Chemistry in the Kitchen: Creating Laundry Detergent

Reader Contribution by Candis Calvert
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Some things in life are certain: death and taxes. Add to that list laundry. The never-ending chore, laundry is a labor and resource intense process aimed at keeping people the world over smelling fresh and looking nice. Since forgoing laundry isn’t an agreeable option (for most), steps must be taken to make it more pleasant. Enter a little chemistry project: Creating Laundry Detergent.

Laundry detergent and fabric softener can be both shockingly expensive and chemically scary. Most

mainstream brands contain ingredients not easily understood or pronounced by the average consumer and the companies that make them strive to convince you it’s the only way to clean your clothing. Not true! Simple, safe and cheap, homemade detergent and softener can be yours for an investment of around $10 and 15 minutes.  Ingredients can be found at most big box stores, small general stores or grocery stores.

In addition to mixing ingredients, you’ll need a food processor or cheese grater, a spoon, and two storage containers (one needs to be liquid safe).  You may also want to label your creations, which can be done any way you like: chalkboard sticker and chalk, duct tape and permanent marker or white sticky label.

DIY Laundry Soap


For this project you’ll need:

½ cup borax
½ cup of washing soda
1 bar natural soap (suggestions: Dr. Bronner’s or Fels-Naptha)
3 drops essential oil (optional)


  1. Shave bar of soap. Using either a food processor or cheese grater, shave entire bare of soap into flakes.
  2. Mix ingredients.Pulse lightly in food processor or mix with hands in bowl, ensuring even distribution of all ingredients.
  3. Store and enjoy. Store indefinitely in an airtight container. Use 2 tbsp. per load of laundry.

No laundry cycle is complete without detergent’s constant companion: fabric softener.  Often eschewed by people with heightened environmental knowledge, homemade softener can be as “green” as you like. To give this solution the smallest footprint possible, use ingredients without sulfates, phthalates or parabens.

DIY Laundry Fabric Softener


For this project you’ll need:

3 cups white vinegar
2 cups hair conditioner
6 cups hot water


  1. Mix ingredients.Stir the hot water and conditioner together in a large container (with lid). DO NOT SHAKE! After well mixed, add vinegar, stirring to incorporate.
  2. Store and enjoy. Store indefinitely in an airtight container. Use ½ cup per load of laundry, more if washing whites, towels or sheets.

While the drudgery of washing, drying, folding and putting away can’t be taken away, this simple homemade detergent and fabric softener can make laundry a pleasure. While you may not see the massive suds quantity of conventional detergents, rest secure that yours is working.  Don’t be surprised when every houseguest asks about the soap you’re using and wants the recipe! Enjoy the fresh scents of your low-cost, chemically simple, and “green” replacements, and feel great (at least a little) about your weekly laundry.

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