Emergency Laundry Detergent Alternatives

Laundry detergent is an essential household product that most of us take for granted – until we run out! Suddenly finding yourself without laundry detergent when you have a pile of dirty clothes can be a stressful situation. Fortunately, there are a number of effective alternatives you can use in an emergency when you don’t have laundry detergent on hand. With a bit of creativity and some handy ingredients from around the house, you can make DIY laundry detergent that will get your clothes clean.

Why Use Laundry Detergent Alternatives?

There are a few reasons why you might need an alternative to regular laundry detergent:

  • You’ve run out – The most common reason is that you suddenly realize you’re out of detergent when you go to do a load of wash. Rather than running to the store, try one of the options below.
  • You need a gentler option – Standard laundry detergents contain chemicals and fragrances that can irritate sensitive skin. The alternatives here are milder choices.
  • You want a greener choice – Conventional laundry detergents often contain chemicals and ingredients that aren’t the best for the environment. The DIY options are eco-friendly.
  • You’re looking to save money – Store-bought detergent can get expensive. The homemade versions allow you to wash clothes for pennies.

DIY Laundry Detergent Recipes

If you’re in a pinch without laundry detergent, try one of these easy homemade versions:

Baking Soda Detergent

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup borax
  • How to make:
  • Mix the ingredients together thoroughly in a container. Use 1-2 tablespoons per laundry load.

Baking soda is a natural cleaning powder that will help remove dirt and odors from fabric. The borax boosts cleaning power while the salt helps remove stains. This simple recipe is effective at cleaning clothes for a fraction of the price of store-bought detergent.

Liquid Castile Soap Detergent

  • Ingredients:
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup liquid Castile soap
  • 10-15 drops essential oil (optional)
  • How to make:
  • Mix together all ingredients until well combined. Use 1/4 cup per laundry load.

Castile soap is made from plant-based oils like olive, coconut and jojoba. It serves as a natural detergent. The essential oils add a light scent but are optional. This liquid version works well in high-efficiency washers.

DIY Laundry Detergent Pods

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 cup grated Castile soap
  • 1/2 cup washing soda
  • 1/2 cup borax
  • Essential oil for scent (optional)
  • Laundry detergent pod containers
  • How to make:
  • Grate the Castile soap bar and mix with the washing soda and borax. Add several drops of essential oil if you want a scented detergent. Firmly pack the mixture into laundry detergent pod containers. Use 1-2 pods per wash load.

These homemade laundry pods contain natural soap along with washing soda and borax for cleaning power. You can skip the essential oils if you prefer fragrance-free. Fill used pod containers or silicone molds with the mixture to create single-use portions.

Soap Nuts Liquid Detergent

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 cup soap nuts
  • Cheesecloth
  • 6 cups water
  • How to make:
  • Place the soap nuts and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let steep 8 hours or overnight. Strain through a cheesecloth and store the liquid in a container. Use 1/4 cup per wash.

Soap nuts (or soap berries) contain natural saponins that act as surfactants to wash away dirt and oils. Simmering the nuts makes a gentle, plant-based liquid detergent. Note that soap nuts can’t remove grease and oils as well as regular detergent.

Borax-Free Powder Laundry Detergent

  • Ingredients:
  • 2 cups washing soda
  • 2 cups baking soda
  • 1 cup Epsom salt
  • 30-40 drops essential oil (optional)
  • How to make:
  • Mix all ingredients together. The essential oil provides scent but is optional. Use 2 tablespoons per laundry load.

This powder detergent alternative doesn’t use borax, which some people prefer to avoid. Washing soda cuts grease, baking soda deodorizes, and Epsom salt boosts cleaning. Mix up a batch of this simple recipe to use in place of store-bought powder detergent.

Using Other Household Products as Detergent

If you don’t have the ingredients on hand to make DIY laundry detergent, you can also use household cleaners and products in a pinch:

  • White vinegar – Add 1 cup white vinegar to the wash cycle as a fabric softener and to help remove odors. Vinegar naturally disinfects and deodorizes.
  • Dish soap – Use 1-2 tablespoons of mild dish soap like Dawn in place of laundry detergent. Avoid dish soaps with added cleaners like bleach.
  • Bar soap – Grate a bar of soap and add 2-3 tablespoons to the wash. Plain ivory or Castile soap bars work best.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – For white loads, use 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide as a bleach alternative to brighten clothes. It naturally removes stains.
  • Lemons – Squeeze lemon juice over stained areas before washing to help lift dirt and odors from fabric.
  • Baking soda – Add 1/2 cup baking soda to the wash cycle to deodorize smelly clothes and help remove stains.
  • Borax – For tough stains, make a paste with equal parts borax and water. Rub it directly on stained fabric before washing.

Laundry Detergent Alternatives Shopping List

To be prepared with supplies to make homemade laundry detergent and keep your contingency stash stocked, here are some key ingredients to have on hand:

  • Baking soda
  • Borax
  • Washing soda
  • Castile soap
  • Bar soap
  • Salt
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Essential oils (for scent)
  • Dish soap
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Laundry detergent pod containers or silicone molds
  • Cheesecloth (for soap nuts recipe)
  • Soap nuts

Having these items in your pantry and laundry room means you’ll be ready to whip up an effective DIY laundry detergent using products you already have at home.

