Skill of the Month: Homemade laundry products

After a hiatus lasting longer than I meant it to, the Skill of the Month returns!  If you have suggestions for future Skills, send me an email!

image by Playingwithbrushes

When I first heard about homemade laundry detergent, I pictured myself stirring a pot of laundry over an open fire using lye soap.  It wasn’t until I made my first batch that I realized how easy and effective it is.  The recipe I use couldn’t be simpler, although there are more complicated versions to be found online.

This month, try making 2 or 3 different detergent recipes, giving them a try, and deciding which you like best.  They won’t have the strong smell of commercial products, but my husband actually prefers it that way.

Post your findings here as a comment and share any good recipes you discover!  Here’s mine:

1 cup borax

1 cup washing soda

1/3 bar Fels Naptha soap

In a container with a lid, combine all three ingredients and mix well.  Use 1-2 tablespoons per load. I keep a small chunk of the Fels Naptha soap to pre-treat stains.  It works great.  If you don’t have or can’t find Fels Naptha, any bar soap that doesn’t contain added oils, moisturizers, or perfumes will work.

Here are some helpful resources:

How to Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

Making Homemade Laundry Soap

Instructables Homemade Laundry Detergent  (read the comments for more tips)

…and for a different version of the recipe in video:


There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

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  1. Sarah says

    I've been making my own laundry soap for months now. It is extremely easy and very cheap to make. Did you know that you can also make your own Clorox 2 and fabric softener? Clorox 2 is just hydrogen peroxide and water. They also add a dye and surfactant but it is not necessary. Fabric softener can be replaced by adding 1/4 cup of white vinegar to your rinse cycle. It won't smell, I promise!!

  2. says

    This may sound dumb, but I strongly suggest mixing your laundry soap into your washing machine water before adding clothes, the way you would with bleach. When I first started using homemade laundry soap I dumped it in right on top of the clothes like I always had with commercial stuff and it didn't work out well – smudges or sticky spots where the soap hadn't fully dissolved on clothes pulled out at the end of the cycle were common. (I did have a really old washer at the time, however, which may have been part of the problem.)

    My other suggestion is to consider getting/using some rubber gloves if you're going to use Fels Naptha as stain remover. It's great stuff, but if you spend a decent amount of time on stains (my husband works with engine grease and oil) it'll do a number on your hands.

    Last tip – you can buy "Awesome" brand stain remover at the dollar store and it does a fantastic job. For a dollar a bottle, you could buy two years worth on a whim as long as you had room to store it. :0)

  3. jabbok3kids says

    I started making my own laundry soap in February this year. My recipe is similar to yours except that I use 1/2 cup borax and one full bar of Fels Naptha and mine is in a 5 gallon bucket and is the consistency of gel. I use about a half cup or more (depending on how dirty the clothes are) per load.

  4. Gretchen says

    Great topic! Making soap I only spend a few bucks a month on ingredients. That is a big deal with a family of 10 generating dirty laundry! The ingredients for the soap are also useful in a wide variety of other general purpose cleaners in the home. This is a good "survival skill" in the sense that I am much less dependent on retail stores for stuff that we use every day. Stocking up on these ingredients is fairly simple and goes a long way._ I really enjoy this whole process AND saving a lot of money!_

  5. says

    I made my own laundry detergent for a couple of years until I got my front loader and couldn't figure out how much more/less to use with my new machine, and read reviews that it damages machines. Eek! With a large family my front loader has been a God-send, and didn't want to risk the damage. Any suggestions???

    • Monica says

      I've been using a similar recipe (including Borax) in my front load machine for over a year. I've had no problems at all. In fact, I think the machine is working better without any mold/mildew issues since I switched to powder detergent as opposed to liquid which would get rather gummy.

    • Herdog says

      I've been using the liquid detergent recipe and love it. As Monica said, I think my front loader (HE) is much happier with it also. The site from which my recipe comes from says this mixture is low suds therefore great for front loaders. I think you'll be fine and richer!

  6. rightwingmom says

    I've been buying OTC laundry detergent through Grocery Game for years. At last count I had over 700 loads worth.
    Even with THAT stockpile…I've also made several batches of the recipe you posted. They're sealed up in Food Saver bags with instructions written in Sharpie. I figure, between the two (OTC and homemade), I have plenty for my family AND they would make a good barter product.

    • Tia says

      I use mine in HE washer. I use 1-2 TBS of it in my wash, depending on how big a load and how dirty my kids got their clothes. Suds have not been a problem for me.

  7. Tia says

    My recipe is pretty much the same. I usually add about 1/4 cup of baking soda as well. It does work great, but my husband prefers the smell of the store stuff so I will add a cup or two of that to a big bucket of the homemade stuff.

