Introduction: Laundry Detergent by Numbers

Picture of Laundry Detergent by Numbers

This is an infinitely scalable recipe for very effective and cheap laundry detergent. It's important to do this by weight as borax and wash soda crystals are different sizes and a cup of one isn't the same weight as a cup of another. I've been using this detergent for nearly a year now and I cannot see a reason to go back to buying a manufactured brand. It works wonderfully.

The magic numbers are 3:3:5.

Three parts (by weight remember!) of borax to three parts of bar soap to 5 parts of wash soda.

That's it. Three ingredients.

Step 1: Weigh It Out

Picture of Weigh It Out

Use a scale that lets you use metric units. Metric is so much easier on the fractionally challenged. Add a zero, drop a zero. Easy.

In this Instructable I'm using the ratio to make around 550 grams of detergent. It's not critical to get precise measurements for this. The soap I used only measured in at 125 grams. Just get it in the ball park and you're good. Of course if you're scaling the recipe up you'll want to try to stay fairly close as you scale up or the ratio will get all out of whack and you'll get less than stellar soap.

I used 150g of borax, 150g of soap, and 250g of wash soda. Mix it all together.

Just as an example:

A ratio of 3:3:5
Add some zeros.
300g : 300g : 500g

Then divide by 2.

150g : 150g : 250g

Multiply and divide as needed.

Step 2: Going the Extra Mile

Picture of Going the Extra Mile

This is optional, but I always do it so it's not really optional. Do it!

Toss the soap into a food processor and take it for spin until it's a lovely uniform powder. This will insure good and fast dispersion of the chemicals in your wash water.

Step 3: Done, Use, Cost Breakdown, and Thoughts

Picture of Done, Use, Cost Breakdown, and Thoughts

Put it in an easy to seal and open container and use it yourself or give it out as gifts.

To use:

I use 1 tablespoon per load. That's it. If you've got heavily soiled things, bump it up to 2 tablespoons. If you've got a huge washing machine 1 tablespoon will probably work, but as all machines are different experiment with the amount the first few loads. The goal is to use as little as possible and still be effective.

The smell:

We've all been duped for years with the scented detergents on the market. Your clothes shouldn't smell like the soap you wash them in. They shouldn't smell like anything after coming out of the washing machine. Commercial detergents are packed with perfumes to get that effect. Who needs that crap? The soap you choose for this is a personal choice. I pick soaps that are pleasant smelling to me because that adds a perk to loading the laundry. I get to smell it. It's cheap aroma therapy. But I don't want my clothes to smell like it. If you're clothes smell like your soap you're using too much or your machine isn't doing a good job of rinsing it all away.

The soap:

A lot of these recipes will call for you to use Zote soap. I don't recommend that. It clogged my front loading washer's soap tray after a while. Zote is a good and cheap stain pretreater (just rub it into it), but I'd avoid it for this purpose. Fels Naptha is another that people use. I have a bar, but have yet to try it, but it's not tallow based like Zote so I don't think it'd be as likely to clog your machine or pipes. It's fragrance is just so so. So I'll stick with trying various bar soaps that make me feel good to smell them.

The Cost:

Borax ~ $4 (2155g) --- price per gram $0.0018
Soda ~ $3.5 (1560g) --- price per gram $0.0022
Soap ~ depends on what you're looking for, for this Instructable $1.50

So (150g borax x 0.0018) + (250g soda x 0.0022) + $1.50 = $2.32 for about 550grams of laundry detergent

One tablespoon is between 13g and 15g. So each load costs (2.32/550) x 15 = $0.06 per load

Number of loads you can get out of the 150g:150g:250g batch is (550/15) = 36.6 loads per batch this size

I've bought the soap I used on sale before for $0.99 so this batch of soap could cost (2.32 - 0.50) $1.82.

Forgive my math skills. If I've made an error please correct me so I can change it.

The Bottomline:

It's cheaper, if enough people made their own it would cut down on fuel used shipping liquid detergents, plastics used to contain them, cardboard in the case of powder, and who knows what kind of crap makes up an average store bought laundry detergent.


