15 February 2009

Homemade soap and laundry powder

Having the time and the inclination to make many of the things we use here is one of the most satisfying things about living this way. I love making soap, cooking from scratch, making cordials and fermented drinks, I love to sew and knit, and those activities result in products that are usually superior in quality to those bought in today's shops. It also give me the peace of mind of knowing that only the ingredients I put in with my own hands are in there; there are no nasties lurking. I add safety and certainty in with my other ingredients so I know that what I'm making is healthy, and not a product that might look good but is laden with chemicals I can't pronounce.

And so for all those reasons, I love making my own soap and laundry powder. I'm currently luxuriating in a lovely olive oil-rice bran oil-coconut oil soap that is creamy and lathers well. It's my favourite soap and if I never tried another home made soap, recipe I'd be happy with this one. I'm washing my hair with it too and it does a wonderful job, as good as the best organic shampoo.

Soap combines lye (caustic soda) with fats - I use only vegetable fats but it is also made with animal or bird fat. The chemical process that takes place, saponification, pulls the ingredients together and over the course of the next three or four weeks, the caustic elements in the soap neutralise, leaving a mild and soothing soap. Skin is the body's largest organ so it makes sense that whatever we rub onto our skin, especially if that is done many times during the course of the day, is safe and nourishing. Home made soap nourishes skin because it contains the natural glycerin, unlike commercial soap. Glycerin is extracted from commercial soap and sold as a separate product - it's more expensive than the soap, but removing it leaves the soap depleted. To counteract this, manufacturers add ingredients to make up for its lost and in doing so, make soap that is not so good for your skin.

Homemade laundry powder is another product that can easily be made at home. It's the combination of three ingredients - soap flakes, washing soda and borax, although if you use your grey water on your garden, you should leave out the borax. If you check the ingredients list on your commercial laundry detergent, you'll find a list of chemicals commonly used in many commercial cleaners that you have no idea about. I have been using homemade laundry powder in my front loader washer for many years now and have never had a problem. It cleans our clothes well and they come out smelling clean, not of artificially produced perfumes. Be warned, if you make up the recipe for laundry liquid, it can separate. If that happens, it's fine to use, you'll just need to mix it up to incorporate the liquid with the gel before you use it.

If you've never stepped into the world of homemade soap and laundry powder before now, why not give it a try. The powder in particular is easy and quick to make, MUCH cheaper than your commercial powder and does a good job without harming you or your clothes. My post about it and the recipe for it, and many other green cleaners, is here.

To make your own soap you'll need to step up a notch. It's more difficult, because you're handling a caustic product that burns, but if you make it when you're alone with no children or pets to distract you, it's easily done. My recipe for cold pressed soap is here.

I want to encourage you to start making some of your own products. Not only will it save you money, it will allow you the peace of mind of knowing what you're putting on your skin and on your clothes. There is a feeling of satisfaction that comes with this that you don't get when buying another box of soap or laundry powder. If you want it to, it will help you move further away from commerce and closer to an independent home. I know many people who read here are already doing this, but many are not. So if you're using your own non-commercial soap or laundry powder, please share your experiences with us.

This is a very good soap page with recipes and troubleshooting.

PS: I'm really pleased to see so many people interested in the swap. The deadline for joining is Thursday, so there is still time to sign up.



  1. Thank you so much! I already make my own laundry soap but I have yet to attempt soap. I am really looking forward to trying this one night when the children are in bed and Husband can give me a hand. I can already imagine how good this soap will feel and how great it will be for my little ones.

  2. Also. Do you have a dishwasher? If so do you make your own dishwasher detergent? I have tried and it has been unsuccessful and I would love to find a recipe that works well. Thank you.