  8. Jan says

    I have been making my own laundry soap for a little over three years. I think it works really well. But, it doesn't remove heavy sweat stains very well. So when I make a batch (I triple the batch listed above and place it in 5 gallon buckets), I also add a small bottle of Tide to it. It seems to get the sweat smell out. There were days when my husband was working 16 hour shifts. When I washed his uniform, I could still smell sweat. But once I added the tide, I couldn't smell it. This soap will not keep your whites as white as I like. So you have to add bleach or peroxide to your whites.

  9. Jan says

    For fabric softener I have tried several methods. I was adding vinegar to the rinse cycle, but that used up vinegar quickly. I also tried mixing a bottle of cheap conditioner with a gallon of vinegar. I like that one much better, but if you have problems with a faint scent, you may not like it. Its really easy. Make your mix and transfer some of it to a smaller bottle with a flip top or to a sports water bottle. Get a wash cloth and pour enough of the mixture onto the cloth so its damp, but not dripping. Add that to your dryer with each load of laundry and it works really well. It also lasts a really long time.

    If you google Fels Naptha and email the company, they will send you coupons. Making my own laundry soap and fabric softener has saved us hundreds of dollars!

  10. katzien says

    I've seen this topic before, but now I'm going to actually do this for no other reason than stop spending $8 on a smallish bottle of the store brand detergent. You know what they say–the profit is in the water, and that's mostly what I'm buying. No more of that!

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      Kat, just do it! I held off for the longest time, fearing I would scrape my knuckles on the grater! How dumb is that??

      • Tia says

        I dont even grate mine, just cut it into small chunks and then throw it into the food processor and it does a wonderful job of making it into powder for me. Saves me a few minutes of grating as well.

  11. southernbelle says

    This is what I have learned over the last year. The powdered version seems to do better with heavy soils, especially if you allow the clothes to soak for an hour or so. Peroxide and baking soda make oxy clean, so add baking soda to the mix and then dump some peroxide into the washer, tada! Vinegar in the final rinse removes the rest of the smells and residue. Sometimes there is a funky odor, not sure the cause, but a good soak with an extra tbls of soap and some vinegar has cleared it up for us.

  12. Wyatt says

    I work for a National/International company that deals in laundry equiptment and repair. I have personally seen folks using home-made laundry soap turn the newer High Efficiency washer into a dead yard ornament in less than 5 years. HE washers are made for HE soap only. Anything else can and will destroy the sensitive electrical sensors that maintain water level and rinse cycles.
    Homade soap should be just fine for top load machines of say 5 to 10 years old . Much more water and the older machines do not have the sensitive electronics.

    • TheSurvivalMom says

      Thanks for the information. It sounds like a trade-off. You get an HE washer but then have to buy the more expensive detergent. You mention that it would be OK to use homemade detergents in older machines. If they aren’t HE, why would they have to be 5 or more years old?

  13. Proud2BAmerican says

    I am excited to try this. I love the plastic container and label that you used in the video. Can you recommend where to purchase the container and how to make the label? :-)

  14. Stealth Spaniel says

    Oh Lord Lisa! My grandmother Ada is laughing in Heaven! Fels Naptha, washing soda, and borax-of course! As a young child, even when she was really too old to fool with laundry, I would help her rub Fels Napths on stains as a presoak. I felt important, and she had young hands to scrub away. Her linens were always snow white and smelled yummy from drying outside. When I was 4 & 5, the best part was running through hanging laundry.

  15. Wyatt says

    The 5year old ++ washers do not have the computer control boards that the newer machines have. For example the water level control on the new machines goes directly into the control board or a seperate micro circuit attached to the main control IE; Whirlpool Cabrio or Whirlpool front load HE.
    The older machines have a pressure line and air controlled switch seperate from the cycle control or timer if you will.
    The trade off is yes………… more expensive detergent but using much, much less.( Most folks use way too much and damage the machine by oversuds. Still the biggest killer of expensive machines). Say one table spoon per load.,Much less water, less electricity.
    But of course if we have an EMP event this is all moot anyway

    • says

      Just leave the Borax out. I don't use borax just grated pure soap, cup of washing soda and water. I don't use this exclusively I alternate with environmentally friendly washing powder, depending on what I am washing, it still costs me less than using washing powder exclusively.

  16. HollyGoLightley says

    I took your recipe and made three batches of detergent using the Fels Naptha soap and stored in a clear plastic container. Not only was it fun, I felt like I was practicing and preparing for something big. I plan to purchase at least one ingredient every time I go to the grocery store. I have ran 4 loads of laundry, and each load seemd to clean the clothes better than my regular detergent. My husband wants to know the "cost" versus our regular "Tide with Bleach," brand. I need to do some calculations I guess… unless someone else has already calculated the cost savings!

    • Kat says

      The calcualtions I did with the items purchased at my local prices came out to less than $0.01 per load using homemade laundry soap (it is soap, not detergent). I use 1 c washing soda, 1/2 c borax and a full bar of Fels/Zote/Ivory in a 5 gallon bucket. Every once in a while (maybe annually) we’ll puchase the Tide pod thingies to toss in and do a couple of laundry cycles with them.

