Zero waste DIY: Laundry detergent

The bulk laundry detergent I bought last month, though expensive, has actually done a really good job at getting our clothes nice and clean without smelling like a perfume factory. So why did I decide to attempt a homemade version, then?

Well … because I can’t let things just be. I like to experiment, and that $11 and change for a single bottle (that didn’t even last a month) was really bugging me. And I like to report on all the angles. I mean, that’s kind of the fun part.

So I set out to find a homemade laundry detergent. I made one a few years ago, but eventually gave it up because it was just too much hassle and I wasn’t convinced our clothes were really getting clean. (I can’t even remember what that recipe was, but I know it contained grated Fels-Naptha and Borax.) THIS time, I had some criteria in place: It had to be simple (because I’m lazy and also because we’re going for sustainability), I didn’t want any Borax (I read that it’s bad for you, I read that it’s not bad for you … I’ve given up trying to figure out that particular mystery), and it had to contain items that were 100 percent zero waste — so either I get this stuff in the bulk aisle, or it comes in paper packages I can compost or recycle.

And here’s the recipe I finally settled on:

Laundry Detergent

Use 1 tablespoon per load (more for larger loads); makes roughly one gallon of powdered detergent

6 cups super washing soda

8 cups baking soda

2 bars castile, grated

Grate the soap, then mix with washing soda and baking soda. In batches, pulse in a food processor until it resembles a powder. You can also add some essential oil at this stage. (I did not.)

You’re going to be terribly proud of me: I actually followed the recipe exactly! Well, I mean, I halved it because I didn’t want to commit to an entire gallon of this stuff. But I definitely picked the right recipe, as far as ease of making goes. (I was actually looking for something similar to what Lauren makes on Trash is for Tossers — hers only has three ingredients, and she sells the stuff, so I figured that’s probably a good indication of how it works.)

Here’s how it all went down:

The assembled ingredients.

The assembled ingredients.

After grating the soap, I pulsed it in the food processor, as instructed in the recipe I was following, "to make a powder." I pulsed and I pulsed, but there was NO WAY I was getting anything besides soap pellets. I threw a fit. Abby was like, calm down Mom, just pulse it with the rest of the ingredients. Oh.

After grating the soap, I pulsed it in the food processor, as instructed in the recipe I was following, “to make a powder.” I pulsed and I pulsed, but there was NO WAY I was getting anything besides soap pellets. I threw a fit. Abby was like, calm down Mom, just pulse it with the rest of the ingredients. Oh.

So I actually had to come back the next day to attempt pulsing all the ingredients together ... um, because I didn't have as much baking soda as I thought and had to go buy more. Here's what we started with.

So I actually had to come back the next day to attempt pulsing all the ingredients together … um, because I didn’t have as much baking soda as I thought and had to go buy more. Here’s what we started with.

And here's what we ended with: Powder! Or close enough.

And here’s what we ended with: Powder! Or close enough. One of the “simple” sites I follow on Facebook just happened to post a photo of homemade laundry detergent with the same instructions, so I knew I was on to something with this technique.

My finished half-gallon.

My finished half-gallon.

Now, for the cost breakdown: I spent $3.99 on the bar of Dr. Bronners (probably should not have chosen peppermint, but I always choose peppermint … next time I’ll go with lavender, I think; and I could have gotten something cheaper, but I was going for a brand I trust). I already had the washing soda and baking soda … but I think I spent roughly $1.78 for the baking soda and we’ll say like $2.50 for the washing soda (total guess, no idea). So that’s (approximately) $8.27 for a max of 68 loads of laundry. I’m good with that.

I’m also good with how easy this was to put together — although bonus tip, put a cloth over the food processor spout because this is a big ol’ dust cloud before it settles.

But the big question is: How does it work?

I have a top loading, energy efficient washing machine with an absolutely huge capacity. And our water is awesome. And so far, so good — although we’ve only been using this for a week. It’s not a sudsy detergent, and I add more than the prescribed tablespoon when I’m washing a larger load. The smell of peppermint isn’t terrible. And you can’t smell it at all on the clothes after they’ve been washed. I also add vinegar for the rinse when I’m washing towels because, well, towels.

I will update in a month or so — or whenever this runs out, I guess — because that will be the real test, how it holds up in the long run. A week isn’t really enough to go on. If this doesn’t work, I have one more recipe I want to try that doesn’t use baking soda.

Next up: Another meat counter encounter.


2 Responses to Zero waste DIY: Laundry detergent

  1. I’m interested to see how this works in the longer term. I’ve never made homemade laundry powder because I’ve never found one I wanted to try that didn’t contain borax, which I also find a bit confusing and don’t feel like trying.

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