I've been making my own laundry detergent for several years now and, honestly, I've never missed the long walk down the laundry detergent aisle at the store. I first took the trip to DIY detergent town because I have allergies; any scented laundry detergent is impossible for me to use. But even the allergy-friendly stuff can cause skin irritation for people with sensitive skin, plus it's expensive. So I tried homemade liquid laundry detergent as a way to save money and know exactly what's going in my laundry soap.
It took a few attempts to get a laundry soap recipe I really liked. And that's actually a benefit to making your own liquid laundry detergent - you can tweak the recipe to fit your needs. Here's the basic recipe that works when I make my own detergent, and why homemade liquid laundry detergent is just as good as the stuff you buy at the store.
What's in Homemade Laundry Detergent?
You need three main ingredients for your homemade laundry detergent recipe: Borax, washing soda and castile soap. You can also add a few drops of essential oil or use castile soap with essential oil for a scent.
Borax is a naturally occurring mineral compound (sodium tetraborate) made up of sodium, oxygen, and boron. It's used in cleaning products, cosmetics, and insecticides. It's not toxic (or rather, it's toxic at the same level as baking soda and salt, which is to say only if you ingest huge amounts of it).
Washing soda is a chemical compound known as sodium carbonate. It softens hard water so that detergent can be absorbed into clothes; basically, it boosts the cleaning power of the detergent. Like borax, it's not toxic except in large doses, though it can cause skin irritation. In U.S. stores you'll find it sold under the Arm & Hammer brand as super washing soda. The main brand you'll find in stores is 20 Team Mule Borax.
Both borax and washing soda are technically chemicals so, like any laundry detergent, don't let kids get into them. You'll notice that when you pour them from their boxes, you get a fine powder cloud that isn't pleasant to breathe in. It won't hurt you unless you ingest a large amount, but it can cause some irritation. Both are also handy to have around the house to use in regular household cleaning.
Castile soap is an oil-based soap that comes in liquid or bar form. It's biodegradable and non-toxic, so it's great for everything from your dish soap dispenser to your washing machine. Personally, I'm a fan of Dr. Bronner's unscented liquid soap, but any brand of castile soap works. You can easily use the kind with essential oils already in it, too (lavender is great for laundry).
How to make homemade liquid laundry detergent
- 1 cup borax
- 1 cup washing soda
- 1 cup liquid castile soap
- 17 cups of water (just over a gallon)
- 10-15 drops of essential oil (optional)
Dissolve the cup of borax and cup of washing soda in six cups of hot water. You can either heat cold water to a low boil on the stove, turn off the heat and add the two powders from measuring cups, or you could heat water in an electric kettle or in the microwave and then pour the boiling water over the powders. Stir until the dry ingredients are completely dissolved.
Pour the mixture into a large bucket and add the castile soap. Mix together and then pour the soap mixture into your preferred container. If you're using plastic containers, wait until the liquid has cooled first.
Tips and Lessons Learned for DIY Laundry Detergent
A two-gallon bucket is easiest to use because it gives you space to stir the homemade liquid laundry soap together without making a mess. But if you don't have that size bucket, use a smaller container for the mixture and then add the difference in water amount directly to your detergent bottles.
If you don't have or can't find the liquid castile soap, you can use a bar soap. Some homemade detergent recipes call for using Fels Naptha soap or Ivory soap instead. You grate the bar of soap with a cheese grater and dissolve the soap flakes in hot water along with the powders. I'd rather save the time it takes to make a pile of grated soap, but that method does work.
You can also cut this recipe in half, or double it if you do a lot of laundry.
Use about a half cup for each load of laundry. If you have a front-loader high-efficiency washer (HE washer), you can use a little bit less. You can use a booster like Oxi-clean, bleach, or fabric softener just as you would with any other detergent.
As the homemade liquid laundry detergent sits, it may turn partly to gel. Give the container a good shake before you open it and that will break up any gel clumps. This detergent doesn't make a lot of suds, so don't worry if you don't see sudsy water in your front-loading washer.
For stains, rub a little bit of the liquid detergent on the stained area before you throw it in the washer.
Good luck with your first batch!