  3. My question is why do you use rain water? Also can you substitute another kind of water?

  4. Wow sorry I'm really pestering you. I'm wondering if a person could substitue a different oil for the rice bran oil? Thank you :)

  5. Morning Rhonda,

    I just wanted to confirm to anyone who has'nt tried your laundry soap, homemade household cleaners and soap that they are fantastic. I have been using homemade household cleaners and laundry powder for over a year now and its saves me ALOT of money and I am safe in the knowledge that I am not polluting my home with caustic cleaners and fumes.
    I made a basic Castile soap receipe to start with that was just Olive oil, Lye and water and that was a brilliant soap. It is surprisingly easy and loads of fun. Just yesterday I made a new Honey soap, that had beeswax, coconut oil and local organic honey.
    I just have to be patient and wait three weeks now before I can try it.
    I am also going to make a shampoo bar and a kitchen soap in the next few weeks.

    So anyone that thinks they won't be able to do it, please try, its easy and if I can do it ANYONE can. :-)

    Hope you have a great day Rhonda
    Lv Steph

  6. I have a friend who put up a post to make your own laundry soap...I made it, and I love it! I make the liquid one. She also had one for the dishwasher. I love reading your blog by the way!

  7. I have been using my own homemade laundry soap and dishwashing soap from your recipes for almost a month now and am in love! We have also switched to cloth napkins that I found out a local thrift store, and I find joy in choosing my napkin from the variety stack each day! I want to try the body soap next but will have to find a time when my five kids are not under foot. You have encouraged a sense of wonder and dignity when I am doing my household work and that brings me great joy. Thanks. Kelley McDonald of Arkansas

  8. Do you use a vinegar or similar after using the soap as shampoo; or have you found you don't need anything to replace conditioner?
    I'm also interested in any ideas for moisturiser cream, I currently buy mine from Beauty and the Bees in TAS but would love to make my own or use something alternate but just as good (ingredients and overall product).
    Thankyou for being so inspiring, I ahve also been enjoying the frugalgreenco-op. Bec xxx

  9. I just bought the Borax and washing soda to try this at home. I got the recipe from your website about a week or so ago. I can't wait to try it!. I will be mixing it up this week.

  10. Sarena, I wash up in the sink and in the dishwasher, according to what's happening in my day. I use a scoop of bicarb in the dishwasher, followed by vinegar as a rinse aide. Check out the additional reading link at the bottom of the post. In there are a number of links about soap making, there is one for the oils to use. But basically, any of the natural vegetable oils are fine.

    Hi Suzen, I use rainwater because I have a ton of it here. If you use tap water, allow it to sit in the container for a day to let the chlorine evaporate off.

    Hi Steph dear, thanks for the confirmation. :- )

    Hi Kori and Diana, welcome.

    Kelley, thank you for the feedback. House work can be a real delight.

    Bec, I don't use conditioner, there is no need. I use organic baby moisturiser as my skin cream but I'll be experimenting with some other creams soon.

  11. This is fantastic ! I have always wanted to try making my own soap ! i am going to head over to your home made cleaners page now and check out the recipe ! Just reading the list of ingredients in your current batch of soap has got me wanting to make it TODAY !!! mmmmm

  12. Hi to everybody,

    Sarena, on my dishwasher I use the recipe from this website, it's great, the dishes are all sparkling when they're clean:)

    Rhonda, do you think I could use the water from my condenser dryer as rain water?

    Also will I need to buy a specific soap tray or any plastic tray could work?

    Thank you.

    Best wishes,

  13. Hi Daisy

    I don't know what a condenser dryer is. Sorry. I use a silicon cake form but you can use any plastic container that you will be able to remove the soap from easily. You can also use milk cartons or those little rubber ice block forms.

  14. Hello Rhonda,

    I've been away for a couple of weeks fishing with my husband. Living in a caravan for awhile always makes me realize how much excess stuff we have at home that we can really live without. Missed your blog whilst I was absent from the computer but enjoying catching up.
    Love the laundry detergent and will be trying the soap really soon.

