Chemical Cocktails & Clean Clothes




Today I’m going to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a while – I’m making my own laundry soap. I’ve done this before, but only in small amounts. In fact, I’m going to show you how to make enough laundry detergent to last you a whole year* for less than $30. If you’re a cut-to-the-chase kind of person, you’ll want to scroll to the end of this post to find instructions for natural laundry detergent. If you’re like me and  you want to know more about how and why this is a better alternative to the processed soap you buy at the store (and how much you’re going to save!) read on.

Why Make Your Own Laundry Detergent?

You should make your own laundry detergent because it’s cheaper and more natural. In general, laundry detergent available on the grocery store shelf contains “a cocktail of potent cancer-causing chemicals, some of which the manufacturer doesn’t even have to list on the label. This loophole reduces the odds that you’ll ever discover what’s in there” according to an article at (The article cites specific scientific research and can be found by clicking here.)

The article goes on to explain that “Not only are these chemicals potentially damaging to your health, but they are also contaminating waterways and harming the environment.”

When time permits I’d like to share with you what I learned about the laundry detergent we’ve been using (All Free & Clear). Until then, the general point is that commercially made laundry soap often contains harmful (and often unnecessary) chemicals.

Those unnecessary ingredients also make store-bought detergent unnecessarily expensive. As you’ll see at the end of this article, you could be washing your clothes for pennies a load without sacrificing cleaning power.

Liquid Detergent vs. Powdered Detergent

If you search the web you’ll find sundry articles on how to make your own laundry soap. Some instructions help you create liquid soap while others result in powdered detergent. I’m an advocate for powdered detergent. Why? Because it takes less space to store, less time/effort to make and cleans just as well as liquid detergent.

What’s In This Stuff?

If we’re going to make a big deal about what’s in store-bought detergent, we should definitely talk about what’s in homemade detergent. As I mentioned above, a quick Google search will result in many different ‘recipes’ for homemade laundry soap, each of them just a smidge different.

What’s consistent? They all include borax and natural soap. Nearly all of them include washing soda. Some substitute baking soda for the washing soda. While substituting baking soda for washing soda might seem like a non-issue, washing soda is definitely more useful as a laundry detergent. Why? So glad you asked…


Baking Soda vs. Washing Soda

According to Dr. Knowledge at The Boston Globe’s website, “Washing soda, or sodium carbonate, is two sodium atoms attached to a carbonate group (a carbon atom and three oxygens). Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate (and sometimes called sodium hydrogen carbonate) has one of the sodium atoms replaced by a hydrogen atom. Both occur naturally as minerals and are often prepared in factories from more commonly occurring minerals like calcium carbonate (chalk) and sodium chloride (salt)… Both sodas are alkaline, meaning they will neutralize acids, but washing soda is the stronger. Alkalis react with the chemicals in many stains, particularly those involving oil and grease, and help take them out. Washing soda is better at removing stains, but both can be used for this purpose.”

So while you certainly can use baking soda for your homemade laundry soap, you’ll get more cleaning power from washing soda. Very soon I plan to post about how you can easily and safely convert baking soda to washing soda right in your home. Come back for that!


Borax is not a short mythical mustached creature who speaks for the trees. Borax (according to Crunchy Betty, who is much more likely to speak for the trees) is “also known (most predominately in the way we’re talking about right now) as sodium tetraborate, is a boron mineral and salt that’s mined directly from the ground. Borax is not boric acid.”

Borax is used in laundry detergent to:

  • whiten your whites
  • soften hard water
  • remove soap residue from your clothing
  • neutralize any laundry odors
  • disinfect clothing
  • increase the stain removal ability of your detergent

How in the world does Borax do all of those things? If my educational background was in Chemistry rather than Human Resource Management I could tell you. Since it’s not, you’ll be better off looking for the answer here. (But if the Borax ever complains to you about workplace conditions, you know who to call!)

 Natural Soap

Part of what makes the world wide web of laundry detergent instructions so varied is the wide variety of soaps you can use. The key here is to look for something natural, especially if you have sensitive skin like me. Some soaps are marketed as “laundry soaps” like Fels Naptha and Zote. Other soaps I have seen as recommended for laundry detergent are Ivory (which I personally am allergic to), Dial Pure & Natural and castile soaps. I’ve also read that some people who make their own lye-based soaps at home use this in their detergent as well.


Natural Laundry Soap/Detergent Instructions

Now that you’ve got the dirt (ha! I love puns) on natural laundry detergent, here’s how you make the stuff:

Homemade, Natural Laundry Soap

1 Box of Borax (76 oz)

1 Box of Washing Soda (55 oz)

3 Bars of Natural Soap, shaved

Optional (and not natural): 2 Containers of “Oxy Clean” (buy the off brand at the dollar store)

Mix all components together in a double-plastic garbage bag and then pour carefully into glass or plastic jar for storage.

Use 2 tablespoons with each load of laundry.

{What instructions on making your own natural, inexpensive fabric softener? Click here!}

DSC03544 DSC03536 DSC03541

Penny-wise Washing

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that homemade laundry detergent costs less than the store-bought alternative. Here are the numbers to prove it.

All Free & Clear Detergent

  • 150 ounces (96 loads)
  • $11.97 ($0.12 per load)

Homemade Detergent

  • 143 ounces ( 143 loads)
  •  $9.90 ($0.07 per load)
    • Borax $3.38 for 76 ounces
    • Washing Soda $3.24 for 55 ounces
    • Kirk’s Castile Soap $3.28 for three bars

This cost could be slightly reduce by using Fels Naptha soap (instead of the Kirks Castile soap I used) and by converting baking soda to washing soda at home ($0.06 per load).

Even though there are only three of us, I average about 1 load of laundry per day. Three batches of this detergent would get me through the year with 64 loads left over. *So for $29.70 and about 15 minutes of work, I can have natural laundry detergent set for an entire year. Not too shabby…

You might also like: