After using the following homemade detergent powder for about two years, I am confident in saying that this recipe works very well for us. You will often see DIY recipes online that include soaps such as fels-naptha or ivory grated up into it, but those really aren’t necessary. In fact, in my research for cost-effective cloth-diaper-safe detergents, I found that soaps like these can actually cause build-up, so I left soap out altogether. Your clothes still get clean, trust me! It may not suds up while in your washer (which is a good thing for an HE washer like mine) but it’s doing the trick.
Soaps are nice for their scents if you like that, but if you have a baby like mine or family member with sensitive skin, you want an unscented option anyway. I may like figuring out how to do things, but I won’t lie; I’m lazy sometimes too and don’t mind skipping the bar-soap grating step! See those two boxes pictured on my washer? That’s all that’s in it! (Did you know both Borax and Washing Soda are ingredients in Bum Genius’s official cloth diaper detergent? That’s how I knew they were cloth-diaper safe before I tested them myself.) Just measure out a 50/50 ratio of Borax and Washing Soda (NOT baking soda!!!). I store mine in an ice cream tub with a TBSP scoop. For my HE washer dirty diaper laundry I use 2 TBSP in the detergent dispenser (hot wash, presoak, heavy duty, extra rinse). They’ve always come out clean and odorless. I use this detergent on my regular laundry too, works great with hot or cold, but a normal load only requires 1 TBSP of the powder mix; the bigger the load, the more heaping the scoopful. Easy peasy.
Some have questioned the safety of borax but I did research beforehand and have no qualms about using it. Borax is only harmful when ingested into your body in large quantities or inhaled in large quantities (so don’t go huffing it in while you mix the stuff together; if you’re worried wear a cleaning mask). You will not be ingesting this, and it will be washed out of your clothes in your washer. But to each his own; if it’s not your thing, there are other natural options like soap nuts.
So the cost breakdown since I don’t use a bar of soap is less than 5 cents per scoop. I like the sound of that, don’t you?! You can use this to make a paste to spot-treat, but I still have some spray ‘n wash from my couponing spree 3 years ago…refill lasts forever. Follow the box instructions for either the washing soda or borax to get an idea of how versatile this stuff is!
Another side-effect of cloth-diaper research before we had our baby was that I found out dryer sheets can cause buildup not only on clothing (especially harmful for diapers you want to be absorbent) but on your dryer itself. So if I was going to cloth-diaper, I decided I’d better give up drier sheets altogether. (BTW, I never knew before nor paid attention to the labels on sports-wear that you’re not supposed to use dryer sheets/fabric softeners on those either.) Oh yeah, and dryer sheets are expensive, even if you have a coupon. (I’d read about and tried the frugal DIY “drier sheets” using sponges dipped in Downy fabric softener, etc, but again…the cost was no longer the only issue here).
Then I read about dryer balls made out of wool. Try to buy them and you could be out up to $8 or more per dryer ball. *cough* Whaaa?!!! Yeah. I was not gonna pay that, so I found out how to make them myself. Some people buy skeins of wool yarn but that’s expensive, too, or you could just go sheer a sheep if you have one, or maybe you have wool lying around in a pile at your house. I happened to have a Norwegian 100% sheepswool sweater that I paid $1 for intending to swipe the fasteners from it. It really was a pretty thing overall, but waaaay too shapeless and bulky for me. So I sacrificed it and made about 10 drier balls out of it. You only need 3 or so soft-ball sized drier balls to make a difference, but I find 6 is about right for fluffing up and reducing drying time (thus energy cost) when I do a heavy load of diapers. My former drying time before using drier balls was about 1 hr. and now it’s only 40 min. or so. We really don’t get static even in the winter (mind you, I hang things like sporty yoga pants so they last longer and fleecy stuff to dry, and those are usually static culprits if you do dry them). If you like fluffy-bunny-soft towels, you may not like drier balls rather than drier sheets and softeners, but remember those are only soft because they are putting chemicals on the towels and your body.
So the how-to…
1. Grab your 100% wool sweater or blanket to upcycle into drier balls, and cut it (assuming it’s at least a size medium) into at least 6 even pieces about that you could wrap around a softball with extra overlapping. Or simply chop the arms likewise like you’re stuffing a sausage, and use the remaining parts of the sweater (which you can put drops of essential oils like lavender in if you want) to stuff into the pieces in softball sized and shaped wads that you then sew closed by hand, with the raw edges tucked inside. Don’t worry too much about tight stitches or beauty…the next steps will ensure the dryer balls will not unravel.
2. Hopefully you were able to get them to look fairly uniform, but if not, no worries. Stick them in the leg of an old pair of pantyhose (or you can get those 33cent “eggs” with knee-high stockings in them from Walmart) and tie a knot in between each ball. This will ensure a tight smooth exterior when you felt them next. (This simply means shrinking them so they will no longer unravel even if they were cut)
3. Throw the panty-hose “strand” in your washer on hot with some detergent, then send them through the dryer on the hottest setting to further shrink and dry them. You can do this a few times until you feel they are firm enough and unlikely to unravel.
4. Cut off the stocking, then leave them in your dryer (or let your baby…or cat…play with them. hmm, should’ve put a jingle bell inside some while I was making them!) You can disperse them evenly throughout your wet clothes when you dry each load, but I never have and they bounce about just fine. They may be a little noisy bouncing inside the dryer but that’s normal and not a problem unless you think it is.