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Why Homemade Laundry Detergent Doesn’t Actually Save You Money

We often hear about homemade laundry detergent and how much money it can save you, but this is a really interesting perspective on how it might not actually save you money like you think!

Psst! Interested in other homemade cleaners? Check out this list of homemade cleaners that might save you money!

homemade laundry detergent doesn't save money

Guest post from Ali:

I used to love homemade detergent. I thought it was amazing! It was easy, quick, and cheap to make. It worked well on stains.

But it was a waste. Homemade laundry detergent cost me much more than I saved.

About 6 months after I started making my homemade laundry detergent, all of our clothes started to stink and fall apart. And I ended up having to completely replace our wardrobe.

What I didn’t know at that point was that the bars of soap you grate to be the main cleaning agent, do not easily wash out in a washing machine.

Why Homemade Laundry Soap Doesn’t Work

The Science

The following is a very simple explanation.

Soap and detergent are similar molecules, but key differences make soap appropriate for nonporous surfaces (like counters) and detergent appropriate for porous surfaces (like clothes).

This is because detergent needs much less water than soap to wash out. And washing machines just don’t use enough water to properly wash soap out of clothes.

When soap (that builds up in your clothes) binds to magnesium or calcium, it makes soap scum.

Soap scum is insoluble and builds up, causing the clothes that you want to be absorbent (like towels and cloth diapers) lose their absorbency.

It will also cause your clothes to stink and deteriorate. Just like what happened to me!

So Why Not Use Extra Rinses?

Soap degrades fats like oil and lubricants — the same oil and lubricants your washer needs to operate properly.

With each wash, you are slowly ruining your washer. Using homemade laundry detergents will void your warranty, too.

Eventually, you will have to replace your washer.

You may have to replace your entire wardrobe like me.

What about Washing Soda and Borax?

I highly recommend keeping these around for laundry. They don’t harm the laundry or your machine.

These are NOT cleaning agents, though. These are chemicals that soften your water.

Most waters have dissolved minerals like calcium and iron present in them. Store-bought detergents will bind to these minerals, making them less effective at cleaning our clothes.

So if you have hard water, use a store-bought detergent and add ½ to 1 cup of a water softener.

How do you know if you have hard water?

Red stains in the bathtub mean that you have iron. Calcium will block small pipes over long periods.

Wellwater or untreated water tends to be hard while treated water tends to be softer.

The only way to know for sure is to get it tested.

Take a small sample from INSIDE your washer, if possible, and use a hardness test kit found in the aquarium aisle of most pet stores. It is easy and takes only a few minutes.

Some pet stores will do it for free if you bring it in. You may also be able to find the kits at hardware and pool stores.

How to Save Money on Laundry Detergent

If you want to save money on laundry detergent without homemade detergent being your solution, here are some of my best tips:

  • Use coupons to get best the deal on detergent. Coupons are always a good way to save money if you have the time! Collect some detergent coupons, stack it on a sale, and you can get a great deal. Buy several bottles and stock up!
  • Buying in bulk is always a great idea! Consider Amazon Subscribe & Save or Target Subscribe to Save. Beware of buying from places like Craigslist or Facebook Market Place. Counterfeit detergent is a thing.
  • Water softeners like mentioned above can make your detergent more powerful if you have dissolved minerals in your water.
  • Buy cheaper detergents and use more than recommended (depending on the soil level of the load) with an extra rinse.
  • Let the load soak. The additional time for the chemical to bind will allow more reactions to take place.

Ditch Your Dryer

If you can, line dry your clothes. This will reduce your energy significantly and save you money on your electric bill.

Bonus Tip: Strip Your Clothes

If you have been using homemade laundry detergent or want to check the efficacy of your laundry routine, strip your clothes.

This is a simple process that will pull all the grime out of the fabric.

How to Strip Clothes

    • Fill your bathtub ⅔ full of HOT water.
    • Add 2 cups strong detergent
    • 1 cup of water softener
    • Stir
    • Add clothes. They should be able to move around freely so don’t overload it.
    • Let sit 4-5 hours. If your clothes have build-up, the water will turn dark.
    • Wash your clothes in the washing machine with NO extra detergent.

