Laundry Solutions: Part II - Saving Money

Woman Hanging up the Washing  by Camille Pissarro

We've been working hard to slash our energy consumption this year ever since we received a report from our REMC saying that our family uses 86% more energy than our neighbors. (!!!) Sure, our household size is a wee bit bigger than average, and we are home almost all day, but this really bugged me, especially in this year when we are trying to economize in every area possible. So I've been on a mission, and I'm happy to say that in June we use 27% less energy than we did last June. (The average bill for Indianapolis power customers was 15% higher this June than last.) Fairly small changes seem to have provided big paybacks, and many of those have to do with laundry.

Here's a collection of ideas for saving money while doing your family's laundry:

I. Drying: Line or Machine?
Here's one of those areas that plays off time and money. There have been years when I never considered line drying. But, at least in the warm months, give it a consideration. Here are some of the benefits of drying clothes without a machine:

a. Lower electrical usage  (It's significant, especially if you do massive amounts of laundry)

b. The smell! Nothing beats getting into bed with freshly laundered sheets that were dried outdoors!

c. Less ironing required. Hang shirts on hangers and they will come out looking great. Likewise, finger-press out wrinkles when you hang other items, and they will do very nicely. When you do need to iron, it is easier.

d. You get to enjoy being out of doors while you work! 

e. You can sort socks while you hang, making pairing a breeze! 

f. Folding is quick and easy from the line. 

g. It really doesn’t take that long. I can put out one load and bring in another in 5 - 10 minutes, even with lots of small items.

OK - Here's my Reality Line Drying Method:

I don't like the way towels, jeans, and underwear come off the line. Plus sometimes little things just are so annoying to hang. So I use a hybrid line/machine approach most of the time, pulling out the things I want to dry in the electric dryer and hanging the rest. Typically I run one very short dry cycle for every three loads of washing I do.   (This pic is of Amanda's washing, and she doesn't mind line-dried jeans, but arranging her T-shirts artistically is important to her.)

2. Use the right temperature water

Cold may be just fine for sheets and delicates, but while using cold water to wash kids’ clothes may seem like a money saver, if can actually be counter-productive if your clothes come out dirty and needing a second wash. "Overall laundry performance always goes from (best) HOT > WARM > COLD (poorest)." (Dr. Laundry.)  (However, there are now cold-water detergents which are supposed to rectify the problem. I suppose these could be worth a try, though the expense of the detergent might just negate the savings in energy.) 

3. Detergents
 The most important thing here is to not use too much detergent. The amount you need depends on the water hardness in your area and the type of washer you have. Bloomington city water is very soft, and thus we don’t need as much as in a hard water area. My high-efficiency front-loading washer needs only one tablespoon of detergent. Yes - that's right! In fact, as my appliance repairman taught me, more than that causes problems which I’ll discuss later.

Making home-made laundry detergent has become very popular in recent years. There are liquid and solid versions of recipes. Several years ago I used a liquid recipe for about six months, but my clothes weren’t coming out as clean, so I went back to buying Wind Fresh super concentrated detergent at Sam’s. It runs under $15 for 32.5 pounds. If I used it according to the directions, it would service 200 loads, but I use far less in my HE machine, so this lasts about a year. Sure, making my own might save a few dollars, but in this case, for me the time savings is worth the few extra dollars it might cost.

If you do want to try making your own, here are some recipes:

4. Fabric Softeners

Vinegar added to your rinse water makes a great and inexpensive fabric softener. Other fabric softeners can cause a residue to build-up inside your machine. 

By the way, here's a short article explaining how vinegar and borax can be used in the wash. (DON'T use them together – vinegar is an acid and lowers pH, while borax raises pH. If you use both together, you will neutralize the pH, negating the desired effect. Both are effective laundry aids, but separately, not together.)

I haven't tried this “Shout” knock-off, but will as soon as my commercial stain remover is depleted.

6. When you need a new washer, consider a front-loader 

Front loaders save money by using less water and detergent, plus they offer energy savings. Also, since they don't use vigorous agitation, they put less wear and tear on clothes, and without that center agitator, very large capacity machines are available. If you are in the market for a new machine, a front loader, while more expensive initially, pays off in the long haul. I’m on my second front-loader, and I love them. 

This link includes a calculator (top right) to see how much money you would save with a front loader

7. Keep your washing machine clean

Here are a couple of links for articles on cleaning washers. Front-loaders particularly can get a build-up of excess detergent and fabric softener. Not using too much detergent and skipping traditional fabric softeners goes a long way to alleviating the "smelly washer"  and then the smelly towel problem. You can also purchase products such as Washer Magic to help clean a machine, but some routine care might make that unnecessary.

8. Dryer Maintenance

The most important thing here is to make sure that you are not getting a lint build-up in your dryer vent. One of my husband's pet peeves is when builders don't provide short, straight vent lines to the outside for clothes dryers. When your dryer exhaust has to travel a long distance (directly outside is best), and especially if there are added turns, this leads to several problems. First, your dryer has to work harder, and it will wear out more quickly. Second, lint can build up and possibly start a fire. (Nearly 15000 vent fires occur each year.) You can buy a lint cleaning brush which looks like a miniature chimney brush and push it through your vent pipe. Also make sure the vent is not kinked or crushed against the wall.

9. Finally some more links, just for good measure!

The Like Mother, Like Daughter blog has an excellent series on how to do laundry, some of which I linked in the previous post. Follow the sidebar to "Happy Home: Laundry Organization"


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