How to Make Zero Waste Laundry Detergent (+ Recipe!)

How to make your own laundry detergent

Making my own zero waste laundry detergent has become one of my favorite ways to save money while reducing my household’s trash output. So, I’m passing my recipe on to you!


For many of us, transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle means making a lot of things that we used to buy from scratch. A lot of the time, it’s as simple as choosing to make crackers rather than buy them all boxed up at the grocery store. Other times, it takes a little bit more effort.

Making your own zero waste laundry detergent, to me, is somewhere in between: totally achievable with a little forethought.

Plus, all of these can be found in bulk or in zero waste, recyclable packaging!

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Options for Zero Waste Laundry Detergent

A couple of months ago, Josh and I ran out of the Biokleen Laundry Powder that we had been using for the past year. As we’d already chosen to live a zero waste lifestyle by that point, I realized that I had a few options moving forward:

  1. Drive 45 minutes to Colorado to get laundry powder or liquid detergent in bulk. This would be convenient if it were part of a full-on bulk grocery shopping trip, or if the shop were local, but driving that far just to get laundry powder would be pretty unnecessary. 
  2. Purchase conventional powder detergent in recyclable packaging from an eco-conscious company. This would be the most convenient option, but could be expensive long term.
  3. Make my own detergent in bulk amounts at home. This could arguably be the least convenient option as I would have to source the ingredients and mix them myself, but the cost savings are unbeatable.

In the end, I settled on the third option: making my own laundry detergent at home.

Why? 

Honestly, it sounded like a blast! I love being able to make useful things from scratch, especially if I know I can save some cash by doing so. 

If you’re the thrifty type, the get-those-nasty-chemicals-away-from-me type, or someone who likes to try their hand at something new, this DIY Laundry Detergent recipe is for you!

How to Make Your Own DIY Laundry Detergent

Making your own laundry detergent is as simple as gathering a few ingredients and mixing them together in a big bucket. It’s actually really easy! 

This recipe includes only 4 ingredients:

  • castile soap bars
  • baking soda
  • washing soda
  • and essential oils of your choice

Each of these ingredients has been thoroughly vetted for its safety, so you can be assured that this recipe is completely non-toxic and suitable for people with sensitive skin, like me.

And in addition to being totally easy to make and completely chemical-free, this zero waste laundry detergent is extremely inexpensive to make.

Where I used to spend $0.20-30 per load of laundry, I now spend something like $0.02 per load.

It’s really hard to beat that!

Why I like this recipe:

  • It rates an “A” on the EWG scale, a database that determines how safe a product or ingredient is health-wise.
  • It cleans extremely well! I love this laundry detergent more than anything else I’ve used, and I’ve tried a lot over the years.
  • It is naturally “low foaming,” which means you can use it in either standard or HE machines.
  • It doesn’t take much to work. A tablespoon or two is sufficient for my average-size loads of laundry. The bucket I have in our laundry room may last me years…
  • It leaves clothes smelling fresh and feeling soft. Skip the fabric softener and use this eco-friendly laundry detergent as a one-stop-shop.

Natural DIY Laundry Detergent Recipe

DIY Laundry Detergent

A safe and effective way to make your own laundry detergent at home.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 (4 oz.) Bars of Unscented Castile Soap (in recyclable paper)
  • 2 lbs of Baking Soda (in recyclable cardboard or bought bulk)
  • 1.5 (7 lb) Boxes of Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (in recyclable cardboard)
  • 20-30 drops of your favorite essential oil (clementine or lavender are both nice options)

Instructions

    1. Finely grate your bars of Castile soap. Either use a food processor or cheese grater.
    2. Mix your grated soap together with baking soda, washing soda, and essential oils. I recommend wearing a face mask to avoid inhaling any dust from the mixture.
    3. Use 1-3 Tablespoons per load of laundry, depending on its size and soil level.

Notes

  1. Washing soda can sometimes be challenging to find. Most conventional grocery stores and supermarkets should have it in their baking aisle (near baking soda) or laundry aisle (next to detergents).
  2. If you choose to make this in larger quantities, store in a 5-gallon bucket and then dish out a portion into a pretty storage jar for active use.
  3. Skip dryer sheets. If you must use something, use wool dryer balls instead.

 How to Reduce Laundry & Ironing

  1. Hang your towels to dry instead of using a fresh one every day.
  2. Skip the dryer when you can. Shake and smooth out wrinkles, then hang dry in the sunshine (if you’re fortunate to enjoy it right now) or in your laundry room on a rack.
  3. Spot clean items whenever possible, rather than just tossing them instantly into the wash. It’ll save water.
  4. Fold items right away after laundering so they don’t wrinkle or collect pet hair.
  5. Allow for space between garments in your closets and drawers to avoid wrinkling.
  6. Choose quality fibers whenever possible. Quality fabrics like linen and bamboo tend to wrinkle less.
  7. Protect your garments by layering well and covering up with an apron while cooking and cleaning.
  8.  If your clothes aren’t actually smelly or gross, just don’t wash them yet! Treat your items carefully and avoid over-washing to save water.

