The Benefits Of Making Your Own Laundry Detergent

Back in April, we talked about making your own laundry detergent. Gather washing soda, grated bar soap, borax and boiling water and you can avoid the store-bought stuff. Whether or not it’s worth making the product yourself is up for debate.

Ultra-frugal blogger Girl with the Red Balloon put the practice to the test and found that the savings was paltry, knocking only $23.88 a year off her laundry soap-buying budget. She spent only 33 minutes making the soap, and invested $8.57 in ingredients.

Despite the unremarkable impact on her finances, the writer finds soap-making to be worth it because it lacks those nauseating fragrances manufacturers insert into their products and it doesn’t irritate her skin. It’s also worth noting that large families who do laundry constantly will find laundry soap-making more lucrative.

Homemade laundry detergent: Time invested [Girl with the Red Balloon]

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  1. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    It might be a fun project to do with kids for science, but I can buy detergent from Meijer in huge buckets and already save a lot off name brand. I have NEVER used name brand detergent. I don’t think Tide is any different than the stuff I use.

    • Krazycalvin says:

      I barely trust the name brands as it is… How can you put faith in the materials used in the bargain brands!?

      • theduckay says:

        why don’t you trust them? Its just laundry detergent…you’re not ingesting it or anything haha. I guess if you’re really sensitive to certain chemicals or something then it might matter…but honestly the $5 bottle of detergent I use cleans my clothes just as well as the $15 bottle of Tide or something.

        • mbz32190 says:

          I never touch Tide either and I can’t understand why people would pay $7 or so for a small bottle, when the local grocery store routinely runs Arm & Hammer or other sub-name brands for $1.99 for the same amount. I don’t roll around in mud or grass, but my clothes still come out clean and smelling fresh.

          • Firethorn says:

            Going back to what asphaltzeppo said – it might be reasonable to keep a premium stain remover like Tide around for when you actually have stained clothes, and use the cheaper stuff otherwise.

            I mostly use ‘ALL free&clear’. It’s not that expensive and works well enough.

    • asphaltzeppo says:

      When I was about 7 years old, I did a science experiment on laundry detergent to determine which of the name brands was the best. Tide won hands down at stain removing. This was back in the 80’s. Not sure if it is still true. Now, I just make sure to use Zout stain remover and whatever detergent is in the house.

    • cowboyesfan says:

      Tri-sodium phosphate is only $4/lbs at Home Depot and it turns the cheapest detergent into the best.

  2. dakeypoo says:

    No thanks, I’ll just go to Costco, spend 20 bucks, and have enough to last me through the year.

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Those will allergies or are ultra-sensitive to regular detergents would find this most useful. Probably not the rest of us though.

    • SkokieGuy says:

      It’s all a matter of what’s in the bar soap you grate up. Many soaps of full of irritants, fragrances and such.

      For those who are sensitive, using plain old vinegar in the rinse cycle will help significantly reduce any soapy residue.

    • kobresia says:

      Costco has Boulder Detergent, which is super Eco-tree-hugger and hypoallergenic, and reasonably inexpensive. Though maybe that’s only carried by the location here near Boulder.

      Granted, I’m not sure it actually does anything, either. I’ve had that problem with some of the “*-free” detergents I’ve purchased in the past, which I thought would be easier on my septic system than the more standard ones like Tide and Cheer.

    • Ryno23 says:

      I’m quite sensitive to regular detergents but find that the fragrance-free versions of commercial brands work just fine for me – so I’d never spend the time to do this either.

  4. neekap says:

    I’ve been doing this for over a year. I’ve gotten it down to about 20 minutes of prep time to make enough to last for about two months and it works great. My clothes just smell clean without any extra fragrances and it’s still way cheaper than the name brand stuff.

  5. Swins says:

    I get paid enough that 33 minutes of my time, is worth WAY more than $23.88 and it doesn’t seem she calculated her time to buy the stuff, the driving around etc.

    I can pick up frangrance free detergent with a coupon very quickly and cheaply.

    • dakeypoo says:

      Why don’t you just tell everyone how much you make? We all want to know.

