Laundry detergent is expensive, but DIY laundry detergent costs less than $2 for a 5-gallon batch that can last a family of six for two months.
If you buy conventional detergent, you’re paying at least $17 for only 1 gallon. This means you save $50 per gallon of DIY detergent!
The good news is it works awesome, smells great, and is so much more gentle on your clothes and the Earth. The other good news is when you care about the environment and your bottom line, you win on both with DIY laundry detergent. And it’s quick and easy to make even if you’re not a DIY kind of person.
Making your own DIY laundry detergent
We’ve been making our own DIY laundry detergent for ten years now. In that time we’ve saved thousands of dollars, spared over 100 plastic containers from going into the landfill, and helped the fish by not polluting the waterways with toxic chemicals.
Okay, I lied.
We haven’t been making DIY laundry detergent. My husband has been making it. His original recipe can be found here. But since he published it, he’s been perfecting the art over all these years.
So, without further ado, here’s my DH’s DIY laundry detergent recipe in his own words, a recipe that anyone can make.
DIY Laundry Detergent: A Penny a Load
by James di Properzio
I like DIY things
I like Do-It-Yourself things…as long as they’re easy. When we bought our first house, I fixed things using the only tools I had: those on my Swiss Army knife. Once I realized some things can be fixed faster than calling in a repairman—and that you can’t do anything without Vise-Grips—I felt more in control of my world.
I hate running out of laundry detergent. With four kids who all wore cloth diapers, we were sometimes doing a couple loads of laundry a day. Making our own laundry detergent not only brought the cost of detergent down to about a penny a load, but it meant I could make 3 gallons at a time. When we run out I whip up another 3 gallons in just a few minutes—less time than it would take to drive to the store.
Want to pay $1.39, or $52?
The washing soda, borax, and liquid soap I use cost $1.39 for 3 gallons of detergent, which does 100 loads of laundry. By comparison, the most popular brand of detergent in the store costs $52 for 3 gallons. Load per load, that’s $.17 for the brand-name detergent, and just over a penny for my recipe.
Ingredients for DIY laundry detergent
- 1/2 cup washing soda (Cost: $4.12/box. Buy it at any hardware store or on-line)
- 1 cup borax (Cost: $0.22/ounce. Buy it at any hardware store or on-line)
- 3 oz. Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap (or grated bar soap, or soap flakes)
- 90 drops organic essential oils for fragrance (optional). I use 30 drops each of lemon, orange, and lavender oils, for a very light clean-laundry smell.
Also needed for DIY laundry detergent
- A 5 gallon plastic bucket*
- Hot water (I boil ours in the electric kettle)
- Water to fill the bucket the rest of the way (I use the gray water we catch in our shower, as long as it’s clean)
- Something to stir with, like a long wooden spoon
*We have a bucket we got for free when we bought bulk tofu years ago (when we were eating a heck of a lot of tofu).
Step-by-step directions (it’s super easy)
- Pour a quart or two of hot water into the bucket.
- Add the wash soda, borax, and soap
- Fill the bucket up to 11 liters of water (many are marked in liters, or in quarts, which is close enough)
- That’s it. You’re done!
You can use the DIY laundry detergent right away if you need to but it’s best to let it set for a few hours. Overnight, the chemical reaction will finish If you use grated bar soap or soap flakes, there will be a nice gel on the top, and the liquid underneath. If you prefer more fragrant detergent, you’ve got two choices: Add a tiny bit of the conventional stuff to your load (a tablespoon or two is all you need) or use more essential oils in the recipe above.
How to use your DIY laundry detergent
Scoop up a half cup for each load. Works great in cold water, and cleans as well as any detergent I’ve used.
In over ten years we’ve maybe done 3 loads of hot water laundry. Turns out cold gets your clothes just as clean.
A note about the soap: you can use any bar soap you have in the house or even soap ends (3 oz. is a typical size cake), and shave it into the hot water with a cheese grater until it dissolves. That takes some elbow grease and if you don’t have a dishwasher it’s a bit of a pain to clean the grater by hand afterwards. Or you can save yourself the grating—which is the only step that takes any effort—and just use soap flakes from a box or Dr. Bronner’s.
You get to do chemistry in your kitchen, and the reward is finding the finished liquid detergent in the morning!
Thanks to Frugal Kiwi for first turning me on to DIY laundry detergent and opening my eyes to what a ripoff commercial laundry detergent is.
~James di Properzio
Updated to add: If you’re in Europe and you use the metric system:
12 liters total water
125g washing soda
And if you don’t want to use borax (which is safe in detergent, you just don’t want to eat it): double the washing soda and
add half a cup (125g) of baking soda
Published: July 16, 2020
Last update: March 5, 2023