Guest Post: Jen and Ken’s Homemade Laundry Detergent For HE Washing Machines

June 5th, 2011 - filed under: Furthermore » Guest Bloggers

Over the years since I first posted my homemade laundry detergent recipe, I’ve gotten a number of questions about the formula. The most frequent one being: is it HE compliant? And since I don’t have an HE washer (yet!), I couldn’t answer! So thank goodness for Jen and Ken, two awesome Bonzai readers and all-around amazing people who you may remember from this mini MMM many months back. They did the research and the experimentation, and here they present the recipe: modified for HE washer maximum performance. Thanks so much guys!

This is reprinted with permission. You can read the original blog post here.


Since we started working as Innkeepers at Foothills Lodge and Cabins last October, we purchased our initial investment of supplies and haven’t had to buy any additional ingredients since. Running to the store because we’ve run out of laundry soap is a thing of the past around here. And we live 47 miles away from the nearest big box store or large grocery store so if we can find all the ingredients, I know you can too. Okay, let’s get started!

You’ll Need:
A Stove
One Large Stock Pot
A Long Spoon
A 5 Gallon Bucket

2 Cups of Washing Soda (Soda Ash)
2 Cups of Borax
1/4 Cup Dr Bronners Liquid Castille Soap
15-20 drops Essential Oil
Hot Water

A Note:
Some recipes call for vinegar to be added into the detergent, but Ken found it works better when he adds it to our fabric softener slot in the washer. When we do this it rinses through after the soap has, and for whatever reason when we do this we don’t need to use dryer sheets. Even living at 8200 feet where it is VERY dry, we don’t get shocked anymore.

Fill the stock pot about 2/3 full of hot water and put it over medium heat. Pour the Borax and Washing Soda in – give it a stir. It’s not boiling but it’s getting pretty hot so be careful! Add the 1/4 cup of Dr Bronners and the 15-20 drops of oil. Give it another quick stir.

Right before your lovely smelling concoction comes to a boil, remove it from the burner and pour the contents into an empty 5 gallon bucket. Then fill up the stock pot again with HOT water and pour that into the bucket. It will just about fill the bucket, and that’s what you want.

See how it’s almost full? The size of your stock pot might make this a little different, so just remember that the recipe makes 5 gallons, so if you have to add a little more or a little less, that’s okay, just as long as you end up with 5 gallons.

We put our finished product in recycled bleach bottles.

And that’s it! Wasn’t that simple?? Cover the bucket and let it stand over night. In the morning when you take the lid off it will be ready to use. Don’t worry if there are little clumps of stuff in it. That is perfectly normal and those dissolve easily when you start the load. It might look kinda funky compared to that thick, pretty stuff you’re probably used to, but it’s not about how it looks, it’s about how your clothes look, and they will look (and smell) FANTASTIC!


Thanks so much again to Jen and Ken for cracking this code for all the BA readers out there!

If you want to catch up with Jen and Ken you can find them blogging at Rocky Mountain High. You can also follow their amazing journey across America, and you can read their original story here.

  • Lydia

    I use this recipe all the time. We have a HE washer and it works great! We use plain old white vinegar for fabric softener, and hang everything in the sun.

  • Betsy

    What does HE stand for? I’ve never seen the term before.

  • Adrienne Audrey

    I think it stands for High Efficiency. What I’m wondering is why HE washers need special detergent? Can you not use powder detergent in it?

  • Sarah Haar

    Is it possible to use a bar soap (such as Fels-Napatha) instead of the Dr. Bronners??

  • Jen (and Ken)

    HE (High Efficiency) washers require liquid and they use a lot less soap, so have certain formulas that are HE approved. For some machines, it voids the warranty to use anything other than HE soap in them.

  • Jen (and Ken)

    Oh, and yep, you can use a cheese grater and use other types of natural or castile soaps. It works good since you heat up the water enough to melt the little soap pieces. Liquid is just easier and we LOVE Bronners.

  • amber p.

    any measurement guesses per load size?

  • Lydia

    Amber, I usually do about a cup for a load, and 1/4 c white vinegar as a fabric softener.

  • Jen (and Ken)

    Yeah, I think we use a little less than a cup, but that’s close.

  • micmac

    you can actually buy HE soaps in powder form. Just check the box for the logo. Just for your information :P

  • Michellelfrancis1

    hello one quick question very intrested in this buy looking on line i see the dr bonners in tea tree and citrus and tons more is that the right stuff

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Yes, you can get whichever scent (or plain) that you like! It’s all the same stuff. =)

  • Kerstin Moranec

    What does the finished product look like? I followed this recipe and it is very, very thin, like water almost! Is this the way it’s supposed to be, or did I screw up somewhere??

  • Marcia3445

    Any body use this recipe for cloth diapers??

  • Marcia3445

    Any body use this recipe for cloth diapers??

