How to Save Money on Laundry: Washing and Drying Your Clothes

I often say about things I write about that “I learned it from my mother”. Well, truer words were never spoken when it comes to the subject of washing my clothes. It may sound like a nothing burger, but really, washing your clothes is so basic and important that if you don’t do it with care and thought, it will wind up causing you real money pain and even embarrassment. (I’ll get to my most embarrassing washing moment in just a bit!) But it’s actually pretty easy to save money on laundry.

Family washing clothes to save money on laundry

Laundry is something that we have to do at the very least on a weekly basis. Since it’s one of those chores that needs to be done week in and week out, making just a few changes in your habits now on how you wash clothes can end up saving you a ton of money over the course of the year.

By adopting some of these basic tips, you can make sure that all your clothes get clean while keeping some extra money in your pocket. Just don’t leave that money in your pocket when you are actually washing your clothes!

The Levi’s Debacle

It was certainly not my finest moment as a teenager, but the story I can tell you here is one that will teach a real lesson: Levi’s and how to ruin your best jeans.

The story goes like this. I was about 16 at the time and up until then, Mom was in charge of washing and drying all my clothes every week. But what happened was this: in that era, around 1966-ish, I started to actually care about how I looked and what I was wearing everyday to school. I’d say it had something to do with discovering girls, but that wasn’t really it, just a sidebar. The big thing was: Fashion!

If you were a kid in the mid 1960s, you probably heard the Jefferson Airplane commercials touting “white Levi’s jeans”. As a teen, I became one of the millions who simply had to own at least one pair. I say one pair since that was all we could actually afford and normally every other denim thing I owned came from Sears where my mom worked and got a discount. Can you say Roebucks (the name of their jeans and not any kind of “fashion statement”)?

Ban-Lon Shirts, My White Levi’s, and Hot Water

Do you recall the shirts made from a material known as Ban-Lon? It is a synthetic yarn used in the retail clothing industry. It was created in the 1950s by Joseph Bancroft & Sons Company who applied it in a process for crimping yarn to nylon in order to achieve greater bulk than ordinary yarns. Ban-Lon became popular for things from outerwear to swimsuits and from sweaters to hose. It became a staple and a big part of American clothing and culture. For me, it was the Ban-Lon shirt!

I guess I just had to have it: a maroon Ban-Lon and my new white Levi’s. That became a sort of teenage uniform at least once a week as my school wardrobe. Without that, you simply were a loser. Now I wasn’t going to show up without it at least once a week, although the truly fashionable guys I knew always had at the very least one or the other for those everyday wardrobe basics. Me, just one complete outfit per week.

Now to the point of this. One particular Sunday night, I was looking for my Ban-Lon and my Levi’s and found that they were still in the pile to be washed by my mother sometime during the week. But I wanted them for Monday morning and Mom just couldn’t do the wash that evening for some unexplained reason. “Just wear your Sears pants and shirt,” she told me “and I’ll have them sometime this week for you.”

Pretty in Pink?

Needless to say, I wasn’t going to wait until midweek to wear my “uniform” to school.

I decided to wash my own clothes (for the very first time in my life). It looked pretty simple: put the garments in the washer, then add some washing powder, turn on the water (the hotter the better to get the stuff really clean, right!) and wait about 25 minutes before transferring it to the dryer. I even got up at 5 a.m. when Mom was already at work at Sears and began my task.

I did learn something that day. Maroon and white and hot water just don’t go well together, and by 5:45 a.m. I was the proud owner of a pair of pink Levi’s and a not very impressive faded maroon Ban-Lon shirt. My Mom reminded me about that incident for about the next 40 years.

20 Saving Tips for Your Laundry Adventure

To save money on laundry, here are some tips for you to follow.

1. Buy energy efficient appliances

When you’re ready to replace your washer and/or dryer, look for Energy Star appliances that are certified to be energy efficient. They may cost a little more upfront, but you will save that money over time in energy costs.

2. Read the manual

Every appliance is different, so reading the manual for your washer and dryer can give you lots of helpful tips to clean your clothing and save money on laundry. In fact, our washer has great information on cycles and stain removal tips right inside the lid.

3. Use cold water

Unless your clothes are badly stained, there is no reason to wash in warm or hot water. Most detergents these days get clothes clean in cold water, and unless you see that your clothes aren’t getting clean, you should always set the washing machine to use it. If you do a load of laundry a week, using cold water will save you about $100 a year over using hot water.

4. Warm water?

The next best option to save money is to do a warm/cold wash rather than a hot/cold wash. In most cases, the change to a warm wash will get all but the dirtiest of clothes clean, and it will save approximately $50 a year over washing the same loads in hot water.

5. Cycle settings

When washing, be sure to use the correct settings for the type of clothes that you’re washing. If you happen to be washing a load of delicate clothes, make sure to set the machine to “delicate” rather than leaving it on the default “heavy cotton” or “regular” setting. Setting your washing machine to the correct setting for the type of clothes that you’re washing will use the least amount of energy getting them clean while helping the clothes last longer.

6. Wash only when needed

This may sound obvious, but it happens. Clothes that have only been worn a short period or just tried on don’t need to be washed. Just because you take it out of the drawer doesn’t mean it should automatically be placed into the wash pile. Jeans and bath towels don’t need to be washed after every use. Washing less frequently helps to save money on laundry and to preserve your clothing.

7. Extra spin cycle

Check to see if your washing machine has the option to do an extra spin cycle. If it does, always opt to do this. By putting the clothes through an extra spin cycle, more water will be removed from the clothes which will mean that it’ll take them less time to dry when in the dryer. You’ll save money as the dryer will not need to use as much energy to get the clothes dry.

