Homemade Laundry Detergent : A Review

So, about six weeks ago, I finally made the transition to using homemade laundry detergent instead of the store-bought stuff.  At roughly $7 a month, the cost was bugging the crap out of me!  Why?  Because I can make homemade laundry detergent for closer to $7 a year.  So, what was the hold-up in me actually making it and using it?

Sheer laziness.

I am generally a very driven person, but sometimes the most menial of tasks seem daunting to me, so I continue on the path of “least resistance” until it hurts too much to go on.  That was kind of what prompted our journey to get out of debt too, I suppose. 🙂

So anyway, the thought of going to the home improvement store, buying the bucket, lid and the ingredients, reading the recipe, making it, etc., sounded terribly overwhelming to me.  And then something happened.  I’m not even sure what it was, honestly, but one day I just got angry about spending so much more on laundry detergent than we needed to, even though the yearly amount we’d be saving (roughly $75) wasn’t all that dramatic.   Suddenly, I felt as if I were being ripped off, and the work involved in making it seemed like more of a way to stick it to consumerism instead of that daunting task it had felt like for so many months.

And at the beginning of November, I did it.  I spent the roughly 45 minutes in the kitchen I needed to spend in order to complete the project, and I’ve been using my homemade detergent ever since.  Here’s how it’s worked so far:

Ease in making.  It really wasn’t terribly difficult to make, though it was tedious.  You have to melt the Fels Naptha bar in water on the stove top, stirring it regularly.  This is the most tedious part of the project.  All said and done, though, definitely no more than an hour to make from start to finish.

Consistency.  It was weird to get used to at first.  I’m not sure why, but I kind of assumed my finished product would look like normal, chemicalized detergent, but it didn’t.  It looks cloudy and debris-ish, like this:

DSCN4389

 

It’s also more watery than store-bought detergents, but that doesn’t seem to affect the cleaning capabilities at all.

Scent: The scent is quite refreshing, actually.  It smells clean and good, but not “perfumy”.  Usually anything with perfumes in it gives me an instant headache, but not so with this stuff.

Cleaning capability:  It cleans our clothes surprisingly well.  I was worried about residue, due to the fact that our washer isn’t the greatest and doesn’t agitate well, but I have had no problems whatsoever with residue or stain removal.  I haven’t yet tried it on a concentrated stain, but suspect it would work well.

Environmental impact: We try to be largely chemical free in our house, so I’m always paying attention to what is in the things we use and consume in our house.  Being aware of the chemicals around you – and minimizing them – will lead to better health, and therefore money savings.

In order to check out the environmental and health impact of the homemade laundry detergent, I turned to a site called Environmental Working Group.  EWG rates all kinds of cleaning products, health, and beauty products based on their toxicity levels coming from the ingredients within them.  Here’s what I found regarding our homemade laundry detergent:

Fels Naptha Bar: This was rated a C+ by EWG, due to some concerns (they rate the ingredients “some”, “low”, “no”, “moderate” or “high” concerns) about mostly cancer risks and respiratory/asthma risks.

Arm and Hammer Washing Soda: This was rated an A+ by EWG, with virtually no toxicity or environmental concerns – yea!!!

20 Mule Team Borax: This third ingredient was rated an F+ by EWG, with high concerns for developmental and reproductive toxicity.  This is a concern to me, and I’ll be pondering this more.  The ratio of Borax vs. water is low (1/2 c. of Borax added to 10 gallons of water) but this is still a concern for me.  I guess this explains why Borax is so effective at getting homes rid of rodents, huh?  Scary stuff. 🙁

So, based on EWG’s rating system, we could give the homemade laundry detergent a “C” in terms of an environmental grade.

How does this compare to my old laundry detergent?  The Arm and Hammer Liquid Detergent Dye and Perfume Free rated a “D+” with moderate cancer concerns and some respiratory concerns.

I’m toying around with trying the detergent without the Borax next go-around, which would bring the environment rating up to a B.  I’ll have to research more thoroughly why the Borax is used and if it would clean as well without it.

So, what do you think: would you ever try a homemade laundry detergent?  Are chemicals in our environment a concern to you?

54 comments

  1. I used to make my own detergent, but when it ran out a couple months ago, I just bought some cheap stuff at Winco. It’s pretty lame, considering I have all the ingredients here at home. I’m almost out of the store-bought stuff, so I will make a new batch of homemade detergent soon.

