Turning the Tide

Today’s post is going to appeal to environmentalists, compassionate vegans, and cheapskates.  My family is going to share our new laundry routine which not only minimizes the impact on the animals and our precious dwindling fresh water supply, but also saves us enough money each year to pay for a vacation.

This post will not appeal to people who prefer to pay ridiculously high prices for fragrance infused chemical compounds which are first tested on fluffy bunnies before being distributed and allowed to erode the fabric of our society all in the name of Fresh Spring scented undies.

I used to love the most perfumed laundry detergent money could buy.  I wanted the neighbors to know when I was washing and drying my clothes because of the huge cloud of pink fog flecked with glitter that hovered over my block.  However, after years of this I began to have skin reactions to certain products and had to experiment with many different detergent/ fabric softener combinations.  The trick was finding a detergent that my skin didn’t react to AND didn’t cost as much as rent.  I found some generic options that saved a few bucks but after a bit the red bumps and itching would return.

More recently, I decided to avoid detergents and companies that test their products on animals (see * below).  I like to think that I am voting with my dollars – the huge jugs of laundry liquids seemed more like voting AND giving financial contributions to a candidate that I don’t even like in the first place.  We found some pricey yet ‘good’ companies and paid out of the nose to be good Earth citizens.  Then Shannon and I Googled our options and came up with a much better solution.  FYI- that was a slippery pun that I don’t want simply washed down the drain and forgotten- shoot, my bubbly enthusiasm has done it again- ug, really?  I need to scrub these…. AHAHAHGGGHH!!!

Below, you will find a simple recipe for making your own laundry detergent.  It takes less than 2 dollars to make 40 dollars worth of detergent.  It eliminates the giant plastic bottles, the corporate evil, and the tested (yet still faulty) name-brand, phosphate-infused sludge… and it’s as easy as making a bowl of oatmeal.  We’ve been very pleased with our several months of success and savings.  The clothes become actually clean instead of just smelling like it.

The first step is to get a bar of Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap.  For the fist few batches we made, we used a yellow Fels-Naptha bar instead but it turns out it is made from animals.  Oooops.

This purple wrapped bar is more difficult to find but it is vegan.  I’m not saying it doesn’t sneak a bite of milk chocolate from time to time, but its heart is in the right place.  I am a big fan of the lavender but there are plenty of scents you can find or create yourself using scented oils.

If you have a fancy IKEA grater sitting around then you should use it for this- otherwise a regular grater will work.  Just shred 1/2 of the soap bar and try not to sprinkle it onto omnivore salads as a joke.  Feeding people soap isn’t funny unless you get away with it and I don’t get in any trouble for mentioning it.  Otherwise it’s a big no-no.

Next, heat up 6 cups of water, but don’t let it boil.  Once the water is hot, but not boiling, sprinkle the shredded soap into the hot water and stir until it dissolves.  This takes only a moment.

Once the soap solution is mixed add 1/2 cup of the Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda.

Then add 1/2 cup of the 20 Mule Team Borax.  Never fear, this product contains no mules.

Once you have all of the ingredients stirred in you have the option to continue stirring for a few more minutes or using your handheld blender to really mix everything together well. The blender option helps the final product’s appearance but not its effectiveness. Either way will work, so no pressure.  Relax for crying out loud.

Get a five gallon bucket or other container that can hold almost 3 gallons of liquid and allow for some stirring action. Please keep in mind that five gallon buckets are drowning hazards for young children and should be treated like the dangerous tools that they are. Keep them away from kids ESPECIALLY when they have liquid in them.

Now comes the easiest part. Add 6 cups of  hot water, then add the mixed up soapy solution, and then pour another gallon of hot water on top.  Stir the contents of your bucket for a short minute and put the lid on it. This will need to be put out of the way for 24 hours while science happens. After 24 hours, stir everything up for the last time and begin using your awesomely cheap, safe and effective laundry detergent.  You will know you’ve done well if it reminds you of egg drop soup.

My family has found a lot of success with this detergent recipe.  I suggest keeping your old detergent containers and refilling them over and over with your new homemade solution. This will help you hide the fact that you don’t support animal testing, fresh water destroying phosphates or flushing money down the drain.  Sometimes it is just easier to be closet crunchy.

As for fabric softener, we have switched to vinegar.  I swear on a stack of Forks Over Knives DVDs that this does not make your clothes smell like a salad.  I add about 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup per load depending on how steady my pouring hands are.  This one simple addition in our automatic fabric softener dispenser has made a huge difference in how clean our clothes get.  After the drier, the clothes smell like a summer breeze wafting through a field of lavender filled with happy bunnies munching on sweet clover.

