Is a Hidden Problem Lurking in Your Homemade Laundry Detergent?

Homemade laundry detergent seems like the perfect way to do laundry inexpensively and without harmful chemicals. But homemade laundry detergent has a big problem. It just doesn’t work long-term.

Aside from the fact that laundry never ends, keeping up at the washing machine can give you some unique challenges when you care about naturally healthy living.

Your typical bottle of floral-scented blue liquid contains a number of potentially hazardous chemicals, many of which aren’t disclosed. But safer, natural brands usually cost substantially more money.

You might feel like you have to choose between your budget and your health. So many of us turn to what seems like the perfect solution: homemade laundry detergent.

It seems to have everything going for it. But in reality, it doesn’t. If you’re using it now or are thinking of switching, it’s worth knowing about homemade laundry detergent problems

Disclosure: Affiliate links are included. If you purchase through an affiliate link, your cost is the same while I can earn a commission. Thanks!

What’s In Homemade Laundry Detergent?

You can find different variations of homemade laundry detergent online. Frugal homemakers, natural health enthusiasts, and off-grid homesteaders all love it. After all, it’s simple, economical, and easy to make.

Most recipes follow this basic formula. You simply combine equal-ish parts of

  • Borax
  • Shaved Fels-Naptha soap
  • Washing soda

Sometimes people also add baking soda and/or powdered oxygen bleach to their formulas, too. Others might add some must-have essential oils for scent, though you won’t be able to smell the essential oils after the washing and drying process.

The easiest version of this homemade laundry detergent just mixes the ingredients together as a dry powder. Other people will liquify the soap first so they have a homemade liquid laundry detergent that dissolves better.

But whether you make it dry or liquid, you’re left with a soap-based homemade laundry detergent. Except it isn’t actually detergent. More on that in a moment.

Homemade laundry detergent seems like a great idea, but there's a big problem with it. Don't let it ruin your laundry!

When Microfiber and Homemade Laundry Detergent Meet

Years ago I started a collection of microfiber cleaning cloths. I loved them! Our windows and mirrors had never been cleaner, dusting was a breeze, and water had never worked so well as a cleaning solution.

I knew that you weren’t supposed to use fabric softener with them when washing because it could clog up the microfiber and cause the cloths to repel water. No big deal; I didn’t use fabric softener.

I knew that you weren’t supposed to wash them with regular cotton towels or anything else that produced a lot of lint, because the lint could do the same. Easy enough. I followed that advice.

My only instructions were to wash them with something free of fillers and something that didn’t leave residue on the laundry. Awesome! Homemade laundry detergent clearly fit the bill.

Except it didn’t.

Things went well for a few months. The microfiber cloths were all-stars and I even got rid of my big stash of classy cleaning rags (you know the ones… the single socks, worn-out t-shirts, ratty towels).

But then my beloved cloths started repelling water. They didn’t soak up spills like they used to and I could watch the water run right off of them when I put them under the faucet. And instead of being super soft, they became stiff and hard.

I started asking questions and began hearing from friend after friend who experienced the same thing or knew someone else who did. Those pricy microfiber cleaning cloths? Ruined.

And homemade laundry detergent was the culprit.

Laundry Detergent vs. Laundry Soap

The reason that homemade laundry detergent doesn’t work is that it isn’t detergent at all. It’s a soap, and the difference between soap and detergent really matters.

Soaps and detergents are both surfactants, which means that they reduce water’s surface tension so it cleans more thoroughly. In a sense, they make water “wetter” by preventing water molecules from sticking together.

For many of us, soaps seem more appealing because they can be made with natural ingredients and even produced at home. They are milder surfactants, too. Detergents are much stronger, and often made with synthetic ingredients that may not be biodegradable. This could potentially harm our families and the environment.

But here’s the problem: soaps leave a film, especially in hard water. You know the old ring-around-the-bathtub that needs scrubbed off when you clean the bathroom? You can thank soap and washed-off grime for that.

Detergents, on the other hand, rinse out completely. They’re designed to not leave a residue, even in hard water.

I thought my microfiber cleaning cloths would be safe because we have a whole-house water filtration system. Our water is about as pure as can be, but over time the laundry soap still built up a residue that left most of my microfiber cleaning cloths useless.

What Was Lurking on My Laundry?

Even after my cleaning cloths were ruined, I wanted to believe there was a way to keep using homemade laundry detergent (which is actually laundry soap).

Part of me wondered if I could somehow have done something else wrong. I loathed the thought of giving up an all-natural, ultra-frugal, easy DIY project and returning to the laundry aisle.

White flags of defeat can be traumatic, you know?

So I decided on a compromise. I’d wash cloth diapers and microfiber cloths in laundry detergent, but wash our other clothes in homemade laundry soap.

Now I had the perfect solution. A brilliant compromise that would still save us money but wouldn’t cause my cloth diaper and microfiber stash to repel water.

Because I also learned the hard way that homemade laundry soap is as bad for cloth diapers as it is for microfiber.

