DIY Natural Deodorant

This series checks out whether something that sounds like a good deal — or takes a bit of extra work — is a good deal. We’ll look at cost and benefit — with everything filtered through my individual experience. Please chime in with your take.

Sometimes, fate and B.O. collide.

Last week, as my deodorant was running out, I ran into a post on the blog One Long Adventure called “Deodorant – take 2.”

Make my own deodorant? The post sounded like the mysterious substance — made wholly from safe-for-the-kitchen, even edible, ingredients — was easy to create and might even work. To the kitchen!

The recipe

The recipe is very simple:

Here is the recipe we followed:
* Place 5 tablespoons of coconut oil (unrefined from natural food store) in a pot and liquify over low-medium heat.  This happens very quickly.
* Remove from heat and add other ingredients.
* Add 1/4 cup of corn starch
* Add 1/4 cup of baking soda
* Stir continuously until smooth
*Add essential oils drop by drop until desired scent is reached
* Pour into a 4 oz canning jar.
*Leave lid off until cool.  Re-stir once cooled, as essential oils sometimes float to the top. Can refrigerate for a couple days to solidify.

(I mixed into mine a few drops of lavender essential oil and about 6 drops of tea tree oil as a mild antibacterial.)

The photo at the top is the solidifying mixture in the pan. The whole process took about 10 minutes.

I didn’t put mine in a canning jar. Instead, when I dug around in my bin of containers, I found this perfect way to store the deodorant:


Taking it one step further

Just for kicks, I decided to use a tip I read on another blog a while back and put half of the homemade deodorant into my old deodorant container for convenient application.

The process took as long as making the deodorant. I used a couple of simple tools to pry the top off the deodorant container.

Then I used soap and water to scrub the old deodorant out of the inside — the worst part of the whole process. Slimy, greasy and hard to remove, but when it was done, it was clean. It took a couple of minutes for me to figure out how to lower the plunger that drives the deodorant up through the holes on top, but once I held the central post still with the pliers it was simple to click the plunger back down.

I scooped the deodorant mixture in, popped the top back on and voila, homemade deodorant in an easy-to-use container that, among other things, will blend in in public places, if it matters.

The cost breakdown

When I purchase deodorant, my goal is always to find something for as close to $1 as possible, but realistically, commercial deodorant costs about $4 per container. Natural deodorant (from Tom’s of Maine to Dr. Hauschka to the crystal) can cost from $6 to $12, although the crystal will last a long time.

Here’s the cost breakdown for my ingredients:

Ingredients Cost
Coconut oil – 5 T (organic) $1.43 $8 for 28 T (14 oz)
Baking soda – 1/4 c. $0.01 $5.59/12 lbs. or 200 cups
Cornstarch – 1/4 c. (organic) $0.81 19.54 for 6 8-oz. boxes (48 oz.)
Essential oils – 10 drops $0.13 $8 for about 600 drops (1 ounce)
Gas stove $0.02 .28 per hour of stovetop use
TOTAL $2.38 2 containers
$1.19 per container

Savings = 70 percent cheaper than conventional deodorant at $4 a stick.

But does it work?

I’ve used the deodorant for several days now and it has been effective — and typically, only “clinical protection” levels of deodorant are fail-safe for my personal armpit “rainforest” of bacteria. Interestingly, a couple of times when things have gotten a little sweaty (driving in the car on a sunny, warm day with the windows up, just to test it), I’ve caught a whiff of smelly — but a few minutes later, the odor is gone, as if the tea tree oil knocked it out or the baking soda or cornstarch absorbed the odor.

In the past couple days, this natural recipe sustained me through changing temperatures inside a jacket (often a recipe for odor), overnight, through a workout and through a surprise session at a quick yoga class before I could grab a shower. That’s definitely at least equal to “clinical strength” protection for me.

We’ve also tried the deodorant from the tin. You can simply rub your fingers across it and then apply it to your armpits. It leaves just a faint greasy feel on fingers that is easy to remove — unlike regular deodorant. Those with hairy pits might find the rubbing-it-into-the-fur a little off-putting.

Time will tell whether it continues to work, or needs to be alternated with other products to be effective, but so far, so good.

The winner: I wasn’t sure it would work, but obviously, homemade! So far, it’s amazing! And I really like it in the re-used tube.

