• Leon Pantenburg | Survival Common Sense


Recipe: How to make frontloader washing machine laundry soap

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I’m not buying laundry soap again.

This recipe is too easy and cheap, and it works too well to go back to buying commercial laundry soap products.

by Leon Pantenburg

Several years ago, I got back from a backpacking trip with the usual assortment of grimy, smelly, smoky clothes. These clothes were particularly rank: I’d hiked over 11 miles, in the 90-degrees-plus heat, in one t-shirt, and it stunk to high heaven. As is my custom, after a shower, I piled all the clothes in a filthy heap in the laundry room and prepared to wash them.

This batch of laundry soap for a front loader washing machine is very efficient and costs pennies to make. (Pantenburg photos)

This batch of laundry soap is very efficient and costs pennies to make. 

But we had no laundry soap. I headed down to the local Safeway, and went directly to the laundry aisle.  But there were no good deals, and I got sticker shock. For some reason, all laundry soap has gone sky-high, and the usual large Tide we buy for our frontloader washing machine was more than $15! And that was on sale from about $20!

My penny-pinching, Depression-era, Do-It- Yourself mentality kicked into gear.

“This is just soap,” I thought. “I should be able to make it a lot cheaper than this!”

This fits in nicely with a current movement to reduce or eliminate the large, bulky laundry detergent and soap bottles. Since most commercial products are about 90 percent water anyway, DIY soap eliminates much of the cost and carbon footprint. Check out this Associated Press story about bulky soap bottles. 

So I got on the internet and found this recipe on the Busy At Home blog. The ingredients to make this liquid soap are simple and cheap, and the savings are substantial. You can buy everything you need at Walmart or Safeway.

To quote Busy At Home author Glenda Embree:

I pay, on average, $8.00 for a 75-load bottle of my old detergent.  I would have been happy to cut that price in half.  Instead, I discovered that by making the recipe I am going to share with you, a 75-load bottle of DIY detergent saved me $7.79¾!!!  That is a little more than a 97% savings!  Hello!  Making my own is no longer JUST an option.  It’s ridiculous not to.  It cost only 20¼¢ for the ingredients to make a 75-load bottle of detergent!  Translate that savings over a year’s worth of laundry and that put’s a tidy sum back into our family’s budget.”

The ingredients are simple and cheap, (I already had everything but the Fels Naptha soap) and the DIY soap worked very well on my backpacking clothes, as well as several other less-challenging loads of normal clothing clothes over the past couple weeks.

This is what the DIY laundry soap concentrate looks like after setting overnight. It will be diluted 1:1 with water.

This is what the DIY laundry soap concentrate looks like after setting overnight. It will be diluted 1:1 with water before using.

Here’s how to make frontloader laundry soap:


  • 1/4 bar of Fels Naptha soap
  • 2 Tablespoons Borax powder
  • 1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) Arm and Hammer Washing Soda (not baking soda)

Yield: (2) 1.17 gallon bottles of laundry detergent (75 loads each) Serving Size: 1/4 cup per load in an “high efficiency” washer


Cut Fels Naptha bar into fourths and store the extra three in a ziptop bag. Grate the  Fels Naptha and put the shredded soap in one cup of water in a sauce pan and melt over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Cook until the soap has dissolved.

Pour 10 cups of water into a large container or bucket and add the cooked soap mixture, Borax and washing soda. Stir, and add 10 more cups of water, then stir again. Cover the mixture and let set overnight. The soap mixture will gel. Stir it up and transfer into two containers.

Dilute the gel mixture one to one with water. If you’re storing the mixture into empty milk jugs or some other size container, fill the container half full with soap and then finish filling with water.

Then you’re ready to use the soap. Use 1/4 cup per load.

This recipe is so simple, and the soap is so effective, there is no excuse for not using it. It didn’t take me 15 minutes to make my first batch. Making the recipe didn’t require any skill.

A critical aspect of urban survival is a wise use of your resources.  Take the savings from making your own laundry soap and invest that in other preparedness or survival items you can’t compromise on, such as your survival knife, sleeping bag or boots.

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