Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Homemade Laundry Detergent 101

We've been reading the Little House series of books in our house. We've finished Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie and are in the last chapter of Farmer Boy, which is about Laura's future husband, Almanzo. Our boys love these books (we even got to see two Little House towns on our big summer trip; I'll share about that another time soon) and, truth be told, I love them, too.

There is a great deal of the difficult, yet hands-on nature of the lives of the characters that I find incredibly appealing. The Ingalls and the Wilder families had to work hard for everything they enjoyed in life and seemed to take little or nothing for granted. The lives of the mothers in the stories seem exhausting, but so fulfilling.

I love the way that the Ingalls and Wilder families made, caught or grew nearly everything they used in daily existence, like clothing, homes, tools, candles, and even soap.  Reading the books has made me think about going "off the grid" ---this says the "blogger"!--- and living off the land. After a few moments, I recall that I can't really sew, I don't have the stomach to carve up the "dinner" that my hubby hunts, and I can barely keep basil alive for the summer. Alas, I have aspirations to be more thrifty, more conscious of wastefulness, and better at finding simple solutions for household needs.

One way I've done that is by making my some of my own cleaning products of late. Thankfully, I don't have to be like Ma Ingalls and make soap using lye and animal fat. However, I do like the idea that the products I'm using aren't chemical-y (add it to the Mostly Mom lexicon! It's a word now!) and stinky. I like the idea that they do the job without endangering me or my family. I got the recipe from a sorority sister at her adorable and fun blog, Monkeys on the Bed. My FAVORITE product is the Frosting Scrub that replaces Soft Scrub. It works very well and is so gentle on the skin.

After using these products for a while, I decided I'd like to tackle making my own laundry soap. Again, I'm not going Ma Ingalls here, since they used the same soap for just about every job. But from all I'd read, homemade laundry detergent is more economical, more gentle and less sudsy (see previous post) in the washing machine, too!

Making the soap was very easy and I can say that it works very, very well!

Let's make it!

The supplies you'll need are as follows:

Borax, Washing Soda, and a bar of gentle soap (I used Fels Naptha).

I did a little hunting to find out how the powdered ingredients work. The Borax (which has other AMAZING cleaning abilities, read the box!) works by turning some water molecules into the powerful cleaning agent, hydrogen peroxide, and also disinfects and kills germs/pests. The Washing Soda is highly alkaline, so it behaves like a solvent and a non-chlorine bleach. It can also be very helpful for those with hard water. It's chemical name is Sodium Carbonate, which is different from Sodium BiCarbonate, or Baking Soda.

ALL of these products are readily available. I got mine at Cub, our local grocery store. I have also purchased Borax at Target or Wal-Mart. The Borax was $3.99, Washing Soda was $2.59 and the Fels Naptha was $1.89. I will get many, many batches out of the washing soda and Borax as the boxes are quite large.

First, you'll need to use a box grater or food processor to grind up/shave your bar soap.  I cut up the bar of soap, then had my handsome assistant, Littlest Man, feed it carefully into the chute of the food processor under the closest of supervision! The recipe that I detail below is for one batch. We made several batches at once, as I thought it would be easier to do so. We also make a whole heckuvalot of laundry around here.

After Littlest Man and I fed the soap through the food processor using a fine grater disk, I ran it through the regular food processor using the chopper part (I don't know the technical term) so it would be more fine and "chopped up". I'm sure the bar could easily be grated using a box grater in front of, say, and episode of "Barefoot Contessa."

The next steps are easy as can be! Simply measure out the required amounts of Borax and Washing Soda (again, I made a big batch, so pictured amounts are much greater than the recipe below).

Mix the ingredients well, or have your handsome assistant do the work while you finish your nonfat mocha, listen to your favorite tunes and successfully avoid emptying the dishwasher.
And that is it! Once you're done, store the detergent in a sealed container. I re-purposed a gallon ice cream container, but I'm on the lookout for a better (and more attractive!) container.  I labeled the top and used it right away! I think the soap works really well. It requires only 1 TB per load, or 2 TB for heavily soiled loads. I have no complaints thus far! I find it dissolves well and gets the job done for a lot less $!

Homemade Laundry Detergent

   1 cup soap flakes  (Ivory, Fels Naptha, or other gentle soap)
   1/2 cup washing soda
   1/2 cup Borax

Mix well and store in a sealed container. Use 1-2 TB per load.

Note, this same recipe can be made as a liquid detergent, as follows.
   1 cup soap flakes *
   1/2 cup washing soda
   1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax

Mix the soap flakes in a pan with 3 pints of water over medium heat, until it all dissolves, roughly 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the washing soda and Borax. Mix until everything thickens, another 3 minutes or so, then remove from heat. Put 1 quart of hot water in a 2 gallon bucket, then add the soap mixture you just made. Mix well.
Now fill the bucket with the mixture with cold water. Stir until well blended. It will thicken and separate as it cools. Stir or shake well before using. Use 1/2 cup for each load, or more for very dirty items.
*Fels Naptha, Ivory, etc.


  1. I definitely want to try this homemade laundry soap when I have time--and I am inspired to try reviving my towels as well--last time I accidentally put bleach and vinegar in the washing machine at the same time when trying to clean it out--a BIG no, no.

  2. You should so do it! Hope Little Mr. Birthday is feeling his cute old self again!

  3. Just have to say i love the pics of the Littlest Man helping make the laundry!

  4. Thanks! He loves to help mix or cook anything!


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