Natural, Homemade Laundry Soaps

Use baking soda, white vinegar, lemon juice and other natural ingredients to clean, soften, whiten and freshen your clothes — no harsh chemicals necessary!
By Jeffrey Hollender with Alexandra Zissu
July 14, 2011

Part encyclopedia, part self-help book, part inspirational manifesto, “Planet Home” is chock-full of practical ways to green and (greenly) care for absolutely every aspect of your abode. Room by room, “Planet Home” delves beyond the standard “go green” advice to examine how our everyday individual choices — a carton of milk, a light bulb, a cleaning product — ripple out, impacting not just our own health, but the health of our communities, our future generations and our shared planet home.
COVER: CLARKSON POTTER
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The following is an excerpt from Planet Home by Jeffrey Hollender with Alexandra Zissu (Clarkson Potter, 2010). From sourcing local and organic food to safely cleaning your kitchen sink, Planet Home is a road map for anyone looking to make greener, healthier choices at home. As co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation — the most trusted brand in environmentally friendly household products — author Jeffrey Hollender is one of the foremost authorities on natural, conscious living, and Planet Home is an unparalleled resource for learning how to tread lightly on the Earth without sacrificing the quality, richness and unique comforts of your home. This excerpt is from Chapter 9, “The Laundry Room.” 

Laundry (and dish) detergents tend to be less toxic than other conventional household cleaners — but that doesn’t mean the chemicals used in most laundry rooms are safe for humans or the environment. In fact, they pose both immediate and chronic hazards.

You can easily and significantly reduce the potential danger in your laundry room by choosing to clean and whiten with natural products and better chemicals. Use common sense and avoid any bottle labeled “danger,” “corrosive” or “skin irritant.” Store any laundry cleaners out of reach of children and pets. And, whatever you use, don’t use too much of it — it’s a waste of detergent and money, and extra residue will actually attract dirt to your clothing.

How to Choose a Natural Laundry Product

Because there is no standard definition of “natural” or “nontoxic,” it can be difficult to know what to look for. Following these rules of thumb should eliminate most of the unnatural detergents in any given store.

  • Seek out products that aren’t covered in danger warnings.
  • Look for bottles that list all of the ingredients in the product, and read the ingredients. These should be complete lists.
  • You should see a disclosure about the use of vegetable-based surfactants.
  • Always check to see which kind of fragrance is in a natural product. It should be 100 percent essential oil.
  • For help, check out GoodGuide.com or Seventh Generation’s Label Reading Guide.

Homemade Laundry Solutions

Borax. You can find Borax (sodium borate, a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen and water) in the detergent aisle of most grocery stores. Add 1/2 a cup of Borax to your regular detergent (liquid or powder) to give it an extra boost. Borax will help to improve the cleaning power, whiten, and remove stains and odors. You can also soak clothes in water with Borax (1 tablespoon per gallon of water) before washing. When using on delicates, add 1/4 cup to your regular detergent instead. Exposure to Borax can be harmful in high amounts, so avoid inhalation and ingestion.

White Vinegar. Add 1/4 cup of white vinegar during the last rinse cycle. White vinegar removes yellowing, acts as a fabric softener and inhibits mold and mildew.

Baking Soda. Adding 1/2 cup of baking soda to the usual amount of liquid detergent at the beginning of the wash cycle will improve the cleaning power of your detergent. To help eliminate odors, add 1/2 cup of baking soda during the rinse cycle.

Cornstarch. Make your own starch spray by mixing 2 tablespoons non-GMO cornstarch with 2 pints cold water in a spray bottle. Shake well before each use. For laundry starch, stir 1/2 cup cornstarch into 1 cup cold water. Add boiling water (2 quarts for heavy stiffness, 4 quarts for medium stiffness and 6 quarts for light stiffness). Dip newly washed clothes into starch mix and dry. Sprinkle lightly with warm water and iron as usual.

Lemon Juice. Boost whitening power naturally by adding 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the rinse cycle. Do not use lemon juice with hydrogen peroxide or chlorine bleach. If lemon isn’t enough, add 1 cup of club soda to your wash as well. For a pleasant scent, add a teaspoon of lemon juice to the wash cycle of any load.

