How I’m Saving ~$280/year by Making My Own Lactose-Free Milk

Let’s face it. Life with lactose intolerance is more than a little annoying when it comes to mealtimes, ever since I developed it at the age of 17.

Since then, my lactose intolerance has taken a dive to a point that I’ve become extremely sensitive towards dairy—a single drop of milk or a single flake of pastry is enough to set off a chain reaction of side effects.

And when I accidentally drank an entire glass of fruit shake that contained milk? I had side effects so bad I had to miss a flight to Boracay, the Philippines.

Keeping Milk in My Diet

I drink milk for breakfast and during tea time to get my protein and calcium fix, and I wasn’t going to let my lactose intolerance stop me.

Breakfast cereal with milk

Image from Jonathan Lin / CC BY-SA

Luckily for me, back then my parents discovered Ensure milk powder at a supermarket in Malaysia, which was lactose-free. (And do you know that in Asia, many of the milk products that you’d find on grocery stores’ shelves are in powdered form?) It’s a little more expensive than your regular-milk-with-lactose variety, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right?

Since moving to New York, drinking the Lactaid branded milk (which is lactose-free) has been quite satisfying for me—liquid milk certainly tastes better than powdered milk, in my opinion, and I use it in my breakfast smoothie and scrambled eggs as well.

Unfortunately for me, Lactaid is also the only choice available for me at most supermarkets, so it’s relatively price inelastic—no matter how high the price is, I’d still pay for it.

The High Cost of Lactaid

Lactaid isn’t cheap.

At my local Associated Supermarket and many other grocery stores, it retails at $7.79 for 96 fl oz (2.8L). Hong Kong Supermarket in Chinatown, Manhattan sells it for $5.99, a sizable $1.50 difference, but it’s inconvenient for me to get there often from where I live.

96 fl oz Lactaid fat-free milk

Image from Sam’s Club

I polish off the entire bottle within a week or less easily. And the last time I saw it on sale at an online grocery store, I bought 9 bottles of them right away.

(Going tangent slightly, the problem then was fridge space. I learnt that UHT milk can be left unrefrigerated for months on the shelf. It just isn’t standard practice here in the US as Americans are not comfortable with the idea of drinking unrefrigerated milk, even though it’s perfectly fine.)

Still, this isn’t an ideal situation as $7.79 for 0.75 gallons of milk is simply too expensive. This became even more pronounced after I found that regular milk costs roughly… $4 per gallon in NYC.

If You Can’t Beat ’em, Innovate

Edit: More astute readers than I noted in the comments that lactose enzyme pills from Costco or Lactaid pills are even more cost-effective! This section has been rewritten slightly to reflect that.

How does Lactaid make lactose-free milk? They simply add lactase enzyme to regular cow’s milk to convert lactose into galactose and glucose, making it sweeter.

If only we plebeians have easy access to this enzyme…

Wait a minute, we do! As I found out just recently, there are a few options in the US:

  1. Lactaid pills by Lactaid
  2. Lactase Drops by Seeking Health
  3. Lacteeze Drops by Gelda Scientific
Dropper dripping Lactase Drops into glass of milk

Image from Seeking Health

You can use either the lactase enzyme drops or pills, but you may find the pills to be more cost-effective. Mark noted in the comments, “Using the (Lactaid) pills could be even more economical because they contain 9000FCC per tablet which is far more cost effective than the drops.”

Both products have the same lactase enzyme and glycerin ingredients, while Lactase Drops have an extra ingredient of purified water. It’s also a bit cheaper, maybe as a result of being slightly diluted.

But just by adding these drops of lactase enzyme into milk swimming in poisonous lactose, I get milk that’s Clem-friendly again! I can do the same with beverages like yogurt smoothie or even café au lait.

The trick to maximize the value of the Lactase Drops is to add fewer drops into the milk and leave them alone for more than the recommended 24 hours. For instance, even though I’m hyper-sensitive towards lactose, I found myself without lactose side effects at all by using just 20 Lactase Drops in 1 gallon of milk and leaving them alone for over 72 hours.

