* 1 bar (about 3 oz) of bar soap (Fels*naptha works best for us, but lot of people like Ivory)
* 1 cup of borax
* 1/2 cup pf washing soda (NOT baking soda)
* grater/knife/food processor shredder
* 5 gallon bucket with lid (a cleaned out cat litter tub works great)
* 2 quart saucepan
* LONG stirring spoon
Steps:1) Grate the soap into shreds or crumbs so that it will dissolve easily. (This is the "hard part")
2) Next, heat 5 cups of water in a saucepan.
3) When the water starts to steam, add the soap shreds and stir.
4) While the soap is melting, put three gallons of hot tap water into your 5 gallon bucket.
5) Once the soap is completely melted, pour it into the water in the big bucket and stir well.
6) Add 1/2 cup of washing soda and stir thoroughly.
7) Once the washing soda is completely dissolved, add 1 cup of borax and stir thoroughly.
OK, now you have a big bucket of soapy water. You can use it immediately, but as it cools, it will gel. The exact texture depends on the soap you choose, but in each case it will be part gel and part watery liquid. It ain't pretty, but it works really well as a general cleaner, too - - and it's a whole lot cheaper and easier to carry home than the commercial detergents.
Use about 1/2 cup for each load of laundry. Because the gel tends to lump up, if you have a high efficiency washer, you'll want to chop the lumps up befopre you put them in the washer. Hot water dissolves it just fine, but you'll get some backwash as it gets started. With a top loader, just dump it in. The water and agitator will do the trick.
I find it works even better if I put 1/2 cup of baking soda in the drum along with the wash and then use white vinegar and a drop of essential oil as the "fabric softner" in the final rinse. The clothes are fine without, but smell fresher with.
With thanks to Felicia Williams over at Suite 101 for getting me started.