What are the Risks of Using Homemade Laundry Soap?

What are the Risks of Using Homemade Laundry Soap?

Discover the risks, good and bad, of using homemade laundry soap on your clothes in the washer, as well as possible alternatives.

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Although it may be a cheaper alternative to commercial detergents, homemade laundry soap can be harmful to human health, as well as damaging to your clothes and washing machine.

Borax, a common ingredient in the production of homemade laundry soap, is highly irritating to the eyes, and the respiratory system, and may cause skin redness or inflammation, according to the National Pesticide Information Center. Due to safety concerns, it may be best to leave borax to professionals who can handle it in safe concentration levels. Meanwhile, the lye component can damage washing machines.

What makes DIY soaps harmful?

You can make homemade detergent in 30 minutes or less. It’s easy to do at home with simple ingredients but it won’t last as long as a commercial one. What’s more important to consider are the ingredients and your safety while making it, using it, and storing it in your home.

  • Borax

Borax or sodium tetraborate decahydrate cleans and deodorizes. It’s a naturally-occurring substance with a pH of 9.5. This makes it perfect for keeping the water alkaline while acting as a gentle abrasive against stains and grease.

Keeping borax at home may not be safe, especially if you have small children or pets. When ingested, borax can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration limits exposure to 10 mg/m3 TWA. It is safer to use in a controlled environment since professionals are trained to handle the material with the highest form of safety and in compliance with regulatory standards.

You will need extra care when using borax to make your homemade laundry soap. Use a mask and gloves to prevent inhalation and skin irritation.

  • Washing soda

Washing soda or sodium carbonate is frequently used in DIY laundry soaps. It softens water and boosts cleaning power against dirt and stains. 

It is not a skin irritant and it does not cause DNA damage. It is, however, found to be moderately toxic to aquatic life. It can also cause serious eye irritation and it may irritate the respiratory tract.

When dealing with washing soda for your DIY preparations, be careful not to inhale it. Use gloves as it may also be drying to the skin.

  • Lye

Lye is the main cleaning agent for homemade laundry soaps and other kinds of soaps. It is made up of caustic compounds, which means it is very dangerous and can cause chemical burns. It’s important to use protective equipment at this stage due to the high pH.

In the process of saponification, lye will be neutralized and will be better suited for soap making. The curing process for lye will make it safe for use on the skin.

What Are the Disadvantages of Homemade Laundry Soap?

Commercial laundry detergents are formulated to be effective in a variety of water conditions and to clean a variety of fabrics. Homemade laundry soap, on the other hand, may not be as effective in cleaning your clothes, especially if you have hard water or if you are washing heavily soiled clothes. 

On Human Health

Common ingredients used in creating homemade laundry soap such as borax and lye may not be safe to be handled without proper guidelines. Borax can cause skin irritation, eye irritation, and respiratory problems. It is also a reproductive hazard and should not be used by pregnant women or women who are trying to conceive.

Meanwhile, lye is a corrosive substance that can cause burns to the skin and eyes. It should be handled with extreme caution and should not be used by children.

On Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sanitizing

While homemade laundry soaps can be more affordable than their commercial counterparts, they lack ingredients that are added to make it easy to wash, rinse, and disinfect your clothes. Those found on the market are also best suited for your washing machine. Since DIY laundry soaps can change in texture and consistency depending on the weather and other factors, they may leave residue on the machine which builds up over time.

Some users have also found it leaves residue on clothes that may make them yellowish and deliver subpar cleaning.

On Stain Removal

Stain removal might be an issue when using homemade laundry soap. It might be easy and effective if the stain is new and it hasn’t been set on the fabric. It’s a different story for stains left overnight or those that are hard to remove like dyes and inks. The main reason? Homemade laundry soaps are not actually laundry detergents. The base cleaning agent is still regular soap that’s added to the mixture in grated form. And soap, unlike an enzymatic-cleaner, isn’t formulated to address stains, especially deep-seated stains on fabric.

On Odor Removal

Regular laundry detergents often contain enzymes, surfactants, and builders that are specifically designed to remove odors. These ingredients can break down the odor molecules, making them easier to remove from the fabric. Homemade laundry soaps typically do not contain these same ingredients and may not be as effective at removing odors.

On the Safety of Your Clothes

Borax is found in many commercial laundry detergents since it’s a gentle abrasive and it helps in cleaning soiled clothes. It is, however, not gentle on certain fabrics like silk and wool, which are best left with professional laundry shops. While it is gently abrasive, borax will damage these delicate fabrics. 

Since your DIY laundry soap is made of soap and not high-efficiency detergent, it might even cause staining or yellowing of clothes due to the build-up of soap residue over time. It may also affect the quality of your clothes.

