Info and Another Homemade Laundry Detergent Recipe : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

A few people were asking if the other laundry recipe would be safe to use in greywater systems or in ponds and I would like to share with you what I have found out.

First, it is my understanding that nothing should be used in ponds that is not explicitly designed for such use. Aquatic life is very sensitive to anything unnatural in their enviroments and are usually the first forms of life affected by pollution.

In "Natural & Nontoxic" by Debran Lynn Dadd, laundry soda (sal soda, sodium carbonate decahydrate) is listed as a natural mineral. But she specifically states that the Arm & Hammer brand is scented (a big NO-NO for my family) and "reportedly contains other chemical additives". She says to try drug and chemical-supply stores and gives these brand names: Cerulean Blue, Erlander's Natural Products, and Straw into Gold. Please Note: I have a 1984 edition of this book so these brands may not be currently available.

On a different thread it was stated that Fels Naptha was made by using napthalene. According to my dictionary, napthalene is "a white, crystalline, water-insoluble hydrocarbon obtained from coal tar, used in making dyes, as a moth repellant, etc." Those asking if they could water their gardens using their laundry greywater may not want to if they are using this product.

With those facts in mind, here is an all-natural laundry detergent recipe which I finally made and I LOVE it!

Mix together 16 cups baking soda (plain old baking soda-here's a use for that bulk soda found at the feed store!!), 12 cups Borax, 8 cups grated castile or glycerin soap flakes. Add to this 3 tablespoons lavender, lemon, or grapefruit essential oil. (Some may think that the essential oil is for fragrance only but most have antibacterial properties and should be considered a vital ingredient for getting your clothes clean.) Amazingly, the recipe says to use only 1/8 cup (that's 2 tablespoons!!) per load and that this recipe will last a family of four for approximately one year!!

I've been very happy with this recipe and have marveled at how fresh my laundry smells. I was also surprised to discover that the powder dissolves almost instantly in water. The only pitfall to this recipe is the cost of essential oil. If you price it at your local health food store you may gasp at the price for what you need. Check out buying it in bulk from someplace such as Snow Drift Farm ( It is MUCH less expensive this way! And keep in mind that if you are going to use this in a greywater system, baking soda effects the ph of your soil. But with such a small amount used it may take awhile and it will be helpful if your soil is acidic.

-- Bren (, November 13, 2001


Thanks, Bren. I've printed that one out. :)

-- Jennifer L. (Northern NYS) (, November 14, 2001.

WOW! What a great recipe. A lot less work than my Ivory soap and washing soda goopy kind! Thanks Brennie!

-- Alison in N.S. (, November 14, 2001.

WOW! This looks great and right up my alley. I plan to make divided batches and scent them accordingly, lavender for linens, grapefruit for work clothes (slight degreaser). Thank you for this recipe.

-- Lynn (, November 14, 2001.

Hey Bren, Thanks for the great recipe. I've printed this out too. Are you saying that this recipe is safe in grey water put into ponds? I'm about 2 weeks away from the plumbing part of my remodeling on my farmhouse and we wanted to direct all the grey water to a couple of ponds. But we won't if it's toxic. However, we've been thinking about some sort of filtering system that the grey water would go through from the house to the ponds or even a holding tank, so the water can be used for gardening. Any ideas? I really want to stop wasting so much water with the cleaning processes of my life. And, you mentioned the ph of the soil being affected by the baking soda eventually ... can you reverse this process in a healthy way? Just want to be prepared for whatever. Thanks for the info. You read my mind.

-- Iris (, November 14, 2001.

Iris, I am not a greywater expert but I don't think you would want to use ANY greywater in a pond where you wanted any kind of aquatic animals or plants to live. I may be wrong. I do know that some waste water treatment plants are using aquatic plants to filter their waste water for them but this is a HUGE system with canals covering a lot of acreage. I personally wouldn't use greywater in a pond. I would also be worried about the stuff I wash out of my husband's clothes. (He is a carpenter/landscaper and occasionally comes home with gas, oil, fiberglass, etc on his clothes.) Granted, it would be a tiny amount but it only tales a TINY amount to kill off all of your fun pond life like tadpoles, fish, and especially the good microscopic life forms that are so benificial to a healthy pond system.

I believe a filtering system to a holding tank is what is used when re-using greywater for watering purposes. I personally would only use all-natural products in this system and I might not use it on my veggie garden since we grow organically and one day we might get certified. (Not if we can help it, though.) Again, I am NOT an expert so I may be totally wrong about this. Maybe you should post a new thread with your questions and see if there is anyone out there with more knowledge on this subject. Also, there is a lot of info on the net. Just do a search.

About the baking soda effecting the ph of your soil. I'd first have a soil analysis performed (free info is usually available through your ag-extension office). If you need to amend the soil (the report will tell what to use, how much and why) just keep in mind that you'll be adding the baking soda (which raises the alkalinity of the soil) when watering. The amount in this recipe may not make a difference at all over time especially if it is further diluted with rinse water or filtered. A yearly soil test will clue you in to any imbalances and you can make corrections accordingly. I'm a firm believer in using compost and I believe it helps to maintain healthy conditions in your soil.

