Homemade: A Review of Homemade Laundry Soap

In an effort to be more frugal, I've decided to test the affordability and effectiveness of some homemade products. Powdered homemade laundry detergent seems to be highly praised, so I thought I'd start with that.

Most homemade laundry detergent recipes are similar, so I researched the ingredients to find out why they were added to the recipe. It turns out there are three ingredients that are nearly always included, and several ingredients that are optional. Instead of posting all the recipes I found, I posted a general recipe you can adapt if you decide to make your own.

Recipe for Homemade Laundry Detergent:
Necessary ingredients:
  • 1 cup Borax (Cleans, disinfects, and softens water).
  • 1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (This is sodium bicarbonate, and alkali salt that breaks down grease and dissolves stains. It softens water by binding with chemicals that cause hard water, allowing the detergent to form more suds and work more effectively).
  • 1 bar of Fels-naptha soap, Pink Zote Soap, Kirk’s Castile unscented soap, or Ivory Soap, just don't use something heavily perfumed. (Cleans).

Optional Ingredients:
  • 1 cup Oxyclean or store brand oxyclean
This is a mixture of washing soda and powdered hydrogen peroxide. The baby version only has these two ingredients, the regular mix has some detergent added. Some people complained of whites gradually getting dingy with homemade detergent. This will counteract that. Some people opted to just add a scoop to whites and loads that were especially grubby to save money.
  • 1 cup box Arm & Hammer Baking Soda
Some recipes include this as a whitener and to make it smell nicer, it also softens water.
  • White Vinegar
Some people claimed using this as a rinse helped remove buildup of hard water residue and killed a musty odor others complained of. Some didn't like the strong smell of vinegar and suggested an extra rinse cycle to get rid of the vinegar smell, though other sites claimed the vinegar smell disappeared after drying. My machine isn't programmable and I'd have to babysit the machine to be able to add the vinegar, if I end up having to do this, it will probably be a deal-breaker for me. Stiff towels are a good indicator that you have too much detergent residue left after the wash.
  • Calgon Powder
This was also suggested as a solution to the buildup of hard-water residue, the suggested amount was around1/2 cup but amount may need to be increased based on how hard your water is.
  • 1/4 cup Cascade dishwashing detergent per load
This detergent contains an enzyme that helps break down protein stains.
      • A few drops of essential oils
      This makes it smell pretty-the favorites are usually citrus or lavender.

      Grate or shred soap with cheese grater or food processor. Mix all ingredients together, and use one-two tablespoons per load using the directions on your machine. This soap can be a little slower dissolving in water than store-bought soap, so it works best to put the soap in the machine and start the water before adding clothes.

      Hot or Cold? Some sites claimed using hot water was essential when using homemade, others claimed cold worked fine, still others claimed you only need hot water for whites. Detergents begin to lose their effectiveness below sixty degrees either commercial or homemade.
      Hard Water? If you have hard water, you will need more detergent-this is true of store-bought detergent as well.
      High Efficiency Machines? I do not have a high-efficiency machine, so I am not aware what special needs these machines have. Some claim that this is not a high-sudsing recipe, so it is ok, but I don't have enough knowledge on this point to make recommendations.
      Pre-treating Stains? Some sites recommend rubbing stains with the Fels-naptha soap, others suggest using Dawn Dishsoap. I haven't tried either method. I think for now I'll stick to presoaking in water and Oxiclean. If I end up testing pre-treatment methods, I'll post the results. I have to pretreat stains for my regular detergent anyway so I don't think it is a reflection on how well this recipe works.
      Want a larger yield recipe? 4 lbs borax (equals about 11 cups), 2 3lb 7oz box washing soda (one 3lb 7 oz box is about 5.5 cups), 11 bars soap.
      Where can I get the ingredients? Most larger supermarkets have these ingredients. I found everything at our small Walmart, though the only bar soaps available there were Fels-naptha soap and Ivory.
      Shredding the soap? Some people complain of the tediousness of hand-shredding the soap, but others said it was no big deal. The soap I was shredding was a little hard to shred by hand-I could have done it but after a few minutes I decided to just do in in the processor. I tried both of the options my little food processor offers, the shaving option came out looking like grated cheddar, the cutting option made it little pea sized lumps. I was hoping for more of a powder to make it easier to mix everything together. I ended up going with the cheese curls, then chopping those down. I think Ivory would powder up better. I don't think shape matters much with effectiveness unless you have chunks too big to dissolve during the wash.