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I can’t speak from personal experience, but I know Jen and Ken use this recipe to launder hotel linens . . . I’m 99% certain it would work great on cloth diapers! (I use my powdered version for cloth diapers and it’s awesome)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I can’t speak from personal experience, but I know Jen and Ken use this recipe to launder hotel linens . . . I’m 99% certain it would work great on cloth diapers! (I use my powdered version for cloth diapers and it’s awesome)

  • Marcia3445


  • Marcia3445


  • Randa

    HE washers need special soaps because of the sulfates. Regular soap bubbles too much and can damage your machine. I used to sell them and that is what the manufactures told me.

    You can use powder in HE machines (at least mine you can), but not all. Most of the new ones you have the option to.

  • Kat

    I have a question about homemade soaps. I make one similar but I use grated bar soap instead of liquid. I was wondering if anyone else has had this problem, I always wash in cold water and sometimes the soap gets stuck on the clothes and I have to rewash in hot to disolve it.

  • Javalux

    I made this with just like it says. Is it suppose to be so watery? I thought maybe it would gel a little?

  • Greenmoser

    I use a dry form of this recipe and the way I get the grated bits of soap really fine by putting all the (dry) ingredients in a food processor and pulse away! Works great for me and my HE.

  • Charlie Holmes

    High Efficiency.

  • Brittany

    Though this recipe is HE specific, can it still be used on top loading washing machines? I just bought a giant bottle of Dr Bronners Peppermint and can’t wait to make a liquid detergent that smells good!
    Also, can this formula be used in a cold water cycle? The only time we do hot/warm cycles are when we’re washing towels or bed linens.

  • Michelle

    Can you use fels-naptha instead of the washing soda?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    This isn’t my recipe so I can’t really answer, but to me that doesn’t sound like an appropriate substitution. Fels Naptha is soap and washing soda is for deodorizing and cutting grease/oil, but it’s not a soap. Just my thoughts though, I could be wrong!

  • Maryc

    Wondering if u can use any liquid soap in this recipe ?

  • Joanna

    How much do you regularly add for each load? We have whirlpool sport HE washer and dryer, so they are slightly smaller in size, but I easily wash 8-10 towels. Thank you!

  • Elizabeth Partney Wright

    Where can you buy the Essential Oil ?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Any health food store, or Whole Foods, or online (Mountain Rose Herbs is great)

  • Melynda

    It’s good that you decided to use the vinegar as a rinse, because vinegar and Castile soap react with each other so that the Castile soap doesn’t work any more. Vinegar is a great rinse for Castile soap but should never be mixed directly with it.

  • MotherEco

    I just had a new washer installed and it’s HE. It specifically says that I need to use powdered detergent. Do I just mix the ingredients WITHOUT the water to make this recipe a dry detergent? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  • MotherEco

    What is the “dry form” of this recipe? Do you just eliminate the water?

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  • Heidi

    We also just tried this for the first time and it’s super watery…any feedback would be greatly appreciated! Can’t wait to try this! Also – how much per load and can I wash on cold?

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Hi Heidi, this is a guest post so unfortunately I can’t answer specific questions, since I’ve never tried the recipe myself. I’m sure you can use it on cold though.

  • darkchocolatekryptonite

    I make my own liquid soap using Fels Naptha,borax and Arm and Hammer washing soda and it lasts a long time with much smaller amounts of the ingredients.I’m not sure how natural all these products are as the Fels Naptha has a pretty strong soap smell. I have heard good things about Dr. Bronners castile soap and so I started using it as a liqiud hand soap but my little one seemed to be having an issue with it and would break out in a rash. Anyone else experience any sensitivities to it?

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  • J dub

    You should use the vinegar separately because I just found out that no matter all the other added ingredients the vinegar will make the soap separate back to its original state. It won’t clean at all. Vinegar is a natural fabric softener anyhow so adding it in the rinse cycle is a great idea!

  • Lora

    I have made similar soap using fels naphtha before but the soda and borax separated and clogged my HE dispenser. This happened even when I stirred carefully every time. We do have really hard water but it’s really time consuming to make enough Brita filtered water to make a batch of soap. Tips, thoughts?

  • luvmysweetboys

    Usually heat wrecks the chemical contsruction of an essential oil. Has anyone tried adding the oil after it has cooled? I’m wondering if the oil will disperse properly in the soap if added later.

  • Anon

    Yes! There is a very popular recipe for this using fels-naptha. Basically like this one but a little tweaking of how much of each you put it depending how much you want to make. The recipe I have calls for: 1/2 cup washing soda, 1/2 cup borax, 1/3 of fels-naptha and essential oil is optional.

  • myriam

    I made this recipe in september and I’m very happy with the results, the money we are saving is fantastic, I love the idea of using an eco-friendly material. But I have to say that I still need to use a stain remover for my 2.5 years old boy clothes. I can’t remove very well food or dirt stains. I’m looking for a ecological recipe for stains remover.
    An other thing that came up 4 weeks ago, is that at the bottom of the bottle of detergent I’m using are some kind of cristal chunks. I belive is the washing soda or borax, but i dont know what is the cause of that. Could you give me some advice? I thought to warm it all againg to get ride of the chunks. would be that a good thing to do? I will have to add more essential iol to the mixture? thanks.

  • mummyrabbit

    how much do I use per load?
    Does it work just as well in a cold wash?
    Does it work just a well without the essential oil?

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