Homemade 3-Ingredient Laundry Detergent (Powder)

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While researching homemade laundry detergent, I realized that there must be at least a million different recipes out there, and each one of them has a user who swears by it. This led me to the conclusion that it’s probably pretty hard to mess this up, and as long as you include a few key ingredients, you’re going to wind up with clean clothes in the end. Whew. That took some of the pressure off!

I decided to aim for as simple a recipe–with as few ingredients–as possible. I’ve got it down now to three ingredients: baking soda, epsom salt, and a bar of Dr. Bronner’s castille soap. My husband commented recently that he believes our clothes are even cleaner than before and that they smell wonderful. I agree! And with such an inexpensive and easy-to-make recipe, I can’t imagine ever going back to store-bought detergent.

Here is what I have been using for the past six weeks with outstanding results (note: a little bit of this stuff goes a looooong way):

HOMEMADE LAUNDRY DETERGENT (POWDER)

Ingredients:
2 cups baking soda (I buy this at Costco in a 13.5 lb bag)
1 1/2 cups washing soda (I make this–using nothing but baking soda!–see below)
1/4 cup epsom salt (you could probably use any type of salt for this; it softens the water)
1 bar of Dr. Bronner’s castille soap, finely grated

Instructions:

1. Make washing soda.
Before I tried this recipe, I searched and called all over town trying to find washing soda. No matter where I went, no store seemed to carry it. So I looked online and discovered that the only “difference between baking soda and washing soda is water and carbon dioxide. Seriously. Baking soda’s chemical makeup is NaHCO3 (1 sodium, 1 hydrogen, one carbon, and 3 oxygen molecules). Washing soda’s chemical makeup is Na2CO3 (2 sodium, 1 carbon, and 3 oxygen molecules). When baking soda is heated up to high temperatures, it breaks down to become washing soda, water steam, and carbon dioxide.”

How cool is that? Since I had a great big bag of baking soda on hand, I figured I’d give it a try. I followed the directions on the Penniless Parenting blog (thanks, Penny!) and voila, I had washing soda! Here’s what I did:

– Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
– Pour about 2 cups of baking soda onto a clean baking sheet. (I recommend starting with more baking soda than you will need in washing soda. For some reason, when I started with 2 cups of baking soda, I wound up with less than 2 cups of washing soda when it was all said and done. This may be a result of the chemical process…?)
– Bake for 30-60 minutes, stirring once or twice with a spatula. I wound up baking mine for about 45 minutes, and at that point, I could see a difference and knew that it was done. According to Penny, you’ll be able to tell when your baking soda has become washing soda by looking for the following changes: “Washing soda is grainy, baking soda is powdery. Washing soda is dull and opaque, baking soda is crystalized like salt and reflects light, i.e. it is semi shiny. Washing soda is separate grains, baking soda clumps together.”

2. Grate soap.
While your washing soda is in the oven, use a handheld cheese grater (or food processor) to grate your bar of soap into as fine a shred as possible. I did this by hand, and factoring in a few interruptions, it took me about 10 minutes. This is by far the most–OK, it’s the only–labor-intensive part of making laundry detergent, and next time I think I’ll try doing it in the food processor. If the food processor doesn’t work out for me, I’ll just go back to grating by hand. It’s not fun, but it’s totally worth it.

For my first batch, I used rose-scented soap, and it is heavenly! Next, I plan to try peppermint, which is pictured above. You could also use an unscented bar of soap and either leave it plain, or add a few drops of essential oils to create your own customized smell. I imagine you could try other types of soap for this, but I will be sticking with my long-time favorite, Dr. Bronner’s.

3. Combine ingredients.
Once your washing soda has cooled, stir together all of the ingredients (baking soda, washing soda, salt, and grated soap) in a large bowl. Then pour your detergent into a storage container of your choice. I’m using a 64 oz. glass canning jar with a plastic lid and a small (2 Tbsp) plastic scoop that I kept from a store-bought box of powdered detergent. This recipe only filled my jar halfway, so next time, I will probably double the ingredients.

When it’s time to do laundry, I use 1/2 a scoop (about 1 Tbsp) of powder for smaller loads and a full scoop (2 Tbsp) for larger ones. We have a top-loading washing machine. I don’t know if this is necessary, but I have been using hot water at the beginning of each load to “melt” the powder.

I cannot believe that something so simple and inexpensive can smell so divine and work so effectively! Congratulations to all of you who figured this out long before I did (like my wise little sister, Christine), and thank you for paving the way and helping me to finally get on board!

For what it’s worth, below are some before and after pictures of my oh-so-gratifying-baking-soda-to-washing-soda conversion:

BEFORE: baking soda

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AFTER: washing soda

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About Kim McCoy

Kim McCoy is a passionate animal and environmental advocate with a B.S. in Business Administration from UT Knoxville and a J.D. specializing in Animal and Environmental Law. She graduated with honors from Lewis & Clark Law School, where she served as Editor in Chief of the internationally acclaimed Animal Law Review and interned with the National Center for Animal Law and the International Environmental Law Project. Kim is a member of MENSA (the “high IQ society”) and previously worked for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in a variety of roles, including Executive Director, Director of Campaigns, and Director of Legal Affairs. Kim is also the former Executive Director of the One World One Ocean Foundation and the proud mother of a healthy, thriving son who has been vegan since conception. Currently serving as Executive Director of Big Life Foundation, which protects wildlife and wild lands in Eastern Africa, Kim remains deeply committed to the defense of animals worldwide.
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9 Responses to Homemade 3-Ingredient Laundry Detergent (Powder)

  1. Leena says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing. I am looking forward to trying this soon.

  2. Christine Caine says:

    My whole body itched for about two solid weeks. It took me a while to conclude that it was the CVS brand detergent I had tried. 5 weeks later, I’m finally doing laundry….I’ve been totally freaked out. Let’s just say I’ve been wearing things I haven’t worn in a very long time. In today’s wash, I used baking soda, vinegar and little bit of Tide that found in a corner. This will be the last time I use store bought, cruel detergent.

    I have all of the ingredients listed above, except that my dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap is in liquid form. Is hard soap better / different than the liquid stuff?

    • Kim McCoy says:

      Hi Christine, I’m so sorry to hear about your itching ordeal! I do think it’s important for this particular detergent to use the grated hard soap, rather than liquid. However, if you’d like to use liquid Dr. Bronner’s, I’ve seen other recipes for homemade laundry liquid, so you might google that and try one of those. I can only personally vouch for this one, though. Good luck!!

  3. IRMA says:

    Arm and Hammer baking soda still tests their products on animals.

  4. Lisa says:

    Have you ever added essential oils to this recipe?

    • Kim McCoy says:

      Hi Lisa, I haven’t done so because I was worried it would cause the powder to clump together during storage, but it might be fine? Alternatively, you might consider sprinkling a few drops of essential oils directly into the washing machine after adding your laundry powder separately.

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