We are only on our fourth batch of detergent and our family-of-five takes about a month to finish just one of them off.  If you have any tips or tricks or corrections, please leave them in the comments section so we can continue to refine our process as we move closer and closer to the perfect solution.  FYIAgain- that was another soapy solution pun… I felt it should be pointed it out.  It was funnier the second and third time in my opinion.

*Since this posting, it has surfaced that there may be more compassionate choices besides Borax.  Please review the comments below from a lot of great community collected information.  Go Veganauts!!


About jasongillett

I'm Jason Gillett, 2 year VEGAN, and a 41 year old family man. My wife & I teach in a FL school. I am using a blog to chronicle our family's new life. https://howilost150pounds.wordpress.com/ View all posts by jasongillett

45 responses to “Turning the Tide

  • The Savvy Sister

    This should be the tweet of the week.

    • jasongillett

      You have the BEST ideas!! To help this great idea gain some traction, I have created a tweet for everyone to copy/paste into their Twitter feed.

      Turning the Tide http://wp.me/p1Vu1g-ky Make your own laundry detergent- save piles of #cash & the planet! #vegan #green @Atkins2Vegan

      Tweet away friends! Spread the soapy love ❤

  • Jennifer

    I used to make my own detergent and I’m starting to again, though so far I have made a powdered version, not liquid (hey, I’m lazy like that!). But please, please, *please* share your vinegar ratios for softener! I’ve been looking for just such an idea. I love Mrs. Meyer’s softeners and their lack of beef tallow or whatever, but I would rather spend the cash on more bulk grains 🙂

    • jasongillett

      Hi Jennifer- I went back and added some vinegar measurements because it seemed like a question that should have been answered in the blog (so EXTRA thanks for asking). I usually add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of vinegar in our automatic fabric softener dispenser and fill the rest of the way with water. We are still experimenting but this has been consistently successful. I promise the liquid version is EEEEEasy. Its like making oatmeal and then putting the oatmeal in a closet for 24 hours. Soap POWER!!

      • Jennifer

        Awesome. I can’t tell you how timely this post is for me. Just last week my SIL announced she was making her own liquid detergent and we all immediately formed a detergent cooperative to take turns producing it, but none of us had figured out the best softener alternative! Thanks for figuring it out for me (and sharing!).

  • Somer

    You have no idea how much I needed this post. We are still using, ahem, Tide. I have bought lots of environmentally friendly brands over the years and for some obscene reason the environmentally friendly brands give my kids a rash. I’m betting this concoction won’t and since I make my own castille soap, http://goodcleanfood.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/vegan-cold-process-soap-pictorial-method-recipe-and-giveaway/ I’ll be saving money there too. Woot Woot!

  • Somer

    Oh, how much detergent do you use per load?

  • An Unrefined Vegan

    You and Somer are on the same wavelength today! Just recently got into castille soap – not sure why it took me so long.

  • Cheerfully Vegan

    I am at the bottom of my first batch of this stuff. My aunt sent me the “recipe” and after her success story, I took the plunge. I hate smelly soaps – and have used Cheer Free for years. This stuff is AMAZING!! It cleans better than anything I’ve used to date – AND it smells so clean that it’s hardly believable. Even my hubby’s roofing clothes smelled tar-free after a single washing. That’s unheard of, let me tell you!

    Next time, I think I will ditch the Fels Naptha that I bought and go with the soap you used.

    • jasongillett

      My Dad was a plumber when I was growing up so I know what it means to say you can get construction clothes clean- it is a huge testament to what this simple solution is capable of. Its great to hear other people having success with this! Thanks to you and your Aunt : ) Stay soapy!!

  • Sarina

    Where can we get/buy a 5 gallon container? Thanks

    • jasongillett

      Hi Sarina- We bought one at Lowes for under 4 bucks with a lid. Places that sell paint sell them BUT call any restaurant near your house and ask them if you can have one, they often give them away- these buckets are garbage for a lot of people and easy to get usually. For convenience sake we just bought one. Let us know how your search goes! : )

  • Sister Jenn

    Do you know if this works in HE washers?

  • projectwhitespace

    Jason, never commented here but this deserves a two thumbs up. Im a compassionate vegetarian almost vegan and when i saw this recipe it looked super easy. I just got home from my local hardware store and bought all but the castile soap. I will probably buy that online for my first batch which i plan to do this weekend. But i am also going to check out somer’s castile post. Thanks for this motivation! And i love that its cheap too!

