I suffer from eczema and have very sensitive skin, a little genetic legacy from my Dad (who has really, really sensitive skin.)

A lot of things can cause my eczema to flare up, the most common culprits are chemicals found in everyday products. Most laundry detergents leave me feeling like my skin is on fire. I could buy really expensive detergents that would drain my already shallow bank account. So I make my own. It’s pretty easy too.

What you need –


This stuff.

Soap –   That’s a given. You need around eight ounces. I’m using soap I made myself specifically for making laundry detergent, but you can use something else. It doesn’t really matter what brand it is, all soap is pretty much the same. I’ve had good results with dollar store bars as well as the big bars, like Zote or Octagon, sold as laundry soap in the supermarket. If you do a lot of traveling you could just save up all the little hotel soaps, making this virtually free. [EDIT: DO NOT USE HOTEL SOAP! It contains some sort of foaming additive that will cause your soap pot to foam like a shaken soda and possibly burn you like it did me. DON’T DO IT!]If you have sensitive skin like me, try it out on your skin before making detergent out of it.

Grapefruit-seed extract (optional) – It’s the stuff in the little dropper bottle, it is a preservative sold for soapmaking. I add some just to be sure the soap won’t go bad but it’s not necessary. Soap isn’t really know for going moldy.

Fragrance (optional) – If the soap you are using is unscented or only mildly scented, you can add some fragrance or essential oil. I make my laundry bar soap unscented so I can change the fragrance if I want to, I just add a little essential oil in the end. Orange or lavender are especially nice (the larger brown bottle in the photo is five-fold orange oil, which is pretty cheap and smells just like fresh orange juice), but if you want bacon-scented detergent then go for it. I use about a tablespoon for six gallons, but you can add more or less depending on your tastes.

Borax – This is a naturally occurring mineral and can be found in the laundry aisle. The best known brand is 20 Mule Team, the box recently changed so it’s no longer green like mine but white. You’ll need two cups to make my recipe, but feel free to adjust the amount. I have really hard water and have found this amount works best.

Washing Soda – also called soda ash, you should be able to find this in the laundry aisle. The kind I use is made by Arm & Hammer. Again, I use two cups be feel free to adjust the amount according to your needs.

Note: Borax and washing soda can usually be found with the bleach and laundry additives but you might have to look very carefully, the Wal-Mart I get mine from usually tucks it away on the very bottom shelf.


They are the red-headed stepchildren of the laundry world.

A large pot – at least a gallon, preferably more

Long-handled spoon

knife or grater – for cutting up the soap

bucket – this recipe makes a lot! The bucket I use once held kitty litter and holds about six gallons. I transfer about two gallons into a smaller container (which also once held kitty litter) and keep it in the laundry room so I’m not tripping over a big bucket.


Okay, this is really easy.

Step 1

Bring water, about one gallon for every eight ounces of soap you use, to a boil. While it heats, use the knife or grater to cut the soap into little pieces and drop them into the water. It doesn’t have to be a fine powder, bigger pieces are fine. It will just take longer for them to melt in the water. The bars I’m using are only about four ounces each, so I’m using two of them.


Step 2

Once the liquid is boiling and the soap has dissolved, it’s time to add the borax and washing soda.

  It MUST be boiling or nearly so.

The washing soda won’t dissolve in cooler water, it will just form lumps in the bottom of the pot. Add a cup at the time, slowly, while stirring. The mixture will go cloudy after the washing soda is added, that’s normal. It will become more translucent once everything has dissolved.


Starting to ad the washing soda.(I didn’t have enough) The borax has already been added. Notice how translucent the liquid is.


Shortly after adding the washing soda. Very cloudy. When it finally cools it will be close to this color.


Washing soda and borax have dissolved and the mixture is once more translucent. It won’t stay like this. If you are adding scent or preservative, this is the time to do so.

Step 3

Here is where you have some options. What you have created is a concentrate; if you do nothing it will cool and reach a thick, pudding-like consistency. It is usable, but it doesn’t work too well in cold water washing. It does make a wonderful stain treatment at this strength and I usually dip a bit out into a washed-out cream cheese container to spot treat clothes and the carpet.

To dilute into a more usable consistency, take your bucket and run about a gallon of the hottest water your tap can provide into it. Carefully pour the concentrate into the water.

It will be very hot and can burn you! 

Stirring constantly, add more hot water until it’s as full as you like. Leave it to cool, it will take several hours, and you can give it an occasional stir or leave it alone.

All done!

My bucket holds about six gallons and that makes for a thin laundry soap using this recipe, resembling egg drop soup when cool. This works good for me, I tend to use too much soap so watering it down a bit means I actually use less when I splash in my regular amount. When my mother makes hers she uses less water and it closely resembles yogurt. I use about a cup of mine per load, while Mother Dearest uses about half that. I also use mine to wash my dishes, I put the liquid in a spray bottle and just spray it over the dishes in the sink before I start washing them. Works wonderfully.


The finished product. When the hot concentrate is added to the relatively cooler tap water it cools a bit and gets cloudy again.


Fearless is a helper.

If you did like I did and forget to make sure you have enough washing soda, prepare as usual. When you finally get your missing ingredient, scoop out about half a gallon of the mixture and bring it to a boil and add the powder. Let it dissolve and return the liquid to the bucket and stir vigorously.

If you want a more homogeneous end result, stir continuously while it cools (a vigorous stirring every few minutes for about six hours is good). An immersion blender works great for this. Mother Dearest does this, but I don’t mind the egg drop soup look. I store most of the mixture in the bucket and fill a big jug to keep in the laundry room. I just give it a hard shake before I use it to make sure it’s stirred up good.

A word of warning –


You will not believe the mess it makes. You just keep cleaning and cleaning and there’s still soap everywhere. It happened to me once and I still have nightmares.

It’s hard to break down how much this would cost, since there are so many variables. Depending on what kind of soap you use, how much washing soda and borax you use, and so on. For me, using homemade soap and this recipe, it costs less than two dollars to make six gallons and it lasts me for several months.

That’s pretty cheap.

It’s also very customizable, depending on your needs and your tastes, which is what I like about it. I’m always fiddling with different scents and amounts, but this is my core recipe.