But then I saw some pictures, and all I could think was “EWWW!!!”

Like me, my friend Sarah from Nature’s Nurture was all about the nontoxic, frugal way to do laundry. She didn’t want to believe it could go wrong, either. But once she noticed that their laundry didn’t look, feel, or smell right, she started digging. The culprit was, of course, her homemade laundry soap.

She stripped her family’s laundry to get rid of the residue, and the results are jaw-droppingly gross. Grime, dirt, oils, and soap buildup were coating their “clean” laundry.

It sounded so familiar. And I learned too big of a lesson with my no ‘poo fiasco to be stubborn and not heed a warning.

Sarah’s pictures were the last straw. I was done with homemade laundry soap. 

Modern Washing Machines or a Kettle Over a Fire?

I think if we all still washed our laundry in a massive kettle over a fire, boiling the thick, heavy clothes, stirring them down with a giant stick, then rinsing and scrubbing on a washboard, homemade laundry soap might work just fine.

But our modern washing machines can’t possibly heat, scrub, and agitate our laundry enough to make homemade laundry detergent rinse out thoroughly. And I’m not hanging up a washing kettle anytime soon.

There will always be a film, even if it takes many months to build up enough to notice.

I had to resign myself to the fact that if I wanted to use a modern appliance to wash our modern fabrics, I also had to use a modern cleaning solution in it. And so my white flag went all the way up.

Options Instead of Using Homemade Laundry Soap

Some people have read all this and told me, “Kristen, I don’t care. I’m going to keep using my homemade laundry soap. By the time the film builds up on my laundry, it’s probably time to replace it anyway.” Fair point. If that’s you, carry on!

But if you don’t want to deal with soap scum build-up on your laundry, you don’t necessarily have to shell out big bucks every month on laundry detergent.

You have a few options. You could:

  1. Buy budget brand detergents to save money, and just ignore the artificial fragrances and questionable ingredients because you can only do so much;
  2. Or, spend a little extra on free & clear versions from brands like All or Tide that may not be totally natural, but at least lack the questionable fragrances and dyes;
  3. Or, opt for eco-friendly brands that are free of artificial dyes and fragrances, have better, plant-derived ingredients, and cost a bit more than the other two options. Seventh Generation, Biokleen, and Ecos are popular options.

I’ve recently switched to a gentle, eco-friendly laundry detergent alternative called the Laundry Egg from ecoegg. It’s a durable, plastic egg-shaped container filled with mineral pellets and a detergent pellet. These pellets activate in the washer to clean your clothes, then rinse clean. When the pellets run low, I refill them with these little refill pouches.

The Laundry Egg might be the economical, natural laundry solution for you

The fragrance-free version I use has done a great job cleaning our laundry. I spend less on this option than I did on other eco-friendly laundry detergent brands. I also love that I’m not tossing bit plastic bottles into the trash or recycling bin every month.

Out of all the different options I’ve tried since ditching homemade laundry soap, this has been my favorite.

Do Your Best, Learn, Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

I’ve been surprised by the emotional responses I’ve gotten to this article over the years. Some have suggested I just didn’t use homemade laundry soap correctly and would have had great results if I followed their method.

Others have stomped their foot down, stared me right in the computer screen, and boldly asserted that I’m exaggerating. And they’ll never-ever give up their homemade laundry soap!

My favorite is when people have accused me of being an undercover shill for laundry detergent brands, secretly sabotaging the homemade laundry detergent movement to get people back into the deathly grasp of the Big Laundry Cabal. How sneaky!

Listen, we’re all out here trying to do our best.

If you still love homemade laundry soap, I’m not here to tell you to stop using it. Just watch for build-up and adjust course as needed.

But here’s my take.

There’s always going to be laundry. And probably lots of it.

Using something that doesn’t clean well and causes buildup on your clothes over time won’t help you, no matter how easy, nontoxic, and cheap it seems at first. I learned the hard way, but you don’t have to.

Homemade laundry detergent isn’t worth the trouble.

Homemade laundry detergent is cheap, nontoxic, and easy to make. But it has a big problem. It doesn't work.

Your Turn:

What do you think about homemade laundry soap now?

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    1. My microfiber cloths are doing well but I do a final rinse with vinegar, always have used that even back when I used commercial laundry powder. Vinegar cuts the soap easily and any residual soap fats that adhere to the cloths. It keeps the cottons soft, no stiffness even when air dried and the vinegar keeps the microfibers soaking up messy spills
      I wear mostly natural fibers, makes them easier to launder. Oh, but I do love my microfiber cleaning cloths.

      1. Hi Nan! I forgot to mention in the article I did vinegar rinses, too. I think it was diluted too much in our top loading machine at the time. Sounds like your system is working well for you!

