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A Sudsy Update

As we mixed the third batch for our DIY Suds, we realized that (shame!) we should have been keeping you updated. Because, well, that’s 3 batches since February. And with each re-occurring batch, we spend nothing but a buck for the Fels Naptha soap. So, that would mean we’ve spent a total of $12 on laundry soap since last winter (and we still have enough for at least 2 more batches of the washing soda and borax). I’ll tell you right now, we love it. We’ve no plans to go back to the big box brands (or my cost-of-cleaning fits either).

Since then, it’s become this… um, thing. Of course we thought it was oddly fascinating, but we’ve come to find that many, many of you do, too! And that makes us happy. Over the last 5 months, your comments, emails and quips to all things DIY suds have made us realize that there are multiple sides, thoughts and opinions to this soapy solution. You’ve had a lot to say (good and bad), from H/E washer usage (yes, it’s okay!), to swapping soaps, adding oils and vinegar, and saving your sensitive skin:

I too have been making my own laundry detergent. Instead of FelsNaptha soap, I use Dr. Bronner’s Almond Soap. The smell is heavenly! – Susie

You can use about 1/3 cup white vinegar in place of the bleach and fabric softener. That eliminates the need for a dryer sheet too! – Rene

Last month we switched to a front load, high efficiency machine and it works like a charm because it generates very little suds. – Kelly

I’ve been making my own detergent for a few years now and have notes to add: 1) Borax cannot be used if you want to recycle your grey water; 2) You’ll need to use vinegar as a fabric softener every now and then to stop build-up in your machine; and 3) I always put 50ml (almost 2oz) of Eucalyptus or Tea tree oil in my mix. It adds some scent but has the beauty of being anti-bacterial. My recipe is adapted from here. – Cate

Works really great, especially if you or your kids have allergies or problems with eczema. – Jamy

For my first load I used 1 tbsp, and I didn’t feel it was enough. The 2nd load I used on whites and upped it to 2 tbsp. My whites were glowing! Stains that were in my dish rags are gone! Don’t expect sudsy bubbles or your clothes to smell nice. They will have no scent. They were definitely clean though! – Just Hugg

I use Ivory and Oxi-Clean as a boost as well. After I grate the soap, I put all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse until fine. I’ve had no problem with settling or clumping this way. – Becca

Every member of my family has ultra sensitive skin and had what seemed like permanent rashes where their clothing made skin contact. Once I got everything in the house that would touch them washed with the homemade detergent, the rashes miraculously disappeared! – Donna

I was initially getting a scent on our clothing and decided to see how much I really needed to get our clothes clean. So I spent a whole day doing laundry and I decreased every load by 1 tsp to see how much I needed to use for cleanliness – and as little as possible to have no scent. I have city water, an ancient Maytag top loader, and the hubs, me and 1 toddler. We only need 1 tsp, and our clothes come out clean! – Erin

I made my own laundry detergent for about 3 years, while my husband was in college. [...] I found that the detergent worked very well, and in fact, would lift impossible to remove stains if I applied the detergent directly to the stain and left it overnight. However, I found the homemade detergent to be very harsh on our clothing. The clothes faded very quickly and dramatically, and the fabric deteriorated much more rapidly. [...] I thought I’d just share my personal experience with this detergent, for you to take with a grain of salt! – Chrystal

Our note: Oh, no! We’ve yet to notice any fading, however, the majority of our wardrobe is hung to dry. I’ve always found that to be a big color saver for dark blouses, jeans, and tees.

I have had no problems with this in our HE washer. As a matter of fact, I asked the repairman working on our dryer about this recipe, and he said he recommends it to people all the time. I also make my own liquid fabric softener, and love it [...] I got the recipes for the liquid softener and detergent at http://www.tipnut.com. Happy washing! – Kim

I went to the Fels-Naptha website, and that stuff is toxic. No wonder it fades and degrades fabrics so quickly. It’s probably good for de-greasing engines. – Hester

Our note: Hester, we’re unclear on your source. We’ve also looked up the ingredients, and many of the natural acids are found in plants. The good thing is that if you’re not a fan of Fels Naptha, you can use Ivory or Dove soaps as an alternative.

