Introduction: DIY Laundry Detergent / Bathroom Cleaner / Kitchen Scrub, No Synthetics.

Picture of DIY Laundry Detergent / Bathroom Cleaner / Kitchen Scrub, No Synthetics.

Here is a simple laundry "detergent" (actually pure soap, no synthetic detergents at all!) that also does a good job scrubbing toilets, sinks, surfaces, tough floors, pots and pans, cleaning ovens, etc.

It costs pennies to the dollar over commercial synthetics, uses no petroleum byproducts, and is sustainable. It won't cause detergent buildup on clothes, cloth diapers, or your machine.

Who can benefit from this? Your wallet, those with sensitive skin or respiratory allergies, and of course, the groundwater.

Step 1: Ingredients

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Choose your soap, and gather your box of Borax, and your box of Sodium Carbonate.

If you can't find Washing Soda and/or Borax at your local Mart, ask them to get it for you, or you can also find it at various online places like "soaps gone buy".

Note, this is not the same thing as Sodium Bicarbonate, which is Baking Powder. Sodium Carbonate, sold, as "Super Washing Soda" by Arm and Hammer, or as "Washing Soda" by other brands, is used in everything from swimming pools to wet-process photography, and can be mined in its raw form, from the ground. It's a natural Earth substance, but caustic, which is why it does a good job. So don't leave it on your skin or get it in your eyes.

I use Kirk's Castile simply because it's cheap (a buck and change per longlasting bar), easily available, contains no animal products and is never tested on animals, is made from Coconut oil, contains no strong synthetic fragrances to set off my allergies, and is honest, pure soap without synthetic detergents (which are all petroleum byproducts, did you know that?)

I find Ivory too soft, and because so much air is whipped in, you get less actual soap per bar, and I couldn't verify the ingredients to my liking.

But if you want a fragrance, you can pick up a bar of Dr. Bronner's soap and have your pick of lemon, rose, lavender, and more. Costs about $4 per bar last I checked, but still much, much cheaper than storebought detergent.

If you make your own soap, even better.

Step 2: Grate the Soap

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I use a Microplane grater because it's easy and turns out fine, fluffy, soap "snow" that blends easily. You could of course use a food processor or any method you like. I like this way because it's simple, easy to clean up after (a rinse) and requires little effort due to the quality of the Microplane grater.

Step 3: Mix It Together

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Wire whisk, wooden spoon, whatever you like. Easy.

Step 4: Find a Container

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This could be a plastic tub with a snap-on lid left over from something else, or I just divide the mix between the now-empty Super Washing Soda box, and the Borax box, and dip out of those. I keep the smaller amount in the bathroom for toilet, sink, and bathtub cleaning. (out of reach of children, mind you)

Step 5: A Little Goes a Long Way

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You only need a tiny scoop of this per large load of laundry. Hard to believe, but true. It rinses out really well too; no more worries about detergent buildup scumming up your washer, or making odors build up in clothes, or making cloth diapers smelly and leaky, the way detergents do. Yay!

If you find clothes are stiff when you line dry them, you are using too much. Cut the amount in half, and add a little vinegar to your final rinse.

You may also have "detergent buildup" from using commercial brands, and may need to "strip" all your laundry of that buildup. (pretty good racket, I think, because then everyone "needs" fabric softener!)

Using this mix will help remove buildup over time, but if you have a bad case of buildup, washing with nothing or with only vinegar, until you see no more suds coming from clothes, is one way to tackle that problem.

Step 6: Enjoy the Results

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Clean, fresh, pure cloth diapers, without chemicals and without spending lots of money.
Ok, they aren't snowy white, but we need to get over whiteness as a goal anyway, because bleach destroys cloth and the environment. But they are clean and soft, no stiffness from detergent.

Step 7: And If You Want Whiter Whites...

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Whereas this mix doesn't contain any optical brighteners or special whitening enzymes or chemicals
(the ones that irritate skin and shorten the life of clothes?) so your whites may yellow a bit, especially if you use an electric dryer, because the sun will whiten your whites naturally.
But if it's winter, or you can't use a line, etc... there is a time-tested method for whitening that is nontoxic and trusted: bluing.

And you can also use it safely to make fun " Pacific ocean" baths to end a cranky day for the kids on a happy note, and make other neat things from it.

