Money Down the Drain: Inefficient Laundry

by Kevin on August 27, 2008

DirecTV recently added Planet Green to the list of channels we get. It’s a welcome addition in my eyes — I think the green movement is a positive change for America. Initially the number of shows was limited and it seemed like a lot of re-runs.

For the record, we don’t get a lot of time to sit in front of the TV. College football takes precendence over everything else. But we did catch an episode of Wasted. The show surprises people at their homes and shows them all of the different ways they are wasting energy and thus money.

During this episode it was a family of four living in a nice home. They created lots and lots of garbage; essentially they didn’t do any dishes because they use styrofoam. Tsk tsk.

One of the most shocking relevations about the family was the Mom did 14 loads of laundry per week. 14 loads! Her excuse was the kid’s (probably 7 and 10) would wear something once and it would go into the laundry. And the kids changed clothes a few times per day because they would get either dirty playing or just decide they would want to wear something else. Those hardly worn outfits still went into the laundry.

For the two of us we do a maximum of three loads of laundry per week. Normally it is two loads. I understand kids make a big mess sometimes, but I would expect the laundry count to be more in the 6 to 9 per week range for the above family. Call me crazy, but 14 loads seems like quite a lot.

How to Do Less Laundry

There are two very basic ways you can do less laundry. It isn’t rocket science.

  • Only wash clothes, towels, sheets, etc. that are dirty. A very simple concept, but if you don’t really get your clothes dirty during the day then in my opinion they don’t need to go in the wash. When I first started blogging I told you I only had three pairs of work pants. I put them on in the morning, I drive to work, I sit at a desk. I go to lunch, I sit at a desk, I come home. If I’ve managed to avoid splattering anything on myself and haven’t been to a very aromatic restaurant whose smell will follow me everywhere, the pants go back on the hanger. The result is fewer loads, which saves you power and water to run the washer and dryer. (And it saves wear and tear on the pants, too.)
  • Only do full loads. You don’t need to wash four articles of clothing because you “have” to have one of them clean to wear tomorrow. If you are like most Americans you probably have a lot of clothing to choose from. Wear something else tomorrow. We wait until the laundry basket is full then separate into whites and colors. Make sure the loads are going to take up a large amount of space in the washer. I was tempted to say only do 100% full loads, but I think that’s pushing it. We tend to do laundry on Saturday and by then we’ve got a week’s worth of wear ready to go… it takes up the entire washer and dryer. This, too, saves you water and power to run the appliances because you are doing fewer loads.

Additional Ways to Save Money on Laundry

  • Make your own detergent. Trent at The Simple Dollar wrote a picture filled post explaining how to make your own detergent. Apparently this can save you something like 90% on the cost of detergent, but you also have to factor in the cost of your own time. We don’t do this.
  • Stretch your current detergent out longer. Whenever I put the detergent in the washer, I only do about half of wherever the “1” line is on the cup. I’ve yet to see a reduction in the cleanliness of our clothes. Stains still come out. Clothes still smell fresh. And we’re saving money.
  • Don’t use the dryer. Dryers use a lot of electricity. Line drying your clothes like they did back in the good old days is a great way to simply eliminate this cost. We don’t do this either. We have a dryer. Why not use it?
  • Buy efficient appliances. This can be a big deal. If you’ve got a 15 year old washer and dryer set they are likely to be inefficient (although probably better made than today’s models). Buying EnergyStar rated appliances is a step in the right direction, but you have to be careful. I can’t remember which organization it is, perhaps Consumer Reports, that showed that some EnergyStar rated appliances really weren’t as efficient as they should have been. Do a little research because this purchase decision can pay off in the long run. This is something we did when we moved into our house, and it seems to have worked out well. (Although admittedly I cannot give any hard data to back up that claim.)

A note to the above discussion. Personal finance is personal. You may not agree with everything I’ve said. In fact, I love when people disagree and comment to let me know. Some people think making your own detergent is a great way to save money. I think it would use up too much of my time. Same thing with not using the dryer. You could certaintly save a lot of money this way, but the time factor more than makes up for it in our house.

I’m interested to hear from you readers. What do you think, and how do you personally save money on laundry?

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Alexia August 27, 2008 at 2:37 pm

hee hee You said it would be ok to comment if I don;t agree with everything!
Making my own detergent only takes about 10 minutes… and NO extra shopping time. I don’t see it as a waste of time. As a matter of time, second only to meal planning, it is the most lucrative thing I was able to do as a stay at home mom! 🙂
And I do line dry cloths. Just not everything…. that would be too time consuming. It doesn’t take much time for me to separate towels; jeans and other heavy items… and hang those. So instead of using the dryer for 30 to 40 minutes (or whatever, this isn’t exact!) I can cut down on the time that I run my dryer, while still saving money and not wasting time chasing small article of clothing around my yard! 🙂
Everything else : right on! Thanks!

Bruce August 27, 2008 at 5:04 pm

We do five loads a week and if we could we’d do less. In the real cold winter days we do up to seven loads. There is only us two, so maybe we are oksy.

LivingAlmostLarge August 27, 2008 at 5:55 pm

I’m with you, I do as a couple 2 loads a week and every other week 4 loads. Every other week I do towels and sheets. I have two sets of each so the towels are 2 weeks worth and two sets of sheets! I think it’s completely reasonable.

Deb August 27, 2008 at 6:42 pm

Four people do 14 loads! There were 6 of us and we did not do 14 loads even during running season. (Well maybe when I did diapers for newborns.) For two of us I do 2-3 loads and an extra every other week; and I run at the half-full cycle.

Line drying was fine when I had the discretionary time which I don’t anymore. Also there are too many sh***y birds here which can mean rewashing. Nothing doing.

Kevin August 27, 2008 at 7:26 pm

@Alexia: Now you’ve got my interest. 10 minutes doesn’t sound all that bad. How do you store it? Does it look like Trent’s (very liquid-y)?

Alexia August 27, 2008 at 7:57 pm

Actually, It is Trent’s. Yup, it is liquidy… I was kinda disappointed that it didn’t slime. 🙁
But it works great. And I’ve both kept it in the bucket I made it it… it’s slimy enough that the little cup floats on top, and I’ve also poured it into a traditional detergent container. But that does take some time (although DH will do it for me, so it isn’t my time that’s wasting!) LOL so usually I just keep it in the closet in the same bucket I made it in.
Time yourself… unless you’re just messing around on purpose you will be done in 10 minutes, and the time is shorter once you don’t have to stop to check and recheck the recipe! 🙂
Hope that helps! Alexia

Scott @ The Passive Dad August 28, 2008 at 1:14 am

Wow! 14 loads of laundry a week would drive me crazy. I do 4 a week and I feel like giving up. I sure hope the kids help do laundry with that many washings. My kids are 4 and 2 and my 4 year old is already helping out. I love chores 🙂

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