I have a confession, the powdered laundry detergent I was previously using (and that most DIY detergent recipes use a variation of) is NOT non-toxic or eco-friendly. This is a new discovery for me. After 2 years of using the same powdered laundry detergent, I decided to look more into the individual ingredients (thankfully my eco-friendly liquid detergent is still environmentally-friendly but the washing soda can still cause problems if not careful while making it).ggg
With the old detergent the ingredients I found to have a possible negative effect are:
- Fels-Naptha Soap – It isn’t natural and it includes titanium dioxide which is a known carcinogen.
- Washing Soda (Sodium Carbonate) – It isn’t carcinogenic nor a neurotoxin, but it is linked with respiratory tract irritation, damage to nasal septum, coughing and difficulty breathing if inhaled, gastrointestinal tract irritation, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if ingested, and skin irritation and burning if in direct contact with skin (this made me have to wear gloves while washing clothes by hand, since my skin would peel).
- Oxygen Cleaner (Sodium Percarbonate and Sodium Carbonate) – First, it contains washing soda (sodium carbonate); second, it isn’t environmentally friendly (Ethoxylated Alcohol C12-C16 is an ingredient used that is toxic to aquatic life and never to be flushed into a sewer system – which is unavoidable when washing laundry); third, Ethoxylated Alcohol C12-C16 is listed as a human carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), as well as a reproductive hazard by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
When I decided to change my recipe I began by looking at laundry detergent that can be used on baby clothes and cloth diapers, since as a community we tend to be more health conscience when it comes to our infants. I did find a few that were still using washing soda or an oxygen cleaner, so I combined the environmentally friendly and natural ingredients to make my own. The ingredients I came up with are: pure castile soap (I use Dr. Bronner’s since it is organic and easy for me to find online or at natural food stores), baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate), and borax (sodium tetraborate). [If you are unsure about the safety of borax please read this article and the related links on the Crunchy Betty’s page, so you can make your own informed decision.]
- Pure castile soap is a natural cleaning agent.
- Baking soda loosens dirt and stains, and reduces or eliminates odors.
- Epsom salt is great with hard water, preventing excess mineral build up.
- Borax helps remove tough stains, reduces or eliminates odors, softens hard water, and is a natural alternative to color-safe bleach.
I have tested this recipe with both washing by hand and line drying and using a washing machine and dryer, and with both cold and hot washes. The only difference I have found from my old powdered detergent is my clothes now seem a little softer after line drying, and I haven’t had a need to use protective gloves with this detergent since my hands don’t become itchy, red, or have any peeling (a great benefit over the previous recipe). I still use 2 Tbsp. for every large load and only 1 Tbsp. for smaller loads. If using only 1 Tbs. per load it will last over 200 loads.
Eco-Friendly, All Natural, Homemade Laundry Detergent
- 4 lbs. 12 oz. box borax (sodium tetraborate)
- 4 lbs. box baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
- 4 lbs. Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate)
- 3 bars of pure castile soap, grated (I prefere Dr. Bronner’s Baby Mild Soap– no fragrance, or Tea Tree Oil Soap– antibacterial properties)
- Grate pure castile soap, or chop it and put it in a high-speed blender to make a powder.
- Mix all ingredients thoroughly.
- Place powdered detergent in a 2 gallon container.
- Use 1 Tbsp. for small or delicate loads and 2 Tbsp. for large loads.
- Like any other detergent that contains “soap”, over time repelling can occur with cloth diapers, feel free to omit the pure castile soap specifically for your diaper detergent.
- 1/2 cup of Hydrogen Peroxide can be added to the wash to help with bad stains (I even make a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda to treat stains before washing).
- Distilled White Vinegar helps brighten whites, removes odors, and can be used in place of fabric softener.
Update 10/18/13: Today I washed the dirtiest clothes I have ever seen. My husband’s work clothes were dripping with oil/grease (literally). I don’t know if he had it poured on him or what, but his clothes were black, coating everything they touched, and the fumes made me nauseated to be around. I used 3 Tbs. of this detergent on them, and they came out perfect. I can’t even tell they had such a horrible mess on them. I wish I had taken before and after pictures to show the dramatic difference.
For more information regarding ingredient choices go to: