How to Make Laundry Soap for Three Cents a Load

DIY Cleaning Supplies: Laundry Soap

Have you been wanting to make your own green cleaning supplies? Here’s how to make laundry soap that’s eco-friendly and only costs three cents a load!

Fels Naptha Laundry SoapWhen my little girls were just babies in cloth diapers, I spent a lot of money on eco-friendly, clean-rinsing, free and clear laundry detergent. The amount of money that our family saved by using cloth diapers way more than made up for the gourmet laundry detergent, but in the name of frugality, and since the girls’ cloth diapers have long since been passed on to other mommas, it was a habit that I needed to kick.

Today, my six-year-old daughter makes our family’s laundry soap as part of her household chores. It’s not a regular chore, since this five-cup recipe lasts us about three months at a time, but it’s an easy recipe, and it’s fun to grate the soap and whisk the ingredients.

Our laundry soap recipe costs us between three and four cents a load, depending on whether or not I put in any fancy extras. It’s made entirely from ingredients that we already have around the house, lives in a pretty Mason jar with a fabric top, and cleans our clothes as well as a store-bought laundry detergent. Here’s how to make it:

How to Make Laundry Soap

Fels Naptha for homemade laundry detergentIngredients:

1/2 cup washing soda. We also keep this on hand as a fabric dye fixative when we tie-dye.

1/2 cup borax. We also keep this on hand for science experiments, such as making gak.

1 cup bar soap, grated. Here’s where you really get to make your own preferences come alive. I prefer to use Fels Naptha, a laundry soap bar, because it’s made specifically for laundry, and while it is harsher than body soap, it’s less harsh than many of the ingredients in commercially-processed soap, and it’s a very effective cleaning agent.Β  However, some people prefer to use body soap here, whether it’s Ivory or Dr. Bronner’s, and even though these soaps don’t clean or rinse as well as Fels Naptha, there are other ways to make up for those deficiencies while protecting super-sensitive skin.

To this basic batch, you can add other ingredients as you wish. For instance:

1/2 cup baking soda. I do include this in every batch, as a cleaning and deodorizing agent.

1/2 cup Oxyclean or similar. This is a color-safe bleaching agent, and I do not include it in my own laundry soap, although I do add it to my wash on an as-needed basis.

Whisk the ingredients together.


Simply whisk the dry ingredients together, and your laundry soap is ready to use.

In my he washing machine, I use 1 tablespoon of laundry detergent. If I had a conventional top-loading washing machine, or if I used a body soap bar in my recipe, I would use 2 tablespoons. I also always pour in a glug or so of white vinegar into the rinse compartment of my washing machine–vinegar is a rinse agent, something that is really necessary no matter what laundry detergent you use, and it’s also a cleaning agent and deoderizer in its own right.

Now, my recipe doesn’t come with any “added stain fighting ingredients” or “whitening your whites” nonsense–frankly, that’s just overkill, and effectively managing your laundry without it takes only a couple of minutes each day.

For instance, when clothing is removed, it’s briefly inspected for stains, and any stains are immediately spot-treated with a bar of Fels Naptha that we keep on a shelf in the bathroom. Spot-treated clothing is then thrown in with the regular dirty laundry.

I also sort my laundry according to how I want to wash it. If I’m washing heavily soiled clothing, perhaps from the garden or the workshop, or white items, such as linens or bath towels, then I add 2 tablespoons of off-brand Oxyclean to my regular laundry detergent to boost the cleaning power of my detergent.

When I wash items that come into intimate contact with the body, such as underpants or sheets and pillowcases, or if someone in the family is ill, I add several drops of tea tree oil to my regular laundry detergent as a disinfectant, antifungal, and antibacterial agent.

And I line-dry in the sun whenever possible!

34 thoughts on “How to Make Laundry Soap for Three Cents a Load”

  1. This looks great – and I like the idea of not being dependant on commercial soaps that are harmful but my question is whether I can safely use this in my front loading machine and not “gum up the works” … ?

      1. Fels Naptha definitely contains tallow, but I feel like I need more research before I’m convinced that it’s tested on animals, just because it’s an old product, and the recipe hasn’t changed. If anyone can contact the manufacturer and get some straight replies, we could probably do a CAGW post on it.

  2. I started making my own toothpaste about six months ago. I’m wanting to add one homemade product at a time and I think laundry soap is next. I did purchase one of those cleaning balls and that seems to work just fine, but this is probably even better. Thanks!

  3. This may save money on laundry soap but will not spare you the expense of a new pump for your washing machine. I made some for myself a few years ago to use in my front loader. During a visit my dad inquired about my laundry detergent. My dad has been fixing appliances for almost 40 years and is a well respected appliance repairman in the Washington, DC metro area. He assured me that using detergent other than HE would give my washing machine a heart attack. It clogs the pump and burns up the motor. A very expensive fix in exchange for the few dollars saved on laundry detergent.

    1. muralsbymassucci

      I started making my own detergent and am very happy with it.

      For those that are concerned about HE washers, you should know that the Borax box says that it is rated for HE washing machines.

  4. I’ve been making one half of the Duggar recipe for several years, usually liquid-style, for my front loader. But I’m always looking to improve, and the liquid aspect makes it quite a production. I’m going to print this and put it with my laundry-soap-making supplies and use it next time I need laundry soap.

