Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

Sometimes I feel like my life is one endless load of laundry

Have you ever considered making your own laundry detergent?  

Whenever I’ve asked that question of people I’m usually met with looks of scepticism and amazement, and I imagine them seeing me in their mind’s eye in some mad scientist’s get-up. When asked why not, it’s usually because they are worried that it’s too complicated, too much effort, or that they think the detergent would be ineffective at, you know, actually cleaning clothes.

Why bother making your own detergent?

It’s cheap. According to the online shopping website of one of our big two supermarket chains, the cost of commercial laundry detergent ranges from $1.23/L for the cheapest no-name brand to about $13/L for well known commercial brands. I make my own for about 10c/L, from products already on the supermarket shelves. 10 cents!
I priced today’s cost of the ingredients to make 10L detergent from the Coles Online website:

  • Sunlight Soap $0.47,
  • Borax approx $0.56,
  • Lectric Soda approx $0.26.

Total cost per L $0.13. I bought my Borax from Bunnings and bought the other ingredients on special, so for me it’s even cheaper still.

It’s quick and easy to do. It takes me less than 10 minutes to make a new batch of detergent, with easily obtained ingredients, water and a saucepan. Much easier than taking two infants to a supermarket.

It lasts forever. You only need a very small amount of this detergent to run a load, so I only need to make 1 or two batches a year, even with almost daily washing.

It’s effective. I know this one is a bit subjective, but the detergent really does work for me. It’s kept my family’s clothes clean for nearly 10 years, and my mother-in-law is a convert (if anyone knows my MIL, you’ll know this is a tribute indeed). Also, if you are careful to use unscented pure soaps there are no perfumes or additives to irritate the skin.

It’s better for the environment. I need to qualify this by stating that I’m no scientist and I haven’t had this officially tested, but I do know what goes into it, and there are no phosphates or harsh chemicals involved in making this detergent. Also, Borax is actually a recommended biodegradable alternative to household cleaners for use in septic systems. (I would caution against using Borax if you have a grey water recycling system though).


OK, so now that you know why I use it, here’s how to make it:

What you’ll need

  • Large saucepan
  • 10 L water
  • 1/2 cake of soap, grated. That’s any soap. Soap is soap! I typically use Sunlight or Sard soap bars, but that’s only because I like to avoid colouring and fragrances in the detergent. You could also use an equivalent amount of soap flakes if you didn’t want to grate soap yourself.
  • 1/4 cup Borax
  • 1/4 cup Sodium Carbonate aka Lectric Soda. (Don’t confuse sodium carbonate with Bi-carb Soda)
  • 10L bucket to store the detergent in. I actually use 5 recycled 2L juice bottles. All you need is a container with a lid.
  • Optional extras: I like to add Tea Tree Oil for its excellent antiseptic properties (great for washing nappies) OR Lavender Oil for its fragrance and fabric softener OR Eucalyptus Oil for its fragrance, stain removal and de-greasing power (my personal favourite).

How to make it

This is the easy part!
Take your saucepan and put it on the stove with 3L of water (heating the water helps dissolve the ingredients). Add your 1/2 cake of soap – I use a small grater to grate directly into the saucepan. Add 1/4 cup Borax and 1/4 cup Lectric Soda and stir til dissolved. Take off the heat. Add a good slug of your preferred essential oil (remember, we’ll be diluting it down further so don’t be shy!). Add remaining water to make up to 10L and voila, you’re done.

Yep, that’s all it takes.

How to use it

This detergent is concentrated, you only need a very small amount per load. I used less than 1/4 cup per load when we had a top loader, and for our front loader I use even less, about 2 tablespoons worth. If you have very hard or soft water you might need to tweak the amounts, but not much.

This detergent tends to separate into layers when stored because there are no additives to prevent that. But that’s no problem! Just give your bottle a little shake before use to mix it up again. Easy done.

Finally, this is a low sudsing detergent. Most people believe that lots of suds are needed to clean, but that’s not actually the case. The amount of foam is not relevant to a detergent’s ability to clean, but mentally we associate soap with suds, so foaming agents are often added to commercial detergents.

Have you ever tried making your own detergent? Do you have any other household cleaning recipes you love to use?

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