    2. Kristin, I consider myself a research fanatic. I started to make my own laundry detergent with castile soap, washing soda and baking soda. The reason I started is because I started having a severe outbreak of excema which I haven’t had since th 90’s. Just to be clear I haven’t used and don’t have in my home any chemicles whatsoever; I claen with vinegar and water and essential oils. I wear natural fabrics, and try to eat clean and consider myself an environmentalist. I have been a huge lable reader probably since the 80’s if not earlier. I have used free and clear deteregents mostly highend environment types for decades but all have some sort of chemicle I don’t want to use. With this contact dermatitis I had to get real clean and know whats in everything. After 6 months and using this DYI detergent it finally seems to be clearing up. I get what your saying. I don’t know what the solution is but I like to know where my products and food comes from and how it’s handle and th’s when I started to try and make my own dtergent. Not everything is about money. Thank you for the article it was useful.

      1. Hi Katie! I completely relate to everything you’re saying. It’s so hard to find the right solution sometimes in our modern world. (Like, I just recently learned about microplastic shedding from polyester clothes and I’m appalled!) Another laundry option you can consider is the Laundry Egg from EcoEgg. I switched to it about a year ago. So far, it seems to be economical and gentle for skin. We’re all trying to make the best choices we can for our health, so wherever you land, I hope it works well for you!

    3. Hi Kristen! Stumbled upon this article as I read everything I come across on homemade laundry soap since I market it locally and online. On a personal note, I’ve been making my own laundry blend for over 15 years. I do periodically “strip” a random load of clothes and my water has always been clear nor any issues with water, machines or fabric. I do this to ensure that my product is effective & working. I’ve never had issues and I’ve lived in states thus different water/washing machines. I don’t do an even ratio of product, that is important. I use special combinations of ingredients that may include washing & baking soda, Borax, Castile soaps, EOs, sea or kosher salts, citric acid, or oxygen bleach for example. You have to know ratios and what blends with what. To state homemade laundry products don’t work makes me think it’s geared to push sales to commercial products. Thank you!

      1. Hi Doreen. If you spend much time on my site, you’ll find many articles for homemade cleaning products, personal care items, and natural remedies. If I can make something myself, I almost always prefer that to a commercial product. However, it has to work well. I’ve spent entire days stripping cotton cloth diapers in boiling water and had $100s worth of microfiber cleaning cloths ruined due to homemade laundry soap, even though we have a whole-house water treatment system. I wanted this to work, as I share in the article many times. I’m also not the only person who has had this experience. So while I share commercial options at the end (because the obvious question people ask me is “What do you use instead?”), it’s not to push their sales. I simply haven’t found a homemade type of product that works as a detergent and not a soap. Perhaps people who don’t use cloth diapers or microfiber cleaning cloths are a better fit for homemade-style products.

    4. Just like you when the kids were born I couldn’t user the chemicals that I hadn’t paid much attention to before that. I’ve found that the most frugal and effective laundry detergent BY FAR is made by a company that has been making biodegradable, non-toxic products since before it was fashionable – in the 60’s. I use Shaklee cleaning products for pennies on the dollar of anywhere else. A few times I’ve bought an “eco-friendly” verions like the brands you mention and the clean is just not there, and some add fragrances that just bother us now that we’re accustomed to actually clean clothes.
      I would recommend for anyone to find a local distributor (I’m not one) and give them a go. The dishwashing liquid for the kitchen sink has won awards like crazy – another amazing (and cheap) product. (And your kids can’t get poisoned like with other brands.)

      Thanks for writing this and many blessings,

    5. I was buying Seventh Generation until I found out that they are woke now and support BLM. I will never buy any products from them. I think you should also read their ingredients. Some of them are also questionable.

      1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Bonnie. I’m personally content with using Seventh Generation still since it rates well with EWG, but I understand your reason for choosing to buy a different brand. I hope you find something that works well for you!

    6. I wonder if I am missing something because I have been using homemade laundry soap for at least 2 years and I have not noticed any negatives at all and it gets my clothes really clean we live on a farm so I think I would notice if it weren’t

      Leigh, Georgia

      1. Hi Leigh. I think a lot can vary by the type of water you have and the fabric you’re washing. It took some years before I noticed all the build-up on our regular laundry. But it quickly ruined the microfiber cleaning cloths and definitely caused build-up and repelling on the cloth diapers.

    7. I have been using a liquid castile soap, baking soda, salt, water, and essential oil mixture for a year and our clothes have never looked or felt better. I will never go back to detergent. I use vinegar and essential oil as fabric softener also. Our clothes smell so fresh.

