home, DIY, tutorials

Homemade Liquid Laundry Soap

I get a kick out of coming up with ways to save on everyday expenses.  I see it as a way to put more toward the good stuff -- stuff like travel, date nights, and shopping.

For the past three years I've been making my own laundry detergent and it has saved me hundreds of dollars a year!  It's so easy and each batch makes a huge bucket so I only have to do the (15 minute) prep once a year or so.

There are a lot of recipes for powdered detergents out there and I tried that method first since it seemed easier.  I have two problems with the results.  First, it tends to clump in the wash; no bueno.  Secondly, powdered detergents cannot be used in front loading and/or high efficiency washers.

Enter this method, one that has never failed me.  There's an extra step here, but it just amounts to melting the soap in water on the stovetop.  This isn't hard, people.  And the benefit is that this detergent can be used in any kind of washer.

Here's the cast of characters:

  1. Borax: This is a powder labeled as a laundry booster.  It's all natural and has a bunch of other household uses.  You'll notice that my box is pretty beaten up; that's because I've literally had it for years.  It lasts that long.  Find it in everything stores like Target or buy it online here.
  2. Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda: Make sure you're buying the right thing and not baking soda.  I also use this stuff in my all-purpose household spray cleaner and I'm on my second box.  Ever.  Find it here.
  3. Laundry Soap Bar: I use Fels-Naptha, which can be found here.  I've heard others have had success with pure Castile soap bars, as well.
  4. Optional Essential Oil: I like for my clothes to smell clean and nothing else.  However, if you like scented detergents, you can add 10-15 drops of essential oil such as lavender, citrus, or rosemary.
  5. Five Gallon Bucket: You can purchase these at home improvement stores.  However, you can almost certainly get one for free if you just ask at your favorite restaurant.  Just make sure it didn't have pickles in it because you'll never get that smell out.  My bucket used to contain sour cream; I brought it home from work when I was baking professionally.
  6. Empty Laundry Detergent Bottle: Simply reuse the bottle from the last brand you purchased and finished.  Just make sure to measure how much the lid holds because you're only going to need 1/4 cup of detergent per load with this homemade stuff; you might only need to fill your lid halfway.  My bottle used to contain an ultra-concentrated detergent, so the lid holds just the right amount.

Let's get started, shall we?

Begin by grating or grinding your bar of soap.  I find it easiest to grind it in the food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Melt the resulting clumps into some water in a saucepan.

After that it's just a matter of stirring it into some water in your bucket along with the other two ingredients.  Each time you fill your bottle, fill it halfway with water and the rest of the way with this concentrated solution.  And... that's it.  I'm not kidding -- it's as easy as that.

This soap won't create suds (which is, incidentally, what makes it ideal for high efficiency washers,) so don't look for them.  It does, however, clean your clothes.  Give this recipe a try -- you and your wallet will love it!

Liquid Laundry Soap

makes 10 gallons (640 loads)

  • 1 - 5 1/2 oz. laundry soap bar, such as Fels-Naptha
  • 1 cup Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
  • 1/2 cup Borax
  • optional: 10-15 drops essential oil, such as lavender, rosemary, or lemon

Grate or grind the bar of soap, either in a food processor or by hand.  Add it to a medium saucepan with 4 cups hot tap water.  Melt over medium heat, stirring regularly, until no clumps remain.

Fill a 5 gallon bucket halfway with hot tap water.  Pour the melted soap mixture in along with the Super Washing Soda and Borax.  Stir well.  Fill the bucket the rest of the way with tap water and stir.  Let the detergent sit overnight to gel.  Add optional essential oil once the mixture has cooled.

Stir the detergent to loosen it, then pour it into your empty detergent bottle until it's halfway full.  Fill the bottle the rest of the way with water.  Shake before each use.

Use 1/4 cup detergent per load in front-loading washers.  Use 5/8 cup per load in top-loading washers.