    Blessings Gail

  15. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    Do you know anything about soapnuts? My neighbour told me about them, and I've just ordered a small bag of them to try in the washing machine - apparently you can use them in a dishwasher too. I also bought some seeds to try growing my own. They're native to India (I think), but the conditions they grow in are similar to our Canterbury climate, so I thought it would be worth a try.
    One of my goals this year is to make my own household cleaning products and cold pressed soap - I'll be trying out your recipe for that.
    Rachel L from NZ

  16. Hi, I've been a "lurker" for quite some time and enjoy your blog so much. I have wanted to make my own soap and laundry detergent for quite some time and finally, this past December, worked up the courage to do so after reading about it in your blog. Thanks for inspiring me! I also love making the things I use around the house from scratch: clothes, quilts, knit products, cooking, baking... the quality is far superior to anything I could buy in a store and I know exactly what is in them, not to mention the fact that I have the satisfaction of doing it myself! Thanks for being a great resource. Best, Kim from USA

  17. We've been making our own soap and shaving cream for a year now and love it. We use our soap for our hands, bodies and hair. I was even able to give up conditioner and my hair still looks great. We just started making our own laundry soap and dishwasher soap and it works great too.

  18. Hello, Well now that I have made the laundry soap (that I love!)it is coming time to do this soon. We still have several bars purchased for pennies on the dollar with a coupon and add in special. However I do not use those soap, my Mr does. I have had the supplies to do this for over a year now It really would be a good task and skill to accomplish.

    The comment by Kelly Elizabeth is echoed form me.

    The adoration that My Husbands has is really touching. He said he was so proud of me for all the accomplishments have made. Even got him sporting a shovel for me hear and there. :)

    He loves my homemade sour dough. So do the kids. How wonderful not to have to leave the house to go get supplies. I can just whip it up myself.
    Your blog is a wonderful concise directory to use for all the direction. I often just come here instead of going to my reference books.

    I know your book is going to be a hit. It will be an ageless resource to so many. Keep up the clickety clack!

  19. Rhonda, I use all my grey water on the garden. Would these recipes be o.k. to use this way.

  20. So am I understanding you that if I leave out the Borax, I can drain my washer in to a barrel and use it to water my garden? We are GREATLY expanding our gardens this spring and I have been concerned about the water needs, as we live in high prairie desert.

    I love reading your blog and gleaning so much from you :)

  21. Hi Rhonda:
    I have never made my own soap, but I would like to try one day.

    I have made homemade laundry powder with Octagon laundry soap, caustic soda, and borax.

    It seemed to get clothes clean enough, but the recipe said that I had to use a vinegar rinse with each load to make it rinse out sufficiently. Well, I did and all of our clothes smelled really sour after wearing them only for a little while. It was so strange.

    Do you have any suggestions for me so that I can correct this problem?

    Thanks in advance,

  22. Thanks for all the cleaning products!!!! Yaaay to you. I'm going to have a go at the washing liquid and the silver cleaning and the sink idea is great. There was a query from Sarena regarding dishwashing detergent, and just as a comment i have used Bicarb on many occassions when we have run out of the commercial stuff and i must say it does a great job. Also it will clear out any mustiness or pooky smells! Also I believe but havent tried it that its possible to use white vinegar as a rinseaide but am not sure about this.

  23. I was using the homemade laundry detergent for 6 months but my husband made me buy laundry powder. He is a mechanic and his clothes often have black, filthy grease on them and unfortunately the soap liquid cannot get it off and the entire wash smells like grease afterward. I now am using detergent powder AND the bright pink stain remover and together they work.

    But I would like to use the homemade stuff. Any ideas for really heavy duty grease removal? I also wash cloth nappies too.


  24. Thank you Rhonda for your laundry recipes. I've been making my own laundry powder since I first read about it here late last year.

    I'm delighted with the results for both machine and hand washing.

  25. Thanks so much for such a great post. I will certainly be trying your recipes and tips. Looking forward to it!

  26. I continue to love your blog. I would love to try to make soap. Would I have to buy a special scale to make my own soap?