I hope this answers your questions!! Good luck and let us know what you end up doing and how it works for you!

-- Bren (, November 14, 2001.

Here's a website you might be interested in about non toxic household products from the EPA:

-- Ann Markson (, November 14, 2001.

I am not a greywater expert either, but common sense would dictate that if you have a working pond (with living animals and plants) you would not want to put in anything that would upset the delicate balance.

Where you could use it would be on ornamental plants (in other words, nothing you plan on eating). There are such things as bioswales (where plants help to filter) and some of them seem to have just grass- type plants in them. I never could understand 1)why cities/counties try to keep the plant life down in drainage ditches, and 2) why they don't plant trees in those drainage ponds that they require in every new subdivision up here (we get a lot of rain). Half the time they're not even fenced, and any pond (dirty or not) is an attractive nuisance to kids. Planting trees or bushes would not only help to clean the water, it would also discourage kids from getting into the water.

Please bear in mind that in many areas greywater systems are actually illegal, and you could get fined big time, and/or be forced to put in a new septic (I think that is most of the problem--older septic tanks were never meant to handle the large amounts of water generated by washers and dishwashers). It only takes one neighbor (or repair person, or meter reader) making a call to get you in trouble. Just a thought.

-- GT (, November 14, 2001.

Ann, what a great source of info!! Thank you so much!

-- Bren (, November 14, 2001.

Bren, just for clarification, how finely are you grating the soap? Are you using a large grater so you get a lot of curls (and a lot of empty space in the cup), or are you using a fine grater (like the smallest on a box grater) so you get more of a powder?

I suppose another option would be to grate coarsely, then use an immersion blender or food processor to make a powder. I would think the finer the grind the better the dispersion of soap in the mix. Or maybe weight would be a better measurement in this case (or "grate so many x ounce bars).


-- GT (, November 14, 2001.

I have seen pictures of greywater systems out west (CA) that were in Countryside magazine (issue?) that used a combination of plants, gravity and stone(?)drainage field from home to pond.

-- Ann Markson (, November 14, 2001.

BTW what is bulk baking soda called at the feed store? When I asked for bulk baking soda they didn't know what I was talking about. Is it just a huge box of arm and hammer?

-- Ann Markson (, November 14, 2001.

Since the recipe said "flakes" I used the large holes on my box grater. The soap I used kind of crumbled while I grated it so I ended up some fine stuff, too. I did not pack my measuring cup but left it kind of fluffy. Does this make sense?

-- Bren (, November 14, 2001.

Ann, I bought 4 pound boxes (A&H) at Wal-mart for under $2. I think Sam's carries an even larger size. I didn't know that feed stores carried it until I read that thread about livestock molasses. Maybe not all feed stores carry it? Maybe they could special order it for you? Try asking for sodium bicarbonate.

-- Bren (, November 14, 2001.

Thanks Bren, what you said does make sense, and gives us all an idea of how you're measuring.

Also, Ann, some bulk food stores sell baking soda, so you may wish to inquire whether they will give you a break selling it by a 50-lb bag (or whatever they buy it in). If not just buy what you need. Costco carries 10-lb boxes of Arm and Hammer as well. Baking soda is an excellent substitute for Comet and other similar cleansers--I even use a little on the ceramic cooktop mixed with a little dish liquid, so it's not like you won't use it, as well as in cooking (I don't think it loses effectiveness like baking powder does).

By the way, since we're talking non-toxic, three good books are Clean House, Clean Planet, by Karen Logan, Better Basics for the Home and Clean and Green by Annie Berthold-Bond.

If you can only get one, Clean House Clean Planet is the most useful and least esoteric. Better Basics for the Home has homemade soap and facial cosmetic (though not makeup) recipes, along with recipes for things like milk paint, and a discussion of things like carpet outgassing and the least toxic options when building or remodeling a home. Clean and Green consists of all cleaning formulas, some for cleaning things you may not even own. Check them out on Amazon.

-- GT (, November 14, 2001.

Thanks, Bren! This is timely for me. I've been using my grated homemade soap for laundry soap, but now that I'm no longer hanging the clothes outside, they're not smelling so fresh. I'm going to give your recipe a try.

-- Sharon/WI (, November 14, 2001.

This is probably excellent laundry detergent but I would not use it to water my plants with. Borax contains Boron, which plants need in minute quantities for healthy growth. However, more can be toxic. Boron does not break down or dissipate so repeated or excessive applications can result in bare areas where no vegetation can grow. FWIW

-- Laura (, November 14, 2001.

Thanks everyone. All the information has made me really think this soap issue seriously.

-- Iris (, November 14, 2001.

Thanks GT. I'd have no problem USING 50 lb of baking soda as I use in in my dishwasher (1/2 cheap dishwasher detergent, 1/2 baking soda) and for cleaning around the house and of course baking.

IT is interesting to be aware of these things whether or not we have a grey water system--because you know we are all part of the problem if we aren't a part of the solution.

My mother in law told me they always threw the dishwater out in the garden when they had a pump. What did they use for dish soap and laundry soap in the depression?

-- Ann Markson (, November 14, 2001.


