Homemade HE Laundry Detergent

The following is a guest post from Kathy. 

Homemade laundry detergent was my first do-it-yourself cleaning product experiment.

I have always used a 5-gallon bucket to store each batch, but I realize this is not possible for many people, from those like my youngest daughter living in small quarters to my elderly mother who can no longer lift heavy objects.

I decided to use a little old fashioned mathematics to figure out how to accomplish my favorite, economical, earth-friendly laundry detergent in normal, grocery store size bottles.

I’m so excited about figuring this out, how to gain warehouse-store savings without buying hernia-size containers, that I plan on giving these as Laundry Gift Sets to young moms and widows at my own church, as well as gifts for new brides.

Homemade HE Laundry Detergent

Homemade HE Laundry Detergent


  • 1.1 oz. grated Fels Naptha Soap
  • 1.93 oz Borax
  • 2.96 oz Washing Soda


  1. Use a medium saucepan to heat 2 cups of tap water. Adding a little extra won’t hurt.
  2. Add the grated soap into the boiling water on the stove. Stir occasionally until it is completely dissolved. It’ll only take a minute or so.
  3. Add the Borax and washing soda into the pot of now soapy hot water; stir well for about a minute.
  4. Let this detergent concentrate cool just enough to not melt your plastic jug. Pour it into a one-gallon container. If you’re worried it’s too hot, add a touch of tepid water.
  5. Add enough hot water from the tap to reach half-way.
  6. Make sure your container has a well fitting screw-on lid and shake the jug like your ridding your body of pent up aggression. The solution needs to be 100% mixed. It won’t take more than a couple of minutes.
  7. Let this jug sit all day, or overnight. It will be extremely thick and look like a blob; that’s good in this case.
  8. Once the processing time is over, shake the jug for another couple of minutes.
  9. Fill the remainder of the jug with hot tap water. Shake for another minute and you’re done.


It doesn’t hurt to give the jug a little shake before each use. It takes about ¼ cup to do a very large load of really dirty laundry; there is no need to add any more water to the mixture. Remember this is high efficiency (HE) detergent so don’t worry that you don’t see suds filling the window of your machine.


Congrats, You’ve just made a gallon of laundry detergent that cost around 4 cents per load.

You can find Kathy writing at On the Home Stretch.

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  1. Melissa V says:

    Where do you buy your Washing Soda and Fels Naptha bar at?

    • Kristin F says:

      you can find them in the laundry isle at wal mart or other stores 🙂

      • osogrande says:

        Fels Naptha is $0.97 @ (most) Walmarts, and $1.39 @ Meijers. Borax and Washing Soda are in the Laundry Isle (usually near softeners) for around $3-4. One of the sites did the math, but it is probably $.34/gal.

    • hello well when i did this i had hard time finding but i got it all at krogers my grocery store because walmart was higher and didnt have the fels or the borax so i found it all at one place but i did the whole 5 gallon when i made it because i have shelf space 🙂 but i have to say i love this one it smells amazing and it cleans so well

      • also the fels was like $1.19 the borax was $2.39 and the washing soda was $1.89 at my local (kroger) Food store

    • You can also use Zote soap I found some this week at Kmart for $.70 and you only have to use half the bar because it it double the size as the fels naptha bar.

    • Walmart.

    • I picked up mine at Walmart in the laundry soap aisle.

  2. Love the idea of making my own detergent! And it’s a science lesson to boot. I’m one not to buy in bulk because of both storage issues and weight. This is an excellent alternative.

  3. Is this HE compatible?

  4. lol ~ I’m sorry ~ I should have read the title better. I was just wondering if it was HE compatible because I made the powder version of this soap, and it clogs my machine, and it won’t run a cycle correctly when I use it.

    • I have found when I use the powder it works better if I put in in the tub with the clothes. I only put the liquid kind in my soap dispenser.

