Testing Laundry Soap Recipes So You Don't Have To

About a year ago, I started looking for alternatives to bottled laundry soap. The big plastic jugs were making me feel guilty, and I apparently have exceedingly sensitive skin so everything but the "free and clear" stuff made me uber itchy. And goodness is laundry soap expensive!

With all that in mind, my new laundry soap needed to meet four criteria: 1) non-plastic packaging, and, indeed, minimal packaging in general; 2) suitable for my sensitive skin; 3) cheap; and 4) it had to work well--after all, what's the point of doing laundry if your clothes aren't clean at the end of it?

I started out with soap nuts. Soap nuts are the dried fruit of the Chinese Soapberry tree. When the nuts get wet they release saponin, which is a natural cleanser. For laundry purposes, you put three or four in a little muslin bag, and just toss them in with your clothes--easy peasy! The nuts last for several washes, and when they're used up they can be composted. The packaging was about as minimal as you could get, they didn't aggravate my skin, and they were reasonably priced.

The problem? Soap nuts worked really well on colored clothes, but after awhile I noticed it was leaving our whites dingy. Our white bath towels were looking downright gray, in fact.

Back to the drawing board.

On the advice of a friend, I tried a powdered recipe next. The ratios are as follows:

2 cups bar soap 1 cup washing soda 1 cup borax

For the bar soap, you can use anything that's not heavily scented. Tipnut (which is the original source of the recipe) suggests Fels-Naptha, Ivory, Sunlight, Kirk’s Hardwater Castile, or Zote. When I went to buy washing soda and borax at Checkers, there were bars of Zote soap right next to them, so that's what I've ended up using. It does have a slight citronella smell, but if that bothers you just try one of the other brands instead.

You can make this soap in any quantity you want, but I've found that two bars of Zote is just about the perfect amount with 1 box of washing soda and 1 box of borax. You'll have a little borax leftover, but you can use it for other household cleaning jobs, so no worries.

Once you get your ingredients assembled, grate the Zote (the small side of a cheese grater is perfect for this) into the powdered ingredients. Mix the ingredients together, and use 2 tablespoons per full load of laundry.

After using this laundry detergent for several months, I've been very happy with it. The packaging is small and made of cardboard, it doesn't irritate my skin, and it's so, so cheap. The ingredients will set you back about $7, and that amount lasts our two-person, two-dog family a little over four months. Also, it works well, particularly on whites. Yay for shiney, white bath towels!


Megan Green Stuke 12 years, 4 months ago

I would LOVE this. I hate the big bottles, too, and the price, and the fact that I seem to have to go and buy it every other day.

How do you think this stuff would work on baby's sensitive skin?

Megan Green Stuke 12 years, 4 months ago

Also, I don't really see myself grating soap with a cheese grater. (I don't really like to grate cheese with a cheese grater...)

How do you think a food processor would work on this?

Meryl Carver 12 years, 4 months ago

Hmmm....a food processor--hadn't thought of that, but it's probably not a bad idea. It works for making hashbrowns, why not for soap?

I can't speak to the baby specifically, but I have incredibly sensitive skin and it hasn't irritated me at all.

redrose 12 years, 4 months ago

I have been using a similar formula for about a decade. I use an electric grater to chop up a bar Zote. I bring a large sauce pan of water to boil with grated soap, stir until dissolved. Mix with one cup washing soda and, if you like, one cup borax in a large lidded bucket with 4 gallons of water. I can make about five gallons of laundry soap for less than one dollar this way. Use 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup depending on your water hardness per load. Great for front loaders because it is low suds. Zote has a picture of a cute little baby in diapers on label as well as clothes and dishes, so I would say it is a mild bar of washing soap with multiple uses.

Megan Green Stuke 12 years, 4 months ago

What kind of container do you use for it once you've made it?

The commenter's (redrose) product is a liquid, but Meryl, yours is a dry substance, right? Thoughts on which and why?

Meryl Carver 12 years, 4 months ago

I just put mine in a plastic tub with a lid--like, the kind of thing you'd use for craft supplies. Whatever you have around is fine. You wouldn't even really need a lid, except that my basement has spiders.

Also, I do powder, but only because it seems easier to make and store.

Meryl Carver 12 years, 4 months ago

Just FYI, there is a full list of DIY laundry soap recipes here: http://tipnut.com/10-homemade-laundry-soap-detergent-recipes/

And an FAQ that answers many questions I've been getting here: http://tipnut.com/homemade-laundry-detergent/

Susan Rickman 12 years ago

A friend of mine had suggested that she doesn't use the zote/castile/fels naptha in the mixture for diapers, but it's fine for everything else.

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