Homemade detergents are easy to make. However, stores are awash with many products all claiming to clean better than any other brand – so how do you know whether the homemade versions actually work?
The easiest solution is to just buy what the stores are hawking – but more and more studies are showing that there are benefits to using homemade products. But does homemade detergent work?
Yes, homemade detergents work when used properly – but only when doing laundry manually, not in the washing machine, as they can adversely impact it.
Many people argue that simple homemade detergents work at least as well as (if not better than) traditional shop-bought detergents. This is despite reports saying that homemade detergents are dangerous and should not be used.
Multiple comparisons show that homemade detergents work better, producing clean clothes at a fraction of the price of the alternatives, while also using fewer (sometimes zero) chemicals.
To figure out if DIY detergents really work, we have to take a closer look at the factors involved in how clothes are cleaned.
It’s also important to take a look at the difference between the ingredients in commercial versus homemade detergents.
So without further ado, let’s dive in!
What is Homemade Detergent?
First, what is homemade detergent – and how is it different from commercially manufactured detergents?
Technically, homemade detergents are just soap. Making soap is an easy process. Although there are many DIY recipes, their principles are all the same.
Soap primarily consists of natural oils and fats that are then combined with a neutralizing alkali compound.
Here’s how they differ from store-bought detergents. Commercially-produced washing detergents are made by carefully combining a complex cocktail of chemicals and natural products.
What do they have in common? For starters, they both contain surfactants, as these are important ingredients for an effective cleaning process.
The store-bought product may contain several surfactants while you’ll usually only find one or two in homemade options
Alkalis or soluble salts are also found in both homemade and commercial detergents. Alkalis assist with the cleaning process as they form an emulsion that helps to suspend particles of oil and dirt.
The emulsion, along with the oil and dirt, can then be flushed away when rinsed. This helps to reduce the amount of agitation necessary to remove dirt particles.
In traditional or historical soap production, alkalis are produced by soaking ash in water. People still use this process today, but alkalis are more commonly introduced in a chemical format.
Common alkalis used in the commercial detergent-making process are sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and potassium hydroxide (KOH).
Alkalis are important in one another way. They also affect the amount of lather that is produced by the detergents.
Contrary to popular belief, the foam and lather produced have little effect on how the product works.
Many people assume that their clothes are getting cleaner when there is more foam and lather, but the reality is that it makes no difference.
Does it matter if one product is technically a detergent and the other a soap? Not really. They are both being used for the same purpose – they are both being used to clean clothes.
So are homemade laundry detergents just as effective in cleaning clothes as commercial options?
As long as they have surfactants, yes. Water alone will not clean clothes – remember, surfactants are required for the process to be effective.
Surfactants are made of molecules that have two different ends. One end attaches itself to the water and the other end attaches itself to dirt and grease.
Consequently, when the water is drained from the laundry, it takes the dirt and grease particles with it, leaving behind fresh, clean clothes.
Both commercial and homemade detergents contain surfactants that have the ability to clean most dirt from clothes.
According to countless anecdotal reports and formal studies, DIY detergents and commercial products are equally effective. That said, they both require the assistance of other products to combat some difficult stains.
Will Homemade Detergents Produce Gleaming White Clothes?
There’s nothing quite as rewarding as pulling a load of whites from the washing machine and seeing them gleaming white and dazzling. But will homemade detergents be able to ensure the same level of whiteness as commercial options?
Homemade washing detergents, on their own, will not produce dazzling whites. Despite the clothes being clean, they may have a yellowish appearance.
Commercial detergents would create the same effect if they didn’t contain certain chemicals that create the impression of dazzling whiteness.
The two most common chemicals used in this process are bluing and fluorescing.
Bluing is a fine blue iron powder that counteracts the natural yellow in items, both that which is found there from the start as well as the yellowing that occurs over time.
The use of this product dates back many years, long before the invention of washing machines.
Some people believe that this chemical can cause health problems. However, at this time, there is no scientific evidence to confirm this.
Nevertheless, if there’s any debate about it at all, is this really something we want to be introducing to our clothes?
Optical brighteners are seemingly magical chemicals, as they mysteriously absorb the yellowish light and re-emit it in the blue region of the spectrum. This has the effect of making whites seem extra bright.
Even though these chemicals can cause skin irritation and can even cause environmental harm, they are still found in many detergents.
If homemade detergents are unable to make whites white, then it could be said that they do not work.
However, the good news is that s actions can be taken to help rectify the difference in the whites. Here are a few things you can do.
Temperature is Important
Fabrics are cleaned more efficiently in warm wash water, especially if the detergent has already been dissolved before the laundry is added.
Ensure Sufficient Agitation
The motion of the clothes in the machine is one of the key factors in removing as much dirt as possible. Allow sufficient time and space for the laundry to freely move, and clothes will become cleaner.
Don’t overload your washing machine and you’ll find that your whites look much brighter (and the rest of your clothes get cleaner in the process, too).