    I learned about EWG earlier this year, and was also disturbed by the grade they gave Borax. Maybe that is why I have been lazy about making more. I have found some recipes that don’t have Borax that I might try. I would like to avoid cancer-causing ingredients as much as possible and “reproductive toxicity” doesn’t sound good either!

    • Laurie says:

      I agree, Stephanie, which is why we’ll try our next batch without Borax and see how it washes. I’ve heard of people washing their clothes with no detergent at all, and being happy with the results, so I figure leaving out the Borax couldn’t hurt too much.

  2. Allison K says:

    So glad to know this is working for you. I have thought about it, but my husband has really sensitive skin, and we can only use one kind of detergent. The kind we use is what his dermatologist recommended, and so I am hesitant to switch because when we use something else, he breaks out into hives, and is super uncomfortable. For now, we just use Tide Free and Clear but I find a lot of coupons, which helps.

    • Laurie says:

      Yes, you definitely have to be careful with sensitivity/allergy issues. Maybe if you left out the Borax as well? The Arm and Hammer and the Fels Naptha seem to be pretty harmless, especially the Arm and Hammer washing soda. Maybe you could just wash with that too, although I’m not sure how much money you’d save that way. Hitting the sales and using coupons seems like a great way for you guys to go – you’ll still save cash that way.

  3. Liz says:

    I tried making laundry detergent once! I made a powder mix before that contained borax, fels naptha and washing soda. I didn’t feel that it cleaned my clothes very well though. I now buy detergent from costco as they have some pretty fair deals.

    • Laurie says:

      Great that you found some good stuff at Costco. Washing for six, we go through LOTS of detergent, so I’m always looking to cut costs in that area. 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      I store it with a lid. The home improvement stores usually sell these buckets with the option of buying either a gamma seal lid(or similar food-grade lid) or just a basic lid, so we bought just the basic lid and 5-gallon bucket, and bought them on sale. You have to add water when you take it out of the bucket (a 50/50 mix), so I just use one of those 2-cup Pyrex glass measuring dealies, put two of them into an old laundry detergent bottle, and then 2 of them of plain water, put the cap back on the bottle, and shake very gently a few times to get it mixed up. Good stuff!

  4. I’ve been interested in trying homemade laundry detergent, so I appreciate you sharing your experience! I’m on the fence about it since we’re only a household of two – we don’t go through that much detergent as it is. We probably spend $40 per year on detergent (waiting for sales and using coupons). Definitely not as good at $7 per year, so I still may try it..

    • Laurie says:

      I would imagine it would last you a good two years, Kali. And the cost savings will definitely increase should kiddos enter the picture. 🙂

  5. Hi Laurie. Thanks for posting this. I prefer detergents that do not contain any perfumes because I suffer from allergies. My wife and I will try the Arm and Hammer Washing Soda. We have been using All Free Clear and try to use coupons whenever possible.

  6. I’ve always been a bit wary about trying to DIY my laundry detergent, mostly because I figure I’d screw it up and then end up costing myself more money. I also only do laundry about every other week now and just have to do it for one, so I don’t use much detergent. I probably buy a new container of detergent every 2 to 3 months. But, maybe I’ll have to give this do it yourself version a whirl!

  7. Very interesting Laurie! Sort of scary that the Borax is used in it and it’s used to get rid of rodents. 😉 We’ve seriously considered doing this in the past, though just haven’t taken the time to do it.

    • Laurie says:

      It IS scary, isn’t it? I used to think “Cool – it’ll keep the mice away”. Now after reading the EWG report, I’m thinking “What’s so bad in it that it keeps the mice away?”

  8. Anita says:

    I still buy laundry detergent in the store, but I buy the extra large size at Sams and then I make it stretch by using less and adding a 1/4-1/3 cup of Borax or Washing Soda with it. I can then go for quite a while before having to re-stock either. Also, since we are on a septic system, we can’t use bleach so I use Hydrogen Peroxide which works great and it also makes great stain remover! I do make my own kitchen/bathroom cleaner with Borax, vinegar, a drop of liquid soap and water; it works really well!

    • Laurie says:

      Great tips, Anita – thanks for sharing!! We use lots of vinegar for cleaning too, even in the washing machine. I need a good dishwasher detergent recipe – got one?

      • Anita says:

        I’ve tried a couple different disher detergent recipes but have not had much sucess with them. I had problems with film on my dishes even when using vinegar as a rinse agent. I’m still looking though I’ll let you know if I find anything good!