      • Power Imbalance says:

        According to him it’s at least ‘WAY MORE’ than $48/hr…

      • nugatory says:

        when I was at university I was working multiple jobs and only had 2-3 hours spare a week. I wouldn’t spend those few hours I could sit and read, catch up on sleep, etc. doing anything for money. It had to be something to help relieve the stress.

    • whogots is "not computer knowledgeable" says:

      I used to make that calculation when I was a work-all-you-want contractor, and it worked well. For salaried folks, especially those in situations where taking a second job isn’t a good idea, the math is more complex than that.

      Or maybe it’s less complex: When I’m at home, I’m not making money. What I make during the day is irrelevant — $191.94 saved is $191.94 earned.

      (That said, I use Charlie’s Soap, which is super cheap, comes in a teeny tiny container, and confers the same health and environmental benefits as homemade detergent, so I am not planning to mess with this stuff.)

  6. Swins says:

    PS I wonder if she paid to use that photo on her website? She didn’t create it, she is violating an artists copyright

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      Isn’t that a Banksy?

      • Damocles57 says:

        It is a Banksy and by his own permission people are free to use his images as long as it is not for commercial gain. Doesn’t seem as though our blogger is using it commercially.

        At least she is not using it as commercially as all the coffee cup makers, t-shirt sellers, and post card vendors who use the same image to sell their products.

  7. PunditGuy says:

    You’d have to do a crap ton of laundry to make it worthwhile. It’s so much easier to just use 1/4 to 1/8 of the recommended amount of the store-bought stuff per load.

    • Damocles57 says:

      I have brothers and sisters with lots of kids who do a “crap ton” of laundry and so it would be worth their while. I live alone and I am 1/4 of the way through my last batch of laundry detergent (3.5 gallons) and like the fact my material cost is about $.70 gal. And I do not have the same skin issues with my detergent that I do with commercially manufactured stuff.

      It would be similar to people who brew their own wine or beer when they could buy cheaper wine or beer. Sometimes it is an issue of quality, sometimes an issue of a challenge, sometimes an issue of just liking to do it. There are people who bake their own bread, sew their own clothes, or catch their own fish.

      I am looking forward to my next batch of laundry detergent to try different ratios of ingredients and a different bar of soap. Maybe I’ll do a couple of loads this weekend to get me a little closer.

  8. whogots is "not computer knowledgeable" says:

    Jesus, Phil. The $191.94 figure is the amount she’ll save over the lifetime of the ingredients she bought. The total cost of the ingredients was $8.57.

  9. ahecht says:

    Apparently, “Girl with the Red Balloon” has never heard of Tide Free & Gentile, All Free & Clear, Era Free, Cheer Free & Gentile, or any of the store-brand “Free” detergents that don’t have dyes and perfumes, yet do have the stain-fighting enzymes that the home-made stuff is lacking.

  10. Steeb2er says:

    #corrections

    She says she’ll save $191.04 over the life of the ingredients; They cost her $8.57 total, per her post (http://girlwithredballoon.blogspot.com/2011/09/about-that-laundry-detergent.html)

  11. SomeWhiteGuy says:

    My wife and I have been using this recipe for the better part of the year. We find it works very well for our family. None of us have allergies and don’t really have skin sensitivities. We like the simplicity and the control it gives us.
    My wife stays at home and likes to make things for a productive household. This gives her a way to do that and it’s not all that complicated. We also make our own dish detergent. It saves us a bit and she’s happy.

  12. Tim says:

    I live in an apartment building, so making my own laundry detergent would be stupid. How would it lug it to the laundry room?

    My system takes care of that AND the stupid dyes and smells: All Small & Mighty. It’s 3x concentrated, so it’s in a tiny bottle. And it’s available in a dye- and fragrance-free version. And it only costs about $4 per 32-load bottle!

  13. sirwired says:

    Look folks, P&G, Unilever, etc. do not have extensive research labs and large teams of chemists on staff solely dedicated to coming up with new combinations of fragrances. All those hi-tech syndets, enzymes, phosphate substitutes, etc. are in there for a reason.

