Frugal Friday: homemade laundry soap

Mother Hen just reminded me that today is Frugal Friday.  What new and frugal thing did we do this week?

Aaah…we finally made our own laundry soap!

What were we waiting for?!  It was fun & easy, and looks and smells just as nice as the liquids that I never buy because they cost too much.  Nicer, really, because the only fragrance comes from the bar of soap.  It’s not overpowering like the store-bought variety.  The texture is rich and creamy – we used a recipe that called for glycerin to keep it nice and smooth.

Cost? I think store-bought liquid detergents cost 15-40 cents/load, right?  I made 2 gallons for less than $2.  That’s enough for 64 loads if we use an entire 1/2 cup at a time, bringing the cost to a whopping 3 cents/load.  Really, we don’t.  We use more like 1/4 cup because we made ours slightly more concentrated than most.  I say whopping because we made the “expensive” kind, using glycerin.  It’s not really necessary.  I was just feeling frivolous and wanted that rich creamy texture.  Sometimes I’m crazy that way.

But seriously, if a person skipped the glycerin and used 1/4 cup for each load, the cost would be about a penny per load.

We haven’t been using it long, but we think our clothes smell cleaner and less perfumed, and we have noticed that forgotten laundry doesn’t get sour in the washer.  I can’t speak to the issue of whether the whites look gray because in our water everything turns gray after 2 or 3 washes.  A water softener might prove to be a wise and frugal investment for us someday.  Or we could just continue to keep our underwear hidden under our clothes the old fashioned way and no one will ever know.  Yet another point in favor of modesty.  🙂

Here’s what we did.  I don’t know who to credit with the recipe, because I think I combined several and they all look the same anyway.


  • 1/2 bar of Fels Naptha soap – my local hardware store stocked this at my request.  Very nice, but next I want to try Kirk’s Castile Hardwater Soap, because  if our water were any harder it would be a rock.
  • 1 cup borax – available at WalMart near the laundry detergent
  • 1 cup washing soda – also available at WalMart near the laundry detergent
  • 1 TBS glycerin – look for it near the first aid supplies

Just 4 ingredients, see?

Grate the soap; it’s easy, really.  It’s soft enough to easily grate it on a handheld cheese grater.  Heat til melted in 8 cups of water.  Simmer a few minutes to be sure it’s thoroughly melted.  Stir in remaining ingredients until thoroughly dissolved.  Add enough cool water to make 2 gallons.

You’re done.  What?  You thought it would be harder, didn’t you?

Just pour into a couple of gallon jugs.  Give it a stir or a shake now and then as it cools to keep it smooth and creamy.  It will thicken as it cools.  Ours looks a lot like a thin creamy shampoo, or a jug of heavy cream.  Yummy, but don’t taste it.  Just sniff.


  1. Lynn Davis says:

    can any kind of soap work? why did you choose Fels Naptha soap? do you think vinegar would work?

  2. I found that an easy way to add a nice/familiar scent to my homemade laundry soap is to ad a small amount (1/4-1/2 Cup) of scented store bought laundry detergent to it. This raises the price only slightly (depending on the brand you use) and gives it that “clean” smell that some people seem to miss.

  3. AzNative73 says:

    A lot of great information!!! I live on a well with really hard water. I have bought the main ingredients to make my own laundry soap, and my questions is…can you mix the Oxygen Cleaner and/or the Water Softening Powder to the other ingredients during the initial “stove top” stage if I am wanting to make the liquid?

    I have teenagers and don’t know if they would run hot water first to dissolve it, and then change to cold. Lol!

    Thank you in advance for any help or advice you can give me!!! 🙂

  4. For those who say they want the smell of fabric softener in their clothing, PLEASE google “fabric softener dangers”. Softeners are simply toxins, made to smell nice with perfumes. I’ve been using vinegar as a softener for months. Leaves my clothes soft, static free, less lint in dryer and the clothes smell fresh.

  5. I have been using my homemade detergent for 6 months. I made a 5 gallon bucket, and I still have a quarter of it left. I have not used any store bought detergent since. It is working great. If I notice that my whites are looking a little dingy, I put a couple of drops of Mrs. Stewarts in it and they are back to normal. The key to using the bluing is to not use fabric softener in that load.

    I used a couple of bars of Irish Spring, and it really does give the laundry a nice scent. I miss the tide scent, but enjoy the price of my homemade.

    For those that cannot find washing soda. It is not baking soda. They are both made by arm & hammer but are chemically different. If you can’t find the actual washing soda, look in the pool supplies for ph plus. Same thing. Or, just take baking soda, put it on a baking sheet and bake it for 30 minutes at 425. This will chemically change it to washing soda.

    I store mine in a 5 gallon bucket with a lid from a hardware store, and stir it with a yard stick before each time I refill my detergent bottle. I have a small Mrs. Meyers bottle so it’s easy to shake it up.

