Homemade laundry detergent appears to be a very personal thing. There is always the matter of your water: hard or soft, mineral content, well or treated city. Something in this mix will make whites dingy for some people and sparkling for others. There is the matter of consistency: gel, powder or liquid. There is the matter of heat: hot water wash or cold. There is fragrance: do you want one, do you not, do you want multiple fragrances. There is the matter of size: what will you keep it in, big batch or small, how long does it keep. Oh there is just so much more than when you walk down the grocery isle having to consider only a couple of options and knowing there isn't really one that "won't work." Most all of the Internet recipes I have seen involve the same basic stuff, but somehow the order or amounts make a very large difference. So try a few, keep some Tide on hand for the ones that don't work out, and know that most every single recipe I have seen costs only a dollar or so for the entire batch. Embarking on this highly personal mission requires a bit of reconnaissance into the lives of others and so I give you our laundry soap recipe.
To answer the questions above we have soft water, treated by the city (soon to be rain water), and the previous liquid made our whites dingy. We switched over to gel and now are very happy. All of our clothes are washed in cold water so powder won't do because of the whole dissolving issue. We are only slightly into the fragrance thing. A small fragrance is what we have decided upon, so that our clothes will smell clean but not overly smelly. We store our soap in a 5 gallon bucket and thus make large batches. However, the latest recipe (the keeper) is much smaller than the previous dingy whites recipe.
There aren't many pictures with this post because the process was so highly simple I couldn't really think of any pictures which someone would need. Pictures, I felt, would be a bit demeaning. Most everyone I know can grate, heat, dissolve, dump, mix and let sit without photo instructions.
1 Fels Naptha soap (you will use 1 1/2 cups of grated soap; a little less than half)
1/2 cup of Borax
1/2 cup of Washing Soda (washing not baking)
cheese grater (mine came from Goodwill for a buck, make this your permanent soap grater)
Any old pot or pan which can hold at least 8 quarts (totally reusable)
BIG bucket (at least 2 gallon)
Wooden spoon, spatula, large stick to stir contents of bucket
Regular spoon to stir contents of pot
Grate the Fels Naptha on the smallest teeth of the cheese grater. It will take more time to grate, however it will take much less time to melt. After trying it both ways, you save time with the smaller teeth.
Heat Boil 2 quarts of water. Make it really, rapidly boiling, crazy hot. Mix in 1 and 1/2 cups of the finely grated Fels Naptha.
Dissolve Turn down the heat to medium (this really likes to boil over and get everywhere on the stove) and stir until the soap dissolves. You want it completely dissolved like bright yellow, watery mustard. If it doesn't dissolve now, it won't in the washer.
Dump in the 1/2 cup Borax and 1/2 cup Washing Soda. The mixture will thicken almost immediately. You can feel it as you stir. However, it will not be like gel, mayonnaise, or honey. It is still very much a liquid. Simmer over medium to low heat for 5 minutes.
Mix Prepare 1 quart of hot water into your big bucket. Add 1/2 the yellow soap mixture. Stir till it completely combines. If you dump all the soap in at once it tends to separate due to the temperature difference. Dump the rest of the soap in and stir really well.
Let Sit put the lid on and let it sit for 24 hours.
That's it, all done. It takes about 15 minutes total and then waiting for it to set up. We use 3/4 of a cup per load. A full cup if the laundry is scary and needs lots of help. The bucket usually lasts us about 4 months. The Fels Naptha gives it a wonderful, slightly lemony scent. It works out very well.
Figuring Out What You Like
When I opened my bucket the next morning, the soap was like Jello. Personally, I found it way too dense. I was picturing the stuff that comes out of my nice, brightly-colored, plastic container which I bought at the store. Other people I have spoken with really like it this thick consistency. This is a very personal part of the whole process. For me, I boiled another 3 quarts of water till they were rapidly boiling, crazy hot, and dumped them in. After stirring a bit to make sure all had dissolved and combined I let it sit overnight again. In the morning I added 3 more quarts of water. At this point, I was satisfied with my slightly runny gel (like dishwasher soap). I'm pretty sure the next time I make it, the same thing will happen. However, I am still going to let the soap set up, and add the hot water in increments so that I get the consistency right. Due to this not being an exact science you have to play around with it a bit to make it your own.
Acquiring the Stuff
Fels Naptha has been around forever. It is usually found on the same isle and the Borax in with the cleaners. For some reason (I don't know why) it isn't on the laundry isle with the other soaps. It literally says "Heavy Duty Laundry Bar Soap" on the wrapper. However, many stores have just stopped carrying it. If you can't find it locally you can still find it on the Internet with the Dial website. It only costs about 1.50 a bar (though you have to purchase a minimum of 8) and you use about 1/2 of it for each batch of soap.
Washing Soda is another product that seems to be disappearing from shelves. It is normally in the laundry isle, as that is its main use. If this is not something which can be local acquired you can still get it through Arm & Hammer via the Internet. If you are deciding to do homemade laundry soap this is a product that is in most all of them. Even if the above recipe isn't something which works for you, the rest of the box will not go to waste.
I haven't had any problems with Borax. This seems to still be something that people realize is important to have around the house. Perhaps it is due to the fact Borax has a bajillion uses for cleaning and disinfecting. This is another product which is in most all the homemade laundry soap recipes I've seen. As well, Borax cleans a bathroom like no other product I have ever used. That includes all the fancy ones that Jules had in the cabinet before I lived with him. If you still haven't yet, buy it, use it, and love it.
You can acquire all three products from Soaps Gone Buy if you need to. Many appear to be available through Amazon as well.