Detergent on a Dime: DIY Liquid Laundry Detergent


Making my own laundry detergent is one of the many cheap things I do that make me feel liberated from the throes of blind consumerism. Nothing makes me feel like I’m sticking it to the man more than finding a way to get even better results from something for which I’ve paid almost nothing. That’s why I love thrift store shopping so much, after all.

Laundry detergent is so darn expensive. Like gas for my car, I never really gave a second thought to buying it. It’s absolutely necessary, after all. Then my sister, Sherri, mentioned that she’d been making her own detergent for years. What a revelation! She has seven children. None of them have clothes that are stinky or unclean-looking. In fact, Sherri’s pretty fastidious. I had to try this myself.

You can find plenty of recipes online, and I’ve experimented with them all. I’ve found the best results with liquid detergent. The powder formulas didn’t seem to work quite as well. The commonalities between most of the recipes are borax, washing soda (this is not baking soda), and some type of mild bar soap. I like my clothes to smell like actual store-bought detergent, so I always add some “flavor” crystals. It’s a little more expensive, but I find it to be a motivator to continue making the stuff myself. I also add some baking soda. I have lots of smelly derby gear and two teenage boys. It’s almost necessary.

The Recipe:

2 quarts water

1 bar soap (I use Fels Naptha), grated

2 cups borax

2 cups washing soda

2 cups baking soda

1 cup scented crystals (Purex Crystals are typically the cheapest)

First, assemble your ingredients. All of these things cost me around $20. I can use them over and over for many batches to come.


Next, grate your soap. I’ve tried Zote too, but Fels Naptha seems to work the best.


Don’t leave the kitchen mid-way through your grating process. Your family may mistake the soap for cheddar.


Add your grated cheddar, I mean, soap…to boiling water. I gave you the measurement of two quarts in the recipe. I almost never actually measure that. You can just fill a medium size pot with enough water to dissolve the soap if you’re lazy like me.


Stir the soap until it dissolves.


Dump your dry ingredients into a large bucket near a sink or hose.


Then, stir the melted soap mixture into the dry ingredients until all are mostly dissolved. I use an old spaghetti spoon. Now add enough water to fill the bucket about 3/4. Keep stirring as you go.


Find a place to let the concoction sit overnight. When you wake up, boom, it will have coagulated into a chunky blob. Give it a good stir again to break up the blobbiness.


Now fill up the containers of your choice with your super-cheap, lovely-smelling detergent. (A funnel would be helpful, but it’s not necessary.) I’d gotten a bunch of detergent on sale just before I started making my own, so I saved those containers. You can also use milk jugs.


Don’t you feel like you’re sticking it to the man now, too? Yay for us!


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