DIY Laundry Detergent That Actually Works

posted by Andrea | 06/23/2014

diy-laundry-detergent

Over the past 3+ years, I’ve shared a number of DIY cleaning products here on the blog.

I will be very honest with you, the main reason I make many of my own cleaning products is because they are SO much faster, cheaper, and easier than buying them from the store. Yes, it’s nice that they are safer around my kids and kinder to the environment too — but my main goal here is fast, cheap, and easy.

I almost always have the simple ingredients in my house, so I can always whip up another batch in a minute or so. This means I never need to run to the store for more products and I don’t have to spend a fortune on store-bought chemicals.

To date, I’ve come up with homemade DIY cleaners for:

Along with everything listed out above, I’ve tried many other DIY cleaner recipes that I have NOT posted on my blog because in my opinion, they either didn’t work well enough, they were too time consuming or complicated to make, or they really didn’t save any money over store-bought products.

Some of those “tried but never shared” recipes were DIY laundry detergent.

I’ve tried a few different laundry detergent recipes over the years but literally hated them all — and I’m really not one to care that much about my laundry. As long as my laundry is clean, relatively wrinkle-free, and smells nice, I just don’t care.

However with all the DIY detergent recipes I’ve tried in the past, I ended up with clothes that didn’t seem clean enough for me, and they certainly didn’t smell nice. Plus, the recipes usually involved boiling bars of soap (which I had no desire to do) and storing mass amounts of goopy liquid in my TINY laundry room.

No thanks.

After a few failed attempts, I simply decided that homemade laundry detergent was not for me; and I gave up searching for new recipes.

Then, a few months ago, I found a recipe for a DIY powder detergent that didn’t involve any boiling. It didn’t require expensive or hard-to-find  ingredients, and basically only involved dumping a few boxes into a large bucket and shaking it.

laundry detergent that works

If that doesn’t sound good enough already, this recipe is WAY more than “just” laundry detergent. It’s also spot treatment, whitener, brightener, deodorizer, and fabric softener all in one.  You can use this detergent for front or top-loading machines and it’s safe for high efficiency machines too.

Oh, and one batch makes a lot of detergent so you could easily share with friends or even give it as a gift in a pretty container.

Recipe for DIY Laundry Detergent:

Makes enough for approximately 230 loads of laundry!

IMG_8114

INGREDIENTS:

  • one 76 oz. box Borax powder
  • one 55 oz. box Washing Soda
  • one 16 oz. box Baking Soda
  • 3 pounds OxiClean (the only reason I bought 2 smaller containers is because I had 2 coupons so it was cheaper this way)
  • one 28 oz. container Purex Crystals
  • three bars Fels-Naptha soap; grated
  • large, clean bucket or other container with a lid

MIXING DIRECTIONS:

  • Dump all powder/crystal ingredients into a large bucket (I used a 5 gallon bucket with a lid)
  • Grate the Fels-Napths soap bars over the bucket (I used a microplane fine grater so the particles we really small)
  • Place lid on bucket and shake (or mix with a large spoon)
  • Store in the covered bucket or in smaller containers with lids (I put some of mine right back in the OxyClean and Purex containers)

NOTE: I mixed it outside as it was a little “dusty” when I poured all the powders together. Also, grating 3 bars of soap produces a very strong smell 🙂

mix ingredients in large bucket

mixed detergent

refill containers with detergent

USAGE DIRECTIONS:

  • Dump 2 Tablespoons of detergent into your washing machine along with your clothes
  • For best results, wash with warm or hot water. (UPDATE: a reader just emailed saying she uses this recipe with cold water and it still cleans fabulously!)
  • If you have a very large or heavily soiled load, maybe use 3 or 4 Tablespoons.

NOTE: You can use the scoop from the OxiClean or the cap of the Purex to measure out the proper amount. The OxiClean scoop is exactly 2 T. and the Purex “fill line” is also 2 T.

use 2T per load

We’ve been using this detergent for a couple months now and I honestly have nothing bad to say about it.

