How to Make Laundry Powder or Liquid

The Tutorial and the Science

How to make your own washing powder or laundry liquid | SustainableSuburbia.netMaking 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 your own laundry liquid | SustainableSuburbia.netHow 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!

If you’re not sure yet whether you should go to the trouble of making your own laundry soap, you might like to read this post: Why I don’t use DIY Laundry Powder Anymore – But You Might Want to.


This post was shared over at Essentially Jess’s IBOT and at Fabulously Frugal Thursday.

  12 comments for “How to Make Laundry Powder or Liquid

  1. September 24, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Sorry to hear about the illness in your family. I can understand how that would be a motivater good on you.

    • Kirsten
      September 24, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      Thanks Mandy. 🙂

  2. September 24, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    I’ve never attempted to make my own, I would not have had any clue how to go about it. These seems fairly easy and simple though so I may just have to give it a try. Thanks for sharing!

    #teamIBOT was here!

    • Kirsten
      September 24, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      It is *really* straight forward Kylez! Hope you’ll try it out 🙂

  3. September 26, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Oh I’m so going to do this! Do you make fabric softener too? Though I really only use that to make things smell extra nice. Would adding a few drops of essential oil work just as well?

    • Kirsten
      September 26, 2013 at 10:29 pm

      Hi Jess,
      You can just add 1/4-1/2 cup white vinegar to the rinse for a fabric softener (though fair warning, I have never in my life actually used a fabric softener, so I have nothing to compare it too, but others who have say it works well), and yeah, just add a few drops of essential oil to that. I always add Eucalytus oil to my laundry liquid and also to my wool wash, and I just love the way it makes the whole laundry smell 🙂

  4. jess64
    October 5, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    I love making my own laundry detergent. We use a similar recipe to yours. I hadn’t realised (but I should have) about the lowing efficiency over time. Might have to think about reducing the quantity. I started making my own because it is the only way to not have my daughters and my excema flare up.

    • Kirsten
      October 6, 2013 at 7:31 am

      Hi Jess64, thanks for commenting. Glad to be of help with the efficiency (although if you haven’t noticed the deterioration, maybe it’s doing a good enough job anyway?). I have read other people use this mix (or one like it) to avoid excema or other skin irritation. Makes you wonder about the ingredients of shop bought products doesn’t it?

    October 27, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Will this recipe work in both top load and front load washing machines? My machine is a front loader and when buying detergent from the supermarket, all of them are labeled one or the other. Front loaders can’t cope with lots of suds.

    • Kirsten
      October 27, 2013 at 9:47 am

      Hi Maureen,

      Yes, it works with both, because it is not a sudsy formula at all.


  6. Michelle
    January 17, 2014 at 1:00 pm


    I was just wondering do you use the ecostore laundry soaker and stain remover as a replacement of the borax or as an addition?

    Thankyou! 😀

    • Kirsten
      January 17, 2014 at 4:09 pm

      Hi Michelle,

      Generally, it’s a replacement for borax. Unless you are using the extra heavy duty formula which has both (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), but I generally just use one or the other.

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