    • jasongillett

      Thank YOU!! I hope it is going well~ the electric bill for the summer has gone up so much, I am thankful for every little nickle we can save. Thanks for reading and commenting~ I look forward to hearing how its going : )

      • projectwhitespace

        Jason, I just finally ordered the castile soap online. Couldn’t find it elsewhere. I am going to make this on Tuesday. I also saw your post where you said you would figure out the arm and hammer saga. I will use it now, since I have it, but if you find out a more compassionate version, please do let us know. Thanks again!!

  • thecrueltyfreereview

    Okay, I’m really not trying to rain on the parade here because I think this is a great idea I’d love to try, but Arm & Hammer is made by Church and Dwight, which is listed on the Caring Consumer site as a company that tests on aminals. Any suggestions for a cruelty-free substitute?

    • VeganInLA

      I don’t use the Arm & Hammer either due to testing. I use a generic store brand that supposedly isn’t tested. I thought Borax was tested. I hope I’m wrong. I’ll have to do some research.

      Is there any reason we can’t use the liquid Bronner’s instead of grating bar soap? This looks interesting and I can’t wait to try it. All the cruelty free laundry detergent I’ve tried so far does not remove stains. I’ve heard Liquid Bronner’s, baking soda & vinegar makes a good detergent. I think it’s a 1/4 c of each put in washing machine and NOT mixed beforehand.

      • jasongillett

        I’m also checking my sources- I’ll report back and please let me know if you found anything on the Borax. As for the liquid Bronner’s- that’s another question that has come up that I have not been able to answer yet. Shannon and I are about to try an experiment and we will report back with the results and corrections on the ingredient list above. Thanks for the recipe and the help!

    • jasongillett

      That is in no way raining on the parade! That is exactly what I need to know~ I’m still learning and I don’t want to spread any disinformation. Thank you for letting me know. I am going to curl up with Google for a bit and edit this post so it is more accurate. THANK YOU!!! I’ll let you know what I learn.

  • Laurene Davison

    Ive been making my own soap for about a year now, its similar to your recipe. I went to the Duggar family website and they have there recipe for homemade soap on there. I will buy Dr Bronners pure castile soap next time I go shopping and try that. I love the smell of lavender. Thanks!

  • Case of the ‘saturdays’ « Jason and the Veganauts

    […] I am researching the detergent post from a few weeks ago.  Arm & Hammer might be involved in animal testing and Borax can’t […]

  • Patricia

    I love this post and would like to stay up to date on any information you find so I’m going to add what I’ve discovered myself. According to PETA, 20 Mule Team Borax is owned by the Dial Corp (I used this stuff too thinking it was okay). Dial Corp does test.

    I did find some information about Mountain Rose Herbs (http://www.mountainroseherbs.com/index.php?AID=125224&BID=10697) that says they offer a cruelty free borax and Baking soda (heard mention that washing soda and baking soda are NOT the same though)… so, not sure if that helps but at least the borax is covered 😉 I’m also going to use the liquid Dr. Bronner’s.

    • jasongillett

      Thanks Patricia- this was a huge help and verified what I’d received a few emails about. I’ve added an asterisk and comment to the post so people would know that there were more vegan/animal-friendly options available. Thank you again for the help! It benefits the whole community : )

  • Sourcing Raw Materials for Upcycling Clothing |

    […] It’s a treasure hunt, to be sure. There’s a lot of worn out and stained items that won’t work for me. The clothing and bedding are tumbled together in great flat tubs lined up in rows. The clothing in these vats are largely rejects from the Goodwill stores, stuff that as I understand it, is sent down if it fails to sell within a certain amount of time. Regardless, there are some great finds to be had, they just take some time to find. I suggest going when you have some time to spend. Many people wear those nitrile disposable gloves, and I can’t fault them. The fabrics all have that homogenized used clothing smell that can be a little overwhelming. Washing them is imperative. I use a fragrance free laundry detergent, but I am thinking of making my own detergent after reading this blog post on making your own detergent. […]

  • Mixed Vegetables | Jason and the Veganauts

    […] other news, my family has been really loving our change of laundry detergents.  Since the Turning the Tide post back on July 31, 2012 we’ve been mixing our own vats of laundry detergent for pennies on […]

