Natural Cleaning: Laundry Detergent and Fabric Softener Recipes/Resources


The nitty gritty of it all is this: I chose to use natural cleaning solutions over commercial ones so that my family could live a better, healthier life. In this transition I have used many different recipes for laundry and many natural brand products as well. Not all of them met my expectations. Let me share my journey.

I began by trying the typical recipes that can be found online:

Liquid Laundry Detergent Recipe

  • 1/3 bar of soap
  • ½ cup washing soda
  • ½ cup borax powder
  • 6 cups water
  • I gallon plus 6 cups of water

Use a grater to shave the soap into a stock pot. Add  the first 6 cups of water and put the pot on low heat it until the soap is melted. Add the washing soda and the borax and stir until it dissolves. Remove from heat and pour it into a 5 gallon bucket. Slowly add the rest of the water stirring completely. Allow it to sit for about 24 hours so that it can gel. Use ½ cup per wash cycle.

Powder (Dry) Laundry Detergent Recipe (Get the Borax Free Laundry Soap Recipe here)

  • 1 bar of shaved bar soap
  • 1 cup of borax
  • 1 cup of washing soda

Mix all together in a container. Use one tablespoon per wash cycle.


My Natural Laundry Recipe

Both recipes worked fine to clean my clothes. I didn’t use the Fels Naptha bar soap because I’m not completely convinced that it is free of harmful chemicals. If you look at the ingredients and research them, you’ll see it contains hydrocarbons which the US Dept of Health Household Products Database states as being very harmful if used over an extended period of time. No, thank you.

Then I tried Zote. Although it is touted as being safe and completely natural, I wasn’t fond of the overly powerful smell. There has to be some chemicals hidden in the “fragrance” ingredient in order to produce a smell that lasts through two rinses. Yes, I rinsed them twice and they still had that strong smell. I finally decided that if I was going to stick with making my own detergent then I was going to use a more expensive soap like bar castile. I did it and it worked out much better for us, but it was more expensive.

That is when I decided to try soap nuts/berries.

I kept coming across soap nuts in my search for natural cleaners. I thought they were a joke, really. But, after spending so much time and money making my own soap I decided to give the nuts a try. They are a real, natural berry that contain the components used for cleaning. And they work!

I’m sold.

For $18 I can get enough soap berries (nuts) to wash 160 loads. Mine go further than that the way I use them. That means it costs less than the commercial stuff AND I didn’t have to shave my fingertips off and find space for a 5 gallon bucket of soap to save the money! I told you. I’m all over natural and homemade, but not at the expense of wasting time and energy. I know I get better results with the soap nuts. Here is how I use them.

They come with small canvas bags that hold the soap berries/nuts in the washer. You place about 5 inside of the bag, draw the string, and toss it in the wash. Then, I also place a tablespoon of Borax in the soap dispenser. This is how I stretch the soap nuts/berries further. If you have hard water you can use about 1/4 cup of vinegar in the rinse cycle (fabric softener dispenser). This softens the water and the clothes. Run the wash cycle as usual and then when you toss the clothes in the dryer toss the bag of soap nuts/berries in too. That dries them before the next use. You don’t want them to begin to mold or mildew. Drying between uses helps with that.

Each batch of 5 soap nuts/berries will last through 5 washes. And, I love that I can store them in my Ball Canning Jar. I tried that with powder and liquid and it just made a big old mess. I retired the idea faster than I implemented it. I’m so glad the soap berries/nuts work well in the jar. I love the way it looks!

In the Dryer

You can use the soap nuts/berries alone and have a good, clean smell on your clothing afterward, however I like to take it one step further. I use organic wool dryer balls. These work to benefit me in two ways: 1) they decrease drying time (especially of sheets!) because they bounce around creating air pockets and 2) I add a few drops of essential oils to them once every 5-7 cycles and my clothes come out smelling divine! My favorite is using the lavender essential oils on our bed sheets. You will sleep so much better, I assure you!

Now, my boys would tell you that they make great toys too. If you buy these I suggest you hide them from your children. If not, like me, you will have to hunt them down when you want to use them. 😉

I also use Dryer Max Anti-Static Balls to reduce the static. I have had all of these balls for over a year now and have been more than happy with the results they give my clothes. And they still have plenty of life left in them. The overall savings is tremendous when you figure that they are a one time purchase (for at least a year) and they cut down on drying time.

Line Drying

I don’t line dry all year long just because we live in a humid climate. On the days when do line dry I only leave the clothes out for about an hour or two. Then I bring them in and let them run through the dryer for 10 minutes with my wool and static balls. This softens them up and leaves them feeling fresh and clean without them feeling “crispy”.

The line I use is retractable so that it isn’t a safety hazard and isn’t exposed to the elements which can cause premature deterioration.

