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!


  • Kerstin

    This is a little different from my recipe. I do 1/2 cup Borax, 1/2 cup Washing Soda, 1/2 bar soap grated, 2 gallons water. Heat half of the water and dry ingredients in a pot until melted, add to bucket and stir in the remaining water.

    However, this recipe isn’t all that great on stains, but my clothes get pretty clean regardless. How well does this recipe get stains out? I don’t know where to get Castile soap in my region, but I’ll look harder if I can get some of these stains out with it…

  • Stacey

    Sayward–Yippee for homemade cleaners! You rock!

    Do any of the ingredients act as optic brighteners? (Hubby wears khakis almost everyday so I’m weary!) Can’t wait to make a batch!

  • Sayward

    @ Kerstin – It pulls endless green juice stains out of my son’s shirts, so I’d say that’s pretty effective! =D

    @ Stacey – Hmm, not sure! If you give it a try, will you let us know?

  • Leslie

    My Wife is stirring like a champion – What stamina this woman has – the muscles are working over time! Done- We’ll let you know how it turns out- Happy Day to Ya’ll

  • OrionRed

    While reading this, I though: Why not make it and pour it into ice cube trays? You could just break one off for each load. I guess I’ll have to try it and see.

  • Lisa Lucero

    Just made your laundry soap….it was a lil tricky, I mixed and mixed and the texture stayed the same…paste like, so I let it sit for a while then mixed some more then again let it sit for a couple more hours and mixed some more and I noticed it was drying up. (good sign) then I went to a BBQ and when I came back it was dryer so I mixed some more to get the lumps out and then left it overnite…woke up this morning and it was nice and dry…so then I put it thru a sifter and now it is nice and powdery…can’t wait to try it! Thanks so much….I luv your site!

  • Kathy

  • Abigail

    Hello! Now, I had a hard time finding “washing soda.” I thought I found it, but it turned out to be a big carton of unidentified “Arm & Hammer” powder. I take it that it is laundry detergent in itself from the instructions. Is this washing soda?? The ingredients are sodium bicarbonate I believe. THANKS!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Washing soda is sodium carbonate (as opposed to BIcarbonate) and it should say “washing soda” or “soda ash” on the box.It can definitely be tricky to find! Maybe call around to pool supply stores, as they use it in the water.


  • Cathxoxo

    it’s been 24 hours and still a thick paste .. I had to add some water to break up the rock hard clump – as I was tipping them in one by one, does anyone know if that would cause it not to dry out??

  • Katherine

    I tried your recipe today. Thank you so much for posting such a helpful recipe!!

  • Marie

    I buy Castile soap at Wal-Greens pharmacy and Target.

  • Carole.

    One question as I know my daughter will ask right away. Is this okay for HE machines?

  • Sayward Rebhal
  • Lauri

    I am excited to try this, but am wondering why it has to be made in a non-metal bowl?
    I have a kitchen aid mixer and would like to let it do the hard work of mixing. :)

    Can I just mix it in there and then store in a non-metal bowl after mixing is complete, or will the metal mixing bowl mess it up?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    There’s a concern that the metal will react with the chemicals (like if you’ve ever bleached your hair, they say to use a non-metal bowl), but other people have used their mixers on this recipe and it doesn’t seem to be a problem. Might as well give it a try!

  • Lauri

    Great, thanks! I will post back after I run out of my current batch of homemade detergent and let you know how it goes…

  • Manjari

    I just finished using up my first (doubled) batch of your laundry detergent, so it’s time to make more. I loved it!

    I just wanted to note that it never did dry out for me! I stirred and stirred and stirred; I even threw it in my KitchenAid mixer for a while and let it do the stirring. Finally I just put it into two large yogurt containers and I’ve been been scooping out some of the moist mixture for every load. I do live in Hawaii, where it’s very humid, so that may have something to do with it. At least for this next batch I’ll know I don’t have to bother stirring so much, which will make it much easier for me!

  • mishpuff

    There is a high chance of a chemical fire, thats the reason why. (I own a hair salon.)

