How To Do Laundry on the Cheap

We currently have five people living at our home. Let’s say, hypothetically, we all change clothes twice a day (it’s often more than that due to the nonstop accidents, spills, and other things that go on in such a household). That’s ten outfits’ worth of clothes to wash each and every day. We also cloth diaper our youngest child, so that piles on an extra burden of laundry.

Needless to say, our washer seems to run all the time. Every time the washer runs, a little money goes straight down the tubes. Because it runs so often, it’s always useful to find little ways to reduce that cost per load. Here are eleven tactics we’ve found that work for us.

11 Ways to Reduce Laundry Costs

The Bucket

Make your own detergent

We often make our own laundry detergent (here’s how we do it with pictures and I also made a video of how I made a later batch). According to our calculations, it reduced the cost of detergent per load from $0.20 to about $0.02 – an $0.18 saving per load. Considering we average multiple loads daily, that savings adds up pretty quick. The best part is this detergent has no perfumes or other such allergens in it.

Use vinegar as your softener

We basically don’t buy fabric softener unless we literally find a sale that makes it virtually free (or at least less than a jumbo jug of vinegar). Yes, a cap full of vinegar in the softener spot does the trick. Not only that, it also helps greatly with any lingering odor that might be in the washing machine or in the clothes themselves.

Wash only (very) full loads

With the exception of the cloth diapers (which we wash separately and which we don’t have enough of to fill an entire load), we strive to have very full loads of laundry. Yes, we mix together colored and whites from all family members, washing a little boy’s t-shirt together with my jeans, for example. A very full load means less water used and less energy used per item of clothing.

Dry your clothes by hanging them

If you can, hang your clothes to dry instead of sucking down energy in the dryer. An average dryer run eats about $0.25 worth of electricity. Hanging them up accomplishes the same thing for free. We would hang up an awful lot of our clothes if we had a great place to put a clothesline – unfortunately, our only location that works for a clothesline would sit right in the middle of the space where our children (and the neighbor’s children) usually play in the yard. Thus, for now, most of our hanging takes the form of a temporary line hung up in our basement sometimes (it helps when we’re doing a bunch of loads of laundry at once, as clothes wash faster than they dry).

Wash your clothes in cold water

Hot water has to be heated and you’re paying for that service. Unless your clothes are exceptionally dirty, cold water does the trick just fine. The only time I run anything besides cold/cold on our washing machine is if I see caked-on stuff on a kid’s shirt or something.

Use the shortest cycle

Our washer, like many out there, offers a ton of options for the wash. I choose the shortest one, again, unless the clothes are awfully dirty. This saves wear and tear on the clothes (reducing replacement costs) and also reduces energy use and some water use.

Be diligent about removing dryer lint

We empty the lint trap on the dryer before every single load. It is simply part of the required routine. If you don’t do this, you reduce the warm air flow around the clothes, increasing the time the dryer has to run to get your clothes to the same level of dryness. That’s energy used, and that’s money lost.

Remove obstructions from the external dryer vent

You should also know where your dryer vent goes. It empties out somewhere on the outside of your building or home. Look for the external vent and make sure it’s not obstructed. Lift up the vent and make sure there’s no lint or anything else built up inside that vent. Again, you’re trying to improve the air flow, because that external vent blows out very moist air (the moisture that’s being removed from the clothes). If it can’t get out, that very moist air stays in with your clothes, increasing drying time and increasing your expenses.

Shake out clothes before you put them in the dryer

As you take clothes from the washer to the dryer, shake them out completely. This is basic science – you’re increasing the surface area of the clothes so that more warm air comes in contact with the clothes in the dryer, making them dry faster, reducing the time and the amount of energy used when your dryer is running. Money is energy – shaking out your clothes saves both.

Pull clothes out of the dryer before they’re completely dry

This is particularly true if you intend to iron the item, because you already want the clothes to be a little damp before you bust out the iron. This, again, means the dryer runs less, which is a win for your pocket book.

Save for your own washer and dryer

If you’re in a situation where you’re using a coin-operated laundry machine, you will save significantly over the long run if you get your own washer and dryer hooked up. The cost per load when you own your own washer and dryer is far, far less than it is at a coin-operated laundry facility. Yes, the washer and dryer can be major expenses, but the savings are tremendous over even the course of a year or two.

Trent Hamm

Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.