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How to Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

How to Make Your Own Laundry Detergent

Last week we went over why we stopped buying store brand dish detergents and started making our own. Well, this week, we’re looking at laundry products! And, guess what?! They are filled with toxic, yucky chemicals too (ughhhh)!

Did you say there may be TOXIC chemicals in my laundry detergent?!

Yes! Similar to the chemicals often found in most popular dish detergents, commercial laundry detergents frequently contain dangerous additives that could cause painful dermatological reactions (or worse!) in susceptible individuals. Some of these chemicals are destructive to the environment, as well.

Do you see any of these potentially dangerous substances on your laundry detergent’s ingredient list?

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate/Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulfate (SLES)

SLS and SLES are surfactants and foaming agents that are commonly found in all types of household cleaning and personal care products, including laundry and dish detergent, hand soaps, body washes, and even toothpaste

SLS and SLES are known irritants that have been shown to have the potential to cause dermatological reactions, as well as irritation of the eyes, lungs, and other internal organs. In addition, some forms of SLES may be contaminated with measurable amounts of ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ethylene oxide is a known carcinogen and 1,4-dioxane is a “likely carcinogen”, as well as a known eye, nose, and throat irritant that may also cause nausea, headache, and drowsiness. SLS and SLES are also potentially damaging to the environment, and should not be discharged into waterways. 

Dioxane (1,4-Dioxane/Diethylene Dioxide)

Dioxane just might be one of the most alarming ingredients on this list. We would recommend never keeping products containing dioxane inside your home, as both the liquid as well as its fumes can spontaneously combust when combined with other common chemicals, such as chlorine (another typical detergent additive). Furthermore, dioxane has been identified by the Center for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (CDC’s NIOSH) as a potential occupational carcinogen (or cancer-causing substance) since 1989. It is also known to cause inflammation of the lungs, eyes, and skin, and should only be handled while using protective equipment, including respirator masks.

If an individual is exposed, dioxane will target the eyes, skin, and respiratory system, internal organs including the liver and kidneys, and the central nervous system. Because the detrimental effects of dioxane have been so well established, many manufacturers of household items and cosmetics now undergo additional steps to ensure dioxane is removed from their products before distribution. However, it can be difficult to determine if this is the case for your specific product, as it is not a universal requirement across these industries. 

Phosphates

Phosphates have been linked with heart disease, osteoporosis, and death, yet they are still a common ingredient in many commercial dish detergents and some laundry detergents. Due to their harmful effects, phosphates were banned from laundry detergents in the United States in 1994. However, they are still present in many dish detergents, as well as some international brands of laundry soap. Additionally, phosphates are not only harmful to the human body but are damaging to the environment by contributing to nutrient pollution and toxic algae bloom in waterways, which negatively impacts aquatic life. 

Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is most well-known for its use as a chemical in embalming procedures, but you may be surprised to discover it is also a common ingredient in many detergents and other household products. However, just as we mentioned in our blog on DIY Dish Detergent, formaldehyde in laundry detergent will most likely be listed under a different name such as “methanol”, “methyl aldehyde” or ”methylene oxide”. 

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, exposure to formaldehyde within your home may irritate your eyes, nose, throat, and skin, and can exacerbate the respiratory difficulty for those with asthma or COPD. Extended exposure to formaldehyde may also increase your risk of some types of cancer. Formaldehyde is ranked as a class B1 probable carcinogen by the EPA, noting that in animal tests it caused “acute toxicity from inhalation, oral and dermal exposure”. 

Chlorine Bleach

While most people are aware that chlorine bleach is a common skin, eye, and lung irritant, some consumers may be surprised to learn that a variety of household cleaning products, including laundry and dish detergents, contain bleach as well. The Material Safety Data Sheet for a popular household brand of chlorine bleach recommends that personal protective equipment – including a chemical-resistant apron and gloves, along with eye protection and a respirator mask – should be worn when using chlorine bleach. Exposure is associated with pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) and respiratory failure, along with burns to the skin and eyes, potentially causing blindness. 

Ammonium Sulfate

Ammonium Sulfate is another common chemical that is dangerous both to humans, as well as the environment. Manufacturers of Ammonium Sulfate instruct users against using this chemical while in enclosed spaces, as well as recommending protective gloves, goggles, and a respirator mask. Under the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) standards, Ammonium Sulfate is classified as a Category 2 skin irritant, a Category 2A eye irritant, and a Category 3 oral, skin and respiratory irritant with acute toxicity. Additionally, ammonium sulfate is ecologically harmful and is never supposed to be allowed to drain into waterways.