  • narf77

    I doubt we have 20 mules in all of Australia but I am sure that we have an antipodean alternative on one of the highest, or lowest shelves, tucked away where the spiders live and where no self respecting consumer would dare to venture ;). Time to get grating and mixing and generally alchemising my way to some clean clothes vegan style! No more animal tested products for this little black duck! Cheers for the heads up about these products and for sharing these recipes. It’s going to be fun seeing just what Australia has in place of 50 mules…50 roos?100 wombats? (they are smaller than mules) or maybe 1 Tassie Devil? They rotate and do the job of 100 mules in one fell swoop! 😉

  • Kelly

    Hi! I’m really excited to try this recipe out this weekend; I made it the other day and WOW crazy easy in the production state.

    But I wanted to ask a question before I started using it:

    What experiences do you or other have with the different types of clothing you’ve washed with this. Dedicates? Jeans? Swim ware? printed tees? Etc? I’m mostly wondering about things like swim ware and dedicates. How have people’s experiences with things like these been? Colour fading? Colour fading on perticular colours only? Lables/logos/print/fabric disintegration? Anything you would say to avoid? Recommend?

    Added Q: Has anyone tried this WITH downy? I’m happy to move over to the (apple cider?) vinegar, but hate to waste what I have left over. Results?



    • Kelly

      2.5 years later:
      I’m still using this recipe and a die hard fan! I’ve never gone back to the normal chemical crud. I use this on everything. Jeans, printed shirts, delicates (but I hand wash those), greasy kitchen cloths, rugs, etc. Nothing’s faded, logo’s are great if not better preserved.

      What really was a fun experience was smelling this the first time. It smells like nothing, just clean. Not what we’ve been raised to think is clean (perfume), but actual clean fresh water.

      I’m still on the first box of borax/super soda I initially bought, and easily make this batch last 5+months (single person house hold).

      Even if some of the ingredients aren’t vegan, I still promote this as a way better thing to be putting down the drains. Yay Fishies!


      PS 1/2c white vinegar in a downy ball works like a hot damn

  • az

    I was sad to read that Arm & Hammer does test on animals =(. I will have to see if there is an alternative because otherwise this seems like an excellent recipe. If anybody knows please post.

  • natalie

    I agree – in searching for frugal / planet friendly / CRUELTY free ingredients for DIY products – borax and Baking soda from Mountain Rose – apparently you can make your own washing soda by cooking baking soda – google it https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/products/borax-powder/profile

  • Shannon M.

    Hi there,
    this sounds like an interesting recipe….although I just read another page that mentioned Arm and Hammer tests on animals!! 😦 I have to go further into checking on that. I hope not a use baking soda for lots of cleaning needs. I can find a different brand I guess. I do know that Nellie’s makes a washing soda and they don’t animal test. Just trying to help out your vegan ways. Washing soda was really hard for me to find when I was making my own dish washing detergent and finally found my local natural food store to carry Nellie’s, but it wasn’t cheap necessarily.

  • Shawn

    I make my own powdered detergent, 1 part grated castile soap, 2 parts washing soda, and 2 parts borax. Mix well and use 1/2 cup per load.

    Beware, Arm & Hammer (washing soda) and 20 Mule Team Borax (borax) are made by parent companies who test on animals. You can get cruelty-free borax here https://www.mountainroseherbs.com/catalog

    You can make you own washing soda with cruelty-free baking soda (do your research, Arm & Hammer is not). http://www.onegoodthingbyjillee.com/2013/01/make-your-own-washing-soda-for-homemade-laundry-detergent.html

    Vinegar is a great fabric softener. I added some lavender essential oil to the 1/4 cup of vinegar in the softener dispenser, but couldn’t tell when dry. Didn’t smell like vinegar, either, though!

  • B

    I really appreciate your DIY laundry detergent and from what I read you use products that are cruelty free. I was puzzled when I saw your arm & hammer in the background as this company is definitely not cruelty free.

  • Anke

    Hi there, isn’t the Borax you show in this picture tested on animals?
    My cruelty-free products app shows it as NOT cruelty-free. Did you find an alternative? Also the Arm & Hammer products are non cruelty-free also.
    I am in the process of making my own cleaning supplies as well. For some you need washing soda/ash. you can make it with baking soda and I found that Red Mills makes a cruelty-free one. You just make the washing soda with it. I am glad there are alternatives out there for us. Sometimes it takes a bit digging. But if you want to make yourself cleaning supplies for cruelty-free you should be aware that the ingredients you need are sometimes not.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

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