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Perhaps nothing says clean better than a fresh basket of clothes straight from the dryer or clothesline. There is a lot to be said about a well-laundered individual, and people do notice!
Anyone who’s been washing clothes long enough appreciates how tough it is to keep whites bright and colors from fading. Not only that, but it can be a little frustrating trying to find a truly green product that is environmentally friendly and also easy on the wallet. A really great trend in laundry these days is that most people are moving away from the heavily scented, chemically-laden, name-brand detergents, and opting instead for homemade versions that truly work well in any machine.
In this article, I’m sharing my favorite, tried-and-true blend of inexpensive items that really works to remove stains and keep my clothes looking good. In fact, this particular recipe has removed everything from blood to horse manure! Sure, some pre-treating is always necessary, so I’ve included a couple of stain removal tricks that work pretty well. Note also that this recipe works well in high-efficiency (HE) machines.
What Are the Ingredients?
First, let’s talk about the ingredients in this simple, natural detergent recipe and why they are important. Years ago, a friend of mine confided in me that she commonly used “washing up” soda to clean her home.
I thought she meant baking soda, but no. The substance she was referring to is a highly alkaline chemical compound routinely used to remove stains from laundry, not to mention other uses around the house like stove tops, refrigerators, and more.
Washing soda is not the same as washing powder detergent. It’s also not the same as baking soda, although they look nearly identical. Washing soda can be purchased in many supermarkets these days as it seems to be making a resurgence in popularity. This not so well known item is also known as sodium carbonate.
An understanding in basic chemistry is not necessary. What’s important is that because washing soda is very alkaline, it’s a heavy hitter when removing stains in fabric. It’s also great to combat the effects of hard water, and actually helps the other natural soap ingredients to “lather up” and go to work in the washing machine.
The next ingredient I want to mention is Borax, also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate. Borax is a white powder that has a variety of uses. It is a component of many detergents, cosmetics, and paints, but it is also used as a fire retardant, an ant killer, and an anti-fungal.
Twenty-Mule brand is the most common brand, which is known for being an all-natural laundry booster that helps lift stains and control odors. And again, it can also be found in the detergent aisle in most major supermarkets. It’s cost effective and one box lasts a very long time.
The last part of the magical cleaning formula is Fels-Naptha soap. It’s big, orange, and smells really strong! Super fine shavings of this old standby are all that is needed to really work wonders at lifting stains from most fabrics.
I’ve always used this as a stain remover, but man it works amazingly when added to the other two powders. As a pre-treatment, simply wet the bar and rub it briskly into the stain, let sit for several minutes, and then launder your item per the label’s instructions. Even pesky oil-based stains are no match for Fels-Naptha soap.
Now for the recipe you’ve been waiting for! This recipe is good for several loads of soiled laundry.
My Green Laundry Detergent Recipe
I use a medium-sized glass jar in which to store my laundry detergent. A Mason jar also works great. I just prefer glass so that I can see at a glance when I need to make more. It’s also more sanitary and super easy to clean. All you really need for this great laundry detergent is:
- 1 cup of Borax
- 1 cup of washing soda
- ½ cup shaved or shredded Fels-Naptha.
Once you determine how big or small your container will be, then you can adjust the recipe accordingly to fit the container you choose. To shave the soap, I use a cheese grater meant for hard cheeses, like parmesan.
This particular grater should feature a handle, so it’s easy to grind away at the soap. Basically, any grater will do, just be sure and use the fine or small grating side, and don’t use this grater for anything else. Soft, light shavings work best for this recipe.
Now that you’ve created the recipe, you can use up to ½ less of this powder than you would with your normal, dry detergent if you have a machine that is not high efficiency. However, you’ll want to adjust your measurements as needed since every machine is different. For HE washers, use about 2 teaspoons per load. Use a little more if your clothes are very heavy or very dirty.
Natural Additives for Your Wash
For some extra umph in your laundry besides the laundry detergent recipe above, you may want to try a few extra additions. This is great for clothes that are extra dirty, stains that are hard to remove, and clothes that just always seem dingy, even after being washed.
I don’t know anyone who loves the smell of vinegar, but when used in the laundry, not only do the clothes not come out smelling like vinegar, but vinegar is a magic worker for stains, smells, and even removing urine.
Try pre-treating those white undershirts that have seen better days (like the ones marked with unsightly, orange perspiration residue) with undiluted vinegar. Let sit for several minutes, and launder as usual. Those sweat spots will simply disappear.
Hard water is famous for making dark clothes dingy. Adding a half cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle really does help brighten darks and bring back to life old clothing that has seen better days. This trick also works on whites as the properties of the vinegar help to prevent the yellowing of most fabrics.
Lemons are a natural bleach and have a wonderful citrus smell. These citrusy gems prove extremely amazing at giving white clothes a second life. Just add ½ cup (or as much as you can squeeze if you are short on lemons) into your rinse cycle, or add the juice with ¼ cup of vinegar to the pre-wash cycle, if you have one. You’ll be surprised at the difference.