    Although I’m quite concerned about the chemicals in commercial detergents, my main drive was cost. (This was by FAR the most expensive household item we use month to month – next is TP (cloth TP anyone? haha) Then as Jennybookworm stated, I too don’t like being dependant on commerical soaps. It’s one less heavy thing to haul from teh store, add to the recycling, etc.

    I wonder if people are afraid of gumming (and this recipe uses quite a bit of the Fels Naptha) that running an empty cycle with the hottest setting might help pass the clumps in the machine? Can’t hurt, right?

    1. I remember that Duggar recipe! I kind of wanted to try it out, but yeah, the liquid business turned me off. I often experiment, though, so I still might check it out.

      If my he washer ever burns out I’ll be the first to blog about it, but seriously, I just don’t buy the theory that homemade detergent will burn out my machine. I need concrete proof–perhaps somebody’s kid needs a science fair project?

  5. What a FABULOUS idea!! I often have wondered how to get out of the laundry madness… and this seems like a fun, and economical alternative! Thanks for sharing I will totally be trying this out!!

  6. I made my own laundry detergent for a long time–until my husband complained that his white shirts were dingy. Even bleaching them didn’t work. All of our clothing was dingy. πŸ™

    1. Probably wasn’t rinsing well. I do a lot of cloth diaper troubleshooting for people, and laundry soaps and detergents, whether they’re commercial or homemade, just don’t rinse that well. It’s harder to notice with commercial detergents because the appearance of the clothes is okay, but when you’re dealing with cloth diapers, their performance is affected, and THEN you def notice.

      Hotter water, less detergent, vinegar rinse.

    2. YES!!! I had the same problem I used the duggar receipe for 2 months and noticed our clothes were ALL dingy and not very clean needless to say Im back to using ALL lol

  7. I need help here. I am making this recipe for a Girl Scout project tonight and I can’t get the numbers to add up. How does this recipe of 2 cups of ingredients make a 5-cup batch? Help.

    1. It’s a double-batch with baking soda, but not Oxyclean. A double-batch uses up the Fels Naptha better, although you can also re-use the rest of the bar as a stain stick.

  8. Pingback: Savvy Housekeeping » Make Your Own Laundry Soap

  9. This is very inspiring. Home-made laundry detergents do cut back on costs. In many washing machines, a little bit of detergent can go a long way. There isn’t even a need to use a lot of detergent since the cleaning functions of the washer can strip away dirt and grime in clothing.

  10. Julie, can I use this detergent for clothe diapers?Β  Currently I use commercial eco-friendly detergent using a warm wash and cold rinse cycle.Β 

    1. Mind you, you can make anything work when you cloth diapers, but honestly, the only two detergents that I absolutely recommend for cloth diapers are Charlie’s Soap or Rockin’ Green. With this homemade detergent, as with all others except for those two, you’ll just need to strip more often, but they will work. Since this homemade recipe is actually a soap, not technically a detergent, you’ll need to strip more often that with commercial detergents, but it does work.

  11. Great idea! I know alot of moms feel pressured to use the expensive dye free detergents, but really could save some money by making their own. My friend and I started a laundry service from our homes a few years ago. We found a little tip that we use on every load now. White vinegar. Add 3/4 cup into the rinse cycle and it acts as a natural fabric softner, saves money, is eco-friendly and helps keep your washing machine clean.
    Seattle Laundry Care

  12. Pingback: Make your own simple laundry detergent | Laura Makes

  13. If you are still letting your daughter make up this recipe I would advise you to stop. Sodium tetraborate is a respirtory sensitiser and irritant to the skin and eyes. Its great that you make up your own soap, but I would be very careful about letting your child near the raw ingredients, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend whisking it either!

  14. I am really looking for a laundry detergent recipe like this. I do cloth diapering full time and use ECOs (using this washing routine but I would like to try making my own. Great post and great price too! It’s good for everyone who really wants to save money and switch to a natural laundry soap.

  15. MotherNature'sDaughter

    I have done so much budget cutting this year yet I still need to do more and perhaps this will save me a few do$$ars a month. I prefer a liquid laundry soap. Bar soap leaves a film. I want to subsititute hair shampoo for bar soap and then try it using dish liquid also. Both contain a scent ans Ii hope it will help the clothes smell good. We will see which works best. I will post results in about one month.

    1. hi there! If you want to save money on shampoo, switch to washing with baking soda and rinsing with a vinegar or lemon juice solution. It takes a while for your scalp to adjust, but you can then start decreasing how often you wash your hair. Just rinse more often.

      For laundry, my mother swears by dish detergent. Just add a teaspoon or whatever. I don’t suggest that, but you can cut back on the laundry soap and add washing soda, and vinegar in the fabric softener compartment.

    1. The pre-March 2013 Fels-Naptha does meet my standards for an eco-friendly product for my family, yes, but it’s okay if you have different standards for your family. Different strokes, you know?

  16. I found that if you run all the ingredients through a food processor together it dissolves instantly when you add it to the wash. Then there is no chance of it clumping anything up. I just cut my soap into cubes and throw in the food processor, then of course no grating it, which is a royal pain lol

  17. I take my helps out of the package and let it air dry for a week and then grate seems to grate better and displeasure better

  18. I would love to make this but I have a question. Your first ingredient said washing soda….do you mean something like baking soda?

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