  • Darlene Bocek

    I made this today. Well, when we mix it up, it forms bubbles (I suppose that is the CO2), but then those evaporate, I guess. (I’ve heard that carbonated water is useful for removing some stains) I mixed all these dry ingredients and ended up with 10 loads worth (2.5 cups of detergent). I wondered about why to add the vinegar at this point. Am still wondering about adding it along with the powdered soap, so that the CO2 happens in the washer as it is already washing. I was also wondering about the chemistry of having to stir so long. What exactly is happening? Are we waiting for the vinegar to evaporate? For a new compound to form? Would appreciate any pointers or advice from people who know…

  • Lgcatwoman19

    Wonderbar! my problem is finding these natural ingrteedients in my little town without burning gasoline for 40-50 miles. Anything near 22443 zip code? I used to find it almost impossible to find fels Naptha in the d.c. area so you can see how hard it will be for me here without help. Anyone??

  • Sayward Rebhal

    The stirring just keeps the solution from hardening into one solid mass. It’s not necessary for the mixture to be effective. Sometimes I skip the stirring and just chip off my laundry powder with a chisel, as needed. =)

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  • Kristin

    Arm and Hammer tests on animals, and 20 Mule Team borax is made by the Dial Corp., which also tests on animals. You can buy cruelty-free baking soda and borax here:

  • shc7v

    I’m having trouble with this dissolving all the way in my detergent compartment (I use only cold water). Any suggestions? Can I put it right in the barrell?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Definitely – that’s what I do. =)

  • Star

    Did the ice cube tray trick work?

  • Laetitia Russ

    How mush of this do you use per load?

  • Ivy

    Is it safe for hand-washing laundry?

  • Trillyumyum

    washing soda is also called soda ash and you can get it at pool supply stores. I dye a lot and the stuff from the supermarket has bluing and other stuff which messed up the dying process.

  • Ccmadison

    Use 1/4 cup per load but HE washers are only suppose to use 1 tsp of soap-so will 1 tsp wash the clothes?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Haven’t tried it, but I would imagine so.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    This isn’t a HE recipe so it wouldn’t work (I htink), but there’s a HE recipe here:

  • 479efg

    Yes I’d like to know how much per load too please!

  • Sayward Rebhal
  • Leslie Fairman

    many DIY say you only need about 2TBSP per full load, have you found that you don’t need the full 1/4 cup? I’m asking out of curiosity, I may try this recipe next.

  • Leslie Fairman

    many DIY say you only need about 2TBSP per full load, have you found that you don’t need the full 1/4 cup? I’m asking out of curiosity, I may try this recipe next.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I think you could definitely get away with using less. I feel like I use less than 1/4 cup, but I don’t really measure anymore . . . =)

  • Amanda

    I use a similar recipe but have never tried adding vinegar, also instead of liquid soap I grate a bar of Kirk’s castile into the powder mix and put white vinegar in a downey ball as a fabric softener!

  • Hill

    Wow thank you thank you! We live on a budget so this will save us alot! Just awesome! Thank you for sharing!

  • Knicole810

    Borax irritates my hubby’s skin, is there something to replace it with or can it be left out?

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  • Sayward Rebhal

    I think you could probably leave it out – just replace it with one of the other powders. Worth a try at least!

  • Kristina Paraschos

    oook science project went WRONG here.I first added vinegar, then washing soda and baking soda. mixed it well and it smelled and looked nice like puree. BUT while i was putting Borax in the cup (i took about a minute to do that because there were crumbs in Borax and i was braking them) that nice puree became a nice hard rock!!! It was nearly impossible to break!!! i ended up adding the castile soap and warm water to help it dissolve… and then spent forever braking the rocks… whoa… what a difference it can make when you add the ingredients in different order.. i made this before and that didn’t happen.. but i have to say that it wasn’t powder either the first time, it was pretty hard and i had to scrape pretty hard every time when i was putting it into the washing machine.

  • brittany

    So happy I came across this post. Read so many comments and I’m really excited and want to try it….but I need a big bucket like that to make it in . Where to find something like that?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I just used an old laundry detergent container! But any plastic tub would do. If you want BIG, a home improvement store may have something.

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  • Madeline

    For all of those who can’t find washing soda, I’ve read you can make your own by putting your baking soda I the oven. It’s science ;)

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  • Alison Palkhivala

    I’m confused about the vinegar portion. if you mix an acid (vinegar) with something alkaline (baking soda, washing soda) they neutralize each other. So, how can adding vinegar be useful with all those alkaloids? It seems to me that the only way to get the cleaning power of vinegar would be to add it to the rinse cycle. That will also dissolve any of those minerals from hard water that make your blacks less-than-black.