You never knew it was this easy to make laundry soap

March 10 |

This post originally appeared on Hipster Housewife.

So one day after we moved this fall, my husband sent me an email. It contained a link to a Lifehacker video about how easy it is to make laundry soap and its subject was "LET"S DO THIS!!!!!". I watched it and was immediately convinced that we had to try making our own laundry detergent. I am here to tell you that it was a huge success and you should try it, too.

But Cat! Why would anyone want to make laundry soap? We can buy it at any store.

Friends, the benefits to making your own laundry soap are many:

  1. It's super cheap.
  2. It's phosphate free.
  3. You can control the scent of your detergent.
  4. You can feel awesome and self-reliant when you make it.

Part one: INGREDIENTS

You only need three things for this product: Fels-Naptha Soap, Washing Powder and Borax. 

I did have a bit of trouble finding these, even though they're super basic cleaning materials. With more patience I'm sure I'll have zero problem getting a local hardware store to order the washing soda and Naptha in.

I ordered the Fels-Naptha soap on Amazon, and ended up ordering the washing soda as well. Borax was easier to find. The soap and washing powder were quite a bit more expensive online than they should have been. Still, I spent a total of $16 on enough supplies to make soap for less than five cents an ounce. That's about half of the best price on Amazon.

Two: MAKING SOAP

THIS WAS SO EASY. Do you see those capital letters? 

I used a slightly different recipe — same ingredients, different proportions. This recipe makes about 2.5 gallons of soap, not the 5 from the recipe in the video. 

First, grate up a third of the Naptha bar. Dissolve in 6 cups hot water on the stove. When dissolved, add 1/2 cup each of Borax and washing soda. 

Add the soap mixture to 26 cups of hot water in a five gallon bucket. Stir.  

Let the mixture gel for a day and you've got about 2.5 gallons of soap. 

I stored the fresh soap in three clean two liter bottles, and we use about a half cup per load.

EXPERIMENT CONCLUSION
Really, all my concerns were alleviated once I tried out the soap:

  • I was unhappy that I'd ordered a scented Fels-Naptha. You can definitely smell the soap, and I don't like perfumey scents — but it's so mild that you can't smell it on the clean laundry. A friend recommended that I try adding a tea tree oil in the next batch — and I think I will! What's better than my own custom laundry scent?
  • Some recipes suggested that homemade laundry soap isn't good for stains. Now, we're not a super stained household, but I haven't noticed a problem.

The soap goes a looooong way, and we're definitely saving money over other laundry detergents — especially unscented ones, which are usually marked up. But the savings and eco-happiness are dwarfed by the fact that every single time I do laundry I'm like, "DAMN, girl! You made this!"

  1. Is this good for high-efficiency washers? Or is there a recipe for those types also?

    Off to googleland. Though, we won't eliminate all detergent purchaes until my Grease Monkey finds himself promoted to a desk.

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      • Thanks for answering! I have NO CLUE about HE. But it is virtually no-suds.

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    • I'm intrigued. It looks like I'd save $20-$30 annually by switching to homemade.

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    • The recipe she's using is a little different than the one I've used for about a year, but my fiancee works in a barrell reconditioning plant (read: super dirty head to toe in oil, perfume, or whatever random substance they haul in that day) and the homemade stuff actually gets out the greasy awesomeness better than store bought detergents did! If your worried about it, try adding a little baking soda (for hard water, and to avoid yellowed whites) and add a little dry borax to his work load. All borax really does is boost the cleaning power so homemade or storebought you can add this. Also, I've heard if you add a little dish soap to the mix when your making it that helps a lot with grease as well. Be careful what essential oils you use though, because some of them will stain your clothes!

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  2. Sounds fantastic, well done! You could try mixing some essentials oils to get exactly what you'd like- a little bergamot and lavender would be lovely for me. As a UK-based reader, do you have any ideas for something we could do?

