How to make homemade cleaning supplies

If you spend any time at all on Pinterest, it won’t be long before you are seized with the desire to paint constellations on your fingernails or spray paint half your furniture high-gloss lime green or, in the case of my springtime Pinterest obsession, make homemade cleaning supplies.

But it wasn’t just Pinterest that led me here. While I’m not much of an environmentalist (we’ve covered this before), repeatedly buying, emptying, rinsing, and recycling plastic jug and bottle after plastic jug and bottle with no end in sight does kind of get to me. Homemade cleaners in large batches in my own refillable containers seemed like a good idea.

So, like any good pinner, I did my research. I found dozens of recipes and blog posts, and pinned several of them to a board I made expressly for this project. I decided to start my homemade cleaning experiment with laundry, dish washing, and hand soap, the three things used most often around here. Considering how often I clean my house, cleaners for the bathroom and other tasks can wait. (Speaking of which, is someone going to come clean it pretty soon? Oh, it’s still my job? Crap.)

The results were a mixed bag. Here are the down and dirty details, so you don’t have to repeat my mistakes.

Triple Threat: Laundry Products

I made laundry detergent, fabric softener, and stain spray. I gave Breanne a set to test, as well as my sister-in-law. I used mine for several weeks (actually, it might be months by now). It has been thoroughly tested, and comes out the winner.

The detergent is fantastic. It has a light, bright, clean smell and really gets clothes clean. As a bonus, it seems to have eradicated my front-loader stinky washer syndrome — if you have a front-loader, you know what I’m talking about — even if I forget and leave a load in there overnight. It also works great as a stain remover scrub (put on stain, dampen, and scrub a little). I got my son’s white baseball pants clean all season with this stuff.

Breanne has made this recipe for years and she stands by it as well. My mom, who’s allergic to anything but Tide, used this at my house and did not react to it; she then asked for the recipe. My sister-in-law reported that it left some residue on her clothes (it is a powder). I have not ever had that problem, so it might be something to test with your washer.

The fabric softener is also wonderful. I chose this recipe for Rosemary Mint Fabric Softener, because who wouldn’t want to try that? It softens clothes perfectly and just smells perfectly light and fresh. I’m usually a scent-free kinda girl, but I love this.

The stain spray also worked well – as good as or better than Shout. I did have trouble with it separating in the bottle, so just shake every time you want to use it. Breanne — mom of a self-feeding toddler, which makes her automatically a stain expert — also reported being happy with it’s stain-removing power if she sprayed the stain and let it sit for several days. I used it in combination with the detergent (and let it sit for a day or two) to get grass and dirt and chocolate ice cream drips off Owen’s baseball pants. It works.

Laundry Detergent (from Being Creative to Keep my Sanity)

4 lb 12 oz box Borax
4 lb box Arm & Hammer Baking Soda
55 oz. box Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
3 bars of Fels-Naptha soap, grated (I used my food processor)
2 small containers of Oxy Clean (about 3.5 lbs total)

Fabric Softener (from One Good Thing by Jillee)

6 cups water
3 cups white vinegar
2 cups Suave Rosemary Mint Conditioner*

* The real truth: I made my test batch with Suave. And then I liked it so much I made a huge batch with Aveda Rosemary Mint conditioner. This makes my homemade fabric softener way more expensive than Downy, but it smells soooo good, and since I spend so much time with my laundry, I considered it a worthwhile splurge.

Stain Spray (also from One Good Thing by Jillee)

2/3 cup Dawn
2/3 cup ammonia
6 tbsp. baking soda
2 cups warm water

The Dish on Dishwasher Detergent

This just didn’t work for me, so I’ll have to find a new recipe or go back to my box of Cascade (at least it’s a cardboard box, which somehow bothers me less). The dishes were not as clean as before and after a few weeks, the glasses began to film up. The mixture also clumped and hardened in the container, making it difficult to use.

I was slightly annoyed because this was the only cleaner for which I had to order an ingredient (citric acid) that wasn’t readily available at a hardware or grocery store. But one day I decided to try it on my bathtub and bathroom sink, and was delighted to discover it really, really works for that purpose. My citric acid wasn’t wasted, and I’m renaming my modified recipe Tub Scrub. Project redeemed.

Tub Scrub

4 lb 12 oz. box Borax
55 oz. box Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
4 oz. citric acid (I got mine at Bulk Apothecary)
3 cups Epsom Salt

Biggest Fail of All

Hand soap. Or, if you want to more accurately describe it: blue boogers in a pump.

My first two tries at liquid hand soap were definitely fails — the first batch never set up at all and went down the drain. The second batch set to the consistency of snot. It dribbled out of the pump and coated my sink and counter with a gross film that took the aforementioned Tub Scrub to eradicate. After trying to use it up for a few weeks, I actually threw it out.

I’m sure that in some way this fail is my fault, because the recipe I used came with lots of glowing reviews. I used handmade bars of soap in fragrances I thought would be awesome, so that might have had something to do with it.  I might try again, but perhaps it’s best to just stick with a bar of Lever 2000 or Ivory or something when making liquid hand soap. If you’ve done this to more success than me, please share your recipe!

Bonus Recipe: Counter Spray

In the middle of all this grating and mixing and testing and emailing Breanne with my progress, fails, or commentary, she sent me her recipe for counter top spray. I’ve been using it ever since and I love how well it works and how good it smells. This one’s a keeper.

Breanne’s Counter Spray

3 cups hot water
3/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup dish soap (choose a favorite scent, maybe your favorite Caldrea dish soap?)
1.5 tsp. Borax

The hands-down winners of this experiment were the products for doing laundry. I will likely continue to make more and use them instead of buying my former products. Next up (maybe when I get around to cleaning my house . . . in a few weeks) will be bathroom and glass cleaners, and possibly wood cleaning/dusting products if I find any recipes to try. Happy cleaning!

Homemade laundry cleaning supplies

The winning lineup.

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  1. Christine Berg Schroeder says:

    My front loading washer expressly says to use liquid detergent…do you just dump the powder on top of the clothes, then start the water, or do you put into your machine’s dispenser?

    • I put it in the dispenser. Use about 2 tablespoons. Totally works.

    • You could also just dissolve the powder in a little warm water before pouring it in…if that makes you feel better. Then, it IS a liquid. 😉

  2. If you could get the recipe for the cleaning products used by Nook & Cranny, you would be a happy lady. The Pep Tree Oil cleaner smells fantastic.

    (Clare is my sister-in-law. Not sure if she’s allowed to share the recipe!)


  1. […] Homemade cleaning stuff, lots of it. These are keepers. Not hard to make, actually work, last forever. […]