The priceless factors:

  • Simple, nontoxic ingredients. (According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, the baking soda is the most toxic ingredient in this concoction. It received a 3 (out of 10) on the hazard scale, and it is only 1/3 or so of the ingredients. My previous Dove deodorant received a 4, although some products by Ban receive a nice, green 1.)
  • Can be as organic as you want it to be.
  • Quick process — the mixing/cooking process took 5 minutes or so.
  • Easy to use recycled containers.

The drawbacks:

Takes slightly more time and effort than grabbing a roll-on off the shelf at the store.

The verdict:

Worth it.

Grade:

A
Have you tried it? Would you? Let us know your take on homemade deodorant.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Kara June 17, 2009 at 8:27 am

I make mine with shea butter and unclarified rice bran oil instead of the coconut oil. I do want to try the coconut oil because it is purported to reduce sweating a bit more. However, even just the baking soda, cornstarch, and rice bran oil in a paste works pretty well for me.

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Matt Jabs June 17, 2009 at 11:54 am

Awesome post.

I just may try this…although for opportunity cost purposes I will most likely avoid the tube “repackaging” part and will elect instead to use some sort of other packaging that I will creatively come up with.

I’ll come back here to post results…and will probably also write a post of my own on DFA.

Thanks!

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Cheap Like Me June 17, 2009 at 1:47 pm

@Kara – I wondered if there’s a non-tropical oil that works?

@Matt – The Altoids tin was easy as pie, or could use a lip balm or salve-type jar. Or maybe find an old cookie press at Goodwill and apply it that way? Only half joking …

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Angelique June 17, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Susanna, yet again you amaze me. I’m going to do this myself — I order my fancy-schmacy deodorant from Canadialand because even goddamn Whole Foods doesn’t carry my particular flavor of KMF stuff. This is great because it’s ho’made and I can feel better about my giant carbon footprint. Yay!

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Cheap Like Me June 17, 2009 at 3:48 pm

@Ang – Ho or no, I will bring my naturally fresh pits tonight.

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Chris June 18, 2009 at 5:47 am

Great posting, however did you know that some of your images are missing?

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Cheap Like Me June 18, 2009 at 1:15 pm

@Chris, I see all the images – I’m sorry they aren’t showing up for you! Thanks for the heads up.

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Perri June 18, 2009 at 5:22 pm

This is so neat! I am going to try it when I run out of my eco-friendly not-so-effective stuff–Hate buying expensive deodorants with mysterious ingredients.

Thanks for the post!

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angela June 20, 2009 at 3:29 pm

I’ve been using rubbing alcohol for two years now. There are days I need to re-apply before the day is out, but I’ve been surprised at how well it works. I dispense it from a 4″ high spray bottle I bought in the travel sized cosmetic section of the drug store. It’s high on the cheap scale, High on the easy scale. The Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database calls isopropyl alcohol a 5-6 hazard with 10 being the highest.

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Chile June 24, 2009 at 2:53 pm

This sounds intriguing, but I’m wondering if you have any problems with oil stains on the pits of the shirts?

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Cheap Like Me June 24, 2009 at 4:33 pm

@Chile – What a great question, and I didn’t even think of it. So far I have not noticed anything (I’ve been wearing mostly T-shirts and tank tops). It just takes a thin layer, and coconut oil melts so easily that maybe it just absorbs into the skin?

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Kristin June 24, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Nice! I really have a great time making laundry supplies and shampoos, so this should entertain me as well! Thanks

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Melissa June 27, 2009 at 9:57 am

Awesome! Thanks for sharing! :)

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Kimberly July 22, 2009 at 12:08 pm

I’ve been doing this very thing through the last month with a lot of heat and hard work. I used the same recipe and poured it in the canning jar. It works GREAT! I’ll never go back.

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Slick July 26, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Big sale on coconut oil today at Whole Foods. I made this and used a funnel to put it into an empty deod bottle with the leftover into an Altoids tin.
I froze them for about 30 mins so I could put it straight into the containers.
I used Tea Tree Oil, Rosemary Oil, and Camphor Oil.
For the fall, if this works, I’m considering Cedarwood and Sweet Orange.
Can’t wait to see how it works! What a great idea, thank you!

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Cheap Like Me July 27, 2009 at 10:32 am

@Slick – thanks for the detailed review!

