Why Homemade Laundry Soap Is Bad

With the rise of DIY trends and a desire to live more sustainably, many people have turned to making their own homemade laundry soap. While the idea of a natural, eco-friendly, and cost-effective cleaning solution may seem appealing, the reality is that homemade laundry detergents can be problematic and even dangerous. In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why you should steer clear of DIY laundry soap and opt for commercial, thoroughly tested products instead.

Why Homemade Laundry Soap Is Bad

1. Ineffective Cleaning Power

One of the primary issues with homemade laundry soap is its lack of cleaning efficacy. Most DIY recipes rely on a combination of grated bar soap and washing soda or borax. While these ingredients may produce suds, they often fail to remove tough stains, grease, and dirt effectively. Commercial laundry detergents, on the other hand, are formulated with advanced surfactants and enzymes that are designed to break down and lift away even the most stubborn soils.

A Closer Look at Surfactants and Enzymes

Surfactants are molecules that have both hydrophilic (water-loving) and hydrophobic (water-repelling) properties, allowing them to effectively lift and separate soils from fabrics. Common surfactants found in commercial detergents include linear alkylbenzene sulfonates (LAS), alcohol ethoxylates (AE), and alkyl sulfates.

Enzymes, on the other hand, are biological catalysts that break down specific types of stains. For example, proteases help remove protein-based stains like blood, sweat, and grass, while amylases target starch-based stains from foods like pasta sauce and gravy.

DIY laundry soap recipes simply cannot match the powerful cleaning abilities of these advanced ingredients found in commercial detergents.

2. Buildup and Residue Problems

Homemade laundry soaps can leave behind a soapy residue on clothing, linens, and even inside your washing machine. This buildup can lead to several problems, including:

  • Dinginess and dullness in fabrics
  • Stiffness and roughness in clothing and towels
  • Unpleasant odors and musty smells
  • Potential damage to washing machine components

The Impact of Residue Buildup

Residue buildup from homemade laundry soap can have a significant impact on the appearance and feel of your fabrics. The soap scum can attract and trap dirt and grime, leading to a dull, dingy look over time. Additionally, the buildup can cause clothing and towels to feel stiff and rough, diminishing their softness and comfort.

Moreover, the residue can accumulate inside your washing machine, leading to unpleasant odors and potentially damaging sensitive components like seals, bearings, and pumps. This can not only shorten the lifespan of your appliance but also create an environment conducive to mold and mildew growth.

Commercial laundry detergents are formulated to rinse cleanly, leaving no residue behind and ensuring your clothes and linens stay fresh and bright.

3. Potential Skin Irritation and Allergic Reactions

Many DIY laundry soap recipes include ingredients like grated bar soap, which can contain fragrances, dyes, and other additives that may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions. These reactions can range from mild rashes and itching to more severe eczema flare-ups or contact dermatitis. Commercial laundry detergents, on the other hand, are carefully formulated to be gentle on skin, and many brands offer hypoallergenic and sensitive skin-friendly options.

The Dangers of Fragrances and Dyes

Fragrances and dyes are common culprits when it comes to skin irritation and allergic reactions. Many bar soaps contain synthetic fragrances that can trigger adverse reactions, especially in individuals with sensitive skin or fragrance allergies. Similarly, dyes used to color bar soaps can cause contact dermatitis or exacerbate existing skin conditions.

In contrast, commercial laundry detergents are subject to stringent regulations and testing to ensure their safety for skin contact. Hypoallergenic formulas are free from fragrances, dyes, and other potentially irritating ingredients, making them a safer choice for those with sensitive skin or allergies.

4. Lack of Standardization and Quality Control

One of the significant advantages of commercial laundry detergents is the rigorous quality control and standardization processes they undergo. These products are carefully formulated to meet specific performance standards and are subject to strict testing and regulations. With homemade laundry soap, there is no way to ensure consistent quality or performance from batch to batch, as the ingredients and ratios can vary widely.