SharonH4 (author)2015-06-14

I make my own detergent with Pure Soap Flakes purchased from Before each load I place the desired amount in a cup and mix with hot water with a hand blender before adding to the washing machine. This dissolves all of the soap flakes without using a food processor. I also read somewhere that if you use oxyclean, you should add it to the machine to dissolve before adding any detergent. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

dlewisa (author)SharonH42015-06-15

I've been trying to add a generic oxyclean to see if there are any benefits. I don't know that there is yet. I add it dry to the soap dispenser tray. If you're using a top loader I don't see the benefit of pre-dissolving. I'd just add it where the water streams in. It'll dissolve fast enough. The soap i this recipe is the slowest thing to dissolve if you don't get it powdered well. That happens with the Fels Naptha soap unless you let it dry out some way. I'm currently keeping a bar in a bag with a huge desiccant pack.

SharonH4 (author)2015-06-14

I make my own detergent with Pure Soap Flakes purchased from Before each load I place the desired amount in a cup and mix with hot water with a hand blender before adding to the washing machine. This dissolves all of the soap flakes without using a food processor. I also read somewhere that if you use oxyclean, you should add it to the machine to dissolve before adding any detergent. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Also, how much detergent would you recommend for a top loading machine? I think I've been using too much!

ImmortalSoFar (author)2015-04-14

Love this stuff. I have eczema and this gives me no problems. One thing to bear in mind is that you use so little that the washing soda and Borax are going to be around awhile and love to absorb water. I keep mine in old coffee containers labelled in Sharpie (with the proportions) on duct tape - pure class!

Another thing I've found is that because I don't have a food processor, I shake the box up (another coffee container) before use and mix it in with hot water (in a top loader) before adding the clothes. Otherwise, it works fine.

jasesun23 (author)2014-12-30

I've been making my DIY Laundry Detergent using these ingredients for years now, but this is the first time someone has posted the measurement in grams. Weighing stuff is so much easier and just more accurate. I weighed a cup of each to give a general idea if anyone wanted to know. Granted a bunch of things could effect the weight of 1 cup. I tried to get ingredients as close to the 1 cup line in the same measuring cup.

A&H Super Washing Soda -275 grams per cup

Mule Team Borax - 145 grams per cup

Oxyclean (name brand) - 230 grams per cup

Soap is impossible to measure a cup of, everyone grates and blends to different sizes.

Since most recipes online use cups or half cups, using the numbers above you might be able to get ratios of your favorite recipe.

I'm going to give the 3:3:3:5 (soap:borax:oxyclean:washing soda) a try. Everything I've tried so far seems to work pretty well

One tip I can give is new bars of Zote soap are softish. They grate okay, but if you try to blend right away it becomes clumpy. I usually grate, then leave out for a day or 2 to dry up. Throw it in my mini 20 dollar food chopper and it comes out almost like powder.

Lastly, this site says they like Fels Naptha better than Zote.

dlewisa (author)jasesun232015-01-03

I may start using Fels Naptha all of the time or Dr. Bronners. Maybe a mix for nice aroma, although Fels is pleasant enough. Recently I've tried other additives too. I may try experimenting with different pHs.

daniphantom made it! (author)2014-12-22

So cool! I'm definitely using this in college.

mgarvin1 (author)2014-11-14

so far so good! I used a laundry soap bar instead of bath/hand soap.

dlewisa (author)mgarvin12014-11-14

I used Fels Naptha once. It thought it did fine and smelled nice.

bluejeannes (author)2014-02-14

I've been using a formula similar to another poster's: 1 box washing soda, 1 box borax, 1 bar of soap. It seems to get my clothes clean, but white clothes that are washed every week (socks, underwear, T-shirts) are definitely grayer. Is the proportion what is causing this? Something else? Do you have a suggestion for preventing this problem?

PaganRaven (author)bluejeannes2014-08-18

Jeannes - try this (although it will take a time or two to get the grey removal process started) everytime you wash whites from now on.

This is a bit of a more "natural" Oxyclean method but works better then the Oxyclean itself.

Soaking is another key besides the ingredients.

