How to Make High Efficiency Detergent

Fragranced laundry products often contain unregulated and even hazardous volatile organic compounds (see References 3).

Fragranced laundry products often contain unregulated and even hazardous volatile organic compounds (see References 3).

Using high-efficiency (HE) laundry detergent in conjunction with an energy-saving washing machine ensures optimal cleaning performance while preventing mechanical problems. Unlike their traditional counterparts, which completely submerge soiled clothing in water before agitating dirt particles loose, HE washers use a tumbler system that requires far less water — up to 50 percent less (see References 1). Because regular detergents may be too concentrated or get too sudsy for the low amount of water used in HE washers, manufacturers suggest buying specially formulated HE detergents. But you can create your own gentle laundry formula that will ensure your machine’s longevity, save money and eliminate your exposure to dangerous chemicals present in commercial detergents (see References 2). In HE machines, using low-sudsing ingredients is essential, as is adding a much smaller amount of the detergent to each load. This recipe yields very few suds because it lacks the chemical-based emulsifying surfactants that are found in mainstream detergents (see References 2).

Pour ¼ cup of liquid Castile soap into a large mixing bowl, slowly adding 1 cup of washing soda in small increments while stirring briskly so that it becomes thoroughly dispersed.

Augment the Castile and washing soda mixture with 1 cup of baking soda, following the same slow but steady stirring process.

Slowly add 1 cup of vinegar to the Castile, washing soda and baking soda combo. A chemical reaction will trigger foam to emerge from the thick-yet-grainy paste, but as you continue stirring, it will dissipate quickly.

Stir the detergent thoroughly and break up clumps with the tip of your spoon; this will ensure that the dry ingredients have time to properly absorb the white vinegar and Castile soap plus integrate consistently throughout the recipe.

Add fragrance to your homemade detergent with 2 to 3 drops of an essential oil, such as lavender, eucalyptus, lemongrass or bergamot.

Pour the natural washing machine cleanser into the resealable container of your choice, measuring out ¼ to ½ cup per load, depending on the volume of clothing you wash at a time.

Items you will need

  • 1 cup washing soda (also known as soda ash or sodium carbonate decahydrate)
  • 1 cup baking soda (also known as sodium bicarbonate)
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • ¼ cup liquid Castile soap
  • 2 to 3 drops of an essential oil of your choice (optional)
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Large spoon
  • Large plastic, metal, or glass container with resealable lid


  • All-natural soapnuts — obtained from the Sapindus mukorrosi tree — are another low-sudsing, plant-based detergent option. In addition to being eco-friendly, they are antimicrobial (see Reference 7) and can be placed directly into a load of soiled clothes.
  • Boost the cleansing power of homemade detergent while also reducing the volume of soap that must be added to a load of soiled clothing by adding either 1 cup white vinegar (see References 8) or ½ cup baking soda to your machine’s rinse cycle (see References 5).
  • Natural whitening agents such as hydrogen peroxide and lemon juice can be added to whites loads in place of conventional bleach (see References 4).
  • Pretreat stained clothing by soaking spots for a minimum of 10 minutes in hydrogen peroxide or white vinegar, taking care to agitate the fibers with a firm bristled brush (see Reference 5 and Reference 8).

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About the Author

An eco-journalist for 1-800-Recycling, Ecorazzi, Martha Stewart’s Whole Living, WebEcoist, Organic Baby University and This Dish Is Veg, among others publications, Elizah Leigh continues inspiring readers to wade in greener waters using a unique literary voice that highlights the informational and quirky side of the green scene. She holds a Master of Arts in teaching English.

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