Other posts in this series: Homemade All Natural Cleaning Products

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  1. Lidia Constantin says:

    Hello Amy,

    I have a question. What would you recommend that I use to make my graying towels white again? I believe its a result of the blue and green colors from my previously used brand detergent, but now it won’t go away even with clear detergent. Do you have a recommendation?

    Also, When I follow your link to “my essential oils story” page, there is nothing there. I’ve very interested to understand what led you to essential oils and how you use them other than in cleaning.

    Thank you,
    Lidia Constantin

  2. Hi, can you tell me how long the wool dryer balls last??
    Thanks for this post. I keep coming across soap nuts, but haven’t tried them yet. I have a cart full of diy natural ingredients in my amazon account right now. Maybe I’ll add these to try!

  3. Love love love your site! I found this online in hopes to avoid spending more than I can right now on the wool dryer balls 🙂
    I realized that I have a few of these lying around because my grandma used to make us these every year, just need to felt them up!

  4. just wanted to share another laundry detergent recipe with you. I am still experimenting to make it all natural, but I love this version. It has 2 T borax 2 T washing soda, 3 T blue Dawn ( I use the Great Value version from Wal-Mart), 4 c boiling water, 12 c cold water. You add 4 c boiling water to the borax and washing soda, then mix to dissolve. then add in 12 c cold water, and lastly, add the Dawn. If you add the Dawn in the beginning, it will foam A LOT. You are supposed to use about a cup per load, but I have been getting good results with 1/2 cup. I want to substitute Dr Bronner’s for the Dawn, but have not done it so far. It is WAY easier than the grating soap and heating it, then the horrible stirring of the gelled detergent in the original fels naptha version of laundry soap. I get my son to make 2 gallons at a time so we always have plenty on hand.

  5. Since these are called ‘nuts’ are they actual nuts? The description says ‘hypoallergenic’ but I think that was referring to a lack of dyes. etc. Do you think they would be safe for someone with a tree nut allergy?

  6. Hi Amy! Love all your recipes and ideas. My cousin told me about you and I am so excited about all your research. I just have a question about the soap nuts. I assume they have to be taken out before the rinse cycle? (Silly question but had to be sure!) Many thanks!

  7. I thought you were nuts…soap berries? I have NEVER heard of such a thing! I will have to look into these…I cloth diaper – they may get used up too quickly! I am all for a new solution. Not happy with the cost of my detergent now!

  8. Lisa Miranda says:

    How to make the dryer balls, and I cloth diaper: what do I bed to use to rid the ammonia buildup in my dipes? I cannot find an agent that will lock onto the ammonia and let it rinse away, or break down completely…Help!

  9. did you know you can get soap berries from a local vendor? I got a box of them at the Farmers’ Market! no shipping 🙂
    and i LOVE them!!

    I put the static balls on my wishlist.

    thanks for all the tips!

  10. I love this series of posts – you’ve got me hooked on all-natural cleaning products! Do you know if the Borax and soap nuts will work in an HE washer? Thanks!

  11. I love the idea of natural cleaning products, except that “natural” does not always mean “safe”. I’m not yet convinced that borax is safe, albeit natural. Do you think this recipe would work without borax?

    • Exactly! Whenever someone touts something as being all natural I quickly remind them that arsenic is natural too. That doesn’t mean it is safe. I have done thorough research on this though and I am convinced that Borax is safe. I replied to an additional comment you made about the Borax. It explains my position but I’m going to post it here too just in case someone else wants to read it. 🙂

      About Borax:
      First of all, let me say how excited I am that you actually look into things like this. So many people blindly follow the suggestions or opinions of others without investigating for themselves. I seriously applaud you for that. We should never just take someone’s word for things like this.

      I’ve read and seen debates on the Borax topic and with the in-depth help of two friends I trust (SIL is an environmental engineer and a dear friend is a chemistry professor) I have come to the conclusion that Borax is safe for most uses. I won’t cover all of the evidence and contributing factors that brought me to that conclusion (although I may in a future post) but I’ll hit on the main points.

      The study you mentioned was done in Europe and the reason for it was that many Europeans were ingesting small amounts of Boron (Borax) daily. Borax, in my opinion based on what I’ve learned, should not be consumed. I only say that because there is a minute chance that it could cause reproductive issues when orally ingested. Reproductive issues happened in rodents and rabbits that ingested the Borax but tests on humans showed no effects. However, I wouldn’t eat it just to be safe! 🙂 And, it isn’t the Borax that is the problem but rather the chemical reaction that takes place once it is mixed with internal body acids. This does not happen on the surface of the skin.

      As far as the amount that is absorbed into the skin (it is not easily absorbed), more than 90% is excreted within 24 hours with the remainder soon to follow. But, study after clinical study shows that boron is very difficult to absorb into the skin. Usually it only happens if there is an open wound.

