Homemade Laundry Detergent

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Homemade Laundry Detergent recipe by Barefeet In The Kitchen

I’ve been using this homemade laundry detergent for almost three years now. I’ve shared it with many friends and the “recipe” has been requested several times recently. I decided to share it here, so that I could simply link to it as needed. I’ll be back with a food recipe on Monday!


There are only three ingredients in this soap and they work together to create an excellent laundry soap that leaves our clothing clean and fragrance free. Just a heads-up, Fels Naptha is a very fragrant clean-smelling soap, but surprisingly there is no lingering fragrance on the clothing after washing. Fels Naptha is also an excellent stain remover. You can save the tiny ends of the soap after grating most of it and use it for stain removal.

Washing soda is sodium carbonate. (This is not the same as baking soda, which is sodium bicarbonate.) Washing soda helps remove odors and dirt. Borax is sodium borate. Borax is a natural laundry whitener and deodorizer. I buy all three of these items at my local Kroger store and at Wal-Mart. They can also be found online.

I have used the powder detergent in a HE washing machine. I sprinkle the powder on top of the clothing prior to starting the machine. As with anything else, use your own discretion when deciding whether to use a homemade detergent in your machine.

I wash almost exclusively in COLD water without any difficulties at all. The detergent dissolves within moments of contact with water, cold or hot. When I’m doing laundry, I also throw in 1/4 cup or so of plain white vinegar in place of fabric softeners.

Homemade POWDER Laundry Detergent
(printable directions)

2 cups 20 Mule Team Borax
2 cups Arm and Hammer Washing Soda
1 bar Fels Naptha or 1/2 bar Zote, grated (I use a fine grater for Fels Naptha and a standard grater for Zote)

Grate the soap and then place all three ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir to thoroughly combine. Transfer to an airtight container for storage. Use 1 tablespoon of this detergent for small to medium size loads and 2 tablespoons for large or heavily soiled loads.

In case you are wondering, I have made a liquid laundry soap in the past as well. The powder version is my favorite for it’s simplicity and ease of use. By popular request, I’m adding directions below for the liquid version as well.

Homemade LIQUID Laundry Detergent
1/3 bar Fels Naptha or other type of soap, as
listed above
1/2 cup Arm and Hammer Washing Soda
1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax
1 small bucket, about a 2 gallon size; I use a
large box with a snap tight lid to store it.Grate the soap and put it in a sauce
pan. Add 6 cups water and heat it until the soap melts. Add the
washing soda and the borax and stir until it is dissolved. Remove from
heat. Pour 4 cups very hot water into the bucket. Add the soap mixture and stir. Now add 1 gallon plus 6 cups of water and
stir. Let the soap sit for about 24 hours and it will gel. Use 1/2 cup of the liquid soap per load.
The finished soap will not be a solid
gel. It will be more of a watery gel that has been accurately described
as an “egg noodle soup” look. The soap is a low sudsing soap. If you
don’t see suds, that is fine. Suds do not do the cleaning, it is
the ingredients in the soap.

If you like homemade solutions to everyday needs, this Homemade Cough Remedy is a huge win with everyone who tries it.

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Mary Younkin

Mary Younkin

Hi, I’m Mary. I’m the author, cook, photographer, and travel lover behind the scenes here at Barefeet In The Kitchen. I'm also the author of three cookbooks dedicated to making cooking from scratch as simple as possible.

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    • Mary says

      I think it works just as well. I've used Tide in the past and a couple of my kids had skin reactions to it, so that was my initial motivation in finding an alternative.

    • Cello says

      Ahhh- I was going to ask if you knew how sensitive skin might react to this. I can't use any of the big name brands because my skin breaks out in hives. I currently use Ecos, but I cringe at the 'all natural' price tag that goes with it. Have you found any fabric that doesn't seem to react well to this mixture? Delicate, fleece, wool? Thanks so much for posting this- I think I'm going to give it a shot!

    • Anonymous says

      I've been using this powder detergent for over 6 mos. Before I had to use free due to my allergies. Haven't had any problems at all with this. Will use this from now on!

  1. Sue/the view from great island says

    Are you kidding? This is big news! You were holding out on me!! Actually, would you believe when I was a teenager I used to wash my face with fels naptha? My best friend swore it took care of pimples. I think this is a better use for it!

  2. Anonymous says

    Do you find any trouble with this dissolving in cold water, or do you wash with warm water? I have read comments from other places that indicated this might be a tiny problem. I've purchased the ingredients already but was hesitant about all steps involved in the liquid recipe. Thanks so much for this one; it seems much simpler!

    • Anonymous says

      As your washer is filling with water, add your soap mixture then the clothes. Even takes care of blood!!

