I purposefully saved this one for toward the end of the series because I LOVE the changes that natural living has made to my laundry routine.
(Guys, I am well aware that this is possibly the lamest sentence I have ever typed on this blog. I AM AWARE.)
But still. Making my own laundry detergent was my first foray into this strange world and I still remember vividly making that first batch and then examining my clothes out of the washer – looking at them, smelling them..and realizing that it WORKED!
I felt like a goddamn wizard!
And that’s what started it all. I had never even thought about the possibility that someone could just make laundry detergent…it seemed so complex that there was a reason we outsourced the job to Tide and Sunlight. And once I realized that it wasn’t complex, it didn’t have to be complex, everything changed.
It began with that laundry detergent and now I make my own shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, body lotion, cleaning products, I mean my GOD! Be careful. Laundry detergent is a gateway drug.
Here we go!
What to Phase Out: Fabric softener and dryer sheets. Get RID of them, y’all! Fabric softener is unnecessary, dryer sheets coat your clothing in chemically-perfumed animal fat. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Skip them altogether and you’ll be just fine, I promise. Use the money you save for a fancy grown-up drink. Totally worth it.
What to Bring In: Plain old white vinegar is a great substitute for fabric softener if you think you need it, a cup or so per wash. 100% wool dryer balls are a fantastic alternative to dryer sheets, without all the weird chemical compounds. This is a great comprehensive tutorial about how to make them, and they’d be a great craft for older kids! If you aren’t crafty, Etsy has a ton of these for sale, and your local Farmer’s Market or health food store might have some as well!
I’ve had mine for years now, and I love them. I sometimes add a few drops of lavender or bergamot directly to the balls if I am machine-drying something, and they add a delicate scent that is just sublime.
Recipe: Laundry detergent! Of course! This is so simple, and if you can operate a cheese grater, you’ve got this in the BAG.
1 bar of Dr. Bronner’s bar soap
1 cup Washing Soda
1 cup Borax
1 cup Baking Soda (optional)
Alright, the first step is also the more onerous: grate the soap. If you have a food processor with a grater attachment you are set, if not, it’s a great thing to do in the backyard while watching kids play, or while binging on Netflix. Use the finer side of your grater and it will make it easier for the soap to dissolve in cold water washes.
(It’s not absolutely necessary to use Dr. Bronner’s, you could also use any natural soap, or even something like Sunlight bar soap if you’re more into the cost savings than the environmental aspect. I’ve used Dr. Bronner’s for years so that’s what I typically recommend. )
Add the grated soap to 1 cup washing soda, 1 cup borax and 1 cup baking soda (the baking soda is optional. I find it helps stretch the detergent further if you add it, and can help with clothes that have stronger odours, like dog towels for example.)
Mix well and voila! You’re done! Use 1-2 Tbsp per load. It’s safe for front loader and high efficiency machines and now you too can feel like a goddamn WIZARD!
Extra Credit: Install a clothesline or use a drying rack. Everyone who knows me in real life avoids the hell out of me in the spring-summer months because basically all I do is wax poetic about the joys of a clothesline. The ritual! The smells! The crisp feeling of line-dried sheets! The neighbour boys perving on your dainties! I mean I know I’m a broken record, but I ask you, what’s not to love??
Look at this business!
I rest my case.
Clothesline kits are available at hardware store for between $20-$40 depending on what length you need, and you can find a decent drying rack for around $20-$30 (DON’T cheap out on a drying rack. It will be flimsy and unstable and drive you MAD! I have this one from the almighty IKEA and it is fabulous and folds down flat for easy storage during the summer months when I use my clothesline)
If you do install a clothesline or start using a drying rack, take a picture and tag me on Instagram or Facebook! I’d love to see our little army of hippies proliferating around the globe 🙂
How’s the series going for you? Any questions? Feedback? We only have ONE more week! I’m going to tack on a post at the end with a source list for anyone wanting to find green sources for all things you can’t make, like toothbrushes, sandals, etc.
Week 1: Intro
Week 2: The Bathroom
Week 3: The Bedroom
Week 4: The Kitchen
Week 5: The Living Room
Week 6: The Playroom
Week 7: The Ladies’ Room
What is Washing Soda?
Washing soda is sodium carbonate – it’s closely related to baking soda, and is great to cut grease, lift stains, and soften water 🙂 You can usually find it in a big box on the bottom shelf of the laundry aisle. In Canada it’s called Arm and Hammer So Clean Washing Soda. I hope that helps!
How long does this detergent last you? Have you ever doubled the recipe?:) have you ever added any essential oils to the detergent ?
I have actually never kept track – but based on 1 Tbsp per load, the recipe without baking soda should last about 44 washes, and with baking soda, 60 washes 🙂 I do laundry once or twice a week, so it lasts a while!
oh! And yes, I usually double it up – I mean if you’re going to be grating one bar of sap you may as well do two! I don’t usually add essential oils, but that’s because I use peppermint or almond Dr. Bronner’s which is already scented – but you totally could!
