It’s been awhile now since I started making my own DIY zero waste laundry detergent. I experimented with a LOT of different recipes when I was just starting out. I made liquid DIY zero waste laundry detergents, powder DIY zero waste laundry detergents (more on this later), tried different kinds of soap bars, and ratios… It took awhile, and lots of patience with the batches I made that didn’t quite work out for me… but I think I’ve FINALLY nailed down my ultimate recipe for cheap DIY zero waste laundry detergent!
To start, why ditch the plastic tubs from the store in the first place? I’ve written before about my journey into a zero waste lifestyle, and it should be no secret by now that I’m on a self-proclaimed quest to try and eliminate plastics from my life as much as I can. As you may have heard, there’s a soupy mix of plastic trash swirling in the Pacific Ocean twice the size of Texas. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has grown over the years as we use and throw away ever more disposable stuff.
I think now more than ever, it’s important that we take the time to think critically about the different products we use, and reevaluate how we can make improvements to produce less waste. I’ve had lots of missteps, and mini-victories along the way in my own story, but it’s been a really rewarding journey overall to try and make changes. Plastic is literally everywhere in our lives, and it’s been a real challenge trying re-think the things I use. I consider my experimentation with zero waste laundry detergent solutions a resounding success though! Enough so, that I now feel confident in sharing my recipe for all to see. So if you are interested at all in reducing plastic from your life, and never again buying a jug of commercial laundry detergent again, this post is for you!
This formula is made with few ingredients, all of which are packaged in biodegradable or recyclable packaging. It’s also CHEAP. Are there any other frugal zero wasters out there? Because I’m definitely one of them. When I first started looking into zero waste laundry detergent options, I was disheartened to see how it would be more money than just buying commercial products at the store. I remember thinking to myself, “Eh, ok… so what if it’s a bit more expensive? I’d rather pay a few bucks more than have the planet pay instead, by dumping plastic bottles in a landfill every few months.” At the same time, I wasn’t ready to give up on my search though.
Another problem I came across, was finding bar soaps suitable for laundry that didn’t contain tallow or other animal based fats in the ingredients list. This was another no-go for me, because it was extremely important to me that any soap I use just be plant-based. I found lots of DIY laundry detergent recipes online that used animal-fat containing soaps, and was discouraged in my search.
But I didn’t give up! And eventually, by combining lots of different DIY recipes, and inventing a solution up on my own a bit, I was able to create a cheap DIY zero waste laundry detergent that is now my staple go-to for laundry!
Here are the ingredients:
Wait, only 4 main ingredients?!?! Yup.
If there was to be a main fifth ingredient, it would have been borax. It’s a common ingredient used in DIY laundry detergent recipes. But the safety information of it seems to be a bit mixed. Some sources will tell you it’s totally fine to use, while others may warn against using it. I read up on it a lot, and in the end, couldn’t make up my mind. So to be safe, I just didn’t include it in my recipe. I didn’t notice any lack of cleaning power without it.
Did I also mention that this recipe makes 5 gallons worth of DIY zero waste laundry detergent? That’s enough to do 160 large loads! Let’s add some more numbers into the equation now:
1 bar of Bronner’s unscented bar soap costs $2.99 at my grocery store. I buy washing soda and baking soda at Walmart or Kroger (whatever their cheapest in-store brand is for each). A 16oz box of baking soda comes out to $0.57 ($0.29 per cup) and a 55oz box of washing soda comes out to $4.05 ($0.60 per cup).
Since the only other main ingredient is water, that puts the total cost for our 5 gallon DIY zero waste laundry detertent recipe at $3.88. Buying these ingredients in bulk would make it even cheaper.
I use 1/4 cup for a small load, and 1/2 cup for a large load of laundry. So doing a little more math, we can calculate that 5 gallons = 80 cups. Since a large load is only 1/2 cup, this amount will last me for 160 large loads, and even longer if I do a mix of small/large loads! It also comes out to only $0.024 per load, so if you ask me, this is exactly the CHEAP-O solution I’ve been looking for! 😛
How does one go about storing this much laundry detergent?… With a 5 gallon bucket, lol. When I first made this recipe, my fiance Cody convinced me to make a half-batch of the above recipe, instead of a full-batch. Because in his mind, apparently 5-gallons worth of laundry detergent is “insane” and “nobody needs that much” and “please don’t make that much…” hahaha. I may have gotten a little too hyper when I first told him about this recipe and my calculations. I was just so excited that I finally figured out my holy-grail solution for cheap DIY zero waste laundry detergent. Not only will this obscenely large quantity of laundry detergent last me for a looooong time (how long exactly, I’m not sure yet – I’ve still been using my first batches for 3+ months now) but it’s also vegan friendly, cruelty free, and will completely eliminate my need to buy plastic containers of commercial detergent ever again. Bye-bye, one more product I would otherwise send to the landfill regularly!
The caveat here, is making sure you can find all the ingredients in a plastic-free package, but that has never been an issue for me. Baking soda and washing soda are both sold in paper/cardboard box like material that can be recycled 100%, and similarly bar soaps can be found wrapped in paper instead of plastic pretty easily these days.
I think I’ve talked about my love of this recipe enough though. It’s time I describe the simple process of assembling it all together!
Simple DIY Zero Waste Laundry Detergent
Whether you decide to make a half-batch of this recipe, or a full-batch, the steps are simple either way. If you want to read a more bulleted-list type description of this recipe, skip down to the bottom of this post where I included one.
