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Homemade Laundry Detergent and Fabric Softener

Over the past few years I’ve made the switch from those over scented, over chemicaled laundry detergents to more natural alternatives. I even got rid of the blue fabric softener! At first I began to buy more natural alternatives (and am currently doing so), while it was more expensive than the conventional cleaners, I found it worked just as well and it gave me peace of mind knowing that if detergent remained on the clothes, I’d feel comfortable with them on my skin.

In not using detergents and softeners that do not contain chemicals, you’re also helping to preserve clean water. For many of us that have a septic system, would you just dump out the detergent on your grass or garden? When I think about the products I use, this always comes to mind.

homemade laundry detergent

photo credit: joeshlabotnik

The problem I began to have awhile back is that my grocery budget includes includes all of my cleaners. (uh…because you buy it at the grocery store…?) And while $9 every 6 weeks or so isn’t a huge part of that budget, it’s enough where I had wanted to pare it down a bit.

So I decided to finally bite the bullet and try my hand at making my own laundry soap.

I’ve seen many, many versions of different detergents traveling across the internet, and it really depends on the water in your home. We have hard well water with a softener, so while we don’t see the stains from iron, there are minerals and such in the water that change the way detergents work.

Homemade Laundry Detergent

Ingredients
1 cup washing soda (less than $2 a box)
1 cup borax (less than $3 a box)
1 bar of Dr. Bronners pure castile soap (grated)

Pulse together in a food processor and place in an air tight container. For each load, just use 1 Tablespoon of the mix, less if you have a front load.

Natural Fabric Softener

Did you know towels don't like softener?We’re all so accustomed to using fabric softener in the wash, that we don’t think twice about it. But if you think about it, the softener is used to create an artificial scent and softness to the fabric, which means that some of it must remain on the fabric. For is to breathe in and possible absorb through our skin.

Allowing something to coat the fabric also takes away from the natural softness of the fabric, causing friction in the dryer. Do you have towels that feel scratchy and aren’t very absorbent after just a couple of years? It’s from using fabric softener!

I find that using a natural or homemade laundry detergent, that my clothes and towels remain free of most static. But in the dryer months of the year, or if you need to use a softener on your clothes, there is a one ingredient fix. And you probably have it in your kitchen!

Vinegar.

Yes, just plain old white vinegar works to rinse the clothes of any residue (which causes the static buildup while drying) helping your fabrics stay static free. I normally use about 1/4 cup for each load.

Also? The vinegar smell dissipates in the wash. So you won’t smell like pickles.

Tips:

  • Borax and Washing Soda can be found in the laundry aisle of most larger grocery stores, usually on the top shelf.
  • Liquid Dr. Bronners is more expensive, but works just the same. I couldn’t find a bar at my local store so I ended up getting the liquid (about $9 instead of $3) and just mixed up the Borax and Washing Soda. I use about 1/2 Tbsp of the mix and one very small squirt of the Dr. Bronners for each load
  • Supposedly the castile soap can cause a build up on cloth diapers and that can lead to leaking, stinking, or rashes. So I’ve gone the safe route and have continued using store bought detergents for cloth diapers.
  • For Borax safety information, check out the post on Passionate Homemaking, “Is Borax Safe”. I am comfortable using borax in the washing machine, but not in, say, a dishwasher detergent.

Store-bought Alternatives

I also buy detergent quite often, and I needed in the house when I was washing cloth diapers each day. The brands that seemed to have worked the best for me were Seventh Generation (liquid), Allen’s Naturally (powder), and Rockin’ Green. All are more natural alternatives to those brightly colored detergents you find in most stores.

I have also used Soap Nuts with great success. These completely natural “nuts” are used right in the wash and can be used multiple times, making it very affordable. I bought one pound of them and it’s lasted me a very long time. I haven’t yet tried the concentrate made from the nuts, but would like to at some point.

 

So what do you use in the wash? What hasn’t worked for you?