Hi. I live in Israel and I make my own laundry detergent. Borax isn’t sold here so I use a different recipe, and I make my own washing soda in the oven since that isn’t sold here either. I dry all of my laundry on a cheapo drying rack, and we don’t have a dryer. Many of my friends also do without dryers because the climate is good for drying laundry and electricity is expensive.
I mean this completely sincerely, you win the GOLD MEDAL for hippie achievement! Seriously, you are fantastic! I have never made my own washing soda! You are a BOSS! Can I ask what you use instea of Borax? Someone else was having trouble finding it, and I wans’t able to think of a similar replacement for it!
I love that you are reading from all the way in Israel….the Internets is such an amazing tool for connection 🙂
Does the homemade laundry soap work well on cloth diapers? Does it leave a film?
I used it with Olive’s diapers and I found that it worked really well. I still had to strip them periodically (I just boiled them with a bit of vinegar) and I found that they did stain more when I moved to Alberta, but I hadn’t changed the soap so I think that was more a reflection of the hard water in AB, than the detergent. I didn’t notice any film left on the diapers, but it may differ if you have a different type. (I used gDiapers with Olive 🙂
I live in Australia and find it so weird that you have to encourage people to air dry their clothes. I’ve never used anything else really, and most people I know don’t either. I do realize this is because we are blessed with pretty amazing weather (even in winter we get sun and no snow). Anyway, thanks for the recipe will put it to good use!
I’m with you, I have no idea what “dryer sheets” actually are, haha! But I recently traveled in the U.S. and there are many places where you are NOT ALLOWED to hang your washing outside. Amazing. Can you imagine the outcry if anyone here tried to stop anybody from hanging their washing anywhere they liked on their own property? I live in Tasmania and still airdry all my washing, in spite of having what’s probably the coolest weather in Australia. I just have an additional fold-out line attached to the verandah wall, so it’s under cover and finish things off inside overnight if needed.
Does this washing powder work with front-loading machines, too? I find soap makes too many suds, so I use one of the supermarket enviro-friendly powders.
Yes , it’s very low suds so it works quite well on front loaders! I used to have one, and used this detergent all the time 🙂
Hi. Am loving this series! found liquid dr borax soap online – is this ok to use or do you recommend a bar of soap over the liquid? Am trying to translate everything into what is available in england but getting there. About to move house and hoping to use that to make a new start and incorporate some of your wonderful ideas. X
Sorry meant dr bronners!x
Hi, I really like the idea, I just looked up Borax though and according to Wikipedia (I haven got any further yet) it has been added to ‘Substance of very high concern’ candidate list in the EU and all products imported into the EU must label it with ‘may damage fertility’ and ‘may damage the unborn child’. I need to do some proper looking into it and see if they are talking about high concentrations/exposure and what the evidence is before making it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borax
Hi Rebecca! This is a great run down of what Borax is and if it’s something that should be a source of concern 🙂
It’s definitely not a completely innocuous substance and I keep it out of Olive’s reach (just like washing soda and dish soap) but after doing a bunch of research I feel comfortable using it in my detergent 🙂
I hope this helps!
Thanks Madeleine, that’s interesting. It is hard to know what to believe sometimes and no one can be an expert in everything!
Right? Since when did we need to be scientists to do laundry?! But good for you for asking questions and doing the research. Sometimes it’s the only way to know what the hell is green and what is just pretending to be!
What should I use as a container for my homemade laundry detergent?
I’d suggest something recycled and water proof, a tin or plastic tub?
Thanks Heidi…..I am new to the Eco-friendly lifestyle. Just read through Madeline’s fantastic book and am excited to start making my own stuff. I didn’t see much about storage in the book though, unless I missed it.
Hey Kevin! I keep a lot of the jars from pickles, olives etc. and use them for storage. Pretty much anything with a lid would do!
Ok great. Thanks Madeleine – btw, you are awesome! Keep up the great work : )
I make something similar to this detergent and it works well. I use the ‘Old Fashioned Stain Remover Bar’ from Bulk Barn or from this website:
Shipping is free within Canada, but only if you spend $25 or more. I usually only buy it as an add on if I am getting something else, because it is 10 cents cheaper from the Well.ca website.
I grate it for detergent, and I have a second bar I use exclusively for pre-treating stains. A friend bought me a bottle of baby-safe stain remover when my kids were babies, but the chemicals were so strong, they ate right through the fabric! It is common knowledge that stains are best treated right away, but you can only leave these strong chemicals on for 10 minutes or so before they need to be washed out, otherwise they will break down the fabric. They work well to remove stains, but I can’t be doing a load 5X a day because my kid spill something down the front of themselves again.
These laundry bars are good because you can treat right away, and leave the soapy residue on for days before you wash it out. No damage to the fabric, and it works well. It’s particularly good for the bottom of socks and tights….you know how they come back from school with almost black soles? This takes it right out.
Just a suggestion for a laundry soap and stain remover alternative.