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Permaculture of Cleaning (Domestic Transition)

Editorial, July 2011

In these straightened times, using environmentally-friendly cleaning products can be quite a drain on the budget. A certain manufacturer seems to have upgraded a popular eco product to ‘concentrated’ status recently. Like me, you may be noticing you’re using more now as it is hard to gauge the quantity because a measuring scoop is no longer provided. Do I detect a lack of altruism in this tactic?

Having trawled the net, I have come up with a selection of DIY recipes for laundry and domestic cleaning using common ingredients that won’t harm your septic tank, your family’s skin, your sense of smell or your budget. You could even have fun making them, give the kids a lesson in kitchen chemistry, get together with friends to make a big batch and share it out, and feel really good at how much money you’ve saved every time you have to wash the children’s PE kit or those muddy Permaculture gardening clothes.

What you find when you start looking for recipes is that they are often in US measures, and not only are you left wondering what a ‘cup’ really holds, but exactly what gallons we are talking about here (US gallons are smaller than the old UK Imperial gallons). And that’s without the added complication of converting everything to metric as well – if that is what you’re used to.

So I’ve done all the hard work for you with the aid of another load of web research and a currency converter to work out approximate costs.


No excuse now – even Tesco have most of the ingredients, if not all, and the local hardware store almost certainly can fill in the gaps.  Have fun, and LABEL every bottle you store – 6 months down the line most of us would be unable to identify the white gunge in any given bottle if we don’t label it and include instructions for use.!

DIY Laundry liquid


Washing soda (often labelled Soda crystals)


Bar of castile or olive oil soap (plain, unscented)



Cheese grater



Storage containers and labels

Large pot for heating

Plastic jug

Tip: Soap is easier to grate if you’ve frozen it for a bit first. Don’t be tempted to use a food processor, and do the grating in a well ventilated area, or preferably outside – it can make you sneeze a lot and give you a soapy taste for ages!


Grate soap.

Add grated soap to a little water and stir over low heat for 10-15 minutes till dissolved.


125ml - washing soda


250ml - borax.

Stir till dissolved.

Pour into bucket, fill up with hot water, stir, cover with a  lid or cling film and leave overnight.

After 24 hours it will have gelled. Stir well and break up any lumps.

Divide between 2 x 19 litre buckets.

Top each bucket up with hot water to 19 litre mark.

Stir and bottle in suitable plastic containers. That’s what the funnel is for – the plastic jug will probably be useful as well. Label.

To use:

Add 250ml to washing machine (after agitating contents to emulsify). Can also be used as laundry pre-treatment.


Produces 38 litres - enough laundry liquid to supply an average family for about 8 months.


The Urban Farming Guys

See their demonstration (in US measurements) at:

Laundry detergent without borax


7.5 litres Water (hot)

1 bar Soap (grated)

500ml Baking soda (yes baking soda this time – NOT washing soda. Baking soda is Bicarbonate of Soda, NOT to be confused with Baking Powder, which is a mix of Bicarb, Cream of Tartar and starch).


Melt grated soap in a saucepan with enough hot water to cover. Stir over medium-low heat until soap is melted.

Pour 7.5 litres of hot water into a large bucket.  Add melted soap, and stir well.

Then add the baking soda, and stir well again.


125ml per full load, or 250ml per very soiled load.

DIY Fabric Softner.


Baking soda


White vinegar

Essential oil


Start by adding 250ml of baking soda to a large bucket or container. Then add 250ml of water to the baking soda. You do not have to stir to dissolve the baking soda, as the next step will do that for you.

Now, slowly pour in 150ml of distilled white vinegar. This will cause a chemical reaction with the baking soda, and the mixture will start to fizz. (This is why you need to mix it in a large container.) Let the mixture fizz for a few minutes to help dissolve the baking soda.

Now add another 150ml of water to the mixture. This will stop the fizzing process. Stir to properly mix all ingredients together.

You can now add essential oil to give a natural fragrance if you choose. 10-15 drops of pure essential oil is generally sufficient to give the fabric softener a pleasant scent. Lavender is a popular choice, but you could use a light sharp scent like bergamot.

Decant your fabric softener into clean containers and label.


Add 250ml of your fabric softener to the final rinse of your laundry, just as you would a commercial fabric softener.

