4 Tips for Spending Less on Laundry

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Use Less Detergent

One load’s worth of laundry detergent might mean you should fill the cap 1/3 or 1/2 full, but many of us still fill to the top. As laundry detergents become increasingly concentrated we need less per load, but since the cap size has remained the same we do as we’ve always done – fill ‘er up and pour. I mark my caps with either a permanent marker or a rubber band to indicate the fill line. Using 2 or 3 times as much laundry soap as necessary can cost you up to $0.40 per load.

Use an Alternative for Liquid Softener

If you are a fan of liquid fabric softener, consider switching it out for an equal portion vinegar. Your clothes shouldn’t smell like vinegar, because you are using such a small portion relative to the volume of water, but it’ll do the trick of softening your fabrics.

Make Your Own Dryer Sheets

Making your own dryer sheets doesn’t just cost less, it’s also more earth-friendly. Consider that a dryer sheet is simply a piece of cheap fabric with dried fabric softener on it. With that in mind, it’s simple to make your own. Use a low-end rag from around the house (I use a baby’s washcloth since it is thin and small). Wet the cloth with liquid softener using a spray bottle, then let the rag dry. You shoudl be able to get 4-6 loads out of one homemade sheet.

Skip the Fabric Softener

The lowest cost option of all, when it comes to fabric softener is to skip it all together. Many towels actually perform better when laundered without softener, since store bought varieties include chemicals that coat the fibers and can decrease absorbency. In the winter months you might deal with a little more static on your clothes, but otherwise, you may be surprised you didn’t kick the softener habit sooner.

Your turn: What tips and tricks do you do to reduce the cost of laundry?


  1. Ann says

    I try to hang sheets and blankets outside to dry on a clothesline in the summer. It's amazing to hear kids comment when they've never seen such a thing before! If you do use the dryer, you can throw a couple of dryer balls in there (I've made my own from wool yarn that's been felted) and it will reduce your drying time.

  2. Megan Pence says

    Make your own laundry detergent out of Fels Naptha, Washing Soda and Borax. There are recipes all over the internet.

  3. Russ says

    My wife can really use this tips. she uses a lot of detergent, we spend so much extra money buying Detergent. This is really helpful. Thanks,

  4. Juli says

    Fabric Softeners: I buy generic store brand dryer sheets and cut it in 3 pieces. They are usually tri-folded in the box, so I cut it at the folds. I then gather 2-3 together that have been used once and reuse them.

    For laundry detergent, I only use 1/2 of what the package calls or and add 1/4 cup borax OR washing soda as a booster.

    There are recipes for homemade laundry soap. It only costs .01 -.02 cents per load if a person wants to take the time to mix up their own.

  5. says

    Just saw you do this peice on channel 9. Great job and I always wondered about fabric softner. If I decide once in awhile to use vinigar on a load is it 1ounce per load! I usually don't use it at all and I use the 'free' dryer (couponing) in my dresser drawers for smell. Thanks.

  6. Shalome Westberg says

    I use vinegar instead of liquid fabric softener and no dryer sheets as mentioned. Instead of dryer sheets I use 100% wool dryer balls- they help with drying time and static. They are no plastic and 100% natural and should last forever! I love them. They are a bit pricey up front but when you consider how long they last and they are chemical free they are worth it in my opinion. I asked for them as a gift :)!

    I got mine from here http://wooldryerballs.com/

    ** another thing about fabric softener and dryer sheets – my husband is a runner and wears that moisture wicking fabric clothing while running- it specifically says not to use fabric softener when washing because it makes the fabric not able to do it's "wicking".

  7. says

    I buy the generic cartons of fabric softener, and put about 1/4 of the recommended amount in the washer dispenser, and fill the rest of the way with water. It gets the job done and eliminates the possibility of fabric softener residue on the clothes after washing.

  8. Kim says

    Meagan do you make your own? The reason I ask I just made a batch this weekend. Not sure if it gelled enough. It seemed alittle runny compared to the store bought stuff and I did shake the heck out of it to ensure mixing before using it. It seemed to clean the clothes ok-noticied no difference except for the whites but maybe it did not gel enough. It made a large batch for sure! Does anyone else know if it really" whitens" well or was is just me and my first time?!

