We have five people living in our house. Of those, one is a preschooler, and two are toddlers. In addition, the two adults try to workout daily, and one of those wears heavyweight sweats to work out in. All of this adds up to about 3 loads of laundry a day. Commercial laundry detergent costs $0.15-$0.25 per load, liquid fabric softener another $0.10+ per load. Add the costs of bleach ($0.05-$0.10 per load), dryer sheets ($0.03-$0.07 each), water and electricity, and our family could spend over $500 a year on laundry alone!! While $10 a week doesn't SOUND like a lot, $500 a year could pay for a mini vacation for the entire family.
Laundry detergent is a big expense when doing laundry. The absolute cheapest way to go is to make your own. I recently made my first attempt at powdered detergent, and will be following a different recipe soon. It's REALLY easy, and I love that I know exactly what's in it, and can adjust the ingredients to accomodate my sons' sensitive skin. However, if making your own is not for you, there are other ways to cut costs in the laundry room.
1. Coupons + sales can cut your laundry detergent budget in half or more. When you find a GREAT deal on a detergent you like, STOCK UP. As long as it doesn't freeze or boil, the detergent should be just fine, and it's not like you won't use it eventually. A local grocery store had Purex detergent on sale 2 bottles for $3. At the same time, there was a coupon out for $1 off a bottle, so I utilized a coupon clipper and literally cleared the store shelves TWICE. This was over two years ago, and I'm just now running out of detergent. With inflation, this detergent is now selling for about $4 a bottle in my area, so by storing the detergent in a corner of my garage, I saved well over $500 on laundry detergent over the past two years.
2. Use less detergent. I once read a post on a forum I vist by a mom of six who was complaining about laundry detergent only being available in 'concentrated' forms, because for years she had only been using about a tablespoon of detergent per load. At first, I thought it was insane. Then I tried it. As long as the clothes are 'normal' dirty, rather than heavily soiled, I can use about a tablespoon of commercial detergent PER LOAD without a noticable difference in performance! I kept track for one bottle--a bottle labeled for 32 loads did 67 loads, and my clothes were just as clean as they had been using the recommended amount of detergent. Try using half the recommended amount, and see if there's a difference in your laundry if you're skeptical. Everyone I know who has tried this has said there was NO difference in the cleanliness of their laundry. If you follow just these first two steps, cutting the costs of detergent by 50% and using half as much per load, you will save 75% on your laundry detergent costs.
3. Substitute another product. While it takes a bit of trial and error to get the amounts right, you can substitute dish soap, hand soap, shampoo, or bodywash for laundry detergent. In general, you only need about a tablespoon per load. As these products produce more suds than your average laundry detergent, you should NOT use this option in a HE machine. Also, don't use products with added conditioners, lotions, etc, as these can build up on your clothes (though a cup of vinegar in the rinse should take care of that problem, in a pinch). Dawn dishwashing detergent is the absolute best product to use when washing greasy clothing or kitchen towels, so if someone in your household is a chef, short order cook, or mechanic, you should definitely add Dawn to your laundry room.
4. Fabric Softener. If you use both liquid fabric softener and dryer sheets, then your fabric softener costs could easily outpace your detergent costs. Of course, you could only use one or the other. You can also use alternative products--for example, green² Laundry Dryer Balls are $8 for a 2-pack on Alice.com. These go into your dryer instead of dryer sheets, each one lasts up to six months, and they not only prevent static, but also cut drying time by up to 25%. (A couple of tennis balls tossed into your dryer along with your clothing will also decrease drying time, and allow you to dry bulky items like comforters or ski clothes). White vinegar is an AWESOME fabric softener and rinse agent (you know how your towels tend to get kind of stiff and scratchy after a while? That's from soap and detergent build up--a cup or so of vinegar in the rinse cycle and they'll be soft and fluffy again!), and is also a disinfectant that is safe to use on dark clothes--VERY important if you have little ones in the house! I use two downy balls for my laundry--one holds about a half-cup of vinegar, the other about a half capful of my favorite liquid fabric softener (Snuggle Exhilarations Lavender and Sandalwood Twist smells DIVINE, and is about $4 for a 50-load bottle at my local walmart). I also add vinegar to the wash cycle for any clothing that needs disinfecting. And the vinegar rinses clean, so your clothes do NOT smell like vinegar.
You can make your own dryer sheets. I have already said I LOVE that designer scent fabric softener, but I don't like to pay for the 'matching' dryer sheets. So, I keep one capful of fabric softener mixed with a quart of water in a lidded container in my laundry room, dip a sponge or old washcloth into the mixture, squeeze out most of the liquid, then toss it into the dryer with my clothes. This mixture lasts for 20 loads or more, at a cost of about $0.08 per batch, or less than 1/20 of the cost of those designer dryer sheets. Plus my hands smell awesome afterwards :P
5. Wash your clothes less often. Bulky sweaters and jeans take up a lot of room in the laundry, so airing a pair of jeans and a sweater and wearing them one more time before washing is a great way to cut down on laundry costs. Towels may also be hung to dry and used again (I tend to dry my babies on a towel at night, then hang it to use myself the next morning. Be careful doing this with family members with sensitive skin, though--your soap or shampoo could cause a rash or eczema flare up, and taking care of THAT will cost a lot more than doing an extra load of laundry.