
Naturalness: This recipe is about as natural as they come, like the one by myhealthygreenfamily. Unless you have problems with castile soap (which DOES have more ingredients than pure glycerin soap), this detergent is quite safe and natural. My family has used it without an incident of skin rashes or inflammation.
Cost: Although the blog author of this recipe at thankyourbody doesn’t include a cost analysis, since the recipe is identical to the myhealthygreenfamily dry detergent EXCEPT for using castile soap in this recipe instead of glycerin soap, I would estimate the cost to be around the same as that recipe. Hence, it’s probably around 9 to 18 cents a load.
Ease in making: This detergent recipe definitely wins the award for easiest to make. You simply pour all of the ingredients into a container and give it a good shake and you’re all done! It literally takes minutes to make. If you’re looking for the easiest recipe to make, this is the recipe for you.
Results: For starters, I found sometimes it would leave soap scum on some items that were washed, whereas other detergents didn’t do that (see image below). Maybe that is because the castile soap can react poorly to hard water areas (I live in an area with hard water)? Either way, it was pretty annoying. Also, it was only about as effective at getting clothes clean as the detergent recipe before this. When you factor in the soap scum thing, I would consider it to be the least effective.
Naturalness: As with all the other borax free detergents, there are no complaints to be brought up in regards to these ingredients. They are all safe and natural. There really isn’t much else to say.
Cost: Surprisingly, when I estimated the cost of this recipe, it is about 25 cents per load to make. This means it is the most expensive of the DIY laundry detergents to make. That being said, it IS all natural and it IS very easy to make, so those factors alone might make it worth it for you to make.
Cleaning ability: from best to worst
#1 (best): Liquid borax laundry detergent DIY recipe
#2: Dry recipe with Borax AND Dry recipe without Borax from brendid blog
#3: Dry recipe without borax from myhealthygreenfamily blog
#4: Dry recipe without borax from thankyourbody blog
#5 (the worst/least effective): Liquid borax free recipe
Cost: from cheapest to least cheap
#1 (cheapest): Liquid Borax recipe (1 cent per load)
#2: Dry detergent with borax (4 cents per load)
#3: Dry detergent from brendid blog (6 cents per load)
#4: Dry detergents from thankyourbody blog and myhealthygreenfamily blog (9 to 18 cents per load)
#5 (least cheap): Liquid borax free detergent (25 cents per load)
Naturalness: from most natural to least natural)
#1 (most natural): Borax free dry detergent from myhealthygreenfamily (due to the use of pure glycerin soap)
#2: Borax free dry detergents from brendid blog AND thankyourbody blog AND borax free liquid detergent
#3 (least natural): Detergents with borax
Easiest to make: from easiest to hardest
#1 (Easiest): Liquid borax free recipe
#2: Borax free dry detergents by thankyourbody and brendid AND the dry detergent with borax
#3: Borax free dry detergent using glycerin soap by myhealthygreenfamily blog
#4 (Hardest): Liquid detergent with borax
If you DO choose to go on this laundry soap making endeavor, remember that regardless of what recipe you choose to use, you will be saving money AND it will have better ingredients than some store bought kind. Don’t get too bogged down with wondering which one to choose. Ultimately, they all do what they are designed to do, and that is to clean clothes in a more natural way. Either way, you can’t go wrong. Happy DIY’ing!
Safety for babies in using these detergents: I have used all of these detergents with my kids (including the borax detergents) when at least one of them was a baby with no problems. From what I have read, the ingredients are all safe to use to wash baby clothes. That being said, I have read about some concerns in using essential oils in laundry detergent. If that is a concern for you, simply omit them or stick to lavender or other oils that are ideal for sensitive skin to avoid any problems.
Essential oils in laundry for scent: Basically I chose a scent I want and typically use 10-12 drops total of essential oils per large load. It’s that easy. I just drip it on top of the laundry detergent. Lately I have been into peppermint and lavender in my laundry loads, although lemon and OnGuard (by DoTerra) are really great too. Peppermint and orange essential oils are also an excellent combo for washing laundry.
Pro tip: If you’re feeling adventurous or super frugal, you can make the washing soda yourself! Simply cook baking soda on a baking sheet in your over at 400 degrees F for about an hour to an hour and a half, stirring every 20 minutes. It’s a cheap and easy way to acquire washing soda.
Note: I have a high efficiency washer. All of these DIY’s are safe to use in a HE washer. In fact, they work really well in a HE washer because they are all naturally low suds due to their natural components.
Closing thoughts on Oxi-clean: You may be wondering why I don’t DIY the dry Oxi-clean powder. I don’t know how many hours I searched looking for a dry DIY Oxi-clean replacement. Although there are many DIY liquid Oxi-clean replacements, I couldn’t find a viable dry DIY Oxi-clean replacement. I think this is because the active ingredient in Oxi-clean is sodium carbonate peroxide (a combination of sodium carbonate and hydrogen peroxide). I don’t know how you would safely re-create that active ingredient at home. Plus, Oxi-clean has a good rating of a ‘B’ from the EWG, although there are a few concerns with it that have been brought to my attention recently, so once I run out I will be buying the baby Oxi-clean only. Here is the article link on Oxi-clean: https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/195-OxiCleanVersatileStainRemoverFree#.W3fEss5Kipo. The baby Oxi-clean has the best rating of an “A” (https://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/190-OxiCleanLaundryBabyStainSoaker#.W017MNVKipo) so if you want to be as natural as possible, use that specific Oxi-clean product. Here’s the link for it: Chlorine-free Baby Stain Remover Gentle for the entire family, 48 oz by Oxi Clean (1 Pack)
Any questions I didn’t answer in this post? Have you made your own laundry detergent before? If not, which of my DIY laundry detergent recipes do you want to try? Is there a recipe I didn’t try that you think I should try? Let me know in the comments below. If you have a recipe you think I should try or one that works for you that I didn’t try, please include the link to the recipe in your comment. I would love to test it out. Thank you!