      1. I’m glad that’s working for you, Melissa. Castile soap can still build up in fibers over time, so maybe just keep that tucked into the back of your mind in case you run into trouble down the road. 🙂

        1. This is not a fault of Castile soap and it does not build up in your fibers. Synthetic petroleum detergents are what builds up in your fibers, it’s just much cheaper for manufacturers to make and allows them to insert fragrances to cover up the fact that the clothes aren’t clean. This is why you keep having to get cleaners for your washing machine when you use a synthetic detergent. The buildup is due to your water and the minerals that are in it mixing with the chemicals in your detergent, especially if you do not have a filtering/softening system. Fels Naptha and Zote definitely would build up though, it is a disgusting fat made from animals that will re-harden again with the minerals. This is basic chemistry. Liquid soaps are an advantage since they won’t re-harden with hard water, but everyone can benefit from a filtering system in their entire home. But softening salts of some sort are added to all laundry soap recipes I have seen, but with really hard water it is possible more than a normal amount is necessary. Some recipes add an addtional 1/4 cup of straight kosher salt, epsom salt or sea salt on top of the rest of the recipe to deal with really hard water; though people may not understand it is to address the minerals in their water. I have plenty of microfiber cloths and have no issues. This recipe gets my laundry insanely clean. I do usually put sodium percarbonate in with my whites and set the presoak. I have never used a fabric softener either, again because I don’t use a syntethic detergent so I don’t have a coating on my clothes; but you can use vinegar and it does work. I have done it with sheets and towels in the past but it isn’t needed.


          * 1 cup borax
          * 1 cup washing soda
          * 1 cup liquid castile soap
          * 17 cups of water (just over a gallon)
          * 10-15 drops of essential oil (optional)
          Dissolve the cup of borax and cup of washing soda in six cups of hot water. You can either heat cold water to a low boil on the stove, turn off the heat and add the two powders from measuring cups, or you could heat water in an electric kettle or in the microwave and then pour the boiling water over the powders. Stir until the dry ingredients are completely dissolved.
          Pour the mixture into a large bucket and add the castile soap. Mix together and then pour the soap mixture into your preferred container. If you’re using plastic containers, wait until the liquid has cooled first.

          1. Thanks for sharing your recipe, and I’m glad that you haven’t had trouble with your microfiber cloths. Our house actually has thoroughly filtered water that gets tested every year to make sure our filtration system is working correctly. So hard water wasn’t the problem. I haven’t tried a liquid recipe like yours, and though I’ll stick with what I’m using now, I hope it continues to work well for you.

    8. Hello. You never mention what you actually used in your homemade “soap”, what ratios and what types of soaps. You also do not reference any scientific evidence and at the end push products you clearly state you earn a commission on, how do we know what your saying is true? Thank you.

      1. Hi Jessica. As I mention in the beginning of this post, I’m talking about homemade laundry soap products that use grated bar soap, borax, and washing soda. I used the standard “recipe” of equal parts Fels Naptha, washing soda, and borax.

        I link to one article that explains the difference between soap and detergent, but if you’d like more, you can read here, here, and here.

        I don’t push products. I show how I personally buy laundry detergent and how others can, too, if they are interested. The obvious question at the end of a post like this is “What do you use now?” and I answer that.

        Best wishes.

    9. Or this lady uses Sal Suds? Have you ever heard of it? Or anyone used it? Thanks!!!

      1. I’ve heard of this one, but haven’t tried it myself. A friend uses Sals Suds as her washing detergent, but I don’t know how it compares to regular detergent or how it works longterm. Might be worth trying, but I can’t say for sure. 🙂

    10. Hello! I made up a big batch of homemade laundry detergent with zote soap, and I never used it, because I was pretty scared too! It looks so pretty though! I love DIY, but I like having some science to back some things up instead of just following a crowd. My fiancé and I will be getting married in a year, and since we are building a new house, I am trying to think of many ways we can save money. I want to make stuff, but I want them to work too!
      So, absolutely nothing can be adjusted to make homemade laundry detergent work?! Could you just eliminate the bars of soap used? Wouldn’t just washing powder work at least? How did people in the past make soap work, because I know they did not have detergent? I know they usually had ash and lard based soaps, and they eventually had bluing? Is the secret to their success is that they did not use metal machines and bleached their clothing in the sun sometimes?
      Anyways, would soap nuts be an option? I have also seen something called Crystal Wash as well?
      Thanks for any advice or opinions you can give me!
      Or any advice on EFFECTIVE DIY projects would be awesome like Untowel options instead of paper towels, ect.

      1. Hi Amy! Good questions. Here are my best answers based on my understanding:

        -If you take soap out of the homemade “detergent,” you’re really just left with a water conditioner. There’s nothing in it to actually help remove dirt. Borax and washing soda can be added to regular detergent if your water is hard and that can help it work better.

        -In the past, people washed their clothes less often and the fabric was much thicker and coarser. They were manually washed with a washing board and often really hot water, perhaps even in a large pot over a fire. Modern fabric is much different since we now have washing machines and detergent to lift dirt, oil, and gunk. So as washing machines and methods changed, fabric changed, too. We could get away with using homemade laundry soap if we went back to less frequent washing and coarser fabrics.

        -Soap nuts might be an option for you! I tried them for a while but just never felt like my clothes were getting as clean as they should. I’m not familiar with Crystal Wash, so I can’t weigh in there.

        I’ve found the best money saving comes from making simple cleaning sprays, using baking soda for scrubbing, and not buying many paper products. Hope that helps!

