Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent Recipe

 photo IMG_1764_zps61d805cf.jpgSince this seems to be the time of my life when I am doing a lot of "confessing", I guess I have another confession to make- despite posting a recipe for homemade liquid laundry detergent 3 years ago on my blog... I haven't used it in nearly that long.
There's a few reasons, but the main one really is that I don't like liquid laundry detergent, and don't feel like it's working as well as powdered detergent.
However, I've tried making powdered laundry detergent in the past, grating the soap, etc... but I ended up taking the wash out and finding little bits of bar soap stuck onto the clothes, so that made me not want to do it...
On top of that, my husband likes scented laundry detergent. I prefer fragrance free, but he doesn't feel clothes smell "clean" if they don't actually smell like perfume....
But I decided I wanted to try giving homemade powdered laundry detergent another try, especially now that I brought back the Downy Unstoppables- a laundry perfuming thing- from my trip to the US.
The clincher was keeping track of my groceries bill to the last detail, and trying to keep it lower and seeing that we were nearly out of laundry detergent. I didn't want to add the large sum of a big thing of laundry detergent to the monthly total, so decided to experiment with making my own.

There are many similar recipes for homemade laundry detergent, using a lot of the same basic ingredients- bar soap, washing soda, and borax, in varying quantities. They don't sell borax locally (at least not easy to find), so I bought mine via Amazon using my Swagbucks a while back, so had the box sitting at home.
I didn't want to use Fels Naptha or Zote soaps, also because they're not available locally, and I don't know what the ingredients in there are, and I prefer as few chemicals as possible touching my stuff... (Yes, I know that the Downy Unstoppables have chemicals in them, but at least its just one thing with those icky chemicals, and not extra ingredients...) So I just used my homemade bar soap, which lowers the price even more for my detergent.

Washing soda isn't either really available locally, but you can turn baking soda into washing soda just by baking it in the oven until it changes texture, etc... So I just took the baking soda that I bought in bulk VERY cheaply a while back and turned it into washing soda for this recipe.

To ensure that the bar soap will dissolve and I won't end up with chunks on my laundry like I did in the past, I didn't follow the standard instructions to grate the soap- I used my food processor, and success! No clumps of soap left behind.

Result- the laundry detergent works very well, gets the clothing all the way clean, even things that I thought wouldn't come out in the wash. I see no difference in effectiveness between this home, made detergent and store bought laundry detergent. And, Mike is pleased- the clothing "smell clean". (I didn't use an overpowering amount of the Downy Unstoppables, so its fragrant enough to please Mike, but not too strongly smelling so that it bothers me.)
Feel free to leave out the Downy Unstoppables in your detergent to keep yours chemical free and/or cheaper.

This detergent recipe works fine for cloth diapers.

Cost breakdown to follow after the recipe.

Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent Recipe

3 bars homemade soap or store bought natural bar soap (or 2 bars of Fels Naptha or Zote)
2 cups washing soda (homemade)
2 cups borax
1/4 cup Downy Unstoppables (optional)

1. Cut up your soap into small pieces. In a food processor, blend until you have small-ish chunks and you see they aren't really becoming any smaller.

2. Add a little bit of your washing soda- I added half a cup- and blend up until it is becoming more powdery than chunky.

3. Add more washing soda, and then the borax, half a cup at a time, blending for a few minutes in between each addition.

4. Add the Downy Unstoppables and blend a little more.

5. Use 1-3 tablespoons per load. 1 tablespoon for a regular wash, 2 for a more dirty than usual wash, and 3 for filthy washes. Since our clothes here tend to get dirty, etc... I use a standard 2 tablespoons per load.

6. Store in a closed container- I use a covered tupperware type container that we rescued from the trash.

 photo IMG_1764_zps61d805cf.jpg

Price Comparison
So, how does this compare price wise?

My 3 bars homemade soap cost me a total of $0.81 to make.
I bought my baking soda in bulk, dirt cheap, and then made them into washing soda, so my 2 cups washing soda cost me only $0.39.
2 cups borax cost me $2.13.
1/4 cup Downy Unstoppables was $1.10, but, as I said, these can be left out to make it cheaper.

Assuming you wash like I do, and use 2 tablespoons per load, for $4.43 you have enough detergent for 48 loads of laundry. That works out to 9 cents per load. If I'd left out the Downy Unstoppables, it would have cost 7 cents per load.
If you actually gauge the laundry, and use more or less detergent per load depending on how dirty it is, the loads that just use a tablespoon of detergent would cost 3.5-4.5 cents a load.

In comparison, local prices for laundry detergent work out to be 13-16 cents per load.

So, homemade laundry detergent is either a quarter or half the price of the store bought stuff, when you figure it out per load.

Definitely a worthwhile deal!

Of course, you'll have to figure this out based on the prices in your location to figure out if its worth it for you... but for me, it definitely is. It cleans well, it's cheap, it means not needing to run to the store to get more detergent. Winner for me, for sure.

