July 27, 2011

Laundry Soap Recipe

I love discovering ways to save money on everyday products and I also get a lot of satisfaction out of making things using my bare hands.  I have several friends who make their own laundry detergent and I’ve recently joined their ranks.  It only takes me about 90 minutes and $3 worth of ingredients to produce 5 gallons of liquid laundry detergent.  My husband, Scotch, does up all the dirty laundry in our household but this is one way that I can contribute – besides just adding to the pile of dirty clothes!  I also make our automatic dishwashing soap but I’m still tinkering with this recipe.  When it’s perfect, I’ll share it with you, too.  Lately, I've had several friends ask me about the process for making laundry detergent so I thought it would just be more efficient to add this as a post to my blog.

There is an initial cost to getting started, since the tools that you use are tools that you will want to dedicate solely to this purpose.  I already owned a cheese shredder, for example, but I had to purchase another one before I could start making laundry soap (I used this as an opportunity to buy a nicer one for my kitchen and then relegated my old one to soapmaking).  I went to our local thrift store to look for some of the tools and I would encourage you to do this, also, or to try finding what you need at garage sales or possibly asking friends/neighbors before buying anything brand new.  The one tool that is very hard to find, and somewhat expensive in upscale kitchen stores, is the long-handled metal spoon.  I managed to find an inexpensive but sturdy stainless steel long-handled spoon at a shop that caters to folks who make their own beer.  Here are the tools that you’ll need:
  • 1 Long Metal Spoon (long enough for a 5-gallon bucket)
  • 1 Cooking Pot, 8-Quart
  • 1 Cheese Shredder
  • 1 Bucket, 5-Gallon with Lid
  • 1 Long Ladle (ideally long enough for a 5-gallon bucket but a regular-sized one will do) 
You’ll also need to buy some basic ingredients every time that you’re running low on detergent and need to make a new batch.  I've never had any trouble finding the basic ingredients in the laundry aisle of our local grocery and/or discount stores.  Since you probably won’t be accustomed to purchasing these basic ingredients, you kind of have to hunt a little bit the first time you shop for them.  If you run into any frustrations while shopping for the ingredients, keep in mind that you can also order the ingredients online and it would still save you money in the long run.  If you have trouble finding the Zote bar soap, you might try a Mexican mercada if you happen to have any near your house (Zote is a popular brand in Mexico).  Here are the ingredients that you’ll need:
  • 1 Bar Zote or Fels-Naptha
  • 3/4 Cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (not baking soda or Arm & Hammer laundry detergent)
  • 1-1/2 Cups Borax Laundry Booster (also known as sodium borate or sodium tetraborate)
  • Optional:  Some people I know add in 1-1/2 cups of commercially-produced liquid laundry soap to give their batch a little extra “boost” for tough laundry problems.  I don’t do this but our kids are already raised so all is well.
Have everything yet?  This is the where the fun begins.  I love making up a new batch of laundry detergent because it makes the house smell terrific and it gives me a little bit more independence from big corporations.  I also love knowing exactly what ingredients are in the products that I use or consume.  I don’t add any dye or fragrance to what I make and I really love knowing precisely what goes into my body or, in this case, up next to my skin.  Are you ready?  Let's get started.

Fill your cooking pot about half full of water and bring it to a boil.  Shred your Zote bar or Fels-Naptha bar using the cheese shredder (some people use a knife or a processor for the shredding).   Add the shredded bar to the boiling water, handfuls at a time, while stirring.  Simmer and stir for 45 minutes (do not rush this step).  After the soap has cooked, add 1 cup of borax and 1/2 cup of washing soda.  Simmer until dissolved, about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Once dissolved, pour into your bucket. Stir.  In your bucket, add a cup of your detergent (optional).

Refill your pot about 3/4 full.  Bring to a boil.  If you have another large pot, go ahead and boil a big pot of water to add at the end; this will save you a little time later on.  While the first pot is coming to a boil, occasionally stir your bucket to ensure the soap doesn’t become too thick.  Once boiling, add 1/2 cup borax and 1/4 cup washing soda to your pot of water. Stir until dissolved.  Pour into bucket.  Add 1/2 cup of your detergent (optional).  Fill up the rest of the 5-gallon bucket with plain boiling water.

Allow to cool before using and always stir it up with the long-handled spoon before using.  The first time I made this recipe, I thought I'd done something wrong because the batch I made was so liquidy -- but it thickens up nicely as it cools overnight.  Scotch uses a little less than one cup for each load of laundry that he does up while I’m busy writing, cooking, or making up more laundry detergent.  He says that it doesn’t “suds up” like commercial products do but he’s very happy with the way that this homemade blend gets our clothes clean.  Believe me, if you were married to a guy who’s been doing all the laundry for the whole family for years on end, you’d try really hard to find a product that he liked also!


  1. I grew up in Indiana Amish country and I know this process well. I can vouch that this laundry soap is as good as any you can buy and since there's no "suds factor", it rinses out very well. Great for allergies and sensitive skin.
    Next you should try making bath soap. No lye, it's a blast! Sorry, the pun forced it's way out.

  2. Do you have a good bath soap recipe that you would be willing to share? I've been thinking about taking this "next step." Is it more cost-effective and higher in quality, just like the laundry soap?

  3. Do you think since there is less sudsing that you can use this with high efficiency washing machines as well?

  4. I don't have any experience with this but I did find a blog with some good discussion on the matter (there are others, as well, but I thought that this was the best one): http://condo-blues.blogspot.com/2009/03/how-to-make-powdered-high-efficiency.html

  5. My Unchi (Grandma) made all of her own soap. Don't remember the recipe except that she used lard and lye and it was some nasty stuff until it cured.

  6. You can make a similar version of this dry. You only use one tablespoon per load. And no muss/no fuss with pots and spoons.

  7. I have a friend who makes her own shampoo. I need to get that recipe.

  8. I've seen the dry powder recipes, too, but my friends who make their own all prefer the liquid over the powder so I've never even tried the powder myself. I did make a powdered automatic dishwashing soap that I was very disappointed in -- if you come across a good recipe for this would you mind popping back on here to pass it along? I would also be interested in the shampoo recipe if you can get ahold of it. Storebought shampoo has some pretty appalling ingredients in it. I don't care for the way that these chemicals smell, even, let alone the thought of what they're doing to our bodies.


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