glass bottle with vinegar, jar with fabric squares, metal bowl, and container of homemade laundry detergent

Homemade laundry detergent with coconut soap

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Check out this alternate homemade laundry detergent DIY

Laundry. We all have to do it and most of us aren’t too happy about it. Alison posted a recipe a couple months ago for her favorite DIY laundry detergent. I’ve made it and its definitely a great one, but I’ve tweaked a few things to find a combo that works for us and our moderately hard (and I am obsessed with making soap so there’s that) Feel free to try both recipes and chose your favorite – or make up your own based on the ingredients in our recipes.

Why should I make homemade laundry detergent?

While it’s not for everyone, making our own detergent has helped me to eliminate harsh (and often unnecessary) man-made chemicals from my home. Were you aware that laundry detergent could cause health problems and respiratory issues? And don’t forget, all those chemicals wash down the drain and into our water supply. Making your own detergent is also a huge money saver. The all natural commercial laundry detergent I was buying was $27 a bottle. This detergent costs a fraction of that

homemade laundry detergent

But the big question is, does homemade laundry detergent clean well?

I can’t speak for ALL homemade laundry detergent recipes, but I love both of our two DIY recipes. There are a few tricks to be aware of, and you definitely want to make sure you’re not using too much, but homemade laundry detergent is effective and safe for washers. 

Are you using soap or detergent?

“Laundry detergent” is a name we commonly use for ALL laundry cleaners. However some laundry detergents contain soap and some contain detergent. Basically for it to clean your clothes you have to have one or the other. Both work to remove soils and bacteria when aided by friction and water.

But they’re made quite differently: Soap is made from oil (vegetable or animal) and sodium hydroxide. After the saponification process (when it turns to soap), there’s no lye left and for most soaps for cleaning there isn’t any oil left either. On the other hand, synthetic detergents are largely made from petro-chemicals.  

Overall soap is considered better for the environment than detergents. Detergents can be toxic to fish and wildlife and also can have negative effects on our health.

Soap sounds like a clear winner, doesn’t it? Hold up a minute though – soap can react with minerals in hard water and leave a residue (aka soap scum) if not rinsed correctly. Thankfully that problem is easily fixed by adding a vinegar rinse to the machine. I add vinegar that has been infused with lemon to the fabric softener, but you could also simply use plain vinegar. Detergents don’t always react well with some waters either though, which is why there are a plethora of laundry additives in the grocery store aisle. 

Let’s look at some of the ingredients in this recipe for homemade laundry detergent so you understand what each one does:

grated coconut soap for homemade laundry detergent

Coconut Laundry Soap: Soap is an emulsifier and surfactant. An emulsifier is a substance that creates an environment in which water and oil can mix. Soap suspends oil and dirt so that it can be washed away during the rinse. Surfactants are responsible for most of the cleaning performance by absorption and emulsification of soil into the water and by reducing the water’s surface tension to improve wetting. PS) it’s frickin’ hard, so use a food processor to grate it. If you aren’t a soap maker, we have an alternative listed below.

Baking Soda: A natural deodorizer and cleanser, baking soda softens water, which means you can use less detergent. It also helps keep your machine clean and brightens both whites and colors.

Washing Soda: Chemically washing soda is sodium carbonate. It “softens” water which helps other cleaning ingredients lift soil from the fabrics and suspend the soil in the wash water. The washing soda binds to the minerals which make water hard and allows the detergent to be absorbed into fibers properly to clean clothes. This allows it to remove a wide variety of stains.

Borax: Effective at cleaning clothes and helping detergents work, it helps adjust the pH levels of the wash itself. Borax is a basic compound, so that means that when it is added to water the pH level of the water would move from a neutral 7 to a slightly more basic 8.

The combination of water and Borax allows detergent to work even better as it is easier for it to clean with a more basic water pH. The basic pH level allows detergent to combine with water more easily and get an even deeper clean. This is because the Borax literally attaches onto the more basic water molecules and can get a deep clean on even the toughest stains.

Course salt: Salt softens clothes, keeps colors bright, and can help to remove a variety of different stains. Use salt as part of a presoak for your clothes if you are dealing with perspiration stains.

And for that important last step: Add vinegar to the rinse cycle. Vinegar works very well to remove hard water deposits like calcium and magnesium. Add 1/2 cup – 1 cup during your machine’s last rinse cycle. You simply add it to the fabric softener dispenser. Don’t worry – once your laundry is dry, it won’t smell like vinegar.

And if you need an additional boost for an extra dirty load, my favorite additive is Sal Suds by Dr. Bonner. Sal Suds is a natural, coconut-based multi-purpose cleaner concentrate that is bio-degradable and eco-friendly.It cleans great in soft and hard water and cuts effectively through grease and dirt too. Adding 1/2-1 tablespoon in with your homemade detergent can help tackle the really tough stuff.

Another awesome thing about Sal Suds: Every month or two, I run a cleaning cycle on my machine with some Sal Suds. I also use it to clean the front seal in the washer. Taking care of your appliances helps them last a lot longer.

I order Sal Suds from Thrive Market, its convenient and a great price. We use Sal Suds in other DIY cleaning recipes too. 

coconut soap for homemade laundry detergent

Coconut Laundry Soap Recipe

794g Coconut oil

146g Lye
293g water

30mL Lemon essential oil (or citrus oil/combination of your choice)

Place the water in a heatproof containter. Wearing protective gloves and eyewear, slowly sits the lye into the water until fully dissolved. (always add lye to water, not the other way around). Set aside until the temp drops to 100-110 F (38-43C)

While the lye is cooling, melt the coconut. My soap making container is the pot I melt the oils in, but if you’re using something else, pour it into your soap making bowl and add a thermometer.  You want the oil and the lye solution to be within 10 degrees of each other. 

When the temps are correct, add the lye solution to the coconut oil. Mix with the immersion blender until you reach an extremely light trace. Now blend in the essential oils.

Coconut oil soaps set up quickly so be sure to keep the trace light. Pour the soap into the molds of your choice and use a spatula to smooth. Once the soap has cooled and hardened, remove from mold and slice. Generally you wait at least 24 hours to unmold and slice, but coconut soap gets hard fast. Make sure to wear protective gloves when you cut because soap will still be harsh.  Allow to cure for 3-4 weeks.

grated coconut soap for homemade laundry detergent
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Homemade Laundry Detergent

Inexpensive, safe for the environment, and powerful – all things that make this my favorite laundry DIY
Keyword: cold process soap, diy, essential oils, laundry


  • 5-6 ounces grated coconut soap (recipe above)
  • 1 cup washing soda
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup coarse salt
  • optional: essential oils


  • I don’t add essential oils in this part of the recipe because I add them to my soap. It’s a matter of preference, but if you do add oils, make sure to mix well and give the mixture a chance to dry out a bit before you close the container. You won’t see much, if any, fragrance transfer to your clothes from this but they will smell lovely and fresh, which is the point of washing anyway, right?!?
  • Combine all ingredients together. Mix well and store in an airtight container. I’m using an old plastic container that I’ve had forever. We try not to buy new storage containers that are plastic, but I do repurpose what I have as often as possible. 
  • Use approximately 1 tablespoon per average sized load. And again, make sure to add vinegar to the fabric softening compartment – it makes a big difference. 
  • *if you aren’t obsessed with soap making or can’t find 100% coconut soap, then I recommend these soap flakes from amazon. We’ll have coconut soap available from time to time when our soap shop is open, so be sure to watch for that.

So let us know what you think of both recipes! Do you have a favorite?

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