      I tried to anticipate your questions, though this is my first attempt at making the soap. I'll try to answer any other questions you may have, but this is my first attempt too. In a few months, after using up this batch, I will post an updated review. Thanks!

      To sum up:
      When I added everything up, the cost is nearly the same as cheap commercial laundry detergent, and about half that of the nicer brands. If you shop around and find the ingredients at a low price, and use a less expensive bar soap, you may be able to cut the cost of making your own even further than I did. I haven't figured out how to get the $0.01 per load that some makers of their own soap got.
      Homemade worked just as well as store bought, and worked even better when Oxyclean was added. Will I make it again? I was really hoping the cost difference would be greater. I would definitely switch if saved me more money, it was easy enough to make, especially using a food processor, and it does the job.

      Price Comparison:

      Homemade Laundry Detergent
      Tablespoons (Loads)
      1 4 lb 12 oz box Borax
      2 3 lb 7 oz boxes Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
      11 5.5 oz bars Fels-Naptha Soap, grated

      Total Cost
      Total Ounces
      Cost per Ounce
      Total Tablespoons (Loads)
      Cost per Load

      Regular Tide Detergent 169 oz box, 120 loads

      Total Cost

      Cost per Ounce

      Cost Per Load

      Regular Sun Detergent 85 oz box, 80 loads

      Total Cost

      Cost per Ounce

      Cost per Load

      I added the package totals together to get the total ounces, then I figured ~10 tablespoons detergent per cup, about 27.5 cups for a large batch, so about 275 tablespoons. This is a pretty rough estimate since I didn't measure the amount of detergent precisely, I just wanted to get an idea if the cost was comparable. Ivory Soap was $4.27 for a pack of nine bars, if you used that, your cost would be a bit less.

      Here are the images of the results (apologies for the quality):

      Now, I wasn't expecting stains like these to come clean completely, but I thought it was a quick way to compare cleaning ability. I took some white cotton cloth, and stained strips with soil, ketchup, grass, driveway oil puddle, and soy sauce. I made mini stained quilts and soaked two of them in Oxyclean water for about two hours. Then I washed one the pre-soaked, and one of the un-soaked in two seperate loads. I used hot water for both loads, and added Oxyclean to both loads because I wanted to keep it as close to the way I normally wash as possible. I but added the reccomended amount of Sun brand detergent to one load, and two tablespoons of homemade detergent to the other load. Thinking back I should have made one more and washed it in water for a control. Does your kid need a science fair project?
      I was a little surprised at the results. The winner? Presoaked + Homemade. The looser? Unsoaked Homemade. For some reason, combining Oxyclean presoaking with the homemade detergent yeilded the best results. I was also a bit surprised that the presoaking didn't make as much of a difference as I thought it would, I guess the Oxyclean I added to the wash did nearly the same job as presoaking.
      I'd like to do this test again, without the oxyclean in the wash at all, and try it with a more expensive commercial brand.

      Pretreating Stains:
      Of course I'll have to pretreat stains using homemade detergent, just as I do with store-bought soap.
      Let me explain, no, there is to much. Let me sum up:
      • Work fast if possible, fresh stains come out more easily.
      • Avoid rubbing stains with bar soaps, many stains can be set in by doing this.
      • Avoid heat: if the stain doesn't come out with the first wash, don't put it in the dryer, re-treat and re-wash.
      • Pretreat with a stain remover that contains enzymes if the stain is a protein stain like blood or grass.

      Here is a good site on removing stains.

      Bird Bath

      This is the project that has taken up most of my freetime the past few weeks.  I probably could have gotten it done in a few days if I hadn't been limited to naptimes.  This way of doing it worked out for me though, because it gave me time to leave it alone and come back with a fresh eye. 

      It started with a towel rack that seemed to spend most of its time on the floor waiting for me to find a mini screwdriver and reattach it...again.  I got tired of it and asked for a new one for my birthday.  The new rack was shorter than the original one, so that meant I needed to patch the hole and paint over it.  Instead of trying to match the builder's beige that is through the whole house I thought I'd try a new color. 

