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Making Phosphate-Free Homemade Laundry and Dish Detergent

Dana Driscoll sends along her most recent column. You can follow Dana's column "The Druid Gardener: Spiritual Journeys in Tending the land" @ http://druidgarden.wordpress.com/ The Druid Gardener blog includes gardening tips and suggestions, discussions of permaculture and sustainability, information about the connection between druidry and the environment, recipes, and an emphasis on connecting to the sacred in our everyday life.

Since its still winter, and I’m making things rather than growing things, I wanted to share a laundry detergent recipe with you!

Current laundry detergents are terrible for the environment.  They contain a number of chemicals, including phosphates (which can cause explosive algae blooms and eutrophication, among other issues), sulfonates (which biodegrade very slowly and are toxic to plants/animals/us) and other chemicals.  Part of the challenge in purchasing a traditional detergent like Tide, Downy, etc. is that none of these companies are required to list the chemicals contained.  There is a very good chance that, with each load of laundry or automatic dishwasher load you run, you are slowly destroying fragile ecosystems found in rivers, coral reefs, or even your own backyard.

A host of environmentally-responsible companies have created phosphate-free and naturally-based, biodegradable detergents.  The problem is, for many, they are simply out of your budget.

Here are two recipes that I’ve used and adapted that really "work" for both your laundry detergent and automatic dishwasher (which is an entirely othr issue, lol)

Homemade Laundry Detergent


  • 1 cup Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda*
  • 1 cup Borax (20 mule team brand is the most common)
  • 1 bar of soap (some recipes call for Fels Naptha soap, but you can use anything.  I have used Castile soap, Ivory soap, etc.  I currently use a locally produced Goat’s Milk Soap)
  • Optional: Essential oils (I like lavender and/or orange)

*This can be tricky to find.  This is NOT baking soda, and baking soda will NOT work!  Look in local grocery stores–it will be in the laundry detergent aisle.  I’ve had success at my local Kroger store.


  • 5 gallon bucket with lid (you can buy one of these for cheap at a yard sale or home improvement store).
  • 1 cheese grater
  • 1 large pot
  • measuring cups
  • Gallon jug (or you can approximate, as I often do)
  • A stirring mechanism- I prefer a whisk tied to a paint stirrer.
  • Rubber gloves (to protect hands during process)


1.  Grate up your soap with the cheese grater and add about 1/2 gallon of hot water into your pot.

2.  Put the pot on the stove and bring your soap to a boil.  Stir it up with the wisk, making sure that your soap gratings are fully dissolved.  FYI, if you let this boil over, you’ll have a bit of a soapy mess.  Been there, done that!

3.  While your soap is dissolving, add 1/2 gallon cold water and 1 cup borax and 1 cup super washing soda  in your bucket.  Mix these well.

4.  After your soap has dissolved add in your gallon of soapy water.   Mix well–again using the whisk.  Be sure you don’t touch the stuff at this point–the Arm and Hammer Washing Soda and Borax are kinda caustic.

5.  Optional: If you want to add any scents, like Lavender essential oil, go ahead now!  Add about 30 drops, or to your liking.

6.  Add the last two gallons of water (cold).  Stir everything up.

7.  Now, over the next 12 hours or so, everything will cool and you’ll see the detergent starting to gel.  As it gels, stir it up with the whisk.  If you catch it at the right time and stir it, you’ll end up with a wonderful, detergent!

8.  Add 1 cup of your detergent to each load!

Homemade Dishwashing Detergent

Borax and Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda also do a great job in cleaning your dishes in a automatic dishwasher!  Just add 1/2 tablespoon of each (in powder form) to your dishwasher!