Today I’m going to tell you how to dramatically cut down on the amount of laundry soap you use. Doing so has many benefits: first and foremost it saves you money. Collectively, we can reduce consumption of laundry soap which may reduce the need for manufacturing of said product. It means less packaging in the waste stream (hopefully you’re already recycling either the cardboard or plastic container). Some commercial laundry soaps contain chemicals that can be damaging to the environment, so using less is better. And it means less frequent trips to the store to buy laundry soap (okay, you probably get this at the same place as your groceries but theoretically it could save on gas costs). And frankly, there is just a good deal of satisfaction in squeezing the most out of something you buy.
The dirty little secret for reducing laundry soap consumption is this: you need much, MUCH less than you think to clean a load of laundry.
Now my mother always told me not to use as much soap as they say on the box, but still I would regularly pour in about 50 mLs (~ 1/4 cup) of the stuff. But then when I started cloth diapering I learned that detergent buildup is a potential problem – it causes diapers to lose their absorbancy. To watch for this you are supposed to monitor the rinse water. If it’s sudsy you repeat the rinse cycle until the water is clear of soap suds. I was quite stunned the first few times to find that I had to do up to FIVE rinse cycles to get rid of the suds! I soon learned to drastically decrease the amount of soap I used, getting it down to about 25 mLs (approx 2 tablespoons) of powder (powder was recommended over liquid as it supposedly rinses out better).
I buy Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent, which is supposedly environmentally safe. After I was done with diapers I switched to liquid because I could buy it in much larger quantities (it is not available at my usual store so I make a special trip). I use about 20 mLs of liquid per full load. Tip: I pour the soap as the water is filling up the washer, and I hold the cup under the water to make sure I get all the soap rinsed out of the cup.
The jug I buy contains 4.43 L of liquid. They suggest you use 90 mL for regular loads. That would give you about 50 loads (which is what they claim on the bottle). Well, at 20 mL per load I’m getting about 220 loads per jug! Now THAT is stretching a dollar!
Now, a word about Concentrated Formulas. The next time I buy laundry detergent I won’t be able to find the stuff I’ve got right now – Seventh Generation has joined all the other companies in offering an “ultra concentrated” formulation of their laundry soaps. This is going to be a bit of a pain for me: it claims it is double the concentration of their previous formulation, which means I’m going to be using less than a tablespoon per load, which isn’t quite as easy to measure (pouring small amounts of viscous liquid from a big jug compromises accuracy somewhat). But even without my cost-saving measures of using way less than the recommended amount, chances are I’m going to end up using more now. And in fact, that is exactly what companies want you to do…
Ever wonder WHY all these companies offer Ultra Concentrates? They claim that these products will save you money because you use less. But then why would a company offer such a product? Why would they want to reduce the amount of product you buy, and the cost-per-use of that product? Here’s where the dirty little secret gets even dirtier: turns out you don’t end up using less…
There’s an interesting psychology I’ve noticed, and I’m sure it holds for others as well: we live in a culture that is very concerned about cleanliness (antibacterial wipes and soaps; ads showing all the germs that live on our countertops and telephones) and so when given the chance we will use more rather than less soap. People get used to filling up that cap with laundry soap and when they switch to a concentrated version they will end up actually using more than the dilution amount required. In other words, if you used to add 1 full capful of the regular formulation and you are told you can now use 1/3 of that with the 3x formulation, you will likely end up using closer to 1/2 which means you end up using more product than if you used the regular stuff.
Companies know this, which is why they offer concentrated laundry soaps. It makes more money for them while making their customers think they are saving money.
If you are unsure about what I’m saying, I propose a simple experiment. Fill up your washer with no clothes in it and no laundry soap and let it agitate for a few minutes. Then open it up and take a look. Chances are you will see a tub full ‘o bubbles. Start experimenting with reducing the amount of laundry soap you use. I did this with my diapers and I did notice when I ended up using too little because they didn’t smell clean (I also made sure the rinses were clean each time so I wasn’t dealing with leftover soap residue from previous loads). You might be very surprised at how little soap you need to get your clothes clean.
Footnote: if you want to be really frugal with your washing you can actually make your own laundry soap. I’m not sure how this stuff compares to store-bought detergents in terms of the amount used per load but I’m guessing that one can do similar experiments to determine how much is needed per load.