Making Detergent

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m a bit of an oddball. Between my natural oddball tendencies and Pinterest, I’m a regular wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube-man of fun!

Now that we’ve been properly introduced: Pinterest told me I should make my own laundry detergent.

So I did.

I found a site with a few variations that were tested side-by-side (I love the scientific method!). The best results came from the liquid version, and seeing as I use liquid laundry detergent anyway, that’s the recipe I went with.

There are a few other powder recipes, but according to the author’s results, they weren’t as good as liquid. I’m also squidgy about using my food-based kitchen equipment for processing soap.

Plus, I like liquid laundry detergent. It feels regal. Because royalty does their own laundry… right?

Anywho, I had trouble finding “Fels-naptha soap” but I did find an equivalent at Wal-mart: “Sunlight Pure Soap” in bar form. I had to buy a two-pack, but a box of Borax and Washing Soda goes a long way, so I figure the extra bar will come in handy in the future.

Did I mention that I bought the ingredients 6 months ago? No?

Well, to be honest, I actually meant to do this last summer but, frankly, I forgot. The ingredients have been sitting my a shelf in my laundry room for 6 months. I only ventured to try this experiment because (a) if it sits on the shelf any longer, Gord’s gonna give it the old heave-ho, and (b) I took a vacation day, so what else would I do with a full day all to myself?

I like trying new things!

I especially like trying new things when there are no witnesses!

Makin’ Detergent

The recipe I tried can be found on . I like the author’s side-by-side analysis of each of the detergents using a mustard-stained strip of cotton. It’s a vibrant way to demonstrate the cleaning power of each of the detergents.

Now, on to the soap-making!


  • 1 bar of Sunlight Pure Soap (NOT hand soap. You need washing soap: Fels-naptha is the American brand to get, Sunlight Pure Soap is the only one I could find in this-here Great White North)
  • 1/2 cup Borax
  • 1 cup Washing Soda (NOT baking soda)
  • 13 Litres of Water

Other materials:

  • An cheese grater
  • An old 1.5L saucepan/pot (bigger is fine, the 1.5L boiled over at one point)
  • An old wooden spoon
  • A large bucket 15L or 20L
  • A measuring cup – I set aside an old powder detergent scoop and marked off 1/2-cup intervals
  • several old liquid laundry detergent containers for storage (optional)

To make the detergent is quite simple:

  1. Grate the soap. I have a grater set aside just for soap. This will never touch food again.

  2. Boil 1 Litre of water in the saucepan. When it comes to a boil, turn it down a bit. Otherwise, it’ll agitate the soap and boil over. Don’t let it boil over or you’ll be cleaning soap off the stove. Trust me on this one…

  3. 2016-03_making-soap-1

    Add a small sprinkling of grated soap at a time and gently stir it into to the pot. It doesn’t have to be dissolved all the way, but it shouldn’t glob together. If it does, just squish it against the side of the pot and stir it in. Repeat as necessary.

    How do I know this? Thanks for asking, fictitious audience-plant! Well, I added a huge glob of shredded soap and it made a large gummy wad that took a bit longer to melt.

    Learn from my mistake: Take your time. It’ll melt.

  4. While the soap is dissolving, dump 1/2 cup borax and 1 cup washing soda in the bucket and add 12 Litres of water. I used hot tap water to make sure it dissolved thoroughly. It might work with cold water, but I haven’t tried to find out.

  5. Give the bucket a good stir with the soap-spoon and make sure the powder is all dissolved.

  6. 2016-03_making-soap-3

    When the soap is all dissolved in the saucepan, remove it from the heat and dump it directly into the bucket. Give it another stir with the wooden spoon (dig deep!) and cover for a day (24 hours).

  7. The next day, stir up the thicker gooey liquid (it’ll be a little like jello. That’s good!) and portion it into the smaller containers. Make sure it’s mixed evenly so you don’t get one bottle super-thick and another super-runny.

  8. Use 1 cup liquid detergent per load of laundry. The end.

Cost breakdown

This makes about 13-14 litres of liquid detergent because I’m fast-and-loose with the water. Recommended usage is 1 cup of solution per load, so that’s about 55 washes.

Materials (omitting my time) cost me:

  • Borax – $6 for 2kg (9.5 cups – 19 portions) –> $0.33 per batch

  • Sunlight bar soap – $3 for 2 bars (2 portions) –> $1.5 per batch

  • Washing Soda – $4 for 3kg (14 cups – 14 portions) –> $0.28 per batch

  • That comes to a total of: $2.13 for 55 wash loads, or $0.04 per load for homemade liquid detergent.

    Compare that to $13 per 96-load bottle, or about $0.14 per load for store-bought liquid detergent.

    So what about the other costs?

    It took about a half-hour of my time (5 minutes to grate the soap while the water heated, and another 25 to melt the soap evenly). But there were only 55 loads worth of detergent, so I’d have to do this twice to achieve the same quantity as that $13 bottle.

    Comparing the two, that’s $13 for store-bought detergent minus the $4.26 in materials for an equivalent home-made detergent – so that works out to just under $9 for an hour of my time, plus the hassle of dealing with the (admittedly minor) cleanup.

    Not a bad savings if I have nothing else to do. If I’m busy? Well, that cost might just be worth it. Like homemade bread: great if you have the time.

    There are a few other things I needed that can be reused, so I didn’t count them in the cost. They could be an additional one-time purchase of $10, or simply some re-purposing of otherwise-discarded household items:

  • I bought a new grater for $4 at the dollar store. I could have used an old one but I didn’t have one that wasn’t in use.

  • I happened to have a spare 1.5L sauce pan – otherwise, this would have cost me $5 at the dollar store. You can technical use one of your good pots, but it’ll take a solid scrub to get all the soap off of it.

  • A scoop for measuring the borax and washing soda could be salvaged from a yogourt container or an unused measuring cup. I had an old bucket of powder laundry detergent, so I used the scoop from that.

  • A wooden spoon for stirring the soap – if you need to buy one, use the new one in your kitchen and set aside an old one.

  • A large 15-20 Litre bucket might be harder to come by. I happened to have an old bucket of powder detergent. You could use a salvaged fondant bucket (Tim’s alum right here!) or *shudder* buy one.

  • Liquid laundry detergent containers are also something you can just hold onto. I mention this is optional above, because you could technically scoop from the large bucket, but it clumps up so you’d have to make sure you stir each time you use it. It’s easier to just shake a small container before pouring out a measure.

  • The Results

    The question you have to ask yourself, is 60 minutes of your at-home time worth $9 in savings?


    Put another way, though: is a fun activity with the kids once a month worth $4.50 in savings and a half-hour of your time? I’m always looking for fun and unique things to do with my daughter so…

    Yow-za is it ever worth it!


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