DIY Liquid Laundry Detergent

I’ll be posting pictures after I make my next batch.


read, please, before you start!

A bar of soap: The Original DIY Recipe calls for Fels Naptha, or Zote, and can be found in the laundry detergent isle, often overlooked.  It is also on Amazon. This laundry soap has been around for nearly a century, and your grandmother or great grandmother probably used it long before she bought her first automatic washing machine. It works great on greasy grime, from sweat stains to motor oil. There isn’t much this bar of soap can’t get out. But one great thing about this recipe is that you can use almost any kind of bar soap you like, from Ivory to Zest…although I won’t recommend using Dove. Something about it being a moisturizing bar seems to limit its laundry washing options. Otherwise, choose away! Even soaps for sensitive skin or allergic reactions can work well (particularly Dr. Bronner’s baby castile bar soap).

20-MuleTeam Borax(SODIUM TETRABORATE DECAHYDRATE): No it’s not the same as Boric Acid, nor is it Boron, both of which people often confuse with Borax, asking “isn’t that stuff toxic?” There are plenty of sites that will provide you with the scientific breakdown of each, as well as some conflicting stuff by people who really don’t know their a@@ from their elbow (it’s obvious.  when you read their info, and follow their links, not one leads to any trustworthy source). I did a lot of research on it a few years back, and ended up choosing to try it as a particular remedy that involved ingesting small quantities on a daily basis. Basically, it’s far less toxic that table salt, and it is used in all kinds of products you already use, like make up, skin care, even in some agriculture processes, and definitely in other cleaning products. Here is the MSDS sheet on it  You can also look up Sodium Tetraborate on the NIH ToxNet website. Anyway, it, too, can be found in your laundry detergent isle. If not, you can request that your store carry it, or order it on Amazon

Washing Soda: not baking soda, washing soda. Again, found in your Laundry detergent isle or on Amazon. It’s a box that’s about the same size as the Borax, usually found in the same vicinity. It’s the Borax and Washing Soda team that seems to really do the trick in this recipe. Some people even use just the bar soap and the washing soda! (although I think the Borax is the key dirt kicker…)

You can buy all three together on Amazon, too.

Finally, if you like scented laundry detergents, then drop by a health food store or coop and buy a few Essential Oils. It can get kind of pricey if you go overboard, which I think happens when you sniff too many different EOs in too short a time period. (Surely, that can be the only explanation…). My own experience in buying EOs eventually led me to searching for other ways to make my DIY products smell nice, and led to learning how to make DIY EO, which I’ll be sharing with you soon. For now, bring along a scent sensitive friend who can slow down your frenzied EO sniffing and purchasing, and try only one or two for your first batch. You can always go back for others, later.

OPTIONAL Ingredients: I think I’ve read somewhere to avoid adding oxy-clean… I’ll look for it and report back here. Otherwise, almost anything you feel you need, including adding a small amount of your old detergent, simply because you think nothing can clean as well (tho’ I hope you’ll try this without, first) or because you prefer it’s fragrance (which are quite toxic, and harmful to those with multiple chemical sensitivities).

Most of the DIY recipes you find are for making 4-5 gallons of detergent, requiring you to find a large restaurant sized pickle bucket. While I firmly doubt you’ll ever look at another detergent after trying this, I am going to start you off with a smaller quantity, so you can get a feel for the stuff without having to make a lifetime commitment (no comments on my love life from the peanut gallery, please). You’ll still end up with a considerable amount (about 2 gallons). If you find you like it, then move on to the next phase: find that 5-gal bucket, with a lid, and double the recipe*!!

*Bonus: No wedding ring required, either.

Before starting, gather all your ingredients, and these items as well:

  • 2 gallons of water
  • a pyrex/glass liquid measuring cup (4 cup if you have it, 1cup will do) and a few non-liquid measuring cups, (the 1/3 is all you’ll need)
  • a hand-held grater or cuisinart/food processor
  • a good spatula
  • a good wooden spoon (the spatula can do double duty instead, if it can handle hot temps)
  • a good hand whisk, or hand-held beater, or a blender, or an electric drill with the paint mixing spatula on (all, but the hand whisk, are optional, although any one of them will create a preferred end product).
  • and several wide-mouthed containers, enough to hold up to 2 gallons of laundry detergent.

1) To start, grate 1/3 of your bar of Fels Naptha  (or about 1/2 of your regular soap. If you do not have a hand grater or zester, you can cut the portion of soap into small bits and toss it in your food processor and pulse it until you have a finely granulated portion that equals 1/3 cup of Fels (1/2 other soap). I usually grate the whole bar, putting what I don’t use in a ziploc baggie, ready for the next time I need to make a batch).

