The Time I Made My Own Detergent and Didn’t Save Any Money

by Lindy on September 7, 2011

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Homemade laundry detergent is sort of like a line drawn in the frugal sand.

To cross over, one goes from normal frugal, to crazy frugal.

I remember my reaction the first time I came across a finance article in which the blogger made reference to making his own laundry detergent.

*blink* *blink*

Homemade detergent?

Is that really….a thing???

But I guess after several more months of reading personal finance blogs, I became acclimated to this concept of homemade detergent.  Especially since some bloggers were boasting costs of $0.02 per load!

I knew the “wet method” of homemade detergent, made famous by Trent at the Simple Dollar, sounded a little too complicated and messy for me.  So I was quite excited when I found a dry recipe shared in the comments of that post.

Homemade Laundry Detergent (don't use)

I used this recipe of detergent for several months. Every few weeks, I’d stand at the kitchen counter for 25 minutes grating bars of Fels Naptha for my mix. Fels Naptha smells really good, but the strong scent would often send A-Rob into sneezing fits.

Grating the bars of soap was a chore for sure, and often my knuckles would come out with battle wounds, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It made me feel good because I was being proactive to save money. Frugal martyrdom at its best.

Then one day I had the bright idea to calculate how much my homemade laundry detergent was costing per load.*

  • 1 bar Fels Naptha – $1.79
  • 1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda – $0.62
  • 1 cup Borax – $0.39

Total per batch: $2.80. There are 32 loads in a batch,**  so that works out to $0.08 per load.

Yep, that’s a wop-wop sound you’re hearing.

To put it in perspective, Target’s generic brand powdered laundry detergent is $0.11 per load.  Therefore, my detergent only offers a savings of $0.03 per load to the nearest generic. If I do about 32 loads of laundry in one month, I’m only saving $0.96 per month, or $11.52 per year.

Not quite worth the sneezes and the bloody knuckles, eh?

Luckily, around the time I discovered I wasn’t saving any money, The Saved Quarter posted her version of dry homemade laundry detergent, and it doesn’t require any grating of soap whatsoever. I modified her recipe a little, but here’s what I use now.

Homemade Laundry Detergent Winner!

  • 2 cups Purex – $0.56
  • 1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda – $0.62
  • 1 cup Target Up & Up Oxygen Cleaner (comparable to Oxyclean) – $0.66
  • 1 cup Borax – $0.39

The total cost per batch is $2.23, and it contains 40 loads. That’s a cost per load of $0.05.

Compared to $0.11 per load of the Target brand, I’m saving $0.06 with this method, which equates to a total savings of….need I ask for a drumroll?…

$1.92 per month, or $23.04 annually.

So it’s still not that exciting.

BUT

I don’t clip coupons, and I probably never will. So I’m actually fairly pleased I can get $0.05 per load without having to dig through dumpsters for newspapers like those crazy Extreme Couponers do.***  And since it only takes about five minutes per month to mix up my ingredients, I consider it worth my time to continue. At least for the short term. At least for as long as it makes me feel frugal. At least until I cross another frugal line and buddy up with Trent’s recipe.

My next step is to prove my theory that a traditional box of laundry detergent is lying about its load count.  It may say 55 loads, but mine is always gone in two weeks.  I’ll keep you posted on phase two of my laundry investigative reporting, if I ever get around to it, that is.

[Post Edit: A little bird told me that the load count listed on the box may actually be the number of small loads contained inside.  So if you fill the cup to the large load line every time, you get less total loads out of it. Hence, the $0.11 per load cost of the Target detergent may actually be more like $0.22 per load, which would mean I'm saving $0.17 per load with my recipe, or $5.44 per month/$65 annually...this may be worth exploring further after all.]

Not Homemade Laundry Detergent

In the meantime, have any of you found yourselves doing something in the name of frugality that you never thought you would?  Or did something you thought was saving money, but actually wasn’t? Have you ever made your own detergent?

* I stood at my kitchen counter and measured how many cups were in each box to figure out the cost per cup. That’s how much I love you guys.  Here are the details, in case you really want to dig deep and check my math skills. Total price per box shown first, followed by the number of cups per box.  Washing Soda – $3.59, 5  3/4 cups; Borax – $4.69, 12 cups; Purex – $3.64, 13 cups; Target Brand Oxygen cleaner – $7.59,  11 1/2 cups.

**64 tablespoons per four cups of ingredients, divided by 2 tablespoons per load = 32, and so on.

***I concede, not all coupon users are crazy. Well, maybe just a little crazy. ;)  Kidding, kidding.

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  • http://www.fabulouslybroke.com FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com

    Wop Wop indeed.

    I haven’t made my own detergent and I probably never will… It’s just too difficult to carry that stuff around and I RARELY use it.

    This makes my germaphobe mother freak out… but our clothes seems to stay nicer, longer without detergent.

    • Lindy

      Have you heard about the study where they discovered that putting your jeans in the freezer kills more bacteria than laundry soap? Something to consider. :)

  • http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/ Nicoleandmaggie

    I value my time at about $25/hr. Not touching things that give me rashes adds to that valuation.

    You can run wash cycles without any detergent from time to time– you get lots of detergent residue built up in your washer and running a load without soap helps it. Also if you see suds when you wash, you may be using too much detergent.

