8 Ways to Do Laundry Smarter and Save Money

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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.

Most of us can agree that running loads of laundry is not fun, but when your clothes have that freshly washed feel and scent — it’s worth it. What if you could keep those good vibes going longer, even between washes?

Clothes last longer when you wash them less and — bonus! — washing less means a lower energy bill. If you live in certain states, you could even get paid to skip laundry days.

Due to energy costs and the high price of laundry detergent, not to mention the environmental impact of plastic containers and chemicals, we decided to try out some alternative approaches to the weekly laundry slog.

With our tested methods, you can stretch the time between washes and still smell and look great.

Plus, you’ll save money and energy while extending the life of your garments, so it’s a win-win-win for your wallet, your clothes and the environment.

1. Steam Your Laundry

Woman with clothes steamer
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Steam heat works to sanitize laundry in much the same way hot water does, but without the damaging effects.

Also, hot water requires more energy than cold water, but cold water doesn’t clean as well. It’s a quandary. The answer? A steamer.

The advantages to steaming are that it works on most fabrics (avoid suede), and you can use steam heat to freshen not just clothing, but also linens. As if that wasn’t enough, if you happen to deal with dust mite allergies, it kills those too.

The downside? Steaming requires a bit of an investment and a time commitment. Steamers run between $30 for handheld and $100 for upright options.

Instead of sorting and switching your laundry, you’ll find yourself spending time watching the wrinkles fall out of your clothes. Oh so satisfying.

2. Freeze Your Clothes

woman opening a freezer
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It’s a myth that freezing your clothes effectively removes bacteria, but there is some debate over whether or not those low temperatures make a dent in the odor.

So, we tried it — and lo and behold, our result was reduced funk.

You’ll want to place your clothing in a storage bag and freeze for 2-3 hours. But, keep in mind, freezing does not remove bacteria and it’s only a viable option for certain clothing items.

Say you’re headed out in a few hours for girls’ night and your favorite jeans are, sadly, stinky. You don’t want to run a whole load of laundry for a single pair of jeans.

What do you do? Throw them in the freezer and eke out one more wear.

Freezing also works well to prolong the life of certain clothing items such as tights, which are delicate, and sweaters, which tend to pill.

3. Avoid Fabric Softener

A father and son wash clothes in their laundry room
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Fabric softener doesn’t just magically make your clothing and towels soft and fluffy. It weakens the top surface of the fibers, essentially wearing down your clothing one wash at a time.

Still, no one wants to fold a stack of staticky laundry fresh out of the dryer.

To reduce soap residue buildup on your clothing and prevent dryer static, try adding one-quarter cup of ordinary white vinegar to the fabric softener dispenser on your washing machine.

Forgot that step? Use wool dryer balls to keep garments static-free and soft.

They only need to be replaced occasionally; if you’re feeling really cheap, you can throw a (clean) tennis ball in the dryer to shake things up.

4. Use DIY Dryer Sheets

Happy woman with folded laundry
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We know, we know — the fresh scent of your dryer sheets is hard to give up.

But what if you could make a chemical-free, custom scent that boosts the fragrance in your garments and bedding? It’s easy and inexpensive.

Gather some cotton fabric — old rags or even underwear works great — and place it in a glass jar.

Pour enough white vinegar to cover the fabric and add a few drops of your favorite essential oil. Each time you run the dryer, pull out a strip of fabric, squeeze out the excess liquid, and toss it in.

You’ll notice that your clothes have a fresh scent, without the chemical build-up that can occur over time with regular dryer sheets. That fresh scent can prolong the time between washes.

5. Air Out Your Garments

Laundry on a clothes line
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Another great way to freshen between washes is to give your clothes and bedding some vitamin D.

Similar to freezing, airing out your garments in fresh air and sunshine can get you one more wear before your next load of laundry. Unlike freezing, this option does neutralize bacteria, so harness the power of the sun.

Air-drying clothing not only saves you money, but it also helps your clothes maintain their shape and avoid shrinkage. You don’t have to have a clothesline in your backyard to air-dry laundry — a collapsible drying rack you can pull out on laundry day will do just fine.

Simply hang or lay items like sweaters flat in direct sunlight for 15-20 minutes, if dry. If wet, you’ll need more time. Watch out for fading if the sun is too strong.

Air drying is especially good for bras and other delicates, as repeated tumbling is the main culprit of escaped underwires (ouch!).

6. Learn How to Conquer Stains

Woman folding the laundry
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Even though your first reaction to a stain might be to throw it in the washing machine — don’t.

First, let it sit in cold water. Hot water causes the stain to “set,” making it harder, if not impossible, to remove.

Most of the time, detergent should be effective at removing stains, but your specific tactic may depend on the culprit.

The American Cleaning Institute has a guide for removing pretty much any stain known to man. Bookmark it. Embrace it. Appreciate it.

7. Make Chemical-Free Fabric Refresher Spray

Essential oils
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Trust us, this will smell better than Febreze, and when you need a little extra help to freshen clothes between washes, this spray will be your go-to.

Grab your favorite essential oil, high-proof vodka or rubbing alcohol, and some water. A good ratio is two parts water to one part alcohol.

Go light on the essential oil until you find your fragrance happy place – you can always add more.

Mist your clothing or bedding and let it dry. Bonus if you dry it in the sun. And that’s a wrap! Oh, your new fabric spray works well on scarves, wraps, and shawls too.

8. Dry Clean at Home

Woman washing laundry
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Manufacturers sometimes use dry-clean-only tags as a precaution to cover their butts. Those garments do not always need to be dry-cleaned, but you still must be careful to wash them correctly.

You can wash most natural and synthetic fibers at home by hand. But before you do any washing by hand, check to see if the garment bleeds with a spot test.

Drip a little bit of water on a hidden part of the clothing, then run a cotton swab over the same area. If dye stains the cotton, get it dry-cleaned. If the garment doesn’t bleed, you can move on with washing by hand using cold water and a mild detergent.

If wet washing by hand won’t work, you can make your own dry cleaning kit. Loaded with chemicals, the store-bought kits cost between $10 and $15 for only 4 loads. All you need is a zippered pillowcase and a rag soaked in vinegar and water.

Ring out the rag and place your garments and the rag into the pillowcase. Run the dryer on medium setting for 15 minutes and your clothes will have a freshened look and feel.

Always professionally dry-clean silk, velvet, wool and leather. And if a garment has sentimental value, trust it to the pros.

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