The Tutorial and the Science
Making your own laundry detergent will save you both money and toxins. Here’s how to make it, why my recipes are a little different, and why they work.
First, why do I make my own laundry powder? Well, saving money is definitely part of it. But knowing that 75% of the chemicals in everyday products in Australia have never been tested for human or environmental safety is also a real motivation for me to keep making my own consumables, from ingredients I can identify. (source)
Both my cousin and my sister were diagnosed with cancer in the past year. I haven’t talked about it on the blog, because those aren’t my stories to tell. But I can tell you that it has really boosted my motivation to get the toxins out of my – and my children’s – daily environment.
Note: If you just want an easy print out of the recipes, without all the explanation just go get my free printables. They include both these recipes.
Now, here’s how to make your laundry detergent:
How to Make Washing Powder
- 1-2 parts oxy-bleach or borax
- 2 parts washing soda (use the powder, not the crystals)
- 4 parts grated soap or soap flakes
- For hard water add 1 part citric acid and 4 parts extra washing soda
Mix together thoroughly and use about 1-2 tablespoons per wash (add an extra tablespoon for very hard water). (Note: An Aussie tbsp=4 teaspoons)
You may need to dissolve it first, especially if you are washing in cold water.
Leave out the borax if you are using the grey water on your garden, or for a more eco-friendly mix. I now prefer to use ecostore’s Laundry Soaker & Stain Remover (which used to be called Pure Oxygen Whitener).
For extra heavy duty powder use ratio 1:1:1:1 of the soap, washing soda, borax and an oxygen cleaner. Use 2 tbsp per wash.
Add ¼-½ cup vinegar to the rinse for sensitive skin, or if you notice any soap residue. This also works as a fabric softener.
Hard water variation – why it works: The citric acid reacts with the alkaline washing powder to form a salt that keeps the hard water minerals suspended in the water, rather than allowing them to deposit on your clothes. You can also just add a cup of vinegar to the wash, and ½ cup to the rinse, but this will likely be more expensive if you do it every time.
Questions about borax
Should your non-toxic powder include borax?
From a safety point of view, I am not too concerned with using borax in this way. When mixed with water some of it reacts to form H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide, which is also the main ingredient in oxygen cleaners, once they are dissolved in water), which helps to clean your clothes, but also breaks down very quickly, to leave you with plain water.
And, by adding ¼-½ cup vinegar to the rinse, any small amount that remains in the clothes will react to form salt and water.
However, borax is not so great for your garden, as too much boron is toxic to plants and insects, and there are questions about the environmental effects of mining it too. Also, like all chemicals (whether or not they are considered ‘safe’ when used as intended) keep out of the reach of children. Borax is toxic if ingested. Also, avoid breathing it in.
How to Make Laundry Liquid
- 5 litres water
- ½ bar grated soap, or ½ cup soap flakes (about 60g)
- ¼-½ cup washing soda
- ¼ cup borax (optional, and leave out for grey water use, but it may improve the overall stability)
- Essential oils (eg Eucalyptus and Lemon) optional
- 3 empty 2 litre bottles or containers with tight fitting lids
Boil the soap with 1 litre of water until fully dissolved (use a wooden spoon or potato masher to speed this up).
Fully dissolve washing soda & borax in 1 litre hot tap water, in a large bucket.
Pour soap solution into soda solution and stir.
Slowly add cold water to make up five litres. Mix thoroughly. Add essential oils at this point if desired, and mix well.
Decant into containers straight away, leaving a good head room for shaking: it may solidify overnight. Make sure your bottles are air tight, as this will break down with exposure to air. Some separation of solid and liquid can occir
Shake well to re-liquefy. Use ½-1 cup per wash, or more for very dirty loads.
For hard water, add 1 tsp citric acid and 1 tbsp (4 tsp) washing soda per load.
Use ¼ cup white vinegar in the rinse cycle for a slight lightening effect and fabric softening, and to remove any soap residue.
Why only 5 litres
Most recipes I’ve found online make ten litres of laundry liquid at one time. However, the efficacy of both the borax and the washing soda are reduced fairly quickly once dissolved in water. I’ve found 5 litres lasts well enough for the washing needs of my family of five. Any more than that and it is less effective by the last bottles.
Note though that it won’t be completely useless – the soap is still good. It’s just the borax and washing soda that have broken down. But, soap works best in an alkaline solution, so add ½ -1 tbsp washing soda or borax to each load, if your liquid has lost it’s power.
Why do these recipes always give a range for how much soap to use?
The reason I always say things like “use 1-2 tbsp per load” is that every load is different.
Firstly, if you have harder water, you will need more than if you have softer water. But clearly there’s a spectrum from very soft to very hard. You will know – or come to know, through trial and error – what works best for your water.
Secondly, some loads are dirtier than others. Soap works by binding to the non-water soluble dirt molecules in your clothes (that is, those that the water can’t wash out on its own). So if you have a very dirty load, you are going to need more soap than if you have a very lightly soiled load.
A note about Australian measurements:
In Australia, 1 tbsp = 4 tsp/20ml. In the US & UK 1 tbps = 3 tsp. I always use the Aussie measurements.
Now over to you:
Have you made your own laundry powder or other non-toxic cleaners? Do you have a favourite recipe to share, or a question for me about how something works? Leave a comment!
- Robin Stewart’s Chemical Free Home
- Barbara Lord’s Green Cleaner (Kindle edition)
- How Soap Cleans
- Baby center discussion thread on laundry myths & science
- 3 Things Before You Mix Baking Soda and Vinegar
- Getting to the Bottom of Borax: Is it Safe or Not?
- Environmental Exposure and Human Health Policy, from the Public Health Association of Australia