2) Next, bring 8 cups of water to boil in your largest spaghetti pot (it should hold up to 16 cups, or 2 gallons, of water total). Once it has started to boil, turn the heat to medium. Sprinkle in the soap. You will need to stay close and pay attention! The goal is to melt the soap, which takes a bit of patience. Turning up the heat to make it go faster is not a good idea, as it will likely bubble up and over before you know it. It will only take about 10 minutes. You want it to have very small bubbles around the edges of the pot, as in simmering a soup.

3) While you’re keeping tabs on the pot, pre-measure and set aside 1/3 cup of Borax and 1/3 cup Washing Soda. Then, stir the pot from time to time, scraping down any that starts to creep up the sides.

4) Once the soap melts, the liquid will be slightly thicker, and that’s your cue to turn off the heat and add the Borax, stirring well, and often for the next few minutes. When it appears the Borax has dissolved completely…

5) add the Washing Soda, and do the same. The liquid is getting thicker by now, so it’s time to

6) add the rest of your water, between 6-8 cups, depending on how thick you want the final product, and to finalize the stirring, being sure all your ingredients are melted and dissolved.

7) Take your mixture off the heat, but leave it on the stove for now. Come back in about an hour, or use the time to put everything you’ve used away, or read something else on my blog (you are forewarned: we may not agree on things. We can enjoy each other’s company without agreeing on all things, can’t we?).

8) Now comes the fun part!! When you come back you’ll notice a layer of jello-like stuff in your pot. Poke through and there will probably be a bunch of liquid below. If you were away a lot longer, it may be almost completely gelatinous at this point! No worries! At this point you already have a perfect laundry soap; all that matters is its texture or consistency. It will work great no matter what happens.

Regardless of it’s condition, you can choose to give it a final whipping with a hand whisk and be done, or take the time to whip it in the blender (or with your paint whip on a drill, or hand held mixer). As for me, I prefer the blender option, and I like to do this when there is a minimal “jello crust”, while there is plenty of warm –not too hot to touch–liquid underneath. First, I give the mixture a good hand whisking. The end result of that is that it looks like the kind of pile of gloppy goo that boys would love having a discussion over, but not good for discussion here. Just consider it gross looking, and be glad if you don’t have a cold.

9) That’s when I start pouring batches into my blender and really whipping it, on the highest setting, till it lightens and starts take on a frosting-like texture. I prefer mine this way. It’s easy to scoop with a tablespoon (which is the amount to use for an average load!), and to spot treat, using a child’s wetted soft-bristled toothbrush to gently scrub into stains before laundering. However, if you want a real liquid laundry soap, add more water to the blender, whip again. Continue to do this (remove some if it becomes too full, add what you take out back into the pot) until you reach the right liquid consistency for you. A real liquid-y laundry soap may need about a 1/4 to a 1/3 cup per load of laundry in the end. As each batch reaches it’s final whipping

10) add your EO fragrance, then pour into the appropriate storage containers. Keep one near the washer and store the others.

One last note: as a liquid it will still tend to separate, forming a layer of gel on top. Just give your laundry soap a good shaking prior to using. The heavier paste style I’ve made never separated.

So, remember: no matter what it looks like in the end, it will work. Add fragrances last, so that the heat doesn’t cause it to dissipate before you ever get to use it!

Total time: about 1 to 1 1/2 hrs max.

To use: a thick laundry soap will use about 1 TBSP per load.

A very liquid-y laundry soap will use anywhere from 1/4 to 1/3 cup.

This stuff is an excellent pre-treatment, too!

It works in ALL TEMPERATURES, and in ALL MACHINES, including HE machines*!

*A special note to HE machine users: I don’t own one, but on every site that I’ve found with DIY laundry soap recipes, the question arose in the comment section, by at least one HE owner, of manufacturer’s rules and requirement to use only special and expensive HE detergents. The responses were 100% in agreement: the DIY laundry soap never caused any problems. And a few HE owners even mentioned the thievery of plumbers who are making a fortune coming out to fix their machines that no longer drain well, and learning that the real problem was a clogged filter–clogged with debris from laundry, regardless of detergents used. So, check your filters. Apparently this, too, can be a challenge, as the directions, let alone the actual filter, are not easily found. Good luck. Use the recipe at your own discretion.

If you have a great project or DIY recipe, I would love to learn about it, and any other money-saving and earth-friendly DIY projects or recipes that you have, or improvements to any that I post. Please let me know if I can share them, once I’ve tried them out myself!

****please note: questions asked, that are discussed within the article or recipe, may only receive a short, to-the-point response informing you that what you seek has already been answered, for example, “question answered in the article/recipe. Please read it again.”  Thank you for understanding that taking time to repeat the same information many times, to many individuals, can take up precious time spent doing other things I love to do.

Your considerate comments are welcomed!


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