        1. Did you know microfiber contains microplastics that wear down, melt, and create a film? They also put microplastics in our drinking supply. I think you should try your all-natural products on natural fibers like wool, linen, and cotton. The problem may be the fabric you are using. But regardless, I have never noticed a film of any kind of read of anyone else who has. I’ve also never heard anyone claim that heat gets rid of films but soap does not. I’m not sure how that would work. Heat kills germs, yes… but films? Also, is Borax not a detergent? This is not what I have read elsewhere.

          1. Hi Claire. Microfiber, from what I understand, is a plastic fabric that can break down and create microplastics. Definitely not ideal! I’ve moved away from using them in the past few years and haven’t bought any in 5 years or more. Tricky situation, for sure. Microplastics are an awful problem.

            I’m not sure what you mean about a claim that heat gets rid of films but soap doesn’t. Soap is notorious for leaving film (soap scum on tubs in a prime example). Hot water dissolves the soap in homemade laundry soap so it lessens the film, but doesn’t get rid of it entirely.

            Borax is a laundry booster because it helps condition water and has a high pH. Though it can help with some stains, it’s not a detergent.

            If you want more evidence of homemade laundry soap leaving a film on even natural fibers, hop on some cloth diaper websites. That’s how I first learned about the potential problem with my beloved laundry soap, though I didn’t believe it at the time. Homemade laundry soap causes cloth diapers to repel fluid because of build up and can lead to diaper rashes because it can’t clean thoroughly enough.

            Hope that helps!

      2. A lady mentioned in the comments above yours about using castille soap instead of bar soap, she also said she uses vinegar and essential oils as a fabric softener. I think the vinegar is what’s keeping her clothes free of any buildup. The castille soap is also a big part of why also. The bar soaps that we use are waxy and is what’s causing problems. The liquid castille soaps always rinse out very well.

        1. The castile soap might wash out a little bit better. I don’t have any experience with it, so it’s possible. But it’s still soap and not detergent, so I personally won’t use it. Bar soap might feel waxy, but there isn’t any wax in it to coat fibers. I used vinegar for quite a while when using homemade laundry soap and it didn’t stop residue from building up on our clothes, even with our very “soft” water.

    11. I’ve tried many different laundry soap recipes and have never been happy with any of them. I kept thinking I was doing something wrong. or it was just that we have super hard water.
      Thank you for this honest post! Now, I’m just not going to worry about it, although I will check out Grove Collaborative.

      1. I’m sorry you’ve had such disappointing results, but glad this helped you know why that might be, Connie!

      2. Hmmm…. I’ve never had this issue in all the years I’ve been making my own laundry soap. Our clothes always feel great and smell fresh. And I think our clothes last longer than they would with commercial brands. And, of course, I really enjoy the savings, detergent is SO expensive, especially for nontoxic brands. I think I’ll stick with my homemade laundry soap. Thanks for the article, but I say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

    12. Why can’t you just do half and half instead? Half home-made laundry soap, half store bought detergent? Are there other options other than going cold-turkey? Does this soap also not work with the new HPE washing machines?

      1. Hi Scott. Homemade laundry soap will result in the same problems in HE machines since there’s no way to prevent soap build-up. You can try half and half if you want, but to me, it seems it will either reduce the effectiveness of your detergent or slow down the buildup that will still eventually happen.

    13. I am no expert, but it makes sense to me that adding vinegar would help with the residue. Am I missing something?

      1. Hi Sena! That’s a fair question. 🙂 I actually used vinegar in some of my laundry (especially the cloth diapers) while using homemade laundry soap and it never helped. Maybe straight vinegar would work, but once it’s diluted in all the wash water it doesn’t do anything. Vinegar can be hard on your washing machine gaskets and isn’t recommended by most appliance brands, too (bummer, I know!)

          1. That depends. My washer manufacturer instructions state to use bleach to clean the washer every so often.

    14. Thank you for the article!!! I’ve had several ask if this laundry “soap” would harm their clothing and I will be happy to report back to them they will have already donated those items and gotten new articles of clothing long before this amazing stuff would mess up any laundry. Great news! Love love. Love our homemade laundry detergent, as does everyone I make it for so far.. If it’s taking 5,7,10 plus years for homemade laundry detergent to cause problems this stuff is AMAZING to say the least! Think of all of that money saved in say 10 years… wow! By that time we can have our second home completely paid for and teaching people less fortunate as us how to save money on simple things like laundry detergent that cost so much yearly. I love it and I love spreading savings and frugalness on to others, especially those who really really need to save every way possible. This is just one of the many many ways to make sure you live a debt free life and spend as little as possible on things that aren’t that important in life….. plus your laundry is clean, smells amazing, and stain free while doing so.

      1. I’m all for frugality, savings, and paying off debt, too. I’m also for doing things that work for me, not against me. Using something to wash my clothes that eventually ruins them doesn’t help me. Homemade laundry soap ended up being a huge frustration here.