8. Do a full load, please

Try to opt for doing full loads in the washing machine. You use less water and there is less wear and tear on the machine when you do a full load of laundry as opposed to doing several smaller loads. Just be sure not to overload the washer as this can cause damage and clothes won’t get as clean.

9. When you need to do a small load

It makes better money sense to wash full loads of laundry over smaller loads, but there are times when this might not be possible. If you must wash a load that doesn’t fill the machine, be sure to choose the correct load size. Most washers come with load size options which means the machine will use less water and save money over leaving it on full load.

10. Pre-treat your clothes

If you have clothes that have stains which will be difficult to remove, take the time to pre-treat these clothes. By pre-treating them, you won’t waste money having to wash them multiple times to get out any stains that they have.

11. Rinse in cold water

Use the rinse cycles set to cold water. If your machine offers a temperature choice, always set the rinse cycle to cold. Rinsing in warm or hot water will do little to nothing to get your clothes cleaner, and it’s simply a waste of money. In addition, cold water rinses will help to keep the color of clothes brighter than with warmer rinses which can make colors fade more quickly costing even more money in earlier clothes replacement costs.

12. Try store/generic brands

Most washing detergent works pretty well these days and brand doesn’t make a significant difference when washing clothes. Learning which less expensive brands will get your clothes clean just as well as pricier brands will allow you to save a lot of money each year on the cost of detergent. If you insist on buying brand names, go to the manufacturer’s website to look for coupons first.

13. Use less detergent

Take the time to learn how much laundry detergent you truly need to get your clothes clean to save money on laundry. Most detergents are now highly concentrated and don’t require as much per load. Commercials will imply that you always need to use more, but the reality is that you can get your clothes clean with far less. It will take some experimentation to find what amount works best to get your clothes clean, but it will be less than you think.

14. Use wash bags

When washing any type of delicate clothing, take the time to place them into net wash bags before throwing them into the washing machine. Doing so will protect them during the wash from getting damaged. Delicate clothes will last longer and won’t need to be replaced as often. The cost of the wash bags will pay for themselves many times over in saving your dedicates from a premature demise.

15. Warm water pre-soak

With everyone used to doing laundry the same way, people often forget the effectiveness of pre-soaking clothes. Most machines have a pre-soak option. If you have tried both cold and warm washes and you feel that your clothes still aren’t getting clean enough, opt for a warm pre-soak over a hot wash. A warm pre-soak should get your clothes cleaner than even a hot wash would and you save money in the process.

16. Line dry

Although a bit less convenient, you can always avoid the dryer and line dry your clothing, especially if it’s a small load. This is a significant way to save money on laundry. Even if you just line dry your towels, it will make a difference.

17. Clean your lint trap

Make sure to clean your dryer’s lint trap before every use. Not only does this protect against fires, it helps the efficiency of your dryer and will cut drying time down. Occasionally, take the time to wash your lint trap as well.

18. Dryer settings

Just like in your washer, you’ll want to use the lowest heat needed to get your clothing dry in a reasonable amount of time. Many dryers have sensors to stop when clothing is dry, so be sure to use those automatic cycles.

19. Cut dryer sheets in half

If you like dryer sheets, cut them in half and use just a half per load. You’ll find they work just as well

20. Use wool balls instead

Or better yet, use wool balls in your dryer. These reusable natural balls get tossed into your dryer instead of dryer sheets. They reduce dryer time, soften your clothing, and reduce wrinkles and static cling. You can even make your own wool dryer balls.

Final Thoughts

Saving money on your laundry bill is a good thing. My days of doing the laundry myself haven’t ended in retirement by any means. In fact I take pride in doing it.

Back in the day, I spent a fortune on dry cleaning, wash and fold laundry, and didn’t follow the rules I tout here today. Big mistake and I paid for it, literally. Don’t be foolish and waste your money on basics like your laundry. It can wear out your clothing faster unless you actually take care in the process. Teach those skills to your kids, they will thank you for it later.

How do you save money on laundry?

2 Comments

  1. Heidi Louise

    You didn’t finish the story, Gary! Were you able to bleach the jeans back to white? Or dye them blue? We are fortunate that dyes are much more stable now.

    Great summary of laundry notes here! A few more:

    If you don’t like the scratchy feeling of line dried clothing, dry it on the line or rack until almost dry, then put it in the dryer for ten minutes to finish the drying and loosen it up. The less time clothing spends tumbling around, the longer it will last. Lint is what rubs off of fibers, so you can see how much your clothing wears out when you clean the lint trap.

    Do not over stuff the washer, or dryer for that matter. If the clothing can’t move around, it won’t get clean or dry. The manual will also tell you whether you should pre-fill the washer, then add clothing, or whether to do so simultaneously.

    Experiment to see if things like fabric softeners and dryer sheets are really necessary. I hate the smells, so don’t even try them. If your clothing has a lot of static when it is taken out of the dryer, it was overdried. Hang it promptly and neatly to avoid ironing.

    If you move to a new place or new laundromat, check if your old routine is still right. See if the water hardness or softness is different than you were used to, (soft water uses less detergent), and watch drying times until you learn the new machine.

    1. Heidi Louise, I honestly can’t remember what happened after the pink jeans appeared. I’m sure my mother figured out some way to make them appear white again, but it was so long ago I just can’t recall. I want to thank you for adding those great tips on laundry care, all of which are very important and really helpful. I’ll definitely add them to my personal routine and hopefully many others will do the same.

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