  27. I posted about my detergent here while back and linked to you!

  28. I'm so pleased to find your blog. I've been gathering the ingredients to make both laundry and bar soap. The bar soap will have to wait until it gets warmer out so I can open the windows or make it outside. I'm a northern gal with a few feet of snow left on the ground. It took several scouting efforts to locate the washing soda and I couldn't find soap flakes ... but will have to grate a bar of pure soap. Thanks for your helpful posts.

    Mrs. Mac ... North Idaho, USA

  29. Rhonda I just want to say I LOVE your blog!!! I live in Alberta Canada but I read your blog everyday.
    I find it hard to wrap my mind around the fact that when I'm having summer here you have winter.
    Thank you for all your wonderful ideas. I just started making my own laundry soap a few weeks ago and I love it!!! My son said I did an awesome job and I love the smell of it never mind how cheap it is to make.
    Keep up the great work Rhonda.


  30. Hi, thanks for your interesting post! I really hope you can help me- what is washing soda? Here in South Africa everyone looks at me blankly when I try to get it!

  31. Rhonda if youre soap is half as good as your Walnut and Date loaf recipe which I love then I will gladly try it.

  32. I've been using your powdered laundry soap recipe for about 6 months, and have found that it is superior to commercial laundry detergent. Stain remover is rarely needed anymore, a brief soak in the washer often removes stains all by itself. Also, my washer no longer gets a musty smell after letting the clothes sit for more than half-an-hour before taking them out to be dried. (I have a front-loader.)

    Next is to try making my own soap, but I have not been able to find lye locally and will have to order it over the internet. Can't wait to try that.

    Carolyn in PA

  33. Hi Rhonda Jean,

    I've been making my own laundry and dishwasher soap for a couple years now and wanted to try making my own hand soap as I don't care for commercially produced soaps. I read your blog post about soap making in your archive and was inspired to work up the courage to try it. I'm now addicted and my family and friends all love it. I love your blog, it's so nice to run across a group of people who are all "swimming against the tide" so to speak in terms of home-cooking, baking, gardening, soap and cleaning product producing. These items I've started making for myself are far superior to anything that can be purchased, I know exactly what the ingredients are, they are less expensive and I have the satisfaction of knowing I made them myself! Thanks for making me feel not so alone! Kim from Boston

  34. Rhonda,

    Just wondering if you save money by making your own soap (for bathing)?


  35. I use vinegar for a rinse aid in our dishwasher. I have been using it for months. Occasionally, the dishwasher smells like vinegar but I never notice it on the dishes.

    I don't make my own soap or shampoo because I simply don't have time. I do purchase natural handmade shampoo bars and soap. One day I will get to making my own.

    I also started looking at using natural oils as a moisturizer rather than buying natural lotion bars. In the process, I have discovered that I am allergic to coconut oil even though I can eat coconut. I was using coconut oil as a moisturizer and my skin started to flake and would turn red after I applied it. I stopped using it and my skin is starting to go back to normal. My next experiments will be using avocado oil, illipe butter and cocoa butter. All of these are in my natural moisturizer that I buy so I am hoping that I won't have any allergies.

  36. oh wow!!! I am soo thankful to have come across this blog. :D Great stuff. I can't wait to give some of these a try.

  37. I am glad to see that you like rice bran oil in your soaps. Most people do not know that rice oil has more total vitamin E than olive oil! It's also a great cooking oil because of its high smoke point(higher than peanut and grapeseed) and its high antioxidants-again higher than olive and canola.
    I make a simple body scrub-rice oil, epson salt and fragrance.
    I just found your blog and I will add it to my favorites!

  38. Hello everyone, thank you so much for your comments and feedback. I will answer the questions in this post tomorrow so please come back to read if you've asked a question. I'll write today's post now, but then I have to go.