Stripping will remove any build-up and make your clothes feel like new!

Have you ever tried making your own homemade laundry detergent? Did you like it?

Ali is a homeschool mom of 5. She is passionate about building wealth, teaching others to build wealth, revolutionizing education, and teaching the next generation of leaders.

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  • Sarah says:

    Yes. People don’t realize that they are different. Plus homemade soap will void your warranty on your washing machine. We actually like the cheap Mexican laundry detergent.

    • Ang says:

      I find with cheaper detergent colors fade and stains don’t come out. For me it is worth it to spend more for quality detergent. Otherwise my kids have way to many clothes ruined.

  • Holly says:

    I’ve been making homemade laundry detergent for 10 years and have lots of clothes that have lasted all that time. You need the right recipe- a laundry bar and not body soap- and use diluted vinegar in your fabric softener dispenser. Some articles like this have actually been traced back to commercial detergent companies.

    • Julie says:

      I too have made my own laundry soap for 11 years and have no problems. In fact I switched because our towels were getting build up and were stinky from detergent. I always washed them in hot water. Once I used the homemade laundry soap the smell was gone.

      My recipe is two bars of Dr. Bronner’s soap, two boxes of washing soda and one box of Borax. I also put half a scoop of Oxiclean into each load of laundry I do.

      Our clothes do not smell and are not falling apart.

      If my son’s work clothes get a little smelly I add some vinegar to the load and they are fine.

      • Jordan says:

        Thanks so much for sharing you honest experience! Everyone has different opinions and success with different formulas. It’s so great that you’ve found something that works for your family! -Jordan, MSM Team

    • Andrea says:

      I think that you’re right! I think that it’s the fabric softener that ruins the clothes and makes your towels hard! I stopped using it a few years ago and my towels still feel like they’re brand new!

  • JJ says:

    Wow, this was an interesting read. I appreciate the science behind it that you shared.

    Andrea Dekker wrote about a method without using any laundry detergent. She has 4 kids, and she’s used it for awhile. I’d like to try it once we use up our laundry detergent.

    Here’s the link to her post:

  • Tonya McAllister says:

    It’s fascinating to hear another perspective.

    I have been using homemade detergent for 15 years and our clothes are clean and in good condition. I do have a water softner and use 1/4 cup vinegar with the final rinse to prevent soap buildup.

    I have an old washing machine from 1976 and thankfully it’s still going strong.

    I do agree that line drying does extend the life of clothes. I even hang our clothes to dry in our furnace room in winter to save money.

    • Jordan says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience! We always love getting other views! -Jordan, MSM Team

    • Banni Mao says:

      I’m a huge fan of hanging clothes to dry! I once lived overseas for a year and didn’t have a dryer and realized we could survive without one. So, now ours only gets used in the winter for sheets and towels.
      In the winters we hang our clothes on hangers on our shower curtain rods – this has the added bonus of adding humidity to our super dry winter air!

      • Jordan says:

        I’m a big fan of hang drying as well! We live in Florida and often hang them inside because of the outdoor humidity and possibility of afternoon showers. Let me tell you the house smells fantastic after laundry day! -Jordan, MSM Team

  • diane says:

    I have never made it because 1. Fels Naptha soap, which seems to be a key ingredient in most recipes, is, as far as I know, scented, and I can’t have any scent in my detergent and 2. 9 ish years ago someone commented on this blog that he was a plumber and recommended against homemade laundry and dishwasher detergent.
    I’m frugal, I line dry clothes, I use less soap, I only wash dirty clothes, and I buy unscented detergent at the best price that I can.

  • April says:

    A friend uses soapnuts and hasn’t bought detergent for years. I bought some on amazon. They live in a plastic ball that moves around the load.

  • Laura says:

    I have to disagree with this article. I’ve used homemade laundry soap for 10+years. I’ve had no problems with my clothes or wash machine. I can make my soap for $8.64 for a family of 5 that will last us 6 months. I used to use Fels Naptha but now I make my own homemade bar soap that I shred. It’s the only laundry soap that will take fried smell or grease smell out of clothes and it’s amazing on stains. I prefer as much of a natural product as possible. I also line dry and if I have to use the dryer I have my own homemade wool dryer balls. No fabric softner and no fabric sheets.

