If you’re trying to save a couple of bucks you may have had the idea to mix your own laundry detergent.
This way you’re able to avoid all the harsh chemicals that you may find in store-bought detergents, and you’ll know exactly what you’re washing your laundry with.
Homemade detergents recipes that you can find online only need a handful of inexpensive ingredients, so what could be bad about that?
We’re here to explain why maybe you shouldn’t do it yourself when it comes to making detergent soap.
The science behind cleaning your clothes is complicated. Like, really complicated.
But before we get into it, let’s explain something first. Homemade “detergents” aren’t actually detergents. They’re just soap. But both soap and detergent have some things in common.
They both contain surfactants or “surface-active ingredients” which lower the surface tension of water which helps shift dirt and grime, but it’s the differences in the chemical composition of soap and detergent that make all the difference when it comes to cleaning clothes.
Let’s get a little more technical, here. The “surfactants” we mentioned above come in two different types. On one end they are hydrophilic, meaning they attract water, and on the other they are hydrophobic, meaning they push water away.
The hydrophobic surfactants get to work in your washing machine by attaching themselves to dirt and oil in your laundry.
Your washing machine then agitates the laundry to help loosen up all this dirt, oil, and other particles where they then stay suspended in the water until the rise and final spin cycle where they’re all flushed away without the dirt getting redeposited back onto your laundry.
Common soap is predominantly made from natural fats and oils along with a neutralizing alkali compound such as sodium hydroxide.
Soap is great for cleaning hard surfaces that aren’t porous because they can be scrubbed and then rinsed without any dirt being trapped inside the little holes and crevices.
Soap isn’t ideal for fabrics because they are full of tiny holes and fibers. This means the soap can embed itself inside the porous material, making it difficult to rinse away.
As soap is oil-based, it can remain in the fibers of your clothes, leaving a scummy residue.
Most of the homemade laundry soap (or “detergent”) recipes that are found online call for a mix of Borax, washing soda, baking soda, and a shaved bar of soap or “soap flakes”.
Borax and washing soda work as great water softeners and baking soda acts as a deodorizer and also can brighten your fabrics.
The soap shavings or flakes are supposed to be the cleaning agent in this recipe. The issue with this, as we’ve mentioned, is that we’re not using this soap to clean non-porous surfaces like our hands or a kitchen counter.
If you’re using a washing machine, like most people nowadays, and not planning on scrubbing your clothes with a washboard like it’s the 1920s, soap just isn’t going to cut it.
Store-bought detergents, on the other hand, are made from a precisely concocted blend of synthetic and natural ingredients. They also often contain several surfactants, and they’re much more water-soluble than soap, especially in hard water.
Additionally, store-bought detergents are made specifically to be used with washing machines, so you know they’re not only the best option for your clothes but your machine as well.
Here are the main reasons why you may want to think again if you’re considering giving DIY laundry soap a try:
It Can Be A Hazard To Your Household.
The American Cleaning Institute warns that the lack of child-safe packaging and proper labeling can be a poison hazard to pets and kids in your home. Additionally, homemade laundry soap recipes aren’t tested for safety the way that consumer products are.
There are also no clear instructions as to how you should use your homemade concoction, so in the wrong doses, even the natural ingredients could be harmful to both you and your clothes.
DIY “detergents” Can Ruin Your Clothes.
If you live in an area with hard water – meaning that the water you wash your clothes in is high in minerals such as calcium and magnesium – your homemade soap will react to the dissolved minerals in the water and this could leave an unwanted residue on your clothes. This reaction could also leave your fabrics stiff and uncomfortable.
The American Cleaning Institute also says that in the process of this reaction between the soap and the minerals in the water, more of the soap is used up, meaning that there is less soap to do the cleaning.
Even if the water in your area is soft, or low in these minerals, your homemade laundry soap can still react to minerals that could be found in dirty clothes.
Homemade Laundry Soap Could Destroy Your Washing Machine.
This reaction we’ve mentioned above between the laundry soap and the minerals in the water can also lead to a build-up of residue in your washing machine. The film of residue that builds up over time can be a breeding ground for mold and mildew to grow.
This can drastically affect the performance of your cleaning equipment, as the insides will become grimy and will no longer clean your clothes effectively.
Consumer Detergents Just Work So Much Better!
Store-bought detergents have been developed for decades and it’s specifically engineered so that it will not react to the minerals in the water. It is also labeled according to government safety standards and packaged in child-safe containers.
All in all, it just does a matter job at cleaning your clothes, because that’s what it was designed to do.
If the reason you considered switching to homemade laundry soap in the first place was to avoid the harsh, toxic chemicals that some consumer products contain, then there are other options on the market.
Consider switching to a safe, non-toxic detergent that does not contain ingredients such as softeners or optical brighteners, and ones that are made with safer surfactants.