{DIY} Laundry Detergent Overview- Every Ingredient You’d Ever Want


Oh boy, you say. Another laundry detergent post? Welcome to 2013, Jen. DIY laundry detergent has been around for quite a while.

Well, I know. BUT, this is a resource blog. This means, first, that I’m going to be repeating others’ posts a lot, because I want this to be one-stop shopping. Second, as a resource blog, I don’t just want to post my own laundry detergent recipe; I want to be able to give you ALL the laundry detergent options.

So let’s begin. First, there are two basic laundry detergent recipes: powdered and liquid.

Basic Powder and Liquid Recipe

The basic laundry dwtergent recipe has a few basic ingredients:

1.) Bar of Soap – 1 bar for small recipe, 3 bars for large – grated

2.) Borax – 1  cup for small recipe, 1 box for large

3.) Washing Soda – 1 cup for small recipe, 1 box for large

That’s it for the basic recipe. Most recipes have a few other ingredients, which we will discuss in turn. (As for me, I just add an equal part of OxiClean) To go liquid, you boil it all down.

But, seriously, if you don’t want to do it but want the cost savings and want to go additive-free, check out Grandma’s All Natural Laundry Soap. Its ingredients are — you guessed it –lye soap, washing soda, baking soda, and borax.

Bar of soap

Most recipes call for Fels-Naptha laundry soap.  However, you can really use any bar soap (although I’m not sure about soap with lotion in it.)

The bar of soap needs to be grated or put into a food processor. The idea of a food processor intimidated me (it doesn’t take much to intimidate me). However, Fels-Naptha doesn’t really grate well, so it’s best to put it into food processor. Even then, it’s hard to get it into a fine powder.

If that bugs you, another option is Ivory soap, which you can actually microwave in order to get it into a powder because it’s whipped. (Make sure you get the bar, not the body wash).

Zote is another one. Because those bars are bigger, you can use two bars instead of three.

If you want a soap that is free of perfumes and dyes, you’d be better off using castile soap (olive oil based) or goat’s milk soap. I use goat’s milk soap (believe it or not, I’ve never had trouble finding it in the grocery store, under bath soap).

Dr. Bronner’s makes a good castile soap that’s already liquid, eliminating the need to grate.

I’ve found goat’s milk soap grates into a powder very easily. Both goats milk soap and castile soap also work best for cloth diapers. If you’re super concerned, you can take the soap out of the recipe for cloth diapers and just add the borax/washing powder to every rinse cycle.

You can also get soap flakes to eliminate needing to grate.

Finally, you can use the awesome original Blue Dawn to replace the soap, eliminating the need to grate.

Do you want to go lye-free? You can either take the soap out completely, as I described for cloth diapers, or you can just use a simple recipe of soap nuts + essential oils (and no borax/washing soda).  The word on the street seems to be that boiling the soap nuts down into a liquid is the best way to go.


The most common brand is 20 Mule Team Borax.

Borax gets a bad rap. However, it’s generally considered safe. 

If you really want to go Borax-free, though, you can take it out of your recipe. Most recipes add citric acid, baking soda, and coarse sea salt to make up for the borax.

Washing Soda

Arm and Hammer is the most common brand.

You can also make your own. Ingredient: Baking Soda. Instruction: Bake in oven at 400 degrees. Seriously.

Washing soda is also known as soda ash, soda crystals, washing ash

Extra Ingredients

OxyClean or Clorox2 – for extra whitening. I use a cup of OxyClean in my small recipe.

You can make your own oxi-bleach by combining hydrogen peroxide and washing soda.  However, because hydrogen peroxide is sensitive to light, you wouldn’t want to premake it.  You could also just buy the active ingredient, sodium precarbonate, on ebay or at a hardware store, and mix with washing soda.  (Sodium precarbonate will activate and do what hydrogen peroxide does once it’s exposed to hot water). Finally, you can just get the whole thing cheap by going to a dollar store and getting the SUN brand or other similar generic brands.

Fabric Softener and/or laundry enhancer

You’d think fabric softener and laundry enhancer are two different things – and they are! However, there seems to have been some sort of controversy over whether Purex’s and Downy’s before-wash crystals are softeners or just a product to make your laundry smell good. From what I understand, the new versions are NOT fabric softeners.

Purex Crystals, back when it was a softener, was revolutionary because it was the first before-wash softener in the market. Normally, you’d need to add fabric softener at a specific point in the wash. For that reason, I would not normally recommend adding a fabric softener to your laundry detergent.

In addition, normally, fabric softeners aren’t good for cloth diapers or baby clothes.

These crystals, however, are just fine to add in laundry detergent and are gentle on baby clothes (and do not negatively affect the absorbancy of towels/cloth diapers, and do not cancel out the flame retardant features of baby clothes). BUT, from what I understand, they are no longer considered softeners.  Downy Unstopables [no, I am not spelling that wrong], Purex Crystals, Gain Fireworks.

You can also just add Essential Oils

Calgon works well too – just add to each rinse cycle.

other natural softeners

Baking Soda – (1 cup for small recipe; 1 box for large). Baking soda is a common ingredient in many powdered laundry detergent recipes, but it’s not necessary.  It’s good to use if you have hard water. Baking soda might not really be cloth diaper safe because it screws up the absorption capability of cloth diaper inserts.

Epsom Salt or Coarse Sea Salt – I assume you can put this in the recipe or separately

White Vinegar

citric acid

Common stain removers and degreasers (for presoaking/pretreating)

Blue Dawn


Rubbing alcohol

Lemon Juice/Lemon Essential Oil


Sodium precarbonate

hydrogen peroxide



Want to learn more? Check out this ridiculously nerdy post on Babycenter.



2 thoughts on “{DIY} Laundry Detergent Overview- Every Ingredient You’d Ever Want

  1. This is great and I have made if before but I am finding it a little less effective cleaning lately. We do however have a washer that is very old and I am going to upgrade that soon. How much do you recommend to put into a large load of laundry? Thanks again, love the recipe!

  2. Pingback: Start Here If You Are Pregnant | Six Forty Nine

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