Soak your load at least 3-6 hours, overnight would be the best. Maybe alott time for the white load(s)?

Start your wash as usual, and use your normal soap/detergent.

Let it agitate for about 5-10 minutes then add 1/2 cup of Washing Soda (NOT baking soda) and 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide.

Let your laod agitate again for a few minutes then turn off your washer and let it soak, the longer the better.

After soaking, turn the washer back on and continue as always.

I promise this will work wonders for you!

dlewisa (author)bluejeannes2014-02-14

I always bleach whites. I guess if you don't like using bleach you might try some kind of oxyclean type cleaner. The benefit of using bleach and doing your white load last is that if you have a front loading washer it will keep it from getting those odd smells that people say they have to leave the doors open to prevent.

HollyHarken (author)dlewisa2014-02-15

When I wash underwear I use two scoops of oxyclean, ERA laundry soap and hot water. I let the washer run for a bit then stop it and let everything soak overnight. In the morning I restart the washer. This process has worked wonders in cleaning my boyfriend's underwear. I even managed to turn his whites back from grungy gray to a nice white again. I don't sort out the whites from the colored underwear. By using oxyclean I don't have to worry about colors bleeding. I've read that you shouldn't use bleach in the washer for more than 10 minutes. Bleach breaks down the fibers of your clothes thus causing them to wear out faster.

Ninzerbean (author)HollyHarken2014-02-16

Gosh, thank you for your honesty - I don't have a boyfriend but I sure do appreciate trying to keep clothes clean. I hate using bleach because I feel like I am wasting so much water cause it takes about 5 more washes to get rid of the smell. I just got some Oxyclean from Costco so I will be using that.

fenikkusu (author)2014-02-14

Honestly... this was worth reading for the mere fact that you wrote "fine as frog hair". I am writer and that is forever carved into my!

Otherwise thank you and fantastic job.

Allow me to add my father-in-law is a dermatologist who has spent his entire life telling us that most allergies are from perfumes put in projects, most especially laundry detergents! Thank you for sharing this, it will likely help lots of people with sensitive skin! Good for you!

dlewisa (author)fenikkusu2014-02-14

I dabble at the keys. You aren't alive and thinking unless you have a half finished novel in a drawer that you started 10 years ago.

ImmortalSoFar (author)dlewisa2014-07-23

Guess I've lived, then! Got one first draft finished and the first of the series started now that I know what I did wrong!
Purchased the ingredients today (but with Zote for a top-loader). Came to $12. Grating the soap tonight but don't have a food processor so we'll see what happens.

Ninzerbean (author)dlewisa2014-02-16

Does about 10 different starting sentences count? I loved the frog hair line as well.

minikirchner (author)2014-06-11

I've been looking for a decent recipe for dry detergent since as you stated water is valuable and if we can avoid liquid anything, you should. Furthermore, the cardboard box these ingredients come in are most of the time biodegradable so you can throw it in a compost pile. That makes this a zero waste laundry detergent! Thanks for the informative and easy to follow instructable!

joeactually (author)2014-05-10

Doing my first load with it now!

joeactually (author)2014-05-10

Eh Lie Us! (author)2014-03-13

Awesome in so many ways.

'Grate just friggin' grate'

Thank you!

icemanxxxv (author)2014-02-15

Has anyone tried adding LA's Totally Awesome Power Oxygen Base Cleaner from Dollar Tree for boosted cleaning? It's a buck a pound and supposedly works as good as OxyClean? I'm thinking of trying it in the mix as I work as an aircraft mechanic and get pretty darn grimy at times with engine oil and hyraulic fluid.

thebeatonpath (author)icemanxxxv2014-03-06

I have used it and it works great. Never ventured into their laundry soap, but their "Oxyclean" works wonders. I also add it to my homemade laundry detergent.

icemanxxxv (author)thebeatonpath2014-03-06

I recently made a batch of laundry detergent by the numbers following the above formula but I added the Oxygen cleaner at a rate of 3 so its 3 parts borax 3 parts soap(Zoote) 3 parts Oxygen Base and 5 parts Washing Soda,. Did my first loads last night and I must say it worked swell!