Of course, it’s also good idea to soak your fabrics first in a sink with hot water, lemon juice and vinegar for at least a half hour before washing them as well, as some clothes may need much longer with the lemon and vinegar, such as boy socks (sorry, guys), cloth diapers, or even your husband’s (son’s, brother’s, father’s) greasy, dirty jeans.
Only you know the condition of your clothes and therefore will want to adjust the soaking method to fit your needs. This solution is absolutely safe with HE washers.
Old-fashioned sunlight is one of the best ways to help whiten whites as well as freshen laundry. This was the way laundry was done, stains were removed, and clothes were freshened (and still are in some places), before all of these fancy machines were created.
The sun is the ultimate bleacher for clothes that are dirty, dingy, and stained. Unfortunately, too much sun will also bleach the colors out of your clothes over time if you’re not careful.
Salt keeps your colors vibrant, it's an amazing stain remover, and it's great for removing the yellowing that typically happens with white clothes. Wonderful for removing sweat stains.
Adding Essential Oils to Your Wash
If you’re someone who also likes to have fragrance in their laundry, I suggest adding essential oils to your laundry detergent recipe once you’ve placed the detergent into your washing machine soap dispenser.
Some great oils to keep on hand are orange, lemongrass, clary sage, and tea tree. You can use whatever scents you enjoy. And with such a large variety of oils available for purchase, it’s easy to get exactly what you’re looking for. For starters, just choose what agrees with your nose.
- Tea tree oil is fantastic for killing germs. It’s great if you add a little to the rinse cycle as well, especially for sheets and towels.
- For delicate fabrics like sweaters and knits, a little lavender oil helps soothe the spirit. And for baby sheets, a couple of drops of lavender in the laundry may help a fretful infant sleep better.
- For general loads of clothing such as jeans, dark shirts, or pants, a lively citrus blend can really perk up the senses.
Lavender and tea tree oil can be overpowering if too much is used, but a little practice using oils in your laundry will yield great results. Don’t be afraid to use oils and do feel free to research what types of oils work well with those with scent sensitivities.
Another oil worth mentioning is grapefruit seed oil, as it’s a wonder when killing germs. While grapefruit seed oil does not really have a strong scent, it’s nice to know that the laundry is getting extra sanitized when using a few drops of this powerful essence.
Making the Switch
Transitioning from thick, creamy liquids and exotically fragranced powders to a relatively bland, odorless substance may be quite a leap for most seasoned, laundry experts. When you wear clothes that have been washed in this natural recipe, be aware that your clothes won’t be powerfully scented like you’re used to, but also you won’t smell like a room freshener.
The scent of your sweaters won’t linger in a room long after you’ve left and your washing machine won’t have that strange, extra-terrestrial tinge around the drum.
It takes a little getting used to switching from store-bought chemicals to more natural varieties, but you can be sure that your clothes really are getting cleaned. After a little while though, you’ll really start noticing the difference in your clothes and will be happy.
© 2013 Victoria Van Ness
Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on April 27, 2014:
I would simply add them right to your laundry or even right to your measuring cup before adding it to the wash. :) I hope that was helpful.
Deb on April 25, 2014:
Can u please explain how to add essential oils to your recipe for powdered laundry detergent?
Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on February 25, 2014:
Absolutely!! I'm glad you liked it! I hope these tips work well for you. :) Thank you so much for the thoughtful comments!
vandynegl from Ohio Valley on February 25, 2014:
Great information! My mom makes a lot of natural laundry detergent and I love it! I buy the natural detergents from the store because I lack patience! However, I do use the vinegar and baking soda as part of my laundry rituals! I haven't tried lemon juice or essential oils yet, but I plan to soon! I love idea of putting a nice scent to my clothes.
Thanks for sharing!
Victoria Van Ness (author) from Fountain, CO on February 25, 2014:
I'm so glad it was helpful for you! I've always been allergic to a number of detergents as well, it's nice to know that you can simply make your own if needed.
So sorry to hear about your company. I hope this solves your problem. Thanks for sharing your story and commenting!
C E Clark from North Texas on February 24, 2014:
I've learned a lot from this article! I am allergic to everything in the world and should probably have my own bubble, but they're so expensive nowadays . .
I used Amway powder for years with no allergic reaction and it got my white clothes so nice and white, just like new and they almost hurt my eyes! But my Amway dealer retired and I haven't been able to find another one other than on eBay, and shipping is so expensive.
I'm going to try your detergent. This article is so well written and so very clear on how to do these things, especially compared to many I have found online (not on HP). I've been using white vinegar for a fabric softner for a long time already. I like the idea of not having to buy all that perfumy brand-name detergent that costs so much.
Voting this article up, interesting, and useful + going to share it with my followers. Also pinned to my 'Household Hints & Tips' board.