Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Homemade Laundry Detergent - Is it worth it?

It seems lately that a lot of moms are switching to making their own homemade laundry soap. I've been getting tired of spending a ton of money on safe, ECO-friendly laundry detergents, so I thought I would give it a try. I started out using the basic recipe I found on most sites.
  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 bar Fels-Naptha laundry soap

So I began by grating the Fels-Naptha. About halfway through I started to wonder about the decision to use this product since the smell was so overpowering. It occurred to me that I hadn't checked the label on the back of the soap. Why? I don't know. I always check labels. I guess my initial feeling was that this was supposed to be natural and safer so I didn't need to worry about it. After checking the label, I realized how misguided this thought was.

This is how it reads: 
Ingredients: Cleaners, soil and stain removers, chelating agents, colorants, perfume

I hate it when companies do this. I think I have a right to know what is in a cleaning product. It doesn't help me feel better when I read the caution right below the ingredients which read:

Caution: Eye and Skin Irritant. Avoid contact with eyes and prolonged contact with skin.

So It was at this point I decided to do some investigating. I found the actual list of ingredients on the Fels-Naptha web site. Here they are: 


Soap (sodium tallowate*, sodium cocoate* (or) sodium palmate kernelate*, and sodium palmate*), water, talc, cocnut acid*, palm acid*, tallow acid*, PEG-6 methyl ether, glycerin, sorbitol, sodium chloride, pentasodium pentetate and/or tetrasodium etidronate, titatium dioxide, fragrance, Acid Orange (CI 20170), Acid yellow 73 (ci43350) 

Since I can't tell you what any of those ingredients are, I had to do some more searching.  What I found was that a number of these ingredients are questionable, and they most definitely are not natural. (Although arsenic is natural so maybe that shouldn't be a litmus test for health) For example: Titatium dioxide is a known contaminate and is harmful to wildlife, Acid yellow 73 is banned for use in cosmetics and show to be potentially unsafe in a number of studies, and PEG-6 methyl ether is a skin irritant and there is a small amount of evidence that it may be linked to organ toxicity.

Overall, it's not so bad, but my feeling is if I'm going to go to all this trouble to make my own laundry soap, then I should feel like it's safe for my family. So I decided to toss the Fels-Naptha and purchased some castile bar soap. I got Dr. Bronner's All in One Hemp Rose Castile Soap. It smells so good! So I grated it up and combined it with the other two ingredients. I used it in my wash a few times but it only worked okay to be honest. A lot of my clothes were coming out stained and I didn't feel like they were getting as clean as I would like. One plus.. my clothes came out much softer.

Not to mention, I was a bit put off by using borax. I have avoided it for a long time because I am concerned about it being slightly toxic. It was one of the main reasons I took so long to make my own laundry soap. I use hydrogen peroxide in my all purpose cleaner instead of borax. I have tried many times over to research borax, but have found much of the information out there to be contradictory so to be on the safe side, I decided to look into ways of making laundry soap without it.

Most of what I found was simply the same recipe as above without the borax. So I thought I would give it a try, but as I was mixing my ingredients, on a whim, I decided to check the directions for using the washer soda. To my surprise, it said to add 1/2 a cup to loads to increase the effectiveness of your detergent. 1/2 a cup! I was using about a tablespoon a load. No wonder it didn't work well. So I adjusted my recipe as follows:
  • 1 bar Castile soap
  • 7 cups washing soda
At about a  half cup a load, that equaled 16 loads. It worked much better, except my clothes weren't as soft so I gave in and added a cup of borax to the mix to make it:
  • 1 bar Castile soap
  • 7 cups washing soda or a whole 55oz box
  • 1 cup borax
That helped, though my clothes still weren't as soft as before. They were definitely coming out much cleaner though. 

So here is my issue.... was it worth it? Did I save any money on this venture or am I better off going back to the ECO detergents?

So I did the math.