Optical Brighteners 

Optical Brighteners refer to a variety of chemicals that are often added to household cleaning and personal care products. Also known by a number of similar names including “Fluorescent Whitening Agents”, they are an example of unnecessary ingredients that companies add to inferior products in order to make them appear more effective, and therefore more popular with consumers. These types of “brighteners” do not help to remove stains, but instead coat the fabric of your clothing with a chemical that reflects light, making stains appear less visible. Many of these chemicals could cause allergic contact dermatitis in a small percentage of users, as well as potentially having a negative environmental impact as they are not readily biodegradable

Quaternary Ammonium Compounds 

Ammonium Quaternary Sanitizers are corrosive industrial-strength cleaners that are typically used in restaurant kitchens, as well as common household cleaning products. Frequently referred to as “Quats”, these chemicals are known to cause skin sensitivity and irritation, as well as respiratory difficulty, after repeated or high exposure.

Nonylphenol and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates 

Nonylphenols (NPs) and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates (NPEs) – are a group of nonionic surfactants that have been designated as highly toxic to aquatic life. Unfortunately, even though some of these types of chemicals have been phased out in recent years, they are still present in many household and industrial cleaning products, have been detected in human breast milk, blood and urine, and have been linked with hormone disruption and reproductive and developmental effects in rodents.  

Benzyl Acetate

Benzyl Acetate is a common ingredient used in many household cleaning and personal care items for its pleasant, fruity scent, despite the fact that it is identified as an eye, skin, and respiratory irritant. Internally, it can also cause harm to the kidneys and the central nervous system. 

Dichlorobenzene

Dichlorobenzene refers to a group of chemicals that are added to many household laundry products such as detergents and fabric softeners to add fragrance and reduce static. Dichlorobenzene is combustible, and reactive when combined with other chemicals including chlorine. It is also listed as a potential carcinogen to humans. Dangerous exposure can occur through ingestion, inhalation, or contact with the skin or eyes. After exposure, dichlorobenzene targets the eyes, skin, respiratory system, liver, and kidneys, causing blisters, irritation, difficulty breathing, and organ damage. If dichlorobenzene is allowed to contaminate waterways, it is also known to have an immediate toxic impact on marine life, with poisonous effects lasting for years. 

Fragrance

While it may be common knowledge (and even an appealing selling point) that laundry detergents contain added fragrance. Unfortunately, many consumers do not realize how dangerous some of these pleasant-smelling chemicals can be. While artificial fragrance does not help to wash our clothing, the pleasant smell it provides may lead us to believe our clothes are clean even if the detergent has not, in fact, sufficiently cleansed our items at all. Additionally, due to scent formulas being considered a “trade secret”, manufacturers are not required to list the specific fragrances used in their products, even though these substances are the source of many common chemical sensitivities, rashes, and other symptoms of an allergic reaction. 

Just like several other dangerous ingredients on this list, the fragrance is a common additive in many commercial household cleaning and personal products, including dish detergent and cosmetics, as well. Because of their prevalence in most homes and known likelihood of irritation, many doctors recommend that patients with respiratory difficulties or allergies remove any products with artificial fragrance from their daily routine. Many of these chemicals are also known carcinogens and endocrine (hormone) disruptors

Dyes

Most of us probably don’t consider the dyes that are added to our household cleaning products. However, the fact is that – just like artificial fragrance – many of these products contain artificial colorants that do nothing to increase their practical effectiveness. Unfortunately, these common additives are also the source of contact dermatitis and other allergic reactions, particularly in those with sensitive skin.

Making Your Own Laundry Detergent

With your clothing being in close contact with you for the majority of the day, all of these toxic chemicals are slowly seeping into your body! Many of which bioaccumulate over time and leave your body feeling icky!

That’s why we are sharing our all-natural and safe solution for you to start using in your washing machine!

What You’ll Need:

  • An airtight container to hold the finished product in
  • 1 Cup Washing Soda
  • 1 Cup Borax (or baking soda)
  • 1 Bar of Soap (this should be an all-natural bar such as Dr. Bronner’s or a homemade recipe like this one!)

When selecting your bar of soap, be sure that any fragrance added to the soap is all-natural, just like Dr. Bronner’s scented castile bars of soap.

OPTIONAL: Add in a few tablespoons of baking soda to help freshen up your clothes even more.

Looking for a more natural alternative for laundry soap? Check out our post on how to use soap nuts as laundry detergent (and much more)!