Have you ever made your own homemade laundry detergent? Liquid or powdered? What did you think of it? Were you happy with the results? How does it compare costwise to your local laundry detergent prices? What did you put in yours?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. We make a similar recipe for powdered detergent, using Kirk's castile soap (which i think is the priciest part at 3 bars for ~$3.50-$4), the borax and washing soda. I am satisfied knowing what goes into it, and it does well keeping our clothes clean! I am not sure I am saving a lot, but I am guessing I pay about half of what a regular container of "natural" powdered detergent costs. I also like that my kids can see that we can do things ourselves and not have to depend on buying things from the store (I often have them help grate the soap until their enthusiasm runs out). That is worth something too!

  2. I make my own laundry detergent following the "super laundry sauce"(budget101.com) method and that stuff is amazing!! I use an all natural vegetable soap as we are vegan and all those chemicals are so scary in the zote or felz. I like the idea of a powdered detergent though to be able to add an oxygen bleach and also to turn them into "laundry tabs" which is super convenient!

    1. How do you use super laundry sauce detergent with the natural soap??

  3. Borax is too expensive in these parts to make it worthwhile to make our own detergenet. Happily, though, there is usually a sale of laundry detergent somewhere, with one honkin' huge box running at 7 euros (enough to last us for at least 3-4 months if it's specially formulated for colors, a whole year if it's for white laundry), so I can live with that.

  4. I made a double-batch of the liquid homemade laundry soap in October 2012, and it works GREAT in our fancy Samsung front loader (which I LOVE, btw). I wanted to add lavender essential oil for scent, but my hubby nixed it--clothes come out clean and fresh-smelling, but no real 'scent'. I did use Fels-naptha soap, but really, it uses so little. Funny, my best girlfriend is super-sensitive to scent in general (has given me items/laundry soap when she can't stand the scent, woot!), and I've offered her some, but it's too 'weird' for her--bummer she won't even try it! We are now just getting to the last third of our 2nd 3-gallon bucket--and it's been over a year! It's sorta a gel-texture, and works terrific for our family of 6 (grown daughter and bf moved out a few months ago), and we do a lot of laundry as we take care of hubby's 100 yo Grandma! (she's amazing, but gets food dribbles on clothing a lot, and uses a bunch of towels when we bathe her)

  5. Where do you buy Borax in these parts? I tried asking at local DIY chains and they don't know what I'm talking about.

  6. Don't know where you live, anonymous, but you can get it at Wal-Mart or on amazon.com

  7. Anonymous on 2/28. I have Borax and Washing Soda available for sale, in "these parts." Check the local popular anglo website. Do a search for the word "borax". I can be contacted via that site.

  8. Yes, I make powdered. I use the small side of the grater and haven't noticed a problem with bits of soap making it through the wash. I don't have a food processor (though I do have a blender).

    I'm basically satisfied. To me, most laundry looks clean when it goes in, though it might not smell so great. And it looks and smells good when it comes out (unless a stain didn't come out). Stains are no more or less likely with commercial liquid versus homemade powder so far as I can tell.

    I use Kirk's Castile soap. It is the cheapest laundry bar soap available to me and I like that it has no color or fragrance. I used to use 1 bar of soap (=2 cups) + 1 cup washing soda + 1 cup borax (which fits in a glass pickle jar), 1 tablespoon per load of laundry. That cost about 7.3 cents per load when I calculated it a few years ago. (Like Janet, the soap is the most expensive part for me.) Now I use 1 bar of soap + 2 cups washing soda + 2 cups borax, 2 tablespoons pe load.

    I used to have a problem with towels that they would start smelling almost immediately, so I suspected the laundry soap. But the same thing happens with commercial liquid laundry detergent. So the problem is probably due to circumstances that keep the towels from getting all the way dry once they are put in use.

    So, because of my laundry soap suspicions, I did some research and learned that the washing soda and borax are good for people with hard water and that's why I switched the recipe. (I don't have super hard water, just medium hard water.) I can't tell the difference, though.

    I don't really like grating the soap, and sometimes the powders get stuck together and it's a pain to chip them apart. On the other hand, I kind of feel macho and powerful making my own soap. And I never see commercial detergent for anywhere near 7 cents per load.

  9. Is this okay to use in a new washer H.E.?

  10. Hello Penny,

    I found your page, great tips, Thank you for all of your posts. I am from Europe and I would like to ask you what the Borax is and what I could use instead of it ( I guess I won' t buy it here). I really want to make the homemade lanundry detergent.

    Thank you a lot for you answer :)

  11. Hello Penny,

    I found your web page only by chance, trying to find out where here in Europe to buy washing soda. Unfortunatelly I can' t buy it here so now I know, thanks to you, how to make it at home. really easy. I browsed you page and found awesome recipe for homemade laundry detergent. I want to you what the Borax is ( no chance to buy it Europe) and what I could use instead of it.

    Thank you very much for your answer :)

  12. My husband and I have the same problem. He likes scented and I prefer fragrance free. I keep trying to tell him that it's better for our green cleaning needs.

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