Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I've given up on homemade laundry detergent

There are a lot of reasons it would be nice to make your own laundry detergent.  You could save money, it might be better for the environment, you know exactly what's in it, etc.

I wanted to make my own mainly because I was tired of stripping our cloth diapers.  I'd stripped because of laundry detergent build-up, and I'd stripped because of hard water/mineral build-up.  I'd even stripped because the diapers had ended up dried with a dryer sheet (oh goodness...the resulting smell after Bean peed in them was gag-worthy!).  The hard water and detergent build-up are issues I'd hoped to resolve with my own detergent...

I had been using Rockin Green's Hard Rock for awhile without having to strip, but it is $.30 per load in my top-loader.  I wanted something less expensive.

So I looked around and did a little bit of research and found a few common ingredients in detergent recipes:  washing soda, borax, baking soda, and soap.

I found this blog entry that provided good information (and links to more) on the ingredients and jumped right in.  I decided just to start with a recipe, continue to do a little more research, and probably modify the recipe along the way.

The recipe I used was this:
One bar of Fels Naptha
2 cups of washing soda
1 cup of borax

I made up one batch of it and had two problems.  The first was a personal opinion - I didn't like the smell of Fels Naptha.  The second problem, though, is that soap can build up on diapers and cause issues.  I'd forgotten all about the soap concern until right after I mixed up my first batch of the detergent - so I used it on everything but the diapers and started contemplating my next attempt.

I ended up going with this:
1 cup washing soda
1 cup borax
1/2 cup of oxiclean

I was already using it when I contacted a chemist friend of mine to see if he could shed any light on what all of these ingredients were doing and how safe they were (both before and after they had been mixed with varying temperatures of water).

He said that, while the ingredients were safe enough, he wasn't sure it would be an effective detergent without soap because you need soap to remove oils.  I suggested I would only use it on diapers (no oil stains there!) and he reminded me that there would, indeed, be oil on the diapers because there are oils on skin.

So, I decided to modify the plan and use Tide Coldwater (something my chemist friend and his wife had successfully used on diapers, with our city's hard water, without having to strip all. the. time.) every 2-3 washes.  My friend said that plan wasn't going to hurt anyone or anything - I just might end up with not-completely-clean diapers.  Since that was the problem I basically already had, I decided to risk it.

So off I went...

And at some point during this experiment I started using cloth menstrual pads.  The pads are great (I'll be posting about them soon), except I soon noticed that every time they were washed with the diapers (i.e. with my homemade detergent) they were causing irritation/rash.

Obviously, since I was getting irritated, I couldn't imagine putting this detergent up against my baby's skin all day long on a diaper!  And I really didn't want to deal with figuring out what was irritating me and coming up with an alternative.

So I switched entirely to Tide Cold Water (for about $.21/load).  All was fine again!

Until Squeak came along and threw a wrench in things.  Shortly after we started using cloth on him (we started him in disposables because we had them and because it was easier to keep them out of the way of the umbilical stump), Squeak developed a diaper rash that was a solid, bright red.  And the diapers had a funny smell to them when wet (I think it smells like Fruit Loops - a sort of sickly, chemical, sweet smell).  I put a barrier cream on him and it started peeling off as it was healing (ugh).  It came back and I suspected it was an irritation from the detergent, and the pediatrician confirmed it wasn't yeast or it probably was something on the diapers.

After stripping the diapers AGAIN, we've returned to Rockin Green. 

I might do some more research and try again sometime - and I'd welcome any input from friends an readers - but I can only handle so many things going on at once with the baby and don't want to potentially invite another rash! 

I give up on homemade detergent for now!


  1. Hi Brea - very interesting. I also started using cloth diapers with our second boy, and so I am very interested in all the issues you have been writing about. I am also trying to figure out which detergent and what way to wash work best for us - so maybe we can catch up sometime and chat over these issues :)
    By the way, what do you exactly mean by "stripping diapers"? Do you mean that you had to throw them away?

  2. No - though sometimes I wanted to throw them away instead of stripping! Stripping just means something has built up (detergent residue, minerals from hard water, junk from a diaper rash cream) and you have to do various things to get that off the diapers!

  3. I've just downloaded iStripper, so I can have the best virtual strippers on my desktop.


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