    • Anonymous says

      I have been using this recipe for months, and I have found that if I pulse all the ingredients in a little 2 cup food chopper (thrift store purchase and used ONLY for soap making) after I grate the PN soap that it dissolves just fine in cold water. I also have added a few drops of essential oil for scents and even a bottle of purex laundry crystals for scent. I have also tried using Ivory and Zote in place of the PN and the ivory does NOT dissolve in cold water and leaves white spots on the clothes.

  3. Janie says

    I have been making my own laundry detergent for a few years now and I just can't go back..I love how the clothes smell like clean air when they come right out of the wash..without any rinse.. It even made my son's diesel oil work clothes smell clean…

  4. Anonymous says

    i have been making this soap use it all the time just have not done the powder one was not sure it would melt i dont use hot water i use cold i can try it tho it wouold not take as but space to store

  5. Ross says

    I'm curious as to why you wash in cold water? I've been taught to wash in the hottest water that the fabric and colors will tolerate. With modern fabrics and dyes, that seems to be hot for 80% of my clothes and warm for the darks and brights.

    • Anonymous says

      I don't have hot water to my washer at all. Laundry gets clean in cold water. Why spend $ to heat the water when it's not needed.

  6. Monday's Child says

    I've been using homemade laundry detergent for a couple of years now. The first time, I made the gel. The hassle of stirring it before each use, and storing it (since the water, of course, takes up volume and adds weight), discouraged me. So I tried the powder the next time. I've been doing that ever since.

    I have found that my whites don't always stay as white. So for those, I also add a scoop of Oxyclean powder to the laundry powder.

    Also, I make mine using the grating wheel on my food processer. Since I throw all the parts into the dishwasher afterward, I don't think I need to be concerned about the soap getting into my food. After all, those are the same ingredients I'm washing my dish towels with, and those touch my plates. Anyhow, by using the food processor I can make a new batch of detergent in about 5 minutes flat.

    My other change was to start using plain white vinegar instead of fabric softener. No, the clothes don't smell like vinegar afterward! But they are just as soft, they don't have any scent to compete with perfume if I choose to wear any (though I seldom do), and I can buy a whole jug of the stuff for next to nothing. But more importantly, it's better for both the fabric and the washing machine.

    • Mary says

      I've used white vinegar instead of fabric softener for years now. I LOVE it. There is no vinegar smell at all and the clothing is always soft and static free. It works amazingly well to eliminate odors that tend to be left on towels too.

    • Anonymous says

      I have been using this for over 6 months now and love it. I was told the front loading washing machines tolerate this very well. I've not noticed any odor in my machine since using this. I'll have to try the vinegar.

  7. Anonymous says

    I make this as well. Just a tip…instead of grating the felz naptha, put it in the microwave on a paper plate and cook for 2 min, flipping in 30 sec intervals. It will puff up! Let cool and leave out on counter for 2-3 days. Then put it in a ziplock and it will crumble into a fine powder. Much easier than grating!!!

  8. shannon says

    Help… i made a 5 gallon bucket of liquid detergent and it is leaving white spots all over. I let the washing machine fill up first and then put my clothes in. Please help.

  9. Anonymous says

    Hello, Do you have a preference between Fels Naptha or Zote? Does one dissolve better in cold water than the other? Just curious, bc the two cost the same price at my local store, but the bar of Zote is twice as big as the bar of Fels Naptha. I only have cold water washer, so I went with the Fels Naptha to be on the safe side, but would like to know your opinion for future reference. Thanks! 🙂

    • Mary says

      I've always used Fels Naptha, but I have many friends who use Zote without any problem. You could try mixing half and half to see if you notice a difference initially.

  10. Ribbron says

    In my experience, the dry laundry soap does not dissolve well in cold water. Test it yourself: add about a teaspoon to a quart of water and shake.

  11. CJ says

    Hi. I’ve been using the liquid recipe now for about 5 years. I’m starting to see a build up of deoderant on my shirts & an unclean smell in my shirts. Any thoughts or ideas? I have cold water only in my washing machine

    • Mary says

      I’ve found that periodically adding Oxyclean to a load helps with eliminating strong odors. Also, if you work out frequently or have especially strong laundry odors you may find that this simple detergent isn’t strong enough for everyday. I periodically use odor-fighting Tide for our workout clothes. This homemade one didn’t prove strong enough for heavier odors.

      That said, I’ve never had an issue with buildup. Have you tried adding vinegar to the rinse cycle? I fill the dispenser with plain white vinegar and that works like a fabric softener. (And I don’t smell any vinegar on the dry clothing later.)

  12. Sheila Copeland says

    After making the recipe, I used to have a problem with the little pieces of grated Fels or Zote not dissolving. Now I run mine through the food processor, or bullet blender, in small batches, and it turns into a fine(r) powder that works better for my HE machine. I only use cold water, maybe hot sometimes for whites, and haven’t had a problem since.