Tips for Using Laundry Detergent Alternatives

When using homemade or alternate laundry detergents, keep these tips in mind:

  • Start with smaller amounts and increase if needed – DIY options are often more concentrated.
  • Don’t pour directly on clothes. Mix into wash water so it dissolves.
  • Ventilate area – some options like vinegar can be strong-smelling initially.
  • Shake powders before each use as ingredients can settle.
  • Use warm or hot water washes for best results and stain removal.
  • Pre-treat badly stained and soiled areas first when possible.
  • White vinegar works great as a fabric softener too.
  • Borax can leave residue so use a vinegar rinse if needed.
  • Soap nuts liquid may require an extra rinse cycle to remove residue.
  • Store detergent alternatives in air-tight containers away from moisture.

Troubleshooting Laundry Detergent Alternatives

Switching to homemade or DIY laundry detergent is easy but there can be a few hiccups. Here are some troubleshooting tips:

Residue on clothes

  • Try an extra rinse cycle
  • Use less detergent
  • Make sure detergent dissolves fully

Greasy residue

  • Use a bit more dish soap or Castile soap
  • Boost cleaning powders like washing soda
  • Try a vinegar rinse

Dingy or dull clothes

  • Use hot water for wash cycle
  • Pre-treat stained areas
  • Increase detergent amount
  • Add borax or washing soda for more cleaning power

Mold or mildew smell

  • Dry clothes fully before storing
  • Add white vinegar to wash and rinse cycles
  • Use hydrogen peroxide on whites to disinfect

Too many suds

  • Reduce the amount used
  • Switch to a low-sudsing dish soap

Allergic reaction

  • Rinse clothes multiple times
  • Ensure detergent rinsed out fully
  • Switch formula or ingredients

Does Homemade Laundry Detergent Clean as Well as Store-bought?

When it comes to cleaning power, homemade laundry detergent is generally not quite as strong as commercial options. However, DIY detergent can still get your clothes perfectly clean if used properly. The natural cleaning ingredients like baking soda, Castile soap and washing soda are very effective at releasing dirt and oils from fabric.

However, homemadedetergent lacks some of the additional enzymes and surfactants added to store-bought brands to boost cleaning performance. Procter and Gamble spends millions researching and developing the most innovative laundry detergent formulas. While homemade can work extremely well, you may need to pretreat some stains and heavily soiled items to get them as clean.

One tip is to use a stain remover stick or spray to target greasy, ink or berry stains and tough dirt on collars and cuffs before washing. Homemade laundry soap also benefits from the use of borax and washing soda to increase its cleaning abilities. With the right practices, you can remove stains and get fresh, clean-smelling laundry using natural DIY detergent.

Storing Homemade Laundry Detergent

One downside of natural DIY laundry detergent is that it tends to have a shorter shelf life than commercial options full of chemical preservatives. Here are some tips for storing your homemade laundry soap:

  • Store in air-tight containers away from moisture and heat. MASON jars and containers with lids work great.
  • Powder formulas will last 1-2 months. Liquid versions last 3-6 weeks.
  • If liquids become thick, add water and remix.
  • Keep containers in a cool, dark place like under the sink or laundry room shelf.
  • Transfer to small jars for weekly use portions to avoid contamination from hands.
  • If detergent gets clumpy, remix with hands or spoon before use. Don’t add more water.
  • For longer storage, keep powders in freezer. Thaw before use.
  • Check ingredients like Borax for expiration date and replace yearly.

With proper storage containers and conditions, you can keep your homemade detergent fresh for multiple weeks or months. Just be sure to follow the tips above to get the longest shelf life.

Common Questions

Is homemade laundry detergent safe for septic systems?

Yes, homemade detergent is generally safe to use if you have a septic system. However, it’s best to avoid recipes with high amounts of Borax as the sodium content can be harmfulto septic tanks over time. Use a low or no-Borax recipe.

Can I use homemade detergent in HE washers?

You can safely use natural liquid versions in high-efficiency washers. Be sure to use a low-sudsing Castile soap. Avoid thicker, gel-like versions as they may clog HE dispensers. Powder varieties can work but may not dissolve as readily.

How do I know how much to use?

It’s best to start with smaller amounts like 1-2 tbsp per load and increase if needed. Homemade detergent is often more concentrated than commercial options. Don’t pour directly on clothes and check that it fully dissolves.

Should I use soft water or hard water?

Either works fine, but you may need to use a bit more detergent in hard water to help it lather and work effectively. A water softener can help if you have very hard water supply.

Can I add essential oils for scent?

Yes, you can add 5-10 drops of essential oils like lavender, lemon or tea tree to DIY laundry detergent. But the scent will fade faster than commercial options. Skip for people with sensitivities.

The Takeaway

Being caught without laundry detergent can be a hassle. But with some simple ingredients from around the house, you can whip up homemade detergent in minutes. DIY laundry soap is inexpensive, gentle on skin and better for the earth.

While store-bought detergent may have a slight edge on cleaning power, natural options get clothes fresh and stain-free with far fewer chemicals. Keep a few key supplies on hand to mix up your own laundry soap. You can make batches of powder, liquid or single-use pods tailored to your needs. With a bit of creativity, you’ll never be stranded without clean clothes when the detergent runs out.


Finding yourself suddenly without laundry detergent can be a stressful situation. But having the knowledge of effective homemade and household alternatives allows you to improvise when needed. With simple ingredients like Castile soap, baking soda and washing soda, you can make your own natural detergent for just pennies.

While commercial detergents may have a bit more cleaning strength from added enzymes and surfactants, DIY options made with plant-based soaps, Borax, and other elements can still effectively remove dirt, stains and odors when used properly. Arm yourself with the right supplies so you can whip up an easy homemade batch if your store-bought detergent runs out. With a bit of creativity and some handy kitchen ingredients, you’ll get through laundry emergencies when regular detergent is unavailable.