    I can honestly say that I won’t go back to the store stuff. I make my own fabric softener too. Takes me 5 minutes, tops.

  6. To get whites white again using blueing. It comes in a tiny bottle and only takes two or three drops per large load. I use Mrs. Stewarts. Amazing stuff, we keep our undies covered at all times, but its nice to have bright white dress shirts for the boys and men.

  7. I know this thread is a few months old, but maybe people still check in. I have been using homemade soap for several months, so far it is great. I think the cleaning power is comparable to detergents. I have a messy 3 year old, so her clothes still have stains, but they did with Tide too. I have allergies to every detergent, except Tide so I tried homemade to save money. So far no allergies or other problems. I have tried 5 or 6 recipes, but have not found a liquid one I liked. The texture is always yucky. I am making the one above with glycerin tonight to see if that helps the texture. To address a few people’s comments:

    Faith: I too love the smell of Tide. After using homemade soap for months I found some Tide with a little left and did a load with it. It smelled great! You could add essential oils to your homemade soap for more smell. I haven’t tried that since I have a lot of fragrance allergies. Also, the Fels Naptha smells so fresh and clean. It makes my whole basement smell good when I do a load of laundry.

    Vicki: I have read on other sites about front loaders getting stinky. It is the machine itself, not necessarily the clothes. The tips I read are to use vinegar in the rinse cycle and to leave the front door open after you take the load out so it can dry. Something about the mechanics of the machine trap water in the seal and make it stinky if it doesn’t air dry.

    Susan: I don’t know if enthusiasm wanes b/c people are tired of making their own soap or if the results really changed. I think the vinegar in the rinse cycle is key to preventing buildup. People should consider adding in that step.

    I will update on how this liquid recipes compares to others.

  8. Mrs. Klause,
    We have extremely hard water here and I’ve never been thrilled with any of the detergents I tried, so I’m not sure my experience will compare to other users, but I have to say I really can’t tell a difference between homemade and store bought – except in price.
    Our clothes seem as clean as usual (which is not sparkling in our water, but fresh and free of dirt & food). Not everything comes out, but it never did. 😛
    I *am* interested in trying Susan Keister’s recipe above because it sounds like it might really thrill me. I just need to gather the ingredients and get to it eventually!

  9. are three months into the homemade laundry soap. What do you think now? Does it really clean well? Have you had the problems that people listed in your comments?


  10. Camille says:

    My mother has begun to make the podwer version!

    Her recipe is:
    2 Bars finely grated Fels-Naptha (she uses a normal cheese grater for this)
    2 Cups Arm&Hammer Super Washing Soda
    2 Cups “20 Mule Team Borax”
    1/2 Cup Oxyclean

    One full 1/8 cup scoop for large loads. Half-filled 1/8 cup scoop for small loads. Gives about 57 large loads and also works well with HE washers.

    We both still keep the store bought liquid stuff on hand, but we prefer the homemade stuff in every way! It doesn’t get frothy and it looks like it is not enough when added to the wash, but it gets the job done superbly.

  11. I have had a big problem finding washing soda. I have never seen it in any grocery, Wal-Mart, hardware or pharmacy anywhere!! I found it on the internet at the Arm and Hammer company’s website- Just in case anyone else is looking and getting frustrated. It cost $12+ so I hope this works!

  12. I used a total of 5 gallons of water to make mine and then use only 1/2 cup of the concentrate per load. I do find that I have to stir it (with a really long spoon) first because it settles on the bottom. I have tried the powdered version and it lasted me 2 weeks so I don’t think it’s as economical as the liquid version. I am thinking of adding some lavender or vanilla to mine to improve the scent, not that it has much of one.

  13. I wonder if anybody can address the flame retardancy issue. I seem to remember that flame retardant children’s sleepwear is not supposed to be washed in soap but in detergent.

    Michelle Duggar (the mom of 18) has a couple of soap recipes on her site as well. I’ve been thinking of trying something like this, but after reading the comments I’m wondering if I will find it to be worth it.

  14. Does any know how many Ounces 1 cup or Borax is as well as 1 cup of Washing Soda?

  15. I have made the liquid and the powder. Seems the powder lasts a litlte longer for us for some reason. I also mixed equal parts borax and baking soda today for my dishwashing detergent..used vinegar in the other hole. It worked great!

  16. I’d love to try it, but my problem is this–our old Wal-Mart sold the washing soda and the Borax–but the new Super Wal-Mart doesn’t have either item in the detergent aisles. I’ve not had time to check other areas of the store to see if they’ve just moved it somewhere else or not.

