Are you using homemade laundry detergent or considering making it? You need to read this first because it may not work as well as you think and may actually harm your clothes and washer.
I’m sure you know some that makes homemade laundry detergent. There are recipes everywhere. Spend any time looking on Pinterest you are sure to see a few and they likely promise to cost just a couple of cents per load.
All of the frugal homemakers and those looking to be greener are making this switch. Most of the homemakers I watch on YouTube and most of the homemaking bloggers I read have at some point made homemade laundry detergent.
It promises to work, be dirt cheap, and natural. It sounds amazing and you know I love making things myself. However, there are some important things to understand before you consider making your own laundry detergent.
What is Homemade Laundry Detergent?
There are many recipes out there but they normally contain three types of ingredients:
- Soap: Fels Naphtha is what I see the most or for the more natural recipes castile soaps are often used. These are usually grated to be added to the recipe.
- Water Softeners: Borax or washing soda are usually included to help with hard water.
- Other: Many recipes also call for things like OxiClean or even scent boosters.
Why Shouldn’t I Use Homemade Laundry Detergent?
The first thing we need to talk about is the fact that these recipes aren’t really detergents, they are soaps. The difference between the two is soaps are made from fats or oils mixed with an alkali base. A chemical reaction causes the fat to be saponified.
Detergents, on the other hand, is made with surfactants created with a complex chemical reaction. Detergents are usually man-made, while soap is natural.
Soap also has surfactants but they are oil-based and work differently than detergent surfactants. So what are surfactants? They are compounds that lower surface tension between two liquids or between liquids and a solid.
Surfactants are found in both soap and detergents but soap works differently and is oil-based. Detergents trap soil and suspend it in the water and are easily rinsed away. Soap, however, can react with hard water and cause insoluble residue that clogs drains and sticks to clothes.
This is part of why people with soft water tend to have better results with homemade laundry soap. But even if you have soft water and even with the added ingredients to soften your water, there is often build up with soap verse detergent.
It’s also not just your clothes that the laundry soap could be harming. The soap also builds up in your washer and can cause mold growth. This is especially true with HE washers.
What Do I Use Instead?
I’m currently using soap nuts. Soap nuts are actually berries and they contain saponins which are a natural surfactant. I make mine into a liquid because if you use the whole berries you need to use hot water to get the soap to release from the berries.
I’ve been using this for years and there are pros and cons as with everything, but overall I’ve been very happy with the results.
- It’s still quite cheap. I buy a 1 lb bag that is 240 loads worth of berries. That’s just under $0.08 a load. Compared to $0.27 for a best selling Tide laundry detergent and $0.10 a load for a leading natural brand.
- It’s easy to use. Making the liquid only involves boiling the berries.
- It’s safe for HE machines.
- It doesn’t build up on clothes or your machine.
- Unlike most homemade laundry detergents, soap nuts rinse away easily.
- It’s not the best at stain removal. It’s best to pre-treat stains.
- It doesn’t whiten clothes well. Some color safe bleach or even line drying your clothes helps with this issue.
- You have to use hot water or make the liquid detergent, but it’s easy so not much of a con.
Another option is to try a natural laundry detergent. These are a few options with good ingredients, plus the soap nuts I use. I haven’t used them but I’ve heard them recommended from other people.