Homemade laundry detergents are more sustainable, better for your health and significantly less expensive than store-bought options.
Not surprisingly, commercially available laundry products aim to do two things well in order to attract returning customers. They’re designed to get your clothes as clean as possible as efficiently as possible, and they’re two results many of us are well accustomed to paying a premium price for.
To produce the best results in a way deemed efficient by consumers, that is with the least amount of powdered or liquid detergent, often means a cocktail of harsh chemicals. These are not only harmful to our waterways and the environment, they can be harmful to humans, too.
Why Make Your Own
A really common ingredient in commercial laundry products is sodium laureth sulphate/sodium laurel ether sulphate (SLS and SLES) compounds which lower the surface tension between a liquid and a solid, therefore loosening dirt and stains from the fabrics you’re washing. But because SLS/SLES were initially designed as industrial degreasers, they also strip the oils from your skin which can cause irritations and allergies.
The list of chemicals used in laundry products which can be harmful to both humans and the planet is long and includes everything from ingredients you’d expect, like chlorine bleach and ammonium, through to things you’d probably deem less likely to pose risks, like dyes and fragrances. But by sourcing your own ingredients to make your laundry detergent, it means you know exactly what you’re washing your and your family’s clothes in.
There are plenty of other advantages to making your own cleaning products, too. The most obvious one is the amount of money you’ll save, followed by the packaging and plastics you’re not buying and bringing into your home. Also, reducing the toxicity of the spent water produced during the washing process means you can implement a greywater irrigation system without compromising the health of your plants and soil.
And, if you have the skills and ingredients to produce homemade laundry products, there’s also the benefit of reducing the reliance you and your family has on large supply chains. Which is why having a really simple but effective recipe, like the one here, is particularly useful.
Just Soda And Soap
There are so many different recipes for homemade laundry powders and liquids ranging in both the number of ingredients and how complex they are to make. Because the cleaning agents remain more stable in a solid form, a laundry powder will keep its potency longer than a liquid, so making a powdered version can be a more practical option when it comes to homemade products.
An effective laundry powder really only needs to be made up of two necessary ingredients: washing soda and soap. Washing soda, or sodium carbonate, works in much the same way as the aforementioned SLS and SLES compounds in that it reduces the surface tension of the water, or ‘softens’ it, and allows the soap to be absorbed into the fabric’s fibres to do its work. It’s also quite alkaline, which is good for removing stains, but anyone with particularly sensitive skin may wish to add a splash of vinegar to each load of washing to help neutralise it.
The other necessary ingredient is pure soap. The availability of unscented castille soap makes it a practical inclusion in this recipe, but tallow soap flakes return really great results, too. It will come down to both what’s available to you and your personal preference – tallow soap is made from animal fat, so if a vegan laundry product is important to you, stick with castille soap, which is made from vegetables oils like coconut or olive.
Always opt for a soap that’s marketed as a laundry or kitchen soap over one that’s sold as body soap. Because the latter will have different oils, or so-called moisturising creams, added in a bid to stop your skin from drying out. These oils will build up in your washing machine over time and they’ll eventually build up in your clothes, too. Lots of recipes will include borax, but because boric acid and sodium borate salts – which are base compunds found in borax – are active ingredients in things like pesticides and herbicides, it’s not recommended to include in your sustainable homemade laundry products.
Commercial laundry detergents have made us accustomed to associating clean clothes with heavily scented clothes thanks to the strong fragrances added. While the base recipe of washing soda and laundry soap is comparatively bland in its scent, essential oils can be added to fragrance the powder and, depending on the oil you choose, can also add certain properties to the process.
Any essential oil can be used depending on your preferred scent, with eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint and lavender all popular options. Lemon myrtle is an excellent option if you can get it due to its high levels of citral, which has high antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties.
How To Use It
This simple laundry powder works in both top and front loaders, you’ll just need to reduce the amount of powder used in the higher efficiency front-loader machines which prefer a lower-sudsing detergent. For top loaders, use three or four tablespoons of homemade washing powder per load depending on the amount of clothes you’ve got in the machine and how dirty they are. A good starting point for a front loader is no more than two tablespoons, although you’ll soon work out the amount that works best for you and your individual circumstances.
Bringing It Together
As well as your ingredients, you’ll need a measuring cup, a food processor and a box grater to grate your bar soap into a consistency your food processor can handle. It’s also not a bad idea to have a damp cloth or tea towel on hand to lay over your food processor during the blending process, as fine particles of the washing soda will escape. Likewise, allow the dry mixture to settle for 10 seconds or so before removing the lid. You’ll need a glass jar for storage. When stored in a sealed jar, your homemade laundry powder can be stored the same place as you would your store-bought variety.
Homemade laundry powder
3 bars of unscented laundry soap
6 cups washing soda
120 drops essential oil
Using the coarse side of your grater, grate the three bars of soap into smaller particles before adding to the bowl of your food processor. Add the washing soda and essential oils before blending into a laundry-powder-like consistency. Transfer to a glass jar and seal for storage.