Made this for a young couple getting married with a super tight budget. I calculated it out and DIY comes to $0.05/load compared to at least $0.15/load with the cheapest of store bought detergents. – Margaret

A few comments on the eco-friendliness of borax. It’s very dangerous if ingested. It can also be troublesome if it contacts your bare skin, so gloves are recommended before handling it. On the up side, it’s helpful as an eco-friendly ant & roach pesticide. (mix some with honey and set as a trap). It’s environmentally friendly, but the mining process for obtaining it is not. – Jane

There has seemed to be a great deal of confusion on the safety of borax, and for every puzzled comment, we’ve received input that has provided more information on why it really is okay for laundry use. As one reader, Mimi, says, for those who have “heard” borax is toxic, please read the actual safety data sheet. Borax is poorly absorbed through intact skin. Even a healthy adult ingesting 1 tsp of this isn’t harmful [...] After using this for MANY years, I can say its one of the better cleaning products on the market!

But another reader, Anke, had this to say: It turns out that borax is not very safe, in Germany it is even prohibited to sell it to private households as it classified as being potentially harmful to your unborn child and not safe for infants.

Yikes. We’ve noticed that the largest concern for borax has come from readers in European countries, but regardless, the alarm bells sounded in my mind. Scott and I were left to wonder, where are their sources In the United States, borax is banned in food (some uses could have been used as an additive for food texture in other countries), and the almighty Wikipedia suggests harm in infants when used as an eye wash – especially after repeated use. Which, by the way, we’re not planning on doing.

On the other hand, I had a shmancy lunch date with a few girlfriends not too long ago, and the restaurant restroom provided borax as a hand soap! My dorky brain thought back to reader concerns, but in the end, all I can say it that is works for us. The positive feedback far outweighs the bad (with more tips and tricks found right here), and, well, we can honestly say we’re on board. F’reals.

If you’re a DIY-er of the homemade soap, how do you feel? And for goodness sakes, if anyone is willing to divulge candid details on the hot borax debate, please (kindly) tell.

For even more reader comments and suggestions, check out our original sudsy post, right here. Basket image via Natural Home.

  • Jane @ The Borrowed Abode - August 31, 2011 - 9:31 AM

    Whoa, I totally forgot about my comment :) Sorry to sound so snooty when I wrote that! I’ve actually been using Borax for about a year, I can’t believe I didn’t mention that. I use it to give my eco-friendly laundry soap an extra kick (like when I’m washing dog towels and sheets, or other really dirty stuff). I just sprinkle it so it doesn’t touch my hands, because it definitely bothered my skin at one point.

    I love it as a pesticide, though! And you’ve gotta love the cost!

    And I think it’s almost impossible to find something that is “perfectly” eco-friendly. So we do the best we can, and make the choices that work for us, right? :)ReplyCancel

    • Kim - August 31, 2011 - 10:00 AM

      Jane, you weren’t snooty at all! It’s good to know more info. And we totally agree on the “perfect” eco-friendly product. This works for us, but we wanted to keep everyone updated with everything else we’ve learned. (By the way, congrats on your engagement! Being married is pretty awesome.)ReplyCancel

  • helen - August 31, 2011 - 10:04 AM

    In regards to it being harsh on clothing, I had to stop use because of a similar problem. The borax/wash soda/baking soda/dr bronners dry mix was causing my clothes to wear fast and get holes. I went through two pairs of jeans because the denim would wear in random spots and fray. My clothes were also super stiff when line drying. Now that I’ve gone back to Trader Joe’s brand, which is a great deal and a lot gentler on my clothes, I haven’t had any issues. Hopefully I can find a gentler home made recipe soon as I enjoyed the cost savings and fun of making my own.ReplyCancel

  • Cait @ Hernando House - August 31, 2011 - 10:34 AM

    Thanks for the update! Happy to hear about what works for you. I hadn’t heard the Borax debate, but reading about what others think makes it easier to figure out what we may use when whenever we finally start making our own soap.ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie - August 31, 2011 - 11:17 AM

    I LOVE this recipe. I grate my bar of Fels Naptha with a microplane grater because it clogged up the holes of by box grater!

