I'd see a blog occasionally that would mention homemade laundry detergent, but I never gave it much thought. It seemed like one of those things that's supposed to be frugal, but really ends up taking more time than it's worth. Time is money, after all, and if the time it takes isn't worth the savings, I don't do it.
So I brushed off the various posts sent to my email inbox about homemade detergent until one day, a little over a month ago, I actually read one of them. It didn't seem so bad. Then I remembered that I'd read a post a while back on SouleMama's blog about homemade detergent. Her recipe for laundry detergent sounded even easier! So I picked up some supplies and went to work.
But before I go into the ingredients and method, I'd like to answer a couple questions in advance. They're questions I asked myself, so I figure someone else out there must be wondering, too.
Q: Why bother? Laundry detergent isn't that expensive. There are budget brands, not to mention plenty of coupons for the more expensive brands.
A: This is true, to an extent. There are lots of cheap detergents. That said, you get what you pay for. Lots of cheap chemicals, many of them known carcinogens that can be absorbed through the skin. Even if that doesn't worry you too much (in other words, if you're like my husband and think I may worry tad more than I need to about things like carcinogens in chemicals), keep in mind that conventional liquid laundry detergent can be a bit of a rip-off. Most conventional liquid laundry detergents contain up to 70% water. Granted, there are brands that advertise a more concentrated formula (which is what I used to buy), but I'm willing to bet there's still a percentage of that detergent that's just water. On top of that, lots of detergents aren't biodegradable; homemade detergent is more eco-friendly in that way, too.
Q: It might be more natural, but does it work?
A: From everything I've read, homemade laundry detergent works. Lots of people swear by it. On SouleMama, she says she even uses it for her cloth diapers. The ingredients are all-natural and simple, but they really do the job. One caveat that I've noticed in my research: the stain-fighting power isn't like conventional detergents. By that, I mean that you need to take care of stains right away; homemade detergent doesn't get set-in stains out like conventional ones do. This doesn't concern me too much. I have an awesome stain-fighting chart I refer to (this past post has a link to the pdf file of the chart). The sun also works wonders for getting stains out of clothes.
Q: Is it expensive?
A: I did some pricing for the supplies and they don't cost more than a big bottle of detergent. I think I spent probably around $12 on the ingredients I didn't already have. I already had the baking soda, but I had to buy a box of borax, washing soda, and an extra bar of soap. Now this wouldn't be cost-effective if I was only making one batch of laundry powder for about $10. However, when I made my batch of laundry detergent, I only used a portion of the sodas and borax. The only real expense was the soap. I love Dr. Bronner's castile soap. It's an all-natural soap derived from various vegetable oils and scented with essential oils; it's awesome but it costs a little more than conventional soap (I can rationalize buying it since I save money on other things; it's one of my trade-off items).
The recipe I use makes about 5 cups (just a little more than the quart-sized Mason jar I store it in) and you only need to use 1/8 of a cup with each load, so that covers about 40 loads of laundry. Now, being a former English major who credits passing college algebra to nothing less than divine intervention, I tried to do the math to figure out the cost per load versus the conventional detergent, but it started to give me a headache. All I know is that my boxes of washing soda, baking soda, and borax are going to go a long way. The key is the soap. Whatever you choose to use will affect your end cost. There are other sites (like this one and this one) that go into the cost breakdown, if you're interested in the math aspect.
Q: Is it time consuming?
A: Not at all. I chose this recipe from all the others because it seemed simple and fast. The liquid recipes I saw online take a little longer because you have to boil the water and all. For me, the most time consuming part of the process is grating the soap. Even then, that took only five minutes or so. From start to finish, making a five-cup batch of laundry detergent took no more than ten minutes.
On to the recipe...
Homemade Laundry Powder (from the blog SouleMama)
--Yield: approximately five cups--2 cups grated soap
1 cup borax (in the laundry section of most grocery stores)
1 cup baking soda
1 cup washing soda (Note: I had to look around for this. I found mine at Ace Hardware, in the cleaning section.)
Mix ingredients and store in an airtight jar/container. I use 1/8 cup, but this can be adjusted according to your needs.
That's it. Simple and pure. At first, I was a little wary of using the homemade powder, but it works great. We went on an overnight camp-out with my family this past weekend and all of our clothes smelled of campfire. I sent them through the wash with this powder and they only smell like lavender and sunshine (that's from the clothesline). Making your own laundry detergent isn't only a money saving effort, but also a small way to take a little extra care of the people you love. Definitely one of the reasons I love the homemade over the pre-made.