Save Thousands of Dollars on Cleaning Each Year

Keeping your house tidy shouldn't cost a bundle. These simple tips plus a little elbow grease could save you $1,000 to $4,000 (or more) each year.

Keeping your house in order shouldn’t cost a bundle. If you do the cleaning yourself, then you’re already way ahead of the game. According to Housekeeper.com, the average cost of a weekly cleaning service is between $20 and $80, depending on where you live.

Do the math. That’s anywhere from $1,040 to $4,160 per year (plus maybe a holiday tip) to keep the dust bunnies at bay.

Pat yourself on your frugal back, all you DIY types — but keep in mind that you could probably cut your costs even further. Use the following tips to create a tidy, comfortable living space while giving your budget an extra break.

Don’t be a drip!

You need plenty of water to clean a home properly. But that doesn’t mean you need to waste the stuff, especially if the water utility charges by the amount you use versus a flat rate. Remember that you also pay a sewerage fee for the water that goes down the drain — yet another reason not to overdo the H2O.

Don’t run the dishwasher until it’s full. Since that might take two meals (or more, if you live alone), rinse dishes quickly to keep food from getting too stubbornly caked-on. Or put a very small amount of water in the sink (just enough to cover the bottom) and splash off the dinnerware before putting them in the dishwasher.

The same holds true for your clothes washer. Run full loads whenever possible. If you must do a smaller batch, adjust the load size; no need to fill up a “super” load of water when a “full” or “small” load would do the trick.

Let everyone in the house know this rule. My daughter once had roommates who would put just one or two items in the washing machine and start ‘er up — until they got called on it.

(Also, on the subject of saving water: Promptly fix faucets that drip. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a faucet that drips once per second wastes 3,000 gallons of water per year. Don’t let the water run when you brush your teeth, either. Colgate’s “Every Drop Counts” campaign points out that turning off the faucet can save 8 gallons of water per day.)

Air dry

You don’t have to rely on electricity to dry your dishes and duds. Turn off the dishwasher before it gets to the drying cycle and let your plates and cups dry by themselves.

If hanging laundry to dry is allowed in your area (some places outlaw it), put up a clothesline or create a temporary one with bungee cords. In my household we also drape towels and sheets over deck railings and, in the winter, atop interior doors.

We also use three large drying racks during winter and inclement weather. Two of them spaced about a foot apart can hold one queen-sized sheet; the second sheet gets draped over the other rack plus a wooden chair. They dry within a few hours.

We have a smaller drying rack for socks and underwear, and put shirts and T-shirts on plastic hangers. All four racks fold neatly into a closet when not in use.

Worth it? According to the National Resources Defense Council, a typical household pays about $100 per year in utility bills to power an electric dryer. Operating a gas dryer costs about $40 annually.

Two other benefits of air drying:

  • Your clothes last longer when they’re not bounced and tumbled (and shrunk) at high heat.
  • The smell of sheets and pillowcases dried in the sun and wind makes for some truly luxurious slumber.

(Pro tip: If your region has off-peak utility rates, run the dishwasher and do your laundry then.)

DIY cleaning supplies

Die-hard frugalists make their own laundry soap. “Easy, Dirt-Cheap Ways to Make Laundry Detergent” tells all.

Erin Huffstetler, who blogs at MyFrugalHome.com, goes one step further: She makes her own four-ingredient dishwasher detergent. It takes only a couple of minutes to mix together the washing soda, kosher salt, baking soda and lemon juice, and portion it into molds. (Ice cube trays work fine; Huffstetler uses a silicon candy mold.)

The cost works out to 4 cents per load, compared with 30 cents per load for the commercial variety, and there’s no borax or questionable chemicals.

“It’s all natural, just like the stuff I was buying — honestly, probably more natural than what I was buying — and it’s in tab form so it’s really easy to use,” Huffstetler notes.

Many other commercial cleaning products can be replaced by two simple, inexpensive ingredients: baking soda and vinegar. The first is great as a nonabrasive porcelain scrub, deodorizer, tarnish remover, laundry brightener, oven cleaner, carpet freshener, grout de-grimer … The list goes on and on. See “77 Uses for Baking Soda — and How It Could Save Your Life.”