  17. We just made ours too! We’ve used it for about 3 weeks now, and I can’t tell a difference from the other brands! I actually used a bar of Dove soap, because I couldn’t find Fels Naptha anywhere. Next time I want to try the essential oils too, maybe lavender or orange. Ours came up to about $9 for 4.5 gallons, and we estimate it will last about 6 months! That’s $18 a year!!!! WOW.

  18. For what it’s worth, in the last few years, I’ve noted approximately 5 zillion blog friends who start excitedly using this laundry detergent (minus the glycerin; that’s a new one on me!). The same thing happens. After a few loads, or a week, or whatever, they are super-happy, clothes smell fresh and clean, et cetera. They blog and share enthusiasm with all. But. . . enthusiasm always wanes after a month or two. Clothes start not coming as clean, things like cloth diapers begin to repel water (obviously not a good property!), etc. It seems that this detergent, which is really a soap instead, gets build-up in the long-run. So just be forewarned :-).

    It’s not a bad idea to use it while rotating with another true detergent. That should prevent build-up.

    If you want another homemade recipe that’s not quite as cheap (someone estimated more like 7 cents per load, but I haven’t personally done the math), here’s a homemade recipe that is a true detergent, and seems to have much better long-term results for most people. It was specifically designed for cloth diapers, but is good for other clothes as well. It can also be used to soak out stains. You want to start the washer with hot or warm water, though, to dissolve the powder, but after a minute of running warm, I can then shut it off and switch to cold if I’m running a cold load – just enough to dissolve the powder.

    Diva Detergent

    1 55 oz. box Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
    1/2 cup Mule Team Borax
    2 Cups Oxygen Cleaner
    1/2 cup Simple Green
    1/2 cup Water Softening Powder

    Details about ingredients:

    Washing Soda – The Arm and Hammer is the only brand I’ve ever seen. Walmart and most grocery stores carry it. Strong enough to actually change organic compounds (pee & poo) and keeps them suspended in the water so they can easily be washed away. It is a naturally occurring compound free from enzymes, dyes, and perfumes, and is the main ingredient in most powdered laundry detergents.

    Borax – Found in the grocery aisle. Whitens and brightens without phosphates and enzymes. Borax is too harsh, both to fabric and sensitive skin to be used in large amounts, and tends to not rinse out well. Less is more with Borax in laundry. (makes and excellent household cleaner, though).

    Oxygen Cleaner – I use Sun Brand…it’s the cheapest and most pure….Oxyclean brand has additives and fillers. For Oxygen Cleaner…the cheaper the better. Stain remover and whitener. Oxygen cleaners do not react well with extremely hard water and will add to scum build up. If you have extremely hard water, as noted above, add additional water softener.

    Simple Green – A concentrated liquid cleaner…most grocery stores carry it….Walmart has it in the automotive section. If you can’t find Simple Green, you can use any concentrated multi-purpose cleaner (ie: Lysol 4 in 1). Provides the necessary surfactants-to lessen the water tension and allow the detergent to become a part of the water and actually get into the clothes

    Water Softening Powder – This is a key ingredient…and if you have hard water you will want to double it. White King makes a powder, but it can’t be found in all areas. If you can’t find a water softening powder, use ½ cup of liquid. You’ll need to use a 1 lb box of baking soda for each half cup liquid added to offset the additional liquids so you don’t end up with a solid mass of detergent in a couple of days. (I can’t find powder in my area, so I use Calgon Liquid + baking soda).
    Put all dry ingredients in a large container – (bucket, dishpan) mix with your hands to combine. Put gloves on before adding liquid ingredients as there is a chemical reaction that makes it get rather warm…..and could burn your skin. Drizzle the wet ingredients over the top of the dry ingredients. Mix with your hands until well combined and all liquid is mixed in and there are no clumps. If it still seems too moist, you can add a box of baking soda**. Humidity levels in different parts of the country can make a difference here, as your dry ingredients might have a higher moisture content. Store in a sealed container. I have used Rubbermaid, Tupperware, coffee cans….whatever you have on hand.

    Use 1-2 1/8 cup scoops (the kind that came with the oxygen cleaner) per load. You’ll have to experiment a bit to find what works best with your water condition and washer size.

  19. I notice that with my front loader overloading made a difference in how it washed with store bought detergent. But the homemade didnt seem to matter. *shrug* I should research charlies and see if its very cost effective. I need something cheaper than $18 (Tide 96 loads)

  20. armymamma,
    It’s much too soon to say, but after just a few days I think it’s as good as Charlie Soap at a fraction of the price.
    I still love Charlie’s Soap and will be happy to use some for free – thanks!

    I had a lot of stinky laundry problems with my front-loader but I always used store-bought detergent in it. Maybe they don’t use quite enough water to rinse thoroughly?
    Now I have a top-loader so I won’t be able to tell you how the homemade detergent works in a front-loader.