On Your Washing Machine

Borax is safe to use on your washing machine as a booster to your commercial detergent. It is often used like baking soda to deodorize clothes and as a water softener.

What may not be good for your washing machine is homemade laundry soap because it lacks ingredients that keep the consistency of the product. It can clog the drains and build up residue. Using DIY laundry soap may also cause oversudsing, which will affect the performance of your washing machine. It will be harder to rinse the soap off your clothes.

On Clogging Your Drains

Commercial laundry detergents can clog drains if not used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. A homemade laundry soap requires a lot of trial and error in creating it and using it. Without proper guidelines, there’s a higher chance of clogging your drains.

Products with caustic chemicals like lye will also be harmful to your home’s pipe system. If you are in an area with hard water, the suspended minerals in water will interact with detergent to build soap scum. This will eventually clog your drains when it hardens or mineralizes inside your pipe system.

Did you know that it’s also harder to form suds with hard water? This may lead you to think you need more detergent. In this case, are you really saving money by using homemade laundry soap?

DIY Laundry Soap vs Regular Laundry Detergent

Even zero-waste advocates do not recommend using DIY laundry soap over a high-efficiency detergent. It renders clothes and sheets oily in the long run. This may even cause some skin problems because of the trapped dirt and soap residue on the fabrics.

Here are some of the reasons why using high-efficiency laundry detergent is better for your washer:

  • It gives a thorough clean, even with untreated water
  • Homemade laundry detergent is a bad idea with untreated water or hard water. Due to the suspended calcium and magnesium in hard water, sudsing is difficult to achieve. You may end up using more detergent than necessary.

  • It’s easier to measure to avoid over or underdosing
  • Regular commercial laundry detergents usually come with their own measuring cups. They also have guidelines on how much you need based on the weight of your load and how dirty the clothes are in the washer. High-efficiency laundry detergents take away the guessing game to reduce oversudsing that may lead to poor washing and rinsing cycles.

  • It contains ingredients that improve washing and rinsing dramatically
  • While homemade laundry soap uses lye and borax, they’re only good to boost the washing process but not as main cleaning agents. DIY soaps also have fewer ingredients. They’re missing ingredients like surfactants that reduce surface tension, making high-efficiency detergents more powerful in removing dirt.

    What’s Better Than a DIY Laundry Soap?

    A good laundry detergent should clean thoroughly without damaging fabrics, should be compatible with your washer, and it should not be harmful to you or the environment.

    Many commercial detergents in the market boast about their cleaning power but have harmful ingredients in them. The Environmental Working Group gave an F rating to 32% of over 600 laundry detergents for general purposes. This means over 200 of these detergents are potentially significant hazards to health or the environment or they may have poor ingredient disclosure.

    If you have sensitive skin, use an enzymatic laundry detergent that uses natural ingredients. Find products that don’t use harmful ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate and other sulfates. Those with no artificial perfumes, dyes, or optical brighteners also make good properties for sensitive skin.

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    You can find more information about homemade laundry soap in the following FAQs.

    • Is homemade laundry detergent more cost-effective than commercially sold laundry detergent?

    Homemade laundry detergent may seem like a more cost-effective option, but it is important to consider all of the costs involved. The initial cost of the ingredients may be lower than the cost of a commercial laundry detergent, but there are other costs to consider, such as the time and energy involved in making the detergent, the wear and tear on your washing machine, and the potential for damage to your clothes.

    • Is homemade laundry detergent more eco-friendly than commercially sold laundry detergent?

    Homemade laundry detergent is often touted as a more eco-friendly option than commercial laundry detergent. However, there is some debate about this. Some of the ingredients in homemade laundry soap, such as borax and lye, can be harmful to the environment. Borax can kill plants and animals, and lye can pollute waterways.

    • Is natural DIY laundry detergent better as an alternative?

    Natural DIY laundry detergent is a more sustainable option than homemade laundry detergent made with harsh chemicals. It is also less likely to damage your clothes or your washing machine.

    However, it is important to note that natural DIY laundry detergent may not be as effective as commercial laundry detergent. It may not be able to remove tough stains or odors as effectively.

    Key Takeaways

    • Homemade laundry detergent may not be as effective as commercial laundry detergent at removing stains and odors.
    • Homemade alternatives often lack the specific cleaning power found in commercial detergents, potentially leaving clothes dirtier and less sanitized.
    • While initial cost might seem lower for a DIY route, potential damage to clothes and washing machines can negate any savings.
    • Natural or enzymatic laundry detergent is a more sustainable option than homemade laundry detergent.