RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—In an age of 24-hour supermarkets and convenience stores on every corner, it seems a bit archaic to be talking about homemade laundry detergent. Unless you're looking to be liberated from petroleum-based chemicals, chlorine bleach, artificial fragrances, and "optical brighteners" of unknown origin. You also get to be more flexible and change your homemade formula based on your washing machine and the hardness (or softness) of your water—and it's one less plastic bottle or cardboard box you have to recycle.
It's really easy to whip up your own effective homemade (and very inexpensive) laundry liquid or powder because the ingredients are really basic and you probably have at least two of them at home already: bar soap, borax, and washing soda. When it comes to choosing your soap, look for one made without moisturizers (the oils will stick to your clothes) or artificial fragrance. Many recipes for DIY laundry soaps call for a strong commercial laundry soap bar such as Fels Naptha, Zote, or Octagon, but commercial soaps like these often contain the same petrochemical additives and fragrances you're attempting to avoid by making your own detergent. You can either grate a plain bar of soap or purchase plain soap flakes online.
Finally, avoid commercial fabric softeners, which are loaded with even more petrochemicals and artificial fragrances, and they can leave a film on clothing fabrics that makes them look dingy. Save your health and your money and add plain white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser to remove any soap residue and soften your clothing.
Easy Laundry Liquid
(works well in any temperature wash water)
1 cup + 2 quarts warm water
½ cup soap flakes or plain bar soap, grated
½ cup borax
½ cup washing soda
1. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a saucepan, add the soap flakes or gratings, and stir until the soap is melted. To speed the process, you can keep the pot on low heat until the soap melts.
2. Pour the melted soap into a large glass jar or jug and add the borax and washing soda. Stir or shake well until everything dissolves (I have a 1-gallon glass jug with a lid I use).
3. Add the 2 quarts of water and stir or shake until well mixed. Store with the lid on.
4. Shake your detergent before each use. The mixture thickens up and gets really goopy—that's just the way it is—and shaking breaks up the clumps and makes it easier to measure out. Use 1/8 to ¼ cup for each load of laundry, even if you have a front loader. This mixture doesn’t suds much, which is the concern with regular laundry detergents in front loaders.