Why We Don’t Recommend Homemade Detergent

Homemade detergents are most often a combination of water softeners (borax, washing soda, baking soda), boosters (oxi), and soap (grated or melted of various brands and types). Some go so far as to not include any cleaning agent at all. Let’s go over the fallacy of using this combination to wash our laundry and get it CLEAN.

It doesn’t rinse clean! Bar soap is just that, SOAP, it is not meant for laundry, it’s not intended to wash clothes in a washer, the bar soaps, even the ones in the laundry aisle, all say they are a pre-treater or booster, NOT a detergent. Over time soap scum (think bathtub ring) will trap particles of soil in the fibers of your clothes, because soap is oil based and does NOT rinse clean from cloth fibers. The physical bulk of most versions of homemade soap is made up of water softeners and boosters!These items do have a purpose, but it is NOT to clean, it is to allow the cleaning agent to function better at it’s job.

The softeners, do just that, they soften hard water, which allows the cleaning agent to pull out and trap soil. Boosters aid the cleaning agent by providing a secondary ‘power’, like whitening and stain lifting. The problem with this is, the ratio of cleaning agent (soap) to a very large amount of softeners and boosters. You end up with little cleaning power and lots of softening and boosting power, which does NOTHING to properly clean soil out of our laundry.


Catch 22 – Recommended Use Amount
  • Scenario 1: Most recipes are going to recommend a tiny amount per load. In the 1-2 Tablespoons range. The amount of actual cleaning agent (the soap) is a minuscule ratio of that tiny 2 Tbs by the time it’s mixed with all the softeners/boosters. Nothing is going to get clean, diapers or regular laundry, because there is very little cleaning agent present. Add to that gallons and gallons of water and you might as well not even be putting a cleaning agent IN! In fact, the total amount of actual soap given in this recommendation comes to 1/40th of a TEAspoon per gallon of water!
  • Scenario 2: Either you throw the recommended use amount out the window (because it doesn’t make sense given Scenario 1) or your recipe is one of the very few which recommends more. Now you are using a cup or more of this mix, which is going to have a decent amount of soap in it. Over time soap scum and trapped soil, discussed above, will begin to cause issues with towel absorption or making your clothes dingy, but it will most likely eventually happen.


Why is Soap so Different Than Detergent? Don’t They Do the Same Thing?
  • Yes and no. They do, in a sense, when they are used for their intended purpose. They are both meant to remove soils and bacteria when aided by friction and water. The difference is soap is meant to be used on generally non-porous surfaces that have no nooks and crannies to trap soil. Detergent is formulated to work on cloth, a very porous and textured material, it is also formulated to trap soil and suspend it in water where it can be literally washed away.  Soap and detergent work VERY differently and are formulated very differently for different purposes.


Why is the Use of Homemade Soap so Prevalent and Often Recommended?
  • It is viewed as inexpensive!
  • Most people want to save money. So, there is much appeal in being able to use something you can spend less money on. This is understandable, and doesn’t everyone want an easy and effective way to save money??
  • It is viewed as containing no or fewer chemicals!
Let’s begin with, ^^^ this is flawed logic. Everything is made up of chemicals; everything has a chemical makeup. It is much more accurate to say that some things are made up of dangerous chemicals, unnecessary chemicals or man made or altered chemicals. Some people have a priority to minimize their family’s exposure to those chemicals they are unsure of, and that is ok and it’s their prerogative to make that choice, but there are options within that scope that do NOT include Homemade Soap.


What Are the Alternatives?
  • There are many!! ANY commercial detergent that does is perfectly acceptable to use on your laundry. You do NOT want a detergent that uses fabric softeners on any cloth diapers. *Currently in progress is research and a file on when and how to use fabric softener.* Some work better than others and some work better in certain water and/or certain machines. If you are looking for a more natural or plant-based detergent, there are a few options proven to perform successfully (though usually more detergent is needed to get results). Those include: Seventh Generation (start with recommended amount), Kirkland’s Environmentally Responsible (start with recommended amount), Sun Triple Clean (start with 1.5x recommended amount), Ology (start with 1.5x recommended amount), Method (start with 2x recommended amount.)
  • Always wash in HOT water with plant-based detergent and always use a water softener if water is at all hard, even mildly.
  • If the draw of Homemade Soap was the low cost factor, there are several inexpensive options on that front as well. Purex and Foca have proven to work for many people and are far less expensive than many other well known commercial detergents.


If you would like to delve more into why soap and detergent are different, please take a look at these links:
Detergent – What’s In It?


Think your Homemade mix is WORKING? Fluff Love member Holly Couey says, “This is a picture of the water in my garden bath tub after stripping clean clothes that I had been washing with homemade laundry detergent for over a year. They smelled clean right out of dryer but after a while they would stink.”


Still need more convincing? Visit our gallery of post-homemade detergent strip water, “Testimonials from Former Homemade Soap Users.”


By Melinda Wendland and edited by Amanda Perez