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A couple of months ago, I had a laundry emergency. My cat peed on my bed through four layers of huge, thick comforters. At that time, my supply of homemade laundry soap was at my daughter's house, and I was looking at doing two or three loads of wash in a large capacity machine at the laundromat. Since it was an emergency, I didn't want to take the time to make a new batch of laundry soap. It had been five years since I had last bought laundry detergent.
Holy smokes was I ever shocked at the price—it's like washing your clothes with Beluga caviar!
Luckily, you don't have to put up with that. Homemade laundry soap is far cheaper than commercial products—and it's easy to make.
Making your own laundry soap not only saves money—LOTS of money—it's also a way to avoid the chemicals in commercial laundry detergents, which act as allergens to many people.
The owner of our local laundromat once told me that it is amazing how much detergent remains in clothes after the rinse cycle. Often you can re-wash the same clothes without adding any more detergent. (I can't remember what caused him to bring this up, but it was probably because of people's tendency to use too much detergent when they do their wash.) Because quite a lot of detergent remains in clothes after they are washed, their continuous contact with skin can cause allergic reactions.
Another good reason to avoid commercial laundry detergent is that many synthetic fragrances contain known endocrine disruptors.
Making your own laundry soap is also good for the environment. You won't need to throw away all those plastic laundry detergent containers! Your own homemade soap can be stored in containers that you continually reuse/recycle. Some people store laundry butter in quart canning jars. I like to store mine in the plastic buckets that lard is sold in. (You can buy lard in four-pound buckets that are ideal storage containers for many things.)
In my rural area, many people make their own laundry soap and there are many different recipes. Some people make a dry (powdered) laundry soap. Others make a liquid laundry soap.
My version is the kind that is usually described as "laundry butter". The final texture has a creamy consistency, like Crisco. You could think of it as a very concentrated liquid laundry soap. Because it is not a liquid, it requires little storage space. And because it is not a powder, it dissolves easily even in cold water.
Most of my rural friends who make their own laundry soap use Fels Naptha bar soap, mixed with borax and washing soda. In other words, they don't begin by making their own soap.
Using Fels Naptha instead of making your own soap apparently works really well. Everyone I know who does it this way is very happy with the results.
I prefer to make my own 100% coconut oil soap for this recipe.
At the bottom of this page, I've provided directions for making 100% coconut oil soap, if you would like to give it a try. (It's easy!)
1. Bring 12 cups (three quarts) of distilled water just to a boil, then take off the heat.
2. Pour grated soap into hot water and stir to dissolve completely.
3. Slowly sprinkle in 2 cups of borax, and stir until dissolved.
4. Stir in 2 cups of washing soda* and stir to dissolve. Washing soda is a little more stubborn about dissolving, but it will dissolve completely if you keep stirring.
Now you have a big pot of what looks like soapy water.
5. Cover pot with the lid and let the mixture sit at room temperature for about 8 hours (overnight works well) until completely cool and set.
If you lift the lid to take a peek after a couple of hours, you'll see that the liquid in the pan has become almost completely clear—almost like a pan full of water. After the mixture has rested at room temperature for several hours, a miracle takes place! The mixture in the pan will gel. It will then look about like Crisco.
6. When mixture is completely cool and gelled, use a stick blender to emulsify. Be sure to get the bottom of the pot where some of your borax may have settled.
The first thing you'll notice is that the gelled soap is pretty well hardened. Break it up with a sturdy spoon before you begin stick blending.
7. Blend until the soap is the consistency of thick, creamy mayonnaise all the way through and all clumps are gone.
Essential oils can be added during the stick-blending process. I feel that essential oils are wasted in laundry soap. There are few if any essential oils that will make it through the wash, and none that will make it through the dryer. Some of the stronger ones may hold up if clothes are line-dried. One essential oil that may be strong enough is lemongrass.
You probably will not want to add fragrance oils (synthetic fragrances) to homemade laundry butter if your objective is to avoid potentially toxic chemicals. But just in case you're interested, Tide fragrance oil is available from several suppliers, one of them being Bulk Apothecary. I have sometimes added fragrance oils to my laundry butter, and I've found that none of them "stick" through the washing process, let alone through the dryer. I haven't used the Tide fragrance oil (though I have had a request for it), but I doubt if it sticks either.
