100 Years Ago – Making Homemade Laundry Soap

This post is another installment in the 100 Years Ago series based on writings found in a home reference manual written in 1902.

100 year old book

I’ve written several times over the last few months about my adventures in making Homemade Laundry Soap. This was a whole new adventure for me and I thought I was being pretty cutting edge. While others were going down the accepted route of putting a bottle of laundry detergent from the store in their grocery cart, I was being daring and new and brave enough to create my own homemade mixture. Turns out I was not really doing anything new at all.

I guess in some sense I knew this already. When I was stirring up my second batch of homemade laundry soap Hubby walked through the room and said “Look at you, you’re like some pioneer woman or something”. And truth be told, that’s how it felt too.

But even so, I was not expecting the recipe I came across in my antique book. Here’s an excerpt from a category titled “Laundry Work”:

“To wash chenille curtains – Two ounces ether sulphate, two ounces borax, two ounces soda, one cake ivory soap; shave soap and let dissolve in warm water, then add all ingredients to sufficient warm water to wash curtains in”

100 Years Ago - Making Homemade Laundry Soap

Well how about that? Sound familiar anyone? It’s amazingly close to the recipe bloggers are sharing today for homemade laundry soap. With the exception of the ether sulphate (which is a foaming agent), it’s almost an exact replica. Grate a bar of soap and dissolve in hot water, use equal amounts washing soda and borax and mix into a lager amount of water.

What strikes me as the difference between the old and new recipes is that in the olden days, they just “soaped up” the water for one batch of laundry. I think today when we make our own laundry soap, we somewhat subconsciously are trying to replicate a bottle or box of detergent from the store. We want our soap in the familiar “big batch” style so that we can just toss a scoop into our machines when it’s time to do a load. And of course, that does make sense in our busy lifestyles.

But we could do it the old school way too.  I read a helpful hint that sounded pretty easy that said to just throw into each load, 1 tablespoon of washing soda, 1 tablespoon of borax, and 1 tablespoon of liquid castile soap.  No mixing ahead of time required.  Kind of like how great-grandma did it, don’t you think?

Do you make your own laundry soap? What sounds best to you – a big batch ahead of time, or just throw the individual ingredients into each load? Please leave a comment with your thoughts . . . I’d love to hear what you think!

Need a few more bright ideas?
Sign up for the monthly email newsletter to learn about my latest content and tips for frugal homemade living.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I use this also but my whites are not bright they are dull I have added more borax but still no luck can u help tell me what to do? I also grade it fine and do not mix it with water, I use it dry flakes.

    1. You should add Branch Basics Oxygen Boost. It’s kind of like Oxyclean but non-toxic with all those harmful stuff they put in Oxyclean. It works wonders to making my whites white. There are only two ingredients in their Oxygen Boost: Sodium Percarbonate and Sodium Bicarbonate. I’ve also soaked old shoes in a sink full of hot water and their Oxygen Boost for 24 hours and it does wonders! Shoes look brand new!

  2. I do it “old school”, a little of this, a little of that. From my research, Borax is primarily a whitening agent, so I add it only to whites. Washing soda softens the water, which makes your soap or detergent work better. By the way, I have an old “washing machine”…the kind where you boil the water on the big pot, and run clothes through a manual crank ringer. I also have a nice modern front loader, but the old one is fun to play with occasionally!

    1. I love old school things too and I would so be playing with an old washing machine once and awhile if I had one too. Thanks for the good tips on borax and washing soda as well!

  3. I so wish I could find that book!!!! I would be in heaven 🙂
    I’ve made my own laundry soap for years, my son is allergic to about every commercial one (even the natural ones) I gave up breaking my bank trying to find a detergent that didn’t cover him in hives and started making my own. I use fels naptha borax and washing soda and an old big bucket from cat litter that has the easy half open lid. I make it 2x a year for about $30 a bucketful. We’re a family of six and I love that we only spend $60 a year on laundry soap!!!