As I mentioned above, my requirements for justifying the time and energy it takes to make my own laundry detergent are:

  1. Something that actually works, cleans well, and smells good
  2. Something that is REALLY easy to make (and not liquid)
  3. Something that was cheaper than store bought detergent

I’m happy to say that this recipe meets all my requirements!

1. It actually works:

I have not noticed any difference in the cleanliness of our clothing. The OxiClean takes care of any stains (which eliminates the need to spot treat) and the Purex Crystals make the clothes smell amazing.

You could definitely make this without the Purex Crystals and just use regular fabric softener or drier sheets if you’d like. Or you could try any of these handy tips to reduce static cling.

2. It’s REALLY easy to make:

Just dump, grate, and shake.

To be honest, I was a little disappointed that this recipe required grating 3 bars of soap. I tried to see if I could find something that worked without grating — but this recipe really is the best.

It probably took me about 15 minutes to grate all 3 bars, but that was doing it all by hand. I didn’t want to put the soap in my food processor, but if you did that, it would only take about a minute! Based on how much detergent this one batch makes, I personally feel it was worth the 15 minutes of grating — especially since the rest of the “mixing instructions” only took about 3 extra minutes.

3. It’s Inexpensive:

When I made this recipe, I had most of the ingredients in the house already (everything but the Purex Crystals and 1 bar of Fels-Naptha soap)… however, I price-checked everything at the store and even WITHOUT coupons or sales, it should cost you less than $25 to make this massive batch of detergent.

If you purchased any of the items on sale and/or used a few coupons, it would probably be closer to $15 or less — and I’m guessing many of you have some of these ingredients in the house already!

I did the math and even without coupons or sales, this detergent would be right around $0.09 per load!!

laundry detergent

To be clear, this is in no way a “green” or completely environmentally friendly laundry detergent — but that wasn’t really my goal. Yes, several of the ingredients are environmentally friendly — but there are others (like OxiClean and Purex Crystals) that are obviously not 🙂

I think it’s still a lot more “natural” than regular store-bought laundry detergents — with the added bonuses of my beloved OxiClean to fight stains and Purex Crystals to act as fabric softener and give a fabulous smell.

I’m super happy with this DIY laundry detergent and I’d highly recommend giving it a try — especially if you’ve been disappointed by other DIY detergents in the past.

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110 comments

  1. Beth

    08/23/2014

    I have been using the Fels-Naptha bars in a laundry recipe for a couple of years. Rather than grate the bars, I unwrap and put them on a microwave safe plate. I microwave them on high for 2:30. The bars puff up. After they cool, they are easily crumbled. I microwave one bar at a time. I’m making my recipe again, but using your idea for adding oxi-clean. Thanks for your helpful posts!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks for sharing Beth!

    [Reply]

  2. Heather

    07/12/2014

    Hey Andrea,
    I just recently discovered your blog after reading about you in The Bootstrap VA! I enjoyed the post about the laundry detergent. I have never tried or even cared to make my own detergent before, but this sounds easy and cheap. I was wondering if you or any of your readers knew if this mixture was ok to use with cloth diapering? I am attempting to do cloth with my little one and wash diapers about every other day. Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    thanks Heather! I’m honestly not sure if it works with cloth diapers or not… sorry!

    [Reply]

  3. Debbie Smith

    06/24/2014

    Hi Andrea, love your posts. Can this recipe be used in a High efficiency washer?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes Debbie — our washer is an HE and it works just fine!

    [Reply]

  4. Karen

    06/24/2014

    I’m excited to try this! We have made our detergent for a couple of years using borax, washing soda, and ivory. Adding the purex should make it smell better. Thanks for this tip. I love reading your posts everyday. I’m starting to ask myself what would Andrea do? lol

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha! Thanks Karen… I hope you like this detergent!

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  5. Carrie

    06/23/2014

    Has anyone tried this recipe with teenage baseball pants…grass stains, mud, red clay dirt and not to mention a smell that is unique to teenage boys?
    Also I have heard that sometimes a smell comes from a washer not from the clothes. Does anyone have a homemade version of washer or dryer cleaner? Thanks.

