Friday, October 16, 2009


I have been meaning to post this for FOREVER, but it keep slipping my mind. Mostly because it comes to mind when I am away from the computer. Usually it happens while doing laundry. Homemade laundry detergent- a how-to! I've been making my own for, I don't know, about a year, year and a half now, using 3 main ingredients, plus fragrance. It's easy, it saves (tons) of money, it's more environmentally friendly than store bought detergents, and it's fun, because I can scent my laundry however the heck I want to and I get to control the strength.

Here's what you need:

-Arm & Hammer Washing Soda. It comes in a box that looks like a baking soda box but instead of being an orangey yellow it's a lemony yellow, and it's BIG. Big like a cereal box big. It's usually found in the laundry section at your local store, right next to this next ingredient...

-Borax. 20 Mule Team is the brand I buy, and it's also the only one I've ever seen, but I suppose that if you have another brand available to you, you could use that as well. Just make sure it's 100% Sodium Borate.

-Soap. Any old soap will do. You can use fancy handmade soaps, or you can buy the cheap stuff from the dollar store. I buy "Pure & Natural" made by the Dial Corp- it's hardly pure or natural, but it's (mostly) fragrance free, and it's hypoallergenic. It's also cheap- I hear they sell it at the dollar stores, in a 3 pack, for- you guessed it- a dollar! Heh, I get mine at the grocery store and pay less than $2 for my 3 packs though, so it's pretty cheap no matter where you buy it. You can get whichever soap suits your fancy- try some Fels-Naptha or that other one whose name I forget at the moment for an extra boost of clean, go to that fancy boutique up the street and buy some fancy scented soaps for your laundry because you need to pamper yourself, or buy Ivory because it's crazy cheap. My Pure & Natural turns into a fine powder when I rub it on the grater, and that's why I like it, but more on that later. I've also used Ivory and the laundry soap that's like Fels-Naptha but isn't... I really wish I could remember the name of that one.

-Fragrance (optional). Use something approved for skin contact; soap fragrances, for instance, are ideal, as are essential oils. You can get fragrance oils for soap at your local craft shop, or there are about a million places you can order them from online. Steer clear of candle fragrances unless you know for a fact that they are safe for use on skin- this detergent, like any commercially available one, may leave some of itself behind on your clothing, and you'll want to make sure that the scents you put in it aren't going to cause skin irritation.

Now, you're also going to need:
-A container to put the finished detergent in, and maybe a few extras to put extra soap in if you decide to plan ahead like I do. I store my unused shredded soap in large ziploc band plastic tubs- the really large "family size" ones so I can whip up a batch of laundry detergent in 30 seconds or less.
-Some way to grate your soap. I use an old-fashioned 4-sided cheese grater, and a lot of elbow grease. I tried this little cheese shredder thing with a spinny handle, but it didn't work very well for me. I hear some people use food processors, but if you do that, do you really want to use that thing for FOOD ever again? I sure wouldn't, and I don't see a need to own 2 food processors, so every 6 months or so, I shred up 3 bars of soap. By hand, using a cheese grater. It's a pretty good workout, I guess, and I can get it done in less than 45 minutes.

First off, you need to get your 3 main ingredients into powder form. The borax and the washing soda come this way, but your soap most likely does not. So, grab your chosen method of shredding, and get to it! I shred 3 bars of soap in a sitting, one at a time, but only so that I don't have to do it more than 3 times a year :) A little trick I've learned: dry soap shreds MUCH finer than fresh soap. So when I go and buy bars of soap for this purpose, I open them as soon as I get them home, and then stash them away. I probably won't use them for a few months, so they have plenty of time to dry out and get nice and hard. Then, when the time comes, I can take my dried out soap and scrape them on the finest side of the grater, and end up with powdered soap instead of shredded soap. This provides for a superior clean, as the soap will now dissolve readily in water, whereas large shreds might not fully dissolve in the wash, and could even end up leaving little soapy bits on your laundry! If your soap does come out shredded rather than powdered, don't worry- you can make sure it will dissolve in the wash by starting your load off with hot water (before adding your laundry), adding your detergent, then switching to warm water once your little soap bits have dissolved in the wash water.

Once your soap is shredded/powdered, all you need to do is take your 3 dry ingredients, measure out equal amounts of each one, and mix together. I use a cup of each, and put them all in a large glass jar, screw the lid on, and give it a good shake. You could use 1/4 cup of each if you were using a particularly small container, or 3 cups of each if you were making a really large tub of detergent. I've found the 1-1-1 ratio to be quite effective, though, so it's what I use.

If you want a scented detergent, add a few or a lot of drops of your chosen fragrance to your mixed detergent, and mix again. Keep in mind the base scent of your detergent, though- if you used a scented soap, you may not need to scent it, and you'll certainly want to keep the base fragrance in mind when adding scent to your detergent. This is why I use the Pure & Natural soap- it's got the tiniest bit of fragrance to it, and that disappears after about 2 drops of whatever fragrance I add. To my 1-1-1 cup detergent, I usually add about 3mL of fragrance, adding a few drops, mixing, adding a few more drops, mixing, etc, until it's all in the detergent. That way I don't get big clumps ;)

That's it- homemade laundry detergent. Easy as pie.

Use 1 Tbsp per load of laundry, or 2 for really dirty loads (I'm not sure on the exact amount one would use in one of those fancy high efficiency washers, but I hear it's usually half what you would use in a regular washing machine). Put it in your wash water as the drum is filling and let your laundry soak for 15 minutes before letting the machine run its cycle for a great presoak, or just toss it in and go. We have hard water, so I always add 1/4 cup or so of baking soda to every load so that the detergent can do its job on my clothes instead of wasting it on softening the water, but if you have decent water at your place you won't need to do that. This stuff works just as well, if not better than, the stuff we used to buy from the store, and it's so much more cost effective.

Just remember not to use the container you put your detergent in for anything else, ever again. Keep that in mind when selecting your container and you'll be all set.

Oh and if you want a cheap, natural fabric softener that leaves no residues or scents on your clothes, use white vinegar. Pour it into one of those "Downy" balls, up to the line and everything, and throw it in with the wash. The rinse cycle will rinse away the smell, so don't worry about that; the vinegar will soften your fabrics AND help to rinse out the rest of the detergent. The only thing it doesn't do that well is stop static, but vinegar actually softens clothes as well as any sheet fabric softener out there.

If anyone has any questions or additions to this, I'd love to read your comments! Have fun making your own laundry detergent!

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