A Supposedly Frugal Thing I’ll Never Do Again (or: How To Make Your Own Laundry Detergent)

This conversation happened over google chat yesterday…

Venessa: please buy laundry detergent on your way home
Joe: no need, I’ll just make some
Venessa: ok

So I was officially on the hook for making laundry detergent myself, lest the dirty laundry start to pile up. And we’re potty training Lillia these days, so we’re talking major laundry.

I found this recipe by Trent at The Simple Dollar, which I planned on doubling*. Seems simple enough, and we already have all but one ingredient: washing soda.

Luckily, I found out from Penniless Parenting that you can make washing soda from baking soda. It’s as simple as 2NaHCO3 —> Na2CO3 + CO2 + H2O. Or “bake it for a while at 400” for the non-nerds.

But how long to bake it? The blogger at Penniless Parenting is strangely mum never timed it, so I don’t know how long it takes to turn baking soda into washing soda. I timed it while mine was cooking and I found that it takes a little over an hour to turn 2 cups of baking soda into washing soda at 400 degrees. I put it in an oven-safe pie plate and stirred it every 15 minutes or so.

While that was baking, I’d like to tell you that I was grating the soap since that would have been a sensible thing to do. But that would be a lie, because I was actually hanging out with Venessa.

I grated the soap later, and put all the ingredients together. This was actually the worst part, unless you enjoy borax and washing soda in your nose, throat, and lungs. Personally I don’t. I guess this is how cocaine addicts feel, with all the dripping and the white powder.

Trent claims that making laundry detergent saves him $37 a year vs. generic powder. We use Trader Joe’s powder which is $10 for 64 loads, or $0.16 per load. I estimate the batch I made took about 30 minutes to make, and made about 48 loads at a cost of about $0.05 per load.

We do about 200 loads of laundry a year, so I’m saving about $22 a year for 2 hours worth of work (4 batches), or $11 an hour and 4 facefulls of borax.

In conclusion: not worth it.

PS: The lady with 19 kids has a recipe for liquid laundry detergent that looks like it’s worth trying.

Update: I tried the liquid recipe mentioned above, and it’s pretty good!

* Instead of using two bars of soap, I used one large bar of Kiss My Face Pure Olive Oil soap. Pros: it only contains olive oil, water and salt. Cons: it’s really sticky and gooey. (Additional con that I just discovered while making this recipe and blogging about it: Venessa thinks it smells like baby crap. And now our laundry is going to smell like it for 48 loads.  Oops!)

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12 thoughts on “A Supposedly Frugal Thing I’ll Never Do Again (or: How To Make Your Own Laundry Detergent)”

    1. That’s the plan, though the way Lillia is potty training we might not be washing many more! It’s ironic that Venessa thinks the soap smells like poo.

      1. When you said the soap was sticky it made me wonder how well it will rinse out of diapers (and other potentially stinky laundry). I’d be interested in a follow up on how well it works even if you don’t think you will make another batch.

    1. Maybe that was a conservative estimate. We often go a few days without doing a load, but then do 3 loads in one day, so it’s hard to guess. I tend to wear my outerwear clothes until they’re pretty dirty.

  1. We use Trader Joe’s Oatmeal and Honey soap bar. It has a great smell, and it’s fairly cheap at $1.69 for two bars.

    1. Good idea, I love that soap. It’s the soap we use for hand-washing so we have an extra bar around. I bought a bar of Fels-Naptha to try the liquid laundry soap recipe I linked to above. I’ll write a follow-up post once I’ve made it.

  2. Castiel soap or Zote are the best to use in the above recipes; when you want a better scent, add 5ml essential oil to that quantity batch. Using actual oils in washing is a mistake I made once, using essential oils is best, essential oils are not oils, they’re plant/tree particulates with a consistency similar to an oil however essential oils (therapeutic grade) are the essence of a plant (100,000 rose petals makes 1 drop rose essential oil). The additional “EO” is very strong, 1 drop per 2 fluid ounce is usually the rule. Anyway, great recipe when switching out the soap to Zote and adding real lavender or roman chamomile or citrus (sweet orange or especially neroli (fav!)) 🙂

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