    • Jordan says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience! Everyone seems to have different ways of what works for their families! -Jordan, MSM Team

  • Missy says:

    An interesting article but I’ve been making my own laundry soap made of Castile soap, borax and washing soda for several years and have not noticed any of the problems the author has. In fact, my washer generally works better and our clothes stink less than when I used store bought laundry detergent. I’m sure some washers cannot handle homemade soap but some can and it does save money for us!

  • Courtney says:

    I used homemade laundry detergent for years, but it always left a white residue on our clothes. I recently switched to Method Brand and have found it extremely economical. It smells amazing and even removes stains.

  • Janice says:

    I love making my own spot remover to save money. I use 2 cups hydrogen peroxide to 1 cup dish soap. I put it in an opaque spray bottle (for the HP to stay good) this has seemed to work just as well as spot removers on the shelf.

  • Chris says:

    I use Dawn dish soap for most of my laundry. You don’t want to use too much to prevent lots of suds. I have an old squirt bottle and use about 7 squirts for a large load. Very cheap! I also put some white vinegar in my loads.

  • Sally says:

    We made our own detergent for years and it worked great for us. We recently switched to the little thin detergent strips because it seems green and I can get a year’s supply for the same weight as one bottle of detergent.

  • Csandst1 says:

    I disagree with this article. I use fels naphtha, washing soda and borax. I use a tablespoon for one load My clothes are clean and costs less. Clipping coupons is no longer cost effective unless you can get them for free. Our a Sunday is $5.

  • Dee Wolters says:

    I had a similar experience to the author, although, thankfully, our clothes did not fall apart. My issue is that the homemade formula (I tried several) did not get our clothes clean. Maybe we are just more “dirty” than others- we do live on a farm and do a lot of outdoor exercise. I am thankful for Moneysavingmom and her notifications of low cost laundry detergent. I purchase several different brands when they are a really good deal, and usually have enough to share with my adult children.

    • Jordan says:

      Yay! We are so happy to help you score great deals and save for the whole family!! -Jordan, MSM Team

    • Amy says:

      Dee, You are not alone. We also must be “dirtier” than others. We live on a farm and also work on tractors and equipment (oil and grease), and we need very solid detergent to take care of our clothes. Maybe I’m not using the others correctly, but this is one place where I use what I can buy.

  • Allie Jones says:

    My mom started making homemade laundry soap when I was 8 years old. We have used it ever since and I use the same recipe now that I’m married. I have most of my same clothes from high school, still in very nice condition. You have to make sure you use a laundry bar when making soap (like Fels Naphtha) and not a body soap bar.

  • Teresa says:

    I’ve been making my own laundry detergent for at least 15 years. Our clothes don’t stink and they don’t fall apart. The washing machines last too. I use felsnaptha, borax and washing soda, no vinegar in the rinse.

  • karen b says:

    I have made homemade laundry soap in the past. I stopped using it because 1. we live on a farm & after a few weeks of using it the barn clothes wasn’t getting clean at all, 2. All the clothes were starting to stink even after I stopped using for barn clothes, 3. I didn’t find it was cheaper in the long run.
    I have talked to friends & we all agreed there seemed to be a weird smell after using for awhile. I think its a great idea if others can use it but for us it didn’t work. We also didn’t find the clothes falling apart, that seems a little strange.
    I think what works for 1 person might not work for another.

    • Jordan says:

      I think you are absolutely right! What works for one family isn’t always the best for the next. Thank you so much for sharing your experience! -Jordan, MSM Team

  • Laura says:

    I made my own detergent for years but purchased fabric softener for it’s scent on some items. It wasn’t until my son’s roommate left his store-bought laundry detergent behind that I realized how much I missed the wonderful smell of commercial detergent. We went back to that for a while. I omitted the fabric softener and the cost was close to the same. This year, with covid, I have gone back to powdered detergent. I buy the inexpensive Mexican detergent and add washing soda and borax. When I want a scent I add in fabric softener. It really seems to be about the same. So whatever works!

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