One of the most popular articles I’ve ever written for The Simple Dollar is Making Your Own Laundry Detergent: A Detailed Visual Guide. In it, I very carefully described my recipe at the time for making homemade laundry soap.
In terms of cost-effectiveness, that recipe is amazing. It costs just a little under three cents per load and gets clothes quite clean. My homemade soap recipe cleans clothes at least comparatively well with Tide and other store brand detergents and soaps, and Tide is well over 20 cents per load and even store brand soaps and detergents cost at least eight cents per load.
We have a large family. If you figure that we’re doing one load of laundry per day on average around here, which isn’t too far off of the truth, that means that using homemade laundry soap is saving us about $62 per year over Tide and about $20 per year over store brand laundry soap.
My original recipe, however, was a bit of a convoluted affair. It involved grating bars of soap up in a box grater, boiling those soap flakes in water, mixing a big solution together in a five-gallon bucket, and keeping that bucket in the laundry room.
The truth? Most of those steps are unnecessary. In the last several years, I’ve improved the whole procedure quite a bit. Here’s what we do now.
These days, I have a small reusable plastic container with a lid that I keep sealed. The container holds several cups of powder and a tablespoon in our laundry room. Whenever that container is empty, I simply put in two cups of washing soda, one cup of borax, and two cups of soap flakes, then shake the container around real well. It takes maybe 30 seconds.
Each time I do a load of laundry, I scoop out a single roughly level tablespoon of this mix and add it to the load. That spoonful is two parts washing soda, two parts soap flakes, and one part borax, as noted above.
That mix lasts for about 80 loads. I have to spend 30 seconds making a new batch of it once every two months or so. I actually keep the borax, washing soda, and soap flakes in a shelf in the laundry room so that I can just mix it in there without going anywhere else.
The results are exactly the same as I got with the more complicated mix in my earlier post. It cleans everything pretty well, even taking mustard stains out of shirts. If I need to work on a tough stain, I’ll get a little bit of water and a tiny bit of this mix together to make a paste and rub it into the stain and it seems to work really well.
Okay, so where do you buy this stuff? I usually buy Arm & Hammer washing soda and 20 Mule Team borax at my local grocery store, which stocks these products in their cleaning section, just as I did in the previous post. I still shop at the Fareway depicted in that article, in fact.
The big change is that I no longer buy bars of soap. Instead, I spend just a little more and buy soap flakes, which appear to be of a store brand variety. I can get a one-pound bag of soap flakes for about $10, which lasts for a very long time. Soap flakes are deceptively light – it looks like you have a ton of them but they feel like they weigh almost nothing.
These are larger containers than I usually buy, but I’ll say this much – you’ll make a ton of soap from these. My back of the envelope estimation is that those ingredients combined would provide somewhere on the order of 500 to 600 loads of laundry, with some borax and likely some soap flakes left over. That means you’d be paying about four and a half cents per load and have some extra borax and soap flakes for the next time. (Remember, each load is using around a teaspoon of the contents of each container, and there are 48 teaspoons in a cup, so each load is using only a tiny amount of this stuff.)
For comparison’s sake, the best price I could find on Tide powder on Amazon is about 19 cents per load. Other brands can be found that are cheaper, but nothing gets down into the 4 cents per load range like this recipe.
So, what changed from the original recipe? Really, there are only two key changes.
First, I realized that I didn’t need to have liquid soap. I used to go through a process where I boiled the soap flakes and then mixed everything together to make a large amount of liquid laundry soap. This required a lot of extra effort, including having a giant five-gallon bucket in our laundry room.
I just skip all of that now. The reason is that the washing machine provides all of the water I need when the laundry begins to wash, so there’s no need to use a ton of water in making liquid laundry soap. I let the washing machine do the dissolving instead of me.
Instead, I just “mix” the powders by putting the amounts I need into a container with a lid and then just shake it for 30 seconds or so, tossing it around really thoroughly to get the powder mixed well. That provides all of the mixing I need. To my eye, only the soap flakes are visually distinct in the mix and it looks like they’re spread out pretty evenly, so I call it good enough and just use a teaspoon of this in each load.
Second, I realized that grating bars of soap was one of those “unnecessarily frugal” activities. Yes, buying a cheap bar of soap and grating it produces cheaper soap flakes than buying a bag of soap flakes. A bag of soap flakes costs about as much as four to five bars of cheap soap, which means that the bag of soap flakes is more expensive per pound. However, it’s not that much more expensive, especially when you consider the time spent having to grate five bars of soap. I’m quite willing to pay a couple of dollars extra to skip out on most of an hour of grating bars of soap.
Because of those two changes, I’ve eliminated most of the time commitment of my previous recipe. Now, I literally just put two cups of washing soda, two cups of soap flakes, and one cup of borax into a box, shake it, put the tablespoon in it, and sit it in the laundry room. Whenever I run a load, I just scoop out a tablespoon of this stuff and use it just like normal laundry soap.
This, to me, is frugal success. There’s almost no additional time compared to buying Tide at the store; instead of buying a new package at the store, I just mix together some stuff in thirty seconds in the laundry room. It’s arguably faster and, at worst, not much slower.
The best part? It’s way cheaper. I’m saving $60-$80 per year because of this change without expending any significant amount of time (I actually think I’m saving time, but I know it’s pretty close). My clothes still get perfectly clean, I’m buying in bulk and being far less wasteful with packaging, and it’s all so incredibly easy!
Give this recipe a shot. For the cost of a large container of normal laundry soap, you’ll have everything you need for several hundred loads of laundry. If it works for you, then you have enough for many, many loads. If you use it a bunch of times and decide that it’s not right for you, then you can easily switch back to normal detergent and use the ingredients for other home cleaning recipes (for example, there are dishwashing soap recipes that use these ingredients, too).