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!


  • Mary Sorensen

    Borax and washing soda can irritate your skin. You should probably leave these out if you are hand washing. Even though they are substances found in nature, they are poisonous and can cause health problems, so be careful.

  • Mary Sorensen

    Remember that borax and washing soda are not food safe, so if you are using your kitchen appliances be sure to wash them very very thoroughly aftward.

  • Pingback: Home Made Green Cleaning Supplies – Safe or Not? | transhawk

  • Pingback: 12 Great Ways to Use Castile Soap | Care2 Healthy Living

  • JM

    The Environmental Working Group rates Borax as an F. Definitely toxic!

  • Pingback: 12 Great Ways to Use Castile Soap - Health Wellness & Beauty Mentor

  • Pingback: Is Borax Really as Green as it Seems? | Care2 Healthy Living

  • Catanya Curry

    I’m a bit confused because you are NOT suppose to mix vinegar and castile soap… Could you please explain how this works, mixing them?

  • Catanya Curry
  • Catanya Curry

    Agreed! I just asked the same question and am not too thrilled to find your unanswered post! The simplest recipe that I’ve found so far and the one I think I am going to try is 1 cup washing soda, 1 cup baking soda, and one finely grated castile bar. Use just under a tablespoon per load and store in tight-lidded container. The poster said it lasted about 3 months, but I’m thinking maybe one for me cause I wash for 5! ;)
    Then vinegar in rinse cycle :)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I don’t know what to tell you. This laundry detergent definitely works, no doubt. I guess if you’re really concerned you can leave out the vinegar, and just add it as a rinse agent? Buuuuut . . . you’re not actually gonna make this, right?

    I’m reworking this recipe anyway since I’m no longer using borax.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Look three posts up. I address the acid (vinegar)-base (baking soda) MYTH multiple times throughout the comments.

  • Melynda

    I reworked my recipe to eliminate borax, too. I had been using a powder recipe similar to this one you posted. I made two new versions, both powder (because I read somewhere washing soda stays potent longer in powder form). The stronger version is 1.5 cups of washing soda and one bar of Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap grated fine. I used the side of my box grater with the pokey things and the soap basically turned to powder. I used the citrus scent of soap and added 10 drops of lemon essential oil. This stronger one is not as strong as the borax recipe, but that’s fine with me because my blacks were fading fast and my new sweater was pilling like crazy. It seems to be strong enough to get clothes clean. For a gentler version (delicate clothes, sensitive skin) I used 1 cup of baking soda, 1 cup of washing soda, one bar of lavender Castile soap, and ten drops of lavender essential oil. I also read Lisa Bronner’s advice on never mixing vinegar with Castile soap and I pour vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser to use as a rinse agent. I’ve used each of these several times and I’m happy with them. I hope this helps your efforts in reworking your recipe!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Ooh thanks for this Melynda!

  • Dani B

    How foamy does this mix get? Is it safe for front load washing machines?

  • LowieC

    I’ve been using this recipe for years now! It’s fantastic for anyone who has a sensitivity to SLS, which is the main ingredient even in most *green* laundry detergents. No more itchy knees, elbows, and armpits! I too was having some clump-y type troubles with the original recipe. The bigger clumps wouldn’t dissolve all of the way in the wash (a problem since I share my laundry facilities with others who are unaware of the awesomeness of this detergent ;-). I accidentally discovered a solution one day when all I could find was solid bar-style castille soap. I ground it in my food processor and added it in lieu of the liquid soap; the result is a perfectly powdery, totally dissolving detergent! (I have used either a whole bar of Kirkland’s or half a bar of Dr. Bronner’s per recipe, both to good effect). Thanks for all your amazing posts, Sayward!!!

  • LowieC

    Also should mention: This is the ONLY DETERGENT that gets the stink out of my S.O’s smelly moisture-wicking running clothes! He tried all of the expensive sports detergents but the stench would never come out! So yeah, now he’s stopped making fun of my “science experiment soap” and lauds me as some kind of 21st Century domestic goddess. ;-)

  • Pingback: Improving the Most Obnoxious of Chores: Homemade, Natural Laundry Detergent | A Concise Slice of Life

  • New mummy

    Borax is poison :( looking for alternatives – anyone got any?

  • WookieWifey

    Hope you still ever check comments here…I was wondering, what exactly IS “washing soda” and is it natural? I’m planning to start making my own laundry soap soon, but I have a genetic skin issue and the more natural, the better…

  • Pingback: Liquid Castile Soap: No Home Should Be Without It! | Self-help Health

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Yup, it’s natural. It’s basically just baking soda that has been heated (you can make it at home basically by *baking* baking soda, haha) and that changes the chemical structure just slightly, so it acts differently in the mix. But still totally natural, and should be okay for sensitive skin.

