Is Powder or Liquid Homemade Laundry Detergent Better?

Woman's hand adding powder soap to washer, and man's hand adding liquid soap to washer.

Making homemade laundry detergent is quickly becoming a growing trend.

With ridiculous prices, hazardous ingredients, and common allergens found in the vast majority of commercial laundry products, it’s no wonder people are interested in an alternative. 

It’s easy enough to make your own laundry soap, and finding recipes isn’t hard, but many first-time laundry-soap makers have trouble deciding between the powdered and liquid versions. 

Which homemade laundry detergent is better – powder or liquid? Powder soap is easier to make and requires less room to store but is best used with hot water to ensure the powder dissolves well. Liquid versions work well in all water temperatures, can be used for pre-treating stains, and may be scented but use more storage space.

Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of both powdered and liquid forms so you can make your decision with confidence.

Powder Vs. Liquid Laundry Detergent

The bottom line is that both homemade powder and liquid detergents will get your laundry clean without the use of harsh detergents and harmful additives. 

Believe it or not, they are basically the same thing. The liquid versions just have added water.

Ready for a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of both versions?                                                   

 Powder Pros Powder Cons Liquid Pros Liquid Cons
Doesn’t require as much space to store. Must be kept dry. Dissolves well in both hot and cold water. Requires more storage space.
Easier to make. May clump into hard chunks. Easy to use when pre-treating stains or for spot cleaning. Harder to make.
Can be used with cold or hot water. May not dissolve very well with cold water. Fragrance oils may be added if desired. Needs to be stirred or shaken before each use.
Won’t produce excessive suds (important for HE washers). May lead to clogging of washing machine or household pipes. Won’t produce excessive suds.  

Homemade Powder Laundry Detergent 

You can make a batch of powder laundry soap in just a few minutes, and the best part is that you control the ingredients.

Let’s look at a few different versions before you decide if this is the route you want to take.

For each recipe, you generally want to use 2 – 3 tablespoons per load. For high-efficiency washers, you can probably get by with 1 – 2 tablespoons.

The Basic Recipe

You’ll likely come across many variations of this basic recipe, but the results are the same: a very effective laundry soap. 

  • 1 ½ cups of borax
  • 1 ½ cups of washing soda (this is not the same as baking soda)
  • 1 bar of soap such as Zote, Fels Naptha, or even Ivory

Grate the soap bar with a sturdy box grater or your food processor (if you don’t yet have one, I recommend Hamilton Beach) and mix well with the borax and washing soda. Store in an airtight container. 

Note: You may substitute one cup of soap flakes in place of bar soap. 

A Very Basic Recipe

This super simple recipe contains only two ingredients, both of which are easy to find in most grocery stores, many big box stores, and online retailers. 

This simple combination is steadily gaining popularity as more and more people claim that the soap commonly added to many homemade laundry recipes doesn’t rinse out of fabric very well.

I, for one, have used the basic recipe for years with no issues, but if you’re looking for an easy solution that cleans well, this one may be for you.

  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup washing soda

That’s all there is to it. Just mix them together well and store in an airtight container.

An All-Natural Laundry Soap

Although borax is a natural product, there is some concern about development, endocrine, and reproductive negative effects, as well as irritation and respiratory issues associated with the sodium borate in the product. 

To avoid these possible concerns, try this all-natural recipe courtesy of Measuring Flower.

Grate the soap in a food processor, then add the remaining ingredients and pulse until the mixture is a fine powder. Store in an airtight container. This is a great recipe to try if you have sensitive skin or issues like eczema.

Bonus Tip: In a pinch, you can simply add 1 cup of baking soda to your laundry in place of your regular laundry soap. 

Advantages

  • Powdered versions take up much less storage space. Many users simply keep it in large canning jars that fit easily on their laundry room shelves. 
  • Because there is no need to melt and dissolve the shredded soap when making, powder soaps are quick and easy to create. Grate the soap (if needed), mix the dry ingredients, and you’re done.
  • They can be used with cold, warm, or hot cycles, but will dissolve best in hot water. One trick is to add the detergent to a cup of hot water, stir well, and then add to the laundry.
  • Powder soaps are low-sudsing, which means that you don’t need to worry about a bubbly eruption from your machine.

Disadvantages

  • The powder must be kept dry until you’re ready to use it. The slightest bit of moisture, even from high-humidity weather, can cause rock-hard clumps to form.
  • Using with hot water will produce the best results, but this means a higher monthly electricity bill (estimated cost is 60 cents more per load with hot water).
  • Powder may not dissolve well with cold water, which may result in powder residue stuck to clothes after washing and worse, may clump together and clog either your machine or household plumbing.

Homemade Liquid Laundry Detergent

There are two basic methods for making a liquid laundry soap. Both are effective and relatively simple, though the second doesn’t involve melting soap, so it is a bit easier.

In most cases, use ½ – ¾ cup of soap per load and ¼ – ½ cup for HE washers.

1. Convert a Powder Recipe

The basic recipe given above can be transformed to a liquid version easily. Here’s what to do:

  • Grate the soap as directed and combine it with 3 – 4 cups of water.
  • Add this to a saucepan, and over medium heat on the stove, allow the soap to melt completely. Stirring frequently will help.
  • Alternatively, you could add the soap and water to a heat-proof container and complete this step in your microwave.
  • Fill a 4- or 5-gallon pail (empty kitty litter buckets are great for this) halfway with hot water and dump in your melted soap. Stir well, and add the borax and washing soda.
  • Stir until all ingredients are dissolved, fill to almost the top with more hot water, cover with a lid, and let sit overnight. 
  • Some separating will likely occur, so stir the liquid at the bottom back into the gel before using.

2. Use Castile Instead of Bar Soap

For this method, simply replace the bar soap called for in the powder recipe with 1 ½ cups of liquid castile soap. No grating or melting is required.

Add the soap and all the remaining ingredients to a large pail, fill with hot water, and stir until everything is nicely dissolved. Done!

Advantages

  • Liquid versions will work very well in cold, warm, or hot water.
  • They can easily be used for pre-treating stubborn stains.
  • If desired, skin-safe fragrance oils for use in soap making can be added to liquid versions for a fresh, light scent.
  • Like the powdered form, homemade liquid laundry soap will not produce excessive bubbles that may harm your machine.

Disadvantages

  • Large pails obviously take up more storage space, though recipes can be cut in half and the soap can be stored in smaller containers (like empty laundry detergent bottles).
  • More time and effort goes into making liquid versions, and melting soap can be tricky.
  • Product may separate and require stirring (or shaking if you use smaller containers) before each use.

The Bottom Line

Both powder and liquid forms of homemade laundry soap will effectively clean your laundry and are simple and inexpensive to make. 

If you prefer to use only cold water for laundry, the liquid versions may be a better choice.

If space is an issue or you’d rather not spend the time melting a bar of soap, the powder versions may be ideal. The choice is up to you.