    [Reply]

  6. Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    06/23/2014

    Thank you so much for posting this recipe! I have wanted to make my own detergent for years, but my husband was concerned about it being compatible with our front loading HE washer. I have all of the ingredients (including the microplaner) on hand, except for the Purex crystals. I usually prefer liquid detergent over powdered, but these economic times are finding me branching out of my comfort zone in the name of frugality. I can’t wait to try this. Thank you, again!

    [Reply]

  7. Kari

    06/23/2014

    By the way, Andrea have you ever used the dryer balls?
    What did you like or dislike about them?
    I’ve had 4 for almost 5 years now and they still work great.
    Talk about cost savings?

    [Reply]

  8. Kari

    06/23/2014

    My current detergent does not leave a scent and I don’t use or need a fabric softener because of the dryer balls. Could I leave out the Purex Crystals?

    [Reply]

    Amy Reply:

    You can definitely leave out the Purex – it just adds a scent anyway. You can also leave out the Oxyclean. I’ve been making this same recipe w/o those two ingredients for years! It’s also easier to shred the Fels-naptha in the food processor and then chop again with the blade. For a super fine consistency that dissolves fast! I make two batches at once with a household of active boys, and this “works best for me”

    [Reply]

  9. Erica

    06/23/2014

    These are some great recipes Andrea… going to have to mention these in my company newsletter.

    [Reply]

  10. Tara

    06/23/2014

    I may be confused on my bloggers, but didn’t you used to use soap nuts? If so, were you no longer happy with them? I really ask for no reason besides pure curiosity. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    No Tara — you’re not confused. I did use SoapNuts for a LONG time and I still do love them. They are 100% natural and organic so that’s always nice. However, I really do like using OxyClean and was adding that along with the SoapNuts — so I figured I’d try this recipe. I think the cleaning power of both are fabulous, this recipe is just a lot cheaper even with the OxyClean. I have absolutely nothing against SoapNuts and still use them for various loads of laundry.

    [Reply]

  11. rachel

    06/23/2014

    Yes! I love this and have used it for years. I only use the Borax, washing soda and naptha soap and it works great, I bet the others are an even better boost. For a smaller batch use one bar of the naptha soap grated, and 1 cup of each the washing soda and borax. You can even all 1/2 cup of the unstoppables for a lovely sent if you wish. Enjoy, it saves so much money!

    [Reply]

  12. Niecey

    06/23/2014

    I just might give this a try! I tried liquid laundry soap and my husband says he doesn’t think it gets our clothes clean. I definitely could smell the slightly ‘old sweaty’ smell once the clothes had been folded and in the drawers for a few days. So I am glad I wasn’t the only one.

    The Purex crystals are for scent and softness only?

    [Reply]

  13. desiree

    06/23/2014

    Microwave your bar of fels napth for about 1:30-2:00 minutes. Its very aromatic but the bar puffs up and after cooling literally will crumble in your hand! No grating necessary!

    [Reply]

  14. Julie

    06/23/2014

    Is there anyway you could try this out in not such a large quantity. Some people in my household have skin sensitivities and I don’t want to have five gallons of laundry detergent that will cause some people allergies? Thanks you if you know how to do this in smaller quantities.

    [Reply]

  15. Debbie

    06/23/2014

    Ooops….I meant baking soda.

    [Reply]

  16. Debbie

    06/23/2014

    I have never tried homemade detergent before so I don’t even have most of these products on hand at home, except baking powder and most recently bought Oxi-Clean. I’m curious to know why you don’t like liquid detergent, Andrea? I’ve used liquid and powder and don’t have a leaning either way, it both seems to do the job well.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    You might have misread the post Debbie — I don’t like DIY liquid detergent (I have no problem with store bought liquid detergent). However I’ve always been interested in finding a DIY recipe that I like (that’s not liquid) mainly because it’s such a huge cost savings.

