Those who know me know that I'm sometimes frugal to a fault. I won't say cheap, since I will buy expensive things when I think they're well made and will last a long time ($600 bookcase and $750 HE washing machine illustrates this). I also don't skimp on food. I'll always pay more for healthy food that doesn't have preservatives, additives, or funky chemicals. Cleaning products are another story.
I found a recipe online in early spring for do-it-yourself laundry detergent that claims to work as well as store-bought detergent. I'm surprised I even tried this considering the luck I had with the homemade dishwasher soap. All of my dishes came out looking like they'd been dipped in milk and left to dry. Icky. And I've had poor luck with the natural laundry detergents as well. I've since learned that vegetable based detergents don't mix well with hard water, and they tend to stay in the clothes and make them stiff. Which is exactly what happened. I had finally settled on Method detergent, which was reasonably priced (~$15 for 64 loads), smelled nice, and was biodegradable. Oh, and it happened to do a good job cleaning my clothes...
But, like I said, I found the homemade recipe and decided to try it. I bought two bars of laundry soap, a box of washing soda, and a box of Borax at the store, grated the soap, and mixed it all up. I was a little nervous about using an unknown powdered substance in my new HE washer, but the information I found on the internet says it's low-suds and ideal for HE machines. Apparently, suds have nothing to do with cleaning power, even though that's what people associate with clean. Weird.
I've been using my homemade soap since then, with no complaints. It costs about $.01 per load (compared to $.23), and I estimate the homemade soap has cost me about $1.50. I use about 3/4 of a tablespoon per load, and I've never felt that my clothes weren't clean. They don't come out smelling like perfume, which, once I got used to it, doesn't bother me. They just smell fresh. I used a dryer sheet a few weeks ago and hated it, since the smell seemed overpowering. I don't use any kind of fabric softener or dryer sheets, but the clothes have very little static.
The recipe I use is 1/2 cup finely grated Fels-Naptha soap (about 1/3 of a bar), 1/2 cup of washing soda (I use Arm and Hammer -- not baking soda!), and 1/2 cup borax (I use 20 Mule Team). There are recipes that call for dissolving the mixture in boiling water, which makes it gel, but it seems harder to store and more of a hassle. I've never had a problem with the powder not fully dissolving, and a full batch takes up less than 2 cups of space. I don't think the Fels-Naptha is biodegradable, but I use 1/4 tablespoon or less per load. The wasing soda and borax are considered all natural and biodegradable. I'll try to find a biodegradable soap for my next batch, but I can't say I'm unhappy with what I've got now.