My laundry soap cost $3.59 for the soap, $3.29 for the box of washer soda and 4.79 for box of the borax which I used approximately $.50 worth.  If I use the full 1/2 cup per load this comes out to... (drum roll)

Grand total: $7.38 or $.41 a load 

Per load, this is how it compared to the Eco friendly detergents:
  • 7th Generation liquid  $16.00 for 66 loads or $.24 a load
  • 7th Generation powder $15.00 for 70 loads or $.21 a load
  • Method $15.50 for 50 loads or $.31 a load
  • and Meyers $16.00 for 64 loads or $.25 a load

Wow! That's a big difference! Of course, most of us realize the number of loads represented on a box is usually inflated, listing the amounts or a "regular" or medium size load when I'm referring to a large load, but even so it's a big difference. From what I can tell both financially and time-wise, it just doesn't make any sense to make your own soap. Now, if you are dealing with allergies or just want to be absolutely sure of what's in your soap, then this could be a good alternative.

But for me, it just makes better sense to buy.


Next investigation... which laundry detergent works best! :)

20 comments:

  1. I throw a cup of powdered color safe bleach in mine too. I have boys, so it's kinda necessary. I also keep tea tree oil and lavender oil on hand for disinfecting and sheets and towels, respectively.

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    1. I've used hydrogen peroxide as a color safe bleach before and that works fairly well. I didn't think to use tea tree and lavender - great ideas!

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  2. I agree with you on the contents of the homemade wash recipes I've seen. Most of those ingredients are no "better" than the contents in regular laundry soap. I have skin allergies and the borax and Fels-Nappa makes me get a dry skin rash terribly. I think the Arm & Hammer with the Power Gel works the best on our clothes and none of us seem to be sensitive to it.

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    1. I've never been a big fan of borax because of the various information questioning if it's really safe. It works great for getting rid of fleas though. :)

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  3. thank you for your opinion on this! i have been thinking of trying to make my own soap too, but when you can buy other stuff on sale it just didn't seem like i would even be saving money.. i think i will save my time. :)

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    1. Exactly my point. Not to mention, grating the soap is a colossal pain in the butt!

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  4. Wow! What an eye opener! Thank you so much for sharing. I recently made my first batch of homemade detergent that was supposed to work well with HE machines. I have been a little frustrated because the fels naptha doesn't seem to dissolve all the time, leaving weird white marks on the clothes. I have wondered if I was really saving any money. Now I know. So, again, Thanks!

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    1. The Castile soap did dissolve well. I didn't have that issue. But it simply didn't clean the way would have liked. Then when I increased the amount of washing soda to make it work better, the cost was off the chart!

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  5. I haven't made any for a while not but I always just used a couple cups of both the borax and washing soda so mine was cheaper, but I do however like the conveince of the store bought natural kinds.

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    1. That was the way did it for a while too. Much cheaper, but I just didn't feel like the clothes were getting clean. Thanks for he comment.

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  6. I just recently found out there is these things called soap nuts and there suppose to work really well. Whole New Mom talk about it here more http://wholenewmom.com/whole-new-budget/why-i-dont-make-my-own-laundry-detergent-a-super-sale/.

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    1. I've heard about these too. Definitely need to try them!

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  7. I'm so glad you did the leg work on this. I have been considering making my own, but it seems like a lot of work, and clearly the benefits aren't there. I guess I will stick with the easy (and probably more thoroughly cleaning) commercial detergents!

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    1. Yeah. It just doesn't seem worth the trouble to me.

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  8. I totally agree about the fels naptha soap. So not natural! The smell is so strong, it overwhelms me the minute I walk in the room. I've been using homemade laundry detergent, and you're right, it is not good at getting stains out. I couldn't save my 6 year old's shirts for my younger son because the stains were so bad. I want to keep trying different laundry soap recipes and natural stain removers though to find something that works. I'm trying Zote soap next. We'll see how it goes.

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    1. The smell is terrible! I've read that Zote isn't as bad. Let me know how it works for you.

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  9. Great post! I have never tried to make my own, but have wondered about it and also if it would really be more cost effective. Very informative. Thanks.

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  10. This is very interesting... Thank you for looking into this for all of us and reading the labels.

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  11. Thanks Courtney....great post...I don't think I will be making homemade powder. I use to be a Drive girl but I have just recently changed over to Omo.

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