    Yes, soda, soap, and borax will get most of the grunge out and leave your clothes smelling fresh. But it won’t work on many stains, is rather poor at preventing long-term sebum staining (a.k.a. ring around the collar), and contains no brighteners or bleach substitutes to help preserve/enhance color.

  14. Traveller says:

    We made our own for a while, and I didn’t recall it being that expensive, however, my wife made a mistake that did end up costing us. She used our calphalon hard anodized stock pot to make a batch (I had used our older aluminum pan that was smaller) and it took the coating off ruining an $80 pot (we had gotten it on sale so we didn’t pay that much, but replacing will cost that much)

  15. Quixiotic... Yea it's a typo (╯°□°)╯彡┻━┻ says:

    And for those who have H.E. Washers this seems pointless.

  16. travel_nut says:

    How did she spend $191 on ingredients?? I only spent about $20 on ingredients–$8 for washing soda, $9 for borax, $1 for soap–and it made me 25 or 30 gallons of soap. Making a batch takes me half an hour, and I make two 5-gallon batches (one for me and one for my mom) every 6 or 8 months.

    Anyway, I’m a huge fan of the homemade detergent. I have a husband who’s a mechanic, and a toddler, so we go through a LOT of laundry soap!

    • Frankz says:

      Read her article, and several comments in this one above yours, and you’ll see that she SAVED $191, and only spen $8.57.
      The Consumerist author of this article misread that.

  17. Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

    I like the fake ass apple blossom river fresh clean scent that I get with my store brought stuff. Its also how I tell the clean pile from the dirty pile. Worth every penny…

  18. mandarynn says:

    Phil should write for Good Housekeeping and not the Consumerist.

  19. jojo319 says:

    On a similar note, anybody who is NOT happy about the federal ban on TSP in dish detergent can add their own. Buy a box of it at Home Depot for a few bucks, and it last forever. My dishes are always spotless no matter what detergent I use. And for those who are worried about it’s environmental impacts, it is used in all kinds of things. Including food.

    • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

      When it’s in food, I doubt it comes out as TSP.

      • jojo319 says:

        Food additive

        Trisodium phosphate is approved as a food additive in the EU[7] and other countries. It has the E number E339 and is used as an acidity regulator in a variety of food products.

  20. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I’m one of the cheapest, er frugalist, persons I know. I will not make laundry detergent. I buy it on sale, in bulk, and will even score some at our neighborhood plastic recycling center, but I am not going to make detergent. I love the smell of Gain tropical (whatever the green stuff is) and I use it sparingly on my work clothes.

  21. Not Given says:

    If you have a dishwasher you can mix in a little bleach and use it for that, too. I read that somewhere.

  22. SporadicBlah says:

    Or don’t use any at all! Laundry detergent is a relatively NEW thing. 50 years or so. Before that people got their laundry clean with water and scrubbing. I have cut WAY back on the amount I use and I find my clothes are just as clean and LAST LONGER. Which makes me wonder if the detergents are actually weakening the fabric fibers. I use less than 1/4 of the recommended amount and my clothes come out clean, fresh and smell like…..water.

    • sirwired says:

      No, people did not get their clothes clean with just water and scrubbing. Soap, in some form or another, has always been used to clean clothes, going back centuries. (My Mom, a historian specializing in mid 19th-century America, even has a whole book about nothing but laundry.) And modern laundry detergents have way more than just soap… (enzymes, brighteners, bleach substitutes, phosphate substitutes, etc.)

      Water simply does not clean any substance containing oil. (Oil and water don’t mix, remember?) This includes sebum, the yellowish excretions from your skin that keep it moist, and also stain whites yellow. If you tried to clean your clothes with only water, it’s doubtful you’d even get them smelling fresh, much less keeping them clean-looking. Soap also helps to hold solids (like dirt) in suspension, keeping them from clinging to your clothes, but the syndets used in modern detergents are much better at it than soap is.