    [Reply]

  17. Sandy

    06/23/2014

    Does this work well on the wash cloths you use with your oil cleansing process? I’m a convert to that process, but am struggling to find a way to get those smelling really CLEAN and not left with a lingering rancid oil smell. Also, how about dark clothes? Do you notice fading with this homemade recipe?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I wash the washcloths with bleach (in additional to this detergent) I still use bleach and super hot water for my whites 🙂

    [Reply]

  18. Katie

    06/23/2014

    I have a question. I have a top load washer, I also have a well at my house. Has anyone used this recipe that has a well???

    My water is super hard and I have to use liquid for my laundry soap and dishwasher. Powders don’t dissolve.

    I would really appreciate hearing if this works for hard well water.

    [Reply]

  19. Jen

    06/23/2014

    I have used this recipe for just over a year, always in cold water, and it works great. I have very sensitive skin and have not had a problem with this at all, even with the Purex crystals. I made a batch in May 2013 and I am still using the same batch today. I do about 4-6 loads of laundry a week. It’s a great money saver!

    [Reply]

  20. Michele

    06/23/2014

    I use this same recipe and I love it. To cut costs even further, I get the oxygen cleaner from our Dollar Tree — much less $$ than the name brand and I haven’t had an issue with it at all. Also I dissolve a 1/2 cup in very hot water and use it for general household cleaning, including mopping my floors and cleaning walls and baseboards. Makes everything smell wonderful and it works great! If you plan to put it in a spray bottle, heat water almost to boiling to thoroughly dissolve everything (otherwise it clogs the sprayer!).

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  21. Karen

    06/23/2014

    Do you know how well this will work in a HE top loader washer? My old DIY washing powder left soapy residue on the clothes, probably due to the low water usage(?). I am wondering if anyone has any experience with the same thing happening?

    [Reply]

    Crystal Reply:

    I use this in my he and haven’t had a single problem with it. In fact I switch from a liquid detergent to my homemade powder and my washer doesn’t get the film build up from the liquid any more and doesn’t go mildew smelly when the door gets left closed anymore.

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  22. melissa

    06/23/2014

    This recipe seems like a good one. I would leave out the crystals to eliminate the chemicals. Have you ever thought about not using fabric softener? Softeners are one of the top household toxins that have cancer causing agents in them. Yes they make your clothes feel and smell good but the fumes are in your clothes and you Inhale them all day and are very harmful. I use wool dryer balls with a few drops of essential oils now to reduce static and makes them smell good too!

    [Reply]

  23. Mrs. W

    06/23/2014

    I think it was suppose to be 10 cents a load, not a penny a load based on the numbers you shared. (230 loads at a penny a load, would only make supplies cost $2.30 for everything).

    [Reply]

  24. Suzi

    06/23/2014

    Fun Tip: the scoop that is in powder baby formula is PERFECT for measuring the detergent!!! I find so many uses for those things!!

    [Reply]

  25. Terra

    06/23/2014

    I’ve also been using this for over 2 years and LOVE IT! Tried the DIY liquid at first too and that was too much work and I didn’t think it cleaned well enough. I use cold water alot and it works great in that too, i just dump it over the clothes (top loader) and go. Never noticed any residue or soap flakes, though i do grate super fine also and i think that helps.
    As far as those wondering about cloth diapers – I asked at our local cloth diaper store and they didn’t recommend using this. With the borax, it isn’t good for them. I use this on everything except the diapers, and use ALL for Sensitive Skin as instructed by our local cloth diaper store (not free & clear, because it really isn’t free and clear of things that are bad for diapers if you read the ingredient listing!)

    [Reply]

  26. Sarah

    06/23/2014

    I put this same detergent in my pull out drawer on my front loader. I have used in cold water without issue but my felsnaptha was grated very small. The only problem I’ve had was one time the crystals left little purple spots on one of my white shirts. Only happened once and I don’t know what I did different that time! If anyone else has the mega bowl from Tupperware, all the ingredients fit perfectly in there to be able to just shake it up! Love this soap, glad you shared this with your readers!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    OK thanks Sarah, I’ll have to look into putting the detergent in my pull-out dispenser drawer. That would be easier!

