Introduction: Cheap Homemade Laundry Detergent

About: I'm an IT professional with a master's in library science. I enjoy woodturning, film making, and being frugal. Sometimes I make stuff that isn't horrible.

When we had our first kid, I was blown away by how much laundry we did - onesies, bibs, sheets, etc. It nearly doubled our laundry. Being budget-conscious, my wife and I looked for ways to save. We'd heard about making your own detergent, but thought it might be a hassle. We also had sensitive skin and scent to worry about.

After some searching, we came across a blog post with a recipe for how to make our own and decided to give it a shot. After trying it a few times, we had to share our experience and encourage everyone to try it. I hope you'll read along and give it a try yourself!

Step 1: Supplies

  • Food Processor
  • Large stock pot
  • Stand mixer
  • Funnel

Our grocery stores don't consistently carry the ingredients, but Wally World always has them on hand (usually on the bottom or top shelf in the powdered detergent section. Note that the prices online are much higher - your mileage may vary.

If you're purchasing mason jars specifically for this, the wide mouth jars are easier to scrape the detergent out of, but either style will work. You can get by with other size containers - even reusing gallon size ice cream buckets. Just make sure you have a well sealed lid since this will dry out and be a little crusty if you don't. It won't affect the cleaning power of the detergent, but could make it more difficult to spoon out.

Step 2: Making Soup With Soap

Put about 4.5 quarts water in the stock pot and turn the heat up just under high - we don't want it to boil under any circumstances. While this is heating, unwrap and chop the bars of soap. The food processor will make quick work of the small hunks. If you have a grating blade, that would be helpful, but the regular chopping blade will do.

The water should be nice and warm by the time we've processed all the soap, so we'll add it to the water and stir to melt it slowly. Let it melt for about 20 minutes. Don't worry if it doesn't all completely melt. Turn off the heat, but leave the pot in place. Now stir in the borax and washing soda until they are mostly dissolved - you'll want to stir constantly and pour slowly for best results.

Step 3:

Uncap all your jars and divide the soap evenly. To reduce mess, use a funnel in the jar and dip/pour with a measuring cup or ladle. It's important to distribute the soap into jars fairly evenly. Add water up to the shoulder of the jars, where they begin to taper. Now add the lids and set aside to settle for a few hours.

Don't be alarmed when they separate. We'll fix that in the next step.

Step 4: Whip It

The detergent should be set up pretty hard by now, at least on top. You may need to slice through it wth a butter knife to get it out, and then dump the contents into your mixer. Swish a couple ounces of very warm water in the jar to get the crystals and bits left in the jar, and add to the mixer.

Our Kitchenaide stand mixer has the capacity for three quarts, but the splash guard is a hassle, so to keep from sloshing soap suds all over the counter, we stick to 2 quarts at a time. Starting at a slow speed, whip the mixture thoroughly while gradually increasing speed. We'll end up with a thick paste. Be sure to scrape the sides to get everything blended. Now we just evenly divide this back into the Mason jars and repeat until they're all done.

Step 5: Final Yield

Our detergent is concentrated enough to use one tablespoon per load of laundry.This recipe yields 12 quarts (3 gallons) of detergent which equals 768 loads. My total cost was $13.72, including sales tax. Less than $.02 per load!

Since this is stored in clear jars, it's very easy to tell how much you still have on hand -- no more running out before the final load! It also allows us to reuse the container, which is better than even the recyclable HDPE that store bought comes in -- which is heavier to transport by load count since store bought detergent is mostly water.

It's soft enough to use a plastic spoon, and since it was premixed/dissolved with water, it shouldn't leave any residue on clothing. We've personally been using this in regular top loading washers for several years, but have also confirmed that it works well with high efficiency and front-loaders; just add it directly to the clothes instead of any dispenser yours may have.

The ingredients are free of any additives, so we've been using it in place of free & clear or dreft soaps, even with our babies and adults with sensitive skin. We like the clean, light fragrance of the soap, but sometimes add a sachet to the dryer for an added scent. I've seen talk online of adding essential oils to the recipe, but we haven't tried it -- I'd assume you'd want to add it during the final whipping process.

Have you tried making your own? I'd love to hear from you with any questions or comments! If you liked this instructable, be sure to vote for it and check out my others covering everything from sock puppets to book shelves.

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