    • Lindy

      Good to know about washing with out soap for a load or so.

      I get no bubbles with this recipe, so something must be going right.

  • http://momvesting.com Christa

    I (sheepishly) admit that I have never attempted to make my own laundry detergent. I buy whatever’s on sale and call it good. Of course, the hubby and I end up with only 2 to 3 loads per week. Maybe when I have loads upon loads to wash I’ll try the homemade detergent.

    • Lindy

      Nothing to be sheepish about at all! I’m quite envious of your 2-3 loads per week. Wanna trade??? Folding massive piles of laundry is really fun!

  • http://dixid.wordpress.com/ Dy

    I’ve tried both the wet version and the dry version #1. The wet version didn’t do much for me or my laundry, but I like the dry version #1. I only do 2 loads of laundry a week, so I’m probably not realizing any great savings. However, I have ultra-sensitive skin and this version doesn’t irritate my skin like the supposedly “clear and free” commercial detergents. Comparing it to Tide? For me, Tide=Hives, so my homemade detergent is priceless.

    • Lindy

      Well said. Anything that doesn’t cause hives is worth the extra effort for sure.

  • http://www.sustainablelifeblog.com Jeff @ Sustainable life blog

    Great work here – Even though I make my own laundry soap, I never sat down and calculated the cost. I figured that 45 min sent in front of the tv while grinding fels naptha was fine with me. The cost savings isnt all that great, but I enjoy doing things myself, so I’m happy to do this. Taking frugality blindly can really get to you if you dont think about what you’re giving up.

  • http://www.halfdozendaily.blog.com Carla

    That’s one thing I haven’t done yet, and may not ever if I have to grate stuff up, as my eczema would not take kindly to that. I just buy on sale & don’t use a tonne of detergent.

  • http://girlwithredballoon.blogspot.com Red

    HA HA HA! It’s so true. When I first made my own laundry detergent, I thought, “You’ve crossed over to the dark side, my friend.” I still love doing it, and it did save quite a bit of moolah. Okay, maybe $20-something a year isn’t “quite a bit,” but I’m still using the same batch I made back in DECEMBER 2010. Dude. It doesn’t take very much time. It’s more environmentally friendly. And it means I’m spending less money on things I hate spending money on (detergent, toothpaste, toilet paper, etc. etc.). I love it. :) Actually, I would love even more to get to FB’s stage of not using any detergent, but I haven’t got there yet.

    @Carla I have eczema and using the non-scented Ivory bar soap had no effect on my skin. Just FYI. I’ve had harsh breakouts buying the cheap (Purex) liquid detergents though.

    • Lindy

      The fact that you’re still using the same batch after 10 months is pretty amazing! You know, for converting to the dark side and all.

  • http://retireby40.org retirebyforty

    Method 2 seems doable. I definitely don’t have 30 minutes to stand over a sink and grate soap for #1. That’s way too much work for detergent. Good post! I’ll try it when I’m a stay-at-home dad. ;)

  • http://thepetalstones.com Brenda

    2nd method seems fine, but is this ‘home made’ detergent also so environmentally inappropriate as the one from store?

  • http://www.totallymoney.com/blogs TotallyMoney

    My Dad went through a phase of trying to make frugal points to us kids. One of his finest moments involved making us shampoo. My hair took on all the silkiness of harvested straw and my scalp itched like crazy. Never again!

    Sometimes you’ve got to add how much your time is worth into the equation too!

  • http://debtfreebythirty.net Niki

    I do make the first one. I love that stuff. Smells so good.

    I am a cheater, I use a food processor to grate the soap. No bloody knuckles. For me it isn’t about the savings. It is better environmentally and being the nerdy person I am I enjoy making things from scratch.

  • http://dailymoneyshot.blogspot.com Jana

    Thank you for breaking this down. However, I am far too lazy to even attempt to make my own detergent. I have thought about it and decided I’d rather just buy it.

    And I don’t really use coupons either.

  • http://www.nomorespending.net laura

    I did cross over to this dark side and then went running back..now I buy eco friendly washing powder. I do use vinegar as a fabric softener so I’m still keeping my frugal on!

  • http://www.centstosave.com/ Lisa @ Cents To Save

    I did make the first recipe, and used it, then I got lazy or too busy. But I think I will cross over to the dark side again and try recipe #2. One less coupon to worry about.

  • http://www.frugalfreebiesanddeals.com Frugal Jen | Frugal, Freebies and Deals

    Seroiusly.. just try using half the detergent, no time making it and it will cost around $.05 a load- cheaper if it’s on sale!!

    jen

    • http://www.frugalfreebiesanddeals.com Frugal Jen | Frugal, Freebies and Deals

      not Seroiusly.. Seriously!!

      jen

  • http://wicwoes.com lynn

    This is so funny to me because I was just recently trying to calculate if it was worth it for me to try and make my own detergent. After reading and researching I came to the conclusion that for me the best thing to do was to use half as much Aldi brand detergent as I normally use because I read most of us put too much detergent in the washer- that has worked great. I cut my detergent costs in half and didn’t change brands or have to mix my own stuff up. I’m still thinking about making my own though because the people who do just make it look like such a wonderfully rewarding frugal thing to do. . .

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