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  3. I made my first batch of homemade detergent with fels-naptha and ended up getting a rash, so I replaced that soap with Dr. Bonners peppermint. When that runs out I'll move onto my homemade cold processed soap. I've pretreated stains with it pretty successfully. I find that my high efficiency washer doesn't clean as well, but this soap works just the same as commercial stuff.

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    • I just read that Fels Naptha uses a chemical called "Stoddard solvent" which is a type of paint thinner, and is classified as an "irritant" by most governments. Chronic exposure to it can lead to nervous system problems. Its also not very green for a detergent – its moderately toxic to aquatic organisms.

      Zote may be safer, and "beauty" bars are also ok – like Zest, Ivory, or any other bar of soap. The scents also stay on your laundry, which some people associate with clean laundry.

      I think I'll be experimenting with this.

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      • According to Wikipedia, they don't use Stoddard solvent (aka napthalene) anymore.

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    • My wife and I have mad sensitive skin, so thank you for the warning! I think we'll try it out with something similarly simple (Dr. Bronner's isn't readily available in Australia) once we run out of our current dye/fragrance free detergent.

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      • We just use a plain all-natural castile soap! You can use pretty much any soap, I believe.

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          • Dr. Bronner's is a variety of castile soap, yes. Most of the castile soap I see around here is way mass expensive, though.

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      • I'm in Australia and I've made something similar to this before with just plain pure soap, that you can get whatever home-brand stuff from coles or woolies for about a dollar for a pack of 4 bars.

        Hubby has sensitive skin, but he's not allergic to soap, so it was great for him. Depends if you're usually allergic to soap i guess.

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        • washing soda's readily available in coles and woolies too :-)

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    • Let me know how it goes with the cold process soap. I do hot process handmade, organic soap and was thinking I could use that. Just wondering if it will make the laundry oily, since part of the process is melting the soap back down.

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  4. Weird question…did you use the same grater for the soap as you do for grating food?

    I'm not so much worried about contamination; it's soap, I expect it washes out just fine. But I'm wondering about wear and tear. Is the soap hard on the grater or is it about the same as any hard cheese or root vegetable would be? Thanks!

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    • Yes! The soap is actually very malleable — I was surprised. We have a very sharp grater, though, too.

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  5. I need to try this as we'll be using a laundromat in our new place so I'd like to save on something and detergent is SO expensive, I never noticed until now.

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  6. I'm wondering about Borax and its safety – I've read a lot of sites claiming that it's actually rather unsafe, especially for children and pets… Here's the EWG's take on it: http://www.cosmeticdatabase.com/ingredient.php?ingred06=705996. Any ideas for a non-Borax alternative? I'd love to be able to create my own scented laundry detergent! (Partial to sandalwood and ylang-ylang, myself…)

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      • Thanks for that post. I'm quite sensitive to Borax and I'd like to have a cheap alternative to detergeant that is safe for me and the rest of the planet.

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      • I know this sounds dumb, but do you think this would be safe to pour down a drain, like a bathtub drain? We've been forced to abruptly move before we were financially ready to, and cannot afford to use the laundromat. We've got a DIY washing-bucket system set up for cleaning clothes, but I need a DIY "detergent" that is safe to dump down the bathtub drain after I'm done washing the clothes.

        Thank you for posting the link…this seems like my best bet! :)

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  7. a bit of baking soda added in will help to whiten and eliminate stains. Also, a 1/2 cup of white vinegar in the rinse cycle and no dryer sheets are needed.

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      • Great, thanks! I've been wanting to do this for a long time and my local grocery store JUST started carrying washing soda! :)

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    • Back in the day as a broke college girl, I used to get paid to do other people's laundry. I always used vinegar to substitute for fabric softener and non-chlorine bleach, especially with babies and people with sensitive skin. It doesn't leave any trace of odor and the clothes come out very soft.

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  8. Oh! This is so exciting! Maybe I'm nerdy, forgive me. But I'm sensitive almost everything in the last two years – everything makes me itch. Itch a lot. But this – I know exactly what's in it! And it's cheap! And I could make my laundry smell like lavender! I bet the hubbs will be into this too! Thank you!! (more exclamation points!!!!!)