        If you enjoy the homemade laundry soap, don’t mind build-up or replacing towels regularly, and don’t use cloth diapers or microfiber cleaning cloths, then carry on. But it’s worth knowing that it may not work as well as many people say.

        Also? Sarcasm is rarely necessary when you’re sharing your point of view. Sincerity is much more effective.

    15. I’ve been telling people this for years. The formulas passed online now were known to be inferior a century ago. They range from alkali-heavy to extremely alkali-heavy, with not enough soap — but the only way they seem to save money is by skimping on the soap! If you use enough soap per load to work well, it’ll cost as much as store-bought, and it’ll over-suds front-loading HE machines. The amount of alkali (washing soda and/or borax) in these is sure to degrade fabrics if you use enough to be effective. Users who weren’t seeing fabric degradation weren’t using enough to be more effective than plain water. Plus, the TYPE of alkali most effective with soap (and helping to prevent that deposition problem you wrote of) was known a century ago to be sodium silicate — of an intermediate-alkaline type, because sodium silicate comes in different ratios of Na2O to SiO2, and the more-alkaline type is caustic — and you need a relatively small amount of it compared to the amount of soap. Still won’t be very effective in hard water, although there are now mixtures of soap with gemini surfactants that are effective.

      In the 19th Century people wore heavier clothes and didn’t wash them as often. They could get away with severe treatment of fabrics by infrequent washing with prolonged soaking in near-boiling solutions with a lot of alkali and a little soap. But once people could afford washing machines at home, the fabrics changed, not only in materials used but in their fineness. Even when laundry detergents were “built” soap powders, all but the cheapest were soon formulated along the lines described above to be gentler on fabrics. When a spin cycle was added, causing the fabrics to become like filter paper that caught soap scum (and also chalk produced by washing soda in hard water), it did worsen the situation for soap compared to the wringer washers where clothes were lifted out, but the change to gentler soap powders preceded this change. So the newer surfactants helped, but they were not the main improvement in fabric care in the 20th Century.

      1. Wow, Robert. I am SO glad you chimed in! This is the most insightful thing I’ve read about homemade laundry soap. Thank you for sharing!

    16. I totally bought into your comments about the homemade laundry soap not bright a good option, until your commercial for grove collaborative. Now, i don’t feel like i can, or should believe what you have to say, pushing memberships and all. If you were to be honest, you should have pi a disclaimer at the start of this blog, warning that this is a commercial for a pyramid scheme. (Amway, mellaleucca, young living comes to mind)

      Thank you.

      1. Hi Eric. I share the Grove option because it’s what I personally use. You don’t have to pay anything to be a “member,” unless you opt for the VIP membership which comes at a small annual fee. It’s not an MLM company like those you mentioned; it simply offers auto-ship options for things everyone uses up regularly in their homes. There’s no pyramid structure.

        I do include a disclaimer at the beginning of the post that affiliate links are included. I never attempt to deceive anyone.

        I also link to options on Amazon and suggest options outside of Grove.

        I think your judgment was a bit harsh, but I hope my explanation helps and wish you the best.

        1. There is a “Disclosure” clearly marked in the beginning. I used to make my own detergent years ago and because of money hardships I was looking up some current recipes, and came upon your article. I had no idea! I was wondering about the half and half idea as well, possibly with some of our casual clothes then normal detergents for towels, sheets, or anything that gets dirty. Or trying the vinegar possibly? Although I hate the smell of it lol. Anyway, I really enjoyed your article, it was a very attractive, informative, easy read, and I hope to order some detergent when funds get better:) Thank you!

          1. Thanks, Ashley! I’m glad this was helpful. You can definitely try half and half or using vinegar, but I’m just not convinced they’ll be very effective. But I do think it’s smart to definitely not use anything homemade for towels since they can get extra buildup. I have heard from appliance repair technicians that vinegar is hard on the rubber sealing gaskets of machines (same for dishwashers), so that’s something to keep in mind, too. I hope that helps a little! 🙂

      1. That’s what I currently use, Debbie. It’s worked very well for me so far, though I still have stubborn buildup on some cloths I washed in homemade laundry soap years ago.

    17. I used to use homemade laundry soap. We have very soft water and make it with zote soap washing powder and borax. Things looked great but it turned out it wasn’t rinsing out the small pollen and all that my daughter was allergic to. We went to so many appointments with her dermatologists appointments had her get a biopsy and all and it actually turned out the laundry soap was so gentle it never got the pollen out. So I had to switch. I just started using the detergent I used for my diapers for everything. It’s call foca. I know it’s not all natural but it’s affordable and my daughter never had an allergy to it.

      1. I’ve never heard of this happening before, Kathy, but it makes perfect sense! I’m sorry your daughter had to go through that but glad you found a simple solution to her pollen trouble. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    18. I disagree with this. I have NO problem with residue or build-up using homemade laundry soap. Were you using Oxi-Clean with yours? If not, that may have been the problem.

