I’m Gonna Wash that Cost Right Outta my Budget!

Home Made Laundry Detergent

One of the things that Linda and I must do in order to survive out in the desert is to keep our expenses to a minimum. One of the ways we can accomplish this is to find ways to make things for less expense and less effort than purchasing the completed product.

Our latest adventure is in home made detergents.  We recently found several recipes on the Internet for making your own liquid laundry detergent.  The basic components of these recipes were all the same:

  • Borax
  • Washing Soda (Sodium Carbonate)
  • Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate)
  • Laundry soap (usually in bar form)
  • Water

These ingredients were combined in various ways and in different amounts to yield different volumes of detergents at different strengths.  If you omit the water, you can make a powdered version, as well. 

Linda prefers liquid detergent.  I was wanting to make the powdered version because it’s much more compact without all that water, and weighs less.  To me, that’s a step toward “living small” and frugality.  However, since Linda is the one who handles the laundry chores in our marriage, she gets to pick the tools she works with. The liquid detergent will dissolve easily in cold water, which is another way to reduce cost.

Additionally, we have to use “free and clear” detergents since the regular ones irritate Linda’s skin. The recipe we use doesn’t add any artificial dyes or perfumes, so it’s naturally “free and clear.”

The recipe we wound up using only makes 2.5 gallons of detergent, but it is ULTRA-, MEGA-, ÜBER-concentrated. The recipe says to use 1/3 cup in each washload, but we’ve already reduced that to 1/4 cup and we’re using 1/3 cup only when we’re washing my grungy, garage “play clothes.”  Yeah, it’s THAT concentrated. The super concentrated quality of this recipe satisfied my desire to do more in less space, so I’m cool with it.

Assembling the Ingredients and Tools

It seems that the availability of these raw ingredients varies from area to area and even store to store. My recipe uses the following components:

  • 1 bar of Fels-Naptha laundry soap (or any other laundry bar, such as Zote)
  • 1 16-oz box baking soda
  • 1 c borax
  • 1 c washing soda
  • 9 quarts of water

Here are some links to Amazon.com if you just want to order online:

I was able to find these at my local Wal-Mart store for substantially less than what Amazon is selling it for.  However, if your local stores don’t carry these, you can get them.  If you do order online, please use the links above since we get credit for the sales.

In addition to the ingredients above, you’ll need:

  • an 8-quart (or larger) pot
  • a 3-gallon (or larger) bucket with a tight sealing lid
  • Plastic cooking spoon for stirring. Wooden spoons can absorb the detergent.
  • Cuisinart with grating attachment, box grater or sharp knife 

Putting it all Together

1. Grate the laundry soap. The finer the grate, the faster it will dissolve during the next step. If you don’t have access to a box grater or a Cuisinart with a grater attachment,  you can shave the soap with a sharp knife. It will look a little like shredded Cheddar cheese.

2. In the large pot, add the grated soap and 1 gallon (4 quarts) of water. Dissolve the soap over medium heat.  It is very important that you stir it with the spoon slowly.  You don’t want to create suds. Do not allow the mixture to boil at any time.

3. Combine all the dry ingredients into one container.  This will make it easier to add it in increments in the next step.

4. Once the soap has fully dissolved, begin adding the other ingredients 1/2 c at a time, making sure they fully dissolve before adding the next component. Continue to stir slowly. Repeat until all the dry ingredients have been incorporated.

5. Continue slowly stirring to be sure that all the dry ingredients have dissolved.  Skim off any foam that that forms.

6. Slowly pour the hot mixture into the bucket.  Again, you want to avoid agitating it.  You want to keep from creating suds if possible.  Unfortunately, I was not successful and made suds. 

7. Slowly add the remaining water (5 qt) to the bucket, stirring slowly.

8. Cover the bucket tightly with its lid and allow to cool overnight. The mixture will thicken to a gel-like consistency.

9. If you have foam that settles to the top of your soap, you can mix it in several times while it cools. This will melt some of the foam into the detergent.

Once it has cooled overnight, if there is still foam left, you can either mix it in and shake your detergent before you measure it, or skim off the foam for a nice, translucent-yellow detergent.

After it cooled, we transferred it from the bucket into old detergent bottles that we give a shake just before we measure it out. You can fit most of it into three of the 100-ounce Tide bottles.

The Cost Breakdown

Assuming a standard measure of 1/4c per load, this recipe will yield about 160 loads.  At 1/3c for heavily soiled loads, it will yield about 120 loads.

Here’s the breakdown of cost:

Item Name
Vol per

Cost per

Batches per

Vol per

Cost per
Borax 76 oz $3.50 11.18 6.8 oz $0.313
Washing Soda    55 oz $4.25 4.91 11.2 oz $0.865
Baking Soda 16 oz $1.00 1 16 oz $1.000
Fels-Naptha 5.5 oz $1.00 1 5.5 oz $1.000
Water  9 qt $0.00 1 9 qt $0.000

Added together, this comes to $3.178 per batch.  If we divide by 160  loads, we come to an astonishing


Wow.  Now, let’s look at your average bottle of Tide.

On WalMart.com’s web site, they sell a 100-oz bottle of Tide (64 loads) for $11.97.  That comes out to


So, by making your own you can

save 16.8 CENTS PER LOAD over Tide!

Yeah, it’s cheaper, but how does it clean?

In our testing, this stuff cleans exceedingly well.  We did a test wash of a load of whites.  Our whites don’t get really grungy.  They’re just underwear and undershirts. We were really surprised when the water turned gray/brown.  It was far darker than when we use regular detergents. I would say that it cleans at least as well as Tide, if not better. When washing my “play clothes,” it easily performs better than the other detergents.  It not only cleans, but does a good job at removing the grease, too!


By making our own detergent, we can save quite a bit of money, and we have the peace of mind in knowing that there are no dyes or strong perfumes in it. Since there are many other uses for the raw materials, we can keep them on hand for other projects and take one more step toward being off the grid and being independent from “the system.”

About rrlosers

My wife and I are planning to go off-grid and move to the Texas High Desert. We intend to "lose" the rat race.
This entry was posted in frugal, How-to, improvised technology, off-grid, sustainable. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to I’m Gonna Wash that Cost Right Outta my Budget!

  1. As I was doing some shopping today I happened to notice that the Zote laundry bar soap is also packaged in soap flakes which would eliminate the grating of the bar or make it easier to combine all the dry ingredients together. I like the basic recipe you worked out for a variety of reasons. Very interesting indeed.


  2. The Rat says:

    I'm not sure if the soap flakes would be the exact same thing as the grated soap.

    It's not really that big a deal to grate the soap if you've got a Cuisinart or other food processor with a grater attachment. I drop the bar in there and in about 5 seconds, it's grated.

    It might be worth experimenting with the flakes. For now, I'll stick with my bars of Fels-Naptha.

    We've been using this stuff for over a month now and we are quite happy with the results.


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