Laundry Detergent Recipe

by Amanda Hearn · 74 comments

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Looking for the DIY Cloth Diaper Detergent recipe? Click here.

Small Batch Recipe

There are tricks to grating it.
My favorite method is to chop it up (a food processor can help here), lay it out on cookie sheets to dry out overnight, and then chop it up again (again, the food processor is a big help!) Be careful not to push your processor too hard (don’t rush it!) It will turn to dust, which will make using in cooler water much easier!

Now I don’t like leftovers and I don’t like having to do things over and over again, so I like to make large batches. It’s a little more work at the time, but a lot less work in the long run.

Large Batch Recipe (my favorite way)!

Depending on what soap you get and how you buy it (bulk, discount store, etc.) you can make a full batch of this for around $60 and it will last a VERY long time.

I’ve found that getting large buckets to mix this up makes it SUPER easy! Layer all of your ingredients into one (or more) buckets. Pour from one bucket to the next, and repeat until it’s mixed to your satisfaction. That’s it!

What soaps can you use?

Most any bar soap will do, but something easy on the skin is always  good choice. You might consider:

If you don’t want to use bar soap, you could make the recipe without it and simply add a squirt of Dr. Bronners to heavily soiled loads, or simply pre-treat spots!

How do I use it?

I liked to use 2 tablespoons per load of laundry. My husband has a fairly dirty job and my daughter is quite messy, so from time to time I toss in a little extra on their loads.

If I’m doing a cold wash, I have a jar that I keep close by that I can put my scoops into, add some hot water and help dissolve it a little before throwing it in the wash. It will work without doing that, but I like to.

Want to buy a detergent, here are some brands that gentle on skin & the environment.

Allens Naturally Laundry Detergent
Charlie’s Soap
Country Save
Eco Nuts
Eco Sprout
Nellie’s
Planet
Rockin’ Green

**I’d like to make a note about the borax used in this recipe.  A recent article by EWG cautions the use of borax for cleaning in the home noting that toddlers and young children face special risks from hand-to-mouth transfer of carpet or crack and crevice, dust or spray borax treatments. I would recommend not using borax as a general home cleaner – any cleaner (aside from pure water) used for these purposes will leave a residue.  I feel comfortable using the minuscule amount in the detergent. It is not used on open surfaces and is washed out during the rinse cycle.

You can read a bit more on this debate here – there are some great points of view in the comments.

 

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{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous December 31, 2009 at 4:42 am

borax is a natural pest deterrent. My mother always bought borax to get rid of ant hills.

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Amanda Hearn December 31, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Yea! I found out that my Grandmother uses it on her garden :)

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Artist4life925 January 22, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Do you think I could use the powdered Ivory Snow? How much do you think I would need for the smaller batch? It's 2x concentrated.

Thanks for the recipe!

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Amanda Hearn January 22, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Are those the soap flakes? If so, I think yes. I've heard of people using that, I think. I don't have access to them here or I would try it out.

I would use probably use 1/2 to 3/4 the amount and see how that goes, you can always add more :)

If you try it, let me know how it goes!

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Artist4life925 February 24, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Awesome thanks for the reply!

We're going to try Zote first since it's cheaper and see if we have any skin reactions to it first.

Should I use the whole 14.1 oz bar of Zote or half?

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Amanda Hearn February 24, 2010 at 9:23 pm

You're welcome :)

I think a bar of Fels is like 5.5 oz. If it's 14 oz, maybe start with half and see how that works for you :)

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Mama Laundry March 6, 2010 at 12:38 am

I'd love for you to come link to my Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe Round-Up!

Super informative post you've got here! :)

-Lauren

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Jana June 17, 2010 at 2:11 pm

I love this thanks! trying it out for the first time!

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Mandy October 29, 2010 at 3:30 pm

You might also want to wear a mask while mixing all these things. The fine powders will waft up and get ya!

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Sara November 5, 2010 at 11:20 pm

I used Fels Naptha and it smells very strongly (not bad, but it can be smelled in the next room if the laundry room door is open). I grated the soap and it isn't fine enough. Next time I will try the food processor method. Thanks for the recipe.

