I made my own homemade laundry detergent for years. At four loads of laundry a day, I estimated we saved at least $120 a year making our own laundry detergent.
Sadly, it’s time to say goodbye. Why? Because homemade laundry detergent doesn’t work! Radical, I know. Read on…
I researched the topic at length. I got some great comments on this post about the dirty little secrets of natural homemade cleaning products, I realized that homemade laundry detergent, being soap based (rather than detergent based), is a problem. The recipe hardly matters. Soap is a terrible product to use on fabrics. On hard surfaces, it’s fine. But on fabrics? It just doesn’t rinse cleanly. This is why detergents were invented – because homemakers were unsatisfied with what they currently had – soap!
Homemade laundry detergent doesn’t work. Eventually, your laundry will look dingy. It will smell “off”. It will grow mildew easily. Your cloth diapers and towels will not be absorbent. And you will have other issues (clogged drains, ring around your washing machine’s tub, etc).
Sometimes it takes several months or even years to really notice what’s going on.
At first, the main issue was that things didn’t look quite as clean as they used to. Then I noticed my cloth diapers were leaking and my towels weren’t absorbent. Not a huge problem with bath towels, but irritating with kitchen towels. When we would try to clean up a spill, liquid would just spread everywhere.
Then I noticed a lingering ring around my washing machine… just like bathtub ring. We all know what causes that. Soap + body oils.
The biggest issue I’m having with homemade detergent? Mildew.
A load of laundry that’s left for just a few hours can end up smelling horrible and require re-washing. Or worse, mildew growth and staining. Yuck! I’ve had to throw away far too many towels and items of clothing, and that is not frugal. It defeats the purpose of making my own detergent.
At first I thought this was just the house I was living in at the time, because it had a very moldy basement (where the laundry station was located), but the same thing has happened in other houses, and in other seasons (not just summer).
I tried changing my recipe. I tried different soaps (natural soaps, castille, even Ivory and Octagon). Nothing helped.
Because it is the soap itself that is the problem.
(Just as is the case with bathtub ring.) As I said earlier, problems with soap are the reason detergent was invented in the first place. Before their availability in the marketplace, women used laundry soap. And it was a far inferior product for washing clothes, which led to the invention of laundry detergent.
The mildew is a result of soap left in the fabric, which gives mold a food source.
I mixed up a separate, soap-free homemade detergent for cloth diapers and towels, and that did help tremendously. My diapers and towels became absorbent again. Because it has no soap!
After doing a lot of searching on the internet, I’ve found that for many people, homemade laundry detergent just doesn’t work no matter what they do. They either make up a soap free recipe (using some combination of washing soda, borax and oxygen bleach, typically) or have to buy a commercial brand.
I think many frugal and/or crunchy bloggers are loathe to come back around and report that the homemade laundry detergent recipe they posted plain doesn’t work. It’s embarrassing (especially because people LOVE these types of recipes and they’re massive traffic generators!).
It’s not our water that causes the problem. According to the water report on the county website, we have soft water here, which should rinse clearly, but it doesn’t rinse out the soap-based “detergent” (a misnomer).
I actually enjoyed making my own laundry detergent. It was fun. A little homemaking alchemy with bubbles and steam. It didn’t feel like a chore to me, and so it was a frugal activity worth keeping. (See: All The Money In The World: A Review)
But if I want clean, fresh-smelling (not with perfumes, just from clean) clothing, towels and cloth diapers, I have to buy laundry detergent.
Homemade Laundry Detergent Doesn’t Work: A few brands to use instead.
Nellie’s All Natural Laundry soda, which I get from Amazon.com since I can’t find it in stores. Nellie’s is the least expensive of the natural detergents I’ve found, and more effective than some of the ones available in stores (like Seventh Generation, which doesn’t work well for many people).
It’s also very cloth diaper friendly, so if I run out of my homemade cloth diaper detergent (a mix of washing soda and oxygen bleach) it’s no problem to use it. (For more information on commercially available detergents that work well with cloth diapers, I recommend this site.)
Plus, the tin is so darn cute! It has that vintage retro cache. Little things, people.
I have also used Charlie’s soap, which is a great value, but something about that company irritates me. They don’t disclose what’s in it, for one, and the label on the product seems snarky to me. (Nellie’s ingredients can be found easily online, in contrast.)
Lately I’ve been buying any “free and clear” laundry detergent I can find that’s priced well, and I combine it with store sales and coupons (including those from apps) to get it cheap. A recent example is here. Pro tip: figure out the price per load to get the best deal, as concentrations and sizes differ. If you can get it at less than .10 a load, that’s a good price. The deal I worked above was .04 a load, a steal.
I order my household cleaning products from Grove, and they also have a nice line-up of natural detergents that actually work. If you click this link, you can get a free $10 credit and a free product just for trying them out! I love putting this part of my life on auto-pilot, saving time and money.
Another post I wrote about why this crunchy, frugal mama doesn’t make her own laundry detergent.
What kind of laundry detergent do you use? Does homemade work well for you?