Zero Waste Laundry Detergent

zero waste laundry detergent

Let’s talk laundry. There are countless ways to reduce the waste you produce with this simple chore.

Are you as excited as I am about this?

As a bonus, I’m sharing my zero waste laundry detergent recipe we’ve been using for years. It just works. It’s no frills, it’s cheap and it takes all of five minutes to throw together.

Happy #PlasticFreeJuly!

But before we get to the detergent, let’s talk about some simple swaps you might want to try to reduce your footprint.

Ways to reduce your waste whilst doing laundry:

  • Go ECO or DIY. Use an environmentally friendly cleaning agent or make your own. If you’ve read this intro, you know I make my own. That’s not a great option for everyone. If you want to buy eco, a good brand is Seventh Generation. If I lived near a store that offers Lauren Singer’s laundry detergent (The Simply Co.) I’d recommend you buy that because it comes in a reusable mason jar! But it’s glass and heavy to ship so I wouldn’t promote ordering it online. Both of these options are powder instead of liquid and I’m not positive, but you get more bang for your buck there. With liquids, you are paying for water. And paying for packaged water is lame! Oh, and, I’ve found powdered laundry detergent in bulk bins a couple times. VERY cool, wish I had that at my grocery store.
  • Wash cold. Here’s the thing. Almost all detergents these days (eco-friendly or not) work in cold water. There is no reason to wash your clothes on hot. Sometimes I’ll use warm water if I’m washing a particularly dirty load of cleaning towels/rags, but otherwise, I’m using cold water. This reduces the energy used to heat the water and can save you money, too!
  • Air dry instead of the dryer cycle. I try to air dry my laundry whenever I have the time to let it sit and dry (occasionally, but not always the case). I don’t have a backyard to hang things on a line which would dry them quickly on a sunny day. When we visited Japan earlier this year, nearly every apartment had a little porch filled to the brim with air-drying laundry. It was inspiring. It’s on my list of to-do’s to create a similar setup on our porch. 🙂 If you do use the dryer, try to use the lowest heat setting — it’ll save your fabrics!
  • Handwash. I know a girl who puts her clothes at the bottom of her tub and hand washes them while she showers. Actually, I guess her feet are doing most of the washing!
  • Don’t over-wash. Re-wear clothes especially if they still smell clean (and don’t smell bad) after you wear them. Spot clean small stains before throwing the whole thing in the wash.
  • Buy better fabrics. I realize this is not an option for everyone. Synthetics are more affordable (unfortunately) and good fabrics, like wool and linen, are pricier. But with good reason. They wrinkle less and stay fresher longer, meaning you don’t have to wash them as much.
  • Ditch the dryer sheets. Opt for reusables (plastic balls or wool balls). They work great! And how CUTE are these little guys?! (See below.) Plus, if you’re washing more natural fabrics and fewer synthetics, you’ll have fewer issues with static. Double win.

zero waste laundry detergent

  • Buy used. Another bonus for buying second-hand clothing? It’s likely been washed many times so there will be less lint and shrinkage to deal with when you wash the piece in your home.
  • Compost your lint. The more natural fabrics you own, the more you’ll be able to compost your lint. This is less you’re sending to landfill so you can feel great about that!

I know this list is long and daunting, but please know that you don’t need to do all of the above to make a difference. Even a few swaps help. Just what you can reasonably manage.

The problem with conventional laundry detergent

So, it’s pretty common knowledge that conventional laundry detergents pollute our waters. Water processing plants can’t completely remove detergents and other chemicals from our waterways. That stuff wreaks havoc on wildlife.

And, it pollutes the air. Something I didn’t consider until doing research for this post but it makes sense. Yeesh.

On the zero waste, package-free front, it usually comes in a container. And that container is usually plastic. Or hard to recycle or re-use.

Make your own or choose an eco-friendly brand

This was a simple swap for us. I have sensitive skin and I’d never been completely happy with any store-bought brand. Even the eco ones that used “natural ingredients” made my skin itch. I once got a terrible skin reaction to one “free & clear” detergent and I’m still not sure why.

So, I was already looking for an option that I had more control over, and more familiar ingredients. I decided to make my own. I did some research on the web (of course).  Found some ingredients that might work. Hunted those ingredients down. Made the detergent.

I tried it. Tried it again. Figured out the best ways and amounts of detergent to use for good results. And that’s how we’ve been rolling for the last few years.

