It’s been 3 years since I originally wrote this post, and much has changed in my laundry life. Since this continues to be the most popular post on my blog, I decided to update it in May 2012.
I always try to do inventory of the house before I go grocery shopping. In the past when I haven’t done this, I’ll come home with, say, two bottles of maple syrup, only to discover I already had two bottles in the pantry.
The same is true with checking other household goods. That’s why I’m glad I checked in the laundry room before heading out to the store earlier this week to go food shopping. I picked up the bottle of liquid laundry detergent and gave it a shake–there was barely anything in it. OK, I thought, now is the perfect time to finally experiment with making your own laundry detergent.
I’d read about this practice of DIY laundry detergent on a number of blogs and websites, including Frugal Dad, who said that homemade laundry detergent wasn’t for him. I’d seen recipes for liquid detergent (some involved boiling your DIY laundry detergent on the stove; no thanks) and recipes for dry detergent.
Since the dry detergent seemed to be the easiest to make, I figured I’d give it a go. So that night I went shopping, I added the three ingredients I would need to make my own laundry detergent to my shopping list:
- Arm and Hammer Washing Soda
- 20 Mule Team Borax
- Bar of Fels-Naptha Soap
Thankfully, I was able to find all three items at my local supermarket in the laundry aisle.
At first I’d looked for the washing soda in the bakery aisle, because I figured baking soda? washing soda? Must be the same thing. But it’s not. Washing soda is in the laundry aisle.
I’m already a huge fan of Borax for its stain-removing abilities so I knew where to look for it with the commercial laundry detergents. Update: since my local supermarket no longer carries borax, I get it through Alice.com now. So they no longer carry borax, but they still have washing soda–go figure.
And right above the Borax were the bars of Fels-Naptha Soap. My take on Fels-Naptha stuff is that it is like an old-school stain-removal stick except it comes in bar form.
Once I got the stuff home, making the laundry detergent was pretty easy. My plan was to store everything in a reusable Rubbermaid 10-cup container with a lid. So as I went through the steps below, I just dumped the ingredients (shown below) right into this tub.
- 2 parts washing soda (I did this quite literally and started 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’d read that some people put the soap in a food processor to get it into tiny bits; I just got out my cheese grater and put it to work)
- Mix all ingredients (I put the top on the container and gave it a couple of shakes. I could have stirred it with a spoon)
- Do laundry (I dropped a 1/4 cup measuring spoon into the container for doling out the detergent. Most of the recipes I’d read recommended using anything from 3 tablespoons to 4 tablespoons of detergent in the wash. I figured why not just measure out the 1/4 cup–which equals 4 tatablespoons–and be done with it)
It took me five minutes only to put this all together. Really, only five minutes. Grating the soap is what took the longest.
I have a top loading washing machine (came with the house), so I’ve gotten in the habit of pouring/dumping my laundry detergent in first and letting the tub fill before adding the clothes. Waiting like this allows the detergent to dissolve. In the past I could usually tell that the dissolving was occurring because I could see bubbles. With DIY laundry detergent? Not so much. Actually, not at all. And that had me worried.
Update: I now 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.
But I dumped in my first load of clothes, let it run its course and came back when I heard the washing machine turn off.
Everything looked clean. And everything smelled clean. I figured, OK, this might just work. And I tossed the wet clothes in the dryer for five minutes to get out the excess water (like I always do), and then started hanging up the items one by one to dry.
I started a second load, then a third and now here I am, four days later, and you know what I’ve discovered? This stuff works.
The only problem is that we, as Americans, have been brainwashed–no brainwashed is too strong a term but it’s a good pun since I’m talking about laundry right–or led to believe that the more bubbles in a cleaning product, the better.
And when you’re using DIY laundry detergent, you just don’t have the bubbles. And you need to get over that.
Besides, here’s the upside to my DIY laundry detergent experiment:
- I made my own laundry detergent. (How cool is it to be able to say that?)
- I spent about $6 in the process, and I imagine that this laundry detergent is going to last me a long, long time–much longer than $6 spent on a commercial brand would.
The one downside to my DIY dry detergent? Since I’m still scarred by those “ring around the collar” Wisk commercials from the 1970s, I’m pretty anal about trying to get those rings out of my husband’s work shirts. In the past I would pour the liquid detergent on the “ring” and then sprinkle some Borax on it. Usually just water and Borax didn’t do the trick, which is why I added the liquid detergent to the mix. So when Bill’s shirts came out of the laundry yesterday–and hadn’t been pre-treated–the ring was still there. I considered investing in a small bottle of liquid Tide, just to keep on hand.
But then I thought, wait! Maybe I should try rubbing the Fels-Naptha soap on those rings.
With the next load, I’ll have to give that a try. And I’ll let you know how that goes.
Update: I’ve found that clarifying shampoo–much cheaper than liquid laundry detergent–is a great stain remover!