  39. Hello, I have been reading your blog for a few months now, and really enjoy it! Thank You! I have been looking into good household cleaners for awhile, and with all the positive feedback for these, I would love to try them. I just have one question, it's not really a household cleaner, but do you use any homemade air freshener? I have cats and litter boxes, and while I try to clean up often, I need some kind of air freshener to keep near the boxes, unfortunately they get into any baking soda I have tried to leave out, so that's not really an option for me. Thank You!
    -Maureen in USA

  40. What a wonderful blog- inspirational and so packed with great info! I started making the laundry gel last year ('gloop' as we call it) Soap-making is one of my goals for this year so I will come back to this post then. Also loved your post with all the green cleaner recipes. This is definitely one of my favourite blogs!
    (from Blue Mts, NSW)

  41. Rhonda Jean,

    Help! What can I do to get the "sour" smell out of towels and dishcloths? When people leave them scrunched up damp they get an awful smell that doesn't come out in the wash. Any advice would be very much appreciated - I can't bear the waste of replacing them all. Thank you!

    Lorna USA

  42. Hi Rhonda, Absolutely love your blog.I use to make all my families soap but somehow got out of the habit.Crazy schedules,but,decided to come back to the earth about a year ago and am using some of your tips to the good life.The laundry soap is easy and outstanding don't understand why everyone isn't using it. Love the soap bars and now I'm tempted to join that bandwagon also. Thanks for all your help.

  43. Futher to my last comment- I have just made another double batch of 'gloop' with gorgeous eucalyptus oil- one for me and one for my friend (I am now trying to convert the chemical-dependent!)
    A tip from an aromatherapist friend of mine- wait until cool to add essential oils to avoid evaporation of volatile oils.

  44. Hi Rhonda,
    My dear hubby and sweet daughter made your recipe for homemade laundry detergent in Jan. I ♥ it!!
    I love the smell of freshness. My DH asked me the other day if I needed him to make me some more. I think I will get two months out of each batch of the dry mix.

    We may try the liquid next time in order to have stain remover,also.

    Thanks Daisy for the link to dishwasher detergent. I think we'll try that, too.

    I'll try homemade cleaners too as mine are used up.

    What am I going to do with all of this money that I am going to be saving!?!?!?!?!

  45. What fun, my Dad is going to help me make my first batch of soap. The baby's skin is like sandpaper and lotion doesn't help. I think homemade soap will :)

  46. I am really wanting to try to make laundry soap, for the dollar keep going up and the soap smaller. I not sure where in USA these things can be purchased. Lye for the hand soap, we have been searching for! I going to come back and do a lot of reading on your cleaners!

  47. Is it ok if I copy down the how to recipe for the soap. I did one, and thought I may need your permission. I love your blog as many others. I going to take a whole day and just stay at your blog, for you give so much wonderful advice. Hubby and I live by a book we back back in our 20's long ago, called Back to The Basics. We have taught ourselves so much from this book. I do spin, weave, knit, and a lots of others. Just started veggie gardens the last three years. I know you have a lot of people who visit your blog. But I just want to make sure I could copy your recipe to do this for our home life.

  48. I love my homemade laundry detergent. I'll admit the lack of scent took some getting used to, but I love the simple fresh smell rather than the overpowering smell of commercial detergent. We also make soap and dishwasher detergent (we use white vinegar for rinsing agent). It feels wonderful to be self sufficient in this area.

  49. I have a question about the borax - I think I might have had a reaction to Borax a while ago and so am afraid to use it now. Will the laundry soap still get the clothes clean as well without the Borax?
    The other question I have is about spray starch - do you have a recipe of some kind for it or know onethat works? I came across something that said 2 tablespoons cornstarch to i pint of water, but I wonder how that works and if there isn't another option.
    Thanks for your help!

  50. I hope you will still answer questions about soap making. I made
    your soap,followed directions
    exactly and used the ingredients
    you suggested(it wasn't easy finding this stuff!). The soap
    came out soft, almost like a firm
    tofu. Is it going to get harder?
    And,in cleaning all of the soap
    residue off of the utensils I used,
    it had a very weird,irritating feel. I'm thinking I didn't get
    to trace like I thought? I cut it
    in pieces and it is curing now.
    Is it a lost cause?