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Karen January 9, 2011 at 6:46 am

Would it be easy enough to add essential oils to this for a scented version? If so, how much would you suggest?

I've made this a few times with the Fels but I am wondering if I use the Ivory and add oil if I can make it more personal?

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Amanda Hearn January 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I know that you can add EOs to this for fragrance, I haven't done it on more than a jar's worth, so I'm not sure what it would take for the batch. I think I used just a few drops or so for a quart jar. The scent won't last through the wash and dry cycle though, but it will make your laundry area smell nice :)

As for the Ivory. I have heard of people using it (I haven't tried it), but I have read that it may not work well enough on soiled clothes. You could always try a smaller batch of it and see how it goes.

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melron January 31, 2011 at 6:11 pm

yeah borax does get rid of bugs and ants amazingly! we were overrun with ants last summer and borax was my friend….. but, be careful where you put it, cuz this is not nice stuff to your soil. i accidentally killed some of my plants.

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Rob February 7, 2011 at 5:30 am

Hello! My friend gave me almost the same exact recipe for detergent, but the end product is a liquid. If I make it your way, it's a powder form, right? Thanks!

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Amanda Hearn February 7, 2011 at 12:46 pm

It is a powder form :) It can be made liquid (I think the method is to heat water add & mix) but I prefer powder as it's faster/easier to make and less bulk to store – plus I like that the bulk recipe leaves no leftovers.

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Jennifer Lemaire April 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Do you use this in an HE front loader or would I need to modify the amount I use?

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Amanda Hearn April 25, 2011 at 12:51 am

I use this in a standard machine. From what I understand some people just use 1 tablespoon in their wash. You could always use more if you see that you need it.

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Rori July 12, 2011 at 1:56 am

I've been using this recipe, without the oxiclean, for my diapers. I noticed your diaper recipe doesn't have the Fels Naptha. Should I not be using it on the diapers? :-/

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Amanda Hearn July 24, 2011 at 2:51 pm

I would not use soap on your diapers. I can lead to build up issues and/or repelling.

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Unknown September 18, 2011 at 10:31 pm

I recently purchased all the ingredients to make this detergent however I am still trying to figure out how to tackle grating the soap…I thought laying it out to dry before trying to chop it up would help but I think that may take way too long. I will probably end up borrow my mom's a food processor. Anyway, I was wondering about the soap in this mixture. I was wondering if I could just add a box of my regular detergent to the other ingredients ILO the soap and the function would work the same? I would also be able to have the scent I like from my detergent in this mixture…OR would that be defeating the purpose of homemade laundry detergent?

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Geneva October 26, 2011 at 2:25 pm

You can microwave the bar of soap for about 90 seconds. It will look like fluffy meringue, but it will be dry and brittle, and when mixing it will turn into a powder.

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Amanda Hearn October 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Thanks for the tip!

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Megan December 31, 2011 at 2:39 pm

I read on a few other websites that people had trouble with this leaving soap scum on the inside of their washer. Has this ever been a problem for you?

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Amanda Hearn December 31, 2011 at 3:19 pm

I have not had that experience Megan, perhaps it's the quantity being used, or the final size of the soap bits? I process them, air out and then reprocess to turn it to dust. Perhaps larger bits would leave a film?

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Joy Platt February 7, 2012 at 3:31 pm

I just made the large batch after using up my small batch. I had to go to 3 different Walmarts to find enough bars of soap.

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Amanda February 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Thanks for the recipe! I used to make my own detergent, but i never thought of adding OXICLEAn….>DUH! My fiance has an EXTREMELY greasy job – do you think these sort of recipes would work without the soap? i LOVE soda and borax…just dunno if it would cut the grease? I never really could tell a difference in the mix whether i used the fels or not.

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Stephanie February 19, 2012 at 10:35 pm

I just made this “detergent” in powder form. I found it on a different website. Many people had stated they used Ivory Soap instead of the Fels. I tried this as me and my daughter have sensitive skin. The Ivory flakes DO NOT dissolve….I’m going to try and sift out my Ivory flakes and replace with the Fels and hope that works….