  9. Hey Laurie, yet another great post! I never thought about trying home made detergent and don’t think I would. Not because it’s not a good idea, but because I’ve got crazy sensitive skin…rather not run around with a rash! Anyway, thanks for the great read, I hope your next, more environmentally friendly experiment works out.

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, you really have to be careful with that sensitive skin. Our son has sensitive skin too, so I know that this can be a big deal. Thanks for the comment, Joshua!

  10. Micro says:

    Interesting. I wound up making a batch of homemade toothpaste a while back that seems to be lasting forever. I couldn’t quite get the consistency though of how it looked in the pictures. Mine is more of a powdery texture. It gets the job done though and I don’t have to worry about the chemical aspect so much since it’s simple things like coconut oil, baking soda, calcium powder, xylitol, and essense oils for a little flavor.

  11. Laurie says:

    I’ve heard those soap nuts are great. I’ll have to try the Dr. Bonners. We have a bottle here but I haven’t used it much. Thanks for the tip!

  12. I’ve never tried this but I can see how it would save a lot of money. With six in our house, we do many loads of laundry each week. I’ve switched to a generic, perfume-free detergent in an attempt to save some money.

    • Laurie says:

      That’s a great idea, Brian. I’ve tried a couple of the generic brands but they’ve never worked well for me. Maybe I should shop around more.

  13. Wow Laurie…very cool!!

    To be honest, I don’t think I’d make my own detergent…as a bachelor, the commercial brands last a good long time for me. That being said, I do like the environmental aspect of making your own, so who knows if, and when I’ll change my mind. But for now…I’ll leave it up to the professionals like yourself 🙂

    Take care and my best to all. Enjoy the weekend.

    Lyle

    • Laurie says:

      Yeah, I probably wouldn’t with 1 or 2 people either – the cost savings would be so minimal. Professionals – you’re funny, Lyle. 🙂

  14. I haven’t tried homemade detergent but I’ve seen a lot of recipes on Pinterest. You might be able to find a replacement or substitute for Borax if you do a search on Pinterest. We all like clean homes and clothes but I do sometimes worry about the chemicals we use – on us and the environment. Have a great weekend, Laurie!

  15. I use homemade laundry detergent, too!

    I’m impress of your research on the toxicity of the ingredients. Mine has Dawn detergent, washing soda, and Borax, too. Let us know what you find out about possible substitute for Borax.

  16. I’ve been temped to try making homemade detergent too. I don’t think the cost-savings would be tremendous for me, but I can see how it can make a big difference to a family of 6! The Borax concerns me a bit because I also worry about Max sticking his curious nose into it too. He can open doors and cabinets. He’s one smart cat! I’ve thought about DIY dishwasher detergent too. That stuff is exepensive and I go through that a lot faster than I do detergent. But most recipes use Borax as well.

    • Laurie says:

      Funny, I was just thinking about finding a good homemade dishwasher detergent. And you’re right, Tanya, if I had Max, I wouldn’t have that stuff around either – he’s one smart kitty!

  17. I’ve just recently made the transition to all homemade cleaning products (planning on doing a post about it soon). I’m doing dishwasher detergent that is similar to the laundry detergent and contains Borax. The comments from the EWG are very troubling to me as well. Here I thought it was just another mineral. Hmmm. Will also be looking into this further. Thanks for the update!

    • Laurie says:

      I know – I’ve read that too, Pauline, and think about that often. Given we do SO much laundry here, I’m guessing the cost of the propane we use to heat the water would outweigh the detergent we use, especially since we wash almost everything in cold water and do a good seven loads of laundry a week. 🙂 Might be good to figure it out, though I don’t know how I would. I like the non-chemical aspect of that approach, though.

  18. Catherine says:

    I’m toying with the idea of making this BUT you can’t buy the arm and hammer washing soap here which sucks.

    I don’t spend that much on soap. I bought a large jug of laundry soap in July for $13.00, which I’ve been very happy with, and will probably get to January with it. So I spend about $30/year on soap which isn’t bad in my mind!

  19. Conni says:

    I have been making my own laundry detergent for at least three years and it has saved us lots of money! In addition, since it is almost zero-suds, it is wonderful for our HE (low water usage great for our well supply) washer. When I read your Borax warning yesterday, I became concerned. But, as I thought it through, I realize my recipe uses 1/2 cup Borax which is diluted in (mostly) five gallons of water….then diluted, 1 part mixture to 1 part water AGAIN. After that, in the washing process, more water dilutes it further and rinses it out. We are not eating the detergent. We don’t bathe in it. I am careful not to breathe it in. It does the job. In my home, it stays.

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