Troubleshooting in the laundry

28 July 2009
Just a quick post today because I'm going to work and I have a few things to do before I go. It will be a big day there as I'm presenting another Frugal Home workshop.

Anonymous asked this question last week: I made some liquid laundry soap from Fel-Naptha soap, borax and washing soda... and my whites are so dingy I can't stand it! When I used the same ingredients but just grated the soap and left it dry, I didn't notice my whites getting dingy.

When I was at work yesterday one of the volunteers said the same thing and that she gave up using it because her clothes and linens slowly went grey. I'm not absolutely sure why this happens but I guess the water in different areas must play some part.

I always use the powder now. It's easier to make up and store. I have a front loader and I've never had a problem with the powder dissolving.

If your clothes are greying or if you have stained clothes, when you make up your mix, add one part oxy bleach like Napisan, Oxiclean. Clorox Oxi Magic or any of the generics. I use the Aldi generic, it's very good and much cheaper than a brand name oxy.

So to make up this mix in powdered form use:
2 parts grated soap or flakes
1 part borax
1 part washing soda
1 part oxy bleach

Mix it together and use two tablespoons (about ¼ cup) in each washing machine load.

I hope that helps. If you've been using another variation of this, or something completely different, please share your secret.

Have a beautiful day.

More information on oxygen bleach.

ADDITION: I love the comments coming in on this topic, especially Toria's suggestion to process the soap in a food processor to get a very fine powder, CJ Stewart's peroxide in the bleach dispenser and the strange one of aspirin in the wash from Kathy. Let's work together on this, ladies and gentlemen, and see if we can troubleshoot the problems some of us have using home made laundry powder. Thanks for all your help, ideas, and suggestions, and for wanting to be involved in finding solutions for our entire community.


  1. Haha! Going to work? For me it's almost time to go to bed. It's already half past nine in the evening ;o)

    Want to wish you a good working day!

  2. This is an interesting point. I used the dry powder mix but found that it wasn't dissolving in my machine at 30 or 40 degrees, and thus was blocking up the pipes. I still use the homemade powder, but when I put a load on I dissolve a small scoop in a jug of boiling water, then add it to the dispenser drawer - problem solved. For extra whiteness I add either ecover non-chlorine bleach or the Bio-D equivalent. I don't bother adding the oxygen bleach for coloureds etc.
    Happy Tuesday, Rhonda, hope your workshop goes well.
    Diana x

  3. Thanks for this tip. I've also had a problem with my whites becoming dingy using homemade detergent.

  4. Maybe the problem is that commercial detergents usually have optical brighteners in them these days, and the homemade stuff doesn't. Without the optical brighteners, clothes will not look as bright as they will with the commercial product. I don't like optical brighteners, so I don't have a problem with this.

    My sister had a problem with the powder in her top loader, so she tried putting the soap through a food processor to get it very fine. That has worked for her & she no longer has a problem with bits of the soap staying stuck on her clothes.

  5. How timely! Just today, my husband and I were discussing how our homemade laundry detergent experiment was going.

    Some of that dinginess could be coming from the problem we're having. We live in an area with rather hard water -- lots of dissolved mineral content in the water. This can cause soap residue to cling to your clothing, even after a vinegar rinse. For the next week or so, we're experimenting with adding some baking soda to the detergent mixture (about a cup to a full recipe). Baking soda is recommended as a water softener -- will let you know in about two weeks if it works!

  6. I just haven't had any luck with the homemade powders for the dishwasher or for laundry. I really think a lot comes down to your water situation. I have started using Charlie's Soap Laundry Powder. I buy it through a coop and it's pretty cheap compared to other detergents and seems to work well. (For the diswasher I buy regular eco-friendly powder and cut it 1 part borax/1 part baking soda/1 part dish powder.)

  7. We have the problem of the grated soap staying in the soap dispenser and jamming it up. It doesn't even get into the machine. We have a front loader, so I don't know if that's part of the problem. I want to try the flakes, but I can't find any. I'll try the food processor and if that works.

  8. Good tips - need to give this a go, thanks :)

  9. I make up my soap dry now but I also add an aspirin to my load of whites and it really does whiten the load. I have no idea why it works but I read about it online and thought I would try it.