Simplicity never felt better.


swartley3ga (author)2009-06-05

The Kirk's Castile is the BEST product I could find.... Look ingredients include the following Coconut Soap, Water, Vegetable Glycerin, Coconut Oil, Natural Fragrance. my laundry detergent has so much crap I can't even pronounce much less do I know what it is I'm putting on my skin and my family's!

megmaine (author)swartley3ga2009-06-10

I agree. Before I rediscovered Kirk's Castile (my mother used it when we were kids) I was using Dr. Bronner's, which, while nice and just as natural a soap, is costly by comparison (about $5 per bar here), and my allergies are set off by some of the natural fragrance oils in it, which is not a problem with Kirk's. Kirk's also lasts long. Good, honest, classic, reliable, pure soap. Ivory, by comparison, is whipped so full of air, that I can practically smash a bar with my thumbs, new and dry right out of the package, and it seems to melt away in a week and is unpleasantly slimey and squishy the moment it gets wet. Feels more like a soft cheese than a soap. I actually had trouble when I tried to grate it because it was like trying to grate Velveeta. So one bar of Kirk's lasts through about 4 bars of Ivory, which means the Ivory at 3 bars/$1 still isn't a bargain. I can get a bar of Kirk's that lasts several months, for less than $2. And as you said, no more worries about the petrochemicals, additives, and chemical crud that builds up on our skin, clothes, and washing machines, now that we aren't inviting petrochemical detergents, shampoos, bubble baths, and body washes into our homes!

swartley3ga (author)megmaine2009-06-10

how do you make shampoo bubble bath and body wash with it? I am super interested!! I have a whole family with sensitive skin!

megmaine (author)swartley3ga2009-06-10

Oh, I think you misunderstood me! We don't use shampoo and bodywash or bubble baths anymore because the Sodium/Ammonium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfates are harmful. We simply use the pure Castile Soap for washing (rub bar of soap across body or across washcloth or bath puff, lather, rinse) and for shampoo, we went retro. Before petroleum-derived detergents were invented, people washed hair with soap. We do that, and rinse with vinegar mixed with water. The vinegar water makes hair shiny and tangle-free. We've noticed that, paradoxically, hair stays "clean" longer and needs washing much less frequently because there's no conditioner buildup, and yet also doesn't get dry and brittle because there's none of the harmful petroleum byproducts in pure soap that are in shampoos. It takes a few weeks to notice the change because that's how long it takes the oil-producing layer of the skin to recover from the cumulative damage the SLS or ALS does. You'll be appalled if you look up those ingredients online; they are approved by the FDA only for "brief, intermittent use without contact with mucous membranes" and yet they are even put into toothpaste! My kids' skin problems (and my horribly dry skin() cleared up once I stopped all use of all detergents, including shampoos and bodywashes, in favor of real honest soaps. And those lotions are all petrochemical too unless you use something like pure lanolin... but without detergents, the need for conditioners and lotions disappears.

Bentley_Maniac (author)megmaine2015-10-16

I've found that one of the best fabric softeners is Eucalyptus Oil. It softens clothes naturally, and is also a natural disinfectant, so it kills bacteria, adds a nice fragrance, and even helps remove stains and yellowing.

also, the best vinegar to use in contact with skin is probably Apple Cider Vinegar.

We've made soap our whole lives, (as gifts, and to supplement store-bought natural soaps) and I'm currently looking in to making handwash / shampoo out of it, as I hate the shampoos that are available from the shop.

Thanks for a great instructable. Yet another project on my ever-increasing list. (currently making kimchi)

swartley3ga (author)megmaine2009-06-30

I wanted to let everyone know the only place I found the washing soda was at Home Depot... and also that my 1 yr old's skin has completely healed since switching to this laundry recipe and castile soap in the tub =)

ImHis (author)swartley3ga2010-11-29

I get my washing soda at 'Publix' grocery store where i live in Florida

megmaine (author)swartley3ga2009-06-30

Glad you found it at Home Depot! I can find it at the Hannaford Bros. supermarket here, and some people (I think in the South) can find it at Walmart. If all else fails, Soaps Gone Buy (google it) sells all the hard-to-find soaps online, and they can squeeze 1 box of washing soda (as long as that is ALL that goes into the order!) into a flat rate envelope for a real deal on shipping. As for your 1 year old, I know what you mean. Both my kids and I have problems with detergents, and most people don't know unless they have a reason to find out, that the body washes, shampoos, and bubble baths are all petroleum-derived detergents that do harm even beneath the skin's surface. Congrats of finding the tried-and-true goodness of real soap!