  5. I’ve never done a liquid because all the recipes I’ve seen said *in a 5 gallon bucket* I do not have room for all that! I use the same ingredients, but leave it in a powder. It’s easier because you don’t have to heat anything. Just pour into airtight container & shake. viola, mixed! 2 tbsp for an extra dirty/large load, 1 tbsp per regular load.
    Great post and I encourage anyone who’s on the fence to try making your own detergent. I’ve been doing it just over 6 months, love it & never looking back!

    • Brenda,

      I’d love to make your dry version. I have a question, though, I use cold water for all my laundry except towels. Wondering if the grated soap will dissolve well in cold water. Any experience? Thanks.

      • Ginger,

        I use the powder recipe and I also wash in all cold water. I have not had any problems with it dissolving but I grate it as small as I can get it. And it works great! Hope that helps!

  6. Thanks ! I’ve been waiting n looking for an HE recipe for a long time. Any possibility of adding Lavender essential oil???

  7. sweet. i have been wanting to do this, and now, I actually have the borax HERE, … long story short, apparently borax & peroxide mix is a remedy for lice…. sigh.

  8. I have been using this for a few months now. I will say I was a little unsure of how clean and great my clothes would be, but so far so good! The one thing I did find is I have to use a little more then was recommended. Anyone else have that?

  9. They usually sell all three ingredients at most stores now. Fred Meyer sometimes has a sale price on one of them. A good price is around $3 for Borax and WAshing soda each and about $0.97 for the Fels-Naptha (I love the smell of that stuff!).

    You can also use almost the same ingredients to make homemade dishwasher powder. You use borax, washing soda and lemonade Kook-aid packet. So it’s good to have the boxes of the stuff around ready to whip up a batch when you need either. 🙂

  10. You can find washing soda here.. super cheap since this will last you through many loads! http://amzn.to/H5FRvp

  11. Fels Naptha bar here: http://amzn.to/H7BNO5

  12. The article heading says Homemade HE Laundry Detergent, can this also work with regular washer or do I have to alter the ingredients and procedure to make it suitable for the regular washer?

  13. We made our 1st 5 gallons in October 2011 (after watching the Duggar’s make it on their show). Even with 6 people (7 when my dad visits around Christmas), we’re still on the 1st batch. It works great too! It smells good. It cleans as well as if not better than store bought detergent. — My dad liked it so well that he bought a bar of FelsNaptha & I gave him enough of the dry ingredients to make 1 gallon (so, it was 1/10 of the 5 gal recipe) while he is in Mexico. — My next goal is finding and recipe for fabric softener that doesn’t make such a crusty mess as baking soda and vinegar. Right now, I buy cheap liquid softener at the store and dilute it with vinegar (some of cheap softeners are too thick for my HE to use on their own).

  14. Can I use this in my regular washing machine or is it only for high efficiency (HE) machines?

  15. SEPTIC SYSTEMS anyone? I know for certain that Fels Naptha soap is BIG no, no for septic systems. Fels Naptha has fats in it and lines the sewer pipes with gunk that will eventually clog it.

    I have been looking and looking and looking for a homemade recipe that is LIQUID, HE compatible, encourages good bacteria, and is SEPTIC SAFE. Does anyone have such a beautiful recipe? I found a recipe on another blog, but I will not post it here out of respect. I would love to know of other recipes if they exist and compare.

    However, I am SO happy for all of you that can use this. What a savings it will be! Jealous 🙂 Happy washing!

    • We just had our septic tanks pumped and found that the pipe to the tank from house was almost backed up to the house. There was a hard powder substance blocking the opening to the tank. I make/use the Duggar’s laundry detergent recipe as above (for two years) and showed it and recipe to the septic man. After seeing that we use liquid not powder detergent, he recommended we not use it because the powders are building up. Any alternate recipes? Thank you!

      • I would recommend taking the washing machine completely off of the septic system, simply run it out on the ground or make a shallow trench to dump into. Washing machines and showers/tubs put a stress on septic systems that need not be there.