How to Make Your Own Powdered Laundry Detergent:

Now that you have all of the ingredients, you’re ready to start making your very own laundry detergent!

  1. Take the bar of soap and either use a cheese grater to grate the entire bar or cut into chunks and place in a food processor.
  2. Once the bar of soap is grated down, simply add the soap, borax, and washing soda to your container.
  3. Shake the container well to thoroughly mix all of your ingredients
  4. Use a ¼ cup of the detergent in your next load and enjoy!

Powdered laundry detergent not for you?

While we enjoy the powdered version of this laundry soap, you do have the option to make a liquid form of the detergent to use instead. And, it uses the same exact ingredients – plus a little water and a few 5-gallon buckets!

How to Make Your Own Liquid Laundry Detergent:

  1. You will still need to grate that bar of soap down or use the food processor to break it down for you.
  2. After it’s grated, you will want to add the soap shavings to about 2 quarts of water. Then turn the heat up and stir until all of the soap shavings are dissolved into the water.
  3. While the soap is dissolving, fill a 5-gallon bucket with nearly boiling water to about 75% full (4.5 gallons or so).
  4. Now, add 2 cups of borax and 2 cups of washing soda to the hot water and stir. You will want to keep stirring until all of the ingredients are dissolved into the water.
  5. With everything dissolved, pour the soap mixture from the pan into the borax and washing soda solution in the 5-gallon bucket.
  6. Cover the bucket and allow it to sit overnight.
  7. The next day, open the bucket and stir to ensure everything is well mixed and fully dissolved.
  8. Optional: Add in essential oils of your preference to give the laundry soap a nice scent!
  9. Place your new liquid laundry detergent into storage containers (half-gallon mason jars or empty milk jugs work well for this).
  10. Use ½ cup to 1 cup of your new detergent in your next load of laundry!

And there you have it! Just three simple ingredients and you’re ready to do a load of laundry without all the toxic chemicals found in store brands!

But what if I have hard water?

Some areas tend to have a higher concentration of mineral deposits – usually calcium and magnesium – in the local water supply, which is commonly referred to as having “hard” water. Hard water is notorious for leaving residue on dishes and shower walls, and for causing clothing to become “dingy” after washing. Washing clothing in hard water can even cause the fibers to wear down faster and reduce the lifespan of your wardrobe. Commercial detergents usually include harsh solvents to help break down these mineral deposits, but these solvents are often irritating to the skin and detrimental to the environment. 

Thankfully, having hard water doesn’t mean you have to give up on DIY detergents. In fact, we believe we have a tip that may make your DIY detergent work even better than those strong commercial detergents. What’s the secret? …White vinegar! 

White vinegar is one of the absolute best natural household cleaners and can be used in many applications from cleaning mirrors to disinfecting floors. It also works extremely well to help break down the minerals found in hard water, allowing your clothing to rinse cleaner and come out brighter. 

Using vinegar to combat hard water minerals in your laundry routine is as easy as can be. First, if you are washing in hard water, we recommend using a bit more detergent than if you do not have hard water. If you live in an area with very hard water, you may even want to use double the typically recommended amount – so if the instructions say ¼ cup, use ½ cup of detergent instead. Next, add one cup of plain white vinegar to the “fabric softener” dispenser of your laundry machine, or directly into the load itself if your machine doesn’t have a fabric softener dispenser. That’s it! Just add the vinegar and wash your clothes as you normally would, but prepare to be rewarded with softer, more vibrant clothing when you’re all done! One final tip for those washing in hard water: always wash your clothing on the shortest wash cycle in order to minimize the time that the fabric is exposed to the minerals in your water. 

DIY just not for you?

Whether you’re traveling, don’t have time, or simply don’t want to make your own laundry detergent, there are still high-quality natural detergents available for you to purchase! Personally, we prefer to use Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds. Just add 2-3 tablespoons of it to your wash and hit start (if you’re using a HE machine, be sure to cut that amount in half)!

There are other all-natural options available as well but be sure to do your research and read the ingredients! Most common detergents have sulfates, phosphates, toxic fragrances, and much more within, which you definitely don’t want on your skin!

So, no matter if you have time to make your own or not, there are plenty of options out there to keep you and your home toxic chemical free!

Interested in trying out some other all-natural lifestyle products? Check out our shop where we are proud to offer all organic, sustainably-produced alternative solutions for your home, garden, or personal care routine. 

Have more laundry tips and tricks?
Share in the comments below!