(The official recommended amount is 5 Lactose Drops per pint of milk, but you don’t necessarily have to follow that.)

The Math

Let’s compare the two options I have now in NYC.

Using Lactaid pills:

  1. 96 fl oz of Lactaid milk = $7.79 (retail price from my nearest Associated Supermarket), or $10.39 per gallon
  2. 1 gallon of regular milk + 1 Lactaid pill = $3.99 (from my nearest supermarket) + ($11.97 / 120 = $0.10) = $4.09

Total savings per bottle: $6.30

Total savings per year: $327.60 ($6.30 x 52 weeks)

Using Lactase enzyme drops:

  1. 96 fl oz of Lactaid milk = $7.79 (retail price from my nearest Associated Supermarket), or $10.39 per gallon
  2. 1 gallon of regular milk + 20 drops of Lactase Drops = $3.99 (from my nearest Associated Supermarket) + ($0.05* x 20 = $1) = $4.99

* Calculation: $19.95 (cost of 1 bottle of Lactase drops) / (75 servings x 5 drops)

Total savings per bottle: $5.40

Total savings per year: $280.80 ($5.40 x 52 weeks)

Conclusion

If you can get cheap Lactaid milk without needing to pay extra costs to get to it (be it gas or public transportation), then the difference in price may not be that substantial to you.

Conversely, if you don’t live in NYC and you can get 1 gallon of milk for less than $4, your savings per year would be quite significant.

As for me, with the ability to make regular milk, yogurt, and other milky drinks lactose-free, this is something I’ll continue to do.

Main image from frankieleon / CC BY

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50 Comments How I’m Saving ~$280/year by Making My Own Lactose-Free Milk

  1. shigeko fujita

    Thank you!! This has been the best DIY as per Lactose free milk. I dont have to be in angst anymore running out of milk!!

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      Thanks a lot Tatyana, I keep the milk with the lactase in the fridge! I wouldn’t keep the milk with added lactase in room temperature (especially after I’ve opened the milk packet) for fear of spoilage.

      Reply
  2. Michelle

    Thank you my 1 year old grandson goes through lactaid milk a half gallon a day or two! Thank you and Bless you for sharing this with lactose intolerant people!

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      I’m so glad you found this helpful Michelle! I completely agree, Lactaid milk—while the most wonderful creation for lactose intolerant people like me and your grandson—is just too expensive compared to regular milk.

      Reply
    2. Gail Abner

      Most people don’t realize that humans don’t need to drink non-human milk. It is best if kids can breastfeed if they are 2 or older according to the world health org but if they are weaned and over 12 months they don’t need to drink milk. As a lactose intolerant person that doesn’t drink milk, I do find it is hard to live without milk at all and use small amounts of cows milk. My adult children have never drank a glass of milk.

      Reply
      1. Clement Z. Chan

        I do agree with your statement! Drinking another animal’s milk even through adulthood is a behavior can only be found in humans. It’s likely other factors come into play, but in many countries and cultures out there, drinking cow’s milk is not a norm.

        Reply
  3. Makr

    Great article Clement, I wonder why more people aren’t doing this? This week I experimented using the Lact-Aid pills in goat’s milk and it seemed to work, the result was much sweeter and easier on the gut. Using the pills could be even more economical because they contain 9000FCC per tablet which is far more cost effective than the drops.

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      That’s an interesting point Mark! I haven’t had great success personally with Lactaid pills, but I was also ingesting them directly instead of having them go directly into the milk. I just might have to give that a try again. :)

      Reply
  4. paul sailer

    Lactose pills at costco Kirkland brand will be a lot less expensive and work fine to convert milk.

    I use 5 pills per gallon and wait 72 hours,
    I don’t know if a shorter time would work.

    When you empty the bottle there will be some of the starch filler from the pills in the last bit of milk, but I don’t mind that

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      Thanks for the tips Paul! I just got a Costco membership so I’ll have to give that a shot.

