Homemade Laundry Detergent

Homemade Laundry Detergent for top and front loading machines.

Want to slash your laundry costs big-time?  Make your own homemade laundry detergent!  If you’re envisioning yourself in a scene from “Little House on the Prairie”, relax!   It’s really quick and easy to make.   I’ve been using this homemade laundry detergent recipe for several years now, and I’m never going back to commercial detergents!

homemade laundry  detergent

Benefits to making your own laundry detergent:

It’s chemical free, safe for sensitive skin, your clothing and your washing machine.  It’s a good choice for those with respiratory problems, allergies and asthma.  It’s easier on the environment than commercial laundry soaps, and homemade laundry soap is FAR less expensive than store-bought.  Plus, you can whip up a batch of this in less time than it takes you to drive to the grocery to get a jug of the brand you normally buy.

How much does it cost to make homemade laundry detergent?

The ingredients for my detergent cost me a grand total of about 15.00 here in Canada.  But you only use a bit of each ingredient to make one batch of detergent, so after 10 months of making/using my detergent, I’ve hardly put a dent in my ingredients. I estimate that my FIFTEEN DOLLAR investment will get me through a couple of years of doing laundry!

So, let’s get do it!  Gather your supplies!

To make your homemade laundry detergent, you’ll need:

ingredients for homemade laundry detergent

On the outside of your bucket, with a permanent marker or a piece of masking tape, make a line at the 2.5 and 5 gallon marks.  This will eliminate the need for measuring later.

5 gallon bucket for homemade laundry detergent

 How to make your detergent:

  1. Grate the Ivory soap with a cheese grater.  Add this to a large pot with approx. 4 cups of water.  No need to be exact here.
  2. Stir over medium-high, until soap has melted. (Do not bring to a boil; soapy boil-overs are slick and messy to clean up.  Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything).
  3. Pour this mixture into your bucket and add Washing Soda and Borax.  Stir for a couple of minutes until powders are fully dissolved.
  4. Fill bucket to 5 gallon mark with hot water.   Give another good stir, and let it sit, uncovered, for a min of 12 hours.

An easy way to fill the bucket:

If you have one of those hose and nozzle attachments at your kitchen sink, you can place the bucket on the floor in front of your sink, and stretch the hose nozzle over and fill it up that way.  Good thinking, eh?

Let your detergent set:

Your detergent could take up to 24 hours to “set”.  Sometimes I put the lid on while it sits, sometimes I don’t; sometimes I stir part way through, sometimes I don’t.  But no matter what I do, results are different every single time.  Sometimes it gels up and gets really thick.  Sometimes it’s thinner with blobs of gel in it, other times it’s very watery with a curdled look to it.  Don’t worry about how it looks!  All the essential ingredients are in there so it’s going to do the job.

Using your homemade laundry detergent:

  • before using your detergent, YOU NEED TO DILUTE IT, so find  yourself an old laundry jug or juice jug, and HALF FILL it with your detergent.  Fill the rest of the way with water, and shake well.
  • Shake well before each use, as it tends to gel and separate in between uses.
  • Use 1/4 cup for front-loaders (he machines) & 1/2 cup for top-loaders

This soap is very LOW SUDSING; so you won’t see a lot of bubbling action.  Not to worry: sudsing agents are apparently only added to commercial detergents so they look all soapy-sudsy-fantastic, when in truth, they’re not necessary for getting clothes clean.  Our clothes are very much just as clean using this detergent, as they were when I used commercial detergent.

Keeping your whites white:

When possible, line-dry!  There’s nothing like fresh air and the natural power of the sun to keep your whites as white and bright as they can be.  Over time, the heat of an automatic dryer can make your clothes look dingy, and chlorine bleach can cause them to take on a yellow tinge.    When this happens, toss a half-cup of your Arm and Hammer Washing Soda, into your white load and crank up the hot water.  Adding fibre-friendly oxygen bleach can help as well.

A healthy & inexpensive alternative to fabric softener:

Another way to save money with your laundry is to switch to white vinegar for your fabric softener.  Commercial fabric softeners are loaded with hazardous chemicals, and these chemicals are designed to coat and cling to the fibres of your clothing, so you’re breathing in those chemicals 24/7.  Really hazardous chemicals.