    • Stinky laundry solutions: don’t use Ivory soap. For some reason, it stales the detergent. We converted to using Zote soap (found at Family Dollar/Dollar General/Mexican market stores all for about $1, large enough to use for 4 batches) and haven’t had the ‘stinky feet’ smell or ‘urine-like’ smell since. Also throw a cup of vinegar w/ a cup of baking soda and run your washer like normal (without clothes) to clean out the gunk buildup. That’ll eliminate the smell too.
      Homemade detergent works wonderfully in front-load washers. Front loads require low-suds (suds clog the tubing) and homemade detergent is minimal in the suds department. Also, fun fact: people tend to equate suds & bubbles with cleaning product effectiveness. To get more suds, you use more product. So it’s been just a marketing scheme all along to sell more products since you use more product, you replenish your inventory = more money for the manufacturer. And then it’s a double whammy to charge more for “special” detergent for front-load machines, when in fact it’s probably cheaper to manufacture front-load detergent since they don’t have to add extra suds in the first place.

  21. armymamma says:

    So do you like this better than Charlies? I just bought some, per your recomendation (I told them you sent me, I hope you get some free stuff or something!) and I LOVE IT. But, the idea of making my own and saving that much money is intriguing.

  22. For anyone feeling too lazy to make their own – I wash all our clothes in baking soda. Anything particularly yucky gets a splash of vinegar in the wash to combat germs. For smell (doesn’t bother me but my dh likes smell) we have an old fabric softener bottle that we fill with water and some essential oil, that gets poured in the softener dispenser when I remember.

  23. I have a front loader (maytag neptune) and have been trying homemade soap. I have to use warm or hot water, or the liq soap gels at the dispense section and doesn’t make it to the laundry. I have tried putting it in the laundry versus the dispense section for cold water.

    My results are not as good as commercial detergent. I’m still trying. This week I made with ivory soap instead of napta soap. I thought the smell of ivory would make it better, but I can’t smell the ivory. I’ve started adding more detergent thinking that might help.

    I also started adding a little commercial fabric softer so the clothes will smell. They have grown accustomed to fragrant clothes and equate smell with clean, which is not true.

    I also tried vinegar. I didn’t smell the vinegar, but still didn’t think the clothes were as clean.

    Next time I’m added more washing soda and will try orange essential oil for the smell.

  24. I wonder if having a toploading vs a frontloading washer makes a difference? Mine is FL.

  25. I’ve been making my own laundry soap for a couple years now and I’ll never go back to store-bought! My family tends to have exzema and I use to have to buy dye and fragrance free detergents which is way to expensive for us. But homemade stuff doesn’t give us any skin problems.
    For Vicki and Deanna, I’d use a 1/4 cup more detergent, and vinegar in the rinse cycle instead of fabric softener (I use the Downey Ball because I always miss the rinse cycle!). We haven’t had any stinky problems yet.
    One more thing, I use a 2 gal. ice chest with lid and handle to store our detergent in, works great!

  26. I had the same problem as Vicki. I tried making my own recipe just like this, and while it seemed to work at first, my laundry ended up stinking in a few washes. I had to go back to commercial laundry detergent.

  27. Okay here is a question for you.. I’ve been using my homemade soap for some time now and my laundry stinks. Its just not cleaning well. My recipie is just like yours only with out glycerin. Any ideas?

  28. You are a hoot! I’m so crackin up about the old fashioned way of keeping your undies covered!

  29. That sounds easy enough to do. I’ve always wanted to try to make my own laundry soap but I just love how tide smells. I need to get over it! Side note, reading your post reminded me I started a load of laundry this morning and I totally forgot about it, so thanks!

  30. Elizabeth,
    Since this doesn’t contain extra sudsing agents, it makes very few bubbles. This makes it perfect for a front loader.

    We only use 1/4 cup in our top-loading. You would probably want to experiment with amounts in a front loader.

  31. I know you can use 1/2 the amount of regular detergent in a front loader that requires the HE stuff, but how much of this would you use for a regular load?

  32. BTW, I absolutely LOVE your header! So much personality right there!

  33. Would this work for a front loading washer that requires the special HE detergents??

  34. I’ve been considering making my own soap, but was a little hesitant. Next time I run out, and can’t get a good deal on it, I’ll have to try this recipe! Thanks!

    Blessings your way,

  35. When you say, add enough water to make 2 gallons, what are you mixing this in? A large bucket? A stock pot? I would like to try this but don’t want to start and find I don’t have a container big enough to hold it while mixing. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

    • I mixed ours in an 8 quart stock pot. I just added the last of the water after I poured the soap into jugs. Really, it seemed almost foolproof. I think the key is making sure the soap is thoroughly dissolved, and if you’re really concerned about a smooth texture spring for the glycerin.


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