  • Gazou

    You should look up Borax on Wikipedia, see the section on toxicity.

  • Pingback: 12 Great Ways to Use Castile Soap | ☽◯☾ Your Spiritual Journey Australia ☽◯☾

  • SarahP

    THANK YOU for posting a liquid detergent. As silly as it may be, I was super turned off of making my own detergent b/c I don’t want to grate a bar of soap when there is awesome castile soap already out there in a usable form. :)

  • Pingback: 12 Great Ways to Use Castile Soap » Banoosh

  • Archie

    Just can’t get enough of these “Internet Scientist”..Especially the ones who remind me of “Edith Bunker”. Oxygen is a poison Edith so stop breathing.

  • Marie

    I read somewhere that PH + (you put to neutralize an outside pool) is made with sodium carbonate which is the same ingredient in washing soda.
    Baking soda…………sodium bicarbonate
    Washing soda………..sodium carbonate
    The PH+ for pools…………sodium carbonate
    We don’t have Washing Soda here so I’ve been using that with success.

  • Marie

    Thanks. I was just posting an answer to someone on that. PH + is sodium carbonate and the ingredient in washing soda. We don’t have washing soda here so I’ve been using that with great success. (PH + is the stuff they sell for neutralizing the PH in swimming pools)

  • colleen

    Have you made a new recipe without borax yet?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Not yet, eep! I will definitely post it when I do!

  • Pingback: We Tested It: Black Tea Glass Cleaner | Care2 Healthy Living

  • Pingback: 9 Great Uses for Castile Soap | MCS Living Well

  • Pingback: Thistlekeeping - Thistlewood Farm

  • mhikl

    Sayward, may I suggest that you check out Walter Last’s “The Borax Conspiracy” at

    I have been using Borax in my homemade laundry detergent for years and I and my dog consume it daily in small dosages. It is purported to clean out mites and such from the dog’s fur. My Corgi’s fur gets powdered in it regularly to make sure she is clean of mites etc. I use it to dust my carpets, rake it in leaving it there for a day or two and then vacuum it up. I also use it in a mixture of baking soda, magnesium chloride and iodine added to some water to bathe my skin, daily. (See Mark Sircus) I do not dry it off but let my skin dry on its own. I understand that it is unlikely to be absorbed by the skin, but I have some eczema on my legs which is mostly gone and I suspect it is the borax on the open sores that is helping.

    It is needed for stronger teeth and bones and other functions you will find on Walter’s site. It has anti-fungus, bacterial (slight), mould, parasitical and other good properties. It along with baking soda is my tooth paste.

    I also wipe my walls in my kitchen with a solution of borax and I no longer get those darn little flies sticking around if I miss wiping a spot that has a sugary treat for them and my beer tins no longer house the little pests. Bugs and borax do not get along.

    If thou do make up a laundry detergent recipe nix the Borax, please keep your other one available. I have it by memory and in safe keeping elsewhere but those in the know will want to use the borax recipe. And here, good lady, is another informative site I am sure you will find interesting—the lady does her research.

    Namaste and care,

  • Sara Danielle Marlin

    Can I make this recipe and then add gain fabric softener for the scent?

  • Ninisoxan

    Hi, I’m not a hippie, thought I should clarify first. But I’m looking for ways to clean my house and my family, that are safe for the environment, because that is what I’ll leave for my kids, and ways that will not harm my family’s health
    I heard of making soap with the ashes of the fireplace, just ashes from burnt wood
    Putting those ashes with boling water, in a big bat (sorry, I don’t remember the ratio, think it was 1-3, but not sure) and leaving it for two days, they also gave the tip of placing a potato, to see if it sinks or floats as a way to know if it was ready
    After that they skimmed the solution, getting rid of the water, and were left with a sort of slippery gel that was ready to use as soap, for laundry, dishes and house cleaning
    I suppose the Castile soap would be better for personal use, but this recipe has no chemicals
    For white clothes, if you wash, and don’t rinse but hang dry outside, so the sun can “bleach” your clothes, leaving them all afternoon, specially when the sun is at its strongest, noon, and rewash afterwards, you will have really white clothes
    And for cleaning the house, I just use vinegar and water, the smell fades within half an hour, but it desinfects well
    And for the shower/tub, I mix dawn dish detergent with vinegar, half and half, on a spray bottle, spray on your tub, leave for an hour, and then rinse while whipping, no need to scrub
    Hope someone has the recipe for the burnt wood soap, and hope this helps someone
    Have a nice day to all

  • Liv

    to JM where on EWG did you find that? I always thought borax was very eco conscious if you could give a link I would so appreciate it!