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    • I'm the same way, and I've found a few homemade things that work wonders.

      Homemade deodorant is pretty fantastic and I've found it's a good solution to the fact that 1. I sweat a LOT, and 2. I have sensitive skin so lots of deodorants just cause underarm rashes.

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      • Homemade deodorant? Oh. My. Word. That sounds *fantastic*. My underarms are always rashy, but I sweat a lot too, and don't want to be stinky.

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        • I use coconut oil on its own for deodorant. It has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. I don't sweat a lot though, so it might not work for you if you do. But it will definitely help with the rash! It's worth trying out. And if it doesn't work you can use the coconut oil for a million other things, including for not limited to: as a moisterizer, as lube, as cooking oil.

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          • Sounds like something I just need to have around anyway…

            Thanks!

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          • I second the amazing power of coconut oil! It's wonderful for your hair, too.

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          • also good for when you have a cough – it coats and soothes your throat. I give it to my kids with a little honey, they love it!

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          • Coconut oil rocks! I use it as part of a mixture to make deodorant, moisturiser and it has successfully treated the odd yeast infection

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      • Homemade deodorant?!? What's the recipe?

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      • Oooooh, what's your recipe? I am in the same boat – I sweat A LOT, and commercial deodorants give me awful rashes. I've found chemical-free deodorants that avoid the rash problem (I use Coconut, by LUSH) but none that really work as an antiperspirant.

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        • @Jenna Rose – the antiperspirant in commercial deodorants is aluminum – the same thing that is supposed to make commercial deodorant/antiperspirants really bad for you. Unfortunately, it is also the only thing I think that actually works as an antiperspirant. Which is why all "natural" and homemade deodorants do just that – deodorize and nothing else.

          If anyone knows of any non-aluminum antiperspirant that actually works, please feel free to correct me as I've never found one!

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      • Do you have a recipe? I've been experimenting with this for a while and mine have either come out too soft or too hard.

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  9. Does anyone know if this is ok to use on cloth diapers?!?! minus the scents of course

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    • I've heard that it isn't very gentle on cloth diapers, but I don't know first hand. Maybe try it on some diaps you don't love first?

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      • I make my own laundry soap this way (although i use an organic olive oil based soap which works just as well–im allergic to fragrances, and a couple other things used in soap) I cloth diaper, and this detergent works great for stains, but seems to dry out the diapers a bit so i add a 1/2 cup vinegar to my diaper load and that works much better.

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    • My mother washes cloth diapers with the washing soda only. She says this is the best way to remove the smell. Also, she dries them outside in the sun in the summertime to further disinfect them.

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      • YES. I'm stoked to put up a clothesline outside this summer — way better for keeping whites white than bleach, which can turn them yellow.

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  10. I have been making my own laundry soap for over a year! Its amazing how many people think its the oddest thing they have ever heard of! I've even had people offer to buy me "real" soap!
    I use Lush soap in my recipe and it smells amazing!

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    • I was wondering about making this with LUSH soap… I have really dry, sensitive skin, and switched over completely to LUSH products about 5 years ago (like, 'I carry my own travel soap in my purse to use in restrooms' completely). The change was amazing – I went from being covered, neck to ankles, in regular breakouts of dry eczema-like rashes (which 10 childhood years of dermatologist visits failed to heal or identify) to having an average of one rash (or less!) per year, generally stress triggered.

      I've been playing around with laundry soap recipes, but I'd need to make one that was completely chemical and irritant free… what else is in your recipe besides the soap? (If you don't mind sharing!) Also, do you still end up saving money even with using such expensive soap? I wouldn't mind even spending the same amount I currently spend on detergent…. but it would be hard to spend more.

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  11. We make our own soap and I LOVE it! You forgot to mention that when you tell people you make your own soap they look at you like you're a badass! It's soooo much cheaper than I can get it with coupons, even, and I like the lemony smell from the Fels Naptha, but you can use Castile.