I broke out in the worst pimples/hives I have ever had across my whole body using that brand laundry soap.
It was not totally awesome.

Sunkicked (author)2014-03-04

I've got a recipe that I use in my washer that is more of a jelly consistency. We've been using it for years and I'm pretty sure the author stole the idea for this Instructable from me after I said, "Hey man, you should make your own laundry detergent. You're good at that homemade business."

So, clearly, I did all the hard work and he's just taking the credit. #TongueInCheek

azebra6 (author)2014-02-18

This is a great money saver and the discussion excellent too. Going to make it soon. I too am wondering about using my food processor for any chemicals. The Borax issue is not an issue to me. I've been adding it to my wash for years. As well I think I'll add the vinegar. About 1/4 of a cup is what we used to use with the babies. Thank you all.

bbritain (author)2014-02-15

How much would you use in a top-loading machine?

dlewisa (author)bbritain2014-02-16

start with 1 tablespoon per load. If that doesn't satisfy you increase it in half tablespoon increments.

bbritain (author)dlewisa2014-02-17

Thank you. I'll give it a try!

evalentine (author)2014-02-16

I use the recipe of:

2 Boxes Washing Soda (72 Oz each)

1 Box Borax (76 oz)

3 bars Zote soap (14 oz each)

6 bars Fels Naptha (5.5 oz each)

I shred the soap with the shredding disc for my food processor, mix everything together, and process in the food processor in batches to make it a fine powder. This yields about 320 ounces by volume of detergent, and costs about 2.5 cents a load to use a tablespoon. I make it for a local animal rescue, and they LOVE it!

thebeatonpath (author)2014-02-14

I've been doing the 1 cup washing soda, 1 cup borax, and I bar of soap for a couple of years for our HE front loader with no problems, but I think I'll try your method of weighing, especially since different soap bars yield different amounts. As far as soaps, I've used Ivory, Fels-Naptha, Zote (pink, but just found a white bar I may try), and Yardley. If you want a little smell, you can always add a few drops of 100% essential oil (lavender, peppermint, etc.) to the dry mix. Won't stain or damage your clothes. I also picked up an old food processor at the thrift store just for mixing my detergent. No worries about my homemade hummus tasting like soap! haha

Simply add some water to your food processor and run it. This will clean the bowl and get rid of any soap. That's how I clean my FP and Blender every time I use them. Learned that trick from my dear mom.

Never heard of that one! Good to know. I've always heard of people complaining about the soap and wondered how the dishwasher didn't clean it up, so I never used my good one.

metqa (author)2014-02-15

I make this soap all the time. I love the simplicity of it and the plain clean smell of my clothes. I've used zote and Fels, and I'm not sure of much difference except smell. I add it directly to the tub.Whatever the store has at the time I use. I also use vinegar for a rinse if I remember. I made the liquid soap once and that was more than enough times, it's a mess to make and heavy and a pain to store. I can store the powder in a bucket with a scoop. I did finally use a gallon size pump dispenser for the liquid and that helped. But the gelling effect was too much trouble. I use Oxyclean, both brand and off brand for white loads and you can also buy blueing to add to a load that is getting yellowy to mask the yellow and help return it to brighter whiteness without bleaching it to death. Those blue crystals in the Oxyclean are probably cystallized blueing. My BF thinks I'm silly, but I enjoy having my own laundry soap. No funny smells and no sticky spills or heavy containers! Yay!

PennyPoet (author)2014-02-14

My recipe is 1 bar of Fels Naptha soap, 1 cup of washing soda, 1/2 cup of borax and ten gallons of water. Buy the stuff at hardware stores (grocery stores don't have it usually). Let the mix sit overnight and it thickens somewhat by morning. I start with a big painter's or lard bucket with a lid, and once thickened put it into empty laundry jugs I snag from the trash at the laundromat. A kind of recycling! If it gets too thick to pour, simple shake the jug before measuring a cupful for a small load, two cups for a large one. You have to get past the idea that this is a very low suds type of laundry detergent. Despite low suds it washes clothes very well. Thank you above for that pink Zote bug repellent info--wow! Once you make your own laundry detergent, whichever recipe works for you, you will never again pay big bucks for a little thing of Tide & you'll think that people who do are fools. Making my own detergent was one of the smartest things I've ever done. Wish I had done it years ago....and saved those big bucks sooner !

