After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, Leah now enjoys writing about science and technology.
Too Much Laundry Detergent
With two small children in the house and laundry creating piles the size of Mt. Whitney, we go through a lot of laundry detergent. I decided to try the Duggar family laundry detergent recipe to see if it was as effective as the name-brand detergent we normally purchase.
The Duggar Laundry Detergent Recipe
- 4 cups hot tap water
- 1 Fels-Naptha soap bar
- 1 cup Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
- 1/2 cup Borax
- Add 4 cups hot water to a small saucepan. Grate the Fels-Naptha soap and add it to the saucepan. Heat over low heat until the soap is melted. Stir the melted soap and water to mix the solution.
- Fill a 5-gallon bucket 1/2 way with hot water. Add the melted soap, Borax, and Washing Soda. Fill the bucket to the top with more hot tap water. Use a large wooden spoon to stir the mixture. Let sit overnight to thicken.
- Stir and dispense thickened soap into cleaned laundry soap dispensers (use empty containers from commercial brand laundry detergent): fill each bottle 1/2 way, then top the container off with water. Shake before use.
This liquid laundry soap recipe yields 10 gallons. For HE machines, use 1/4 cup per load. For top-loading machines, use 1/2 cup per load.
Does Homemade Laundry Detergent Work?
I made the laundry soap recipe according to the Duggar Family website and let it sit overnight to cool and thicken. I was concerned when I saw little gelatinous lumps floating in the bucket. I stirred the laundry soap, filled an empty laundry container 1/2 way with the soap, and topped it off with water.
I ran the first load of muddy, stinky little boy jeans, and the pants came out of the washer smelling fresh and clean. All traces of mud were gone! In addition, my kitchen towels came out cleaner than the commercial laundry detergent load.
Since that point in time, I have not bought one gallon of commercial laundry detergent. The homemade laundry detergent version works just as well (or better)!
Save Time Making Laundry Soap
Instead of grating the Fels-Naptha soap, try microwaving the slices of the soap for approximately one minute (or until the soap swells). Allow the soap to cool, then simply crumble the soap into hot water.
Homemade Laundry Soap: Time Required
Many people are concerned about the time required to make a batch of homemade laundry detergent. The entire process takes very little time: the longest process is grating and melting the bar soap in the heated water. Ivory soap melts much faster than Fels-Naptha. If melting Fels-Naptha bar soap, the melting portion may take up to 20-30 minutes. Ivory soap will melt within 10-15 minutes.
The rest of the homemade laundry soap comes together in seconds: simply dump in the melted bar soap, borax, and washing soda; fill to the top with hot water; and stir. It is extremely simple, and the large quantity of cheap laundry detergent more than justifies the half hour spent melting soap!
The Benefits of Homemade Laundry Soap
Here is why you should consider using homemade laundry soap.
Better for the Environment
The materials in homemade laundry soap have no phosphates. Borax and Washing Soda are naturally occurring compounds. The laundry soap uses recycled dispensers, and for every 5 gallons you make, you save 10 plastic containers from going to the landfill.
It is Much, Much, Cheaper
The estimated cost of homemade laundry detergent is approximately $0.01 per load. There is no commercial laundry detergent that can compare to the cost of the homemade version. A reader of this article suggests going to your local grocery store and asking for buckets from their bakery department. The icing arrives in 5-gallon buckets, and the grocery store will sell the buckets at a deep discount.
Safer for Sensitive Skin
I have substituted Ivory soap for the Fels-Naptha, because my boys have eczema. The homemade laundry soap is fragrance-free and is gentle on their sensitive skin.
The bar soap portion of the recipe can be changed to Zote (pink), Ivory, or Fels-Naptha. If desired, 10 drops of essential oil can be added per 2 gallons of laundry soap. Essential oils come in a variety of wonderful scents, so you can pick your own (and vary it by the season)!
To save money and get a great-scented homemade laundry detergent, Irish Spring soap may be grated and added to the detergent. Add a bar of grated Irish Spring soap and reduce the amount of Fels-Naptha to about 1/3 of a bar. Alternately, 2 bars of Irish Spring soap may be used (do not add Fels-Naptha if 2 bars of Irish Spring will be used). Other "bath" soaps have met with success, including Dial and Ivory soaps. Take care, however, as some bath soap products contain oils that may stain clothing: avoid the "moisturizing" bath soaps!
Duggar Detergent Problems and Solutions
Detergent turns into solid gel.
Use less Fels-Naptha or add more hot water. You can also re-mix the solution with vigorous stirring.
I immediately decant my detergent into containers and dilute with water to prevent the gelling problem.
Detergent is runny and "gloppy."
Good job! This is the way it is supposed to look.
I can't find Fels-Naptha.
Look in the laundry section or buy online.
This bar soap is located in the laundry section of most department stores.
I used bath soap and my clothes have oily stains.
Only use Ivory, Zote, or Fels-Naptha bar soap.
Many "bath" soaps contain oils and perfumes that will stain clothes.
I have hard water and my clothes are still dirty.
Add vinegar to the rinse cycle, or use OxiClean.
Hard water can build up in machines and cause inefficient cleaning.
I am getting a rash from the laundry soap.
Try substituting Ivory for the Fels-Naptha or use Baking Soda instead of Washing Soda.
Ivory and Baking Soda are less irritating to skin than Fels-Naptha and Washing Soda.
Natural Chemicals to Clean Clothes
Can I Use Baking Soda Instead of Washing Soda?