megmaine (author)swartley3ga2009-06-30

I can recommend you check out Burt's Bees products, for body wash, etc, because they use no SLS or ALS in their products. I use their shampoos and conditioners when I just miss that super-scented "shampoo" experience. Soap works fine, but doesn't immerse me in the scent of raspberry or grapefruit (though it could, if I bought that kind of soap). A great exfoliant body wash is just scrubbing with baking soda. Add soap and/or glycerin, your choice of fragrance or essential oil, and you have a great body and facial scrub. Bubble baths, I don't know of a way to do without chemical detergents, but someone out there probably does.

megmaine (author)swartley3ga2009-06-10

Sorry, but I felt I had to add this: do NOT try to use this stuff as body wash or for anything to do with washing skin, hair, etc. The reason is, Sodium Carbonate (not bicarbonate, which is baking soda and does make a good skin scrub) is very caustic, and can really irritate skin. It is a naturally-occurring earth mineral, but is very alkaline in pH. This stuff makes great laundry wash, will clean ovens and toilets and scrub bathtubs, but could really hurt your skin if applied directly! I personally use and recommend real soap for personal hygiene needs.

ThomasP5 (author)2015-01-13

I found these directions from 1833 on how to make soap.

teaellen 2003 (author)2010-11-13

thanks so much for the info on detergents/soaps etc. I have been on a crusade to save money forever it seems and this is interesting. Also, my family have problems with sensitivity to detergents etc too especially my hubby. I haven't used fabric softener in years and the one time when I used a dryer sheet in my towels (free sample) we all broke out in hives!!!

But, I have used something that is called a "washer ball" which is a blue & white plastic that you can see through the slots of the plastic stuff & has small roundish pellets in it. The perks are: 1. that you do not need a full wash and rinse except for actually dirty laundry (kids play clothes, diapers, etc.) which also saves on water 2. You can use them over and over again. I have used one ball at least 100 times, sometimes in the wash water and sometimes both wash and rinse 3. Also, the little pellets can be purchased to refill the ball 4. The balls also help to keep the laundry from getting tangled & help it to get clean 5 My family doesn't seem to be senstive to it. I bought all that they had from Bed Bath and Beyond on the clearance table & now I wish that I had gone to another store & got more. They will last me for a good long time though. I am not sure what is in them as the pellets get smaller each time they are used but not by much. I need to go get one of the containers and look at the packaging so that I can let everyone know what the pellets are made of. Although I have been told that some of these were all hype and not what they were cracked up to be. I really don't know whether the ones that I have been using are ecofriendly or not but they definitely do what I expected, we don't have reactions to it and they were ultracheap so it is a win win situation as far as I am concerned.

megmaine (author)teaellen 20032012-05-22

I have since heard, that aluminum foil in balls, works as well or better, than the dryer balls, for static generated by the dryer.

Laundry lines are best of course, but for dryers, it would make sense, about the foil balls. I suppose they discharge the static electricity as it builds up? Haven't tried them myself but thought if you haven't yet, you might try them and tell us how it went?

saosport (author)megmaine2014-09-24

I have a felted wool ball that goes into the dryer that helps with static and the dogs hair clings to that instead of my shirts. I will have to try this laundry soap. how does it work if you hand wash your clothes?

q80863 (author)2014-08-22

Thanks megmaine for this recipe. Would this work with HE front load washers? Does this work with all machine and hand washing?

dchrenek (author)2013-12-16

For those of you that cannot find "super washing soda" go to your local hardware store and look for soda ash, it's sodium carbonate and usually can be found as "adjust up" for water ph levels. It's easy to find and is pure sodium carbonate...

nk125 (author)2010-04-07

I am curious why there is such a discrepancy between the soap amounts in homemade laundry detergent recipes.

