Why is homemade laundry detergent or soap bad? (Explained)

Homemade laundry soap is often made with ingredients that may react with minerals in hard water. Therefore, it may leave an unwanted residue behind after washing.

Furthermore, certain ingredients in homemade soap may be harsh on your clothes. For example, many recipes call for borax, which can be tough on delicate fabrics.

If you are looking for a natural and gentle way to wash your clothes, consider using a standard laundry detergent that is specifically formulated for washing clothes, or you may even consider plant-based detergents.

Key Takeaways

  • You should avoid using homemade laundry soap on delicate fabrics.
  • It’s best to avoid using homemade soap with hard water.
  • Homemade soap may include harsh ingredients that can damage your clothes.
  • Homemade detergents lack optical brighteners (required to make your clothes appear brighter).
  • Detergent manufacturers have to follow safety standards, so they are much safer than homemade detergent.

Is homemade laundry detergent better than store-bought?

Regular detergent bought from the store is superior when compared to homemade detergent. This is because commercially available detergents contain a formulation that is not only effective in hard water but also adheres to safety requirements.

It means the minerals in hard water do not affect the clothes negatively when mixed with commercial detergent.

Another common problem associated with homemade laundry soap is that it doesn’t contain any optical brighteners.

These brighteners help to keep your clothes looking their best by balancing the yellowing that can happen over time.

Without a good-quality detergent, your clothes may start to look dingy and feel less soft in the long run.

Lastly, most homemade laundry detergents have a history of leaving a patchy residue behind.

How certain ingredients in homemade detergent can react with minerals in hard water, causing residue?

Certain ingredients frequently utilized in DIY laundry detergents can react with minerals present in hard water, resulting in the creation of deposits on both clothing and the interior of washing machines.

This happens due to the chemical properties of both the detergent ingredients and the minerals in hard water.

Hard water is infused with minerals like calcium and magnesium ions.

Homemade laundry detergents, which frequently include components composed of soap, may interact chemically with hard water.

Soap molecules possess a water-attracting “head” called hydrophilic, as well as a water-repelling “tail” known as hydrophobic.

Hard water minerals, particularly ions like calcium and magnesium, can interact with the soap molecules and form bonds when they are present.

The calcium and magnesium ions combine with the soap molecules to form insoluble compounds, yielding a substance known as soap scum or curd.

This soap scum exhibits low solubility in water and can cling to fabrics, garments, and the surfaces within washing machines.

Consequently, when clothes are laundered using homemade detergent in areas with hard water, the soap scum might not rinse away entirely, contributing to the accumulation of residue on the fabric.

Can homemade detergents be used in a washing machine?

As long as the homemade laundry detergent does not contain a sudsing agent or a formulation that produces excess suds, it should be safe to be used in most washing machines.

However, it’s highly recommended to use a standard detergent suited for your washer, i.e., the one that you buy from a store.

This is because regular detergents go through a lot of rigorous testing to make sure they are compatible with washing machines.

On the other hand, homemade laundry soap may not be as effective in cleaning your clothes, and it may also damage your machine in the long run.

So, there are some definite drawbacks to using homemade laundry soap, especially if you have a high-efficiency washing machine.

Using Homemade detergents in HE washers

High-efficiency (HE) washers are engineered to utilize less water and generate fewer suds compared to conventional washers.

This design strategy is based on the understanding that too much suds can hinder the machine’s cleaning powers and possibly cause overflows or operational difficulties.

Homemade laundry detergents, particularly those incorporating ingredients like soap flakes or castile soap, can occasionally yield more suds than their commercial HE detergent counterparts.

For the prudent utilization of homemade laundry detergent in HE washers, consider the following factors:

Opt for HE-Friendly Formulas

Seek out homemade laundry detergent recipes explicitly tailored for HE washers.

Such recipes generally employ ingredients less prone to excessive suds formation.

Employ Reduced Amounts

Even if your chosen recipe claims HE washer compatibility, it’s wise to start with a smaller quantity of homemade detergent.

This approach allows you to gauge how effectively your washer manages the detergent and whether it triggers excessive sudsing.

Pre-Dissolve Strategy

To mitigate suds concerns, pre-dissolve the homemade detergent in water before introducing it to the washer.

This tactic facilitates even distribution and minimizes the risk of suds accumulation.

Integrate Extra Rinse Cycles

Consider adding an additional rinse cycle if you notice a lot of suds being produced during the rinse process.

This practice ensures thorough elimination of any lingering detergent residues from your garments.

Regular Maintenance

Irrespective of the detergent utilized, adhere to periodic cleaning of your HE washer as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

This routine safeguards against potential buildup of detergent remnants or other deposits.