    • sherrie says:

      hey, i found a recipe i am just gunna say it. boil 2 cups of water and add the following: 3 tbsp of borax and 3 tbsp of washing soda, and 2 tbsp of blue dawn liquid dish soap. stir in a glass measuring cup
      let cool, add 2 more cold cups of water in a jug, and add the mixture to it, let sit for a day, use 1/8th cup for a heavy load, its good for HE washers and septics

    • We have a septic and have not had any problems with the fels naptha but if you are worried about it there is another soap that work well also it is called Zote soap.

  16. sherrie says:

    hi, I love this new way to make detergent!! I was making the 2 gallon kind and only making half the batch, but it wasnt working that great. your way is so much easier so thanks for that! also i cannot get fels naptha anywhere so I am using dove. I am also trying the sunlight bar later. I like how i don’t have to make a huge 5 gallon bucket of this!!!

  17. I have made a liquid version of homemade laundry soap. it works great. also i have made mine in a 5 gallon bucket. also, instead of pouring this in a 5 gal bucket if you have several empty containers, apple juice, orange juice, laundry jugs, etc. you can pour water in containers then soap mixture. keep in mind you will have to stir them well and probably shake them up before each use. I use a paint mixer attachment on a drill (attachment was about $3-$4 at hardware store) with using a 5 gal bucket its easy to mix. it does a great job. This recipe is HE safe and septic safe for anyone wondering. hope this helps!

  18. Angela, read this and tell me what you think, or what your septic service thinks…I’m SO nervously about septics! http://barefootmommy.blogspot.com/2011/05/septic-friendly-homemade-laundry.html?showComment=1327903605761&m=1

  19. I am making a batch tonight, and after doing a ton of research about different detergents I found that you can use any kind of bar soap you like in this recipe. If you want to use it on baby clothes or cloth diapers, use castile (vegetable) bar soap (like Dr. Dronner’s, I’m using Kiss My Face Pure Olive Oil Soap). Also, about 1 oz of soap is good for a gallon of detergent. (Or if making hand soap, 1 oz to 2 quarts of water.) I find this so fascinating, and am happy I am saving so much money, too!!!

  20. I made this recipe a few nights ago and my question is how thick should the solution be once you have finished the process?

    I have read other recipes that call for bigger amounts and a 5 gallon bucket that say it should be thick???

  21. I made my soap mix yesterday and let it rest over night. This morning I added the water to disolve it but it’s still a glob in there. does this get fixed or did I do something wrong?

    • I use my hands and just dig in there and brake up all the clumps then I take a 5gal stir stick and mix untill smooth. you can also get one of those paint stirs that you attach to a cordless drill.

  22. does anyone elses soap fade their clothes? I added all the ingredients as specified.

  23. I have an old blender that I stir my soap with and then pour into to an old detergent bottle. Have to shake this too but is is much smoother than what I get out of the bucket.

  24. To save a little more space and make a ton more… did you know you can make it dry?? its 3 pars soap grated the 1 box washing soda and 1 box borax. It just takes 1 Tbsp per load and its not slimy like the liquid.

  25. Chrissie says:

    I’ve been looking and looking for a good recipe for laundry detergent that doesn’t require a five gallon bucket! Oy! Thank you so much for this and for the pictures! Bought my supplies and will make it soon — can’t wait to try it out! Detergent that’s good for the machine, the experiment, the clothes, and the person wearing them. Awesome!

  26. Hi! So thankful for this diy. Quick question, can I use my funnel and pot after making the detergent? I didn’t think I could but wanted to double check!

  27. I just made my first batch about an hour ago. I’m very excited to see the results in the morning. I actually saw a few websites recommending Ivory bar soap, so that’s what I used instead of Fels Naptha. I got a 3-pack of Ivory for $1.24 at Walmart and used the whole bar in the detergent.