First, you’ll need to grate your bar soap down to small shavings. When I first made this, I didn’t actually have a grater (it would have been a lot easier if I did). So what I did, was cut my bar soap into small cubes, and then pulse them in my blender for a few seconds at a time. This produced a pile of fairly small to small-medium sized bar pieces that I could work with. But seriously, if you have a grater, I’d use the grater!
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil on the stove, then add all the soap shavings. Stir continuously until all the soap has been melted down – about 5-10 minutes.
Next, fill up a 5-gallon bucket (or smaller bucket, if you are making a half batch) with hot water. Then pour in the 4 cup soap mixture above.
Then stir in the 1 cup of baking soda, and 1 cup of washing soda. At this stage, you can also add a few drops of essential oil if you want to scent your detergent. I tend to like all my soaps to be unscented, so it’s an optional step. Stir everything for a few minutes, making sure everything’s dissolved well.
Fill up the rest of your bucket with hot water all the way to the top. Stir once more.
Finally, put a lid over it and let if sit for about 24 hours. In that time the mixture should “gel” up a bit.
In the end, your final mixture should have a consistency similar to egg-drop soup. It’s ok if there are some small chunks of soap that formed, and float in your mixture.
What Cody and I ended up doing, was transferring small amounts of this mixture to a regular laundry detergent bottle we hung on to, so that we can pour it more easily into our washing machine, versus from the bucket. Then when that bottle runs out, we just refill it from the bucket!
Final Thoughts about DIY Zero Waste Laundry Detergent
DIY zero waste laundry detergent, oh how I love thee. But seriously, I’m very excited about this recipe, and very excited about what it means for me moving forward. I’m saving tons of money by DIY’ing, I’m saving tons of plastic from the landfill, and with this experiment being a success, I feel like I’ve opened the doors up for me to try more DIY zero waste projects like this in the future.
In fact, I actually do have a DIY zero waste hand soap recipe that is similar to this, that I’ve been using for basic kitchen soap and bathroom soap by our sinks. I decided to save that topic/recipe for its own post though! I’ve also written about DIY home cleaners before as a means to reducing food waste, which you should read about next!
I had my reservations about DIY zero waste laundry detergent at first. I was worried that any concoction I came up with wouldn’t be powerful enough to actually clean well. I was worried that commercial products with chemicals were the only good solution out there. But I’m happy to say those fears are behind me now. I’m very pleased with the quality of this DIY zero waste laundry detergent, and plan on using it from now on. It’s also a nice plus in the end, to realize that all those chemicals and harsh ingredients that do exist in the regular stuff, will no longer be on my clothes anymore! I have very sensitive skin, so I’ve always had to be really careful about what detergents and soaps I bought (making sure everything has no fragrance, no dyes, or other things I’m sensitive to, yada yada). But now making my own, I won’t even have to think about this anymore!
For anyone who is a bit intimidated by the thought of DIY’ing, there are some companies that came up during my zero waste laundry research I think are worth a mention. MyGreenFills is a company that sells refills of their detergent in paper pouches. You simply by one of their laundry bottles to start, and then every refill afterwards you can get mailed to you in paper. It’s a neat idea, and one that definitely cuts down on plastic usage. Another idea, is to use soap nuts. You can buy these on Amazon, and follow the instructions for how to use them. But basically, you through a few of these nuts in with the wash and bam, clean clothes! If you live in a region where the Soap Berry tree (that produces them) grows, lucky you! You could just go outside and scavenge for a basket-full.
Another thought some people may be wondering, what about fabric softeners, dryer sheets, or other aspects of the laundry process? To be honest, I’m not the best person to ask for those things. I’ve never used fabric softeners, and have no interest in starting to use them. I think my clothes and linens come out just fine without them! But for the super curious, I have heard that adding a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle of a washing machine can act as a fabric softener. Again, I don’t have a burning desire to necessarily try it out for myself, but if anyone else does let me know how it goes!
I hope this post has been a fun read, and maybe inspiring for anyone looking to start making their own laundry detergent! As it turns out, making DIY zero waste laundry detergent is fun, easy, frugal, and something even someone like me (who has almost no DIY experience) can succeed at. Enjoy!
DIY Zero Waste Laundry Detergent
- 4-6 oz Castile bar soap*
- 1 cup Baking soda
- 1 cup Washing soda
- A few drops Essential Oil (optional)
- Grate the bar of soap into fine shavings. If you don't have a grater, you could also cut your soap into small cubes, then pulse in a blender for a few seconds to break it down into small pieces.
- Bring 4 cups of water to boil, then add your soap shavings. Stir for 5-10 minutes until all of the soap has dissolved.
- Fill up a bucket halfway with hot water, then pour in the above soap mixture.
- Stir in 1 cup of baking soda, 1 cup of washing soda, and optionally a few drops of essential oil to add a scent. Stir everything to combine well.
- Fill the rest of the bucket up with hot water all the way to the top and stir again.
- Snap on a lid, then let it sit for 24 hours to gel up.
- If you are making a half-batch (2.5 gallons), then use 4oz of bar soap. If you are making a full-batch (5 gallons) use 6 oz of bar soap.
- With the final mixture, I use 1/4 cup for small loads, and 1/2 cup for large loads.
- Essential oils are totally optional. I often omit them because I prefer unscented things. But some nice ideas might be lavender, lemon, or orange for a fresh scent! Tea tree oil is known to have antibacterial properties, and may be a good one to consider for a cleaning-power boost.