Among the many crazes and trends that have popped up online, many swear by homemade cleaners and products, including homemade laundry detergent. This is great, and in many cases, we encourage it. Making your own cleaning products can help you save money and lessen your impact on the environment, but it is not always a wise idea. Often cleaning your floors with something simple works fine, and a simple solution of white vinegar and baking soda can often clear your drains just as much as a harmful store-bought chemical. Yet, the same logic doesn't apply when it comes to laundry detergent. Interacting well with the floor does not mean something will work with your washer. And while some formulas are sworn to work, they simply are not a substitute replacement for the real thing, which is designed meticulously to work in modern washing machines and be perfect for your clothes of choice. With variations needed to handle whites, darks, delicates, and more, there is a detergent that fits your needs. Can people say with complete confidence the same is true for homemade options? Plus, you never know if a homemade product is safe for a front loader, high-efficiency or another “fancy” washing machine.
Here are ten good reasons you should ditch that homemade laundry detergent recipe, avoid using homemade laundry detergent and use a trusted brand instead:
1. Homemade Laundry Soap Can Harm Your Washing Machine
Washing machines are made with laundry detergent in mind. You can't run any chemical through a washing machine and hope it will be ok, even if it's something relatively common or natural. After all, “natural” doesn’t always mean “safe.” Crude oil is natural, but you certainly wouldn’t dump it in your washer! Washing machines were built with specific products in mind, and other options are not generally recommended. Mixing other substances isn't going to help matters. Chances are, your machine’s manufacturer recommends a specific brand or formulation to ensure the best results. Using the wrong products when you do a load of laundry could even void your washer’s warranty, so keep that in mind. This is especially true for HE washers.
The actual damage you can cause varies, and it might not appear overnight (except for the worst cases.) Still, homemade detergents can reduce the lifespan of your expensive and beloved washing machine. It could clog up the dispense, build up in the water lines and cause all sorts of other problems, especially if you do not clean your washing machine. If you are using something that isn't detergent, be extra careful and limit it to tried and tested things. Vinegar and baking soda or washing soda (not at the same time) are likely fine, and some people like to put in a tiny bit of lemon juice for cleaning or some loads. Outside of these, be careful and don't overdo it. Generally speaking, making your own laundry detergent simply is not worth the risk.
2. It Can Ruin Your Clothes
This is another reason that homemade laundry detergent isn't as cost-effective as you might think. You might save a little bit on the detergent compared to buying a commercial product from the grocery store, sure, but clothes are far more expensive in the long run. Think about how much a single pair of pants costs. How much DIY homemade detergent would you have to use to make up for even one ruined pair of pants? It would take quite a lot.
You want your clothes to last as long as possible (and not look faded or tattered before you feel the need to get rid of them). Homemade detergents might be designed or formulated with some clothes in mind, and likely not all. No detergent works perfectly with every type of garment, and even if you have a dozen different homemade detergents, they will not be as effective. Depending on the ingredients, they could even be abrasive. Use a detergent you can trust instead of using a grater to shred a regular bar of soap in an effort to save cash and reduce your environmental impact. There are plenty of other options.
Even products that are made for laundry may be unsafe when combined with other ingredients. Sure, it works for removing stubborn stains, but you shouldn’t necessarily use it in a homemade detergent recipe as doing so could reduce its effectiveness or lead to clothing damage.
3. It Won't Be as Effective
While many people think their homemade detergents are the best option for their clothes, they likely won't have the cleaning power you expect them to. A simple mixture of two ingredients, likely in an imperfect ratio, might clean up messes. Still, it won't match the cleaning power of a detergent that has been tested on literally thousands of clothes and then some.
No matter what you read online, the instructions for using DIY laundry detergent are not nearly as accurate or informative as those printed on detergents and boxes by leading laundry brands like Arm & Hammer and Tide. And since there aren’t any clear, tested instructions, you may not know how actually wash a load of clothes using your homemade detergent.
Sure, your clothes might be clean when they come out (or else no one would try the formula), but they're not as clean as they could be, and problems can build up over time. Will a homemade detergent be able to go deep enough to get a perfect cleaning? And can you trust it not to build up on your clothes and become impossible to remove?
4. You May Not Get the Mixture Right
When putting together your homemade laundry detergent, how careful can you be? Do you have everything you need and the proper receptacle for mixing? Hint: Food processors, cheese graters, and 5-gallon buckets aren’t great options. How can you be sure the ingredients will come together as you would like? Unfortunately, it's hard to guarantee such things, and a misstep can result in poor cleaning or a problem with your washing machine. No matter how carefully you go about measuring a cup of Borax, a cup of washing soda, a few drops of essential oil, and the rest of the ingredients, you simply can’t do it as accurately as a manufacturer.
Also, the sources you get online might not get things exactly right, even if you can measure and stir things up perfectly. After all, not everything you read on the Internet is true. When making your own laundry soap using a recipe you found online, you have to trust the writer more than companies that make laundry products and are liable and accountable for their products. A blog can disappear overnight; a company has a tougher time doing that.