Thanks so much for the recipe and instructions!  I am excited to try a microplane grater to grate the soap.  Most of the recipes I have seen use a food processor and I only have a tiny one.  

megmaine (author)nk1252012-05-22

I think it's like anything else, where people's needs and results vary, depending on soil level, water quality, machines used, and so on. Also, whether soap buildup is a problem with one amount or another varies widely.

chantellepolson (author)2010-02-25

 about  how much is  a tiny scoup 1/4 of  a  cup???

megmaine (author)chantellepolson2010-02-26

No, far less than that. Maybe 2 teaspoons, or, since there are 2 teaspoons per tablespoon, a scant tablespoon would do.  I find a coffee scoop works well.
To be fair, although clothes get clean and odors are removed, using this frugal and earth-friendly stuff, stains must be removed the old-fashioned way. This isn't some petrochemical stain-eater like Tide. Conversely, it won't eat your skin or the groundwater, either.

Some people manage not to stain their clothes, but I have young 'uns, and stains are a fact of life, and so, for now, is the wearing of bright, busy prints, and dark colors. Hope this helps!

matthewabel (author)megmaine2010-08-20

There's, uh, three teaspoons in a tablespoon. Two tablespoons to an 1/8cup. Which is your typical coffee scoop. We use about a tablespoon or two per load dependent on smell and visible dirt. Stains are fought a bit more aggressively.

megmaine (author)matthewabel2012-05-22

Sorry, you're right of course. About the measurements, though I did try it out, and saw to my horror, that one set of measuring spoons did work out with 2 tsp. equaling 1 Tbsp! Ha, so much for engineering standards!

marycr8on (author)2009-09-12

Can you use this as a dishwasher detergent, or do you know of a recipe for one?

megmaine (author)marycr8on2009-09-12

Disclaimer: I am not endorsing anyone trying this in their dishwasher. I actually tried it once in my Bosch dishwasher, and the dishes got clean, no residue. Not super shiny, but they were clean enough. Sudsing was not an issue with this recipe. But I didn't continue trying it because my hubby was concerned about whether it would harm the dishwasher. I didn't check to see whether it performed better than just running dishes through without any detergent though. There is supposed to be some reason why dishwasher detergents "need" phosphates in order to work well and therefore get federal exemptions from the phosphate bans in place for decades for other detergents, such as liquid dish detergents for hand dishwashing. Whereas I wouldn't recommend that someone try using this in their dishwasher because I would not want to be liable in any way if it somehow messed up their dishwasher, I would be interested in what the results were if someone did try it. Who wouldn't want to discover something ecological, cheap, and much more sustainable than the phosphates and chlorine bleach in the commercial preparations?

megmaine (author)megmaine2009-09-19

By the way, I plan on trying this for an extended period in my dishwasher anyway, because I read up on "eco" dishwasher detergents, and it seems some of them may be about the same thing as this mix... so it's doubtful it could harm my dishwasher. We have good water here, so dishes dry spotless on the counter when handwashed and placed in a rack... so others' mileage may vary. But I think it's worth the experiment for environmental and frugal reasons.

hippiechick74 (author)megmaine2012-01-30

I know this is kind-of an old post, but I wanted to let you know that you can use citric acid or lemon Kool-Aid as an additive to this for an electric dishwasher.

Also, if you want to get away from chemical-based rinse agents, replace it with white vinegar (lemon juice can also be used). I get no build-up, white spots/powder/residue on my dishes now.

I rarely use my dishwasher for more than a drying rack anymore, but when I do, these things never fail me. Citric acid can be bought at health food stores and some drugstores. (I bought mine through Amazon.) But like I said, lemonade Kool-Aid (no other flavors) works just as well, and you can also run an empty dishwasher through a cycle with a packet of Kool-Aid to clean it.

Thanks for the great tutorial. Happy washing!

marycr8on (author)megmaine2009-09-20

Thanks for getting back to me. I was at my local food coop and read the labels on their eco-friendly dishwasher detergents and found the same thing you did. It seems to me the only reason to use phosphates is to soften the water. I found a product called Lemi Shine, that works great on hard water. I live in an area with really hard water. The first time you use it, you are supposed to run the dishwasher with it empty. I couldn't believe the amount of scale that came off, just using it once! I had started to think I was going to have to replace my dishwasher because it wasn't working very well anymore. It was just full of lime and scale, the water wasn't coming out the way it was supposed to. Now that it's all clean, I will try this fir the dishes as well as my clothes! I'm very happy with the results there!

megmaine (author)marycr8on2010-02-26

A followup on using this in the dishwasher: It works fine for me, in my Bosch.
I have also tried using Seventh Generation, which, possibly due to the plant enzymes and citric acid, works better, but is costly. So... I might use this homemade stuff most days, and if there's a particularly nasty load, or a load comes out not quite clean,  then whip out the Seventh Generation stuff.