    • Megan says

      Kim- Yes, I make my own and LOVE it! I've never had a problem with it not gelling enough, but you do have to shake it. I use 1/2 bar Fels Naptha, 1/2 cup washing soda and 1/2 cup borax. It fills up a 3 gallon bucket. I was using too much in the wash and the soap buildup was dulling and staining our whites. A repair man came out and told me to only use a couple tablespoons for a front loader! I'll never have to buy laundry detergent again!

    • Becky says

      A while back, I tried that recipe for homemade detergent, and was not thrilled. It did clean the clothes OK, but I didn't feel that the whites stayed as bright as normal, and things didn't seem quite as fresh. I decided to stick with the Tide that I know and love, and just stock up when there is a really good deal.

    • says

      I made my own laundry detergent for almost 2 years, when we really, really cut expense. But, I found that my soap (using the Fels Naptha/Borax recipe) didn't clean as well. Of course I could have made it wrong or something, but I think the store bought works better, brightens better and lifts light spots better. Other might have had a different experience though.

  9. Chrissy says

    Another great way to save on laundry expenses in the winter when we can't hang clothes and sheets outside is to not let you dryer cool down. It takes a lot less time to heat up a hot dryer than a cool dryer. Our gas budget actually went down for the first time sense we moved into our house. I am sure my drying technique has something to do with it! Add in the dryer balls and the time gets cut even more!!

    Thanks for all your helpful tips. I missed your segment and I wanted to see it. I will have to check out on the web.

  10. Kierstien says

    We use tinfoil instead of dryer sheets. What we do is take the tinfoil that we use to cover leftovers wash it off and roll it into a ball and put it in the dryer!! WOrks great :)

    Also my hubby makes our detergent!

  11. Angela Eisenschenk says

    I have used vinegar for over a year now in my laundry. I add about 1/2 cup per load and your clothes do not smell. My clothes are nice and soft and have no problem with static. Vinegar also helps keep the colors from fading and it helps whiten your clothes. I add about 1-2 cups to my white load to help whiten and brighten the load. I love vinegar!!!!!

  12. Shanon S says

    LOVE the tip on the fabric softener. I bet a bottle goes a long long way using htat method and I have a few old baby wash clothes around.

    I am not motivated to make my own laundry soap, but I watch sales and stock up when I can.

  13. Tami W says

    Not only does using less detergent save money, but it makes your clothes brighter as well. I had the Maytag man out to fix my washer one time, and he said that you should never go above the very first line in the cap because there is no way to get every drop of soap out of the clothes, even if the suds are gone, and that makes clothes dingy faster. He said that the manufacturers of the detergent put the extra lines in there in the hopes that you will use more detergent, and have to buy more sooner. :)

  14. Priscilla says

    I don't like to use dryer sheets or fabric softener. I feel like it is just more chemicals that I'm putting on my laundry, that is then put on my body.

    I also use smaller amounts of laundry soap when our clothes are not as dirty.

  15. Alison says

    The way we cut down on laundry costs is by not washing something that isn't dirty. My kids know to only throw something in the laundry when it is actually dirty. In the winter, if we are inside all day, there are many times the kids' pants or skirt stay clean, or the shirt under a sweater stays clean. So we re-hang it in the closet to wear again instead of washing it. Cutting down on the amount of laundry you do can really save a lot.

  16. Deb says

    I have not used dryer sheets for almost three years now. Instead I use an old wash cloth and put a drop of essential oil on the cloth. Each time you wash you put another drop on the cloth. Only use three times and then change to another wash cloth. Wash the old one and you can reuse. if you do not limit the use to three times the essential oil can build up in you dryer.