 

 

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Donielle Baker

Donielle Baker

owner and editor of Natural Fertility and Wellness at Natural Fertility and Wellness
Donielle is an author, amateur herbalist, lover of real food, and an advocate for natural health. She has a passion for nourishing nutrition, natural living, and spreading the word on how food truly affects our health, so much so that she is currently taking courses to become a master herbalist. Her personal background includes both infertility and miscarriage and she began this blog in order to share all of the information she found helpful in her journey to healing.
Donielle Baker
Donielle Baker
Donielle Baker
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Comments

  1. I’ve used this recipe and really like it! I also recently started using straight vinegar as a fabric softener. I was a little nervous at first, because my husband absolutely can’t stand the smell of vinegar. But the clothes don’t smell of it at all! You can also add a couple drops of fragrance oil to the vinegar if you’re concerned about it–something I plan on trying sometime.

    Have you tried making your own powdered dish soap yet? Very similar recipe.

  2. Kristin says:

    Just one question. Can this mixture be used in HE (or front loading) washers? That’s what we have and I know we have to use special detergant.

  3. Donielle says:

    April – I too was hesitant to use vinegar, but after using it in my dishwasher and for all my cleaning purposes, I noticed the smell never stuck around. And it doesn’t in clothes either! Although I normally only use it as a softener/rinse agent every few loads and not every time. I just noticed when I use a natural detergent my clothes just don’t need the softener to keep static at bay. (since it’s the residue that causes static!)

    *and yup, I’ve got my own dishwasher soap too.

    Kristin – I too have an HE front load washer and it works just fine. Maybe I should be using a bit less detergent though. More like 1/2 – 3/4 Tbsp along with my tiny squirt of liquid Dr. Bronners.

    And I’ve never actually bought any special HE detergent, I just use about half the recommended amount.

  4. I have been making my own laundry soap as well (very similiar recipe but I use any kind of soap and also I usually make it liquid) and have been quite happy with it.
    I have recently been thinking about using vinager but haven’t tried it yet. I am glad to hear that you all think it works.
    I am curious about your dishwasher soap. I need to work on that too.

  5. I JUST started making my own laundry detergent as well…. seriously, like 3 days ago! I’ve only used it in 3 loads, but so far so good, and I’ve gotten my neighbor hooked on it as well! I used Ivory soap though because I read it worked just as well. :)

  6. Amanda H. says:

    My mother and I have recently both started using a liquid version of this — you can find it here, the very first recipe on the page.

    What I like about it is the fact that you can get more than double the amount of loads with it than with the powdered, which is an even bigger money savings for me! :)

    Do you think you will share your dishwasher soap recipe? I haven’t figured one out yet that works.

  7. Donielle says:

    Amanda H. – It’s coming next week!

  8. Amanda H. says:

    oh goodie!

  9. Sweetpeas says:

    I use this for my laundry too, but with a new baby, wasn't sure what to do for cloth diapers (I was still using regular detergent back when my twins were in diapers). I asked a friend what she uses & she said she discovered that plain baking soda gets her diapers clean & avoids stink & build-up, so that's my plan, a scoop of baking soda in the wash & vinegar in the rinse.

  10. Stacie@HobbitDoor says:

    The nurse in me has a question about the homemade laundry detergent. I’m not sure if you’ve heard about the “super bug” MRSA. I know that Tide and Dial soap will in fact kill it. It’s highly contagious and showing up in schools, gyms, etc now not just hospitals. I’m wondering if this detergent will do the same thing?

    Also, how much vinegar do you use as a softener?

  11. Donielle says:

    Stacie – My thought is that since it’s not an over chemicalized, over antibacterial-ized detergent that it wouldn’t. But that’s my main reason for using a more natural detergent. I strive to keep strange chemicals out of my house and wouldn’t normally use Tide or Dial to begin with.

    While I do understand the good in begin able to kill germs, I also think that what we put on the largest organ of our body (that absorbs) is equally important. And the fact that we really don’t know what it does to our bodies once it’s in there is a large concern of mine.