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Erica February 27, 2012 at 11:08 pm

For those of you that have used a food processor to help with the bars of soap – what kind of processor did you use? How many cups? Any other advice with doing that? I’m trying to get a used cheap processor to designate just for this use. Thanks!

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Joy Platt July 19, 2013 at 9:59 pm

I put mine in the microwave one bar at a time for 90 seconds, then put it in the food processor one bar at a time too. It did not go well when I tried to put 2 bars in the processor at once.

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Celeste April 2, 2012 at 10:35 am

Do you have a recipe that’s suitable for HE washers? Ours says “liquid” only.

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Charlotte April 18, 2012 at 10:27 am

I had read that it’s OK to use powdered laundry detergent in HE washers as long as you add it to the tub itself and not the little drawer made to hold the detergent. It’s to do with the powder getting stuck in the hose between the drawer and the tub. I’ve added powdered detergent to the tub (where the clothes are) and never had a problem in my front-loader HE.

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Jenn April 19, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I’ll have to try this when my current stash runs low, but I was excited to see that OxyClean is considered eco-friendly. I tend to buy the eco friendly detergents but have found that with the kids’ clothes from school, I need a bit of Oxy Clean to cut through the dirt and always felt guilty about using it. Thanks for the good advice and the guilt-lifting. :)

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Dianne March 4, 2013 at 11:57 pm

I know this is a very late post but I wanted to pass along that I read Oxyclean is NOT eco-friendly as it contains over 50% fillers, perfumes, and dyes in addition to the sodium carbonate and sodium percarbonate which cuts the stains. Anybody else heard this?

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Emily March 30, 2013 at 11:04 am

If you get the baby or “free” versions they shouldn’t have any of that stuff and are basically just extra washing soda and a solid form of hydrogen peroxide.

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Alison April 5, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Also, a lot of people talking about using the Fels Naptha soap and if you want safe, earth and skin friendly, they need to find the ingredient list for that stuff! I read that it has petrochemicals as well as fragrance, which translates to phthalates!

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danelle May 21, 2012 at 10:28 am

Chop the soap (more or ivory only) into 1 inch cubes and microwave about6 at a time until they stop expanding. Then use the food processor. Makes a very fine powder. You can use it in cold water no problem.

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danelle May 21, 2012 at 10:29 am

*zote or ivory

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Danielle July 25, 2012 at 8:04 pm

If I make the batch for cloth diapers to start with. How much do you think I would need to take out to add soap to for clothes.

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Olivia August 12, 2012 at 12:54 am

I just made your large batch of this and also the cloth diaper version. I’ve made laundry detergent before but not as large a batch as this. Mixing the powdered borox and other ingredient made a huge “cloud” in my kitchen and I breathed in a lot… I wish I would have known it would be so cloudy, I would have mixed it outside and worn a mask, especially because I am 37 weeks pregnant. I would recommend if you make the large batch to wear a mask and do it outside to reduce your exposure to the chemicals and also so the residue does not land in your home. However, I’m sure I made enough to last a year… so hopefully I won’t have to breath that stuff in for a very very long time if ever again (because I’ll take better pre-cautions).

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lucy August 20, 2012 at 10:09 am

Amanda — I made this in 2010 and I still have at least a year’s worth. :) It’s great!

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Samantha Houston November 6, 2012 at 5:52 pm

You may have said this, but I like you recipe best and I want to make sure, is this safe for sensitive skin? My husband has occasional flare ups of eczema as well as dry skin, so we have to buy the super sensitive stuff at the store (plus it just better overall) and its just not worth it for the price. So making sure that this switch will not have a hiccup is super important. Thanks! I am loving your site as well!

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Anonymous November 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm

My understanding is that this works well for those with sensitive skin. You could try a smaller batch the first time if you want to test it out.

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Raelene December 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm

I don’t understand how to chop up the soap using a processor. I have the Nnja food processor…..will that work?
Also, I have a question about cloth diapers. My prefolds are 100% cotton but my diaper covers are 100% polyester inside. Am I able to wash these 2 together or do I have to wash them separately since they are two different fabrics? Any advice would be great. I am 34 weeks pregnant and new to cloth diapering.

