Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Laundry Detergent: make your own & more than you ever needed to know on the subject

Vegan Homemade Laundry Detergent

Well folks, I've decided to delve into the art of laundry soap making. I've done quite a bit of research to find out about cruelty-free and environmentally-friendly products. It sure helps to have a "chemically knowledgeable" consultant at home. No, I don't mean Emerson.

Here's the scoop:

No, really, here's the scoop:
If you've been thinking about making your own laundry detergent to save money, limit the chemicals you use, and/or save the environment, hopefully this'll help. I calculated that you can spend less than $0.06 per load of laundry and depending on how many loads of laundry you do in your home and how much you usually spend on detergent, save roughly 20 bucks a year. (That was my guesstimate for a family of four, doing an average of three loads per week.)

What you need:
Sodium carbonate (soda ash)
Bar Soap
Hand grater

The vegan way (about the ingredients):

Sun Oxygen Cleaner= sodium carbonate (soda ash)
I spent the most time researching this product. Straight up soda ash is easy to find, if you don't mind purchasing from Arm and Hammer...I do. I checked a few other options including purchasing it online, but decided against it when shipping charges were factored in. DocDufresne found a brand, Jacquard, sold at craft stores used for tie-dying. I thought this could be a good route. A small company; probably doesn't test, right? Wrong! Then I started thinking about things that contain sodium carbonate, like Oxiclean. When owned only be Orange Glo, Oxiclean was not tested on animals. Now it's owned by Church and Dwight and if it isn't tested on animals, I didn't find a label. Then I stumbled upon Sun Products and oh my goodness, yay! This entire company is cruelty-free!!! And guess what? If after this blog post you're not motivated to save money by making your own laundry detergent, that's okay! Sun Products include All, Snuggle, Wisk, and more! Doc checked the ingredients in All for eco-friendliness and while many of them are vague, he said there wasn't anything that alarmed him. Sun is super cheap and apparently is effective.

20-Mule Team Borax is a natural product that has been around for over 100 years. The company did not test on animals. However, it is now owned by the Dial Corporation, which does. I contemplated over the Borax issue. Basically, I came up with the following argument, which leaves me settled, but I certainly would prefer supporting a completely animal-friendly company. I likened purchasing a cruelty-free product (i.e. one not tested on animals) from a company that has purchased the product and DOES test to ordering a vegan meal from a restaurant that serves meat. Number one: It's not totally feasible to eat ONLY at vegan restaurants. Number two: Perhaps you're promoting the company's usage of vegan options and are therefore influencing their product focus.

With that being said, Tom's of Maine Toothpaste? Love the stuff. The company's now owned by Colgate. Do I totally dismiss the product? No, but I don't know when the last time I bought it was. TJ's fennel toothpaste is where it's at anyway.

In my research I found several recipes for laundry soap that mentioned a soap called "Fels Naptha." Further research discovered this soap contains pig fat- yuck! According to this laundry recipe, you can use any bar soap. I think Dr. Bronner's is a fine choice and I'll probably switch up the soaps I use. I actually plan to purchase essential/ fragrance oils to add to my laundry soap, but I thought I would try it with a strong-smelling bar soap first. To me, the way a detergent leaves my clothes smelling is just as important as how well it cleans.

The cost:
$5 (+ $0.40 tax) for 6 lbs of Sun Oxygen Cleaner
$4.34 (on Amazon- I already had some on hand, so I had to look up the $) for 76 oz of 20-Mule Team Borax**
$0.99 for 1 bar Chandrika soap

A container of Sun Oxygen Cleaner will yield approximately 9 cups ($0.60 per cup)
A box of Borax will yield approximately seven cups ($0.62 per cup)

Make a batch of detergent by mixing 1 cup Oxygen Cleaner, 1 cup Borax, and 1 grated bar of soap. This yields about 2.5 cups of laundry detergent. My sources say this should be enough for 36 loads of laundry**.

= 6 cents per load!!!!

