Cuppa Cuppa: Chemistry and Kitchen Witchery



Yeah, there are tons of homemade laundry powder recipes on the internet (a dizzying amount) and some work and some do not, especially in hard water. Back in the day, my first front load washer (new on the market then) did not have a soak cycle, and it didn’t mix the water very well, so hot or warm water wasn’t really all that hot or warm. Powder detergent did not dissolve and caused all sorts of residue issues, especially in my hard water. So I stuck to Tide, Whisk, Woolite, and then when I started having sensitivity issues, I switched to the greener companies like Method, Sun & Earth, Seventh Gen, etc. But to be honest, green detergents suck. They do not get the clothes clean without adding shit like Borax, or Washing Soda, or Bleach, so I’ve wanted to make my own for a long time now, but liquid washing soap is a PITA to get right so that you use enough to clean but not enough to star in one of those sudsy-basement sitcom scenarios, which is why I didn’t even bother, until now.

front-load-washerI got a new Speed Queen front loader last year. I cannot rave enough about these machines, but aside from that, it has a nice long soak cycle, not to mention, better water temperature mixing. I’ve also discovered from my ‘simple is best’ homemade organic cleaner experiments that my cleaners tend to work better, so I thought now might be the time to try a homemade washing soap again. I am also a chemistry geek, understanding how things work is my thing.


1 65 oz Box of Borax
1 55 oz Box of Washing Soda (Sodium Carbonate)
2 Bars of finely grated soap (I now prefer Zote out of all the soaps I tried)
1 cup of Citric Acid

3 Cups of Enzyme Detergent (biokleen) (optional)

So why do I use this particular combination of ingredients? Well, it’s very similar to the Speed Queen approved DIY from their blog. Voiding a warranty is something I like to avoid.

1. Borax. A mineral salt that comes from the earth. Now, I am not afraid of borax just like I am not afraid of Lye. Used correctly and handled with care, Borax does wondrous things. It makes water very slippery by way of its buffering properties, which keeps soap and dirt suspended so that nothing settles back on your clothes. It also releases hydrogen peroxide, which has antiseptic and whitening properties. Many of us old time soap makers add it to our soap recipes for those same reasons. Also, it’s cheap.

2. Washing Soda. Sodium Carbonate is a water softener in a way different from Borax. It competes with the magnesium and calcium ions in hard water, prevents them from bonding with the detergent being used. Sodium carbonate is also used to remove grease, oil, and wine stains = Bonus. And it’s cheap.



3. Grated Soap. You need a surfactant to remove dirt, but you do not want a ton of suds. Even synthetic, naturally-derived surfactants can overproduce suds, which is why I prefer a Castile or Coconut/veggie based soap. I was using Dr. Bronner’s because it does not have the synthetic ingredients some soaps have. I heard Zote is good too, but I am not familiar with the ingredients. I cannot use my own homemade soap because I superfat for moisturizing and you do not want excess unsaponified oil in the wash for obvious reasons, plus, as a company Dr. Bronner’s just rocks it when it comes to being socially and environmentally conscious. Edited to Add: I did switch to Zote. I think it brightens the whites better.

4. Citric Acid. This is in just about every cleaning product out there and the reason why is that it is a chelating agent. It makes metals soluble, like the iron in hard water that turns your whites yellow. It removes limescale, and it improves the effectiveness of soap. Chelating the metals in hard water lets the surfactant produce foam and work better. This is why Lemi-Shine and most machine cleaners are simply citric acid. Try it in a homemade dishwasher detergent and you will never have film or water spotting again. You won’t need to waste your money on a rinse aid either. Sadly though, this is the one ingredient missing in most DIY laundry detergent recipes and it’s really really important. You typically want a 4-1 ratio of Washing Soda to Citric Acid.

5. An Enzyme Cleaner or a Detergent. This is optional, but some stains like sweaty gardening stains need a bit of extra help. Blood is notoriously difficult. Right now, I add a dime-sized dollop of Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds to the difficult loads, but I am planning to experiment with adding a cup of biokleen to the dry mix to see if it works as well as the Sal-Suds. We’ll see. Sal-Suds has SLS, so some might be averse to using it despite conflicting information. If the biokleen can tackle the sweaty gardening soil, then I’ll replace the Sal-Suds. Edited to add: I do add the Biokleen to the detergent, but for really tough stains, I found Biokleen’s Bac-out works the best, even on blood and grass. Spray, let it sit for an hour, then wash, even in hot water. Shit is amazing.

6. Lastly, I use vinegar in the rinse cycle, also Speed Queen approved. About ¼ cup just to get rid of any residual soap.

You do need to let the mix cure for about 3 or 4 days before using it. This will require shaking and stirring until it becomes granular so it doesn’t harden into a brick. I use a pasta spoon for this as it breaks apart the clumps better.

So far, I am very happy with this mix. 1/2 cup of dry per normal load. If it’s whites, I add a cup of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide to the wash cycle as well for extra bleaching. I get it by the gallon for $6.99.

Is DIY cheaper? Maybe. I don’t know. Don’t care. My only reason for doing this, well, two reasons, are that, 1. I want my clothes clean and have been sorely disappointed in the commercial offerings, and 2. I want to stop giving money to companies that test on animals. You do not have to pay Dial and Arm & Hammer. You can order Borax and Soda Ash and Citric Acid in bulk from places like The Chemistry Store and Bulk Apothecary. They are only distributors.

I still like Method and Ecover and all the other green companies, but if I have to use additives to help them clean better, then why continue to use them if I can make something that works just as well on its own or even better with ingredients I already have at home and with the minimal use of an additive like Sal-Suds or biokleen?

Why indeed.

Note: You’ll see most DIY recipes call for 1 to 2 tablespoons per load, but seriously, this IS NOT enough soap or anything to actually clean your clothes. Commercial products are concentrated. DIY is not, so let’s not get ridiculous, otherwise in a few months you will be complaining about dingy grey clothes that smell like crap and probably a gross washing machine to boot. 1/3 cup for small loads and a 1/2 cup for a large load seems to work the best for us.

Also, I do not know anything about cloth diapers, so, can’t help anyone there, but for the cat linens, I do sometimes add some Nature’s Miracle or Bac Out to the wash cycle. Baking Soda does fuck all, so I don’t even bother with it outside of a soft scrub situation.


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