      I then happened across some stencils on Pinterest that I fell in love with.  (See?  I don't spend ALL my time pinning things I'll never do...)  While the stencils would have sped up the process considerably, I decided to freehand it to save a little.  Here is the link to Cutting Edge Stencils if you want to do it the easy way.

      Step 1: Select Colors
      Paint chips are nice and everything, but be aware the lovely soft blue-gray you pick out might turn into an awfully bright baby blue on the wall.  Yes I looked at the chip on the wall in the actual room under different light conditions.  I found out the hardware store had an extremely limited supply of test samples, so scratch the idea of getting a base coat and a few darker shades of the same color in sample sizes. Also scratch the idea of getting a sample and painting a patch on the wall first.  Lesson learned.

      On my second attempt I found a color that looked very gray in the store when they dabbed the top of the can.  I almost didn't have the courage to try it on the wall, but compared to the sample I brought in of the baby blue it was the closest to what I had in mind.  I got enough of the lightest shade to cover the walls with a bit left over, and to save money, bought a small can of paint several shades darker and mixed the darker shades myself.  Just to be safe, I painted a patch of each shade I ended up using on a paint stick.  This way I can get a color match if I need to have more paint mixed up.

      Step 2: Paint base coat (again)
      Just as I hoped-the paint looked more of a soft blue when on the wall.  I painted the ceiling a slightly darker color, which matched the color of the lightest branches.

      Step 3: Paint the branches

      I found it was easiest to use a soft narrow paintbrush and outline the general shape of the branches and leaves first.  The overall design flowed better when I laid it out on a large scale rather than trying to finish each leaf before moving on.  You can do an outline of the general shape in chalk if you are intimidated by beginning the mural.  Regular chalkboard chalk wipes off easily, though be sure to wait until the paint is completely dry!   It's also easier to start with narrow lines and add to it than try and fix a line that turned out thicker than you wanted.  It took me nearly a week of procrastination before I got up the nerve to start the mural.  The branches look nice with two shades, the lighter going behind the darker.

      A trick I learned in Jr. High from my art teacher: if something in a drawing just looks wrong to you and you can't figure out why, try using a mirror to look at your work.  Your brain will see it as a new image and will more than likely focus on the problem spot you missed earlier because you'd been staring at it too long.

      Step 4: Birds
      I wanted the birds to look realistic-we are bird nerds after all.   I could have free-handed the birds, but decided to create some stencils to speed the process up.  I found some images of chickadees (I used a few different species, but the overall shapes were similar enough I thought I could get away with it.  Yes, we are THAT nerdy).  I resized the photos in Microsoft Word so they were nearly life size and then cut them out. (Did you know chickadees are about 5-6 inches from beak to tail? Told ya we were nerdy!)   I only planned on using each stencil once so I used regular copy paper.  If you plan on re-using the stencil, use cardstock, or you could buy some stencil plastic or try contact paper.  Using a very dry brush, I outlined the bird.  A wet brush might leak under the stencil and ruin the lines.  Just dip your brush in the paint and dab most of it off onto a paper towel.  Remove the stencil and fill in the bird.  I didn't try to cut out the feet-these were so thin I just free-handed it again.  Some of the birds needed their feet in a slightly different position to look right on the branch anyway.  If you aren't sure where you want the birds, try taping the bird you cut out to create the stencil on the wall and step back to see if you like the arrangement.

      I did freehand this one, since I couldn't find a wet bird I liked.  I thought it would be funny to have one next to the showerhead.

      Step 5: Touching up
      I found that the paint I selected was opaque enough to make touching up the little mistakes easy.  It was hard to tell if I'd filled in the paint well while it was wet, and the birds looked better once I'd done a second coat.  Some branches were thicker than I liked, some leaves blended together too much so I dabbed in some to create little openings, and I smoothed out a lot of the lines that looked rough from painting on a textured wall.  This mural would have been so much easier on an untextured wall, but it still worked out.

      This bird ended up perched in the air, I must have moved the stencil as I taped it up.  No problem, just extended the branch a bit.

      Sorry about the photographs-it's impossible to really show you how it looks-I just can't back up any more to fit it in.

      The big reveal:  My husband walked in and said "Oh, look!  Chickadees!"  (WHEW!  Mission accomplished!)  I was worried he'd think it was a bit girly, but he liked the colors and the fact that the chickadees were silhouetted instead of painted realistically.  That would have taken me forever.