Making Your Own Powdered Laundry Detergent

I have generally been a liquid laundry detergent user, except in cases where I was stuck in a laundromat and had to buy out of a vending machine.  When I made the choice to reduce our plastic intake, I saw a great way to reduce by switching from liquid to powdered.  I bought a box of Tide Free & Clear powder, which comes in a recycled cardboard box.  Once I learned the tricks to using powder, I was quite satisfied with how it worked.  When I read how I could make my own, I figured I could give it a try.

Six months or so later, I can say I’m quite satisfied with making my own detergent.  My clothes come out clean, it’s about the same on stains as any commercial detergent I’ve used, I control the scent (or lack thereof) and most of all it’s really cheap.

Over at The Simple Dollar, he has a detailed visual guide and price notes for making liquid laundry detergent.  I don’t have terribly hard water, so powdered detergent works just fine for me, and that’s what I’ll discuss here.


  • 1-1/2 cups Borax
  • 1-1/2 cups Washing soda
  • 1 bar soap


  1. Grate the bar of soap.  I used a rotating cheese grater like they use at italian restaurants, with a small grater.  I’d recommend using a food processor with a small grater if you have one, grating a whole bar of soap is hard on the hands.  I’d have used one if my dog hadn’t decided to chew up the grate attachment (it had cheese on it, she stole it off the counter)
  2. Mix the borax and washing soda in with the soap.  Stir with a spoon, the soap curls will break apart from rubbing on the other powders and it will become pretty homogenous.
  3. Store in a container, and use!  This took me 10 minutes, would have been 5 if I’d had a power grater.
    (don’t worry, the laundry is in the basement so I don’t get confused by the sugar label!)

Some Very Important Notes

  • In general, you only have to use 1-2 tablespoons of this detergent per full load, which gives about 50 loads from a single recipe.  It is very low sudsing, so don’t expect bubbles.  Because of the low sudsing, people have successfully used it in high efficiency washers.
  • Washing soda is not the same thing as baking soda.  I found it difficult to purchase, no stores around me carry it.  Luckily the Ace Hardware near me has very nice staff, they ordered it for me and had it shipped to their store at no extra cost.
  • The cost of the bar soap is the biggest differentiator in cost of the end product.  If you’re not picky about ingredients and just want cheap detergent, buy cheap detergent bars in multi packs.  If you’re trying to avoid petroleum products, you can use a real castile soap like Dr. Bronner’s ($4.49/bar) or Kirk’s Castile Soap ($1.50/bar), or even better make your own.  With Dr. Bronner’s, the cost is about $7.16/recipe, or $0.16/load.  With Kirk’s or a cheaper soap, the cost is $0.08/load or less.
  • I have seen some more deeply green individuals concerned about the usage of borax in wash.  I have yet to see any studies or evidence of persistant or bioaccumulative toxicity in relation to it, and will keep an eye out for further information.
  • If you’re unused to powdered detergent, I’ve found it’s much better to put the soap in first, let the water run a bit and then start adding the laundry.  Make sure not to overfill with too much laundry.
  • If you have particularly hard water, you should consider using a liquid variety of detergent recipe like the one noted here, I’ve heard it works better.

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