  12. Stacie@HobbitDoor says:

    Donielle,
    Thanks for responding to my questions. Normally, I would agree with you and try not to use anything antibacterial in my home as a way to slow the whole “superbug” thing. However, MRSA is everywhere now and it kills people. I work in a hospital with it every day. I have a cousin whose family makes her own detergent, hasn’t switched soaps and can’t get MRSA out of her home–it keeps spreading. Mainly my concern for your readers is this, if such a bug comes to your home, switch from the homemade soap to protect your family. If I didn’t work in a hospital, I probably would make this soap. As I don’t know what I’m bringing home with me, I think I’ll stick to Tide. This is such a great idea–really wish it felt like a safe alternative for my family. Thanks for all the great ideas you share here!

  13. How much vinegar to use in your rinse cycle? And does it fade clothes at all?

  14. Also, does the homemade detergent tend to fade clothes faster?

  15. Anna, I use less than 1/4 cup of vinegar as a rinse. Probably more like 1/8 of a cup. I also don’t use it every time, just when I notice the clothes starting to get a bit static-ey. The thing is, it’s the detergent residue that causes static buildup in the dryer, so if you use a natural detergent, you have far less problems.

    And I haven’t noticed it fading the clothes any faster at all.

  16. Awesome, thanks for the advice!

  17. Hi Donielle. Just a couple of thoughts. If you have no problem with build up on your regular clothes why would it build up on the diapers. I had heard the same thing which is why I had never made the switch. I wasn’t smart enough to think of the one detergent for clothes–one detergent for diapers solution. This is why I count on people like you to think for me!
    Also, I was wondering if you know what the Castile soap does for the detergent. I wonder if we could just leave the little squirt out when we wash diapers. Do you have any idea if that would work?

    Thanks for thinkin’ for me!

  18. Kathy – honestly, the reason I don’t use the castile sopa on the dipes is for the same reason you don’t. I heard it builds up. And I spend to much money on my cloth dipes to where I don’t want to have to replace them so I follow the manufacturers directions exactly. :-) Although I have heard of people just using it without the soap or using something like an ivory bar instead with decent results.
    As for me though, I’ll stick with store bought detergent for cloth dipes for now. :-)

  19. Anonymous says:

    I’m going to address, Vinegar, MRSA and Tide:
    I have the newer front loader washing machines and found that they smell after a while. The cause is a build up of detergents. The detergent we use is Costco’s Kirkland HE chemical free brand. I started using vinegar, just a small amount with each load (I just fill or partly fill the little blue cup in the machine. For big smells, or a first time treatment, use 1 cup of vinegar with no clothes through a full cycle. t not only stopped the smell, but made the washing machine clean. You can get a giant sized jug at Costco for about $4. And to talk about MRSA, my son is currently in the hospital and is recovering. The team leader in charge of infectious diseases recommended bleach for clothes and where you can on surfaces, and color safe bleach for colored clothing with very hot water. I could use the sanitize mode but that might sky-rocket my hot water and electricity costs and takes a lot longer if I did it every time I did a wash? So I am going to combine that with Tide and here’s why. My friend at work has a sister who under a special study, grew MRSA in a test tube on clothing among other tests. Every time they used tide with the MRSA, it killed the MRSA.

    -Eric

    • @Anonymous, Unless Tide has some anti bacterial like hibi-clens, I dont see what makes it different. This is just another excuse for us to spend money on tide. I have been making this for 4 years and Nooooo MRSA here.

      • @Liz, Thank you, Liz, for saying what I was thinking as I was reading these comments. There is no reason to “stick with Tide” for fear of MRSA. Vinegar has strong disinfectant properties, Lavender essential oil is antibacterial and antimicrobial as is Tea Tree Oil (also antifungal). However, the wash is not where the majority of bacteria is killed. It’s the dryer that does that (or the sun if you line dry). Washing clothes removes dirt and stains, it’s the heat from the dryer that kills germs and bacteria. Line drying works the same because, as we all know, the sun is the greatest disinfectant.