So far for me, it works wonders. I put it on on Friday morning, then left to go camping. Got hot and sweaty in the sun both days, spent time in the hot car, and slept a little too warm at times, as well as being caught in the rain — and came home Sunday afternoon with no smell at all.

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Olivia August 20, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Made this in seconds. Works like magic! Love it.

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harper August 29, 2009 at 5:45 pm

Thanks for the recipe and the thought of re-using my old deodorant container. Wasn’t it interesting to see how that works? I’m going to smell rather lavender-y as I oops added more than a few drops. Here’s hoping it works for me. Is it still working for you?

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jack October 8, 2009 at 8:42 pm

1 – plain white 5% vinegar kills the bacteria that turn sweat into stink. works great and is super cheap and doesn’t get my fingers oily or my shirts oily.

2 – ALL coconut oil is organic – they don’t spray or fertilize coconuts for anything.

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Lucy February 18, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Thanks for the post and pictures!!! I made the EXACT same recipe with the same type of old deodorant container (gel). The funny thing is that you did NOT have to remove the bottom. If you examine the top of the container, you should see a seam between to top and the rest of the container. With some force, the top should pop off like the top of a salt shaker. I used “Secret” brand of gel deodorant container and the top came off easily and snapped back on easily as well. Furthermore, the holes on top are slots rather than holes so it should dispense the homemade concoction quite easily. Have a great day!

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Jenny November 14, 2010 at 4:24 pm

I have been on a natural deodorant quest for years trying to find one that actually works. I found a company called face naturals that makes a fantastic peppermint deodorant thats works better than anything i’ve ever tried.

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MensDeodorant.net February 17, 2011 at 2:22 pm

WOW! Good on you for creating your own deodorant!

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Kelly May 8, 2011 at 6:48 pm

you ladies ever seen those roll on perfume and deodorant containers?

i think this would work perfectly as a travel and warm weather packaging alternative, giving the concerns over melting point on coconut oil

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Kelly May 8, 2011 at 7:19 pm

you ladies ever seen those roll on perfume and deodorant containers?

i think this would work perfectly as a travel and warm weather packaging alternative, given the concerns over melting point on coconut oil and possible mess that could create

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Jordan August 18, 2011 at 8:04 pm

This is actually a question. I like the smell of Almonds the most, but can’t seem to find an essential almond oil. Could i just use the natural almond oil? Also i have burts bees almond milk and honey hand lotion could i add that in to use it up / use the smell? Thanks for the great recipe though! Look forward to trying it!

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cheaplikeme August 19, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Hmm … I don’t know. Maybe try either one in a small amount? The ingredients aren’t too pricey, so if it doesn’t work, chalk it up to experience? Fingers crossed for your experiment!

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Michele September 12, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Be sure to use baking soda that does NOT contain aluminum or you may be setting yourself up for breast cancer and blocked lymph nodes.

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Rachel November 11, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Just linked to you from my website! I made my own and it’s working out REALLY well. Thanks!

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Rocio March 30, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Thank you for this recipe. I’ve tried this before with a few different essential oils: lavender, tea tree, rosemary and lemongrass is my favorite combination of scents. Sometimes I find that I have no problems using it, other times my underarms become irritated. I can’t figure out why, maybe you have some insight?

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Vanessa October 20, 2012 at 6:20 pm

@Rocio,

Depending on how much you are diluting the essential oils, it may be adding to the irritation. Some essential oils need to be more diluted than others, while some can be put on the skin neat (undiluted).

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Tiffany Huey January 16, 2013 at 9:15 am

I made this using just the coconut oil, corn starch, and baking soda and it works amazingly! However, I too notice that sometimes my pits seem a little irritated. This morning, I quickly dry shaved before applying the deodorant and now I have pretty bad irritation and my pits are buuuuurning and it’s been almost three hours since I applied it! Eeeeek! I’m hoping it’s just from the dry shaving!

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Jamie March 12, 2013 at 8:07 am

Thanks so much for the applicator idea, I just bought the ingredients yesterday and am excited to try it. @ Tiffany Huey, many sites have said that it will irritate just shaven armpits for some people. Also, may want to mention using aluminum-free baking soda, otherwise you may as well use the toxic store brands.

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Maria Camacho May 29, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Made this yesterday but only used 3 tablespoons coconut oil – used it today and its awesome!, no stink at all!!! No problems with the coconut oil melting yet, maybe because i used less ?

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