Natural Homemade Laundry Detergent

April 28th, 2009 - filed under: The Farm » Home



Just 3 months back I wrote the very first Itty Bitty Bonzai about the dangers of bleach, and included a simple recipe for a homemade substitute.  Since then, I’ve been sort of obsessed with diy, non-toxic cleaning solutions.  I’ve tinkered and tested and mixed (and messed) so much, I feel like a modern alchemist!  But the work has paid off, and so finally I’m proud to share this, the first of my many concoctions:   Sayward’s Homemade Laundry Soap

This stuff works great! It’s so much safer than synthetic chemical cleaners, and it’s also quite a bit cheaper than pre-made ‘eco-friendly’ detergents. It’s just five simple, all-natural ingredients.

White Vinegar – Vinegar is simply acetic acid: diluted, mild, and edible, but acid nonetheless.  As such, it will dissolve dirt, mildew, mineral build-up, and soap scum.  Vinegar is something of a wonder cleanser, and you’ll be seeing a lot more of it around here in the near future.  Available everywhere.  

Baking Soda – Baking soda is another amazing all-purpose cleaner, but it’s also an excellent deodorizer.  As well, it softens water and helps to maintain neutral pH so that detergent can work more efficiently.  It keeps your colored clothes from fading and also gets whites brighter.  Available everywhere, but check the bulk bins at your local co-op. 

Washing Soda – Baking soda’s badass cousin.  Washing soda is much more alkaline and cuts oils like a pro, so it’s great in the laundry.  It also helps to deodorize, but fighting grease and stains is the primary purpose.  Look for it in the drug store or supermarket, in with the laundry and cleaning supplies. 

Borax – Borax is awesome!  It’s a natural stain remover and an excellent alternative to bleach, because it’s an anti-fungal/anti-mold and all-around disinfectant.  Coupled with regular soap, it greatly increases cleaning power. Look for it in the drug store or supermarket, in with the laundry and cleaning supplies. 

Castile Soap – ‘Castile’ isn’t a brand, but a type of soap: one that is made using only vegetable oils (as opposed to most soaps which render from animal fat).  So not only is it vegan and cruelty-free, but it’s much easier on the environment as well.  Castile soap is a superior gentle cleanser, and quickly biodegrades.  I use Dr. Bronner’s lavender scented soap, and I absolutely adore it.  Available at most ‘natural’ stores, and many Trader Joe’s. 





1 1/4 cups white vinegar

1 cup baking soda

1 cup washing soda

1 cup borax

1/4 cup liquid castile soap

Mix in a large, non-metal bowl. I re-used (and decorated!) my previous soap tub, which worked great.  Start with the vinegar and continuously stir as you add each powder.  Try to stir out and break up any clumps.  Finish with the liquid soap.  It will seem wet, like a thick paste, but keep stirring and it will begin to flake and crumble into a moist ‘powdered detergent’.  KEEP STIRRING! If you quit too early, you’ll find a very hard mass the next time you go to use it. So use them biceps and stir it to completion. You’ll end up with a sort of soft clumpy cake-y ‘loaf’, that will easily crumble off for use.

If you use plain non-scented castile soap, you may add a few drops of your favorite essential oil.

Store in a lidded container and use about 1/4 cup per load.




Enjoy, and happy green laundering!


  • Sayward Rebhal

    This is what I used on my cloth diapers! With the occasional bioklean oxygen bleach to freshen them up.

  • Xzigalia

    Vegetable oils are NOT cruelty free! Most of time, vegetable oils are palm oil or a palm oil blend (though the US has a lot of corn oil, too). Palm oil is causing massive deforestation, threatening the habitat of the orangutan and has a high carbon footprint. Tallow, on the other hand, is a byproduct of beef or pork from animals that are being slaughtered for food. Unfortunately, vegan does not always mean eco-friendly and cruelty-free. Don’t follow a label or a type of product blindly. Know your origins.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I’d like to see *any* reputable source that would back up your statement that “most vegetable oils are palm oil”.

    Most (like, the vast majority) of commercial vegetable oils are either soy, corn, or canola. icky in their own right, but not imported from the other side of the world, and definitely not contributing to the habitat destruction of orangutans.

    This is taken directly from Dr Bronner’s web site.

    “Why is palm kernel oil now in the liquid soap? Is it sustainable?