  10. I always put white distilled vinegar in my rinse agent dispenser for all loads. When I have a white load, I use some hydrogen peroxide in the bleach dispenser. Our whites are so white that even bleach users comment on them!

  11. I think the dinginess has to do with water hardness. Where I live our water is as soft as water can possibly get and my whites remain very bright. I think for areas with hard water adding something like baking soda might do the trick. I've only used the liquid homemade so can't comment on the powder.

  12. I've been using the laundry powder now for several months. I grate Velvet soap with the finest grate on a hand held grater and have no problems with it dissolving. I dissolve powder in a little hot water if adding to a cold wash. (the water is freezing this time of year in Victoria) But some of my whites have got a "dingy" look to them I have noticed lately. I soaked the whites in Napisan (generic brand) and they have whitened but I will be watching with interest the experiments with baking soda or how the new mix with oxy or napisan added goes for people. The colored wash has no problems at all, so I'm thinking maybe just add a little napisan in with the white wash and use the old recipe generally? I like the mix so a bit of fine tuning is probably all that is needed for success! :-)


  13. I like the idea of homemade laundry soap, but we have an HE washer and it says right on the soap dispenser that using any soap other than HE detergent will void the warranty. I'm afraid my husband would have a mild heart attack if I voided the warranty on such a pricey appliance.

  14. So glad to see the comment about putting the soap in the food processor. I too had had soap not dissolve and chalk up the clothes. DH wasn't very keen on my detergent. Will try this! Thanks for everything Rhonda.

  15. I use a liquid that is mainly straight soap, and I also found that my whites (and pale colours), weren't coming clean. I'm wondering if it is the lack of optical brighteners or something, as most of the material affected was newer fabrics. Older ones (like vintage sheets), came out clean without any problems.

    Anyway, I've been adding about a tablespoon of bicarb of soda to every wash, and that seems to be helping.

  16. Rhonda,

    I use two parts fels, two parts washing soda, two parts borax. I also put my fels in the food processor. I think the addition of the extra borax makes my clothes bright and beautiful. I have heard for areas with hard water, if you do not have a water conditioner, that you can use a bit of plain non colored calgon bath salt. Good Luck all!

  17. Thank you! I have been frustrated with the dingy whites the last month or so and have been adding Oxiclean to the washer with our homemade liquid soap.

    This is so timely as it is time to make more, and I was seriously considering buying laundry soap once again!

  18. I was having a conversation with my mum the other day about keeping my dishcloths clean. I said they always seem to go mouldy and I have to throw them out.

    That's when she told me of a little trick she used to do - boil the washcloths in a saucepan on the stove. I asked her if she added anything else and she said no, just boiled them and then hung them out to dry.

    Apparently she used to wash my cloth nappies like this too and they were always so white.

    Well I'm going to try boiling my washcloths now to see if it makes a difference. :)

  19. I have made up the homemade laundry soap, but without the Oxy bleach- I think I'll mix some up to brighten up my whites! Well water does a job on the whites! V. of stickhorsecowgirls

  20. I'm a long-time lurker and have to come out of the woodwork on this question.

    My great-grandmother used something called "bluing" to make her whites white. This was back in the days of the wringer washing machine and clotheslines, during the Great Depression. My grandfather mentions this all the time, and this post encouraged me to finally look it up:

    Here is a current brand of bluing, which is apparently nontoxic and biodegradable (toxic bleach overtook bluing in popularity sometime in the past one hundred years):

    Rhonda, your blog has taught me so much. As a 20 year old college student, I've often scratched my head over the "better" alternatives that have come about over the past few decades. I hope that this simplicity movement is the start of the pendulum swinging back toward healthy, more wholesome living. I hope this information about bluing proves to be useful! I'd love to hear results from people who have tried it.

  21. I have a front-loading HE washer too and use the powdered homemade laundry soap: 1 bar Sunlight (Canada) grated in the food processor, 1c borax, 1c washing soda. Whirl all together in the food processor and you get a powder. It's low-sudsing so it has not caused any damage to my washer and I've been using it for months. I use white vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser for the final rinse. If you're concerned about buildup in your HE washer, your manual instructs you how to clean it periodically. My husband likes the scent of Tide better, so I use it for his loads, but there is NO difference in cleaning power between the two and I go back and forth with no problems.