The Importance of Quality Control

Quality control is crucial in ensuring the safety, efficacy, and consistent performance of laundry detergents. Commercial manufacturers employ strict quality control measures, including:

  • Raw material testing and inspection
  • Controlled manufacturing processes
  • Rigorous product testing and evaluation
  • Compliance with industry standards and regulations

These measures help to ensure that each batch of laundry detergent meets the required specifications for cleaning power, stability, and safety.

With homemade laundry soap, there are no such quality control measures in place. Variations in ingredients, ratios, and mixing techniques can lead to inconsistent performance and potential safety issues from batch to batch.

5. Environmental Concerns

While some people may turn to homemade laundry soap in an effort to be more eco-friendly, the reality is that many DIY recipes can actually be harmful to the environment. Ingredients like washing soda and borax can be toxic to aquatic life if not properly disposed of, and the lack of biodegradability in some homemade formulas can contribute to water pollution.

Reputable commercial laundry detergent manufacturers, on the other hand, are increasingly focused on developing environmentally-friendly and sustainable products, with many brands offering plant-based, biodegradable, and concentrated formulas that are better for the planet.

The Rise of Sustainable Laundry Detergents

Leading laundry detergent brands have recognized the growing consumer demand for eco-friendly products and have responded with innovative, sustainable formulations. Examples include:

  • Plant-based surfactants derived from renewable sources like coconut oil or sugar
  • Concentrated formulas that require less water and packaging
  • Biodegradable and readily-degradable ingredients
  • Phosphate-free and low-VOC (volatile organic compound) formulas

These sustainable laundry detergents not only help reduce environmental impact but also deliver superior cleaning performance, making them a win-win for both consumers and the planet.

6. Cost and Convenience Factors

While homemade laundry soap may seem like a cost-effective option initially, the time and effort required to make and maintain a steady supply can quickly outweigh any potential savings. Additionally, the ineffective cleaning power of DIY detergents may lead to the need for more frequent washing or the use of additional cleaning products, further diminishing any cost benefits.

Commercial laundry detergents offer convenience and reliability, with consistent quality and performance in every load, saving you time and effort in the long run.

The True Cost of Homemade Laundry Soap

When considering the cost of homemade laundry soap, it’s essential to factor in not just the upfront ingredient costs but also the time and effort required for preparation. Here’s a breakdown of some potential hidden costs:

  • Time spent sourcing and purchasing ingredients
  • Labor involved in grating, mixing, and preparing the soap
  • Potential waste from inconsistent batches or ineffective cleaning
  • Increased water and energy usage due to more frequent washing
  • Additional cleaning products needed for tough stains or odors

In contrast, commercial laundry detergents offer a convenient, ready-to-use solution that consistently delivers effective cleaning results, saving you time and reducing the need for additional products or rewashing.

7. Safety Concerns

Some homemade laundry soap recipes call for potentially hazardous ingredients like lye or ammonia, which can be extremely dangerous if not handled properly. Improper mixing or storage of these chemicals can lead to serious burns, respiratory issues, or other health risks. Commercial laundry detergents, on the other hand, are formulated with safety as a top priority, ensuring that the products are safe for household use when used as directed.

The Risks of Handling Lye and Ammonia

Lye (sodium hydroxide) and ammonia are highly caustic and corrosive substances that can cause severe burns, eye damage, and respiratory issues if mishandled. Even exposure to fumes or small amounts of these chemicals can be hazardous, especially for individuals with respiratory conditions like asthma.

Homemade laundry soap recipes that incorporate lye or ammonia must be treated with extreme caution, as improper mixing, storage, or use can lead to serious injuries or accidents. In contrast, commercial laundry detergents are formulated with carefully selected, thoroughly tested ingredients that pose minimal safety risks when used as directed.

8. Fabric Damage and Premature Wear

The harsh nature of some DIY laundry soap ingredients, combined with the potential for residue buildup, can lead to premature wear and damage to your clothing and linens. Fabrics may fade, discolor, or develop holes and tears more quickly when exposed to homemade detergents over time. Commercial laundry detergents are designed to be gentle on fabrics, helping to preserve the integrity and longevity of your garments.

