Friday, March 8, 2013

DIY Cloth Diaper Detergent & The Real Definition of Clean Clothes

There is no shortage of DIY laundry detergent recipes on the internet, and there are numerous charts detailing which commercial laundry detergents are cloth diaper "safe."  Either can be difficult to navigate, but I landed on a method that covers both bases for us.

For a long time, we bought cheap detergent for our clothes and fancy detergent for our diapers.  Once I started making it, though, we just started using it for everything.

Our recipe

Equal parts:
  • 20 Mule Team Borax
  • Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
  • Oxiclean Free (without dyes or perfumes)
We buy the Borax and Oxiclean at Target and the washing soda at Publix (a Southern grocery store chain).  All three are available on Amazon, but I find that buying it locally is much more cost effective.

One thing you need to know about DIY detergents.

I'm not going to go into the pros and cons of homemade detergents or the nuances of laundering cloth diapers.  However, there is something I want you to know about switching to DIY alternatives.

DIY laundry detergents are like going back to the basics before corporations and technology brought us chemical additives like optical brighteners, softeners, perfumes, and colorants.  Every person has to decide if she thinks these advances are good or bad, but there is one thing I am sure of:

Chemical additives create an unrealistic expectation of cleanliness.

  • Love that clean "fresh laundry" smell?  Probably a perfume.
  • Love how white your whites are?  Probably an optical brightener.
  • Love the feel of soft fluffy towels?  Probably a fabric softener.

The problem is, these additives largely make clothes SEEM cleaner without actually making them cleaner.  Optical brightener, for instance, doesn't actually make whites whiter; it's a dye that absorbs certain colors and reflects others.  In short, it tricks your eyes into thinking clothes look whiter than they actually are.

Clean just means "not dirty."

DIY detergents do a fantastic job getting your clothes clean, but only if you forget the empty promises of commercial detergents.

  • Your clothes won't smell bad, but they won't smell "freshly-laundered."
  • Your clothes will be clean, but you might have more stains to deal with.
  • Your clothes won't feel weird, but they won't be extra-soft. 

With reasonable expectations and a few basic ingredients, DIY detergents will get your clothes honest-to-goodness clean. No more and no less.

How do you define clean?  Have you ever used homemade detergent?  I would love to hear from you in the comments!


  1. Thanks for the DIY detergent advice! I don't have little ones yet, but when I do, I'm fairly sure I want to go the cloth diapering route. I've already done research on it (talk about being overprepared, lol) and the detergent/laundering info totally overwhelmed me! As for the chemicals, my husband's clothes are so stained with things like varnish thanks to his job that I don't think I have very high expectations of cleanliness to begin with :) Thanks for your honest opinion and recipe!

  2. Hey Ashley! As someone who does a ton of research about everything, I'm not sure I believe that being overprepared is a real thing. =)

    And yes! There is soooo much information on the internet about cloth diapers (and some of it is contradictory, which doesn't help anything). I just recommend having a friend with cloth diaper experience to help you sort through the information.

    Or just wing it. Like most things in life, there are a bunch of ways to do it "right." =)

  3. I use DIY laundry detergent thanks to a very special person sharing a recipe with me. I use it for everything. What is funny is that I did not have any "expectation" of how my laundry might smell or feel. I do have an expecation that my clothes will be clean though. Occasionally, when I have a stain that I'm unsure of, I will pre-treat with a liquid detergent. It seems to work just fine. Overall, I am very satisfied with the DIY detergent.

  4. Hey!

    I think you make a great point about having commercial detergent on hand to help with stubborn stains. It definitely doesn't have to be an all or nothing commitment. Thanks for saying hello!

  5. how much detergent do you use for diapers vs clothes? or do you use the same amount for both?

    1. Hey! Yes, I use a tablespoon per load regardless of what I'm washing. I'm not super particular about my laundry, but everything comes out smelling nice, so that works for me. =)