Condo Blues: How to Make Powdered High Efficiency Laundry Detergent

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How to Make Powdered High Efficiency Laundry Detergent

My old washing machine died beyond repair. I replaced it with a High Efficiency (HE) washing machine. HE washing machines use less water than conventional washing machines (and save more electricity and water in the process.) You have to use a low sudsing laundry detergent. If you don’t, the washing machine could overflow. I thought that since every green source is pimping HE washers (including myself I suppose), I thought that finding low sudsing powdered detergent would be easy. Not so much. After a long search I found only two and hated both.

  • HE Option #1 - Tide HE made me itch. Not surprising because according to family lore my mother used Tide to wash my cloth diapers when I was a baby. Tide gave baby me diaper rash so bad that the skin on my butt chapped and bled. Even thought I ‘m an adult, my mom says she still feels bad about it. Which just goes to show you Mom Guilt NEVER goes away (sorry Mommies.)
  • HE Option #2 - Trader Joes was a huge disappointment. It is a plant based laundry detergent– yay! It didn’t clean our clothes very well. Especially Husband’s muddy and sometimes toxically sweaty running clothes. Be thankful computers don't have Smellorama.
I tried using a smaller amount than usual of a regular liquid detergent. It cleaned our cloths but stank up the washing machine after every load - BAD.

I was running out of options. I decided to try making laundry detergent myself. I didn’t want to make the liquid version because it makes like 5 gallons at a time and looks like snot. Ew. That’s when I found out how to make a powdered laundry detergent that will work in both regular and high efficiency washing machines. And it’s much less expensive too! My homemade powdered laundry detergent costs approximately 30 cents a load.

My homemade powdered laundry detergent doesn't look like snot at all


Make Your Own Green High Efficiency Laundry Detergent

You will need:

1 bar of soap (You can use either a laundry soap like Fels Naptha or Zote or a bath/hand soap. I use both types of bar soap and all work in this project.) 
 Knife (optional) 
½ cup of borax 
 ½ cup of washing soda (not baking soda) 
Cheese grater or food processor 
Container with a lid 
Measuring cup  
Optional: (updated 2/8/13) a capful of Purex Crystals Laundry Enhancer if you miss the pretty smell  of regular detergent. It is a 87% natural ingredients (except fragrance, natch) fabric softner/destaticer. It does not contain tallow for those of you who do not like to use animal products.

Make it:  

1. Grate the bar of soap using the food grater or by cutting it into sections with the knife in order to grate it with your food processor.

 I used Zote for this batch of homemade HE laundry detergent.
  • The bath bar soaps tend to be smaller in size than the laundry bar soaps. In that case I use 1 and ½ beauty bar soaps. 
  • If I have any little nubs of soap hanging around in my household soap dishes, I grind them up and toss them into the mix too.
  • You can also use castile or your favorite handmade bar soap in this project. (Although that’s one indulgence I keep for myself. My undies don’t seem to appreciate handmade herb soaps like I do.)
2. Mix the finely grated soap flakes into a container with ½ a cup of borax and ½ a cup of washing soda. I use the Dump It All Into The Container, Snap On The Lid, And Shake method to mix my ingredients.

All done! My homemade powdered HE laundry detergent takes 15 minutes to make, tops. 
3. Add 3 tablespoons of detergent (I use the laundry scoop from my last box of HE detergent) to your washing machine to get your stinky duds clean!

How does it work?


The homemade detergent works not quite as well as the Tide HE but much better than Trader Joe's. Homemade laundry detergent doesn't make me itch or cause a rash. I think performance really depends upon what type of soap you use for the mix. I think the laundry soap works a little better than the bath soap but some folks may not be able to find Fels Naptha or Zote locally. If that is the case, consider ordering the homemade laundry detergent ingredients online.

Some people say they think homemade laundry detergent leaves their white clothes dingy. I haven’t had a problem with this because I regularly use hydrogen peroxide based “oxygen” bleach (for whites and colors) or bluing (whites only) in my washing machine. Or you can try using Zote which has optical brighteners for your mix. All of these items are environmentally friendly and will brighten up your clothes.

Given the performance and the low price tag, I’m going to stick with the homemade stuff for now. Although I would like to have a store bought option to fall back on when I need it.
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