  22. Dear Rhonda,

    This is the laundry soap that I have been using for the past three months and my whites are absolutely bright and so are the color clothes ;)

    Here is the recipe;

    1 cup of Phels Naphta - ground to a very fine powder
    1/2 cup of borax
    1/2 cup of washing soda
    1/2 cup of baking soda
    1/2 cup of salt
    2 tsps of lemon oil

    mix the powders together. Then add the oil and mix very well. Store it in a jar with a tight lid.

    I use 2 tbs of powder and dissolve it in hot water before putting it in the machine.

    I also use vinegar when the machine is filling.

    This soap is really working well and is keeping the clothes very clean. I also do not use the dryer but hang them on the clothing racks outside to dry.

    I hope this helps.

    lady m

  23. I'm wondering if anyone has put salt in their homemade soap mixture? In reading all of the hard water comments it crossed my mind that salt might be the answer. Salt has been known too as a whitener.
    They use salt in water softners when we lived in Florida but where I live now the soap mixture works just fine.

  24. I put my dry powder mix in straight into the drum before the laundry and that way it has the best chance of dissolving. I've had trouble finding borax recently and have been only using soap flakes and soda. This is not so good and I have had to resort to soaking my sons chef whites in ox-clean. Hanging in direct sun is also a very good way of getting rid of stains.


  25. Hello,
    To mitigate this problem I increase the number of rinsing and I ad a cup of vinegar in the last one against limestone deposit.
    Thanks for your fantastic blog.
    Marie-Odile from Paris, France

  26. I'm sure boiling bed sheets and such thing was actually a usual practice in times past - there's a word for it in Czech, "vyvářka", which is still sometimes mentioned in connection to washing clothes. ("Vařit" is "to boil".) Drying in the sun with regular watering until one was satisfied was another one...

    I still haven't tried using homemade and I've been wondering how it would work without borax. You say it's not as good, Pippa? We also have hard water... hm. Baking soda? Salt? I guess I'll have to try it and experiment. :-)

  27. We have been using the liquid washing recipe for some months now and have not encountered any problems. We have tank water and a twin-tub washing machine so this has most likely made a big difference! We also use the Aldi brand of "Napisan" but had to use this for some things even when using the "you beaut" commercial products. Very happy with this Rhonda. No dingy whites that we have noticed. "We" being my sister and myself. The guys would'nt know what we used.

    Karen (near Bundaberg)

  28. I think using the homemade laundry powder might benefit from changing the routine a little from toss the clothes in the washer, dump in some soap, and you're done. My grandma washed with this mix and always started the laundry by dissolving the soap in a small pan of the hottest water possible, then adding the white clothes to soak overnight. It's really no bother once you get into the routine of it, and it does seem to get the whites whiter.

  29. Since I make liquid laundry soap, I don't add the Oxyclean to the formula ahead of time because I have read that the product loses its strength over time when mixed with liquid (oxidation). Instead, I add an amount to each load. In fact, my colors seem to have stayed brighter since switching to homemade laundry soap. Could be the water or else you may need to add vinegar to the rinse.

  30. To whiten yellowed whites, you can leave them out overnight when there will be a dew falling.
    For some reason, the dew acts like a bleach...

  31. I live in a very hard water area. I have been using homemade dry detergent which includes 1 part baking soda in my HE washer for quite a while with great results and no dinginess. It's important that there is low sudsing in HE washers so wanted to mention that 2 Tablespoons is 1/8 cup -- not 1/4 cup as mentioned in your article.


  32. Hi,
    I'm another lurker, taking time to throw a new pebble into the pool. I've just started using soap nuts and so far am very pleased with the results. I soak four of them in warm water while the washer is filling and add the treated water to the tub along with the clothes. They claim to need no rinsing, so I'm saving the water that would be needed for the rinse cycle. They dry out in the sun and all is good.
    So here's my question: Am I just fooling myself?

  33. I make the dry laundry powder as well and have been adding a box of bicarb to the mix. Our water is very hard but our whites are always bright. Must add that sometimes I grate a bar of Sard wondersoap instead of Sunlight if I feel the clothes need an extra good clean.

