Laundry Soap: my dirty little secret

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.

Categories: being green, Homemaking, simple living | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Laundry Soap: my dirty little secret

  1. I’ve also recently noticed that using less detergent is just as effective. And that you don’t need a “cold water detergent,” the regular one seems to work just fine.

    As soon as I use up the last bucket o’ stuff we have now, I plan on making our own.

  2. Ana

    Another good way to stretch laundry soap is to use less detergent and a bit of washing soda or borax with each load.

  3. RA – Get post and it is SO true. We are clean-freak people – at least here in the US! Having a microbiologist background, I have often wondered if those little sanitizing lotions and wipes aren’t actually making bacteria more resistant – I know it is true with the abuse of antibiotics.

    I make my own laundry detergent – just experimenting with a few recipes right now.

  4. This holds for dishwasher soap too! Unless your dishes have been sitting unrinsed for DAYS filling the dispenser halfway is fine.

  5. Nicki


    Consider switching to VIP brand soaps — they’re available at Famous Foods and probably even maintstream Safeway and Such. At FF, the giant size (powder) is $12 or so — way cheaper than 7th gen. They’re all-natural, biodegradable, AND unlike 7th Gen, LOCALLY made for the last 35 years by a family in Mission, BC.

    I was super-stoked to find VIP’s Granny brand of dishwasher detergent (also in a big bucket)at FF as well (again, wayyyy cheaper than 7th gen, and all natural) — but I think they’re only just introducing the dishwasher det, cause the next time I needed some, it wasn’t there.

    Oh, and I love their Tangerine Dish Soap as well.

  6. ruralaspirations

    Thanks for the tip, Nikki! I shop at Superstore which generally doesn’t carry what they consider “higher end” products, lol. But there is a Safeway close by so I’ll keep my eyes out for the stuff.

  7. Ana

    I think Queensdale Market sells VIP and maybe the super value on Lonsdale.

  8. I have a front loader and it always used to smell mildewy after a while. Finally (4 years!) I read that it was because I was using too much detergent. I too use 7th Gen and was already using 1/4 of the recommended amount. I’ve now switched to literally 4 drops. Just as clean. This detergent bottle might last forever. And no smell! Beautiful.

  9. Mommy of two little blessings

    We go to Cost-Co for some of our things and liquid laundry detergent is one of them. They too just “condenced” their laundry soap. I think it has the same consistancey and is the same thing just in a smaller jug than before. I have to remind myself with each load that I don’t need a lot of soap just because the cup is so large. I have found that with a septic system the powder products plug up my system. And get this, our recycling here in our town only takes milk jugs in the plastic recycling. We have lived here for only a short time and it took me a while to not put ALL of my plastic stuff in the recycle bin as the recycle guy won’t take it. Our system needs to be upgraded so we can recycle more! They also only take thick card board like moving boxes and the large stuff. Really odd for a gal who used to recycle everything and even tried to give the poor guys my styraphome thinking they could find some way to recycle it as well. Please pray that our city will get a better recycle systym in place very soon so we can all get excyted about recycling. Thank you for your prayers. Sincerely,:) (Mommy of two little ones)

  10. andrea

    Just found you blog and had an idea to pass along (in case you hadn’t already thought of it.) Pouring from a big jug is difficult, so why not decant into something you already have that is smaller and offers more control when pouring? That way, you can use the small amounts you really need and refill the smaller container when needed. I hate when the companies do something to make us buy more, spend more, and waste more. Grr…

  11. I discovered this when I started using the greywater from the washing machine for the trees. I don’t have a nice neat system plumbed in so I hold the drain hose while it drains into a couple of buckets and then haul it out to the tree while the next rinse cycle starts. By the last rinse, I was stunned to see that the water was still quite soapy. I have a front loading machine and am now down to about 1/2 tbs laundry soap per load. I also use 1/4 cup white vinegar in the rinse.

  12. Pingback: How To Save Money On Laundry Day | The Greenest Dollar

  13. I read your posts for quite a long time and must tell that your articles are always valuable to readers.

  14. Karen

    What I do with trhe concentrated laundry detergents is I have a gaint container fill my detergent with it and I just add water to it. Because after all it is concentrated. I figuared that out.

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