Natural Cleaners: Laundry {Overview of Ingredients, Recipe + Soap Nuts Review}

Although many of us would like to switch to natural laundry products free of sulfates, phthalates and petroleum it can be expensive or a natural alternative can be hard to find locally.  The most affordable and easiest solution is to make it yourself.  

You can make a large batch a few times a year which makes it a bit more doable in a busy schedule.  Buy a large bucket {or two for larger families} with lid and store your homemade detergent {away from kids and pets}.  Use a smaller jar for your laundry room that you can refill from the bucket as needed.

The essential ingredients in homemade laundry detergent are (recipe is further down):
  • grated bar of soap {scented or unscented}
  • washing soda {found in many grocery stores - laundry detergent aisle} - in addition to it's cleaning power, it helps to soften hard water.
  • borax {found in many grocery stores - laundry detergent aisle}- some don't use this ingredient.  It softens hard water and brightens clothing.  The downside is it really needs warm water to be most effective.
What makes homemade laundry detergent even more effective?
  • sodium percarbonate {a.k.a. powdered peroxide - essentially, the active ingredient in Oxi Clean}
You can add Oxi Clean to your detergent or straight sodium percarbonate.  This helps whiten and brighten clothing.  Sodium percarbonate is essentially washing soda treated with hydrogen peroxide.  It can bleach colors in a large quantity so be sure to keep the percentage low, as noted in the recipe below.  You can find sodium percarbonate on Amazon here. (affiliate link)

Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent that works

Homemade Powdered Laundry Detergent {the recipe}
If you have problems with your frontload not dissolving powder detergent properly, you can either add it directly to the clothing or mix it with a little warm water before adding to the detergent tray.

2 parts Washing Soda {this is not baking soda}
2 parts Borax, optional {see above - replace with washing soda if not using which would make it 4 parts Washing Soda}
2 parts grated bar of soap
1 part Sodium Percarbonate, optional {see note above}
essential oil, optional

{sample recipes would be: 2 cups washing soda, 2 cups borax, 2 cups grated soap bar and 1 cup sodium percarbonate -OR- 4 cups washing soda, 2 cups grated soap bar and 1 cup sodium percarbonate -OR- 4 cups washing soda & 2 cups grated soap bar}

Grate the bars of soap either by hand or in a food processor (**see food processor note below**). 

In a well ventilated area using a large bowl or bucket stir together grated soap and washing soda.  Blend well.  Stir in borax, sodium percarbonate, and essential/fragrance oils, if using.  Stir well.   Take care not to inhale any of the mix as you stir.

To use:  Add 1-2 Tablespoons per load of laundry for front-load washing machines and 1 1/2 - 3 Tablespoons per load for top-load machines.

**note:  If you are using your regular kitchen food processor do not use a scented bar of soap.  The plastic food processor bowl may absorb the scent.  Wash well prior to using for food. **

**Zote and Fels Naptha soaps are popular for laundry purposes.  You  will see them listed in many recipes.  I am not a fan so much as they can be very harsh on your skin.  If you're going to choose one, however, I am told that Zote will help whiten your whites.**

A note about mixing this recipe.  If you find it stays too chunky you may look at thrift stores or garage sales for an inexpensive food processor you can designate to making your laundry soap.   (or, alternatively, an extra bowl that fits your current food processor that can be designated for laundry soap) and mix it in your food processor with regular processor blade.  This will further break down the grated soap and blend it with the dry ingredients.

A Natural Fabric Softener
White vinegar is a fantastic alternative to traditional fabric softener and it's inexpensive and something commonly found in your pantry.  When I mention using vinegar in my laundry the first comment I hear is - "but I don't want my clothes to smell like salad dressing!!"  You will never ever know you used vinegar - there is no residual smell.  I promise.  I've used a vinegar rinse for years.  Adding a quarter cup of white vinegar in the "fabric softener" tray {or during the rinse cycle}, resets the ph which is naturally very alkaline in detergent as well as removes any excess salts or detergent from your clothing.  Please note that it needs to be white vinegar.

Laundry Detergent Alternative - Soap Nuts
Huh?  A nut used for soap?  Soap nuts are actually a berry that has a shell containing a saponin {a natural detergent} that is released when the nut shell absorbs water.  The saponin works to free dirt, grime and oils from clothing.  They are non-toxic, chemical-free, hypoallergenic and, therefore, very gentle making them the perfect solution for those with allergies or sensitive skin.

You want the shell only - select the de-seeded variety as I am told the seeds may stain clothing.

  • all of the reasons listed above - non-toxic, chemical free and hypoallergenic
  • they are eco-friendly
  • they can be used over again 3-5 times
  • they can be used to clean numerous things around your house {even you!} as detailed in this post by Crunchy Betty
  • they can be composted after you're through with them
  • they work!
  • keeping track of how many times they've been used
  • trying to find the bag of soap nuts in the wet clothing before transferring it to the dryer can prove to be a challenge at times

To Use: Put 4-6 nuts in a muslin bag {often included with your first purchase} and tie it closed.  If you wash in cold water, soak them in hot water for 10 minutes prior to using then dump the muslin bag with soap nuts plus the soaking liquid onto your clothing in the washing machine and launder as usual. 

If you are washing on warm or hot, add the soap nuts to the muslin bag, tie it closed, and add to your clothing in the washing machine.  Launder as usual.

Remove the muslin bag prior to putting clothing into the dryer.

High-quality soap nuts can be found here and here. {these are not affiliate links}

Have you found a natural recipe or alternative that has worked well for you?  I'd love to hear about it!

Additional Posts:
Making Laundry Soap - Liquid and Powder Versions
Homemade Laundry Soap - updated Post
8 Recipes For Natural Cleaners
Making Dryer Balls From Recycled Wool Clothing

1 comment

  1. We have found that powdered detergent clogs our pipes in our farm home. I only use an unscented detergent. I do add a few drops of lemon oil to towels and dish cloths to freshen and sanitize them. I make my own foaming hand soap and use essential oils for the fragrance. I am very sensitive to smells so I can control that.


Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on this post!