Natural & Homemade Laundry 101

open washing machine with red and orange detergent containers on topThink your laundry can’t make a difference? Think again: According to Seventh Generation,which pretty much established the natural cleaning products industry in the United States, if every American household replaced one bottle of petroleum-based detergent with a plant-based one, we could save 149,000 barrels of oil—enough to heat and cool 8,500 homes for a year.

But do plant-based natural and homemade laundry products really work? Absolutely! In fact, once you wean yourself off synthetic soaps—laden with those petrochemically-derived scents that you used to associate with clean laundry—your clothes will be cleaner than ever. Plus, your family might notice less allergies and skin irritations, such as contact dermatitis and eczema.

Here are five easy steps to take if you want cleaner, greener laundry.

1. Look for plant-based detergents that are free of the endocrine disruptor nonylphenol ethoxylate—also known as NPE, as well as phosphates, which can disrupt the aquatic eco-system by causing algae blooms. You should also avoid optical brighteners and conventional bleach, which sucks in so many ways, beginning with its association to dioxins. (Remember that cleaning product manufacturers are not required to list ingredients, so use the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning to search out ingredients on products and manufacturers.)

2. Phase out conventional dryer sheets: Most are made from synthetic, non-biodegradable polyester coated with heavily perfumed surfactants that coat your clothes when heated. Not so pretty, right? Instead, use dryer balls like LooHoo Wool Dryer Balls. They cut down on static cling, make your clothes feel soft and shorten drying time. Plus, they’re so cute in your laundry room!

3. Wash in cold! Your clothes will get just as clean, and you’ll save a ton of energy: 90% of the energy used during a typical wash cycle goes towards heating the water. (This is a great money-saver, too!)

4.  Save energy by hanging at least some of your clothes to dry—I don’t have an outdoor line, so I put damp clothes on hangers and stretch sweaters on my stair railing.

5. Try hand washing “dry clean only” clothes, such as sweaters and silks, to avoid seriously polluting chemicals like perchloroethylene, which is used as a dry cleaning solvent. For those fabrics that really, truly have to be cleaned, look for locations that offer eco-friendlier “wet” or “steam” cleaning.

Want to go even greener to get your clothes cleaner? Here are a few easy DIY recipes for homemade laundry products:

Do natural and homemade laundry products really work? Absolutely! Your clothes will be cleaner than ever, with less allergies and skin irritation.

CLEAN SCENT: If you miss that fresh-out-of-the-dryer smell, try adding two or three drops of your favorite essential oil to a clean rag and tossing it in.

DIY LAUNDRY SOAP: According to DIY Natural, you can make your own laundry soap by combining a shaved bar of Dr. Bronner’s Bar Soap with one cup of Borax Laundry Booster and one cup of Washing Soda. This sounds way too easy but reviewers have said it works great!

DIY DRYER BALLS: DIY Natural also has an amazing tutorial on making your own Wool Felt Dryer Balls, if you have that kind of time. Me, I’m too busy doing laundry.

Okay, crunchy. Now go wash something!



  1. seventh generation laundry products use sls as well as other dangerous chemicals. the company, in general, is a prime example of ‘green washing.’ many of their products are hardly safe or environmentally friendly as they claim. i’m surprised at the lack of research.

    • Rachel Sarnoff says

      Thanks for your comment! I used the statistic from Seventh Generation as an example of energy savings, not as an endorsement of their company, but you’re right: On EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaners ( some Seventh Generation products do get low “grades.” However, some of the laundry products, get “A” grades. I would definitely do a deeper dive when considering writing about the brand as a whole. Thanks again for commenting, I think this is a really important point!

  2. What recipe do you use for a DIY laundry detergent? Thanks for your eco-laundering tips.

    • Rachel Sarnoff says

      Thanks Hillary! There’s a recipe in the post, but I haven’t tried it. Let me know if you do! I really want to know how that one works, especially the shaving the soap part 🙂


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