Thanks!

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Joy Platt July 19, 2013 at 10:02 pm

put each bar one at a time for 90 seconds, (let it cool alittle, then it will be very brittle,

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Ali January 20, 2013 at 9:10 pm

I’d like to make a large batch of the cloth diaper recipe, then use that for the regular laundry with the Fels Naptha. How much of the Fels Naptha do you think I would need to add to each load of wash assuming i use 2 Tbs. of the cloth diaper recipe?
Thanks :)

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Sarah February 2, 2013 at 4:19 pm

I am interested in making my own laundry detergent. We all has extremely sensitive skin and my son has eczema too. We all have reactions to both borax and oxy clean. Is there a way to make my own without either of these ingredients?

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Beth Rees February 8, 2013 at 9:28 pm

I love that this is so easy and makes so much. I also love the money it saves.

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Desarae February 13, 2013 at 1:29 pm

A tip I learned from One Good Thing by Jillee’s blog is to add a little of the oxyclean to your food processor when grating the soap. It gets a fine grate without stressing your processor. I used Dr. Bonners lavender castille soap, my laundry smells heavenly, its gotten things clean that were dingy and filmy from years of store bought detergent. I have hard water and this stuff is amazing!!

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Rachel Sutton February 25, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Hi! I love your blog, my sister who introduced me to cloth diapers sent me to you since you have the best how to and explanations! I was wondering if it’s ok to use dawn dish soap instead of the flakes? I make my own detergent now with the borax, washing soda and dawn dish soap, and dissolve it and add water so you use the same measuring cup as normal tide detergent or whatever, and it seems to work great on our clothes and doesn’t seem to have any buildup but I don’t want to ruin the cloth diapers I just bought so I wanted to see what you thought about the dawn dish soap instead of the flakes, sorry this is so long I just really love how cheap and easy it is to make and want to be sure I don’t ruin anything!! Thanks so so much!!!

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Leila March 18, 2013 at 10:11 pm

You do know that both borax and Oxiclean got an “F” rating on ewg.org, right?

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Alison April 5, 2013 at 1:40 pm

…and check the Fels Naptha for ingredient list….I read there are petrochemicals and “fragrance” which means phthalates!

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Miranda May 30, 2013 at 12:13 am

Actually, Oxiclean Baby got an “A” and Oxiclean Free got a “B”, both of which Amanda stated to use in the laundry detergent. There are other versions of Oxiclean that do have an “F” rating. Borax did receive an “F” rating, but Amanda also clearly states above that there is a lot of controversy between people when using Borax, and she, personally, feels safe using Borax. She also mentions an article by EWG and their caution of using Borax…

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Alison April 5, 2013 at 1:41 pm

don’t get me wrong, i am grateful for these recipes and the hard work. i just want everyone to know if they are looking for extremely human friendly recipes like i am!

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Devon July 12, 2013 at 3:58 pm

WOW! I just made this today and used it! I had been using arm and hammer pod things. After using this I think the clothes even smell better than the commercial stuff with added fragrances! Thanks Amanda!

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Amanda July 18, 2013 at 5:35 pm

I’m so happy to hear that, thanks for sharing!

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Brittany September 8, 2013 at 2:27 am

Love this detergent! I have been using it for about 2 years now and it is awesome! :)

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Henderson Lafond October 27, 2013 at 3:32 pm

I have been using your soap recipe for about a year and LOVE it – one question. My husband and I just bought a new washer that is high efficiency (not a front load). Can I use this in there? Should I only use 1 tbsp? Thanks!!!

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Catherine December 27, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Seems like a lot of work, I am curious about the cost savings.

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Hannah February 9, 2014 at 11:16 pm

I use this recipe to make our detergent. I make the big batch and set ahead half (w/o soap) for the cloth diapers and then add 1/2 the bars of soap to the remaining batch for everyone’s laundry. I like my clothes to have a nice scent to them so I add the purex cystals to my wash. I have a HE front loader and use the powder detergent in it with no problem. I put in the drawer and lift the divider like the machine says to…haven’t had any issue with residue or clogging. The only issue I have had is my machine gets smelly but it is evidently a common problem for front loaders.