      • SporadicBlah says:

        ok. I admit I was wrong. Laundry soap production started between 1914 and 1919. So it was 97 years and not 50. Prior to that we used water and scrubbing.

        • SporadicBlah says:

          and bath soap

        • sirwired says:

          See my later response above: We most certainly did NOT use “water and scrubbing” to clean clothes prior to syndets. A variety of chemicals beyond soap (which, by the way, you failed to mention in your original post) have been used for centuries to clean clothes: potash lye, stale urine, dyes, etc.

          Specific “Laundry Soaps” are new because we discovered modern chemistry. Modern synthetic detergents (a.k.a syndets) are WAY more effective than just ground-up common soap. Even when you add Borax and Washing Soda to that soap, it still doesn’t even approach the grunge-fighting abilities of any half-way decent detergent. We now use syndets for most things soap used to be used for: shampoo, dish soap, hand soap, even many bar soap now sold is made of syndets instead of Sodium Tallowate. It’s not because there has been some major run on Tallow (rendered beef fat; the fat source for most pre-modern American soaps, and still used in Ivory, among others); it’s because the syndets simply work better. They clean better, are gentler on skin, rinse cleaner, etc.

    • sirwired says:

      Because I’m helpful:
      http://www.nps.gov/fosc/forteachers/laundress6.htm

      Summary:
      mid-19th-century laundry involved:
      Lye for most stains (and you thought Tide was harsh… imagine scrubbing your clothes with Draino!) Clay or Chalk to try at grease stains. (Fun fact, the Romans used stale urine (converts into Ammonia when left out) for stains.)
      A 1-2 day soak in soap
      Scrubbing in soap, involving repeated scrubbing and wringing
      Boiling the clothes to get them rinsed; soap doesn’t dissolve well in cold water.
      A 2nd rinse.
      Air drying… the sun helped to bleach the white clothes a little bit, since they didn’t have Clorox.

      This is certainly more than “water and scrubbing”!

  23. The Slime Oozing Out From Your TV Set says:

    I alternate between ‘free’ (as in no dyes or fragrances) detergent and soap, every other load, using a vegetable peeler to add the soap. Actual soap, mind you: coconut oil, water, and lye, made with 20% superfat.

    Detergent works for many stains, but tends to leave either a bit of itself, or maybe some gummy stuff that should have been washed away, on the fabric, which just doesn’t feel right after a few loads, and then that tends to attract lint and pet hair. Yuck.

    I’m not too sure about saving much money, though. Detergents are affordable at warehouse type stores, such as Sam’s and Costco, and at discount stores, and are an item where you can actually save quite a bit with coupons. Meanwhile, the custom-made detergent is labor intensive, and you can also easily get some washing soda, borax, or soap to help out every now and then for when your detergent may not be quite good enough.

    • The Slime Oozing Out From Your TV Set says:

      With no edit button, I would add to the last paragraph:

      Finally, laundry detergents are made to keep your clothes from staining from your own sweat, oils, and waxes, which home-made detergents are not likely to be quite as good at. If you are using the recommended amount of detergent in every load, you are probably wasting quite a bit of it. Save the line on the cap (or spoon) for loads with major stains.

  24. gman863 says:

    Although I normally favor store brands to save money, I stick with Tide for laundry. If you are a Consumer Reports subscriber, check the laundry detergent ratings – there is a big difference in cleaning power. Blowing an extra 20 cents per washload on Tide is more economical than trashing a $20 shirt because a stain won’t come out.

    If you want to save and avoid perfumes, ixnay the Downey and use white vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser. It softens fabrics by removing detergent residue in the rinse cycle at under $2/gallon.

  25. Difdi says:

    Or you could just buy the Free & Clear version of your favorite big brand laundry soap.

  26. SamEBates says:

    My stepmother tried this and it ended up giving my 14-month-old niece a rash all over her body. Now we’re sticking to Free and Clear.

  27. ceez says:

    someone send this to 19 kids and counting.

  28. DragonThermo says:

    I thought that household soap making went out of style after the Great Depression? Although I seem to remember Granny on “The Beverly Hillbillies” making her own soap in the backyard.