Remember that not all homemade detergent formulations are suitable for HE washers.

Therefore, it’s imperative to research and embrace a recipe specifically devised for these machines.

Additionally, recognize that the efficacy of homemade detergents might fluctuate based on factors like the chosen recipe, water hardness, and the types of stains commonly encountered.

If a certain homemade detergent doesn’t live up to your expectations, try different recipes or simply use commercial HE detergents instead.

Note: In case of uncertainty, you can consult your washing machine’s manufacturer for insights on utilizing homemade detergent.

Do homemade laundry detergent clean clothes?

Homemade laundry detergent not only damages your washing machine but also affects the clothes negatively in the long run.

The leftover residue that builds up on your clothes also builds up inside your washing machine, making your washer less effective over time.

So, homemade laundry soap is not only bad for your clothes, but it’s also bad for your washing machine.

In a nutshell, homemade detergent may not be that effective in cleaning your clothes, especially if you are located in an area where there is a hard water supply.

Pros and Cons of homemade laundry detergents or soap

There are both advantages and disadvantages to using homemade laundry detergent or soap.

Let’s take a quick look at both the advantages as well as disadvantages of homemade laundry detergents.


  • Can be cheaper: It’s cheaper to make your own laundry soap than to buy it from the store.
  • Control over ingredients: You can control the ingredients when you make your own laundry soap. For example, you can exclude borax if you don’t like it.
  • Less toxic:  Most store-bought laundry detergents contain toxic chemicals. By making your own laundry soap, you can avoid these chemicals.
  • Control over fragrance: You can make your detergent as fragrant or non-fragrant as you like by controlling the ingredients.
  • Saves Money: You’ll have to spend a fair bit of money on store-bought laundry detergent, especially if it’s a plant-based or natural detergent.


  • It is inconvenient and takes time to make: Making your own laundry soap takes time. This may not be the ideal choice if you’re short on time.
  • May not be as effective: Homemade laundry soap may not be as effective as store-bought detergent, especially if you have hard water.
  • Can damage your washing machine: If not made correctly, homemade laundry detergent can damage your washing machine. The leftover residue just builds up inside your washer, therefore degrading the performance.
  • May leave patches on clothes: Homemade laundry soap can leave patches on your clothes. These patches are difficult to remove and may require special care.

Household items that can be used to make your DIY detergent

There are many household items that can be used to make your own laundry detergent.

Here are some of the most common ingredients used to make DIY laundry soap or detergent.

Soap flakes

Soap flakes are a great way to make your own laundry soap. You can use any type of soap flakes and combine them with baking soda or borax to make your own laundry soap at home.


Borax is a natural laundry booster and can be used in your homemade detergent.

Washing soda

Washing soda is a powerful cleaning agent, and it can also be used to make your own laundry soap.

Lemon juice

Adding lemon juice to your soap recipe is a great way to not only add fragrance but also boost the cleaning power.


Vinegar is a natural cleanser and fabric softener. It not only cleans your clothes but also removes adamant stains from them.

Furthermore, it also brightens your clothes and helps to remove any lingering odors.

Some specific examples of how certain homemade detergent ingredients can adversely affect fabrics

Homemade laundry detergents often include ingredients that, while seemingly natural, can be harsh on clothes over time.

Here are some specific examples of how certain homemade detergent ingredients can adversely affect fabrics:


Borax is a commonly used ingredient in homemade laundry detergent recipes.

While it can act as a cleaning booster, it can also be abrasive and harsh on fabrics, especially delicate ones.

Borax particles can create friction against the fibers of clothes, leading to increased wear and tear over multiple wash cycles.

Essential Oils

While essential oils are sometimes added for fragrance, they can also have negative effects on fabrics.

Some essential oils have concentrated components that might interact with certain fabrics, causing discoloration or even weakening of the fibers.

Moreover, it’s important to note that essential oils can potentially leave oily residues on garments, influencing both their visual appeal and tactile qualities.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is a common addition to DIY detergents due to its cleaning and odor-eliminating attributes.

Nevertheless, its abrasive nature can be mildly abrasively on fabrics.

This abrasiveness, unfortunately, has the potential to weaken fabric fibers, resulting in diminished fabric strength and longevity.

Citrus-Based Ingredients

Ingredients derived from citrus, like lemon juice or citrus essential oils, possess inherent acidity.

While these elements aid in breaking down stains, their acidic nature can gradually erode fibers, rendering fabrics more susceptible to tearing, pilling, and overall deterioration.


Although vinegar is sometimes used as a natural fabric softener and odor remover, its acidic nature can potentially weaken fabrics with repeated use.