5. It's Soap, Not Detergent
In truth, most homemade "detergents" are just a form of soap, and there's a reason we don't put soap in the washing machine (or the dishwasher, for that matter.) The level of intensity is different, and soap isn't meant for use on laundry except for limited circumstances (stain removal in a few cases.) Plus, most commercial detergents are formulated to be low sudsing. Using something like regular castile soap or Ivory soap in a laundry soap recipe could lead to a huge mess when you have bubbles creeping out of your washing machine. Would you pour hand soap or dish soap into your detergent tray? If not, then why use a homemade "detergent?"
Homemade soaps might be fine for cleaning up spills on your kitchen counter or even washing your hands but keep them away from your clothes. Laundry detergent usually contains more than one type of active agent instead of standard soaps (homemade and otherwise). This means they are more effective on various messes and fabrics and are safer to use regularly. Certain types of soap can harm people with sensitive skin, too.
6. It Could Trigger Allergies
Detergents can trigger allergies. It's a common problem and why so many detergents are made with people with those allergies in mind. You probably know someone yourself who has an issue with some detergents and products. Homemade detergents aren't necessarily as concerned with this as detergents created for people with skin issues or allergies. They have not been tested and approved by agencies, and they aren’t good for people who have allergies just because they’re marked as natural laundry products. They do not have a consumer base of millions of people, and they can't be held to account if something goes wrong. Some homemade detergents might not affect people with allergies, but there's no guarantee, and it's a gamble. Is saving a few pennies and avoiding the laundry aisle at the store really worth risking your family’s health?
7. It Could Be Dangerous
In most cases, your homemade detergent might not be great for your clothes or washing machine, but it won't harm you. There are, however, times where it could be toxic or relatively harmful. We obviously aren't talking about drinking the stuff: that isn't recommended no matter what brand you use. Yet, some recipes might not be the best idea, especially if they are relatively untested.
For example, take vinegar and bleach. Both are commonly used in home cleaning solutions (and certainly have their place in the household), but it would be a huge mistake to mix them in any way for a homemade detergent. While we hope that any online materials will have the wisdom to test or check things out before publishing, this historically hasn't always been the case. With store-bought detergent, you can rest assured that all its ingredients remain safe when mixed.
In addition to the point about allergies earlier, it might not be suitable for your skin either. Using bleach as an example again, if you are using it as part of a homemade cleaner, the cleaner, by extension, won't be good for the skin. There are a few ingredients like this, so always take care.
Something else to think about: Many people opt for homemade detergents as a way of using natural products to make their clothes smell nice instead of using dryer sheets and fabric softeners. Homemade laundry detergent recipes often call for essential oils. While essential oils are not “bad,” they can be dangerous when used improperly. Many are unsafe for use on the skin and can cause injuries and allergic reactions.
8. It Won't Be as Eco-Friendly
Some people who use homemade detergents swear by them because they are worried about the effects of the chemicals in regular liquid laundry detergent and powdered laundry detergent on the environment. Yet homemade detergents aren't necessarily much better. The effects of the products in them might not be good for local systems. Something being labeled “natural” or “homemade” doesn’t automatically mean it’s good for the environment.
It is true that many laundry detergents aren't eco-friendly and that you can and should find better alternatives. However, you don't have to compromise here if you look for the right products. Whether you’re looking for a liquid version, a powdered detergent or even laundry detergent sheets, there are a lot of commercial products out there that are better than some homemade detergents.
9. It Can React Poorly to the Water
The best detergents are designed to work with hard water or minerals in the water and clean despite them. Homemade detergents do not do this. While it won't be a problem everywhere in the world, it also isn't a risk you want to take. A poor mixture here can lead to blocked drains, quickly becoming a huge and potentially expensive task.
With a good detergent, you can trust that the water coming from the pipes won't be an enemy to your clothes.
Also, even storebought detergents are typically formulated to work best in a certain temperature. If you use your natural detergent in cold water instead of hot water, or vice versa, it might not dissolve properly. This could clog the dispenser and leave a nasty residue on your clothes.
10. "Natural" Doesn't Always Mean Better
When it comes to do-it-yourself or homemade products, the word "natural" gets thrown around a lot. Don't fall for it. Remember that mercury is natural, and so are nearly all diseases. Just because something is natural does not automatically make it better. Homemade doesn’t equal better, either. On average, it makes for better food, sure, but we are talking about detergent here.
You should care about the environment and care about the products you are using in your home, but that comes down to a lot more than something being natural or not. Focus on the overall effect of a product and how it is made and distributed.
We understand the desire to create a lot of products yourself and save money. We also appreciate your desire to help the environment and create a healthier household for yourself. Unfortunately, there are problems with some detergents out there, and you have every right to be concerned. So, instead of taking things into your own hands and shopping for a box of Borax, stick with tried-and-tested products that are eco-friendly and designed for laundry days.