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    • I buy my Lush for laundry when its on sale. I usually buy 3/4 of a pound to make 2 gallons or so of liquid laundry detergent. When using the lush(if not on sale) the soap costs me 15 bucks. But the laundry soap lasts so long I can usually time it around a sale. Also I would not advise soap with stuff in it.
      I am out visiting my awesome hippy inlaws for the weekend… They don't have internet. But when I get back to my wireleSs I can post/email my recipe.

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  12. It looks like my local Wegmans carries everything I need, and in the same aisle, natch, so I know what I'm doing this weekend! I've been thinking about it for awhile, and I'm almost out of whatever it is that I've been using, so this is perfect timing!

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  13. My family and I have been making homemade laundry soap for quite a few years now and a trick we have is to buy a really small bottle of laundry detergent that we like the scent of and add that to the batch. Another handy thing (and awesome wedding gift that I got) is a gift set of a large canning pot and 8 bars of soap and a couple boxes of washing soda. I usually make all the detergent (about 18 gallons) for me and my mom once every 6 months or so. I use my giant canning pot and a 20 gallon storage tub for the overnight jelling its awesome! And also another handy tip is that the fels naptha bar itself is a bad ass stain remover.
    I think next time I make it I'm gonna try ivory soap because I LOVE the smell of it!

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  14. Fels-Naptha is hands-down the best stain remover. We use it in the theatre to get stage make-up/mysterious gunk off of shirt collars and other clothing pieces!

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    • Hmm, I wonder if it would work on the lipstick and bike grease staining my hemp-silk wedding dress…

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  15. How does this far for avoiding wear and tear on clothes? Colors last ok? Fabric keep its bounce?

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    • I haven't noticed a difference in the feel or look of my clothes.

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  16. I've done all my cloth diapers with soap nuts with great success. FYI Borax is an illegal substance in the EU (sigh). Soap nuts definitely work if your water is soft, and they're OK if the water is hard. You can generally find them in your local Fairtrade shop, and our €9 bag lasts us 6 months of laundry (including diapers).

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    • Interesting. I wonder why the EU has banned it?

      *heads off to Wiki*

      A reassessment of boric acid/borax by the United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Pesticide Programs found potential developmental toxicity (especially effects on the testes).[17] Boric acid solutions used as an eye wash or on abraded skin are known to be particularly toxic to infants, especially after repeated use, because of the slow elimination rate.[18] At a recent European Diagnostics Manufacturing Association (EDMA) meeting, several new additions to the Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC) candidate list in relation to the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals Regulations 2007 (REACH) were discussed. The registration and review completed as part of REACH has changed the classification of Sodium Tetraborate CAS 1303-96-4 to toxic for reproduction.[19]

      Good to know.

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  17. I use this! Sometime year before last my mater was at my sister-in-law's house, and there was a whole group of women making huuuuge amounts of this laundry soap. I love it, and plan to use it when the creature and I finally have our own place, though I do make it now. :)

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  18. I was just reading about this for cloth diapers and the general consensus is that it would be ok if you left out the fels-naptha (or other soap) the wash powder and borax are ok far as I've seen.

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  19. Anyone ever used Marseilles or olive oil soaps for this? Y'know, the giant green french cubes? Just curious…

    I should make my own. I buy the HE unscented kind, but it's kinda pricey. Clearly I should just bite the bullet and make my own! Then I could scent it with peppermint or something yummy – I hate that "laundry" smell. Gives me a headache.

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  20. Hi guys,

    Some people wrote about LUSH products here. I went to their site and got a panic attack: there are so many products!!! Could someone point me to the right product to use in this formula? Thank you so much in advance! Here's their site.

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    • I have used lush's karma soap and alkmaar soap so far. They both worked great. Karma is a stronger more musky scent. with lush you could use any of the soaps that don't contain chunks… Ie I would not advise porridge soap. If you haven't used lush before just go with a scent description that sounds like something you like!