Both Seventh Generation and this homemade stuff left my dishes gritty and dirty when I ran out of the rinse agent, though. So the rinse agent is inescapable if I want to use a dishwasher. Half a loaf is better than none, though, and maybe someone has an Instructable for making homemade rinse agent?

THELOVEOFGREG (author)2009-04-10

I have been using this recipe for a year now. I have a front load machine and city water.We do not have a water softner. I must be doing something wrong when I wash.I find that if I do not send all the dipes cotton/hemp and the micro towels through a 30 minutes soak once per month in vinegar , they have a water barrier. Not good for dipes, no no no. I do notice because of this none of our clothes hold stains anymore.This vinegar soak is not a big deal for me really because my washer shines when I am done. This poor washer does 5 to 6 loads per day.

megmaine (author)THELOVEOFGREG2009-04-10

I wonder if you have a "high efficiency" front loader? I wonder if that could be the issue, because I use this recipe for cloth dipes and have never had a problem, city water and all. When you say a water barrier, do you mean they actually repel water? I have no experience with that, but maybe someone else here can offer a suggestion. I know I have read that HE washers aren't so good when it comes to cloth diapers because one really does need a greater amount of water for those.

THELOVEOFGREG (author)megmaine2009-04-10

yes I have the HE washer.As far as the water barrier, if I pour water on the diaper or micro it will roll right off. Non of it soaked up.It will absorb water if I squeeze it. I now use sham wow for diapers(pockets). I now have switched to dawn washing liquid. I can still use cold to wash the diapers and it only takes half an ounce. I use the home made stuff for clothes. I love the fact that clothes stay looking clean. Stains just do not stay.

megmaine (author)THELOVEOFGREG2010-02-26

I wonder if your success against stains with this homemade mix is due to your quality washer? I have young kids and stains plague me, and my washer isn't much help (and leaves everything linty besides, but one day i too will get a front loader). For now, I stick to wearing busy prints and dark colors...
But glad to hear that stains aren't a problem for some!

gweedoh! (author)megmaine2010-06-18

This looks awesome. i've been wanting to make my own laundry soap for a while. and for stains I have a suggestion for you! I make a paste of baking soda and dish soap, smear it on the stain, and let it sit, a few hours or over night. it got out coffee and bakery stains, including grease and frosting colors! (i'm a cake decorator)

megmaine (author)THELOVEOFGREG2009-04-11

Glad you found a solution; HE washers are great, but not for cloth dipes. I also didn't realize you were using pocket dipes; I use cotton prefolds. Thanks for sharing the solution for pocket dipes and an HE washer!

megmaine (author)THELOVEOFGREG2009-11-14

I came across some info that some people are complaining about hemp diapers holding odors and having "water sheeting" problems in general. Check out for the conversations on hemp and whether people find it to be troublesome for diapers over pure cotton.

aussie_jacki (author)2009-05-17

what size weight are the ingredients pls or cup measures?I live in australia and am unsure of the quantities

jack8559 (author)aussie_jacki2010-06-01

a pint of liquid is about a pound, 1 kilo=2.2 pounds.  I hope that helps!

megmaine (author)aussie_jacki2009-05-18

The box of Borax has a weight of 2.15 kilograms. Not sure of the Washing Soda, as I don't have a box to hand, but is similar quantity (use the whole box of each). The soap is, 1 bar, grated, or if you use Fels-Naptha or other solid detergent bars (which can legally be labeled 'soap' even though they may be part or all detergent) then it is 1/3 bar, grated. Then just use a tiny scoop, or a couple of spoonfuls, per load. Use a bit more at your discretion; this won't cause detergent buildup problems. Vinegar in the rinse (I use about 1 gill or 100 mL for largest load) softens clothes and deodorizes, but if you have acidic water, skip this as acid can make mold grow in your washer if residual acidic water sits in the machine. Some models allow that to happen and others do not. Let us know how it comes out for you! :)

eimat (author)2010-05-07

very helpful - thanks for posting

btw, re: dishwasher
We fill our rinse agent reservoir with vinegar. No brand loyalty here - just whatever is cheapest. Works great.


