Saturday, June 2, 2012

How NOT to make homemade laundry soap.....

My own batch of homemade laundry soap
Or Alternately, "Trial & Error With Homemade Laundry Soap"
by Carla Ludington

Well, I am constantly learning just as much from things that turn out great as I do from things that don't turn out so great.  Case in point:  Homemade Laundry Detergent.

It seems there are all sorts of posts about it, pinterest pins, a few variations of the recipes, mixed experiences with it, etc.

Who wouldn't love to spend their cash on something besides laundry detergent?  Cool bonus to know exactly what is in it (and what is NOT in it, ie all the sulfates and other chemicals). I was finally motivated to try it since we were setting up an activity to make it as part of our ladies night out / activity night for the womens group at our church.

Check on pinterest or anywhere else, and there are a zillion posts and recipes for how to do it, and they are all pretty much the same.


          1 bar laundry soap (1 bar will make 1 batch)
          1 cup Borax (@ $6, will make @ 9 batches)
          1 cup Washing Soda (@ $4, will make @ 6 batches)

Here is where the trial and error part come in.  These are the things I learned in this experiment that weren't in the recipes online.  Be sure to read my conclusions on your choices for the laundry detergent bar (points 3-5) before you get started...
Finely grated soap
Ben helping grate the soap in the Bosch


#1     Grate the soap with a hand grater.  I grated the soap with the fine grate attachment on my Bosch food processor.  It was super efficient and effective. (This was a time saver and easy on the hands).

#2     Stir, Stir, Stir!  That part, while easy, took forever!  My arm was sore, and it was still rather lumpy at that point.  Instead, for my second batch I poured the shredded soap and other ingredients into my blender and pulsed 8-10 times.  This was also a SERIOUS TIME SAVER. 30 seconds later I had super-fine powdery laundry detergent.

after 10 minutes of stirring
version 2: a quick mix from my helper

#3     I WOULD NOT use Fels-Naptha.  According to the OSHA Materials Safety Data Sheet, while this soap is designated as ok for consumer / household use, it does contains petrol products that should not be in contact with skin or eyes, and specifically says it aggravates pre-existing skin conditions.  That was particularly problematic for us, as my husband has really sensitive skin / severe eczema, so he had a pretty immediate reaction to it (he had no idea I had switched detergent and couldn't figure out why he seemed to develop ants in his pants over-night, lol. The poor guy went a week scratching his skin off his entire body before we had a conversation that put it all together). I will caution that while OSHA and the FDA indicate a product is safe, there are times when really the products are simply grandfathered in as safe / declared safe because there isn't any scientific studies proving to what extent they are harmful, whilst they simultaneously don't have any definitive or scientific information showing that it is actually safe.

#4     I also WOULD NOT use a body bar, as it is too oily to use on clothes (see savingdogs post of 7/31/11), as well as the fact that most body soaps are super-fatted (meaning they use additional oils to react with the lye in the soap so there is no lye remaining, but that leaves extra oil in the soap - great for skin, not so great for your clothes).  Before I discovered this, I did try a few, and would concur with the information highlighted in the discussion.

#5     I have heard mixed reviews on Ivory soap (soap doesn't dissolve in wash, clothes come out dingy, doesn't remove stains that well) so if you are going to stick with it as a super inexpensive option, I would suggest only using Ivory soap with the liquid homemade laundry detergent version so that you can melt it completely and not have chunks of it left undissolved in your laundry. (Recipes and instructions here).  Overall, I would say I still would not recommend Ivory soap since it is a body bar (see point #2 above).

Overall, making your own laundry soap is super easy, fast, and inexpensive to make. For us, the laundry detergent bar seems to be the crux of our failure - the Fels-Naptha fell short of my expectations, and the body bars don't seem to be as viable of an alternative.

Ultimately, if this is something you want to try, I would recommend you try a small amount of different grated soaps to find something you are happy with.  As for me,I haven't been able to commit to making any more yet, but I don't think I can quite call it quits, so maybe I will just have to keep trying.  Perhaps this summer we will check out Zote, or perhaps Dr. Bronner's Citrus Orange Pure Castile Soap (I like Dr. Bronner's for my foaming handsoap).  I still have several zip-loc bags of shredded soap on top of my washer that I feel wasteful throwing away, but I can't bring myself to use, so they remain on my washer in this limbo of 'this didn't work like I thought it might'.  64 loads of cheap laundry soap isn't so great if you won't (or can't) actually use it. 

If you do forge ahead, one of the sites I checked out suggested that a 32 oz yogurt tub was a perfect size to store a batch of the detergent.

On the plus side, this was HE washing machine friendly, so it won't take much.  The recommended guide is 1 Tbsp/load for a regular wash or 2 Tbsp/load for heavily soiled items.

This was a chance for me to learn how sensitive my husband's skin really is and how not everything homemade is the best choice or right fit for every family, as this didn't work out so great for us.  Maybe I should re-name this post:  "Things I never knew I would love about Biokleen".  As I mentioned earlier, so much soap, so little opportunity for it to be used at our house ever again..... so if anyone is looking to try it out for free, I have several versions to choose from  :0)


  1. Carla, my boys have developed spots, and I wonder if my homemade laundry soap might be the problem! We've been doing this for a while but it never occurred to me that it could be the fels naptha.

    Emily Coyne

  2. donate the shredded soap to the cub scouts so that they can make mother's day hand soaps in heart or butterfly shapes. We did that when I was a cubby leader.

  3. Oh, that stinks!!! I just bought all of those things to make my own laundry soap! Hahah! I hope you can find something that works! :/

  4. Natalie, hopefully you will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labors :0)
    Jeannine, thanks for the great idea!
    Emily, things are not looking so great for you right now... at least you know a possible solution?

  5. No wonder my hands are dry and burn. :/ I just made soap two days ago and my hands were a mess (don't ask). And they still bother me. :/