The Laundry And Your Money

31 May 2010

Laundry on the lineChildren, despite their smaller size, generate a load more washing than the adults in my house. I’m guessing that it’s probably the same in your house too. So I’ve done a little investigating, to find as many money saving tips for the laundry as possible.

It’s a cold wash

cold-washI’d feel like I’ve been lied to all these years, except to be honest no-one has. At least not explicitly. Somewhere along the way I fell for the advertising and marketing. I came to believe that you couldn’t get a clean wash unless you used hot water, or special low temperature detergent. It came as a revelation to find the number one tip on every website that I looked at was: wash at cold temperatures, and you don’t need to use special cold water detergents.

I felt like a bit of an idiot when I excitedly shared this with my mum only to find out that she’s used a cold wash all her life. Except, of course, when sterilizing (as you’d want to with sheets and towels). According to the Energy Trust if you just turn down to 30C you’ll save up to 40% of your electricity usage. The site says that “today's washing powders work just as effectively at lower temperatures, so there's no reason to use a hot wash unless there are particularly stubborn stains on your laundry.”

Washing whitesOne Play Pennies reader, Jennifer, says she’s done her laundry for years using cold water, and ordinary detergents, and never noticed a difference. So there you go!

Detergent savings

Another Play Pennies regular, Sho, cuts her washing powder with household soda. This is also called soda crystals, or bicarbonate of soda. It is inexpensive – Tesco sell a 1kg packet of Dri Pak Soda Crystals for 70p.

Soda is quite an effective stain remover, and particularly good for grease based stains. “You can knock a third off the recommended amount of detergent and still get your clothes just as clean. Replace some of that with the soda,” Sho suggests.

Soda also softeSodaCrystalsPktns water, which is a big bonus for me and anyone else living in the Thames Valley region where water is so hard it is almost solid. Even the chap who installed our washing machine recommended it. He told us to forget spending money on softeners like Calgon and just stick soda in the wash. It’s what he always did, and said it worked just as well.

I love this page at the Green Store. It lists 30 different uses for bicarbonate of soda around the house. Brilliant stuff.

If you’re really keen, try making your own detergent. I found this recipe on a US site called the Simple Dollar. Not quite sure I’d soapboxeswant to have a go myself, but it looks pretty eco friendly.

One thing I can’t help noticing as I peruse the detergent aisle in the supermarket is that biological detergents are much cheaper than non-bio versions. Often they’re a third of the cost. So what is the difference between the two? Should we be worried about using a bio?

According to environmental website Big Green SmileBiological detergent contains enzymes which aid the removal of stains. They do this by reacting with the water through hydrolysis. These enzymes will often work at lower temperatures than non-biological detergent, which does not contain enzymes.

On the down side, the site says that biological detergents can irritate the skin of some people, so you may want to try just a little before running all your clothes through a bio wash. My other half was convinced that he was allergic to bio detergents, and that it bought his skin out in a rash. Except he only told me this a few months ago, when he finally read the box of washing powder we used. And I’ve been using bio’s since we got married 18 years ago with no complaints from him!

DIY fabric softeners

Kim_AggieIf watching Kim and Aggie on How Clean is Your House has taught me one thing it is that the only cleaning product you really need is white vinegar. And a little lemon juice. Although now I’m adding soda to that list!

Those Americans sure do love making their own stuff. I found this tip on a website called Stressless Country - I like the sound of that! Here’s its recipe for making your own fabric softener. “Plain white vinegar is a good substitute for fabric softener. Environmentally safe and nonalergenic, just add ½ to ¾ cup as you would a liquid softener.” Definitely sounds stress free to me. My only concern is – will it make your clothes smell like chips?

Finally, a few more tips

Never spend another penny on dry cleaning. Well, OK, I’m exaggerating. But KT Campbell’s excellent Hand Washing 101 site  has saved me a fortune over the years. And I’ve found her tips worked too. Although do read the disclaimers carefully!

Eco Salon has some more tips to offer on whether or not to dry clean (even if the washing label says ‘dry clean only’).

ranch-laundryBack to the Stressless Country again. I love the sound of this and I'm going to try it out on some of my older clothes to see if it’ll put the colour ‘zing’ back into them. Definitely cheaper than buying new clothes. “When washing dark clothes for the first time use cold water and put 1 tablespoon of salt in the water. The salt helps set the colour. To brighten dark clothes after they have been washed several times, repeat the procedure.”

The last word

Do you have any laundry money saving tips to share? Let us know! We’re also after all your homemade efforts. Have you found a nifty little trick to make something yourself and save a few bob? Let us know – we’ll be running a feature on this in the next few weeks.


  • Emma K.
    I recently switched over to non-bio after the birth of a new baby... everyone says that you must use non-bio for them! Her skin is so soft... I'd like to keep it that way :)
  • Lynley O.
    oh definitely without a doubt! I used sure care for my son's laundry when he was a baby. Their skin is just so delicate, you have to use stuff that's as natural as possible, and as friendly to skin as possible too. Always washed his clothes seperate to ours too.
  • Sam
    I, like your husband, developed an allergic reaction to washing powders and detergents a few years ago. It took ages to figure out what was causing so much burning. I grew up believing that unless your clothes were fragrant they weren't clean. Now I use skin-friendly detergents - especially for my intimate apparel - and feel so much better. Sadly, they don't get my son's clothes as clean, but it's a small price to pay.
  • Sho
    One of the consumer-type programmes (or it could have been The One Show) did a report on the Wich? study of detergents. They were specifically comparing the gels - but at the end said that the powdered detergent is better. So that must be a huge saving if you switch back to powder. I've used a cold wash for years and years and abandoned fabric conditioner when I discovered that it's bad for the environment. I've never tried the vinegar trick so I'll be giving that a go. As for towels - I always think that as long as you air them properly after every use, they're not as gunky and full of bacteria as people think (although I'm prepared to be corrected on that). Basically - I only wash them at 60° every month or so, rather than every time. Except for swimming towels. They're straight in at a very hot wash regardless.
  • Feature: P.
    [...] week I took a look at some of the ways you can cut costs on doing the laundry. That prompted a number of readers to get in touch with more ideas. Lisa has a tip she picked up in [...]

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