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  21. I do this too, and I save tons of money! The website where I got the recipe said the recipe amounts to about 1 cent per load. I use a dove bar of soap though, the cheapest I can find without scents or other additives.

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  22. I ordered my stuff from amazon and a few essential oils for scents. Can't wait!

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  23. Love the article, totally down for some DIY tea tree oil soap!

    Is it safe to use washing soda and borax in a pot you use for cooking though? Seems like you'd want to have a separate pot that was strictly for soap. I'm not sure if it's an issue or not!

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  24. I make a powdered version of this soap, which works fine when washing in hot water. When I wash in cold water, I put 1 T of soap in a jar and dissolve it in boiling water to make a liquid. I don't have a lot of room for storing large amounts of liquid soap in my apartment so this is ideal for me.

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  25. For years I have lamented the fact that Dove Beauty Bar does not come in a liquid form. I've even written the company about it. Surprisingly, they wrote back and said that liquid Dove is the number one requested item. That was four years ago and still it's not on the market. Fed up with gloopy mess from the bar yet unwilling to give up the Dove, I decided to make my own liquid Dove. It was shockingly easy to do! Just chop up the bar into bits and heat it in a saucepan on the stove with water. One bar renders about 24 ounces of liquid soap and it took no effort or time at all, really.

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  26. I've been using a similar recipe for a while now and so far, it's great. The only difference in mine is, instead of using the fels naptha bar, I've been using a bar of body soap (dove, dial, ect). It smells awesome and kinda neat to switch between scents. <3

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  27. I tried this recipe many years ago to make laundry detergent and I was utterly disappointed but reading the suggestions here makes me want to try again.

    My biggest complaint was that clothes that were extra-sweaty ( like workout clothes ) still smelled like BO.

    I'll have to experiment with different soap.

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    • That could be. I'm a magically unsweaty person most of the time. BUT I do have a big furry bear of a husband and I haven't noticed any ick smells since switching in December.

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    • I had two questions for people: one, if adding your own scents, about how much should you add? I was thinking of adding rosewater, but I don't wanna put in too much and make the smell obnoxious.

      Also, has anyone besides KathyRo had any complaints? I told my mom about this recipe, and the first thing she said was, "What did people complain about? You can always tell how well a product will work for you by what the complaints are."

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  28. You had to order washing soda? That's weird. My Dad was a grocer, and we always had it in stock.

    I soak my resusable pads in washing soda and warm water, and it really gets the blood stains out.

    The most unusual use I've put it to though, was mummifying a chicken for a Mad Scientist contest at a Steampunk convention.

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  29. What type of pot would you use for this? I wouldn't re-use it with food, but I'm not sure if a stainless steel pot would be OK, or would cast-iron be necessary? Thoughts?

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    • I use the same stainless steel pot I cook in to make my soap. After all, its just soap, not some weird chemical. It won't have a negative effect on your food, plus your pot will be clean!

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      • So much this! I usually use it dry, but when I cooked the liquid version in my biggest pot the "stains" that simply would not scrub off peeled right off!

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  30. The hubs and I have been making our own laundry soap with castille soap rather than Fels-naptha, for the past couple of years now. We've found just the right way to shred the soap so that it doesn't clump on clothes in the wash, and we love it!

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  31. If I didn't want to use tea tree oil, but wanted to customize my scent, what other options do I have? I love the smell of
    peach, could I use essential oils?

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  32. Another great alternative are soap nuts. The ancient Egyptians started using them to launder clothes when they noticed they suds up in water. They work really well. It's also sold in liquid form and only a teaspoon or so is needed fora full load.

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  33. I've been using this recipe for years, and would advise not to be put off by the description of Fels Naptha as "perfumey." It does have a mild lemony scent which is barely detectable once mixed with the other ingredients. Guess it depends on your tolerance, it's certainly not perfumey in comparison to premade detergents.

    I've been dying to make sandalwood detergent using sandalwood bar soap as recommended in another forum, but haven't gotten around to ordering the soap online yet. Fels Naptha is still my favorite of the supermarket soaps.

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