Several years ago I started looking for alternatives to commercial laundry products. I had two main reasons for doing this. First, commercial products were becoming more and more expensive and I was having trouble finding ones that worked well, or at least well enough to justify their price tags. Second, I wanted products that were more environmentally friendly, less toxic, and less wasteful. No more fumes and chemicals. No more big jugs and bottles to recycle and no more one use dryer sheets heading for the landfill. Through a lot of trial and error, I found several recipes and ideas that make every aspect of doing the laundry cheaper and better for the environment. Here are my picks:
Laundry Detergent: You will need: 1/2 cup of Borax, 1/2 cup of washing soda, and one bar of shaved soap. For the shaved soap you can grate an Ivory bar or use Fels-Naptha laundry soap. (Borax, washing soda, and Fels-Naptha are not hard to find. All are available in the laundry aisle at stores like Target, Wal-Mart, many grocery stores, and online at Amazon.com.) Mix the ingredients for about five minutes. When well combined you will have a powder that looks just like regular detergent. Store in a covered container. You only need to use one tablespoon per load, although heavily soiled loads may require a scoopful. (Use an old scoop from a commercial detergent.)
Note that this mix is safe for use in high efficiency front loading machines because it creates very few suds (yet it is effective). Given the prices in my area, the math works out to about $0.04/per load using this recipe. The cheapest commercial alternative that I can buy here, on sale and with coupons, works out to about $0.15 per load. It’s not a giant savings, but over a year of laundry it works out to about $29 per year (you’ll save more if you do a lot of laundry) and the homemade alternative is kinder to my septic tank and causes less irritation to my sensitive skin.
Dryer Sheets: Take an old wash cloth and soak it in liquid fabric softener. Let it dry thoroughly. Once it’s dry, just add it to your dryer load as you would a regular dryer sheet. You will get many loads out of one “soaking.” I’ve gotten as many as twenty-five loads out of the cloth before I’ve needed to re-soak it. If the cloth gets gunky, just throw it in the wash. With this method, one bottle of liquid fabric softener will generally last well over a year, possibly two. No more overpriced one use dryer sheets filling the landfill, either. Dryer sheets here cost about $7.00 for 120 sheets or so (or $.06 per load). My method works out to be generally $.01 – $.02 per load. (If you must use dryer sheets, try cutting them into quarters. You’ll find that you get the same results as with a whole sheet and you’ll pay a lot less per load.)
Fabric Softener: Simply pour white vinegar into your fabric softener dispenser, or add it directly to clothes during the rinse cycle. Don’t worry about your clothes smelling like vinegar. There is no smell once the laundry is finished. A 1.32 gallon bottle of vinegar at BJ’s is about $5.00. A similar amount of liquid fabric softener costs close to $18 or more.
Starch: Combine one pint of water and one tablespoon of corn starch in a spray bottle. Shake until the contents are well mixed. Simply spray on fabrics as you would regular starch and iron as normal. Be sure to shake your bottle well before each use to mix the ingredients well. You can refrigerate any unused portions for longer life, but make sure it’s brought to room temperature before you use it. Corn starch can usually be found for less than $2 per pound and a box will last you probably close to a year, unless you starch a lot. Regular spray starch usually sells for $4-$5 per can and may last you six months.
Stain Remover/Pre-treater: Combine one cup hot water, 1/2 cup baking soda, and 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide in a spray bottle and shake until the contents are thoroughly mixed. Spray on stains and let soak for several hours or overnight. Wash as normal. There are several recipes that use ammonia but I try to stay away from them because of their toxicity and, if you need to use bleach in the load, anything with ammonia in it will combine with the bleach and release toxic fumes. A large bottle of stain remover typically retails for about $6.00. To make a similar amount of this recipe costs about $2.00
By making all of my own laundry products, I estimate that I’m saving $90 – $100 per year. We do about five to six loads a week here, so if you wash a lot more your savings will be higher. It may not seem like much, but over a lifetime of laundry, it adds up to quite a bit.
If these recipes don’t work for you, there are many more available online. You can also tweak these recipes to meet your own needs and preferences. You may have to endure some trial and error until you find something that gets your laundry to come out just the way you like it, but the savings and the environmental friendliness of making your own laundry products is worth it.