The detergent worked really well and my clothes came out smelling fresh and like Chandrika! However, I don't know how worth it it is to make laundry soap myself.

Bottom line: This detergent is great if you can find all these ingredients super cheap, especially the soap. It would also make great gifts since you can customize the scent based on the recipient. I'll probably continue to use it intermittently with others.

**I guess I use A LOT more detergent than others do, but I like the smell to stick to my clothes. I also load the machine up pretty full. I estimate this amount will actually yield 16 extra large loads for me.

I still love Method. I wish their Water Lilly detergent would come back.

I could keep going with this post, but I'll stop here. Questions? I might know the answer. I did A LOT of research.


  1. Hey I’m a little upset at your research...

    A quick check on ingredients or MSDS will clearly show you that Sun/oxiclean is not simple Sodium carbonate, they react sodium carbonate with Hydrogen peroxide.

    Simple sodium carbonate aka as washing soda, what my Grandmom used is also not to be confused with baking soda...many people do...(( not that you did))

    Simple sodium carbonate (soda ash/washing soda) is great at helping to clean things.

    I know you know the difference between baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and sodium carbonate, Sodium carbonate is also about twice as base/reactive against acids...

    The truth is that we need to use very little soap in our washing machines, at least modern front loaders. Most cap lines on most detergents are CRAZY, way way too much.

    If you have water with low hardness you can use even less.

    I'm fussy when it comes to facts pertaining to chemistry.

    The idea of using real French milled or castile soaps is not good!!

    Real soap made from LYE(sodium hydroxide) reacted with a fat, either animal or vegie... well that process is saponifaction...

    It makes SOAP SCUM, all over your clothes.

    Soap scum over time can cause damage to your HE/front load washers because they use so little water, over time it forms like hardened arteries, because it reacts with the minerals in the water and precipitates out of solution…

    Grating real non-detergent soap onto your clothes should only be done on your junk clothes, chore-jeans/shirts, socks... or as an alternative to Petro-chemical based (Crude oil) detergents, especially for people with sensitivities.

    If we all ate mostly vegan diets we would probably live longer, sun energy into veggie power is just plain more efficient, then to move it through a middle man like a cow or other animal.

    The nice thing about a cow though is that if you live in the middle of nowhere, and your crops all died, the cow could eat the grass and straw and you could survive on the milk, humans can’t do that trick. I don’t eat cow, cows are gods.
    I knew a guy who survived eating cockroaches, he was trapped in earthquake rubble surrounded by damp newspaper, the nights were cold he would have died without the supplemental energy. Cockroaches also convert non-nutritious things like wood, leaves and newspaper into a food source.

    I understand about your call to nature and all, but if all your facts are correct your arguments will be even more persuasive.

    1. Do you have a homemade recipe you could share?

  2. Oh.. GURRR, DO not stuff your washer full of more clothes than you should.

    First that hurts the motor, it prematurley wears out your belts. Worn out belts have more slack, more slack mean more slipage, which means the motor turns MORE, which means more electricity used.

    simpile physics the larger the load the more energy is needed to move that load, if the same amount of energy is applied to a load that is larger than standard than the amount of energy towards the kinetic motion averages to be less...

    Clothes need the ability to move against one another in order to create friction, they need to move against the agitator in the middle of an upright.

    OVERLOADED also means not so clean.

  3. I made Chandrika sandalwood laundry detergent yesterday and it's fabulous! I shredded 1 bar of Chandrika with a cheese grater and put the chips in a little Black & Decker food processor (Black & Decker EHC650 2-Speed Food Chopper with 3-Cup Bowl, $18.99 through Amazon) with 1 cup Borax and 1 cup of Arm & Hammer Washing Soda. I recommend only using 1 heaping Tbsp. per normal load, however. You really don't need much. P.S. I've been using homemade detergent from bar soap in my front-loader washing machine for three years and it hasn't harmed our machine at all.

  4. Hi Janet,

    Thanks for your comment! I'm going to heed your advice for using only a tbsp! I'm glad you've had success using homemade detergent.

    I was planning on responding to "Anonymous" when they posted, but then realized it really wasn't worth my time. (It seems as though they didn't read my post, and instead made an awful lot of false assumptions.) They do seem to really have a passion for laundry and laundry machine care, though!

    Thanks again for your comment!

  5. Not to mention, throw some white vinegar and do a cycle with only that and it'll clean up any "hardened arteries" just like that.

    I've been using my homemade detergent for two years now and my washer still works just fine.

  6. I've been making my own detergent for a while now, and use it on all our clothes. I really don't think the bar soap is completely necessary. Some essential oils could give your clothes a nice smell without the residue.
    The reason I KNOW this: I've experimented with all sorts of recipes to use on my daughter's cloth diapers. When a diaper gets a residue on them-AKA not completely clean-they start leaking horribly. The bar soap is completely unnecessary if you are using enough water with the load to let it agitate properly. I even hand wash most of my daughter's clothes b/c her skin is so sensitive that I can't put them in the washer(where I wash Dad's work clothes).
    My recipe is this:
    1/4 cup borax/baking soda mixture
    A squirt of Bac-Out(only for diapers)
    1/2 scoop of Sun Oxygen cleaner.
    A couple drops Essential oil of choice(not for dipes)
    1/8 Cup white vinegar in the rinse cycle
    My clothes come out clean and fresh-smelling (the vinegar is an excellent softener) and I love to line dry in the sun. The sun will also bleach any stains on whites, so leave them to sit in the sun for a day or 2 and avoid icky bleach! (I bleach out poo stains in the sun)
    It would prob be easier to just go buy a bucket of detergent, but I like that I can avoid all the chemicals and fillers and save a BUNCH of moolah!(and the earth!!!!!)

  7. Hi, I just found out that Sun Products (which were definitely cruelty free at one point) are now owned by UniLever, who definitely tests on animals. I'm so upset about this!!!!!! I just thought you would want to know. Sorry to be the barer of bad news.

  8. Thanks for your post, BestFitPetSit! According to Sun's website, Sun was formed from Unilever's North American fabric care business and Huish Products in 2008. I spoke with Sun last year (2010) and was told this new company does not test on animals.

    I don't see anything that mentions a buy-out by Unilever. Do you know of something that happened recently?

  9. Did we ever find out if Sun is cruelty free??

  10. Hi all, I don't know about Sun, but I use Oxo Brite by Earth Friendly Products. It seems to be the same product as the Sun Oxygen Cleaner, but is not tested on animals. Hope this helps! If I could find a generic borax, I'd be in laundry heaven!
    Here's a link: http://www.ecos.com/oxo.html#spec

  11. I think you need to check the Snuggle products. Fabric softeners contain tallow (animal fat). So while it might not be tested on live animals...they use animals in prodution.

  12. I use Nellie's all natural oxygen brightener and Nellie's laundry soda--according to packaging they never test on animals--i do have to order online Crate and Barrel has a good price but shipping costs and you can find it on Amazon--occasionally i have seen it at TJ Maxx for a great discounted price....i am considering using Sun bc i can get it at a local store but wasn't sure how it works which is how i stumbled on your blog--Nellies does work really well and probably stick with it for now.

  13. Thank you for this recipe. I made two batches today using Dr Bronner's Lavender and Dr Bronner's Rose soaps. I doubled the batches and added 20 drops of Lavender essential oil to the lavender batch. I did a load of wash tonight with the lavender. My clothes smell great and are really clean. We have a water softener so I used a level Tbsp. We don't need fabric softener but I read that Ecover does not test on animals. I just became vegan and I'm outraged at how many cleaning and personal care companies test on animals. You can find the lists of companies that do and don't test on animals on PETA's website. Linda

  14. I love your page! I felt the same when I had purchased the Borax for my homemade laundry detergent. In fact pretty much everything you said took the words out of my mouth!