Place in storage containers—jars or plastic buckets.
*Washing soda can be made by heating baking soda in a 400° F oven for about an hour.
You may not want to make a full recipe the first time around—or maybe you don't want to buy a whole bunch of bars of Fels Naptha.
This recipe works fine if cut in half.
You only need two to four tablespoons of laundry butter to do a load of wash, depending on the size of the load and how dirty your clothes are. So about 1/8 cup to 1/4 cup. You'll only need to use 1/4 cup for large loads of clothes that are very dirty. By "very dirty," I mean clothes that you wear to milk goats and kill chickens.
Laundry butter works fine in cold water, but I like to mash it up a little bit if I'm washing in cold water.
Since laundry butter does not contain optical whiteners, which are common in commercial detergents, you may find that you need to add blueing to whites and light colors. Blueing is inexpensive and easy to use.
Some people like to add a little white vinegar to the rinse cycle, when using laundry soap (about 1/4 cup). This removes any soap residue that might be left on clothes. I rarely bother with this and notice no "soap scum" problem, but many people consider white vinegar to work well as a fabric softener, so you might want to try it.
Soap making is easy. This particular soap can be mixed up and poured into a mold in only a few minutes.
Basically, you mix lye and water, and then mix the lye water with melted oil. That's about all there is to it. Coconut oil soap is best made as a cold-process soap. There is no reason to heat it to hurry saponification, because it tends to overheat all on its own.
The reason laundry soaps are best made with coconut oil is that coconut oil makes the most cleansing of all soaps. Many people consider coconut oil soaps to be far too harsh for skin. But they work really well for laundry soap!
The coconut oil soap recipe you use for making laundry soap is not the same as a recipe you would use for making bath soap. This kind of coconut oil soap must be made with 0% superfat, as in this recipe. (The reason I mention this is so that no one will go out and buy coconut oil soap and think it will work.)
Coconut oil soap is one of the easiest soaps to make, mainly because it traces fast and hardens fast, and the ingredients are readily available. Just buy a container of coconut oil at the grocery store, and pick up some lye at the hardware store. Look for drain cleaners that are pure lye.
This recipe makes 12 ounces of coconut oil soap—exactly enough for a full recipe of laundry butter.
Wear eye protection and polypropylene gloves to weigh and mix lye water and stick blend soap.
1. Weigh the water in a plastic container. Weigh the lye in a plastic container.
2. Mix the lye with the water and stir to dissolve. Avoid breathing the fumes. (Give it a quick stir and walk away for a minute or two, and then go back and stir it some more. I usually stir it and go to the sink to rinse out the lye container, and then go back and give it another stir.)
3. Weigh the coconut oil and heat until just melted over low heat in a stainless steel pan. Since coconut oil is liquid at 76° F, you may not need to melt the coconut oil.
You are now ready to mix the lye water with the coconut oil. Don't worry about the temperature. Both the coconut oil and the lye water can be used immediately without cooling—provided you did not overheat the coconut oil but just barely melted it.
4. Pour the lye water into the pan of melted coconut oil and stir, and then stick blend to trace. Soap has reached trace when it has thickened enough that if you dribble some of the soap over the surface of the soap in the pan, you can see a "trace" left behind. You want the soap to be thickened but still pourable.
Since the lye water and the coconut oil are both a little warm, you will probably only need to stick blend for a minute or two.
5. Once the soap has reached trace, pour it into your container (such as an empty milk or cream carton).
6. Let the soap harden for about an hour before unmolding and grating it. This soap hardens fast, and it will still be pretty warm when you unmold it. You don't want to let it harden too much, or it will be hard to grate. If you are using milk or cream cartons, you can unmold the soap by tearing away the carton.
7. Wear polypropylene gloves to unmold and grate the soap. It will still have active lye in it, which will burn your hands.
Once you have grated the soap, you can use it immediately to make laundry butter, or set it aside for making laundry butter later.
Marie D on August 20, 2020:
Many are not aware that Fels Naptha soap is loaded with chemicals and artificial fragrance.
James on July 26, 2020:
Thx for the info.
Sharon Vile (author) from Odessa, MO on June 26, 2018:
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 26, 2018:
I have never considered making my own detergent, but it sounds like such a healthy thing to do. I like the idea. Your instructions were very good as I would not have known how to begin.