If you do nothing else, please read this article about the toxins in your fabric softener, and PLEASE stop using it on your children’s bedding and clothing.  Their little noses are pressed up against their sheets and blankets, and they breath these chemicals in night and day.  Even if you can’t give up your commercial detergent, please consider giving up your softener (liquid OR dryer sheets), because they are designed to penetrate and coat your clothing so they smell “fresh” for months.  Vinegar will remove those residues, and leave your clothes just as soft.  In fact, the homemade detergent and vinegar rinse combo leaves my clothes softer than any commercial brands ever did.  And no, your clothing will not smell like vinegar.  It won’t smell like anything at all, and THAT’S what clean really is!  And, you can even use a Downy Ball to dispense the vinegar if that’s how you currently add your fabric softener.

What if you can’t find Washing Soda?

I’ve heard that for some of you, Washing Soda can be hard to find.  One of my readers has informed me that you can make your own by baking BAKING SODA.  Nature’s Nurture has a simple tutorial and explains the scientific aspect of the process.

For more awesome thriftiness, check out our:

Upcycled Denim Aprons

How to Wash Stinky Hockey Equipment in your Washing Machine

30 Time-Saving Hacks for the Home

For more of our easy and inexpensive arts, crafts and activities for kids, FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK and PINTEREST!


  1. Elise French says

    Hi Jackie – it’s Lori’s mom, Elise. Your site is absolutely fantastic & the name Happy Hooligans is perfect. Being an almost senior (LOL) I am certainly familiar with the term hooligans & most times it’s affectionately used to describe young, lively, kids, no connotations of destructive behaviour attached to it. I wouldn’t change it & I see 99% of the comments are very favourable to that name.
    I noticed that some of the photos are not showing up, the ones of the home made soap making & ones on your personal page. Thought you’d like to know.
    I am going to try the home made laundry soap for sure but wanted to know if the bar of Ivory is the bath size or the smaller regular size??? I have also heard about vinegar being used as a natural fabric softener, the link did not work to that. How much would you use? A lady at a local health food store told me that vinegar is very hard on cotton clothing & she didn’t recommend it being used as a fabric softener, have you had feed back on that/
    Anyway – you are a very busy lady but I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your site even though I don’t have young children, Lori is always telling me about how inventive your crafts are & how lucky kids are in your area to have a daycare centre run by you.
    Good Luck, Elise

    • Elise French says

      Oh yes, you can get nice clean 6 gallon pails at the wine making stores along with the lids sometimes as cheaply as $2.50, which is what I paid to get pails for Lori’s aquarium water. I called several stores & got prices ranging from $5.00 down to the $2.50 & that was with lids.

      • Hatties Grandaughter says

        My local grocer lets me have his 5 gallon food pails (potato salad, coleslaw, etc.) free of charge. I bring them home and give them a good scrub with hot soapy water rinse well and air dry. They even come with lids that fit.

        My recipe is similar – one third cup Arm & Hammer, one third cup 20 mule team borax and one third bar of Fels Naptha grated on the cheese grater. six cups of water in a pot, add all 3 ingredients, stir at low heat slowly until dissolved, pour four cups hot water in small pail, add mixture and stir well, add one gallon plus six cups of cold water, stir again, cover and let sit for 24 hours. This much soap costs nineteen cents and lasts me nearly one year @ one half cup per load. Whites stay white, colours are brighter, I add one half cup of vinegar to the rinse water eliminating the cost of commercial fabric softener.

    • happyhooligans says

      Hi Elise! So glad you popped in to check us out! Thanks for all your positive feedback! Thank you too for letting me know about the pictures. I don’t know what’s up with that. I’ll look into it. The ivory is just the small rectangular bar you’d pick up for handwashing. I haven’t heard about vinegar being hard on cottons. I’ve been using it for a year and haven’t noticed any difference in any of our clothes. A lot of sites recommend using a half cup per load, but I just fill my softener dispenser to the fill line and my clothes come out soft and fresh. The only time I get static at all is if there’s a fleece item in the dryer. I line dry most of the year though, so that’s rarely an issue for me anyway. I think you get static with fleece even if you use a commercial softener.
      Anyway, thanks again for dropping it! I’m writing up a new post right now, but when I finish it, I’ll go back and take a look at the pics and the link and see if I can solve the problem. I wonder if anyone else is having troubles seeing them. I haven’t heard, but I’ll ask around. Take care, Elise!

  2. lIZ says

    DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA ID THIS DETERGENT IS SAFE TO USE IN A WASHER THAT CALLS FOR HE (high efficiency) detergent? The price I pay for HE TIDE is ridiculous!

  3. Vanessa Reiboldt Mitchell says

    I have been making my own laundry soap for about 3 1/2 years and it is WONDERFUL!!!!! I use a bar of felz napatha instead of the ivory though. It works great. I might try the ivory next time just to change it up a bit. I also use the vineger as a fabric softener and have never had problems!