  20. Anonymous says:

    That would be Tide Liquid

    -Eric

  21. I recently stared using the powedered mix and it’s worked well. I wondered if anyone knows if it’s okay to use bleach with this mixture? I don’t want to cause hazardous fumes!

    • donielle says:

      @Lisa, I personally don’t use bleach anymore, don’t even have it in the house. :-) I don’t know how it would react with the washing soda or borax, but would be hesitant to use it.

  22. Don’t know if this already posted, so I apologize if it did.
    We have super hard water here (it literally eats through the pipes) with no water softener. I have reluctantly switched back to using Oxy clean and a Free and Clear detergent. I’ve never used fabric softener (allergies).
    We have tried:
    Soap nuts
    Liquid Dr Bronner’s (peppermint and sal suds)
    White vinegar
    Tea tree oil
    Oxy clean
    baking soda soaks

    and just about every combination of the above that you could imagine. My clothes STILL smell sweaty. I can smell them when I open my closet door. Cottons, blends, man-made fabrics, it doesn’t make a difference. I wear deodorant and have done cleanses and cleaned up my diet. I’m still a super-heavy stinky sweater and I’m tired of my clothes smelling, so back to commercial detergents we go.

    Oh, and homemade dishwasher detergent was a bust for us too- water again I’m sure.

    • donielle says:

      @Stacy, The water issue is TOUGH! I know as soon as our softener is out of salt. The laundry stinks and the dishes don’t come clean.

      A few years back I was able to find a laundry additive that you added with each wash that softened the water just load by load. It did help somewhat but I had to make sure to add it in at the beginning and put it in the softener spot as well.

      At our old house we bought an inexpensive softener at Lowes, about $300.00 I think. We loved it and it worked so much better than our $1300.00 model we have in our new house. I know money can be super tight at times (or all the time!) but having a softener saves us a ton of money on clothes (hard water ruins the fibers) as well as appliances. Without it our appliances would have about half the life in them because of all the buildup and “eating” from the rust stains.

      Pertaining to the sweating – have you ever gone without deodorant? Or at least without antiperspirant? When you block up the natural pathway of the body getting rid of toxins, many times you begin to sweat and stink more than you normally would. I definitely sweat a lot less now that I don’t use deodorant. I’ve also read something about how a magnesium deficiency may cause body odor.

      • @donielle,
        I have in fact tried going without deodorant- I usually do it on weekends to give my skin a break. I honestly can’t tell if I stink more or less on those days since I don’t spend as much time in the car or out in the heat (we live in Phoenix). I’m a bit skittish about trying it on a work day since other people would have to deal with me. I take a multivitamin that contains magnesium- not sure if I could need more mag. in my diet.

        Another blog I read mentioned adding salt TO their homemade dishwasher powder to soften the water. I almost wonder if that would work in the washing machine. I just googled quickly and came up with a tip to add 1/2 cup of borax to the washer to soften water, and a bunch of info about salt reservoirs in the dishwasher (which ours doesn’t have). Makes it tempting to try adding some borax to the wash along with the laundry detergent.

        I grew up drinking softened well water so I’m well acquainted with water softeners and those 40lb bags of salt. Only kicker (besides finances) is that I would have no clue how to hook one up.

        • donielle says:

          @Stacy, I think I would have a hard time going without deodorant if I had to be around others in the transition period too! Since it gets so cold here in MI, I just did it one winter when I didn’t really have to be in public for a couple if weeks! :-)

  23. Andrea E. N. says:

    I just use 1 grated bar of Ivory soap in hot water( you could use any brand, I suppose) . I put the grated soup in a gallon of hot water, let it dissolve and cool a bit, then into a 1 gallon jug. I use 1/4 cup for a med. load 1/3 for a large. It works well and costs .30 for a whole gallon of detergent. For fabric softener, we use the Norwex(?) fabric balls that you put in the dryer. I like those.