  51. I have never made soap, but I am gathering up the things I need to make my first batch for Christmas gifts. I may have to use a recipe similar to yours, since I can't seem to locate Rice Bran oil (?) in y area, but I have found a recipe that makes soap that looks like yours and it uses Bees Wax. Any thoughts on that? I am doing the research and reading now and hope to make some soon! I enjoy your blog and think that we think alike on MANY things!

    My blog is: allthingswonderful-viv.blogspot.com

    Please give it a try! I am just starting to keep it up even though I have had it for a year or so. I decided to write short posts more often! Keep up your good work with doing everything you can for yourself! I love it! I do things people would never think of doing themselves, also. Saves a lot of money and most of it is money we never had in the first place!

    PS. Don't hold the "flatscreen" (in my blog) against me! We DID wait until our old set died! :)

  52. Correction in my blog address. It is:

    I am just starting to keep it up so there won't be much there for a while... :)

  53. Dear rhonda,
    I cannot thank you enough for your sound recipes and general knowledge on the things that i need to know! I am a mother of 2 little babies and was starting to get overwhelmd with the cost and wastage of home products.
    I today have made your soap, laundry powder, bread and cant wait to make your tea cake!
    I dont have any influences in my life where i can gain this sort of knowledge.
    I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart you have inspired me to live and love what i do!

  54. I have been looking to make my own soap products; laundry and bar soap. Mostly due to the fact that I no longer trust what is being put into commercial products. Along with this I have begun growing my own veggies and greens (in the city) due to the high cost of organic produce. Your website is a dream for me. Thank you for your time, effort and SHARING. It is appreciated by many. I'll be back to see what you are up to and what I can learn. :)

  55. After having a comfortable life,it went ,fast. I have 2 sons and a husband that all have 2 jobs 1 in town and then work on a farm ,as we live in a rural area.I can not.I am having my 4th surgery with in a year. I am not able to do much.Except my small part making sure my men have clean cloths.1 of my son is still in school ,and goes back in August.We didn't have a working stove at the time so I used the microwave to dissolve the soap.I grated very finely Fels-Naptha soap in hot water I used the entire bar 5 1/2 oz. Along with 2 cups Borax 2 cups A&H washing soda 1 1/2 cups vinegar and an Oxy Clean liquid knockoff I bought from a dollar store.In a 5 gallon bucket I filled it with 2 gallons put my grated soap and it dissolved very well with very hot water(hotter the from the tap) I let is set for 12 or so hours.I used every 1/2 gallon and gallon bottles and before it settled completely poured with the help of an old oil funnel I washed out.I had some oil essence that I bought awhile ago, put 2 drops for the 1/2 gallons and 4 for the gallon. Of a verity of scents.My favorite is the Jasmine and lotus Blend. My 1 sons is honeysuckle,my husbands is a citrus .Point being you can have any scent you want. We have well water that is very hard. And the vinegar counters that.As well as makes it soft.But I have a full 5 gallon bucket I use 1/2 cup to 3/4 if extremely dirty but all in cold water. They are are so clean I wish I did this years ago. Hang dry.They are still soft and if you don't like scent , smell wonderful anyway.Whomever offered this option to people originally should be given a medal.Eco friendly cheap works FABULOUS.The ingenuity of the American person is unmatched.If I can be more help, or complaints because I went to long on this I can be reached at Shawneerain123@yahoo.com

  56. Hi, someone was asking about air freshener. I have a great recipe - none of the nasties either :)

    10 drops lavender essential oil
    5 drops bergamot essential oil
    5 crops clove essential oil
    2 drops peppermint essential oil
    1/2 cup vodka or gin (frugal brands are OK - you're not going to drink it)
    1/2 cup water

    Combine in a spray bottle and give it a shake. Spray as frequently as you like, avoiding the eyes.

  57. I make my own soap and laundrey powder, and I couldn't agree more that there is nothing more satisfying in making your own products and knowing that you are providing natural and safe products for your family. To make my laundry powder, I grate a bar of my handmade cold processed soap, and mix with 1 cup each of borax and washing soda....that's it, couldn't be more simple.


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