emmiee (author)2010-05-06

sorry i just use the entire box of each borax and sodium carbonate and a bar of castile soap..easy enough!!

emmiee (author)2010-05-06

how much borax, sodium carbonate and soap bars do i need to make a batch?

megmaine (author)2010-02-26

For general announcement, I wanted to tell everyone that I tried this in my dishwasher, and it works just fine on normal loads, so long as I am not out of rinse agent. For tougher loads, I find Seventh Generation does the trick (it has citric acid and plant enzymes), but using this on normal days saves a lot of money.

mikeasaurus (author)2009-09-18

interesting. I like the ingredient list, and the fact that it's earth friendly. Any chance of posting the measurements or ratios of each ingredient? Fun instructable, you even managed to fit some learning in there about commercial soaps. sneaky.

megmaine (author)mikeasaurus2009-09-19

I don't know what the ratio would turn out to be, if I emptied and measured the entire box of Borax, the entire box of washing soda, and the grated single bar of castile soap, but those are the amounts I use: a whole box each of Borax and Washing Soda (they don't sell any larger or smaller boxes at the store, so far as I know, although there is a differently-shaped box of Borax, one tall and thin, and one boxier, but both hold the same weight), and one bar of Kirk's Castile, or else, if using something like the detergent bar Fels-Naptha, a mere 1/3 bar, as I specified in the instructions. No problem to reiterate or clarify though! :)

His Own (author)2009-08-13

Thanks. This works nicely, and doesn't even irritate my sensitive skin.

altamyrannm (author)2009-08-04

THANKS a million! You saved me that much!

megmaine (author)altamyrannm2009-08-05

You're quite welcome! And I have found that grating up an additional bar of soap, and adding it to one half of this recipe, and keeping the other half as it was, gives me two options: a regular strength option, and an "extra soiled" extra-strength washing powder that works better on really dirty items.

cabrlamo (author)2009-04-16

I have just started using a recipe like this. I use 1 bar Fels Naptha, 1 cup Borax and 1cup Washing soda. This with water makes about 4 gallons or so of liquid. I also use 1/4C of vinegar in place of fabric softner. Our clothes have been wonderful since we started using this. (BTW, did you give measurements for the Borax and washing soda? I did not see any. But I have been known to miss things.) Hope you can bring more people to the clothes washing dark side:)

megmaine (author)cabrlamo2009-04-16

Thanks! I tried it with Fels-Naptha, but got allergic reactions... I called them and found that there are synthetic detergents in the bar, so I decided to go with "real" soap. I really liked the strong perfume of the F-N bar too, so it was too bad, because like most people, I was raised associating certain scents with "clean" and like perfumes, just can't tolerate them. People should be aware that a product can be in fact a detergent bar and still labeled a soap, and it's perfectly legal. So if you want soap and no detergent, you have to use a soap like Dr. Bronner's or Kirk's Castile, or homemade or artisanal soap. As to the measures, yours and mine are VERY different! I use an entire box of Borax, and an entire box of Super Washing Soda to one grated bar of soap, or if it were Fels Naptha (which isn't the same formula as it originally was, for those who are wondering), it would be 1/3 of a grated bar. I tried the liquid, which was more complicated (cooking it on the stove) but it gelled up on me in the Northeast chill and was too much trouble IMHO. But it works well for those who just want a liquid ( or if your house is too cool, a gooey gel!) Thanks for sharing the vinegar tip also. I do that too, to help prevent stiffness and to remove odors if needed. People should be careful not to use too much vinegar though; too much can cause mold growth in your washer, because molds thrive in acid. But those who use vinegar should add it to the rinse, because if it goes in the wash it will make the soap curdle and not work well. Thanks again for your post, and sharing your experience!

swartley3ga (author)megmaine2009-06-30

I use 1 ground up bar of Kirk's castile which makes about 2 cups and then I use 2 cups borax and 2 cups washing soda....very easy for me to remember as well lol!

About This Instructable




Bio: Raising and educating several children over a wide range of ages with my husband and learning along with them as a way of life.
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