$5 Friday: Homemade Laundry Powder

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Today’s $5 Friday is a bit different – this is not a post about a meal, but it is a post about how to reduce your grocery budget. It is also a further tip about how I continue to spent less than $50 a week on food and cleaning products.  One of the things that many people spend large amounts of money on is cleaning products.

Have you ever wondered why ‘soap operas‘ have that name?  That’s because daytime television shows were designed to draw in women so that they would then see the ads for cleaning products and buy them.  Yes, there is big money in cleaning products.  Seriously big money.  You just need to go into a supermarket and see the number of aisles dedicated to ‘miracle’ and ‘easy’ products to see that there must be a market.  Cleaning products focus on a woman’s fear of being dirty, lazy, or not being able to care for her family.  And yes, the marketing for this is usually aimed at women.

My father is a scientist (a chemist).  He has often told me that commercial washing powder is incredibly alkaline, i.e. very harsh. If you are working in an industrial setting or factory and have heavy stains on your clothes, then some of those products are probably useful for you.  But if like me, you work in an air-conditioned office and you are really washing your clothes to make them smell nice, then the heavy duty treatment is just expensive – not just to buy but because of the impact on your clothes.  And some of the commercial products make me itch – not fun for pajamas and sheets.  I can’t help thinking that if that is the effect they are having on me, it must be worse for my kids.

I have used this homemade washing powder for years.  My recipe will leave your clothes feeling soft, smelling great, and in a good condition. It is also suitable to use for children and babies.  It does take a little bit of effort to make, but one batch will last me several months (sometimes up to six months, but then I have a small family to wash for).  I usually make double to maximise efficiency.  I often use eucalyptus oil, but recently I have splurged on lavender oil. I don’t need to use a lot, but it makes me feel a bit special when I do the laundry as I love the smell.


1 bar pure soap (grated)
1 cup washing soda (lectric soda)
2 cups bicarbonate of soda
up to 20 drops of eucalyptus oil, or if your budget can extend to it, lavender oil

A note on soap:  not all bars of soap are ‘pure soap’.  I’m not exactly sure what the difference is, but my chemist father tells me there is one and that pure soap is much better.  Pure soap is more expensive, but overall this is still a lot cheaper than a commercial product.  You can buy Lux flakes but if you compare the unit price once again it is a lot more expensive (from memory around $7 a kilo).

A note on washing soda.  This is the brand I buy. I think it is the only brand available in Australia, or at least it is the only brand I have found stocked in supermarkets in recent times. It is usually easier to find in very large supermarkets or in specialty IGA or other places.

A bag of lectric washing soda


  1. Grate the soap.  You can do this using the grater attachment on your food processor, or you can do what I did and cut into pieces and then use a handheld moullinex. Grating first helps as otherwise it takes ages in the food processor and even then it doesn’t really get into small enough pieces.

    Pure soap, cut into chunks before being grated in my moullinex
    Pure soap, cut into chunks before being grated in my moullinex
  2. Combine all ingredients together in the food processor, and blitz until really fine.  Store in an airtight container.  Use one tablespoon for most loads of washing unless it is really dirty or large.

    A food processor being used to make washing powder
    A food processor is the secret machine for making the best washing powder. Yes, a food processor!
  3. Note: I have a front loader washing machine and I find this works fine.  Ideally, you should dissolve in hot water first for a front loader, but I don’t and it is okay.  I used to have a top loader for years and this worked fine as well.  Actually I think it worked slightly better in a top loader.
  4. A tip for stains: I find that a few drops of dishwashing liquid work a treat for heavy greasy stains like spaghetti bolognese sauce or grease from bicycle chains, ideally applied as soon as you notice the stain.  Washing with pure soap is fine for most other stains such as blood or vomit (no, this never happens in our household!)  Use cold water for most stains, at least at first.
  5. A tip for shirt collars:  add a splash of shampooo and massage in before throwing in the wash.


Bicarb of soda $1.50
Soap 93c
Letric soda 97c
Oil 50c
Total $3.90



  1. This sounds so interesting! I wash my clothes on hand wash and hang to dry. Women’s clothes are just not made for heavier duty cycles. I am curious about the ingredients. Is the pure soap the same as Castile which is still available in bar form in the US. Also, does the package of washing soda describe the contents/ingredients? Is it possibly borax? I have never heard of this–even in my days in Hong Kong.

    Thanks so much for expanding the boundaries of our universe!

  2. Hi there, borax is different from lectric soda. Some homemade laundry powder recipes contain borax as well, but one of my good friends said she had a violent itchy reaction to using it that was so bad she threw out all her powder. Borax is also surprisingly hard to find. Not impossible, but you need to search for it. Lectric soda is also known as sodium carbonate.

    I was curious about Castile soap. Castile is apparently made from only vegetable oils, not animal fats. http://www.thekitchn.com/what-is-castile-soap-and-how-does-it-work-236538 Pure soap means soap that doesn’t contain excess chemicals.

  3. Amazing! Thank you Serina for opening my eyes to new products. I’ve never heard of Washing Soda. I really must investigate what our water is like (ie hard/soft) as it is rainwater that goes through a filter and is stored in a concrete underground tank, as we probably use waaaay too much detergent for our clothes.

  4. Thank you for your comment:) No idea what your water is like, but if it is rainwater based it is probably soft and yes, if that is the case, you probably don’t need as much detergent. Even without soft water, most of us use too much detergent. More is not necessarily better.

  5. That’s a lot of laundry liquid:) If you think about it, you are probably paying a lot of money for the water in it. It costs more to transport heavy goods, and it also requires a bigger container:) Did I mention I have frugal ears?

  6. I also had rash on my arms Dermatitis I think it was from dishwashing detergent they suggested to use my dishwasher & use pure soap in my washing machine I used a similar recipe but borax instead of the bicarb this sounds so much better as I wasn’t happy using Borax as it is poisonous but did at the time and my lower arms did eventually heal. If I ever have to stick to this again will be changing to your recipe as it didn’t sit well with me having Borax as an ingredient I like you don’t have clothes that get real dirty either and I would soak if I had to . thanks for the recipe home made I found cleans as well as others brands where I live our pure soap was called sunlight soap I use to grate by hand on smallest hole grater it would take ages to do but wasn’t to bad I would sit outside on a sunny day and do but as said lasted a long time. Thanks for the recipe.

    1. Sometimes I add a little bit of borax to this, but overall I find that borax is too strong. One of my good friends made a borax based laundry powder and she said that she and her husband both broke out in rashes! If there are stubborn stains, I first scrub them with a bit of cold water and pure soap OR even a bit of washing liquid.

      I hope you enjoy this recipe.

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