  4. says

    I made a batch of powdered detergent over 6 months ago and I am not even halfway through it… definitely worth it!! In my detergent we used Ivory too, but instead of grating it I decided to pop that Ivory in the microwave for 2 minutes (an experiment I have done so many times with the Clubhouse Kids!!) and once it cools, it literally flakes right into a fine powder that you sprinkle right into the detergent. I’m just not good with a grater, I always end up requiring a band-aid 😀 The Fels Naptha bar soap can also be microwaved (I had a bar of that in my soap too). Just thought that may help the clumsy graters such as myself. Thanks for this great, simple, recipe. Maybe next time I will whip up a batch of liquid detergent! :)

  5. says

    Thank you for this post! I am happy I stumbled in on this blog while searching for all-natura laundry detergents. Trying to reduce all the chemicals and this should be awesome. A must-have-to-try as my other detergent is almost out. Thanks again!!!

    • happyhooligans says

      It’s funny, in all the time that post has been up, no-one (including me) has ever questioned that, but you’re right, it’s not actually “half strength” at that point. It’s actually double strength, or doubly concentrated. You have to then add an equal amount of water to the detergent before using it. I’ve just gone and edited the post so it’s worded correctly. Thanks for pointing that out!

    • happyhooligans says

      I would think they would be, Heidi because Borax and Washing Soda both specifically state on their boxes that they can be used for cloth diapers, and Ivory is a gentle soap. Ivory flakes, are a commonly known brand of baby detergent.

      • Hatties Grandaughter says

        Fels Naptha suggests that there could be a skin reaction to the soap. Also states that it should not be used to wash hands, face etc and may cause drying, redness and cracking of skin due to the defatting action on the skin. Dermatitis may result from repeated or prolonged contact. – there is an MSDS for this soap which includes warnings about exposure to soap dust as inhalation of dust may cause mild irritation to the mucous membranes, (which is why liquid form is safer than powdered), It may be wiser where infants are concerned to use Ivory instead – just a suggestion. A copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet is available on the Fels Naptha web site. You will be able to make an informed decision

  6. shelby says

    I apparently misread your directions and didn’t leave the lid off for the first 12 hours… Will that make a difference?

  7. Misty says

    Hello! I’ve also noticed that in your picture of the Borax and Washing Soda where you wrote the ingredients down…you put only 1/2 cup of Borax. Whereas on this blog post, you listed the Borax as a 1/2 cup (all the other ingredients appear the same). So I am wondering is it better to use the whole 1 cup when making the full batch of detergent? Also, I couldn’t find Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda at the store. There was something called Biz that also had sodium carbonate and some other ingredients. Can this be used in place of the A&H brand? Thanks so much! I appreciate your feedback.

    • happyhooligans says

      Hi Misty! Or maybe I should call you Eagle Eye! In all this time, you’re only the second person to pick up on the fact that I’d written 1/2 cup on the box. I should do up a new photo I guess, and I’ve just edited the post (in case anyone else notices) to confirm that it is in fact 1 cup of borax that I use.
      I can’t really comment on the “Biz” as I’ve never heard of it before. I did have a reader tell me she found a way to make washing soda though. She googled it, and you just bake BAKING SODA. Here’s a link that explains it: http://naturesnurtureblog.com/2012/05/08/ttt-turn-baking-soda-into-washing-soda/.

  8. Vivian says

    I wonder – instead of diluting the second time, whether or not just using 1/2 the amount called for would work? ie for a top loader (which I have) using only 1/4 cup instead of half? My home is very small, and the laundry “room” is more of a hallway, so storing a big pail is an issue for me.

    • happyhooligans says

      I’m not sure about using it full strength, Vivian, but you could just add an equal amount of water to it when you use it. However, your original batch is still going to be quite large. See, I don’t actually add that 2nd amount of water until I’m using it. I 1/2 fill a laundry jug with the deterg. and top it up with water. However, I still have to have a large bucket to hold the original batch. I would suggest making a half recipe, and you wouldn’t need such a big bucket.

      • happyhooligans says

        Vivian!! Stop!! Have you made the detergent yet? I just realized that when I last edited my detergent recipe, I left a line in there that doesn’t belong!! I think that’s why you thought there needed to be two dilutions. If you visit the post now, you’ll see the correct version of the detergent. If you’ve already made the detergent, just don’t dilute it a second time, and you should be ok.

      • Vivian says

        Well, yes I have made the 1/2 batch, and man, it just about filled my 13L pail!!! =D It’s in it’s resting stage now, so I haven’t added any extra water yet. I think what I will do is save my last laundry detergent bottle that I have laying around.