      1. Hi Cate. I occasionally used (and still use) powdered oxygen bleach with homemade laundry soap. I don’t see how it would effect build-up, though, since it’s purpose is to brighten clothes and lift stains. It doesn’t do anything to make rinsing more effective. I’m glad you haven’t had any trouble with build-up because it’s a real pain to fix! However, I do hope you’ll take a couple moments to read the comments of other ladies who didn’t notice residue until they’d used homemade laundry soap for years (sometimes 5 or more) or check out some of the links I have in the post. This isn’t just me or my idea. Best wishes!

    19. Haha! Go figure, I just made my very first batch of homemade laundry soap. I will probably just use up what I made and go back to the store bought stuff. Thanks for the post!

      1. You’re welcome, Grace! Glad you won’t have years of buildup clogging up the fibers of your laundry. 🙂

        1. There is no build up unless you have very hard water which is a problem with alkaline laundry soap. However, that can be corrected with adding distilled vinegar on the final rinse. Natural soap is the best thing that ever comes in contact with my skin.

          1. Hello, Joy. I ended up with build-up even though we have an extensive whole-house water filtration system. Hard water will cause build-up faster, but it will still happen even in soft water. Vinegar can help get rid of soap residue, but it’s also hard on the rubber parts of a washing machine. I’m all for natural soap for skincare (that’s what we use, too), but it’s not a good longterm solution for the laundry. Best wishes.

    20. Hi I am a mother of 5 boys . I just read your article on the home made detergent that it doesn’t work.
      Well I’m sorry but you are so wrong. Yes ma’am it does work and it works AWESOME!!! I have very sensitive skin but I do not use borax nor fels napatha soap. I use rock salt instead of Epsom. Rock salt is so much better. But yes I am here to disagree on it being said that home made detergent does not work. Cause it does.
      Seventh generation had some studies on it to. Not what they put it out to be.
      Save money and make your own. I do liquid and add my homemade thieves oil to mine. It’s AWESOME and smells wonderful.
      Thanks for your input
      Mom of 5 boys

      1. Hi Jennifer. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It sounds like we’re talking about two entirely different formulas, so to say that I’m wrong isn’t really an argument you can make. I’m talking about the typical homemade laundry detergent recipe that uses bar soap of some kind, with borax and washing soda. This does cause problems, though it can take years to build up enough for the problems to be noticed.

        I’d be glad to hear your recipe if you’d like to share. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of one using rock salt and no soaps of any kind. I’m glad it’s working for you.

    21. Yes, I have been finding several diy things that just dont cut it . Homemade while very good for many things, isnt always the best and somethings really only work because they are machine made. Being very cautious now and researching things before jumping in! What do I do with this lovely smelling stuff? Used wonderfully scented goat milk soap shreds instead of other soap. But what can it be used for with the borax & washing soda already in it? Any thoughts?

      1. Ah, Lynn! No way can you let that goat milk soap go to waste! Hmm… Okay, here’s an idea. You could dissolve a couple tablespoons of it in really hot water, then add that to a spray bottle with more water for an all-purpose type of cleaning spray. It would be similar to the castile soap spray in this post on cleaning sprays with essential oils. You could probably use it to clean tile and linoleum floors, too. Hopefully you come up with a good plan for it so nothing goes to waste!

        1. Oh, Thank you – Thats a great thought of using it for the householdy cleaning stuff instead! I will give that a try, because this stuff does smell really nice!

          Also did you have any results on your Norwex microfiber cloths coming cleaner with the Grovia Mighty Bubbles ?


          1. You know, I wish I could say they made a huge difference, but they sadly didn’t. 🙁 I haven’t tried using them in a big bowl or other container, though. I added the Mighty Bubbles to the washing machine and let them soak in there. Maybe I need to try in a big stockpot with really hot water? Though I’ll be honest… I’m kind of over trying to save them. I’ve tried so hard!

            1. I boiled all of my microfiber with a mixture of borax, washing soda and zeolite (the active ingredient in calgon) I used a brand called act natural which no longer exists but is similar to Norwex. They finally worked again

            2. Thanks for sharing that, Laura! I’ll look into it. I still have some cloths that are in rough shape.

    22. Thank you so much for the is post. I have been making laundry soap for many years & couldn’t figure out why our clothes were so dingy! Hubby kept buying new under shirts. 😣. Now, this makes sense! Stopping the soap right now!!!!!
      Blessings, Janet Kiessling

      1. You’re welcome, Janet! I’m sorry to hear your clothes have been getting as clean as they should have, but now you know you weren’t doing anything wrong. Hopefully after some detergent and maybe a little laundry stripping, everything will be back to normal in no time!

    23. Wow, thank you for this! I’ve made our homemade laundry detergent for probably 7 years now or so….this past year I was beginning to wonder if it really was doing the job. We’ve had some clothing items that just didn’t smell right and it seemed that some of the guy’s jeans and our jean skirts were wearing thing over time (not sure if the detergent is the culprit for that or not). I just used up the last of our bucket and was putting off making more and this came in my email just in time!

