I pretty much always do the laundry on Saturday. Even when I was in college, and I did one load per week (!), I would do it on Saturday. I would take my clothes down to the basement laundry room, noting the time carefully. You see, the washers and dryers locked for the time that they were cycling, but when they finished, they automatically unlocked. If someone needed the washer or dryer, or wanted some of your clothes, they could swipe them if you weren't there right on time! I really enjoy laundry, even when we have a lot of it. It's a chore that requires not that much energy from me, and makes me feel really productive. And folding satisfies my neatness compulsion.
These days, we are up to 5-6 loads per week. Baby clothes, sheets, towels + pants, 1-2 adult colors loads, whites. Diapers are their whole own thing, that I do as needed.
For several years, I'd been using the Target brand unscented free & clear detergent. It was cost-effective and seemed to get our clothes clean. I used a very tiny amount for our cloth diapers, and it didn't seem to build up. But I thought there must be a better way. One without optical brighteners (whatever those are!?) and other stuff that probably isn't that harmful . . . but if I could do it myself, why not?
I poked around the internets, and found the basic recipe for dry laundry detergent. There is also a basic recipe for liquid/gel detergent, but it sounded like a lot more work and involved a five-gallon bucket. The dry one is pretty simple:
1 C borax
1 C washing soda
1 bar grated laundry soap (I've been using Fels-Naptha, and the smell reminds me exactly of my grandparents' laundry room. You could certainly use Ivory or something unscented if you preferred.)
Mix together and use 2 T per load (I use about 1/2 T per load for diapers). Note: this is for old-fashioned top-loaders. I have absolutely no experience with fancy energy-saving high-efficiency front-loaders, but I know they are a totally different beast.
I did find, after doing a couple of batches, that I need to grate the laundry soap by hand on a box grater, spread it on a baking sheet for a day or two to dry, and then grind into a powder in the food processor. If you try to put it in the food processor while it's still "wet," it doesn't break down small enough and you can end up with small pellets of soap in your rinsed laundry.
I also found that over-stuffing the washer (of which I am frequently guilty) causes the detergent not to break down well. It's a good impetus to keep the loads reasonably sized, which is better for your machine anyway.
I know some people worry about borax and whether it's safe or not. I'm not concerned. Here's a good article with lots of research about borax.
Finally, I try to wash everything in cold water, because I know it saves money and it's environmentally friendly. But the detergent does do better in warm or hot washes. I try to make up for it by line-drying when the weather is warm and dry.
This detergent works well. The clothes are clean, smells and stains are gone, and they are much softer than when I was using storebought. I particularly notice the sheets are very soft - they feel like they have a higher threadcount!
This may be one of those things that people think to themselves, Why would you do that? Storebought detergent is not killing you! It's not even that expensive, if you're already using a generic brand! And that is true. But sometimes I just like doing things myself. It makes me feel good and proud of myself, somehow, when I use the one that I've made. I can't really explain it. But if you don't want to make your own detergent, then don't! I would never force you.