      It is not listed as a carcinogen and it does not accumulate in the body.

      I also think it is important to note that Borax is considered just as safe table salt and baking soda. In fact, some spices and seasonings we use regularly get a higher warning than Borax. I think it is safe to use but I recommend you go with your knowledge and your gut instinct.

      The reason I use Borax is because it allows me to skip a step in cleaning. You can get the same effects without the use of Borax but you will have to add a bit of time and additional product to your routine. Sprinkling an item with washing soda and then hydrogen peroxide will give the same effect as using Borax in the recipe. The difference is that you have to use the HP and WS before washing whereas the Borax can be added during. Both function the same and cause the same chemical reaction. So yes, you can substitute the Borax with hydrogen peroxide and washing soda. Just be sure to use that first and then wash or map after using a plain water or vinegar solution.

  12. Amy, for your laundry soap, have you ever tried castile soap?

  13. Yee haw! We use and LOVE soap nuts :0)

  14. I’ve heard about soap nuts before. I might give that a try. Right now I make my own homemade powdered laundry soap using pink ZOTE soap. It’s NOT all-natural, contrary to what some say. However, it is very inexpensive.

    Next time I’ll opt for a castille bar of soap!!!

    I’m planning on buying a line-dryer for drying my clothes outside to save money. I like your idea of combining line-drying and the laundry dryer 🙂 Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather 🙂

    • Yes, the combination of the line drying and the dryer are a winner for me. I find I get the best results that way. It is a bit of added effort and it isn’t an essential step but I actually enjoy it. It gives me a chance to get out and let the little one play. Idk, there is something about it that I just enjoy. 🙂

  15. Stacy Arlt says:

    Thanks, Amy for all that you do! This sponge would love to see some labels for the laundry soap, please, please!!!

  16. Soap Berries! How awesome is that. I am DEFINITELY going to try those… Oh, the safety pin thing works pretty good but not perfectly in this super dry climate anyway. But it does help. Thanks so much for more amazing tips!

  17. Hey, Amy, great ideas on the laundry. I use the wet homemade recipe, but I’m still tweaking, so I might try your version above. Interesting point on the Fels Naptha–hmmm. The soap nuts look like a neat idea, and I noticed on Amazon that you can actually buy them in different sizes of package, so that you can try them before committing to the ~$20. I am assuming that you meant to put them in the DRYER so as to prevent mold and mildew(?) However, I did have a question. I am thinking that you’d have to do something different for harder-to-clean dirt, like hubby’s neck rings or food stains? The beauty of a liquid detergent is that it’s all-in-one for those types of laundry issues.

    • Yes, I bought the smallest size when I tried it. I wasn’t going all out until I knew it worked. I linked to the $18 one because that is where savings come in. You don’t really save using the smaller sizes. But, I highly recommend making sure it works for you before buying a larger size.

      And yes, girl, I totally meant dryer. I edited it. 🙂

      For a stain remover I use my homemade oxy clean. I fill the sink (or a bucket) with hot, hot water then add 1/2 cup of washing soda and 1/2 cup of hydrogen peroxide. Then I let it soak for a bit. For the most part, adding the Borax takes care of whitening and brightening. The soap nuts do the work of cleaning.

  18. Nice ad for soap berries and such. This is the first post of yours I have ever taken issue with. I am thoroughly confused that you all find making dry detergent and grating soap so difficult. Use a food processor to do all the grating and blending, just let the dust from the powders settle before removing the lid and transferring into your container. Cut the soap into slivers/chunks and it is not a strain on your machine. It also takes no time at all to make the powdered version and unless you are sloppy, there is really no mess, except for a bit on the counter that can be easily wiped up. As for not being happy with the store bought bar soap, they all contain formaldehyde and other chemicals, so why not be the do-it-yourself kind of gals you all are and make your own soap and use it in your laundry detergent as well as on your bodies. That is what I do. By the way unless you buy enough to get free shipping from Amazon for your soap berries, they are quite expensive. They are no $18.00, but rather $21.95 plus shipping. Sorry I disagree.

    • Charlisa,

      I don’t mind you disagreeing at all. We all have an opinion and I’ve stated mine. 🙂

      I do wonder what you mean about this being an ad. I was not paid by them to state anything. I disclose all sponsored posts. I also purchased the soap berries with my own money. I have not now nor have I ever had contact with a company that sells soap berries. I am recommending them based on my own experiences. I do link to my Amazon affiliate account but I could do the same with the products to make the liquid or dry soap and actually, I’d make more money on those because the commission is higher. I am basing my post on my opinion, not monetization and actually, the commission for the soap berries is not that much so I’m not sure why the statement about it being a “nice ad for soap berries” was included. Maybe you could clear that up for me.