    • Tracy V says:

      I used the same thing – Ivory bar soap. It made the liquid thinner – not so slimy or gel like that everyone talks about. Plus it doesn’t have the fatty ingredients in it that other soaps do – the reason it doesn’t leave a film on your body when bathing and will not harm the septic tanks like other soap. AND best of all it gets the diesel and oil smell out of men’s work clothes! A great PLUS!!

    • Ivory is only a 5oz bar I would use 3 Ivory bars in place of one 15oz bar of fels naptha.

  28. Just made my 1st batch. I added a bit of ivory to my felz bar. I had not much luck with the powder. Just didnt seem to clean well. We have an HE washer and I am super excited to try it out! Will let you know 🙂

  29. Great idea. Saved us a ton of money. This stuff smells great.

  30. Just wondering do I add the entire bar of soap 1.1 ounce at a time…or just 1.1 ounce and save the rest for future batches?

  31. I no longer grate my fels naptha, I will cut it up and use an extra coffee bean grinder. 8>)
    We just an HE set and am so excited to learn I can do what I’ve been doing! yay!!!! thank you!

  32. When I shake it all up and take the lid off to let it cool it foams everywhere! What am I doing wrong? We have 3 kids and I’m a maintenance worker for a steel shop and it cleans great and save us a lot. We have had no issues with it in our he machine just the foam! Lol

  33. I have found if you put the bar of Fels Naptha in the microwave for about a minute, it is much easier to grate. It will bubble and look like a deformed sponge, let it cool it grates into a powder.

  34. Has anyone considered using a liquid castille soap (Dr. Bronner’s) so you could skip the grating and heating step?

  35. We have very sensitive skin and avoid all fragrance/perfumes. Fels Naptha and Ivory are scented, I don’t know about Zote. Thanks for any input. I should have included this with my other comment/question.

  36. I have made homemade soap with the dr bronner’s and you use 1 and 1/4 cup vinegar, 1cup baking soda, 1 cup washing soda, and 1 cup Borax and 1/4 cup dr bronner’s castile soap and stir like crazy and you will have your soap.

  37. i made the 5 galon bucket but i added 2 cups of downy is this y im getting white chucks in my soap i also put 1/4 scope of oxy clean.

  38. Just finished using my first gallon and I must say that I’ve enjoyed skipping the cleaning aisles at the store for quite a while now! My second one is on the stove cooling and I’m tickled with myself.
    Oh! Have seen absolutely no suds and I love that. My milk jug didn’t know it was going to grow up to become a laundry soap container so it didn’t bring it’s 1/4 c lid when it came home with me. lol…. I’ll pick one up at a local thrift store.
    Also, I toss the cup into the wash with the clothes to keep it from getting gunky.

  39. Ok I need some suggestions I’ve made this twice now and mine never thickens. It’s just like water. What am I doing wrong? 🙁

  40. I use a broom handle to stir my soap up after it gets thick. It works perfectly. Also I order candle/soapmaking oil that is skin safe online and add to my soap after separating into milk jugs. You can get some wonderful scents. Here lately I have been using bbw twilight woods, gain scent, and downy April fresh scent. I order mine off eBay seem to be cheaper there.

  41. What about being to strong for me? I may itch ! Is it ok for sensitive skin???

  42. Debbie Todd says:

    Just finished making my first gallon. Can’t wait to try it out!

  43. Does anyone know how much to add to each load?

  44. Just made my first batch . Is it supposed to be watery

  45. How to you measure without the scale? I don’t have one of those avaiable.

  46. I wood like to add unstoppables to the soap mixture. Has anyone tried this?

  47. penny Potechin says:

    1.1 oz of Zote (I use that instead of Fels) is 1/4c +1tbsp
    1.93 oz of Borax equals 1/4 c
    2.96 oz Washing Soda equals 1/4 c+1/4 tsp

  48. Has anyone added Purex crystals?

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