  17. Stacey says

    I make my own laundry detergent, have for years but my recipe doesn't call for Borax. My whites stay white, altho' the staining in the underarms of my husband's undershirts is hard to get rid of, I soak them overnight in a mixture of hot water & Oxiclean & then wash normally. Borax, although a completely natural mineral, is partially converted to hydrogen peroxide in warm water so can have a lightening effect on dark/colored clothes. Also, I've read reports that store-bought fabric softener can be carcinogenic…I use vinegar in the washer and nothing else. My clothes are soft & towels are absorbent.

  18. Holly says

    *Cold water wash for almost every load, except towels and sheets.

    *Vinegar for softening (and odor! I have a little one who still has potty accidents)

    *We make our own laundry soap.

    I occasionally miss the "smell" of softener sheets, so I'll grab a box (with coupons of course) and cut into thirds and use just with my sheets and towels.

    I've also heard that it's best to use the dryer for multiple loads in a row, since the heat lingers.

  19. Julia says

    We use cold wash/rinse for most of our clothes, etc. I try to use less detergent especially because I am buying the ultra concentrated stuff, but I have a feeling I still use too much. Maybe that is why my whites get dingy so quick?! We also do not use fabric softener sheets. We stopped using them when we had our son who is now 16 months old because we use cloth diapers and like Carrie said ..the softener makes items less absorbent. Definitely not the problem you want to have with a diaper :) I do use hot water to wash the diapers.

    We also hang our laundry out to dry as soon as it gets warm enough. In the late spring/summer/early fall we do almost all of our clothes drying on the line. If it's raining for days in a row or I really, really need an item then I will throw stuff in the dryer. Our gas/electric bill is super cheap in the summer even when we are using the AC.

  20. says

    I love love LOVE my homemade laundry detergent. I used to make the liquid, but it took too long. Now it takes me about 5 minutes and a food processor.

    My dad was a chemical engineer that designed detergents. He helped invent Electrosol now Finish dishwashing detergent (I'm very brand loyal there!). Anyway, he said that laundry detergent's only active ingredients are the three that I use to make mine: soap(Fels Naptha, Ivory, or Zote), borax, and washing soda. The rest is "optical brighteners" and fragrances. Optical brighteners (Tide is the brand he mentioned that contained the most) actually atract more dirt.

    He and my mom always bought those giant 5 gallon buckets of Bam, Boff, Wow, Whammo or whatever they're called (The Batman detergents I used to call them!) at Menards or Fleet Farm.

    I dilute the cheapest fabric softener I can find 50% with water to make it last longer. One thing I read about fabric softener is to try to get used to natural feeling clothes again, so I started out cutting it by 1/4 with water and then increased it.

    Does the vinegar really work? I've wanted to try it.

  21. Kierstien says

    we do this too! we wear the same pair of pants 3 or 4 times before they get washed. ofcourse underwear we wash afterevery use but other items not till they're dirty.

  22. sheepy says

    I can't make my own detergent as I have very sensitive skin. I can only use Dreft or All Free & Clear. Now that All is only available in more concentrated forms, I use a very tiny amount. My family owned a cleaners for many years, and I learned early that using too much soap is bad for your clothes. It stays in the fabric and can attract dirt. I only use fabric softener during the winter for static, and I only use a very small amount, like a tablespoon for a large load. Also, to make garments last longer, only dry part way and then hang to dry the rest of the way. The dryer breaks down the fabric over time. A lot of times you can also smooth the fabric when it is still partially damp so you won't have to iron.

  23. Kim says

    Thanks. Maybe I used too much on the whites. I will try using smaller amount- I too love the idea of not buying laundry detergent again!

  24. Chris Schmidt says

    I'm so glad to read that several people are making their own laundry soap. I've been doing it for over a year now and love how cheap it is! I use 2 cups of Arm & Hammer washing soda, 2 cups of Borax and 1 full bar of Fels Naptha bar soap. I use a cheese grater to 'shred' ithe bar soap and it works great.( I store it in a tupperware container or you could wash out an old food jar and use that.)It ends up being about $2 for 40 loads! My husband said that it has actually helped with the build up in the pipes too.