    I have made more than one batch in the last month because I keep making it and giving half of it away. Couldn’t be more pleased with this concoction.ReplyCancel

  • Jaimie - September 1, 2011 - 9:38 AM

    I made some of this soap too, but using Ivory instead of the Fels Naptha, because that stuff is pretty strong from what I’d read, and Borax and Washing Soda are already pretty strong on their own. It’s worked great so far.

    I don’t think I would use Dove soap because they put moisturizer in it, and that seems like something you’d not want to wash clothes in. I’ve heard of other people using Irish Spring. Next batch I make I might try with some of the olive oil soap they sell at the Farmer’s Market.

    We also throw a 1/4 cup of white vinegar in the wash to help break down any extra detergent.ReplyCancel

  • Kimberley - September 20, 2011 - 10:51 PM

    I just use about a 1/2 cup of vinegar in each load and have been for nearly 6 months now. There’s no scent, which I miss, but between the vinegar and the wool dryer balls I use, our clothes come out super clean, the darks stay dark, and there is no static cling. I like the fact that there is nothing toxic about the whole process, as well. Sometimes I’ll add a damp rag with a few drops of essential oil to the dryer if I really want a little scent.ReplyCancel

  • [...]  Yellow Brick Home [...]ReplyCancel

  • Carolyn - February 22, 2012 - 6:02 PM

    Can you use any bar soap? I have a huge bag of those sample size soaps you get from hotels that I’d like to use up but I don’t want to waste the other ingredients if it’s not going to work.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - February 22, 2012 - 6:34 PM

      Hi Carolyn, I know that others have used different soaps such as Dove or Ivory with success, however, I’ve also seem complaints that “regular” soaps don’t completely dissolve in the wash. The beauty of Fels Naptha or Zote is that they’re specifically made for the laundry, and they’ll dissolve even in the coldest water! Bottom line: proceed with caution…ReplyCancel

  • Jackie s - March 9, 2012 - 12:36 PM

    Can u cut the fels naptha in half? Like use only half the bar per batch? Maybe thatll cut down on fading/deteriorating?ReplyCancel

  • Jackie s - March 9, 2012 - 12:47 PM

    Also, do you put the powder in the drum, or the dispenser? I have a new whirlpool front loader.

    Does it work well on cold water?ReplyCancel

  • Kim - March 9, 2012 - 12:56 PM

    Hi Jackie, we have not had any problems with fading, but I do know that others have used a different soap, such as Dove or Ivory. However, I can’t speak for how well Dove or Ivory dissolves. We use Fels Naptha, and it dissolves even in the coldest water!

    We don’t have a front loading H/E washer, but we’ve heard from others that it’s best to throw the mixture into the drum.

    Hope this helps!ReplyCancel

  • Jackie s - March 9, 2012 - 1:18 PM

    Thanks for the reply!
    Do you think you could use only half a bar per batch anyway? or would that mess with the ratio too much? Im very cheap, haha.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - March 9, 2012 - 2:09 PM

    Hmmm, not sure about using half a bar, but the Fels Naptha is only 99 cents! The other ingredients last for at least 8 or so batches (we still have the Borax and washing soda from over a year ago!), so the only cost after the first batch you make would be the bar soap itself – and it should last you a few months.ReplyCancel

  • Kristen - March 19, 2012 - 9:14 PM

    I’ve noticed most people that have the fading are using the Dr. Bronner soap in their combo, this was also an issue on another forum I was reading where the recipe included liquid Dr. Bronner for the liquid version.ReplyCancel

  • Katie - April 21, 2012 - 1:55 PM

    We have been using this for over year- with an infant and toddler. Occasionally use Oxyclean and mix 1/2 cup in with the mixture, and never had problem with stains. I read that you can use Irish Spring with this & have with great results. I use an old blender to pulverize the Fels Naptha/ Irish Spring…. we have a HE front loader and never have had problems. Will never go back!ReplyCancel

  • Paula - May 15, 2012 - 7:38 PM

    I’ve been making laundry soap with Fels Naptha for about the last year, and I love it. I read a post from someone who said it wasn’t good to use on cloth diapers because the ingredients (perhaps the soap) contained some oils, and over time this reduces the absorbency of the diapers. I have noticed that my microfiber cloths are not as absorbant as they used to be. I haven’t noticed any problems with my other laundry. I wonder, though, if using Dove or olive oil soap is not a good idea because of the oils. Good for skin, maybe not so much for laundry.ReplyCancel

