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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Frugal Laundry Detergent: A Quarter Teaspoon or Even None?

The intrepid Funny About Money rose to the challenge and undertook the detergent-free experiment. I didn't trust myself to do it. Since my housekeeping standards are very low, I don't expect anyone to agree with my conclusions. Funny, I'm sure, is more reliable.

So if it's true that you need--at most--a tiny bit of laundry detergent, that means that detergent is not a huge household expense. I myself buy--perhaps this should now be in the past tense--the cheapest generic stuff when it is Buy One-Get One. That brings it to about 3 cents/load. And, since, owing to my soft water, I always used half the recommended amount, that gets the per load cost down to 1.5 cents.

With this cost, even if I did one load of laundry a day, I would be spending about $5.00/year on detergent. Hence, though I was philosophically attracted to the idea of making my own detergent (which was ALL OVER the FRUGALITY internet sites last year), I didn't see much point in doing it.

The height of my laundry responsibilities came around 18 years ago, when I had TWO children in cloth diapers. During those halcyon days (I'm not kidding. I loved washing diapers), I used a few more bottles of detergent a year, along with a few containers of bleach.

But what if we all stopped using so much detergent? First of all, we would be doing the environment a big favor. Detergent is not good for our waterways.

Second, we would save money, which we could put toward ...well, whatever we wanted.

Third, we could stop clipping coupons for detergent.

Fourth, we could do our wash even if we had run out of detergent, saving time and gasoline, since we wouldn't have to run to the store.

The only bad thing I can think of would be the horrified looks of your relatives, co-workers, and friends; they might recoil in horror, assuming that you were germ-laden and probably contagious. Then again, maybe that's not a bad thing.

Has anyone else taken the no or low detergent pledge?


Sandy said...

I wasn't brave enough to try this with actual clothes, but I did do a load of kitchen towels with no soap. These were used for wiping up spills and drying clean dishes. I can't imagine why I thought I needed to use soap to clean something that had only touched (gasp) clean water. I didn't tell my family and they don't seem to have noticed. I did use some vinegar in the rinse water, as always. s

Over the Cubicle Wall said...

Like you, my detergent bill is minuscule (one bottle of Gain per year), so I am not interested in the frugal aspect of it. I may try it after this bottle runs out though. I cut out shampoo to see if it would work (it did) and my yearly shampoo expense was only about $3 (one bottle of store brand shampoo plus conditioner) as I keep a #3 #2 all over haircut year round.

Funny about Money said...

Mwa ha hah! In my house, I can be relied upon to act as your sherpa, guiding you through the famed Dog Hair Dunes of Southern Arizona! ;-)

This interesting laundry discovery, IMHO, is most relevant to people who develop sensitivities to commercial detergents. Children, especially, can get rashes from laundry products.

There's also the green aspect, o'course: detergent has been a major actor in eutrophication of lakes, ponds, and rivers, and heaven only knows how much of it is in our groundwater. From an environmental point of view, probably the less of it we can use, the better.

One question that comes to mind: Could you substitute, say, baking soda or vinegar for some or all of one's detergent?

Rose said...

I love your thought process on this one! (Oh, yes, by way of introduction, I can't remember whether I've commented before, but I've been lurking for some time, and I love your blog. I think I came over from a comment you left for Philip Brewer on WiseBread.) I would definitely opt out of detergent use if I didn't get enough for our consumption more-than-free at CVS anyway.

Same with cloth diapers vs. paper. It's free with coupons, so I choose the path of least resistance, but I almost want disposables to cost way more than cloth, as they appear to do for the rest of the population, so that I would have motivation to be more responsible. It's sad that in some areas, I need the financial pressure to drive me toward my ideals. If I ever moved away from CVS and my source of free household goods, I would SO switch to using a Diva Cup.

sallymandy said...

I've recently read that vinegar and tea tree oil act as disinfectants in laundry. So one could, I suppose, use one or both without detergent and have something to say to folks who shudder at the thought of no detergent.

I'd definitely try laundry with only vinegar.

Duchesse said...

Try an experiment, wash your dirty hands without soap. If the dirt is the dry type, your hands will be more or less clean, but with oil or grease you'll need soap. For an explanantion of "how soap cleans" see

A body will deposit its oils on clothes. You might get them clean to the eye on one wash but sheets never washed with soap, ugh!

Funny about Money said...

Agreed, with Duchesse: I can't even imagine washing the sheets without detergent or SOMETHING to release the oilier grime that exudes from humans. Same is true, I'm afraid, with the underwear.

The other stuff? I dunno. My feeling is, neither the water in a washer nor the air in a dryer get hot enough to disinfect, and so even if you ran your clothes through in hot water, you'd still be left with quite a forest of microbes in the clothing. I guess if I were bound and determined to do this, I'd want to add chlorine bleach...thereby negating any environmental benefits to withholding detergent.

Still, it's an interesting thing to know about in a pinch. If you were on the road or if you were too desperately broke to buy detergent on a laundry day, you might be able to get away with it once.

Let's just hope none of us ever get that desperately broke!!

Duchesse said...

Saponification. Isn't that a great word?

Mary said...

I cut my detergent use in half with no appreciable difference. I already use white vinegar as a fabric softener in the washer so I don't know if it's picking up some of the slack. I guess I'm easing into it!

Frugal Scholar said...

@Sandy==I haven't done it with clothes either. Or sheets. But I use soooo little.

@Cubicle--So your detergent needs will not interfere with your early retirement plans! Great!

@Funny--I've always wanted a sherpa. The environmental aspect is the most critical to me--I've seen many foamy suds in lakes etc. UGH.

@Rose--Hi and Thanks for commenting. I do love Philip Brewer's blog. I wish I could talk you inbto cloth was truly a spiritual experience. Please don't laugh.

Frugal Scholar said...

@sallymandy--What does viegar do, I wonder...

@Duchesse--Thanks for the vocabulary lesson. I just wonder of our clothes get greasy. I figure anything is better than hitting our clothes with rocks.

@Mary--I was using half, but now I'm using a quarter. I have about two year of detergent with that amount.

Revanche said...

I haven't taken up a challenge, per se, but I've been using 1/2 or less than a cup of detergent per load and supplement with a splash or two of vinegar instead. We're doing just fine!

I might go with even less and less detergent and a dash more of detergent, but as I rewear clothes a few times before washing, I'm not going to quit entirely.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Revanche--Like you, I use so little detergent that it doesn't seem worth using NO detergent.