Baking soda and washing soda are different chemicals (sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate, respectively). Baking soda is slightly less effective at removing oily stains from clothing, but many people use it in homemade laundry detergent. Baking soda is slightly less irritating to the skin, so using it in laundry detergent destined for cloth diapers is a good idea.
I have always made the laundry detergent according to the Duggar recipe (which uses washing soda) and am pleased with the results. If you have members of the family with sensitive skin and don't have heavily soiled clothing, baking soda might be worth a try.
Laundry Detergent: Your Opinion
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: My detergent separated into clear on the bottom and white more solid on top. It doesn’t look like yours. How do I fix that?
Answer: One way to fix separated laundry detergent is to heat the entire batch and slowly cool, mixing it the entire time. Another option is to use an immersion blender to try to blend the layers back together (I have done this with some success in the past). To prevent this from happening, I typically check on my homemade laundry soaps as they are cooling and stir them intermittently until they are completely cool. Periodic stirring will prevent the layers from separating as it cools.
Question: I have oil stains on my clothes. Will this help get them out?
Answer: You can try to make a small batch of the DIY laundry soap and see if it takes the oil stains out of the cloth. If it doesn't, then don't place the cloth in the dryer (to avoid setting the stain). Oil stains can be tough to remove, so a pre-treatment with a clarifying shampoo, liquid dish soap, or aloe vera may help. Use a small toothbrush to rub the pre-treatment into the stained area.
Question: In a front loading machine, do you put the detergent in the designated drawer, or directly into the machine?
Answer: I put the detergent in the designated drawer of my machine with this recipe, since it is liquid. If I'm using a powdered laundry soap recipe, I add it directly to the clothes in the washing machine.
Question: I don't have many bottles lying around the house but would like to try making this homemade detergent. Would I be able to leave the homemade laundry detergent in the 5-gallon bucket and then as my bottle gets empty fill it halfway and top off with water? We go through soap fairly quickly, but 10 gallons is a lot of soap!
Answer: I often did exactly as you suggest - I kept my bulk laundry soap in a 10-gallon bucket and refilled my "in use" container as needed. The laundry soap lasts a long time!
Question: I’ve been using this recipe but it seems to leave my clothes feeling a little slimy and oily, and that’s after it comes out of the dryer. What could be the problem?
Answer: It is possible the soap solution is not getting thoroughly rinsed out of the clothing. I would try reducing the amount of laundry soap or increasing the length of the rinse cycle on your washing machine. Adding white vinegar to the washing machine may help as well.
Question: Can I use liquid Irish spring soap in this homemade laundry detergent?
Answer: You can substitute two bars of Irish Spring soap in place of the one bar of Fels-Naptha. It will create a very fresh-smelling laundry detergent. The only soap I would not use would be a moisturizing soap like Dove, which may not work as well as traditional bar soap in the homemade laundry detergent recipe.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on September 08, 2020:
You can absolutely use castile bar soap, Brittany. It is a good option for those with sensitive skin or dry skin.
Brittany on June 17, 2020:
Can you use a castile soap bar??
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on January 09, 2020:
I prefer Fels Naptha over the other bar soaps, too. It cleans the best (in my personal opinion) and it will also remove the oils from poison ivy - a real consideration for our family, since our woods are filled with it! Thank you for the tip regarding dealing with hard water when making this laundry soap, Amanda!
Amanda on January 05, 2020:
I would suggest Fels Naptha over the others because it cleans so much better. Also, I suggest melting the Borax and Washing Soda with the bar soap if you have hard water because if you don’t sometimes it won’t gel properly.
Emma on August 20, 2019:
Please look into why soap shouldn't be used in a modern washing machine. Soap isn't the same as detergent because it doesn't wash away without a ton of agitation, which washers can't provide. You'll end up with soap scum, like on you bath or shower on the washer and clothes.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on May 21, 2019:
A commercial whisk is a great idea, Cheryl. Making sure the melted Fels-Naptha (or other melted bar soap) is thoroughly mixed is key to making a batch of laundry soap!
Cheryl Ambruso on May 19, 2019:
I bought a commercial whisk after the first time I made the laundry soap. I absolutely love the duggars recipe. My commercial whisk is tall enough for the 5-gallon bucket.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 26, 2019:
I use the original recipe, too, Debbie. It works very well and we have no problems with the original recipe!
Debbie Eldridge on February 22, 2019:
I have used this for almost five years with no problems. I go by the recipe with no changes or substitutions.
Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on April 23, 2018:
Your points are definitely worth consideration, Lilly. If a person had problems with buildup or clothes turning gray, it would definitely be time to consider a return to a commercial detergent preparation. We have used homemade laundry soap for a long time and have not encountered that problem, but for those who do, a return to commercial detergent is probably necessary.
We have also used both vinegar and bleach in our laundry machine and have not ever had a problem with seal rings breaking, but we have a top loader and not a front loader. For those with a front-loading machine, it would be wise to be careful with both bleach and vinegar.
Lilly on April 23, 2018:
In the long run, the homemade detergent will lead to build-up and greying. Real detergents contain ingredients that will stop loosened soil from redepositioning on the laundry (anti-redeposition agents) and ingredients that help to lift stains (soil-release polymers). Also, in order to clean at low temperatures and help with difficult stains (oil/grease), modern detergents contains enzymes. I assume, for some time a simple mix is ok, but I don't think the homemade detergent is good in the long term or for delicate clothes.