  • Diane - June 10, 2012 - 6:36 PM

    I have been making this same laundry soap for 3 yrs now, I love it! I make mine into a liquid. I was wondering if the Nels thapa soap will melt and get the cloths clean in the powder form and in cold water.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - June 11, 2012 - 9:53 AM

      Hi Diane, we’ve never had a problem with the Fels Naptha soap dissolving even in the coldest water. Go for it!ReplyCancel

  • C. - June 11, 2012 - 3:43 PM

    I tried a batch of homemade liquid detergent with Dove (my daughter is allergic to Fels Naptha), and it was awful. It left an oily residue on our clothing, and our towels/rags were not absorbing like they should. I switched to Zote instead. I am thinking of trying powder next time.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - June 11, 2012 - 7:02 PM

    I’ve been using the Fels Naptha and Ivory combo for years, depending on what I have on hand. No problems yet, and I put vinegar into my Downy Ball so I don’t forget to add it in the final rinse. Makes it convenient indeed! :)ReplyCancel

  • AnnMarie Deis - June 26, 2012 - 11:53 AM

    I make a similar recipe but add baking soda. I also use the Trader Joe’s lemon or lavender soap bars and my laundry smells awesome! Obviously, if someone is reactive to something in the bars, the wouldn’t be able to use it. :)ReplyCancel

  • Allison - July 17, 2012 - 11:13 PM

    I have made something very similar but use Octagon soap. We LOVE it. I’m not big on the smell of Fels Naptha soap. Some people are also using Zote soap, but again, I don’t like the smell. To each his own!ReplyCancel

  • Denise - August 30, 2012 - 5:55 PM

    I am going to be making this recipe soon, and was wondering if you can still use bleach on the whites load when you use this stuff?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - August 30, 2012 - 7:05 PM

      We use bleach and/or white vinegar with no problems!ReplyCancel

  • Katherine - September 12, 2012 - 3:41 PM

    I’ve read conflicting comments on how much to use per load: 1 tsp, 1 TB, 1/4 cup?? Any suggestions?ReplyCancel

  • Kim - September 12, 2012 - 4:10 PM

    Hi Katherine, we use 1 TB for a small load and 2 TB for a larger load. The soap won’t suds up, but it cleans wonderfully!ReplyCancel

  • Bre - January 26, 2013 - 9:25 PM

    After lots of reading I’ve decided to make my batch with a farmers market bar of soap :) Main ingredient is olive oil. Will be putting vinegar in as well to help my HE machine clean the oil out :) I have many bars of Dr Bronners too, love the stuff. Think I’ll make 2 batches, Bronner’s for whites. Olive Oil for darks….
    I had a thought Bronner’s lists citric acid in their ingredients…I’ve read this can be used to get out rust stains!! Maybe this is the fading culprit? Is citric acid listed on Fels and Zote too? I’d love to know what it is about Bronner’s that’s causing some washer’s fade.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - January 27, 2013 - 12:49 PM

      Bre, good points about the fading – and we love that you’ve made 2 batches for lights and darks. Fels Naptha doesn’t have citric acid, and we haven’t noticed any drastic fading in our clothing, either. You can see the full ingredient list on their website: http://www.felsnaptha.com/ReplyCancel

  • Tamie - May 28, 2014 - 2:43 PM

    I used Zote (smells a lot like citronella) and the microwave method so I did not need to grate. I don’t know if it is my microwave or not, but I had to put it in several times. I made quite a mess and ultimately had to put it in the blender a cup or 2 at a time to chop it up and mix it with the borax and laundry soda.

    I am used to seeing suds, of course. One tablespoon seems so little. I put 2 in this time, we’ll see how it goes.

    The recipe I used was: 1 bar Zote, 3 C Borax, 3 C Laundry SodaReplyCancel

    • Kim - May 28, 2014 - 3:15 PM

      It was weird not seeing suds at first for us too, but now we’re totally used to it! Still using our mix after all these years.ReplyCancel

  • Leila - December 8, 2014 - 9:05 PM

    Borax is quite safe to ingest. Here’s a link to an interesting report from a research chemist – http://www.health-science-spirit.com/borax.htmReplyCancel

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