  • Tristan Chris Heiss

    The EWG’s Skin Deep Database lists it as a 5-6 (or moderate hazard), but trying to find the studies they used for their rating proved difficult, and the ones I did find were the nebulous “borax or boric acid” test studies.Borax, also known (most predominately in the way we’re talking about right now) as sodium tetraborate, is a boron mineral and salt that’s mined directly from the ground.

    Borax is not boric acid.

    That’s where the majority of the online confusion appears. With no surprise; at least half of the studies I’ve found and citations I’ve read have listed their testing matter as “either sodium borate or boric acid.”

    The difference between the two is: Boric acid is produced when borax is reacted with another acid (like sulfuric or hydrochloric acid). The result is an acid structure (pH of 5.0), rather than alkaline, as borax is (9.3 pH). (I’m not going to get into the “is boric acid safe or not” question here, because that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.)

    Borax and boric acid are found together in many places, especially volcanic areas where the borax has naturally reacted with sulfur. You can also find both compounds in seawater.

  • Tristan Chris Heiss

    sometimes ‘greenies’ are annoying with their incomplete statements… ;)

  • FrustratedSkeptic

    I love looking for DIY recipes for household chemical products so that I can use a simple set of bulk materials. This reduces cost, is more efficient, and allows me to use ingredients I know are rather benign to both the environment and myself. However, in doing this research I am simply appalled at the amount of ignorance displayed by those claiming to do this research and know how to make such recipes. For instance, a commenter on here mentioned that EWG(environmental WORRY group) rates borax as toxic, which is, forgive my french, complete bullsh*t. Commenters are not the only ones guilty of ignorance of basic chemistry, whoever posted this recipe is as well. Vinegar is acetic acid, and as its name implies it is an ACID. Borax(sodium borate), washing soda(sodium carbonate), and baking soda(sodium bicarbonate), are all BASES. Now, if you took a basic chemistry class, you would know that acid and bases are on opposite sides of the PH scale. Adding an acid to a base reduces the effectiveness of each. This, and the fact that acid is often more harmful to many household objects, is why most commercial cleaning products have a higher PH(they are basic-Soaps, washing soda etc) or are compatible with higher PH products(ethers, solvents).

  • Sayward Rebhal


  • Nancy B

    Washing soda is quite drying to skin, you should wear gloves while cleaning with it- and ANY residue is extremely irritating. It’s a great degreaser- and will strip the oils out of your skin just like it will mdegrase the oven and the barbecue. “Natural” does NOT mean harmless- cholera is natural, smallpox is natural, and your genetic skin issue is natural, too. Read the boxes, people, look it up in Wiki, google it!

  • Sharon

    The vinegar actually clashes with the castile soap – causing the soap to become all oily and yuck.
    If you message the people from Dr Bronner they can give you more information – more accurate information but it is highly discouraged…

  • Sharon

    Using vinegar and castile soap together is highly discouraged.

    Messaging the Dr Bronner website is a good idea :)

  • Sara


    Definitely DO NOT Do this as an acid-base reaction will
    occur between the acetic acid and all the alkali ingredients in the detergent,
    you’ll get a nice foaming reaction, a bit of carbon dioxide will come off, and
    you’ll be left with a useless neutral mix of chemicals. Adding Vinegar
    to castile soap totally will deactivate your soap. Instead, add the vinegar to
    the rinse cycle of your laundry machine, or use vinegar as a final rinse after
    washing your hair with Castile Soap, or even use vinegar as a rinse after
    washing the floor with Castile Soap. But, if you combine castile soap with vinegar,
    just like mentioned above, you will be left with a deactivated soap that is now
    a neutral mix of chemicals. A lot of recipes are floating around the internet
    claiming to add vinegar to the recipe. You will only be burning your hard
    earned money if you do this. Vinegar is totally meant to be used after the initial
    application of the castile soap, and then the vinegar will wash down any leftover
    soap reside and so on…

  • the rose

    thanks for letting me know that Borax is toxic also it is not cruelty free. so u know by the warning lable on the product hundreds of animal had to suffer to make and package this product. so if u love animals for gods sake please look for the cruelty free sign or a picture of a rabbit.

  • Steve Medeiros

    Some washers get enticed to buy laundry detergents in store because of its artificial fragrance. However, artificial fragrances can trigger asthma and allergy.

  • mummyrabbit

    I want to modify this recipe to take put the washing soda and borax, so how much of the other ingredients do I use?

  • Jamie

    Has anyone tried this with cloth diapers?