        Just one more question though, what is the size of Ivory bar that you use?? I used one that I had in the house, and it made about 1 cup of shavings.

  9. Lis says


    • happyhooligans says

      Hi Lis,

      Yes, give it a good stir before you pour it into your laundry jug and add the water. It will likely need a good stir anyway because sometimes it really thickens up, and needs to be broken up. I like to use a whisk, and give it a good “beating” to get a lot of the lumps and curdles out of it. And yes, it might be quite curdled, and that’s ok. Every time I make it it’s different. Sometimes, it’s totally watery with curdles. Other times, it’s super thick, like a gel. Other times, it has a lot of gelatinous blobs in it. It doensn’t matter how it looks. All the key ingredients are in there, so it will clean the same regardless of the consistency of the detergent. :)

  10. says

    I was referred to your site by a family member and I am soo grateful for that. Your laundry detergent is amazing. My daughter has skin issues and it cleared it right up. Keep the great post coming!

  11. passionistaatlarge says

    I was chasing “blog rabbits” and found your site! THANK YOU so much! I will be moving soon to a house with a 2 acre yard, and needed some ideas for kids’ play. It’s so nice that you have it all in one place for me. :)

    • happyhooligans says

      So glad you found us! And so envious of your 2 acre yard! What a dream come true that would be!!

  12. Farm Wife says

    I just wanted to make sure I understood this right. You feel a 5 gal bucket full for a whole batch then when you get ready to use it you do half laundry soap an half water? So in the end you actually have 10 gal of detergent?

    • happyhooligans says

      Yes, that’s right! I have a 5 gallon bucket full of detergent right now, but I’ll only HALF fill a laundry jug with detergent, and top the rest of the jug up with water. So yes, 10 gallons for about a buck. Not bad, eh?

  13. Stephanie says

    Wow, this is the same recipe that I’ve used for years, except that I don’t melt my soap or dilute it. Left as a powder, it has a tendency to clump, but only a tablespoon or so does the job.

    • happyhooligans says

      Yes, I’ve heard it’s supposed to be just as effective in the powder form, Stephanie. Good to hear it first hand from someone who uses it that way!

    • Mari Craig says

      Thank you, Stephanie, for the powder tip! I was just wondering how I was going to store the 20l of detergent (40l after diluting), and if it was going to keep for as long as it will take me to go through it all! :)

      Thank you lots to Jackie as well, of course, for the post – I’m going to give it a try! 😀

      I’m in the UK, so what I’ll be using are Dri Pak’s Washing Soda Crystals, Borax substitute and Soap Flakes. I found the Washing Soda at Tesco, so I’m guessing most supermarkets would carry it, and the other two ingredients I’m getting from eBay.

    • happyhooligans says

      I would go with the 1/4 cup, Kim. It’s an efficient machine. I think the 1/2 cup is for the older, less efficient models, which just happen to mostly be top loaders. You really can’t overdo the soap though, so if you wanted to try the 1/2 cup, go for it. It’s low-sudsing, and won’t leave any build-up on your clothes, so it won’t be a problem if you use too much.

  14. Rebecca says

    Do you know whether any other brand of soap would work, or does it for sure need to be Ivory? I’m allergic to Ivory unfortunately :( Dove is fine for my skin, but I’m worried the properties might be different.

    • happyhooligans says

      In the post, I’ve suggested that Fels Naptha is often used as a substitute (in the U.S.). You can probably use other brands, but Ivory is recommended because it’s mild and low-sudsing. I can’t recommend any other brands, as I’ve never used anything but ivory, but I’m sure if you google your question you’ll find some answers, Rebecca.

      • Rebecca says

        Thanks :) Fels Naptha doesn’t seem to be available here in Canada. Perhaps I’ll try making a partial batch with Dove and see how it goes.

      • happyhooligans says

        I think as long as you get a mild brand, and just the original version – not anything with olive oil or any fancy add-ins you should be ok. Did you try googling various recipes, Rebecca?

      • Rebecca says

        Yep, I had a peek on google and it looks like Ivory is pretty standard. I did notice some threads where commenters mentioned they’d tried Dove, but the results seemed pretty mixed. Some had trouble with clothes building up an oily residue over time. We’ve actually had trouble with that even using regular laundry soap since moving to Toronto – the water here is much harder than I’m used to. I might wait to try this till we’re back on the west coast with soft water again.

        Thanks so much for your help :) and your amazing blog! I love following your posts on facebook.

