Make It Your Damn Self: Laundry Soap

Strap on those aprons, my little house elves! I posted a picture of my home made laundry detergent the other day & was besieged by requests for the recipe, so here we go!


First, though, let’s talk about why we’d bother to do such a thing in the first place. Why spend half an hour making something that you can easily get at the store? For our family, there are several reasons:

  • Price
  • Ingredients
  • Scent

Even if you buy your detergent in bulk, chances are, making your own will be much cheaper. The recipe below nets us about 40 ounces of powdered detergent, for a total cost of $12 or less. That works out to about 30 cents an ounce, which looks expensive until you consider that you use less than half the amount of home made laundry soap as you do commercial formulas. Liquid detergents look cheaper, but consider how much you’re paying for a product that’s largely water…

On to my second reason for making our own detergent – I like knowing what goes in my bath, body & household products. We’ve been avoiding surfactants & true detergents for several years, as I found that they tended to aggravate my husband’s skin issues & made my scalp itchy. Surfactants are awesome at making bubbles & lifting dirt, but there are enough concerns about its effect on the skin that we try to use products without them. Most liquid laundry detergents (and dish liquids, for that matter) are surfactant-based – even the “green” ones. Powdered detergents are usually better, but again, that leads us to my final reason for DIYing our detergent.

One of the underlying motivations for my starting PBSW is that I abhor most commercial scents. Dish liquid, shampoo, perfume, dryer sheets – ninety percent of them give me headaches. Being able to scent my own laundry soap to suit my nose (and our family’s needs) is a godsend. Our son’s in the middle of soccer season & the perpetual growth spurt cycle of elementary, so we need a detergent that cuts the boy funk, but that won’t trigger J’s asthma or my migraines. Find me a commercially scented soap that can cover all that…

Right, proselytising over. Let’s make laundry soap!

The main ingredients can be found very cheaply at the grocery store, or on Amazon, if you don’t feel like leaving the house. Essential oils can be bought for extortionate amounts at your local health food store, or you can buy them from one of my favorite suppliers here. I know I have a lot of indie perfume fans in the audience; yes, you can use your BPAL to scent your laundry soap, but it will be an expensive project. Try Nature’s Garden for quality fragrance oils in affordable quantities instead.

100% organic coconut soap from PBSW

DIY Laundry Soap

Yields appx 40 ounces, a 6-month supply for a family of three

7-8 ounces of unscented soap (I make my own out of 100% organic coconut oil, but you can use your own favorite unscented bar, as long as it’s not billed as moisturizing or glycerin soap. I know lots of folks use Dr Bronner’s baby soap with good results. For the love of all that’s holy, please don’t use Fels Naptha – it’s far from unscented, & doesn’t exactly score high on the stuff-I-want-near-my-body rating.)

2 pounds of washing soda

2 pounds of borax

6-8 ml of essential or fragrance oil (I use a combination of tea tree, peppermint, lavender & fir or orange essential oils, as the whim takes me)

I highly advise using a mask & gloves during the blending process, as the borax & washing soda release a fair amount of particulates & can be hard on the skin during stirring.

First, the tedious part: finely grate all 8 ounces of your soap into a large bowl or bucket. I use a microplaner, & it takes me about 15 minutes. You can use the fine screen on a box grater as well, or run it through your food processor with the grater plate. The down side to the other two options is that you tend to get larger bits of soap that can sometimes clump in the pockets of your clothing, especially if you use cold water for the wash cycle.

Once your soap is grated, mask up & add your washing soda & borax. Use gloved hands to mix the three elements together, rubbing any lumps between your hands to break them up completely.

Once fully combined, add your scent, & use either gloved hands or a wire whisk to blend it in thoroughly. Pack into a large jar or ziploc bag, & voila! Half a year of custom laundry soap, at your service.

Tea tree, peppermint, lavender & fir needle

I use 1-2 tablespoons of soap per load in our top loading washer, & this recipe is generally regarded as safe for HE & front loaders, as well. I use 1 part white vinegar & 3 parts water as fabric softener, & to help combat any build up on both clothing & washer parts. If I need a spot treatment, I just mix a little laundry soap powder with warm water to make a thick paste.

So there it is, folks – go get your grate on!


About Hayley

I'm a trained pastry chef, DIY queen & mother with my heart in west England, my soul in Chicago, & my feet in south-central PA. Paintbox Soapworks was born out of my love for handicraft, beautiful fragrances & clean hands. I play around with colors & scents & soothe my insomnia by dreaming up new ideas. I pull heavily from music (Waits, White Stripes, Wilco), books (Tolkien, the avalanche of children's books in C's room) & my own fertile imagination.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Make It Your Damn Self: Laundry Soap

  1. masterbard says:

    Awesomeness. This is encouraging me to actually try making my own instead of buying the (more expensive) ‘ecofriendly unscented natural green’ commercial product…why does it cost more to get LESS chemicals?

    • Hayley says:

      The sad part being, Judith, that most of those “green” products still have stuff in them that we’re trying to avoid – they just call it something different. Hosers :/

      • Kate Davis says:

        I wish there was a reliable place to see which “green” products were actually green. When you do an online search it’s hard to wade through the crazy conspiracy websites.

  2. Anne-Marie says:

    Homemade laundry detergent is so easy. We use our lye heavy soaps that we shouldn’t give away and salvage it by making detergent =)

  3. loosetooth says:

    This is full of awesome. One Q: We can only use liquid detergent in our building’s machines. Can this recipe be liquified? Is that as simple as adding water?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s