  25. Carrie says

    I'd like your recipe too ! Is your "powder"? If so, do you have any problem with it clinging to clothes. I've read on line that others have had that problem – it doesn't seem to dissolve in the water and leaves a reside on the clothes. We have well water and I'd like to start making my own detergent but I haven't know if I should mess with the liquid or it there is an easy powdered one. How much does your make and how much to you use? Sorry for all the questions – I just want to get it right the first time and not make any mistakes! Thanks :)

  26. Carrie says

    I should have proofed my reply before hitting send – way too many typos! Sorry about that. Guess that's what I get for doing this instead of being in bed!!!

  27. Carrie says

    Do you "cook" this like so many that I've read about on line or is that a "powdered" version? How much do you use per load?

  28. AIMEE says


  29. cassie c says

    I will say that we make our own Laundry soap, and we also used dreft or All free and clear before because my 2 year old had SUPER sensitive skin. I took a chance and tried it out and it did not bother him a bit, I was excited that it worked!

  30. Diane says

    We have a large family (13) so we use our washing machine a lot. The appliance repair man and I were talking soap and he said that because machines and soap are so efficient now, you really shouldn't use more than 1 Tbsp per load. (Yes, that's tablespoon.) I use less than that on most loads. My machine gets picky with the amount of suds so using less soap really helps. I'll use more on really muddy loads, but I use very little soap overall. This saves on soap and feels good on the fabric.

    I used to rip my dryer sheets in half, but last year I invested in dryer balls. They really work well. The only issue is finding that 2nd ball. I bought mine for $15 I think, but they've saved me in sheets and will last a few more years before I have to worry about replacing them. Skin issues have also been reduced. I've also seen them for less.

  31. Monica says

    When I buy a new box of fabric softner sheets I take a few minutes and cut the sheets into thirds. This stretches the box 3 times farther, and still works great with stopping the static cling.

  32. Lucy says

    I save so much money on laundry. I make a powdered detergent using Kirk's castile soap (3 pk for $2.69 or so at Cub). I chop up one bar of soap then throw it in the food processor with two cups of baking soda and then about 20 drops each of tea tree, lavender, and orange essential oils. I add 2 Tbsp to each load. I also fill up a jug of water with 1/2 water 1/2 vinegar and the same essential oils. I pour that into a downy ball and throw it in the wash. I use a collapsible drying rack (picked up at Ikea for about $20) and hang almost everything year round. For the few things I do need to dry, I toss them in the dryer with homemade felted dryer balls. You just take wool yarn and wind it up into a ball, then tuck the end in really tight, throw the ball(s) into an old pair of nylons, tying the nylons closed with string. Then wash and dry them a few times. Then wrap another layer of wool yarn over the core layer and toss back into the nylon and wash and dry to felt the outer layer. I recommend using at least two dryer balls at once. I usually use four.

  33. Ashley Dempsey says

    Hi, Carrie! Thanks for the blog. About the well-water… I grew up on a well and know it is a bit different from "city water". It should make a difference if you have a water softening system. If the water is "hard" there are more minerals (and other things) in it and you will need more detergent, but if the water is "soft" it is "wetter" and will be able to better utilize the soap- so you don't need as much.

  34. Ashley Dempsey says

    There are a lot of great tips on here- some that will definately help. We make our own laundry detergent too- and it is working great. What surprises me is that I didn't see anyone on here suggesting using a combination of all these tips to master the laundry. I make my own liquid detergent, powdered detergent, as well as using vinegar (for smell or softening), store bought detergent, softner and bleach (bought with coupons). Different loads get different things according to needs. My white and light loads get brightened when needed but generally the homemade stuff works most of the time, darks and jeans get the homemade stuff, and I use the scented store bought detergents to do the towels (I never soften them because it reduces absorbancy and I love for them to smell good). I do have a weakness for softner (I love the smell) but thanks to coupons don't spend much on it. I have spent years using too much detergent- but have learned what many of you have said on here- too much makes the clothes dirtier, is bad for the washer and is expensive.

  35. amber says

    I use shaklee fabric softner, i use a spray bottle fill it half way with water and the other hal with the shaklee. I spray it like 5 or 7 times in the dryer. A 32 oz bottle is about 10 bucks and I buy one like every year or so. And it i use it on my kid clotes too.