  24. I’ve been making my own detergent for about two years now, and really like it. I use a liquid recipe, but I’m thinking of trying a dry recipe. I’m just not sure how my front loader would dissolve it on cold cycles.

    For those who have asked about HE washers – yes, you can use it. BUT if you have an extended warranty, my understanding is that you have to use a soap with the HE logo on it or the warranty is voided. You might want to check you paperwork before switching.

    Vinegar is used to set colors so it will not make clothes fade.

    In the winter months I have a lot of problem with static, and I’ve resorted to using a free and clear softener. Vinegar hasn’t helped, and I don’t like going to church with my skirt inching up my legs. ;) I only use it on the loads which truly need it, and do not use it during the summer.

    • @Tammy,
      One trick I found to help clear static in skirts is to put a small safety pin in the side seam or bottom hem of the skirt. This actually helps to break up the static, and I just leave it in there.

  25. I have used this exact recipe for over a year now except I use a Fels naptha bar instead. I use cloth diapers as well and I never had any trouble with soap build up or smell. In fact, the diapers get cleaner and smell better using my homemade stuff then they did with diaper detergent! Good luck! :)

  26. For my cloth diapers, I use 2C Super Washing Soda, 2C oxyclean, 1C borax, 1C baking soda and since I have REALLY hard water, 1C calgon water softening powder. I use 2tbsp with each med-lg load of diapers and I LOVE it. We prewash the diapers with detergent in cold water, then a hot heavy duty wash with detergent, and then a warm/cold second rinse with a 1/4C vinegar to rinse any residue off. We hand any diapers/wet bags/Paul liners to dry and run all through the dryer. After the inserts and wipes are mostly dry, we throw all the hangings in for a low cycle to disinfect. All has worked well for us the last 4 months and no rashes or leaks (aside from exploding BMs) to speak of. For all if our clothing and towels, I use the same recipe but add 2C Zote laundry flakes. I put 1/4 vinegar in the softener compartment. In the dryer, we spray a mix of vinegar and eucalyptus oil for extra softening and everything seems to be working well.

  27. Hi there!
    I will be making my own laundry detergent after making my own toothpaste today. So excited! I was reading some of the comments back in 2009 about MRSA. I have an awesome solution that has been proven to work in killing MRSA. It’s an essential oil called “onguard” by the company doterra. I’ve been using these essential oils , and the onguard is PERFECT for flu’s and any sickness…it also helps prevent sickness. I put it on the bottoms of my kids’ feet at night and morning when they are sick and it makes the sickness go away much faster, and its worked to prevent sickness too.
    Anyway, DoTerra has many other awesome essential oils and blends that are safer than medicines. Just had to share! If you’d like to read about ailments and oils to help and testimonials, go to http://www.everythingessential.me
    If you want to purchase go to http://www.mydoterra.com/reyagoggin
    I really love all these natural ways to help myself and my family so these things get me so excited!!!!
    Thanks for sharing!!!!

  28. I just recently started using this recipe for laundry detergent and it works great for us!

  29. I’ve been using homemade laundry detergent (liquid) for about 6 months now and won’t be going back to store bought. I haven’t even had to use bleach on my whites because it’s so effective. I’ve tried making it with a few different types of bar soaps (just for fun) and with the comments about MRSA I wonder if making the detergent with Dial bar soap would be effective. My dad has really sensitive skin and the batch I made with Ivory soap was fine for him. We don’t have an HE machine but I know if you cut the bar soap amount down by roughly 1/3 as much as the recipe calls for it will not produce as much suds-which from what I understand is the concern with HE machines. We, too have hard water and not only does the homemade outperform our regular storeboughts in that area but it took the “funk” out of our towels. But yeah, if killing bacteria is a concern I don’t see why one couldn’t use an anti-bacterial bar soap in the detergent recipe if they preferred to do so.

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