Do you want to use laundry detergent without synthetic and harmful chemicals or fragrances, minimise plastic waste, and save money?
Many people do not realise, that most of the cleaning power when washing clothes comes simply from water and agitation, not from the laundry detergents! Despite what the commercial laundry detergent brands try to tell you, the ingredients are mostly excessive and can harm your health and the environment. Most of us only need a small amount of detergent, or even none at all, to get our clothes clean and fresh. Some exceptions of course depending on the 'dirtiness' of your work and outdoors pursuits!
In reality, you can achieve the same or better results than commercial brands with less detergent or natural alternatives, such as making your own!
Our Homemade Laundry Detergent options use simple, natural ingredients free from synthetics, have anti-septic properties, and are cheap when the ingredients are bought in bulk.
But first, a few things to understand about plastic, ingredients to avoid, and why any homemade product is not actually a "detergent" but a soap.
Is plastic free possible?
Many people are looking for a plastic-free solution for their laundry, but it's important to remember that even making your own will involve some plastic, as the ingredients are often packaged in plastic. Even when you buy in bulk, the ingredients likely arrived at the store in plastic (less of course than small volume packets).
That said, soap berries are the one thing that come completely plastic-free and can be home composted once used.
For us, our approach to being as sustainable as possible by minimising impact--i.e. using as little as is needed to get the result. That means:
- minimal plastic
- simple close to nature ingredients that avoid petrochemicals
- minimal transport around the world
- minimal contaminants washed down the drain
Ingredients to avoid in laundry detergent
Commercial laundry detergents contain many synthetic ingredients that can be harmful to your health and the environment. Some of the most common ones are:
- Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES): These surfactants (detergents) help remove dirt and grease, but they can also irritate your skin, eyes, and lungs, and contaminate waterways.
- Phosphates: These are additives that help soften water and prevent dirt from redepositing on fabrics, but they can also cause eutrophication, which is the excessive growth of algae that depletes oxygen and kills fish and other marine animals.
- Formaldehyde: A preservative that prevents bacterial growth, but it is also a known carcinogen.
- Synthetic fragrances: even the brands claiming to be "plant based" or "natural" use parfum or synthetic fragrances.
- Chlorine bleach: Whitens and disinfects clothes, but it can also cause skin burns, respiratory problems, and environmental pollution.
Optical brighteners: another synthetic ingredient added to laundry detergents to make fabrics appear whiter and brighter. However, they do not actually clean or bleach the clothes, but rather create an optical illusion by absorbing ultraviolet light and emitting visible blue light. Optical brighteners can cause allergic reactions or skin irritation, damage natural fibres, such as wool, silk, and cotton, by making them brittle and yellow over time, and harm the environment, by persisting in waterways and soil.
There are many more, and none of them are required to be listed on the label, so you often don't know what you are exposing yourself and your family to.
What Is the Difference Between Detergent and Soap?
You might think that soap and detergent are the same thing, but they are actually different. Soap is made from natural oils and fats that react with an alkali, such as lye, to form salts. These salts are surfactants that lower the surface tension of water and help remove dirt and oil. Soap is biodegradable and gentle on the skin, but it can also form scum in hard water and lose its effectiveness. Soap can also build up in your washing machine, so do not overdo the use of soap alone.
Detergent is a synthetic product made from either petroleum oil or vegetable oil (usually palm oil or coconut) that contains various chemicals, such as sulphonates, that act as surfactants. Detergent is more effective than soap in hard water and does not form scum, but it can also be harsh on the skin and the environment. Detergent is not biodegradable and can accumulate in the soil and water, causing toxicity and pollution.
Homemade Laundry Powder Recipe
- 1/4 cup grated Castile soap (optional)
- 1/4 cup Epsom Salt
- 1/4 cup Bi Carb
- 1/4 cup Oxygen Bleach
- 1/4 cup Washing Soda (buy at the supermarket or make your own*)
- 10 drops Essential Oils of choice (optional)
- Place all the dry ingredients in a blender or electric coffee grinder. Blend on high for one minute to ensure all ingredients are combined into a powder.
- Add essential oils and blend to combine if desired.
- Store in an airtight glass container out of sunlight.
How To Use
Put 2 tablespoons of the homemade laundry detergent in your washing machine dispenser, or in a tub of water to hand wash. If hand washing, use warm or cold water and let the mixture dissolve completely before adding clothes.
Safe for front and top loading machines.
Dissolve first if using in a top loading machine.
Warning: Do not inhale.
Homemade Laundry Liquid
- Add washing soda to a large jug or bucket.
- Add one cup of liquid Castile soap, and mix.
- Add the 4 cups of boiling water and mix it well to dissolve all the ingredients.
- Once the ingredients have fully dissolved, add another 4 cups of cold water and mix again.
- Add essential oils if wished and mix again.
- Let your laundry detergent sit until it cools to room temperature. Depending on your ambient temperature, it may remain liquid or it may congeal to a thick white consistency.
How To Use
Add about one-quarter of a cup of laundry detergent to each load.
Frugal and Thriving has a similar recipe for homemade laundry liquid here
Here are some photos from their process.
More about the ingredients
Grated Castile soap - freshly grated from a bar to help give clothes a thorough clean.
Bi-Carb is a natural deodoriser, making it powerful on smelly washing. It also has antifungal, antibacterial and antiseptic properties.
Oxygen Bleach is a natural alternative to Chlorine Bleach - it brightens clothes, removes stains, is great for colours, and all without harsh synthetics. It also disinfects clothing from household bacteria.
Washing Soda acts as a natural laundry detergent and softens water, making the soap and sudsing more effective. You can buy in the supermarket or make your own. How to make washing soda:
- Pour baking soda on to a large tray and spread it out evenly.
- Bake at 200°C for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Remove the tray from the oven, allow the washing soda to cool.
- Store in a tightly sealed container to keep it from moisture.
Further Resources: (1) Hard vs Soft Water Explained - https://www.freedrinkingwater.com/water-education/quality-water-hard.htm