You're so right that we're all part of the problem--I really believe that people with septic systems are by and large much more conscious of what they put down the pipes (because your septic failure is your problem), whereas people on sewer (where you pay 3 times your water bill just for the sewer portion of your bill) figure, heck, I'm paying all this money, I can dump whatever I want. Some cities now have the capacity to monitor how much actually goes down the sewer and adjust the bill accordingly, but most don't, and/or won't. Guaranteed tax revenue for the city. Laura is right too, so at least remember where you watered last and water somewhere else!

I am not a big fan of government in our lives, but since this is a major problem, it would be nice if they could take all the nasty stuff off the shelves, then you can't (or at least make it harder to) cause a problem. So many people don't care about who will move in after they're gone, which is a shame.

Seventh Generation (which I have not tried yet, by the way) says (on the bottle) that if every family substituted just one bottle of their veggie-based laundry liquid for the same size bottle of regular liquid detergent it would save enough oil to heat a good sized New England town for the winter. Something to think about at any rate!

Same with making it easier to recycle--we moved from an area where you could even recycle styrofoam cups and pizza boxes if they weren't greasy to where they won't take any dairy containers except for milk jugs (that's right, no yogurt or cottage cheese containers). It's a joke. If it has the recycling symbol on it you should be able to recycle it, period. Sorting recyclables could be a good learning experience (learn to report to work on time, do a good job, etc.) for people needing job training, or a job for those who want some casual employment to earn enough money to get to the next town, or even workfare to help pay for welfare if you are otherwise able-bodied (there, off my soapbox :)

I think people used regular soap for everything until petroleum-based detergents were invented in WWII (someone please correct me if I'm wrong). And detergents ARE more efficient, but people use 'way more than they need because of those handy cups that "help" you to measure, and help the companies sell more detergent.

Have you tried using just baking soda in the dishwasher, perhaps with just a drop or two (no more than a dime-sized squirt at the most) of dish liquid? I hate that awful chlorine smell that assails you the moment you open the dishwasher door to let them truly (as in free) air dry.

This is a really good thread.

-- GT (, November 14, 2001.

Greywater disposal: if you're going to let water go into open ponds, you certainly need to treat the water first. Go to google and use the search phrase "reed bed wastewater treatment". The evolving standard seems to be to let the water seep through gravel beds in which reeds are growing. The reeds take up nutrients from the water, their roots also aerate the water so it doesn't become stagnant and stinking (and any greaywater that stands for a while becomes stinking - you don't want it in your pond as it comes from your drains. The gravel and roots slow down the flow so it ends up seeping rather than flowing, and has plenty of time to become purified. When the reeds grow too much, cut off some of the leaves and compost them.

-- Don Armstrong (, November 14, 2001.

What is the castile soap flakes or the glycerin soap flakes?? any certain bar? and what will this do to a septic system??? can it be used safely in that? Cindy

-- Cindy (, November 15, 2001.

Castile soap is made from olive oil and glycerin soap is usually made from vegetable glycerin which is a thickener extracted from plants (I don't know if that is exactly correct but is the best way I can think to describe it!). Look for these at your natural food store. Any brand will do - probably the cheapest, unscented would be best. You make the flakes by grating the bar of soap. On the box of borax it states that it is totally safe for septic tanks. I'd assume the same thing about the baking soda. I think this recipe is probably a lot better for your septic than commercial powders.

-- Bren (, November 15, 2001.

Glycerine is also a by-product of soapmaking (I didn't know they could just extract it out of plants too), and most commercial soaps have it skimmed off (probably so they can sell it by the bottle and use it to make glycerine soaps), so that is why homemade and natural type soaps are kinder to the skin because they still contain it. Glycerine soaps have added glycerin and I think are also "cooked" with alcohol (a soapmaker would be able to explain it better). You can make glycerine soap at home, but it is more involved than regular soapmaking.

Now, besides using a few drops in egg white flow frosting (like for gingerbread), I know that glycerine is also used as a stain remover because it is very slippery. Which of course leads me to wonder if the glycerin soap would work better than the castile.... I wonder if it is cheaper to buy the glyerine soap in bulk at one of the craft stores (say with a Michael's coupon.

-- GT (, November 15, 2001.

OK, to make this even more confusing, as far as I know, there are 2 types of glycerin. One is petroleum based and the other is vegetable based. The book I mentioned above gives this definition for NATURAL glycerin (i.e. vegetable/plant based) - Natural glycerin is obtained as a by-product when NATURAL fats, oils, and minerals are combined in soap manufacture. This distinction may be important to people wanting to use all natural products.

-- Bren (, November 15, 2001.

I made some of Bren's powdered laundry soap recipe and have been using it for a while now. I really like it, better than the messy gel stuff. I checked out the essential oils, and being of the frugal sort, wanted something a little more economical. I use Tea Tree oil as an antiseptic and thought that might work. I found a good size bottle of 100% Tea Tree oil at Walmart for $5.00 and have plenty left over for more batches or other uses. It smells fresh in the laundry without any overpowering lingering smell in the clothes. Thanks for the good recipe!

-- Jean (, April 22, 2002.

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