Allow Plenty of Time For the Cleaning Agent to Work
Both types of detergent, commercial and homemade, benefit from pre-treating stubborn stains. Avoid the temptation to add more detergent to combat stains, as less is often an equally beneficial option.
Not only that, but natural products will help to produce brilliant whites. Soak your clothes in lemon juice and water before allowing the clothes to dry in the sun.
Try this and watch any stains disappear while they are still hanging on the line.
There is also the option to use non-oxygen-based bleaches or a solution of hydrogen peroxide. It’s a good idea to spot-test these on an inconspicuous area of your clothes first, just to make sure they don’t damage the fabric.
Homemade detergents can be said to work as well as shop-bought by taking these simple steps.
Will Homemade Detergents Make Clothes Smell Clean?
We have all been convinced by the detergent industry that our laundry should smell of flowers, cologne, or mountain springs. They add artificial chemicals to create this smell.
These chemicals produce an oily waxy coating that infiltrates the clothes to produce a lingering smell. It is very difficult to remove these substances.
Not only that, but they are toxic and cause many people to develop skin allergies and irritation related to their laundry.
Here’s a simple, eco-friendly, and healthy alternative. Clean clothes, when dried outside in the air, will produce a pleasant and subtle smell of fresh air.
For those that prefer some sort of fragrance, adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil will make the difference.
Homemade detergents work better as they make clothes smell clean and natural on their own – without the need for additives or chemicals.
Will Homemade Detergent Damage Clothes?
For those people who have hard water in their homes, it’s important to note that the water will contain elevated levels of calcium and magnesium.
Homemade detergents can react with these minerals and produce a residue that can be deposited on clothes. This residue can stiffen the fabric and reduce the longevity of the clothes.
Commercial detergents contain additives that help to soften the water in order to prevent this problem.
However, water displays different levels of hardness in different geographical locations, so some areas may require extra treatment to soften the water effectively.
That means that these treatments might be unnecessary at best, and overkill at worst.
A cartridge water softener connected to the water inlet of a washing machine will help to counteract the effects of hard water.
Rinsing clothes in plenty of water and drying outside rather than using a tumble dryer will also help.
There is no greater risk of damaging clothes by using homemade detergents rather than shop-bought products.
Will Using Homemade Detergents Harm My Washing Machine?
DIY and shop-bought detergents can both react with elevated chemicals found in hard water areas.
Previously we mentioned that these residues can affect clothes – these residues can also affect washing machines.
The residues can build up in the drum, affecting the agitation of the clothes. The residue can also build up in the water tubes and pump, causing damage and reducing the efficiency of the machine.
If you notice that the washing machine smells when the door is opened, this residue is most likely the cause.
After some time, mold will grow on the residue and produce that telltale odor. This is also a problem with commercial detergents., the laundry aisles in certain shops have many additives available to combat this problem.
The solution to this for both products is to use a store-bought additive. For those searching for homemade alternatives, white vinegar added to the final rinse helps to break down these deposits and wash them away.
With these simple solutions and techniques, it can be said that homemade works just as well as commercial products.
There is no difference in terms of potential damage to your washing machine when comparing homemade versus store-bought options.
Benefits of Using a Homemade Detergent
There are two clear benefits associated with using a DIY detergent rather than a shop-bought product.
A homemade detergent can be made using mainly natural ingredients that can often be grown or made yourself. Therefore, it is a safer product to use and it is more environmentally friendly.
Price is no doubt an important factor when it comes to choosing homemade detergents. A 5-gallon drum of liquid detergent can be made for less than $2.
Do Homemade Detergents Work?
Having clarified that homemade detergents are technically soaps, rather than detergents, we can easily say that laundry detergents that are homemade work just as well as those that you might buy in stores.
The difference is purely technical and has no bearing on the efficiency of a homemade product.
When comparing homemade and commercial products, we found that they both contain the important elements that effectively clean clothes. Homemade detergents clean clothes effectively.
Despite having similar active agents, homemade detergents do contain fewer chemicals that can cause allergies and irritation while also damaging the environment.
Whether homemade detergents could leave clothes white and smelling fresh and clean, it’s clear that both products require some help in order to do so.
Homemade solutions are available to help homemade detergents, making them just as effective as commercial products.
Another argument for not using homemade products was that they could damage clothes and the machines themselves.
The potential for damage is prominent with both types of detergent. There are simple techniques you can try to remedy this situation. Finally, the cost is an important benefit of using homemade detergent.
Clearly, we can say that homemade detergents work at least as well as – if not better than – manufactured products.
Three years ago, I bought an off-grid Cortijo in a small valley in the Andalucian mountains. This move was not really a planned decision to live of-grid, I just fell in love with the tranquil location. Although, perhaps the lifestyle is in my genes as my grandfather and his four brothers were Homesteaders in Alberta Canada in the 1900s. The mountains of Spain are a difficult place to grow many of the flowers that I was used to in the UK. However, veg grows well all year around peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, cucumber, melons and chard all fare well in the Mediterranean climate. Almond trees provide me with a cash crop of around 1 ton whilst still retaining some to make almond milk and flour.