      I definitely wouldn’t mind the starch filler remains, as long as I can digest the milk fine. :)

      Reply
  5. Howard Scott

    OMG! I have just discovered this article. I am lactose intolerant and have been paying 2.79 for one half gallon of store brand lactose free milk when regular milk is 1.40 a gallon. I am going to start using pills in milk because I love to drink milk.

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      Hi Ann! Since how much you can tolerate differs from person to person, I’d recommend that you start off with maybe 2 pills and go down from there. It also depends if you can wait for maybe 48 hours for the enzyme to “digest” the lactose. The longer you can wait, the fewer pills you’d need.

      Reply
      1. Ann

        Thank you for answering my question.
        I am using 5 pills per 1/2 gal and it seems to work. Letting it soak first for 24 hours.

        Reply
  6. Auna Blessing

    After adding the lactase drops to your milk, do you refrigerate it while you are waiting? Or does it work better to not have it refrigerated during this process?

    I tried half a cup of lactose free milk, and got sick from it like I usually do with milk. But I suppose the company doesn’t use enough lactase for me? All of the lactose is supposed to be inactivated, so it’s annoying that it would happen at all. I might be allergic, that’s what it looks like. But maybe I should experiment a little with adding more lactase.

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      I usually refrigerate the milk while waiting, but that’s mostly out of habit than any actual science. I’m sorry you got sick!

      I’d definitely recommend adding more lactase pills / enzyme to the milk and waiting a little longer before drinking the milk. Then, you can experiment with reducing the waiting period and/or pills so that you’re not using too many lactase pills each time.

      Reply
      1. Auna Blessing

        Thank you. I think I’m allergic, though, because I did some reading and it seems all of the lactose should have been removed from the milk that I tried. You know, it’s supposed to have an accuracy of 99.98% or 99.99%. So it shouldn’t be a problem, but it still really is, so I think I’m better off just avoiding it. But I think it’s very clever how you have figured out how to make your own lactose-free milk. Good for you!

        Reply
        1. Lindylou

          You might try A2 milk. The idea is that some people are actually intolerant of the A1 protein in milk, not lactose. Didn’t solve my issue, but it does for some.

          Reply
        2. Bren

          My husband thought he was lactose intolerant, too. When the lactase pills didn’t work he tried A2 milk and he was fine! Regular milk is made from cows with the A1 protein. A2 milk uses only cows with A2 protein. Look into it, it’s worth a try!

          Reply
        3. Jackie Stevenson

          Perhaps you have an allergy to the protein in milk. If that’s the case, they have a new A2 milk. You might want to google that. Also, something I read in an article is that goats milk has no protein A1 (which is supposed to be the culprit). So you could just add lactose enzyme to goats milk to see if you have this type of allergy. Good luck!

          Reply
  7. Christy

    really helpful Clement, many thanks. I needed to know how to use the pills in milk, (I will use the guideline, 5/gal.) I live in Greece, we use a lot of a canned milk called “NoyNoy” in our coffee, and need to cut out the lactose, I am going to start using the pills. Question, do I really need to leave the pills in 72 hours for the pills to take effect? Thanks for your blog!

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      Glad you found this post useful Christy! You can leave the pills in for a shorter duration of time—say 48 hours—and see if it works for you. The reason why I suggested leaving it for a longer period of time is because I want to make sure that ALL of the lactose in the milk have been digested by the lactase enzyme.

      Since there’s no actual way to tell if the lactose is gone, I prefer to play it safe by leaving the pills in for 72 hours first, and then gradually reduce the duration to 48 hours and even less, and see if I encounter any side effects.

      Good luck! :)

      Reply
      1. Christy

        Thank you, understood. Unfortunately we live without refrigeration…so open canned milk for more than about 48 hrs poses a problem; we keep the can in cold water, amazing how well it works. We are building a sustainable passive solar home and not ready to buy the expensive fridge required for off grid! Great blog, thanks.

        Reply
        1. Amanda

          Christy you can also just take one or two of the pills. The chewable ones work right away, the others you may have to wait an hour or so. I keep chewables in my purse for those emergency oops moments when we eat out, or if I buy a coffee with milk/cream. Not as cheap as treating the whole can, but might be worth it with no refrigeration.

