Sunday, September 29, 2013

DIY Laundry Soap

Why would you want to make your own washing powder? It's not like it's a rare commodity; any grocery store carries it. No one, I assure you, is selling washing powder on the black market, and I'm pretty damn sure that people are not being taken hostage for a ransom of powdered washing soap. 

What I have noticed about the average commercial laundry detergent is that they can be quite expensive, quite questionable regarding their ingredients, and quite overpowering in smell.

Having a few relatives who find fragrances overpowering, being aware of the fact that there are many people allergic to washing powders, and personally finding most chemical scents an assault on the nose and sinuses, I decided that it would be worth trying to make my own, and see if I couldn't remedy the situation.

There are lots of different ways to DIY laundry soap. Like all things, there are as many recipes as there are people making them, so if one doesn't work for you, another might. That's part of the fun in the process, right?

There are a couple ways you can make it, as a powder or as a liquid gel, but as I have limited space to store things, having big buckets or jugs of liquid is a bit cumbersome, so I prefer the powder version. 

It's easy! Check it out, I'll give you a list of the ingredients I use, and what they do for the washing powder.

Washing Soda

Washing soda is also known as "sodium carbonate". It's a water softener, which means it keeps the minerals in hard water from interfering with the effectiveness of the detergent, unlike baking soda, which is mostly a deodorizer and a fabric softener. It can also be used to remove grease, oil and wine stains, which is good news for my hubby's work shirts! (Why he wears white shirts in a dirty warehouse, I'll never know...)

I'm not saying you can't use baking soda; you're free to throw some in there if you feel like you need it. I'm just telling you the difference.

Fun fact: you can make washing soda (sodium carbonate) at home! All you need is a baking soda, a pan, and your oven. Holly Homemaker has some good instructions:


Borax is a somewhat debated ingredient. Some people swear to it safety, others will shout that it's terrible for you and the environment and everything. It took some looking around on the net, but I think that it's a common sense matter. Sure, it's safe enough... just don't eat it, and in case you have kids or pets that might get into it, put it someplace where they can't get to it. Also, I wouldn't use it wholesale in my garden... but I might use a small amount to cure an ant problem (I have never actually had an ant problem bad enough to warrant the use of borax; I'm just sayin'.) If you don't want to use Borax, there are plenty of recipes out there that don't require it, and you can make those instead.

Borax has a mild bleaching effect (more effective in hotter water, according to but also helps to increase cleaning power, disinfects, inhibits and kills unwanted pests. 


Soap, for those familiar with making it, is a fat or oil that has been broken down by a strong alkaline solution (in most cases, sodium hydroxide, which is lye). It is used as a surfactant, which means that it takes some insoluble materials, interacts with them, and makes them soluble (water washable, basically). The simplest way of explaining it is adding a bit of dish soap to wash water with oil floating on top. The detergent works to break up the oil, making it "disappear". Which is why you can washing dishes by hand and still end up with clean, non-greasy plates.

Soap comes in many forms, but I suggest the use of the simplest types. I made my own lard soap to use for the laundry powder, but I have used the store brand laundry soap bars at the store. You can also use Fels-Naptha or Zote soaps, or just plain Ivory soap. I prefer unscented soaps myself, so my plain lard soap worked well for this. Use a microplane grater to get a nice fine shred to the bars.

Alternatively (although I haven't tried it) you can use soap flakes. The average bar of soap is 1 to 1 1/2 cups of grated soap.

Essential Oils

This is the first batch I've made that used essential oils. To be honest, I didn't consider it until I saw the latest episode of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, where the woman who later turned out to be a murderer used eucalyptus oil in her washing powder because it "killed the germs". So I thought "Ah! Brilliant! I'll add some to this next batch."

Eucalyptus oil is a deodorant, antibacterial, antiseptic, and antimicrobial agent. Pretty cool, eh? And it smells great! (I love the smell of eucalyptus personally.) As a side note, I also use it in my cleaning spray, but that's another blog post (maybe).

I also used Tea Tree oil. Now, this is also personal opinion, but I don't like the smell of Tea Tree oil as much, but it doesn't mean it's not effective against bacteria, fungi, and viruses, according to several sources I found. It's also claimed to stimulate the immune system. I just hope it acts to keep the mildew down.

Now, for the recipe! It's easy peasy.

For a single batch, you need:

1 cup washing soda
1 cup Borax
1 bar of soap, grated (approximately 1 to 1 1/2 cups)
Eucalyptus and Tea Tree oils (other oils can be used if you so desire)

Mix all the ingredients together, breaking up the lumps as needed. Add as much of the essential oils you feel the batch needs to smell the way you like. Mix in well to incorporate the scent throughout the dry mix. Store in an air tight container (in my case, a wonderfully re-purposed Moccona instant coffee jar). I keep it in the wash house, on the shelve above the washing machine with a Tablespoon measure scoop in it.

To use, use 1T for a lightly soiled load, and 2T for heavily soiled clothes. It seems to work well with cold water, and leaves the clothes smelling fresh without an overpowering fragrance. Overall, it's easier to measure out, so you have less waste, and your batch lasts much longer, thus making your overall cost quite cheap.

If you want to know what you're using in your life, I think the best thing to do is to make your own. So go make your soap, enjoy the lightly pleasant smell of clean washing, and keep living, learning and loving!

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