Perks of making your own laundry detergent

  • You control what goes into it. Use the options I’m suggesting below or research your own. Some people use baking soda and washing soda and no borax. Some people use only soap and washing soda. It’s entirely up to you what ingredients you use, I’m only sharing what works for us!
  • You control the fragrance or lack thereof. I hate artificial fragrances. I love being in control of what I smell like 🙂 Use a scent-free soap or choose your favorite scent. You can even use fragrance-free soap and add in your favorite essential oils on a load by load basis.
  • You will save money. See cost analysis below.
  • You will save time. It takes five mins to make this and the ingredients are always on-hand at my house. Five minutes is much less time than it takes to schlep to the grocery store for a new bottle of the stuff. More time for Netflix!

Cost analysis

  • 1 box of Borax is around $4.50 and contains at least 8 cups. (Cost = $0.56 per cup.)
  • 1 box of Washing Soda is around $4.50 and contains at least 8 cups. (Cost = $0.56 per cup)
  • 1 bar of soap costs $2. Sometimes the naked Whole Foods soap is on sale at 10 for $10 and then this is even cheaper!
  • Total cost to make this recipe: $3.12

This detergent recipe makes at least 4 cups’ worth. I usually use 1-2 tbsp per load (most times) so I get 32-64 loads out of one batch. We’ll take the average of that @ 48 loads of laundry per batch.

  • Total number of loads per batch: 48

So, this laundry recipe will last for 48 loads and costs $3.12. That’s $0.07/load.

A 94-load bottle of All Free & Clear costs $9.99 at Target, which ends up bring $0.11 per load. A 64-load bottle of Tide costs $11.99 at Target, which ends up being $0.19/load.

  • DIY laundry detergent price per load: $0.07.
  • All Free & Clear price per load: $0.11.
  • Tide Regular price per load: $0.19.

You will spend less on detergent if you make it yourself.

Other uses for this laundry detergent

One of the best parts of this detergent is that it’s an effective cleaner for other stuff, too. I love multi-functional things!

We use this to scrub our tub, clean our toilets and sinks and any super big mess in the kitchen (although that’s rare). It works like a charm. It’s a great replacement for that Comet product I always used to use.

So anything that simplifies my life in the long run, even if it takes a bit of time to make, is time well spent. And money well spent, too!

What’s your favorite zero waste laundry detergent recipe? Have you found powdered or liquid detergent in bulk at your store?

Zero Waste Laundry Detergent recipe

Makes 4 cups.

Use 1-2 tbsp per load.

How to Use:

  • Top loader: Put detergent directly into the drum, start the water, then add your clothes once it fills a bit.
  • Front loader: Add detergent into the detergent drawer.*

*This should work the same as any other powder detergent, but since I have a top-loader I haven’t tried this method. Let me know in the comments if it works for you!


  • 1 cup Borax
  • 1 cup Washing Soda
  • 1 bar of soap (castile soap is recommended)

Instructions (w/ blender):

Roughly chop the bar of soap into small shavings (see photo below). Add to a high-speed blender with Borax and Washing soda. Pulse at mid-speed 5-7 times or until the mixture is well-combined. Carefully open the top (there might be a bit of dust) and transfer to a container that holds at least 4 cups.

Instructions (w/out blender):

Grate soap with a cheese grater. Add to large bowl with the Borax and the Washing Soda. Mix well to combine. Transfer to a container that holds at least 4 cups.

zero waste laundry detergent

What is Borax?

Borax is sodium borate and dissolves in water. It occurs naturally. It’s a laundry-booster with whitening properties. It can also be used to soften water and balance pH. There is some controversy over its usage.

What is Washing Soda?

Washing Soda is sodium carbonate and is water-soluble. It’s used as a water softener and can remove grease, oil and wine stains. It’s known as a stronger version of baking soda and occurs naturally.

The zero waste life cycle of a shirt:

  • Bought new/second-hand. Worn, washed, loved, worn again, repeat.
  • Character built. Torn, repaired, worn again, washed again.
  • Repurposed. Torn beyond repair, turned into cleaning rags.
  • Used fully. Used, washed, reused, washed some more.
  • Composted. Dirty and stained, smelly, threadbare, not absorbent, no longer effective, compost.
Zero Waste Laundry Detergent