          Reply
  8. Kai

    Thanks for the article! Lactose free milk is becoming more and more expensive! I want to try the pills you suggested. Do you just throw the pills in regular milk or you grind it to powder and add to milk? I’m just not sure if the intact pills will dissolve and take effect in 24 hours. Thank you!

    Reply
  9. Michelle

    So how does this work exactly? I’m pretty lactose intolerant and worry that just adding a few drops of the enzyme won’t be enough for me. How much should you add to a glass of milk to make sure it is really lactose free?

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      I’m also extremely lactose intolerant! I found that using 20 drops of the enzyme and then waiting at least 48 hours help. Definitely experiment and gradually reduce the drops of the enzyme and/or time, so that you can make the drops last longer!

      Reply
  10. PamG

    This product https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B0748ZBQ47/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1 allows me to neutralize a gallon of milk for about $.60. I have been buying Lactose free milk because of the horrid cost of the lactase – but this really works! You just need to make a paste of the powder first with a tiny amount of milk and then slowly add more milk then pour it back into the gallon. One jar will do about 33 gallons. Takes 3 scoops per gallon…

    Reply
  11. judy Rasmussen

    Thank you. This is a wonderful alternative! Really helpful when I am away from specialty grocers.
    Have you experimented with powdered lactase? does it work as well?
    Judy

    Reply
      1. Pam

        I have added lactase powder to milk, cream, sour cream and basically anything with large amounts of lactose in them. With milk, I treat it and let it sit for about 3 days before drinking it to allow the enzyme time to work. Been doing this for years!

        Reply
  12. sanae

    I am on a low fodmap diet to treat sibo and am wanting to make my goats milk lactose free! was wondering if anyone has tried this with goats milk? goats milk has 9g of lactose compared to 12g (cow) per cup according to google. wondering a couple things then..
    -you would only have to use 3/4 the amount lactase per pint for it to be effective?
    -is it okay for your gut to be ingesting excess lactase enzyme?

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      I’ve not tried adding lactase enzyme into goat’s milk, but it should work theoretically! Have you tried it yet?

      The more of the lactase enzyme you add, the less time you’ll need to wait for the enzyme to “digest” the lactose.

      Since our bodies can produce lactase enzyme, I think it should be okay for us to ingest the enzyme. I’m not a doctor, so definitely consult one if you’re unsure!

      Reply
  13. Gerry Harp

    You can always use the pills directly, as they were designed. I’m not terribly sensitive to lactose, and I just pop a pill before entering Starbucks and I’m fine with my latte. If I drink more than 16 oz, I take a second one. I guess they work because I’m taking waaay more lactase for a single cup of milk, hence I don’t need to wait as long. The time spent in my stomach is enough.

    I wonder, am I just lucky? Maybe someone like Mark with a high sensitivity could not get away with just taking a pill. And what about cheese, yogurt, etc?

    BTW, I was very happy to find this blog. It was exactly what I was looking for. It is a lot more convenient if you don’t have to remember to take a pill before drinking milk.

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      I’m glad to hear that Gerry! You’re lucky that you could still ingest lactose to some degree! I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum.

      I’ve also learned that aged cheese like cheddar naturally has no lactose. I’ve had some Cabot cheese (it even explicitly says 0g lactose on the packaging) and it was fine for me!

      Adding the lactase enzyme to yogurt might work, though I haven’t tried that yet!

      Reply
  14. Greg Douglass

    Hi Clement,
    Loved this article and can’t wait to try.!

    Could you please explain the process using the pills…do I just drop in 5 pills in a gallon of milk and refrigerate for 72hrs. before using, or do I have to break them up or shake container every so often, etc., could you tell me exactly what you did?
    Thank you so much!!

    Cheers,
    Greg

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      Greg, glad you found this post useful. And sorry for the late response!

      Sorry for the confusion! If you’re using the Lactaid pills, you really just need one (since the pills contain more enzyme than the lactase drops) and wait for at least 48 hours. You shouldn’t need to shake the container.

      What did you think work for you?

      Reply

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