      1. Isn’t it crazy how we can think something is working so well for so long and then realize… uh oh… that didn’t work out like I thought it would! You might want to consider stripping your clothes of the residue, especially towels if they aren’t smelling right. I’m going to get these for our Norwex cloths that still repel water (even though I’ve tried stripping them with every homemade option under the sun):

      2. Yes, we found the same thing with Homemade Laundry Soap too. My Hubby was the one who says, Hey, My jeans seem to be getting “ate up” by this soap!!” So that was that… 😂

        1. That’s so interesting. I wonder if something with the buildup causes the denim fibers to break apart more quickly?

    24. Thanks for the post Kristen! I love grove and am also a VIP. Thanks for the walnut scrubber. I was wondering, how did you strip your clothes of the stuck on grime from the natural laundry soap?

      1. Hi Kari! I actually didn’t strip all of our laundry. I stopped using the laundry soap before I noticed any build up on our clothes or towels. Now my microfiber cloths, on the other hand… those are another story! I’ve tried stripping them with vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, borax, and Norwex’s special laundry detergent, all to no avail. A few cloths got better, but even after all this time, some still repel water. It’s been so frustrating! I just learned about a product for stripping cloth diapers and other laundry from GroVia called Mighty Bubbles, and I might give that a try on the cloths that still repel water. That’s what my friend Sarah used to strip their laundry. And since we use cloth diapers, it might be handy to have around. At this point, I don’t have anything to lose!

        1. I’m no expert with homemade vs. commercial laundry detergents, however I think it odd that you tried to strip your cleaning cloths and towels with the very ingredients in the homemade soap you say caused the build up in the first place. I have been making my own laundry soap for almost a full year now and our clothes have never been cleaner. I use a vinegar rinse and wonder if this is the difference maker? I’ve noticed that whether I hang dry in the sunshine or toss the clothes in the dryer, the clothes look and smell fresh and clean. Also, I’ve been shocked to find stains that I knew wouldn’t even come out with strong pre-treatments and commercial detergents (beets, chocolate, cranberry sauce, grape jelly, etc.) have all washed out just fine with my homemade stuff – and that without any pre-treatment! I just wanted to make the case that perhaps not all homemade laundry soap experiences are negative.

          1. Hi Prudence. I think there’s a little misunderstanding. 🙂 The borax and washing soda in the homemade laundry detergent aren’t the problems. They are basically water softeners that help to boost the laundry soap’s ability to clean. The problem is the soap used to make homemade laundry detergent, because after time it will coat the fibers in your clothes and other laundry. The soap is what clogged up my microfiber cloths, and I didn’t use soap to try to strip them. That definitely wouldn’t have worked well!

            Vinegar can help a little, but it’s too diluted in the wash to be able to fully get the soap out. You may not see problems for years. Some readers and friends are reporting that it took 5, 7, even 10 years before they noticed their clothes were smelling funny, repelling water, looking dingy, etc.

            I used to love my homemade laundry soap, too, so I understand feeling really happy with it! I think all of us that ended up with laundry problems loved our homemade detergent at one time, some of us for years. I’m not trying to convince you to stop using it if you’re happy with it, but maybe just keep this tucked in the back of your mind for future reference. 🙂

            1. 10 years?! Maybe it is time to take all that money saved by using DIY laundry soap and invest in some new (modern) clothing/towels anyway! I have been using DIY laundry soap for 4 years and have not noticed any problems. I use a homemade coconut oil bar soap (coconut oil, water & lye) combined with the borax and washing soda to make the liquid laundry soap. I reckon I’ve spent about $40 on ingredients for this soap over the past 4 years. Even if I started noticing building up right now I’ll take that over spending $15 bucks a month (over $700 in total) for the past 4 years on detergent.

            2. Vinegar is horrible for your washing machine and will ruin the seals. If your washer is still under warranty it will void it. I wanted to throw that out there in case anyone else is using it.

            3. Thanks for sharing! I have heard that, and it can also cause problem in dishwashers with the seals, too, I think. I’m not sure how much it takes to cause trouble, but it’s definitely worth keeping in mind.

    25. Another DIY money saver down the drain? Is there anything DIY that DOES work? 🙁
      I had the homemade shampoo debacle too. I’ve been noticing some issues with my washing machine lately & I’m wondering if it’s the DIY soap. *sigh* how disappointing.

      1. I hear you, Sandy! I was so disappointed when I saw what this stuff was doing. I’ve just decided that modern appliances will likely need modern cleaning products. I hope your machine is working better soon. The only thing I’ve heard about washing machines and the laundry soap is that you can get buildup inside the machine (like a ring around the washing machine) and clogged drains. Not sure if that helps, but I thought I’d mention in case.

        1. Like I heard it explained by a plumber:
          Homemade laundry detergent is hard on your machine; detergent is hard on your septic system.

          1. That’s interesting, Shelah. I use Seventh Generation detergent and it claims it’s safe on septic (which we use). I would guess the type of detergent makes a difference for the septic system. But I’m not a plumber or septic system technician. 😉