  34. We have problems keeping whites white - it is our water, and the fact we live on a farm with a couple of small dirt magnets (children) lol. So now I avoid buying too many whites.

    I will try adding the oxygen bleach to my next batch of power though, and see how it goes.


  35. a bad case of the dingies is why I stopped making my laundry powder homemade. But I just had a thought - isn't salt what you put in your water softener? (I could be way wrong) Do you think it would help to put salt in your laundry powder?

  36. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who had problems with the whites and the homemade laundry powder (I actually made the liquid.) I didn't use the borax, as we need to use grey water in our garden because of pretty strict water restrictions.
    I suspect it also may have aggravated my son's skin- he can't use soap in the shower. But it was also the onset of cold weather which also sets off his eczema. I will possibly give it another try; I like the suggestion of soaking the whites overnight in a solution of the laundry liquid and tossing all into the machine next day.

  37. For about a year now I have used only soap nuts, and I like the results. I just put four or five of them in one of the small fabric bags that came with the big bag and throw them in the washer. After the washing, the nuts go in the compost and the little bag is dried for the next load.

  38. Hi Rhonda!
    I throw laundry balls into the washing machine with dirtier loads. I think these are available from most supermarkets these days, generally made out of plastic but re-usable and prevent the over-use of harsh detergents and other chemicals in the wash. I find the laundry balls do help clean the load better, esp when using gentle, environmentally-friendly detergents.

  39. Great comments. I had been making my own laundry soap (soap, borax and washing soda) but wanting to save some energy, I bought a container of "eco-friendly" laundry detergent a while ago at Costco in the U.S. After using it a few months, I've noticed that our whites are not exactly dingy, but they all have dirty rings around the neck. I was just saying I need to make detergent again, so I will have to give these ideas a try. I made the homemade gel before and it worked fine in my HE washer, but this time I will try the powder.

  40. I'm a little unsure about making our own homemade laundry washing soda is 5.99 at its cheapest, and Borax is even MORE...Canada is pretty expensive! I can buy laundry detergent from arm and hammer for 3.99. Still considering making it though...someone told me NOT to put baking soda in it. I already have borax, which I believe it a VERY good whitener- I use it to clean my tub and it sparkles! :D I'm sure it would be great for whites. Thanks for the great post Rhonda! These really help- I'm still pretty new to all this. :D

  41. Great post thank you! I always loved using my homemade soap for laundry. The clothes always turned out so much cleaner with it than with the commercial laundry soaps - Tide was the exception though. I will have to try the oxy you suggested.

    Thank you!

  42. ahhhhh laundry! Please don't remind me!



  43. I, too, use soap nuts. I love them. I have been using them for over a year. The hardest thing I had to get used to was my clothes not having any fragrance. They don't smell of anything but the fabric. Soap nuts are economical and, above all, 'green'. I also just use white vinegar as the fabric softener. I have no problems with my clothes at all.

  44. I watched a programme recently on TV called Victorian Farm - it included a section on the Victorian laundry. For those of you who are commenting on areas of dinginess (eg around the neck or armpits) or specific stains, might I suggest treating just the stain rather than automatically adding bleach to your powder/liquid?

    Whilst oxy-bleach is not as bad as chlorine, it is still something which should be used sparingly and not added to a whole wash if only a small amount needs treating

  45. I don't know if this was mentioned as I haven't the time right now to read through all of the comments, but I've found I need to use warm water for the wash cycle to keep my whites, err..white. When I tried to use cold for the wash, my whites became so gray it wans't funny. Now, in addition to using both washing soda and baking soda in my mix, I use warm water for the wash.

    Have a blessed day!

  46. I use a blend of Fels napha, borax, and washing soda. I use it on all of our laundry, including cloth diapers. The diapers always come out clean and white and do not irritate either of my babies. When I have used name brand detergents, my children always end up with a diaper rash!

  47. When I made my first trial of homemade laundry soap, I was told to always use 1 cup vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser. That was a huge mistake for us! In our hot, humid climate, our clothes began to stink horribly! They always smelled sour when we wore them and began to sweat.

    I may try it again without vinegar.

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