    ANd yes i am sell it. My email is amerryfield@yahoo.com if you have any question

  36. Trish says

    I only use dryer balls in my laundry. Not only is it cheaper, but cuts down on allergies in our family. My son has eczema and has had fewer breakouts since getting rid of fabric softener. I am allergic to some perfumes and I have also noticed fewer sniffles/sneezing since we got rid of them.

  37. Tashi says

    Megan, thanks!! I've been looking all over for a "make-your-own" laundry detergent recipe. I've been buying Gain powder for a while now, since it's cheaper than what I used for years (All liquid). I hope to try the recipe soon. Do you know of a powder-style concoction for detergent? I know I've seen one, but can't remember where. If nothing else, I'm sure the liquid version would suffice just fine.

  38. Ashley says

    You can also find laundry recipes on the Dugger's website (the family with twenty million kids… just kidding, I think there were twenty the last time I checked… could be more by now). It is the DuggerFamily.com and there is a link at the bottom for family recipes- there is one for liquid detergent and one for powdered. (The pickle recipe is fabulous too!)

    I don't bother with the expense of adding the essential oils because I am still in love with my fabric softner (cheap or free with coupons) and save the oils for other things. I do wash my towels in the store bought stuff (cheap or free with coupons) for the scent since I don't soften them. The oils are expensive- and we use them for so many other things that I'd go broke trying to scent the detergent (which normally gets covered up with the softner anyway).

    Happy Washing, all!

  39. Tashi says

    Thanks, all, for the cooments. :-) I sure have learned a lot, simply by reading this thread. I've looked on YouTube, eHow, Instructables, and probably another web site I'm forgetting, on how to make laundry detergent. So far, I haven't made any yet, but hope to soon. I just tried the vinegar thing for a wash load, for the first time. I filled my old Downy softener ball only about half-way from the suggested fill line. I'm not sure if that's the exact method everyone implies, or if you can just add the vinegar straight into the wash as you start the whole process. I've cut or torn my softener sheets before, but got lazy and stopped. This thread has motivated me once again to get back to it.

    I absolutely LOVE Carrie's web site. One of my all-time faves, regardless of category. Thanks, Carrie, and thanks to everyone who contributes. You all help greatly with the frugal tips and commentary.

  40. Tashi says

    P.S. One more question for all: Is it really more advisable to use Fels Naptha soap, as opposed to, say, Kirk's Original Castile soap? I've read so many things, it's confusing for a "make-your-own" stuff rookie like me. I already have several bars of the Kirk's soap, and am wondering if it would be an acceptable *and* effective substitute. I saw a woman's YouTube piece that suggested Kirk's soap, and I'd love to save any money I can on ingredients. What do you folks think? Thanks in advance!

  41. Chris Schmidt says

    To Sandra T.

    Here is the 'recipe' for the powdered laundry detergent. 2 cups Borax, 2 cups of Arm & Hammer WASHING soda and 1 bar of Fels Naptha soap(you can also use Ivory). I use a cheese grater for the bar of soap. Use no more than 1/4 of a cup per load and use cold water. These can all be found at Cub, but look around at Target for the Borax because it's cheaper there if you can find it.

      • Tashi says

        Carrie R., thank you for the heads-up on where to find Fels Naptha and Borax. I've seen those also at Cub and/or Target, but haven't seen washing soda before, anywhere. Never had to look for it before discovering how to make laundry detergent. I called my nearby Cub, but they don't carry it. The man I spoke with didn't know what it was, but was very nice, and looked for it after I explained precisely what I was looking for. Can you (or anyone else, for that matter) possibly recommend surefire places where one can buy washing soda? Fleet Farm? Menard's?…. etc.? Many thanks.

  42. Ashley Dempsey says

    I had a problem with finding washing soda too. You can go to Arm and Hammer's website and call them- they can give you a list of stores near you who carry washing soda. They will also try to sell it to you directly over the phone- but don't do it! They charge too much, plus they add shipping. If you do not have a local store that carries it, you can also find it on line at places like drugstore.com and they often have a free shipping deal.