    Gotta love the Tupperware MegaBowl — my mom always makes hot chocolate mix in hers!!

    [Reply]

  27. Rae Hodgetts

    06/23/2014

    Fab! I’m going to have to do some research and see how many of these ingredients I can find here in the UK. Hopefully I shall give it a go, so thanks for the tip!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hope you can find them!! Good luck!

    [Reply]

  28. Brenda

    06/23/2014

    I use the same recipe, except mine calls for only 2 bars of fels naphtha and it cleans great. I almost always wash in cold water with no problems.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    awesome — thanks for sharing. I’ve already gotten lots of questions about using cold water. I’ll update the post to let people know!

    [Reply]

  29. Kathy

    06/23/2014

    I’ve been using this for 2+ years and love it! What is the purpose of putting it directly in with the clothes versus laundry dispenser? I have an HE washer. Love your site!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I can’t put powdered detergent in my dispenser — it says “liquid detergent”. So that’s why I dump it in with my clothes. I also have a front-loading HE (fairly new) washer.

    [Reply]

    Denise Z Reply:

    And if you ck the label on Oxi-Clean, it says to put it directly in the front-loaders, NOT in the dispenser.

    [Reply]

  30. Jen

    06/23/2014

    Thank you for sharing this. I, too, have been VERY leary of homemade laundry soap. I haven’t found anything that rivals good old Tide! I may give this a try!

    Two questions:

    1. I assume Purex crystals are basically scent boosters, like Downy Unstopables? Do you think I could substitute with the Downy? I have some on hand already!

    2. I have a front loading washing machine. Do you put this detergent right in the machine even in a front loader?

    Thanks again for sharing!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hey Jen,
    my answer is “YES” to both of your questions. The Downy should be fine — and I didn’t think you could put powdered detergent in the pull-out dispensers because mine says “liquid detergent”. Do you put powdered detergent in your pull-out dispenser?

    [Reply]

    Jen Reply:

    I do! And, you know, I’ve never noticed one way or the other! I’ll have to check that. Thank you.

    [Reply]

  31. Annette

    06/23/2014

    I have read that using Epsom salt mixed with some essential oil/s of your choosing is an excellent substitute for Purex Crystals. It was noted that the scent was a little more subtle-but it’s chemical free so that’s the advantage.

    [Reply]

  32. Jen

    06/23/2014

    This is the exact recipe I’ve been using for about a year now. It makes so much, I’ve only had to make it twice, and I still have a ton from my last batch. Yes – it eliminates smells (I have 3 boys and construction worker hubby), stains (yup, same group), and works on sensitive skin. Love it!

    [Reply]

  33. Charlene Uchtman

    06/23/2014

    This is almost exactly what I have been using for over a year and I do love it. I also use Zote, it’s half the price of the Fels Naptha here. I also run it through the food processor and let it sit over night. By morning the shredded Zote is brittle and breaks into tiny pieces when you are mixing the detergent up. I think doing that helps keep the finished product from getting hard after it sits awhile.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I’ve never heard of Zote — but Fels Naptha is only about $1 per bar at our stores!!

    [Reply]

  34. Kim {Pinspired Home}

    06/23/2014

    Andrea, do you find this works better than Soap Nuts? I recently switched to soap nuts and I’m really liking them.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    I do still love Soap Nuts (and those are 100% natural/organic). The main thing for me is that this recipe is much cheaper, fairly simple, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE OxyClean (so that was kind of the deal-clincher for me!!) I would often still put some OxyClean in with my Soap Nuts if the load had stains or spots on it — so I thought I should at least try this recipe. I’m certain both do a great job cleaning — and if you’re looking for totally natural and organic, Soap Nuts is definitely the way to go!

    [Reply]

  35. April

    06/23/2014

    I use a recipe very similar to this one, and I love it! Works well and is cheap, cheap, cheap!