chabias (author)PennyPoet2014-02-15

I use the liquid version too, but a little different ratio than yours. Going on my 4th year using homemade and I'm still on my 1st boxes of washing soda and borax. I can only guess how much I've saved by not buying laundry detergent, and I was buying the "cheap" stuff to begin with. I'll never go back.

saxon1014 (author)2014-02-14

That's awesome! I've been using the borax, wash soda, dry color safe bleach powder & oxy-clean (the last two are always at Dollar Tree). I just use an old larger laundry soap box and pour in a little at a time...layering the powders. I mix it a little, but it really doesn't have to be perfect. I also get a liquid laundry soap at the Dollar Tree. Then, when I was a full load, I just put in about a 1/4 cup of the powder mixture and about 2oz of the liquid. It makes the clothes super soft, clean and they smell nice (not perfumey).

Orngrimm (author)2014-02-12

Ha... Intersting fact: In whole Europe the open trade, open use and open distribution of Borax is forbidden by law. On 21th August 2008 it was classified as poisonous and damaging to DNA and unborns.
See page 137

Just a heads up for a little thinking if you want to use almost 1/3 of borax washing your clothes...

I_StarkGuy (author)Orngrimm2014-02-12

Yeah but there is too much noise around borax. Basically, to get intoxicated you need to eat it. Besides, its median lethal dose score is tested at 2.66 g/kg in rats, a significant dose of the chemical is needed to cause severe symptoms or death. The lethal dose is not necessarily the same for humans. (from wikipedia) And children make a simple polymer at school out of borax.

bluesky (author)I_StarkGuy2014-02-14

A word of caution and in support of Orngrimm, Borax may not kill you, but it may cause you (and your kids) some significant problems.

Here's a great article on homemade laundry detergent and some things to think about when using Borax:

quantum_mechanik (author)2014-02-12

Does this work with high efficiency machine? They need things that don't suds up as much

I use the liquid version of this recipe in an HE Maytag washer (1/2 cup borax, 1/2 cup washing soda, 1/3 bar Fels Naptha, 8 quarts water - boil). It is low suds and works very well. Around $1 for TWO gallons - what a savings.

One more tip - rinse your laundry with white vinegar. Just put it in the softener dispenser. Vinegar is a natural softener AND your washer gets a good cleaning with each wash. Never a mildew smell!

alcurb (author)dgibbins2014-02-14

How much of the vinegar in terms of cups for easy measuring?

dgibbins (author)alcurb2014-02-14

The dispenser on my washer holds about 1/3 to 1/2 a cup. It doesn't take much.

dgibbins (author)dgibbins2014-02-14

Oh and to answer your next question:

No, the vinegar does NOT leave a smell in your clothes. They just smell cleannnnnnnnn!

hantstwo (author)2014-02-14

made this with a recipe i found online with Fels Naptha it made 5 gallons, mix that with equal parts water. 32oz with 32oz in empty clean used jug 1/4 cup per load. worked out it is 3 loads for a penny. batch will last me forever for around 3 bucks works great best is that i don't smell like sweet gaggy perfume

lyonpridej (author)2014-02-13

I've been making the powdered soap for a couple of years now.The zote soap brand is good for summer if you're going to be out & about where there's lots of bugs. It has citronella (at least the pink does,not sure of the white) in it. I didn't know that at first, but I noticed my 2 teenagers & husband, who are all Boy Scouts, were nut getting chewed up by chiggers, ticks & other bugs when they went camping every month, even when they forgot to use bug spray - when I found out about the citronella, it all made sense - their clothes wee protecting them :) . Also, if you buy any soap far enough in advance, & store it, it will turn really hard, then all you need to do is put it in a bag & bang it with a hammer to get little pieces you can run through the food processor - beats grating all of it.

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