      I costed out the cost of Arm & Hammer detergent at about $0.25/load and as much as $0.38/load depending on if you added the expensive “oxy clean”er as well.

  17. Wyatt says

    Ok lets talk about practical and frugal. You can save all of the money that you possibly can with home made soap and home made ingrediants. bottom line a washer newer than 5 years and a front load with 25 per cent of the usual water. or less will logically require 75 percent less soap. so ok you buy the big container for $25 bucks but you use 75 percent less you are looking at a maximum of 2 tablespoons per large load 1 tablespoon per small load……less with a water softener. You protect the washer.. a capital investment. or I come out and rebuild it for you for $900 bucks. factor the $900 bucks over 5 yeaqrs against the soap savings……………. mmmmmmmmmmmmmm let me think… $800 bucks…. wow, I saved $100nbucks in soap and only have to pay $800 to rebuild the machine. Wow and holy cow. I must be money ahead. Look at the math folks. It is not rocket science. This is not your grandma's washer. This is an extremely complex electronic device. I will be happy to take you for your money……… really will.
    Point is it doesn't have to be that way. Your machine can last 10 years if you don't load it with crap soap. and crap softener. Thanks folks,

  18. Wyatt says

    last comment. You folks keep me employed and well paid and for that I thank you. I am happy to rebuild your machines all day long. use and over use soap and you will see me at your door.

  19. Xavier says

    Instead of asking why would someone use crap soap, maybe the question should be why buy a crap machine that needs so much babying? My friends hate their front loaders.

    Back to the topic:
    I've used the Borax, Fels Naptha, and washing powered recipe and for the most part I like it and am glad I learned how to make it, however over time my whites seemed a little dingy. Any ideas?

    • Lynne says

      Although wyatt’s comments were a little sarcastic, he has a valid point. I also work for an appliance repair service company. The repairs needed on a front loading machine are typically twice the cost of a top loader, despite the savings in soap and water usage. If you have a 70’s -80’s vintage top load machine keep it running as long as you can….I also have a front loader, and as soon as it dies, I’ll be investing in a top loading Speed Queen. Until then, I am having to use the store bought he soap.

  20. LizLong says

    I'm happy with my front loader.

    I will, however, make a note of the homemade soap in case I am ever forced to use my Wonder Wash. No sensitive electronics there!

  21. MC says

    Do you think if I used ivory bar soap instead of fels naphtha it would work? I’ve written down the recipe for homemade soap in my book of survival stuff but I haven’t actually purchased laundry detergent in almost five years because I get it free with coupons.

  22. StuckOnaRock says

    Just curious how this recipe( with a different bar soap as we do not have Fels where i am) will affect skin if used when handwashing only. I’m moving to a cabin with no electricity, no running water….and my two hands as a washing machine so i need some advice. For those wondering where we’ll get water, light, heat, etc……rain water and fire….like the cavemen. thanks.

  23. Jackie K says


    I would say if you have say if you are hand washing, use a bar soap that will not break you out via the hands. Zote looked okay when I read the label. But I too have to be careful of skin reaction. My grandma always used a hand milled bar soap on her washing board for her delicates. I swear that bar lasted like 2+ months or more of her hand washing on her board. I use to help her as a kid do that in our sink in the basement. I for the life of me can not remember what kind it was, but it smelled good and her clothes were always super white and smelled like spring. IN any event, the bar soap can be changed out but the amount you need may change. Goodluck!

  24. Anne jetton says

    The front loader was the worst investment we ever made. Having said that, I am curious what makes this recipe “bad” for the machine vs. powdered tide? I personally switched to Rockin Green diaper soap after having a baby and wanting a chemical-free detergent. It says HE friendly. I discovered homemade laundry detergent from cloth diaper blogs. I’ve never heard of any problems, and after 2 years tide-less (machine is 7 years) it is ok. Just say in’ if the thing dies, I am going back to top loader because I have never felt that the front loader has gotten my clothes clean with ANY detergent!!!! I also had a tide lovin neighbor have hers catch fire. The firemen told her that front loaders were their no.1 fire starter!

  25. shirley says

    was wondering if i could use extra pure triple milled vegetable soap it has a pomegranate scent instead of the fels the dry soap recipe they are 8oz bars so i’d use 2 instead of the three called the other want to try this…

  26. Denice says

    I have used Zote soap for several years now and would swear by it! It has gotten just about every stain or whatever I have come across out of all different types of clothing.From motorcycle oil in jeans to set in stains that had been through the dryer already and looked virtually impossible on white cotton shirts. I just rubbed directly on stains etc, scrubbed a little with a laundry brush and water til gone or close, then added a little Zote to wash water. Zote is quite a soft soap, it is very pleasent smelling and very,very mild on skin.

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