    As our company continues to grow, we are able to partner with more and more organic & Fair Trade projects around the world, thereby supporting organic farming practices, fair wages, and economic development. Adding Organic & Fair Trade Palm Kernel Oil to our soaps allows us to support the good work being done by Natural Habitats in Ecuador, where small-scale farmers grow oil palms sustainably and receive a fair price for their palm fruits. Because the fatty acid profile of coconut and palm kernel oils are so similar, they can used interchangeably in soapmaking, where they produce an identical rich and copious lather.

    No rainforest habitat or wildlife is harmed in the production of their palm kernel oil, and Natural Habitats is certified under IMO’s “Fair for Life” program, the most rigorous fair trade and sustainable certification in the world, that also certifies Dr. Bronner’s existing fair trade coconut and palm oil sister companies, Serendipol and Serendipalm.

    Extensive careful evaluation and blind customer trials have confirmed that using a small amount of palm kernel oil alongside coconut oil results in no change to our soaps’ unsurpassed quality. Thus we are excited to partner with Natural Habitiats and small-holder farmers who demonstrate how to produce palm kernel oil sustainably, and support their families and communities over the long-term.”

    I think your heart is in the right place, but you need to educate yourself before you attack people and spread misinformation.

  • Xzigalia

    I typed a reply but it disappeared, so I’ll just re-post the links:
    There are over 200 names for palm oil and its derivatives. Many of these used to be made from tallow and milk but now aren’t, as palm is cheaper and Vegan. The most common ones are Sodium Laureth / Lauryl Sulfate, Capric / Caprylic Acid, Cetyl Alcohol, Magnesium Stearate and Glycerin. Usually these ingredients can be made from animal derivatives, palm and coconut oils (as they can be made into fatty acids), or synthetically. Palm’s usually the cheapest.
    I’m allergic to the stuff, I do know my facts.
    Coffee Creamer, Whipped Topping, soap, shampoo, most cosmetics, and most household cleaners have it. Look for creaminess in Vegan foods. Foaming agents in detergents. Moisturising and lubricating ingredients in cosmetics. I had to look through three countries to find a toothpaste. I wash my hair with baking soda too.
    Certified sustainable is great, but like organic and free-range claims, there is a lot of greenwashing, and often it’s nowhere near as ethical as it seems. I have Vegan friends and we have learned, sadly, that sometimes the Vegan alternative is worse (like vinyl instead of leather, because it pollutes our oceans for thousands of years). But that doesn’t mean that another alternative can’t be found (like natural rubber latex!)
    I’ve had no choice but to look for natural household alternatives due to the mind-boggling number of products palm oil is in. I’m really glad about the discoveries I’ve made, but there is still a lot I can’t find or make yet. It’s in working together that we can find the best alternatives, and warn each other of anything we’re worried about.

  • Eli

    Have you ever thought about using or could you use powdered vinegar??? Thanks thanks

  • Natb

    I have read that Castile soap is a base and vinegar is an acid which cancels each other out. How does the solution not do the same?

  • Melissa Corcoran

    I heard that mixing vinegar and castile soap is not good. I forgot the reason besides when mixed they get clumpy like spiked milk. Buy something along the lines that they are both used for the same reason and when u put them together thwy basically void each other out bis this true? Have you had any issues with mixing or with using in an HE washer?

  • RandyAllison Stapleton

    can this be used in HE machines

  • MyLittleEye

    How I sigh whenever I see a Vinegar + Bicarb household recipe .
    It’s basic school chemistry: Acid + Base = Salt + Water + “Ooh look… Bubbles!” – Essentially they cancel each other out! Better to add the Vinegar in the conditioner tray where it adds separately to the first rinse cycle acting as a softener. If you live in a hard water area, it helps dissolve limescale; far more helpful than dissolving the sodium bicarbonate. And no, curiously your clothes won’t smell like a bag of chips after!

  • Alec Leamas

    Why add white vinegar with the two forms of soda? Doesn’t the washing and baking soda neutralizer the acid in the vinegar?

  • Kaitniss Trust

    Will the results be the same if I replace Borax with Hydrogen Peroxide?

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  • Coral Vorster

    Never ever use Wikipedia. A search engine of LIES. rather go to or for questions.

  • Barbara Smith

    how much of your own concoction are you putting into YOUR HE washer machine? I mean…Can you MEASURE it precisely please and tell us?

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