Over time, vinegar’s acidity can contribute to fabric fibers becoming brittle and less durable.

To preserve the longevity and quality of clothes, especially delicate or valuable items, it’s advisable to consider using commercial laundry detergents that are specifically formulated to be gentle on fabrics while effectively removing dirt and stains.

What are the benefits of using store-bought laundry detergent?

benefits of using store bought laundry detergent

There are many benefits to using store-bought laundry detergent over homemade soap.

Some of the key benefits of using a regular detergent instead of homemade detergent are:

It works with hard water

Store-bought laundry detergent is formulated to work well with hard water. This means that the minerals in hard water are less likely to react with the detergent.

Formulated to be gentle yet effective

Commercial detergents, in most cases, are specifically formulated to be gentle on clothes. This means that it will not damage delicate fabrics.

It contains optical brighteners

As mentioned earlier, store-bought laundry detergent contains optical brighteners. An optical brightener is a chemical that is added to detergents in order to enhance whiteness and brightness.

Effective cleaning

Modern-day detergents are thoroughly tested before being sold at the store.

They are proven to be more effective in cleaning your clothes and, at the same time, much safer than homemade detergent.

Debate surrounding the use of homemade laundry detergents

Let’s examine both arguments for and against using homemade detergents.

Proponents of Homemade Detergents

Economical Advantage

A primary incentive for choosing homemade detergents is the potential for cost savings.

These detergents in most cases utilize basic and affordable ingredients like washing soda, borax, and soap.

Over time, this can prove more budget-friendly than commercial alternatives.

Eco-Friendly Perspective

Homemade detergents often incorporate fewer harsh chemicals and synthetic additives.

This resonates with environmentally conscious individuals seeking to diminish their carbon footprint by embracing natural and biodegradable elements.

Tailored Solutions

Homemade detergent recipes can be tailored to meet specific preferences and requirements.

Ingredient adjustments cater to allergies, sensitive skin, or individual aroma preferences.

This level of customization empowers control over garment cleanliness and fragrance.

DIY Satisfaction

Some people enjoy making their own personal cleaning products since it is satisfying and creative.

Concerns and Counterarguments

Effectiveness Question

One major concern is the efficacy of homemade detergents against commercial ones (it’s a grey area and the efficiency is questionable).

HE washers function optimally with low-suds detergents, a requirement not always met by homemade formulations.

Consequently, subpar cleaning results and potential washer damage can arise.

Suds Accumulation

Within HE washers, excessive suds can trigger mechanical complications.

Homemade detergents, particularly those with soap-based components, may surpass the machine’s suds tolerance, potentially affecting its efficiency and longevity.

Warranty Implications

The use of homemade detergents that are not recommended by the manufacturer may void the warranty on your HE washer.

This consideration carries weight, as any repercussions arising from non-approved detergents might lack coverage.

Inconsistent Composition

Homemade detergents can exhibit inconsistencies in formulation and outcomes.

Unlike rigorously tested and quality-controlled commercial counterparts, homemade recipes occasionally deliver fluctuating cleaning performance.

Temporal and Exertion Factors

Despite the satisfaction, making handmade detergents requires time, effort, and, at times, a learning curve.

Those who seek convenience will prefer to buy ready-made detergents.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, it’s a wise idea to use a commercial detergent instead of homemade soap or detergent.

When we do a cost-benefit analysis and look at the benefits that you get by paying for regular detergent in terms of convenience, time-saving, and effectiveness, it’s definitely worth the money.

Furthermore, believe it or not, commercial detergents will save you on the maintenance cost of your washer and also keep your clothes in good condition in the long run.

Personal Thought: Homemade laundry soap may be a cheaper alternative, but it doesn’t offer the same level of effectiveness and safety as regular detergent.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does homemade laundry detergent work in cold water?

The efficiency of homemade laundry detergent is hindered in cold water due to inadequate dissolution of its ingredients.

What are some alternatives to borax?

Some alternatives to borax are baking soda, washing soda, and lemon juice. All of these ingredients are natural and will not harm your clothes.

Can I use homemade laundry detergent on baby clothes?

Yes, you can use homemade laundry detergent on baby clothes. Just make sure to use a mild soap recipe so that it does not irritate the baby.

Hemant Sarkar is a seasoned techie with a diploma in computer science and an impressive track record of over 15 years in dealing with speakers, kitchen appliances, and various home appliance-related issues. He is widely recognized for his exceptional expertise in repairing dryers and washing machines from all major brands. In addition to his appliance repair prowess, Hemant maintains engaging blogs on topics related to music and speakers. For any inquiries or assistance regarding appliances or tech-related matters, you can reach out to him at: hemant (at) theportablelaundry.com.