Should You Make Your Own Laundry Detergent? What to Know Before DIYing

DIY cleaners offer control over ingredients and cost savings, but when it comes to homemade laundry detergent, experts say to skip it.

Making homemade cleaning agents, whether glass cleaners or tub scrub, using natural ingredients is a popular choice for many reasons. It allows full control over the formula, which can be helpful for people with allergies, skin conditions, and other sensitivities. DIY cleaners can also reduce waste and save money.

laundry detergent used in soap tray

Getty Images / Emilija Manevska

But not all homemade cleaning products are created equally and, when it comes to laundry, the decision to use DIY detergent instead of a commercially produced detergent is rife with hidden risks. With the help of experts, we explored the pros and cons of using homemade laundry detergent, and waste- and money-saving alternatives to homemade detergent to consider on wash day.

What Is DIY Detergent?

Homemade laundry detergent typically is made with a combination of ingredients like baking soda, washing soda, borax, hydrogen peroxide, castile soap, and soap flakes; essential oils can be added to personalize the scent, if desired.

Making laundry detergent at home allows control over the ingredients, providing the peace of mind of knowing exactly what your clothes and household goods like sheets and towels are being washed with. It is also an inexpensive alternative to store-bought detergents, typically costing less than $0.10 per load, as compared to commercial laundry detergent brands like Tide (approx. $0.20/load), Seventh Generation (approx. $0.28/load), and Dropps (approx.  $0.28/load).

Drawbacks of Using DIY Detergent

There are many recipes for homemade cleaning agents, from wood sprays made with olive oil to glass cleaners made with vinegar, but when it comes to DIY detergent, the consensus from experts is to skip it.

Health Risks

"The American Cleaning Institute advises against mixing your own laundry detergent," says Jessica Ek, the ACI's senior director of digital communications. "Commercially formulated cleaning products are tested, packaged, and labeled in accordance with standards set by such government agencies as the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency. There are cleaning ingredients that can be dangerous to mix together. And if there’s an accident, you don’t have a product label with important information that a poison control center may need. Given all of that, it just isn’t worth the risk, especially since it could damage your washing machine and may not even be effective."

It can be tempting to dismiss the health risks associated with laundry detergent—after all, it's laundry detergent, how much damage can it do?—but that is a mistake, as evidenced by the recent product recall of The Laundress' line of detergents, fabric softeners, and sprays. Harmful bacteria can grow in laundry detergent, representing a real health risk for you and your family.

Appliance Damage

In addition to potential health risks associated with homemade laundry detergent, there is also a risk of damage to your washing machine—and the possibility that using a non-commercial detergent may void the warranty on your washer. "It’s crucial to understand that creating a DIY detergent may void the warranty on your appliance, as you run the potential risk of damaging your washing machine," says Sarah Armstrong, a new product brand manager at Maytag Brand. "It is important to always check your user manual before using this method."

Given these potential risks, the use of homemade laundry detergent is not the best way to save money or to provide a safer, more natural alternative to commercial detergents.

DIY Detergent Alternatives That Reduce Waste and Save Money

Reduction of waste and money saving are often primary drivers of an interest in making homemade detergent. However, there are better ways to achieve those goals without the risks associated with DIY detergents.

  • Switch to commercial powder detergent: Powdered detergent has a longer shelf life than liquid detergent, and both its formula and packaging create less waste than liquid or pod-style detergent.
  • Use precise dosing: Using too much detergent is one of the most common mistakes people make when doing laundry. And not only is it wasteful, but it's also bad for your clothing, your wallet, and the washing machine itself. Practice precise dosing to reduce the cost associated with laundry.
  • Wash in cold water: Another way to reduce the cost associated with wash day is to use cold water as the standard setting for all your laundry, with the exception of heavily soiled items or things that have been used by someone who has been sick. 
  • Line or air dry: Skip the electric dryer, and its associated energy costs, where possible, and opt instead to air or line-dry clothing and household goods.
  • Eliminate fabric softener by switching to reusable dryer balls: Save money and reduce waste by switching from liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets to reusable dryer balls. In addition to cutting down on the money you spend on laundry products, using dryer balls can result in cost savings by reducing drying time.
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