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Washing Clothes the Old-Fashioned Way

You may be familiar with non-toxic cleaning with homemade cleaners. Have you thought about washing your laundry the same way? It’s a great way to save money, reduce the amount of pollution entering our water, improve human health downstream from us and . . . clean our clothes without using a wash board!!

Based on research and conversations with people who have tried making their own laundry detergent, there are three consistent ingredients:
Washing Soda (Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda®)
Borax (20 Mule Team Borax®)
Bar Soap (Suggestions include: Fels Naptha, Ivory® Bar Soap,& Pure and Natural®)

Recipes include dry formulas of shaved bar soap mixed with washing soda and Borax, while wet formulas include water and entails boiling the mixture together to create a liquid soap. Some examples include the following:

Dry Recipe
1 bar of shaved bar soap
½ Cup of borax
½ Cup of washing soda

Thoroughly stir together for five minutes. Use one tablespoon per load and two tablespoons for heavily soiled clothes. Cost: $.05/load. Several sources indicate that this recipe is fine for high efficiency (HE) washers as well because it is a low sudsing formula. This process may be found at

Wet Recipe
1 ½ pints water
⅓ Bar of Soap – Shaved
½ Cup Borax
½ Cup Washing Soda

Mix shaved soap with water and place in pot on stove over low heat until the soap has completely dissolved. Then add Borax and Washing Soda. Continue to stir over heat until they have dissolved. Allow to cool slightly and pour into an empty one-gallon clean container such as a milk carton or laundry detergent bottle. Then add hot tap water and fill container the rest of the way. Alternative: Heat one gallon of water at the beginning and add ingredients as described above. The mixture will look goopy – and that’s normal.

A word about bar soaps – for the most environmentally and human health friendly formula – check the Material Data Safety Sheet (MSDS) for more information regarding the ingredients and their potential toxicity. Also, be sure to use a soap that is not labeled anti-bacterial. (Many MSDS sheets may be accessed for free using the internet at and

NOTE: Some of the products noted above may be challenging to find in conventional stores. First, try the grocery store, co-op, hardware store or box store in the laundry and soap sections. Second, ask the manager to order some if it’s not available. If those avenues fail, the internet is the next best alternative.

Naturally Clean: The Seventh Generation Guide to Safe & Healthy Non-Toxic Cleaning, by Jeffery Hollender and Geoff Davis, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, 2006

Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home by Christopher Gavigan, Plume, 2008

Visit and go to the HOME section for more articles on non-toxic cleaning in the home.

This Green Goddess column was written by Julia Earl, Preventing Harm Minnesota and brought to you by the Do It Green! Minnesota publishers of the 2010 Do It Green! Magazine, available at your local co-op or bookstore.




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