No need to spend a lot of money on eco-laundry powder – here’s an easy homemade laundry detergent recipe from soap for a few cents a load.
Looking for a DIY alternative to commercial washing detergents? Here’s a cheap homemade version that I’ve used for years.
More recently, I’ve switched to an eco-friendly powdered laundry detergent because: time. And we can afford it more now than we did when I first started making my own laundry soap.
But I can’t tell you the many, many hours I’ve spent grating soap in the wee hours of the morning to wash clothes and cloth nappies.
Below I share the laundry soap recipes I’ve used and some tips I’ve learned along the way.
Technically, the following are recipes for laundry soaps, not detergents. Detergents are manufactured without oils and fats, unlike soap, but as many people use the terms interchangeably, I have in this article too.
Why Make DIY Laundry Soap?
There are good reasons for making your own laundry soap, including:
- DIY laundry soap is cheaper than eco-friendly detergents.
- The DIY version doesn’t include phosphates like regular detergents.
- Homemade options don’t have fragrances and chemicals.
- You’re in full control of the ingredients.
Ingredients in Homemade Laundry Soap?
The main ingredients in homemade laundry soap are:
- grated laundry bar soap or soap flakes
- washing soda.
Both of these ingredients can be found in your local supermarket. If you just use these two ingredients, your laundry soap will be cheaper and better for the environment.
According to the Lectric website, washing soda is made from 100% natural sodium carbonate, contains no phosphates, dyes, colourants, or fragrances, and has been used for centuries for all sorts of household cleaning needs.
Borax is an optional addition to the recipes below. It can help boost washing power. The role of the borax is to brighten laundry, soften hard water, remove soap residue, neutralise laundry odours, disinfect, and remove stains. I’ve found I don’t need to use borax in my laundry soap, but depending on the hardness of your water, you may.
Is Homemade Laundry Soap Cheaper than Store-Bought?
The TD:LR of it is that homemade detergent is cheaper than most commercial products that you can buy in the supermarket, but it’s not the cheapest option.
The basic soap and soda recipe without borax IS cheaper than the cheapest ‘eco’ supermarket brand, except when it’s on sale.
Here’s a breakdown of the costs (2023).
At our local supermarket, washing soda costs $5 for a 1kg bag, and the home-brand laundry soap bar four-pack is $2.80, which weighs approximately 500g in total for a combined cost of $7.80 and a combined weight of 1.5kg.
This makes the per kilo cost of homemade laundry powder $5.20.
If you add borax, the cost is $7.93 per kilo.
The cheapest home-brand washing powder is $5.00 per kilo, beating the homemade version by 20 cents, but it’s not eco-friendly.
The cheapest eco-friendly washing powder in our local supermarket is $7.50 per kilo, so you’re saving by making homemade compared to the more environmentally friendly brands.
The cost of the DIY laundry liquid is $1.85 per litre ($2.83 per litre with borax).
This is compared to the cheapest supermarket liquid detergent at $1 per litre or $3.00 for the cheapest eco-friendly alternative.
Does Homemade Laundry Soap Actually Work?
In my experience, the answer is yes. I have used DIY laundry powder for years without any problems.
However, there are some things that can affect the effectiveness of your DIY laundry soap.
The high amounts of minerals in hard water can hinder the removal of dirt on your clothes and linens. If you live in an area with hard water, a commercial detergent will be more effective.
Homemade washing powder may not dissolve as well as commercial detergents in cold water, although, again, I wash in cold water with powder and have never had a problem. You may find you need to use hot water for a better wash.
Some people argue that washing with soap instead of detergent can leave a film of soap scum on your laundry (and washing machine). I haven’t personally experienced this, but you may want to do a trial with DIY laundry soap to test it on some not-so-good clothes to see how it goes with your local water supply.
Time-Saving Tips For Making Laundry Soap
There’s no question that DIY isn’t as convenient as store-bought. Here are some time-saving tips I’ve found useful.
- If you’re using a box grater when grating laundry bars, do a big batch while you’re watching TV.
- You can use the grating function on a food processor if you have one to save time.
- A box of lux flakes (pre-grated soap) will save you time but is more expensive.
- The ratio is 2:1 soap to washing soda, so you can grate just enough for a wash if you’re pressed for time, and use this ratio to measure.
Homemade Laundry Powder Recipe
I prefer to use powdered detergent simply because it’s less work. Here’s the recipe I have used for years.
The ratio is 2 parts grated soap to 1 part washing soda (and 0.5 part borax if using), so you can scale your recipe up or down as you need.
To use, add two tablespoons per load or up to a quarter of a cup of detergent per load, depending on the size of your load. Less is more; you don’t need a lot.
- 4 cups of finely grated soap (sunlight or home-brand laundry soap or Lux flakes)
- 2 cups of washing soda
- 1 cup of borax (optional)
- Box grater
- Airtight container for storage
- Combine all ingredients and mix well.
- Store in an airtight container.
To use, add two tablespoons per load or up to a quarter of a cup of detergent per load, depending on the size of your load. More is not always better.
Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent Recipe
If you prefer a liquid soap, here’s the recipe. You can find more detailed instructions here.
To use: add approximately 1/4 of a cup per load.
- 1+1/2 litres of water
- 1 bar of soap, grated (sunlight or home-brand laundry soap or lux flakes)
- 1/2 cup of borax (optional)
- Large saucepan
- Large bucket approx. 8 litres
- Long spoon or stick for stirring
- Storage containers (I used empty, clean cordial bottles)
- In a large saucepan, combine the water and the soap and stir over medium heat until the soap is dissolved.
- Add the washing soda (and borax if using), and stir until thickened.
- Pour the mixture into a large bucket and then fill with hot tap water. Stir to combine.
- At this point, you could add a few drops of your favourite essential oil for fragrance, but this is optional.
- When cool, store in plastic containers or bottles (I used old cordial bottles).
- Shake or stir before use.
To use: add approximately 1/4 of a cup per load.
For homemade laundry soap, you need to be a little organised. It’s a bit of a pain trying to put on a load of washing at 6 am before work, only to remember you have to grate a bar of soap first!
Homemade Laundry soap FAQs
Unless you add essential oils or fragrances, your homemade laundry soap is fragrance-free or has the subtle fragrance of the soap used.
All skin is different, so you should look at the ingredients in the soap and patch test. A personal anecdote: my son’s skin was very sensitive as a baby and would break out in a rash when my mum washed his clothes in her laundry detergent. The rash went away after we cleaned his clothes with our homemade laundry soap. But that’s just one person, so always patch test.
We used our homemade soap on our terry flat cloth nappies with no problems. If you are using the modern nappies, you should check the manufacturer’s recommendations when washing.
Laundry soap bars are by far the best stain remover to have on hand. Wet clothes with cold water and gently rub the stain with the soap.