Another recipe:

Homemade Laundry Detergent (liquid)

1 bar of castile soap

2 litres of hot water

250 ml of borax

250 ml of washing soda

Optional: 125 ml Vanish Oxy for extra stain-fighting power

14 litres of water


1) Grate soap.

2) Boil 2 litres of water and pour into grated soap, to melt.

3) Measure these powdered ingredients into a stock pot or other  large container

4) To this, add hot soap mixture from above.

5) Pour 14 litres of water into the above mixture in the large container, stirring to dissolve powders. Let set into a gel and it’s ready.


125 ml per load, or 250ml for heavier loads.

Makes enough for 56 loads

Homemade Laundry Detergent (solid)


1 bar of castile soap

250 ml of borax

250 ml of washing soda


Measure the same amounts of soap, borax, and washing soda as in above recipe. Mix these ingredients together dry, without water. Decant into storage container and label.


1 tablespoon per load.

Approximate cost

(converted from Canadian dollars, so may vary in UK)

For homemade laundry detergent :

castile soap, 10-pack: £2.57

Borax, 2 kg: £3.22

Washing soda, 3 kg: £3.22

Water: nominal cost

Total cost: about £9.00 for 10 batches, or 90 pence per batch.  
Each batch of liquid detergent yields enough for 56 loads : less than 2p per load (slightly more if you’re adding Vanish Oxy)

Summary of natural home cleaning ingredients

Baking Soda – cleans, deodorizes, softens water and is a good scouring powder.

White Vinegar- cuts grease, and is a mild disinfectant.

Lemon Juice – is a mild bleach, and deodorises.

Borax – bleaches, deodorises, and is a mild disinfectant.

Pure soap (castile soap) –  is a general purpose cleaner that biodegrades completely.

Washing Soda – cuts grease, and bleaches.

Lavender and Tee Tree essential oils  -  natural protect against bacteria, viruses, and fungi

Vodka – is a natural disinfectant, and is useful for dissolving essential oils and keeping them in suspension in liquids.

Citric Acid Powder – cuts grease and is a natural cleaning agent.

Grapefruit Seed Extract – is a natural antiseptic.


All-Purpose Cleaner

Castile soap


Lemon juice

Baking soda or borax

Mix 30ml (2 tablespoons) pure castile soap with 1 litre of warm water.  Add 60 ml lemon juice to help cut grease.
mix 60 ml baking soda (or Borax) with 1 litre warm water. Add 60 ml lemon juice to help cut grease.

Glass Cleaner

White vinegar or lemon juice


Mix 60 ml vinegar or 15 ml (1 tablespoon) lemon juice with 1 litre of warm water.

Bath & Tile Cleaner

Baking soda


Castile soap

Lavender essential oil

Mix 500 ml baking soda with 30 ml (2 tablespoons) borax. Separately, mix 15 ml (1 tbsp) pure soap with 1 ml (20 drops) of lavender essential oil.  Combine liquid and powder in one container and mix together. 
Good on sinks, tiles, baths, toilets, etc.

Mould Remover/Deodoriser

Mix 250 ml water with 10 ml (2 teaspoons) tea tree oil. It removes mould from surfaces and can be used on walls and ceilings, and to deodorise toilets.

Laundry Bleach

Washing soda


Mix 125 ml washing soda or borax with 1 litre of hot water.

For laundry, add 125 ml washing soda in each load to whiten whites and brighten colors. For additional cleaning power, add 125 ml borax. Sunshine is the best disinfectant in the world! Just put your laundry out in the sun for an hour.


Citric acid powder



Grapefruit seed extract

Purified water

In 1 litre spray bottle, add 2.5 ml (1/2 teaspoons) citric acid powder, 1.2 ml (1/4 tsp) borax, 250 ml vodka, 25 drops Grapefruit Seed Extract, and 750 ml purified water. Safe to use on carpets and bed linen.

Air Freshener

Lavender essential oil  (or a citrus blend eg: bergamot, petitgrain (eau do cologne fragrance). If you’re feeling rich, real rose oil (tiny amount) and bergamot or lemon is rather good.

Distilled water

Put 10ml of vodka in a 150 ml glass mister bottle and add 30 drops of lavender or other essential oil. Agitate well and fill up with distilled water. Agitate before spraying.

Tip: dissolving the essential oil in a little vodka first and then adding the water and shaking  keeps the oil dispersed better throughout the mixture.


Research and original material by Roz Brown.


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