I use Ivory soap in my detergent. I do not have a food processor to make it super fine but I have a microwave that does the job. I cut up the soap and nuke it. It is super cool to watch it expand. Afterwards I crumble up, crumble it up some more, and then microwave any big pieces that remains and crumbling again.

I made my second batch this summer and my first batch right around when my 2 year old was born. We only used cloth diapers at home, sent disposables to day care. I have pretty much stopped using cloth diapers once school started again due to the fact the I was getting pretty disgusted with cleaning big kid poop. It always seems that on days that I use the cloth diapers my DS poops 3x more than on days he wears disposables at home.

Another benefit is my other DS’s skin does not flare up as much as it did.

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Perri February 10, 2014 at 3:12 pm

So, I’ve been using your recipe for the past several years and I LOVE it. However, I have recently found that I miss the “fresh” smell. I’ve added something similar to the Downy crystals but I still don’t notice much freshness. I don’t have to have a scent, just want it to smell clean/fresh. Any suggestions?

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audrey August 9, 2014 at 2:24 pm

How much space does the soap take up in the 5 gallon bucket? I made it without the soap last time but wanted to try it with the soap this time. Will it fit in one 5 gallon bucket?

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Amanda Hearn August 21, 2014 at 12:22 pm

I’m not exactly sure how much space it takes, but I’ve used a 5 gallon bucket for a whole batch with soap.

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Erica September 8, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Love your website. I’m making a batch of the cloth diaper detergent and then I’m going to do a smaller batch of the laundry detergent with soap. Is the laundry detergent with soap going to be ok to use on newborn laundry that isn’t cloth diapers? I have Fels-Naptha bars…

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Jill Bott October 5, 2014 at 12:20 pm

I was reading your post and I to make my own detergent. I don’t just make it for diapers, but use it on all of our clothes. My family has very sensitive skin and the kids (5 plus one bun in the oven) are very hard on clothes. I have three girls and two boys and the last one due in a few weeks we haven’t found out the gender…. The girls honestly I think get their clothes dirtier and get more stains, chocolate and foods mostly…. the boys just seemed harder on their clothes, like getting holes in the knees from wear…climbing around on the floor etc. Although my oldest daughter seems to have a knack for that too. I make my detergent basically exactly as you do…. I use a bar of the fels naptha soap grated into the washing soda and borax….. mix it all up and then get out a gallon sized jar of boiling water and add 1/8 C of the mix to it… shake it up until its all melted and mixed in…. after an hour or two of sitting and cooling, it gets thick…. I use about 1/2C per load of either diapers or clothes…. I do an extra rinse at the end in which I do add white vinegar to get out any excess detergent left behind. I have noticed that if I don’t “melt” the detergent (because of the grated soap) in hot water, it doesn’t want to wash out. I haven’t tried Ivory soap for the detergent in place of felsnaptha…. Mostly because when I made other detergents/soaps out of Ivory, it left behind film. The felsnaptha has its own unique smell, and of course so does the vinegar, however when it is all said and done and the laundry is dry, the smell of both is gone. I think this detergent is far better than alot of other “free and clear” types of laundry detergents I have used on our clothes. Now I do have to say though that I do use a commercial stain remover….mainly out of laziness for now…. If you scrub the felsnaptha bar into stains, it does remove them. I have came across several recipes for home made stain removers as well, and as soon as the Sams Club sized bottle of stain remover is gone, I am going to try to make my own and see how it goes. The only problem I have ever come across with cloth diapers didn’t have to do with the detergent or detergent build up, but a natural diaper rash spray I was using. The stuff worked like a charm…. it had tea tree oil in it and it literally would start healing the rash with in minutes…for real! it was awesome… I believe they quit making it though :(. Anyhow, the diaper rash spray caused some repelling, but I was able to solve that issue with stripping the diapers that were affected.

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Audrey November 4, 2014 at 1:28 pm

24 bars of soap that weigh approximately how much?
Excited to try this but I want to make sure that I have the right ratio for soap to everything else :)

Thank you!!

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