I had been researching for over a year how to make your own laundry detergent, I just haven’t the time or the energy to do it. While there are several recipes available online, I condensed them all into what I believe is the simplest one. So, as part of the “get excited and make stuff” and “you can make your own stuff” movements, I carved a few hours out of a Friday afternoon, went to Walmart (alas! but they also have all the ingredients stocked right next to each other), and made it. Here’s how:

The Cast of Characters

Ingredients

  • 1 box of washing soda (3 pounds, 7 ounces)
  • 1 box of borax (4 pounds, 12 ounces)
  • 1 box of baking soda (4 pounds)
  • 3 bars Fels-Naptha soap (5.5 ounces each)
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the cast of characters…

The Process

Next, get out a cheese grater and grate the three bars of Fels-Naptha:

Grated Fels-Naptha: not for pizza!
Grated Fels-Naptha: not for pizza!

I thought this would be a bit of a workout, but it turns out that it grates beautifully and easily. I had all three bars grated in about ten minutes.

You then need to grind down the Fels-Naphta. I put small amounts in a food processor and pulsed until the strands broke apart:

Awaiting their fate
Awaiting their fate
The process has begun
The process has begun

The heat of the blade can almost melt the Fels-Naptha into a congealed mess under the blades and make it impossible to grind it really fine. A lot of recipes that I found added water and melted everything down into a thick paste, which required processing in a blender, but also guaranteed that everything would dissolve in the washing machine. I didn’t have that kind of time or motivation, but I did worry about the soap not dissolving. I found out that if you add a 50/50 mix of grated soap and baking soda to the food processor, everything will come out great:

Baking soap and grated soap mixture
Baking soap and grated soap mixture

After that was done, I added all the ingredients to a five-gallon bucket and stirred it up. This is definitely something you want to do outdoors, or with a mask if you are indoors, as it is somewhat dusty and gets up into the air and into your nose. It’s not painful, but it’s not pleasant.

The Product

To use, add one tablespoon to a load of laundry. That’s right—one tablespoon. That’s all. If your load of clothes is especially dirty (or oily or greasy), you can add two.

If that doesn’t seem right, consider that most commercial laundry detergents are mostly filler: water in the case of liquid detergents and sawdust in the case of powdered detergents. (At one point, Proctor and Gamble was the largest buyer of sawdust in the United States, according to what somebody whom I no longer remember once told me—so you know that’s accurate.)

Most importantly, it doesn’t smell like anything other than plain old-fashioned soap. I’ve never understood why people place such a premium on laundry soap that smells like a lavender field, or a mountain meadow, or a spring rain, as all of those scents (along with the soap that carries them) should be rinsed out of your clothes during the rinse cycle. I supposed people have been conditioned by advertising to look for these things in their laundry detergent.

This just smells clean, almost harshly so, if you are used to the highly perfumed stuff. It rinses cleanly and doesn’t leave anything in your clothes to irritate your skin.

It’s also an effective toilet bowl cleaner. I just pour 1 teaspoon into the toilet bowl, swish it around with the toilet brush, and leave it for about ten minutes. I then scrub it out and flush. It’s every bit as clean as when I use that blue stuff that you squirt out of a bottle, and only costs about 2¢. Not too shabby.

The Cost

The best part about this is the cost: anywhere between 6¢ and 12¢ per load, depending on whether you use one or two tablespoons per load. The above recipe will make, with my rough calculations and digital scale, 422 tablespoons of laundry detergent. That’s a lot of laundry. No longer will I have to wait until laundry detergent goes on sale!

Here’s what I spent:

$3.24 — washing soda
$3.97 — borax
$2.24 — baking soda
$2.91 — three bars of Fels-Naptha

$12.36 — total cost

It took me about ten minutes to pick the ingredients up at the store (I was there making other purchases anyway, so this wasn’t a special trip), and about an hour to grate, grind, and mix everything up. We shall see how long it lasts.

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