      • happyhooligans says

        What about sunlight bar soap, Rebecca? My mom used to scrub our whites with that when we were kids, and I’m not kidding, we had the WHITEST socks on the block. i think in the good old days our Grandmas washed all their clothes with it, so it might be worth a try since it’s been developed as a laundry soap. It would smell good too. SO many of the facial soaps/body bars etc have moisturizer in them, so that’s where the oily build up comes from. I would give the Sunlight bar soap a try. You can find it in the laundry aisle at your grocery store or at Walmart.
        Good luck! And if you try it, I’d love to know how it works for you. (Maybe just make a half batch at first!). Thanks so much for following along with us! I love that you love our stuff! x

  15. Lisa T. says

    Can this recipe be used as a powder too or does it have to be a liquid? What about using a bar if Dr Bronners Castile soap? Would that work or not. I can’t wait to try.

    • happyhooligans says

      There are powdered recipes, Lisa, but you’ll have to google one. I’ve never made it in the powder form because the liquid form is more cost-efficient.

  16. says

    I’m vegan and both the Ivory and the Fels Naptha have sodium tallowate in the ingredients (made from animal fat) so I won’t use them, instead I used Marseille soap (in bar). Works just the same and it’s completely cruelty free!

  17. Nevine guzel says

    Hi darling.., any chance you can help us Aussies out down under?? I have no idea what soap to try? And would be similar here as far as the washing soda and borax is?!! And we don’t even know what a gallon us??! Lol.. 😉 any help would be appreciated! Thanks :)

    • happyhooligans says

      Hiya, Google will help you convert litres to gallons. I think it’s about 4 to 1. Any laundry bar soap will work. I’m not sure about the Borax and washing soda. I’ve heard my followers say you can get it at Coles. Does that name ring a bell with you? You can make your own washing soda too. Did you see the link in the post that will take you to the instructions?

    • happyhooligans says

      Yes, I’ve heard that others often do that. I never had, so I’m not sure how much you’d add, but it’s fine to, if you’d like to ahead and add some.

  18. Pam says

    Where did you find all of that for $15? I had a look around and estimate it’ll cost me over $50 for the initial ingredients,

    • happyhooligans says

      Let me explain, Pam. I didn’t buy all the ingredients for 15.00, what I said was a year’s worth of laundry will cost you less than 15.00. You only use one cup of each of the powders to make 10 gallons of detergent. You are going to get years of laundry out of your 50 dollar investment. If you’re in the U.S., you should get it for far less than 50. Amazon has a kit – borax, washing soda and fels naphtha for 29.99 I believe (and they tend to be more expensive than Walmart or the grocery store).

  19. Debra Allen says

    I have been making this soap for years. I make about 200+ each month and give to food banks to help cut the cost in a families’s budget – this money can be used for meat, eggs or paper products for each family. I rec’e used laundry containers – cleaned out milk jugs (marked with Mr. Yuk faces and clearly write Laundry Soap used 1/4 cup per load). *** Warning DO NOT leave on clothing as you go do something else – it most likely will bleach out your favorite T-Shirts. It works best to add the soap in as the tub fill and THAN ADD IN THE CLOTHS ***

  20. Heather says

    I make my laundry soap with the same ingredients but without the water. I put it in the blender to make sure everything is fine and blended well. Use 1 Tbsp for a sm-med load or 2Tbsp for med-lg or heavily soiled clothes. Works great.

  21. Melinda says

    I have just started using this, and my mom would like to use it too… She just wonders if it’s safe for her h e machine and how much would you use…. Thanks!

    • happyhooligans says

      Hi Melinda, you can find measurements for both he machines and top loading machines in the “using your detergent” section of the post.

  22. Tracy Day says

    I made your homemade laundry detergent a few days ago and mine turned out watery but I see that you say that doesn’t matter. What I’m wondering is, instead of diluting it with water, could you just use 1/2 the amount called for? I have used homemade detergent for a long time but usually make a powdered recipe but wanted to give yours a try. Thanks so much for the info!

    • happyhooligans says

      I’m thinking it must need to be cut with the water for a reason, Tracy. I haven’t tried not diluting it.

  23. Hippy NerdsWife says

    Are you using US Gallons or Canadian Gallons? Better yet, can you tell me how much to use in Cups? Thanks in advance


  1. […] Finally I stumbled across the idea of homemade laundry detergent.  Since I was almost out of detergent, I decided to give it a try.  I made mine a couple of months ago and I must admit that though I was skeptical– so far, so good.  My husband is a mechanic and he washes his uniforms in the detergent and he has not had any problems.  Here’s my recipe (as adapted from http://happyhooligans.ca/homemade-laundry-detergent/) […]

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