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How to Make Laundry Detergent

I feel like there are few things that are most important to me when it comes to natural living…hand soap, body wash, and deodorant to name a few. All of these come into contact with my body daily so I like to make sure that they are healthy! Laundry detergent is right up there as most important since I wear clothes every day and many of the chemicals and fragrances from commercial laundry detergent don’t rinse off of clothes!!

Common Laundry Detergent Ingredients

Just because it’s fragrance-free or formulated for babies doesn’t make it safe either! Here’s just a couple of toxic ingredients found in laundry detergent…

Ethanolamines: DEA, TEA, MEA Emulsifiers used to help soaps not separate.

DEA is known to cause cancer according to the State of California, causes kidney and liver damage, respiratory and skin irritation and aggravates asthma. TEA and MEA also cause respiratory and skin irritation. According to the Environmental Working Group, they are often contaminated with nitrosamines which are also known to cause cancer.

Methylisothiazolinone:   A frequently used preservative that is toxic to aquatic life according to the EPA and also a skin irritant. It is a known neurotoxin in animals and has not been adequately studied in humans. Because of these reasons, it is banned in Europe and is restricted in Canada and Japan.

1, 4-Dioxane: This ingredient is not intentionally added, but is a byproduct of ingredient processing from Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES).  While SLS and SLES are known to irritate skin, 1,4-dioxane is known to cause cancer and some estimates say that two thirds of laundry detergents contain 1, 4-dioxane! Dioxane is also easily absorbed through the skin, making it even more worrisome that it is in cosmetics as well as detergents!

That’s quite a laundry list of toxic ingredients! (pun intended…)

How I Make My Own

I choose to make powdered laundry detergent rather than liquid since the process is faster and storage is easier. I tend to make several batches at a time so I only have to do this every few months, because, honestly, the hardest part about this is cleaning the food processor!


Bar of Soap There are several good options for soap. I have been surprised to find that Ivory Soap is cheap works great (and Environmental Working Group rates Ivory a 3 out of 10–1 being the best. The only ingredient in Ivory rated higher than 2 is “fragrance”. If you’re trying to live more naturally on a budget, Ivory may be worth considering if you are willing to live with “fragrance”). Other options are castile soaps like Kirk’s Castile, and Dr Bronners Castile. Fels Naptha is a laundry bar that many people advocate, but EWG rates it a C for several different ingredients, so I really can’t endorse that! You can also make your own soap so that you know exactly what is in it!

Washing Soda This ingredient is found in stores in the laundry detergent aisle. Look high or low on the shelves since it can’t compete with Tide for popularity! (Where to Buy Washing Soda and Borax)

Borax This is a highly controversial ingredient. If borax concerns you, you can simply double the washing soda in this recipe and omit the borax. I’ve tried it. I thought that stains did not come out as well, so I choose to use it. My personal feelings are that it is MUCH safer than other ingredients found in laundry detergents and it is designed to rinse away. The main concern over borax is when it is ingested so I don’t use it in my kitchen cleaner recipe and on surfaces that my toddler might eat off of (which is basically everything). (Where to Buy Washing Soda and Borax)


1 Bar of Soap (Where to Buy Ivory Soap) (Where to Buy Dr Bronners ) (Where to Buy Kirks Castile)

1.5 Cup Washing Soda (Where to Buy Washing Soda and Borax)

1.5 Cup Borax (Where to Buy Washing Soda and Borax)


Grate the bar of soap. You can either do this by hand or in a food processor.

I choose to do this in a food processor so that I can grate the bar and then mix the ingredients. I frequently wash on cold and have found that if you hand-grate the bar soap you have to mix the detergent with hot water to melt the soap before adding it to the load. Otherwise, the soap doesn’t melt and work well in cold water and clumps are left in the washer. By using a food processor, you can grate the soap and then blend it with the other 2 ingredients, making the soap pieces so small they do well in cold water.

Mix in the washing soda and borax. Be careful to let the dust settle if you do this in a food processor. You don’t want to breathe in the powder.

Use 1 Tablespoon for a small load, 2 for medium loads, and 3 for large loads.


  • I’ll be honest, DIY laundry detergent doesn’t work as well as Tide and other commercial soaps. Because of this, be sure to use a stain-remover or pre-treater if you have stained clothes. This can be as simple as soda or white vinegar on a stain. I like to use OxiClean Baby Soak and just put stained clothes in a soak for a day or two until I do laundry.
  • If you hand-grate your soap, you will have to melt it in hot water before adding it to a load washed on cold or the soap won’t dissolve and clean well.

What do you use for laundry detergent? Share below…

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