Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Homemade Household Cleaners: Homemade Laundry Detergent

In our quest to continue to find more ways to cut back, we have been experimenting with homemade household cleaners.  Since the spray cleaner was such a success, we decided to go ahead with laundry detergent next (plus, conveniently, that’s what we were scheduled to run out of next). 

I prefer liquid laundry detergent (it just seems like powders don’t rinse clean), so I looked around until I found a recipe I liked. 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Fels-Naphtha – this is a bar of soap that can be found in the laundry section of your grocery store.  Apparently you can use Ivory soap as well, but we went with the Fels-Naphtha since everything I was reading recommended this.  At Fred Meyer, it cost about $1.50.
  • Arm & Hammer washing soda – Take note:  not baking soda, washing soda.  This was right next to the Fels-Naphtha at Fred Meyer.  The cost was about $3.50.
  • Borax – We already had a box on hand from the spray cleaner experiment.  How convenient!  But, also found in the laundry section.  This was about $3.00 when I bought it.

1.  Cut off 1/6 of the Fels-Naphtha bar.  Although most instructions tell you to grate it, it's actually really crumbly.  You can actually just chop it up with a knife the way you would baking chocolate.

The crumbled Fels-Naphtha

2.  Dump the chopped Fels-Naphtha into a large saucepan.  Add 3 cups of hot water.  Heat gently until the soap melts.  This took a little while for us.  Also, be careful how much you stir it, since it gets foamy.

1/4 cup washing soda

3.  Once the soap is melted, add ¼ cup washing soda and ¼ cup Borax.  Stir gently until completely dissolved.
1/4 cup Borax

4.  At this point we were ready to transfer the mixture to our big stainless steel mixing bowl.  First, we dumped 2 cups hot water into the mixing bowl, then gently poured in the soap mixture and stirred a bit to mix.

The melted soap combined with water, washing soda and Borax.

5.  We added another 11 cups of hot water.

At this point, the mixture needed to “set.”  We put it aside to cool.  Our whole kitchen smelled really soapy.
After letting it set for a few hours, we checked back on it.  It was congealing all right!  Using a funnel, we poured it into the detergent bottle we kept for the occasion.  Reduce, reuse, recycle!  This part was kind of tricky.  It definitely took both of us.  The consistency was rather uneven and gloppy, but apparently that’s pretty normal.  The important part, after all, isn’t what it looks like, but what it cleans like. 
Mmmmm, yummy!

This stuff is supposed to work out to ½ cup per load of laundry.  We decided to really put it to the test.  We had Elias bring a blanket from his bed that was in definite need of washing and ran it through with the new soap.

When it came out of the dryer, it smelled fresh and clean!  Victory!  Hopefully it doesn’t gel too much as it sits longer.  We’ll see how it goes and I’ll update you as needed.  The best part?  The cost of this stuff works out to about a penny per load.  Try to beat that at the grocery store.

Let’s see, what can I make next?  What else have you guys tried that’s been successful?


  1. Yay for clean clothes! You probably know this, but you can also use vinegar in the .... what is that called...fabric softener thing in the washer rather than the sheets in the dryer.

    Have I told you how I make mine before? Don't want to obnoxiously repeat myself;).

    Oh, and that Fels-Naptha is an AWESOME stain remover--I just put a bar in a quart jar with some water and use an old toothbrush to put it on a stain. Don't use store-bought stain-remover anymore.

    I've gotten great recipes from Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider (she blogs at http://simplemom.net/). My most amazing what-on-earth moment was with her heavy-duty carpet cleaner--you just mix it when you need it as it doesn't keep well I guess, but it's equal parts salt, white vinegar, and borax into a paste, rub on spot, let sit for a few hours, then scrub away with a damp cloth. I couldn't even tell where the outline of the vomit had been!!

  2. We use vinegar quite a bit. It's great for getting bad smell out of laundry.

    Does the carpet cleaner work on old stains???

  3. I've heard that if it starts settling and turning really jelly- just give it a good shake!

  4. Yup! I'll have to update, now that we've been using it a bit longer. It's still working really well -- and it didn't really solidify. It has a lumpy texture, but the lumps are really consistent -- kind of like tapioca pudding! I'm really pleased with it. We're definitely going to keep making it.