Most laundry detergents contain chemicals that are bad for the planet and bad for our health (see GreenGuide for more info). I had been using Biokleen Laundry Powder, I believe that it is safe, and I am happy with how it works. But to cut costs and harsh ingredients, and be gentle on the planet, I decided to make homemade laundry detergent. Most online recipes call for Fels Naptha Laundry Bar Soap. I emailed the manufacturer to inquire about the ingredients. Response: “[Fels Naptha] is a tallow based bar, and the source of the tallow is beef or pork.” Yum! Who wants cow and pig fat smeared all over their clothes?! So no Fels Naptha for me – bummer cause it is cheap!
Small Batch (18 loads)
½ cup Borax
½ cup Washing Soda
½ bar of Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Organic Pure-Castile Soap grated
Grate the soap with a carrot grater or food processor. Place all ingredients in an airtight container and shake. Use 1 tablespoon per load.
I found that this formula worked fabulously, but I believe results may vary depending on your laundry circumstances. We have soft water and a high-efficiency washer. For hard water and top loading machines, you may need to adjust the recipe and amount used.
Borax – also called sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, disodium tetraborate, is a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen, and water. You can find 20 Mule Team Borax in the laundry section of your grocery store. Borax is an ingredient in Mrs. Myer’s and Seventh Generation laundry products and many other brands. Info on safety: Skin Deep, About.com, and Greenfootsteps.
Washing Soda – also called sodium carbonate or soda ash, is made from common salt and limestone or found as natural deposits. You can find Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda in the laundry section of your grocery store. Info on safety: Skin Deep and Greenfootsteps.
Grated Soap – many sources state that you can use any bar soap in this recipe, I just like the purity and veganess of Dr. Bronner’s, and Fels Naptha is not vegan.
Cost – cheap, 10¢ per load! Borax $2.95 for 25 batches, Washing Soda $1.79 for 12 batches, and Dr. Bronner’s soap $2.91 for 2 batches. The 5 pound box of Biokleen says that it washes 50 loads (although I am skeptical), at $10.19 for the box that is 20¢ per load. Homemade is at least half the cost.
Scary Stuff – If you read all the info on Borax and Washing Soda, you may decide that this recipe seems too toxic, but if you research every single ingredient in commercial detergent (that is if they fully disclose the ingredients – most don’t), you will find lots of bad stuff. I believe everyone should be an informed consumer, and I am happy with my three little ingredients. If you have a safer laundry suggestion, please comment.
Update 2/16/09: I have cut back on the soap in this recipe a bit. Now, I grate the soap, then process it to a powder using a food processor, which yields about 1 1/4 cups of powdered soap per bar. I use 3/4 cups of this powdered soap to 1 cup Borax and 1 cup washing soda.
Update 5/10/10: Still using and loving this recipe!