Washing Soda. Use washing soda (sodium carbonate, a highly alkaline chemical compound) to help make the switch from conventional detergents to natural soap laundry cleaners. First-time loads should be washed once with 1/3 cup of washing soda only. This will eliminate residues left by other detergents, which may react with soap, causing fabrics to yellow. For all subsequent washes, add 1/3 cup of washing soda to water while the machine is filling. Add clothes and 1 to 1 1/2 cups of natural laundry soap. You can also add 1/4 cup of white vinegar during the rinse cycle to improve cleaning if your water is hard.


Reprinted with permission from Planet Home, published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House Inc., 2010. 


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Post a comment below.

 

Evie
4/8/2014 7:28:08 AM
By making your own laundry soap, you can avoid using chemicals that can cause negative side-effects and skin infections. Above all soap making can be a wise way to save money and have some fun with your family. Thanks for sharing..

TULANI
8/13/2013 3:22:29 AM

I make my own laundry detergent by mixing together:

1 Cup of Barax

1 cup of washing soda

1 cup of baking soda

1 full bar of Fels Naptha soap(grated to a fine powder)

After mixing all ingrediants together(dry, no water) I store it in a air tight glass jar.

To use, I add 2 - 3 tablespoons to the washer.  

1 batch of this will last me about a month to a month & a half. 

with what is left over after mixing the 1 batch, I will not have to buy any more ingrediants for about 3 - 4 months.


8/12/2013 8:33:30 PM

there is a complete write up with illustrations here: http://www.budget101.com/myo-household-items/whipped-cream-super-laundry-soap-3993.html

for the person who wanted to know how to make her own, I haven't tried it yet, but plan to.


Catherine Hynes
11/21/2011 5:04:58 PM
Mary try Target...they sell Borax..or go to an Ace Hardware store...or larger food chain stores.

Kathy_47
7/30/2011 6:38:23 AM
I have been using the washing soda, borax, fels naptha combo for about 3 years. It works great in my front loader. I also use vinegar with just a little baking soda and water with a few drops of essential oil for my softner. I make my diswasher soap also. They all work great. My clothes have a fresh clean smell.

RedHoopWoman
7/29/2011 1:53:17 PM
You can wash a load of laundry and get it very clean by just grating a little castille soap (Ivory soap works great) into the wash and adding some baking soda or borax and some vinegar,any one of those will do a good job,the good thing about vinegar is that it is a natural laundry softener and really helps to keep your clothes free of soap or detergent residue.One word of caution that should have been mentioned about using Borax in your wash is not to use hot water with Borax as it can partially convert to peroxide and cause some surprising results on your colored clothes so if you use borax use cold water which is all I ever use anyways.

Kalli Widger_2
7/26/2011 11:11:10 AM
We have a friend who has extreme chemical sensitivities and most odors really make her sick. We use soap nuts in our laundry. Got them from Amazon. about 5 soap nuts in a cloth bag and you can do about 4-5 loads. I have started adding borax to my laundry also. They do a pretty good job with no odor, no chemicals. When the nuts start to degrade, toss them in the compost. Although gray water is illegal here in Colorado, the soap nuts are fine for using your gray water from what I read.

LuCinda
7/23/2011 7:20:08 PM
We recently made clothes detergent using the washing soda, borax and fels naptha soap recipe from livingonadime.com Does anyone know if the grey water from using it in the washing machine is safe to use in the garden?

Patsy
7/19/2011 10:47:26 AM
Diynatural.com has a lot of homemade laundry soap recipes, even for front loading machines. I use the homemade powder detergent and it works great, it's cheap to make and a double batch lasts forever!

Jeanette Romine
7/19/2011 10:00:05 AM
Kristie, you go to Hillbilly Housewife or Living on a Dime websites, they both have similar recipe's. I love making my own laundry soap. Be sure to have a 5 gal bucket for your soap.

Jeanette Romine
7/19/2011 9:17:17 AM
Kristi, you can go to Hillbilly housewife, or Living on a Dime website and they have a recipe for laundrey soap. I use it. It does not suds up, but it cleans. It is cheap. Be sure to find a large bucket. about 5gal.

kristyx13
7/19/2011 5:19:46 AM
Does anyone have a recipe for MAKING laundry soap? I thought this is what the article was going to be about...

George_41
7/19/2011 12:31:06 AM
Doesn't a front load washer have a slot for putting in additives and fabric softeners?

flame821
7/18/2011 11:12:33 PM
Any clues and hints for those of us who use front loading washing machines? We can't really open the door to add anything during the cycle, at least not without making a huge mess on the kitchen floor.








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