      I am simply stating my opinion that I prefer not to go the route that causes me more of a mess. Yes, I could add the extra time and energy to make and use the dry and liquid detergent recipes but I prefer not to. It is what works ion our household. Especially since I get the same results with soap berries for less money. I could make my own soap and have before but I choose not to do that with a toddler and a dog running around. Fooling with lye, even outdoors, is potentially dangerous. To purchase a better soap to make the recipes does cost more than using the soap berries, especially if you have a Super Saver account and get free shipping. I’ve done extensive calculations on it using the most natural ingredients and soap berries are cheaper by a few dollars. When considering the time I spend making the others soaps, I save even more.

      Also, all soaps do not contain formaldehyde and other chemicals. Dr. Bronners Castile contains none whatsoever. Lye (potassium hydroxide) is used to make it but after it is added to the oil and the chemistry takes place it is no longer lye and it is safe to use. There are no traces of it left. Castile soap was not made with and does not contain any other chemicals. That is the more expensive soap I was referring to. I’m sure you know all of this already since you make your own but I know someone would ask about it so I figured I’d just state that here so I didn’t have to later. 😉

      So, anyway, I am a DIY kind of girl as long as it gives me some additional benefit. I, personally, just don’t see it in this situation. But that is just me. I’m glad it is working for you. Maybe in another season of life it will be different for me but right now this is where I am.

      • I understand your stance. I also understand you have sponsors and I am glad for you and your family, that is the the nice ad comment came from. I understand Dr. Bronner’s has no chemicals, etc. I was referring to the bar soaps you mentioned and disliked. I feel the same way, hence my homemade soap. Still love your blog and glad we can agree to disgree in a friendly way on some points! I have implemented your dishwasher detergent and the other cleaners into my daily routine, so thank you! How do I avoid getting white film on my glassware when I use the dishwasher detergent? I used essential oils instead of the True Orange and Lemon and use vinegar as the rinse agent. Any ideas?

        • Oh I adore you, Charlisa. We really have to do what works for us right now and that will be different for all of us. I’m glad you understand too. 🙂

          Honestly, I am having issues with my dishwasher detergent. I’ve used it for a while now but we got a new dishwasher very recently and it is not working as well anymore. I did some research and it seems that makes a difference. I had no idea that would happen. I’m actually looking to revise the recipe once I find a solution. Do you have a newer machine?

          • Guess what, Charlisa? Boy, it doesn’t take much time to change our “seasons” of life does it? A couple months ago I started venturing into soap making again after discovering a long list of ancestors who were also soap makers. It really stirred something in me. I’m happy to say I am now making my own laundry soap made from my own triple milled all natural soaps. I just had to come and share that with you! 🙂

  19. Grreat ideas! I’ve never heard of soap berries, but think I will have to give them a try! Thanks so much!

  20. “Run the wash cycle as usual and then when you toss the clothes in the washer toss the bag of soap nuts/berries in too. That dries them before the next use. You don’t want them to begin to mold or mildew. Drying between uses helps with that.”

    Did you mean to put them in the dryer when placing the clothes in there? Also will these still work well in hot water? My kids are allergic to dust mites and this is how I have to wash their bedding.

    Thanks for all the research you’re doing and being so willing to share it with us. Oh just one more question. Where do you get your soap berries?

  21. I know! I lost a few fingernails in the process of making that stuff and we won’t even mention the clean up! I’m all for the path of least resistance as long as it gets me to an equivalent or better place. I definitely think that in this case the soap berries are better.

  22. Kelly Palmer says:

    Thanks for your very helpful cleaning recipes. I recently tried the window and glass cleaner recipe and loved the way it worked! The only down side to it was talking my husband into going into a liquor store with me to buy the vodka. We live in a very small town and he didn’t want anyone to think that we were buying it for the purpose of drinking it. I think next time he may make me wear a disguise 🙂 As for the anti-static hints, I just read that you can pin a couple of safety pins to a piece of your clothing in the dryer and it is suppose to eliminate the static. I haven’t had a chance to do this yet but thought that it would be worth a try and very inexpensive if it works. Have a Blessed day!!

    • I am so going to try the safety pin thing. I have not heard that before. And you know what? The safety pin could be put on the soap berries bag so that you wouldn’t have to keep pinning it on a new piece of clothing every time!!! I am so going to try that. I really hope it works because that would be so much better!

  23. I’m totally getting those. I did the dry stuff with the fels naptha, but now I’m changing my mind–getting sick of grating my fingers. Thanks for this!

    • I know! I lost a few fingernails in the process of making that stuff and we won’t even mention the clean up! I’m all for the path of least resistance as long as it gets me to an equivalent or better place. I definitely think that in this case the soap berries are better.


  1. […] one time or another. So here goes, I may not have given the best advice in my original post for the Powdered Laundry Detergent Recipe. For that, I […]

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