How to make Zero Waste Laundry Detergent

Making homemade laundry detergent is one of the easiest ways for your family to become part of the Zero Waste Cleaning movement. 

No need to be a chemist or to buy any special tools; only five ingredients and 20 minutes of preparation.

Why use detergent that is Zero Waste

Zero waste detergent ingredients
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At some point in our lives, we are likely to know somebody with sensitive skin. 

While the underlying reasons might be linked to different factors such as change of seasons, air pollution, allergies(among others), a recurrent skin discomfort can be quite common after a night in bed, or when putting on recently washed clothes. 

This is by no means an attempt to associate skin irritation with laundry detergent (we are not doctors after all). 

However, we believe it is worth sharing the benefits we have seen in this type of laundry detergent. 

Always seek medical advice in case of doubt.

A few years ago, with the growing frustration of not understanding the ingredients in conventional products, it became easier to find organic and ecological alternatives in stores, including supermarkets. 

However, even though the eco-friendly detergent was helpful to reduce the itchiness, it turned out to be more expensive, at bottle level. 

But, also for each wash (we had to add more liquid or powder detergent for the same amount of clothes). 

Moreover, it was not always possible to buy detergent stored in glass or reusable plastic-free material. 

As you may know, one of the critical principles of Zero Waste is to ban plastic. 

Therefore, we were not fully satisfied. To the question “are conventional laundry soap boxes recyclable?” 

The answer is almost always no, as their packaging most often contains plastic.

Following an exciting debate with our friends, we decided to extensively test and produce  DIY laundry detergents. 

We tweaked with the results for some time (please carefully follow the tips below), but eventually, we found the exact recipe that fitted our needs (and our washing machine!).

To the question: What is the most environmentally friendly laundry detergent? The answer to us is clear; the Zero Waste version goes hand and hand with an eco-responsible attitude.

How do you make your own Zero Waste laundry detergent?

Before looking at the ingredients, make sure to have cleaned glass jars at hand, including matching lids. 

As described below, it is important to shake your jar before putting the detergent in your washing machine. 

You can, for example, reuse the glass bottles you buy for beverages or tomato sauce. 

Remember that one of the essential reasons behind Zero Waste is to create refillable laundry detergent. 

Ingredients

marseille soap
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Marseille Soap

Marseille soap or Castile soap

Our preference goes to Marseille soap. You can either shave bars of soap with a hand grater (even more affordable) or buy ready to use flakes. 

Look for its ‘purest’ version, i.e., without any synthetic products and with a minimum of 70% of vegetable oils, and sold with reusable packaging. 

If you want to start with a more straightforward solution, we recommend the Pure-Castile Liquid Soap by Dr. Bronner. It is a polyvalent soap (body, laundry, cleaning) made by a reputational brand. 

Moreover, they are guaranteed socially and environmentally responsible products. In terms of scent, our preference goes to almond.

Baking & Washing soda
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Baking & Washing soda

There are readily available in most bulk stores or regular shops (but bring your glass jar!).

Bear in mind the target is to make plastic-free laundry detergent, and the packaging in conventional shops most often contains plastic.

bottle of oil in hand
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Essential Oils

We prefer lavender, lemon, eucalyptus, or lily of the valley. 

Essentials oils are optional as they do not directly contribute to the cleaning of laundry. However, they give off a fresh smell that is highly appreciated.

Filtered Water 

Our preference is tap water filtered with activated charcoal(here’s why).

Instructions

Zero Waste Laundry Detergent Measurements chart
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  1.  Boil the water either in a kettle (and then pour it into another container) or directly in a pot.
  2. While it is boiling, take it out of the hotplate and add the soap flakes. Make sure to stir slowly for a few minutes, ideally with a whisk.
  3. Let it cool down for 8 to 10 minutes; add the baking soda and washing soda and stir gently.
  4. Once the liquid is lukewarm, pour it into the glass jars and add the drops of essential oil (take a look at the chart above). Use a funnel to ease the process. 
  5. Let it cool down before using.
  6. Shake the jar each time before using the laundry detergent as the mixture can slightly solidify.

Implementation Tips

  • Dosage:  Make sure you use a reusable container to mark the necessary dosage you will use(for example, you can mark the amount on a glass container). A good metric to follow to avoid using too much detergent, you can mark on the glass what 2 ounces represent.
  • Temperature-wise, as we want to limit the impact on the environment, try to wash at a cold temperature with short programs, and only wash with hot water, bed sheets, underwear, sports clothes, and towels. We also recommend, once a month, to use the clean-cycle of your machine with one cup of white vinegar(either directly in the drum or in the detergent tray) to avoid that residues of soap damage your washing machine. If not possible, program a short and hot cycle (without any laundry), using the vinegar as well.
  • Drying: we recommend to use a bit of white vinegar (either in the tray or directly in the drum) to avoid that your laundry feels stiff or coarse. Feel free to add a few drops of your preferred essential oil.
  • We are also big fans of dryer balls, a safer alternative than any other conventional dryer sheets, or fabric softeners, which are most often toxic for your skin and the environment. Make sure to choose organic or at least natural fabrics. In addition to softening your laundry items and decreasing the drying time, it will reduce static, due to its bouncing movements in the machine. Lastly, one ball can be used up to 1,000 loads and costs between 3 and 6 USD apiece.  For small to regular sizes, we recommend 2 to 3 balls per load.

As stated previously, going Zero Waste is more affordable, in addition to helping you reach a more natural way of life.

The recipe we provided should cost you around 1 USD per 30oz. 

To share our own experience, with a household of two using about 400 FL oz. (12 liters) a year, we save 70 USD each year, making our own Zero Waste laundry detergent versus buying organic alternatives.

What Should You Be Wary Of

Although we did not include white vinegar in the ingredients, it is quite common to use white vinegar and baking soda together for cleaning.  

Thus, we find it important to advise against using white vinegar in this particular homemade version of laundry detergent. 

Even though there is nothing harmful in doing so (except for the fizzing solution that some of you might have experienced during your high-school chemistry class), white vinegar and baking soda are best used separately to maximize their positive effects. 

Namely, by mixing them, there are no additional cleaning benefits. Baking soda is a base, and vinegar, an acid, using them together will neutralize their efficiency. 

Therefore, they are best separated and used for what we know them; super-handy and natural cleaning methods.  

Baking soda alone is a natural deodorizer and helps in the scrubbing of tough stains. 

White vinegar, on the other hand, is well known for its efficiency to remove grease and shine different surfaces such as tiles and windows.

An exception to the above would be when cleaning toilets or a clogged appliance; because baking soda and vinegar become a foaming substance (releasing CO2 gas), it is handy for cleaning. 

However, because we have to prepare laundry detergents in advance, this reaction is not useful here.

Final Thoughts

After some experimenting, we found the perfect balance in terms of texture and smell for our zero waste laundry. Now that it works, we are not going back to the old ways! 

Know what is in your home products, try to become more eco-responsible while saving money, and begin making your own Zero Waste laundry detergent.

Zero waste detergent ingredients
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