The Impact on Fabric Quality

Harsh ingredients like lye or excessive amounts of washing soda or borax can break down fabric fibers, leading to fading, thinning, and eventual weakening of the material. Additionally, the buildup of soap residue can act as an abrasive, causing further wear and tear on garments.

Commercial laundry detergents, on the other hand, are formulated with fabric care in mind. Many brands offer specialized formulas for delicates, woolens, and other sensitive fabrics, ensuring gentle yet effective cleaning without compromising the quality or longevity of your clothing.

9. Warranty Implications

Using homemade laundry soap in your washing machine may void the manufacturer’s warranty. Many appliance companies specifically state that the use of non-approved or homemade detergents can invalidate the warranty, as these products may cause damage or premature wear to the machine’s components. Commercial laundry detergents, on the other hand, are designed to be safe and effective for use in standard washing machines, ensuring your appliance remains protected under warranty.

Protecting Your Appliance Investment

Washing machines are significant investments, and protecting that investment is crucial. By using non-approved or homemade detergents, you risk voiding the manufacturer’s warranty, which can leave you responsible for costly repairs or replacements.

Here’s an example of a warranty disclaimer from a major appliance manufacturer:

“Use of non-approved detergents, such as homemade or DIY laundry soap, can cause damage to the machine’s components and is not covered under the warranty. Only use commercially available, high-efficiency (HE) detergents specifically formulated for use in this appliance.”

Following the manufacturer’s recommendations and using approved, commercial laundry detergents is the best way to ensure your washing machine remains covered under warranty and operates at peak performance for years to come.

10. Lack of Specialized Formulations

Commercial laundry detergent manufacturers offer a wide range of specialized formulations tailored to specific needs, such as high-efficiency (HE) machines, cold water washing, and even dedicated formulas for delicates, woolens, or heavily soiled garments. Homemade laundry soaps, on the other hand, are often one-size-fits-all solutions that may not be suitable for all fabric types or washing conditions.

Catering to Diverse Laundry Needs

The laundry needs of households can vary greatly, from heavily soiled workwear to delicate silk garments. Commercial laundry detergent manufacturers recognize this diversity and offer specialized formulations to cater to these unique needs:

  • HE Detergents: Designed specifically for high-efficiency washing machines, these low-sudsing formulas prevent over-sudsing and ensure efficient cleaning.
  • Cold Water Detergents: Formulated to deliver effective cleaning in cold water temperatures, helping to save energy and protect fabrics from heat-related damage.
  • Delicate/Wool Detergents: Gentle formulas that preserve the integrity and softness of delicate fabrics like silk, lace, and wool.
  • Heavily Soiled/Outdoor Detergents: Powerful cleaning agents that tackle tough stains and soils found on workwear, outdoor gear, and heavily soiled garments.

With homemade laundry soap, achieving this level of specialized cleaning can be challenging, if not impossible, as the ingredients and formulations are typically one-size-fits-all.


While the appeal of homemade laundry soap may be tempting, the potential risks and drawbacks far outweigh any perceived benefits. From ineffective cleaning power and potential skin irritation to environmental concerns and fabric damage, DIY laundry detergents can be a costly and potentially dangerous choice.

Instead, opt for high-quality, commercial laundry detergents that are rigorously tested, environmentally-friendly, and specifically formulated to deliver superior cleaning performance while protecting your clothing, linens, and appliances. By choosing reputable, well-established brands, you can enjoy the convenience, reliability, and peace of mind that comes with products designed with your safety and satisfaction in mind.

Sharing Is Caring:

As the founder of Clean It Spotless, I am Melissa Walker, a leading expert in removing tough stains from fabrics, carpets, and upholstery. With over 10 years of experience in the cleaning industry, I have developed my own natural, non-toxic stain-fighting formulas that lift stains while preserving the integrity of the underlying material. My stain removal tutorials are widely read online, and I have appeared on local TV segments demonstrating my techniques. I also present popular stain removal workshops at community centers and schools.

Leave a Comment