    [Reply]

  36. Kari

    06/23/2014

    For those of you that have been using this, how are your results in cold water? Many of my loads are warm or hot, but I don’t want to have to use something else for the cold ones.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Kari, I reader just emailed me to say she’s been using this recipe with cold water for 2 years now and it works great!

    [Reply]

    Amber Reply:

    I wash almost everything in cold and this recipe still works great. I’ve been using this recipe for about 2 years. I usually only make one batch every summer and it lasts the whole year through.

    [Reply]

  37. Colleen @MommieDaze

    06/23/2014

    I started making this a few months ago too, and it does work great! I use my food processor to grate the soap. Fast and it cleans easily since it’s just soap.

    [Reply]

  38. Kathryn

    06/23/2014

    I use this recipe too! The only difference is that I use 2 bars of pink Zote soap instead of Fels Naptha. Its easier to find Zote where I live and the pink smells nice. Also, I do add fabric softeners. The Pured Crystals just aren’t enough for me, plus I use a clothes line so I need a little extra softness.

    [Reply]

    Kim {Pinspired Home} Reply:

    I loved Zote too! The best part is that you get 3 times the soap in one bar of soap compared to Fels Naptha (which means you end up saving money) and it grates a lot more finely in the food processor. Unfortunately, the homemade detergent didn’t agree with our septic system, so I had to find something different.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Good to know — Fels Naptha is SUPER cheap around here (and I’ve never heard of Zote) but I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

    [Reply]

    Kim {Pinspired Home} Reply:

    At our local Walmart, Zote and Fels are the same price, ($0.97), and you get three times as much. It’s funny, though, because the Zote is over by the purex crystals and the Fels was by the OxyClean.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Ok thanks Kim — I’m sure it’s at my grocery store too. I’ve just never looked for it as I’ve used Fels Naptha for YEARS (and so does my mom). I figure $1 was nothing — but I guess if Zote is 3 times the cleaning power for the same price I should look into that!

    [Reply]

    Kelly Reply:

    May I ask why it didn’t agree with your septic system?

    [Reply]

    Kim {Pinspired Home} Reply:

    Powdered detergents can cause build-up which could eventually lead to a blockage in the septic. After about 3-4 months of using homemade powdered laundry detergent, my husband noticed some white clumps when he checked the tank (which he does periodically). Since we had recently started using the homemade detergent, I did some research and sure enough, I found others who had the same issue. Soap nuts are a bit more expensive, but so far I’m happy with them.

    [Reply]

    Kelly Reply:

    Thanks! I’m going to try and see how it goes. We get our septic pumped 2 times a year (never want a mess again!). I’ll have them check it too!

    [Reply]

    Evie Reply:

    Kim or anybody, I would you give more info about using this with a septic tank, please. Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Kim {Pinspired Home} Reply:

    Evie, I replied to Kelly above. From what I’ve read, it’s the powder that’s the problem. It sounds like a liquid version of this would be OK.

    [Reply]

    Evie Reply:

    Thanks, got it.

    [Reply]

  39. Aimee

    06/23/2014

    Do you think you could make this without the purex crystals?I prefer to use a free and clear detergent. ALso would you happen to know if it is cloth diaper friendly? Thanks love your blog and all the great tips!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, it would definitely be fine to leave out the Crystals if you prefer to use a different fabric softener. That just makes it easier because you don’t have to remember anything else 🙂

    Unfortunately, I have no idea if it’s good for cloth diapers or not. I’ve never used cloth diapers and honestly didn’t know they needed different detergent. Sorry!

    [Reply]

  40. Jessica

    06/23/2014

    I’ve been using this for about 2 months and am really loving it. The only thing I’ll do differently next time I make it is grate the soap much finer… mine is grated cheese size and occasionally gets stuck in some clothing and doesn’t dissolve. I just dump the detergent in first while the washer is filling up and let it dissolve before adding the clothing and it works fine.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, I used a microplane fine grater so the soap was REALLY small. I think this obviously took longer but I do think the soap dissolves easier and cleans better! I have a front-loading washer so I have to dump everything in at once!

    [Reply]