    For people looking for a FOOD PROCESSOR powdered recipe- just use the food processor to shred the bar soap instead of a cheese grater- then put it in a seperate contianer with the washing soda and borax and shake to mix evenly. A mild soap like Ivory shouldn't harm the food processor (should be cleaner than when you started!) It does make a bit of a mess when you do it- so I make a few batches of liquid detergent, powdered detergent and hand/body soap all on the same day just to cut down on the amount of cleaning afterward. Then I let the food processor container soak in water to get the soap residue out then wash in the machine like normal. Easy peasy and super quick!

    I love using Ivory- the scent is light, but will fragrance 5 gallons of detergent well. Plus, Grandma used Ivory- so the smell takes me back down memory lane…

  43. Tashi says

    Thanks, Ashley! I just looked at Target — no washing soda, Fels Naptha, OR Borax (and I looked up and down the laundry aisles, as well as in the soap aisle in the health & beauty section). I heard that Ace Hardware carries all three items, and I'm going to check at one of their stores soon. I did see all three items on Ace's web site, but there's got to be a way to order it and have it delivered to the store, to avoid the shipping charges (so I have also heard is possible. I still need to check on that.). But if all else fails, I would order online, of course, as a last resort.

    Thanks also for your tips on the processes. :-)

  44. Tashi says

    Bingo! We have a winner! — Ace Hardware carries the washing soda, Fels Naptha soap, and Borax. And may I say, after e-mailing one of their stores for help in my quest, I got very prompt and pleasant service. I really need to find reasons to shop there more often — what fantastic customer service! :-D

  45. Barb says

    I have just started making a dry recipe for home made laundry soap with the 3 ingredients listed above. The clothes get just as clean and there are no suds so it's better for the washer. Wish I'd done this long ago. I make the dry recipe because it's very easy and quick.

  46. Barb says

    Here's my easy recipe and it was in the Strib recently and I have found it on the net too. No cooking or pails at all. 1 bar of fels naptha grated. I use a cheese grater and am done in less than 5 minutes. I cup of washing soda (Rainbow) and 1 cup of borax (Walmart is cheaper on this by a dollar over Rainbow). Now I have read that you can use Ivory or castile soap instead of the fels. Any pure soap with no additives will work. Mix it all up by shaking the container. I use 1 tablespoon per load. I store this in a coffee can with a tablespoon. With a really dirty load, you can use 2 tablespoons. I also have clothesline in my basement and have hung all but sheets and towels for years. Have been bugging hubby for an outside clothesline for years but still don't have one. At least in the basement I don't have to worry about weather changes.

  47. Barb says

    Fels naptha is at Cub, Rainbow and Walmart. Walmart did not have the Arm and Hammer washing soda, but Rainbow does. All 3 can be had from Rainbow, but as I said the Borax is a dollar cheaper at Walmart and that is just as handy for me. I am sure the hardware store will charge more for this. I spent about $6 on all of it.

  48. Tashi says

    Thanks, Barb! :-) I don't normally shop at Rainbow or Wal-Mart, so I didn't know that they would have the laundry soap making supplies. And yup, the hardware store would charge more — but I can't recall the prices I was quoted. It sure added up to more than $6, though. I haven't seen any of the supplies at Target or Cub, at least, not the locations I've been to. I think I'll try looking at Wal-Mart and Rainbow, and see what works for me. I've seen numerous laundry soap recipes online, and they pretty much seem the same. I hope to try my hand at it soon.

    • says

      Tashi – If you live near a Fleet Farm try there. I find their prices to be pretty good and they do have Borax, Fels Naptha and everything else you need.

  49. Alisha says

    The only product that Target has of the 3 ingredients for the homemade detergent is Borax. I work at Target and know that Target has Borax for sure.

  50. Tashi says

    Carrie, thanks a million! :-) Sorry I didn't see your reply sooner. I am lucky enough to live reasonably near a Fleet Farm, so I'll have to try them out.

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