Make Your Own Detergent and 20 Other Tips to Save on Laundry

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Ever look at the label on your laundry detergent? Every so often it reads, “New & Improved!” But when you stop to think about it, how new is soap? And how do you improve it?

That’s a financial question as well as a philosophical one. A typical American family does about 400 loads of laundry every year – or about eight loads a week, according to the California Energy Commission.

And it isn’t cheap. Laundry detergent alone costs about 20 cents per load. Add that up and you’re spending $80 a year on soap. But you don’t have to.

In the video below, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson explains how you can save 90 or even 100 percent on laundry detergent. Check it out, then read on for more ways to save on laundry day…

Check out the recipe for homemade laundry detergent below, plus more tips for saving – while washing and drying…

1. Skip the detergent

Want to save 100 percent on laundry detergent? Don’t use any at all. Modern washing machines work by agitating laundry in water. The agitation is enough to clean lightly soiled clothing. Don’t believe that? The blog Funny about Money conducted just such an experiment and concluded, “By and large, all of the freshly washed clothing came out with an odor: It smelled of clean water!”

2. Make your own detergent

When you do need detergent, you can save about 90 percent by making your own. Stacy gave you this recipe in the video:


  • 1 bar of soap
  • 3 gallons plus 4 cups of water
  • 1 cup borax
  • ½ cup washing soda


Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Grate the bar of soap with a cheese grater. Drop the pieces into the boiling water and cook until the soap dissolves. Pour 3 gallons of water into a large bucket. Add in the soap and water mixture. Add in one cup of borax and half a cup of washing soda. Stir until the ingredients thicken. Use about ¼ cup (the size of a normal laundry detergent cap) per wash cycle.

Former Money Talks News staffer Jim Robinson actually used this recipe. His results: “I made and washed several loads of clothes with the homemade detergent. And I, like many before me who’ve traveled this road, couldn’t tell the difference between store-bought and homemade.”

His cost: 2 cents per load – a savings of 18 cents compared to traditional laundry detergent.

3. Use less

If you’re using store-bought laundry detergent, don’t pour in an entire capful. Laundry detergent caps have a line about halfway down – the amount the manufacturer wants you to use for soiled clothes. See if you can use less and achieve the same result. Unless my clothes are truly dirty, I only use about 2 tablespoons per load – about half the recommended amount.

4. Don’t wash as often

I save the most on laundry by doing less of it. I’ll wear the same jeans two days in a row, use the same towel for three showers, and hang up anything I’ve worn less than a couple of hours. It’s all still clean, so why wash it again? I’ve cut down from five loads of laundry per week to three this way.

5. Don’t buy dry-clean only

A friend of mine buys dry-clean-only linen shirts for work. He goes through five shirts a week. Our local dry cleaner charges $2.50 per shirt, which adds up to:

  • $12.50 per week
  • $50 per month
  • $600 per year

For half that much, he could buy really high-end washable shirts. Bottom line: Check the tag before you buy and stick to machine-washables.

6. Buy store brands in bulk

You’ll save money buying laundry detergent in huge sizes from bulk stores, but you’ll save even more buying the bulk store’s generic brand. In 8 Massive Ways to Save at Bulk Stores, I break down the cost of Tide and Sam’s Club’s brand Members Mark:

  • Tide with ActiveLift, 170 ounces/110 loads = $19.98
  • Member’s Mark Liquid Laundry Detergent, 225 ounces/146 loads = $13.68

7. Wash in cold water only

In “Green Up” Your Laundry, Stacy says almost 90 percent of the energy used by your washing machine is used to heat the water. Personally, I wash everything in cold water with any kind of laundry detergent I have on hand – and my clothes always come out clean.

But if you don’t want to use cold, use the warm setting with a cold rinse. Switching from hot to warm can cut energy use by 50 percent.

8. Wash full loads

Always wash full loads. You’ll use less energy. Need to do laundry more often because you’ve run out of, say, socks? It’s cheaper to buy more of an item now so you don’t have to run a half-empty washer later. Money Talks News staffer Michael Koretzky buys all his socks on sale and in bulk: “I’m old and not growing anymore, so I have a closet full of discount tube socks.”

9. Adjust the water level

If you do have to wash a partial load, adjust the water level on your washing machine to fit the size of the load. For example, the California Energy Commission says the average washer uses 40 gallons of water per load. If you fill the barrel one-third full and use the highest water setting, you’re wasting about 27 gallons of water.

10. Set the wash cycle to a lower setting

Only heavily soiled clothes need the highest setting. Everything else will get clean on lower settings. I typically wash my clothes on six turns – the lowest setting on my washing machine.

11. Use high-speed spins

If your washing machine has a “high spin” setting, use it. The high-powered spin does a better job of removing excess water from your clothes, cutting down on drying times.

If your washing machine doesn’t have a high-spin setting, restart the machine for another spin. Your clothes will dry faster, saving energy.

12. Don’t overload

Your washing machine won’t perform efficiently if you overload the barrel. If the washing machine is too full, the laundry detergent won’t distribute evenly, and the clothes won’t be able to agitate against each other – meaning they won’t get clean. My rule of thumb: If I’m stuffing clothes in, it’s too full.

13. Save the suds

Some washing machines have a “suds-saving” feature. The setting reserves the wash water and uses it again on another load. If your machine has this setting, use it. It’ll reduce your water usage by 50 percent.

14. Replace fabric softener with white vinegar

A bottle of fabric softener ranges from $2.97 to $9 at Walmart. Save your money and add one-fourth of a cup of white vinegar to each load. The vinegar softens cloths and helps prevent static cling. And a 16-ounce bottle costs about $1.50.

Now let’s turn our attention to the dryer.

15. Clean the lint filter

Clean the interior lint filter by hand between every load. Once every four to six months, use a vacuum with an extension tube to clean out the exterior lint filter on the back of your dryer. Lint buildup prevents your dryer from operating efficiently, making it take longer to dry your clothes.

16. Don’t over-dry

Many modern dryers have a water sensor that automatically turns off the dryer when your clothes are dry. If you have this setting, use it. If you have an archaic dryer like I do, train yourself to check on your clothes every 20 to 30 minutes. Once they feel dry to the touch, pull them out immediately.

17. Line-dry

Line-drying is free. If you don’t have a backyard, invest in a drying rack or an interior clothes line. I installed a retractable clothes line in my kitchen so I can pull it out when I need it and hide it when I don’t. Perfect for delicates.

18. Take advantage of off-peak hours

Some utility companies have lower rates during their off-peak hours (generally during the evenings or weekends.) Call your utility company, find out the exact times, and run your dryer then for easy savings.

19. Dry similar fabrics together

Load your dryer with similar fabrics for maximum efficiency. For example, dry lighter synthetic fabrics (like tank tops and T-shirts) together and heavier natural fabrics (like towels and jeans) together. Synthetic fabrics dry more quickly than natural ones; mix them together and the load will take longer to dry.

20. Skip the iron

Irons waste electricity and time. Hang or fold your clothes as soon as you take them out, and you often won’t need one. But if you’re like me and you sometimes pile them up on the bed and let them wrinkle, bring what you plan to wear that day with you to the shower. The steam from the shower will pull out many wrinkles.

21. Dry several loads in a row

The first load heats up the dryer. That residual heat sticks around for a few minutes after you cut off the dryer. Quickly add a second load and take advantage of the residual heat. If you let the dryer cool completely, it’ll use more energy building the heat back up.

The laundry room isn’t the only place to save on clothes – check out 23 Tips to Save on Clothing and 4 Tips for Buying Brand-Name Clothes on a Budget.

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