Vinegar is magic. It can keep drains open, clean even the greasiest stove top, shine windows and mirrors, de-gunk shower heads, remove hard-water stains … Oh, the things it can do! For more information, see “The Case for Vinegar: 83 Amazing and Environmentally Friendly Uses.”

Saving money on commercial brands

If you don’t want to make your own soaps and cleaners, at least work at spending less on the store-bought stuff. Watch for sales at supermarkets and drug and department stores. You’ll generally spend a lot less if you shop for cleanser, bottled ammonia and, yes, vinegar and baking soda at the dollar store.

(Pro tip: Some dollar emporia accept manufacturer coupons. A website called CouponMom.com does a weekly state-by-state matchup of coupons to deals at several dollar store chains.)

The dollar store is also a good place to buy some of your cleaning equipment. Seriously, how much do you want to pay for sponges, dustpans, mop buckets, brooms and the like?

Be sure to pick up some microfiber cloths, which are absolutely magnetic when it comes to dust and dirt — and unlike those disposable dusters, the cloths can be used and reused. Just give them a good shake (outdoors!) to rid them of the dirt, and launder them now and then if you like.

Microfiber cloths also make a great substitute for those disposable Swiffer pads. (You’ll find instructions in “9 Expensive Cleaning Supplies You Can Easily Make for Pennies.”) Buy five or six so you can switch them out when they get too dirty; then launder, rinse and repeat instead of using and tossing the Swiffer pads.

Some people report using other types of cloth in this way, including old dish towels and pieces of old flannels sheets or pajamas. The same discarded fabric can be cut into large squares and used instead of paper towels; T-shirts are great for this as well. Not only will you save money by cutting down on paper towel usage, you’ll also get points for being environmentally friendly.

A true frugalist is all about repurposing. For years I used a discarded detergent tub as a mop bucket. Newspapers are great for cleaning windows and mirrors, used with some of that vinegar-and-water solution mentioned earlier. Socks worn-out at the heels? Use them as dust cloths by wearing them over your hands.

Get creative and save.

Getting started

Do one deep clean per week. (Although it might not have to be all that deep — more on that in a minute.) Get going in the morning so you have lots of daylight, both for hanging out laundry and for seeing what you’re up against that day. (Hint: Throw the curtains wide open, and daylight will point out the trouble spots.)

Besides, getting an early start means you have the rest of the day to yourself — and in a clean, well-lighted place at that.

Keep all your cleaning supplies in the same place. A bucket or caddy makes it easier to grab and go.

Don’t clean for more than three hours, and try to keep it to two hours or less. Otherwise you’ll resent the chore and maybe try to skip out of it some weeks — and consistency is your friend. For example, in my house we run the Roomba at least once a week, and I mop every Monday. Because the floors never have time to get really dirty, it takes only two buckets to sustain a shine underfoot.

The same is true for bathrooms, kitchen counters, appliances and every other aspect of your home. Let things go until they’re super-grimy, and you’ll have a harder time getting the place livable once more — which can wear you out, use up too much of the day, generate resentment and make you less likely to clean regularly.

Avoid that vicious cycle! Get it clean and then keep it clean with help from the 20-Minute Rule. It’s pretty simple:

  • Assemble cleaning supplies and, maybe, your favorite music.
  • Pick a specific task.
  • Set a timer, and clean like mad for 20 minutes.
  • When the timer goes off, you have two options: Keep going if you’re in the zone, or stop and put away the supplies and admire your handiwork.

Incidentally, your spouse/partner or roommates should be pitching in. So should your kids, if you have them. They live there, don’t they?

Don’t release them into the world as adults who don’t know which end of the mop gets wet. They’ll live in shambles and probably forfeit a lot of rental deposits. Even preschoolers can dust and empty wastebaskets — and if you really want to cause a sensation, hand them a Dustbuster.

Two or three 20-Minute Rule cleaning bursts per week means that the day-off deep-clean can be accomplished in two hours or less — maybe a lot less if you live in a smaller place and/or have a lot of people helping.

After you’re done, fix a cup of coffee or tea, put your feet up and think of the money you just saved. Listen closely and you’ll hear your budget say “Thanks.”

What tips do you have for conquering the cleaning? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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