Find more tips on how to have a Zero Waste Laundry here!

23 thoughts on “How to Make Zero Waste Laundry Detergent (+ Recipe!)

    • Lauren says:

      Hey Gina! Borax is an interesting one – some people suggest it’s toxic, but others say there’s no reason to be afraid of it. My general rule of thumb is that I’ll use Borax as long as it won’t be ingested in any way. So, detergent or all-purpose cleaner would be a fine use. Besides, it’s a great way to replace cleaners and detergents that are genuinely, verifiable awful for you. Borax would definitely, definitely be better!

  1. Jenny says:

    A couple years ago, I read an article about cutting out laundry soap completely and decided to give it a try. I use no laundry soap at all (though I do pre-treat if necessary) and I’ve been very happy with the results.

  2. Kerrie says:

    If you are having a hard time finding it, did you know that you can actually make your own Washing Soda from Baking Soda? I make my own cleaning products; laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, glass cleaner, tub cleaner, etc… and I use Washing Soda that I make from Baking Soda all the time.

    There are recipes all over the internet to convert Baking Soda to Washing Soda, but it is basically just: Add baking soda spread into a nice even layer (not too thick) to a baking pan. I usually do about 2 cups in a half-pan rectangle glass dish, 4 cups in a full glass baking dish, but you don’t need to be exact at all. Bake at 400 degrees for an hour stirring once or twice in between. You’ll see the transformation from light fluffy baking soda to grainy washing soda. After a while you just know what it looks like, but do a quick Google search and you can see actual pictures. Let the baked washing soda cool before adding it to anything. I usually make ahead so that I don’t run out. It saves me time, doesn’t require packaging, is cheaper than purchased Washing Soda, I do bigger batches so that I only have to turn on the oven once in a while and makes it simple since I only have to keep Baking Soda in the house!

    I do use Borax in my laundry and dishwasher detergent now, but next time I make a batch, I’m going to try your recipe!

    Thanks for all the information! I really like reading your blog.

    • Lauren says:

      I haven’t looked closely, but I can say for sure that they haven’t declined! If you want to be extra sure your whites come out bright, do them in a separate load with a little white distilled vinegar 🙂

  3. Ed says:

    How do you find this recipe works with delicates like wools and silks? I’m trying to restrict my wardrobe to natural fivers only (to avoid the microplastic pollution created by dislodged synthetic fibers During washing) .

  4. Laurel says:

    I tried homemade laundry soap for years. I really tried to like it. The price can’t be better, however, it just wasn’t doing the job. My whites were yellowing. I tried lemon juice, sunshine, and hydrogen peroxide. My towels smelled most of the time. I tried hot water and drying them in the sunshine. Anything that had sweat, gasoline, or other strong smells, just never got smell-free. What really got me to change was cloth diapering. They stunk! My babies got rashes and yeast infections. I almost gave up on cloth diapering until I did some research. After many hours of reading and chatting with other cloth diapering mammas, I found the fault was not the diapers, but the homemade laundry soap. Fluff Love University has tons of information about laundry detergents and why they work or don’t. http://www.fluffloveuniversity.com/cloth-diaper-myths/the-bad-the-worse-and-the-ugly-why-we-dont-use-homemade-detergents/
    I REALLY wanted homemade laundry soap to work for me, but my babies behind was SO much more important than saving some money by making my own.
    I’m sorry to disagree with you, but I really hope others don’t have to learn hard way.

    • Lauren says:

      Honestly, everyone’s experience is different. We’ve never had issues with our detergent – not with whites or with rashes – and I have very sensitive skin. Glad you found a helpful resource!

  5. Aubrey says:

    Hi! I’m making this tomorrow and I’m super excited. I read a comment about the washing soda and needed to clarify. How much washing soda do I actually need? I bought 7lbs of washing soda. And now I’m thinking you meant 1.5 boxes that are each 7 lbs. The wording is a bit confusing!

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Aubrey – Thanks for clarifying! You’ll need to mix in one and a half boxes that are 7 lbs each. So, 10.5 lbs of washing soda.

  6. Sheryl Isaacs says:

    I just started my own zero waste home today. I was surprised that you are not using soap nuts aka reetha for laundry, dishes, all-purpose cleaning for the entire home, for shampoo, body and face. all you need are 4-5 in a muslin bag for laundry, or mix into water in a bottle, or add to your dishwater, etc. i hope you will read to learn about them. the rest of the world has used them, we are late in learning about them in the usa. so you can get 3 pounds of soap nuts with two muslin bags, in a reusable paper bag to last 3 months, zero waste

  7. Yvonne Villalobos says:

    Great recipe! Silly question maybe but do you add the mixture directly in the washer or in the detergent container?

    • Lauren says:

      I’m not entirely sure what you mean…I always sprinkle the detergent into the washing machine as it fills with water, then add my laundry.

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