Thursday, 22 September 2011

Thrifty Thursday #4 –Coming Clean About Things

thrifty thursday

It may appear to save money if you give up spending money and time on washing and cleaning – but that is definitely a false economy. However there are some ways to save on laundry costs.

Back in the Ancient Days of the Roman Empire, they tell us, when the weather was fine, women went down to the river and beat their washing on the stones, draped it to dry on the bushes and they sang happily as they worked [Yeah, right – in sunny Italy maybe – I doubt that happened much in wintry windswept Norfolk]

In the more recent past [my childhood] rackMum washed on a Monday in a small toploading machine, and boiled some stuff in a copper, and we put things through the mangle and hoped they’d dry on the line – and if not, they were draped on a rack hanging from the kitchen ceiling.

laundryAnd now, if you believe the TV, Mums wash every day in their automatic washers, and put things straight into tumble dryers and the laundry mountain is never ending. As my mug says “behind every working woman is an enormous pile of unwashed laundry”

I admit, much depends on the composition of your household. If you have teenagers who go out and play rugby and get very muddy, or children who spill food, paint and more on themselves, or spouses who run every other day and get unspeakably sweaty, then you will have dirtier clothes than Ladies Who Lunch and do little else. But we have become obsessed with over-washing things. A dress worn for 3 hours for an evening out is not in the same category as filthy football strip.

Check out the “When to Wash-It” guides on the Real Simple website[ winter & summer]. Less washing obviously saves money!


Do sort laundry. You may get your family to do this into fancy labelled bins as they remove their garments [personally, I just settled with being grateful for the dirty stuff being put in the one bin, and sorted it myself!] But if you keep whites, and darks and coloureds separate, life is so much easier.

If you keep whites separate they stay white. I was always ridiculously smug when my two little poppets trotted smartly off to school in their uniforms, with dazzling white shirts and socks and neat grey skirts.

Detergent is a personal preference. Recipes abound online for “making your own” – but you need to make in bulk, and have somewhere to store it, and many British front-loading machines don’t work well with home concoctions of borax etc. I’d be interested to hear from those of you who do make your own, though.

After trying various products, I am now using NON bio, gentle formula, washing tablets [usually Aldi or Lidl when on offer]– they come in two-tab sachets, but I’ve discovered that 1½ tabs does a washload [for me it is more efficient than powder, which I spill everywhere, or liquid, where I struggle with ‘portion control’] I put load#1 [coloureds/darks] in the machine with 1½tabs, and then put the remaining half tab in a tub-trug of hot water and soak my whites while load #1 is washing. Then I put the whites, into machine with 1 tab and wash them. For serious stains I use Napisan [cheaper than Vanish] but I also keep a regular bar of soap in the Futility Room, and rub collars, cuffs, minor stains with that before the things go into the machine.

I have not tried “Washer Balls”. The reviews on the Lakeland site don’t inspire me to try them! [have you used them? do tell us]

If you just have a few bits of lingerie to handwash, then budget baby shampoo is a great, gentle detergent. And you can always ‘spin dry’ in your salad spinner [Real Simple has more laundry ideas here] I never use fabric conditioner. It reduces the ‘drying power’ of towels, and if laundry is clean, why load it up with synthetic scents?

rationell-variera-trash-basket__0104803_PE251782_S4I have one of these IKEA baskets fixed to the cupboard door under my kitchen sink.

This is my ‘kitchen laundry bin’ where teatowels, dishcloths, table napkins etc go. I really prefer to wash those items separately from clothes as they usually need a ‘proper’ wash as opposed to the ‘quick&cool/economy’ cycle.

Drying laundry – methods in order of preference/economy

  1. on the whirligig dryer in the garden
  2. over a rack in the bathroom
  3. on a small rack hooked on a radiator
  4. in the tumble dryer [only in very desperate moments!]

simp-lint-elephant_300I do understand that some friends, like Jane in Canada, have to contend with below freezing weather and marauding bears so for them a dryer is necessary. Here is a picture of a dryer lint elephant especially for them [recipe for making the modelling dough here]

I continue to be impressed with the efficiency of my new LG washing machine, purchased after the other one exploded, and the Rowenta Steam Iron, now 3½years old and would recommend them to anyone. I try and iron as little as possible, and folding and stacking laundry promptly helps cut down on the ironing [but I admit that as I type this, there is a tubtrug full of clean, but unsorted, underwear and socks languishing in the bathroom waiting to be dealt with]

A few laundry tips – which save time, if not money

  • zip up trousers and jeans and turn inside out before washing, and always empty pockets. You may find a tissue, which would otherwise have shredded into fluffy confetti over the whole wash- and possibly even find some forgotten cash
  • nylon tights can be rolled into a ball and pushed into the toe of a sock. They do get thoroughly washed [I’m afraid  can’t be bothered with those little zip up lingerie bags]
  • remove and clean the detergent dispenser drawer [and its housing] of your machine regularly. You’d be amazed how quickly crud accumulates and turns into mould spots.
  • a full load is more economical than a half-full machine – but do not overload it, as it won’t wash so efficiently.
  • get to know all the programmes on your machine, so you can choose the optimum one for each laundry load 
  • turn down the heat – boilwash is just for nappies!
  • watch out for ‘non-colourfast’ items – and handwash them separately. It is not worth the risk, even with ‘colour-catcher’ sheets. Try to avoid buying such things in the first place if you can!

My laundry disasters- when I was expecting Liz, it was a really hot summer, and a friend bought me a pretty red cheesecloth dress. It was cool and floaty – but an inexpensive imported garment. I had a lot of health problems and was confined to bed – and one Saturday Bob volunteered to do the washing. I forgot to warn him to a] sort out the whites and b] that the red dress wasn’t colourfast. We had a few pale pink shirts, tee shirts and trainer socks after that!

Subsequently, in her teens, Liz bought a deep plum coloured acetate nightie. That ALWAYS needed to be handwashed, and EVERY time, the water ran blood red and stained my hands. We called it her ‘Lady Macbeth’ nightdress.

This is before Women’s Lib

My Mum didn’t use Persil – there was something in the formula after the 1960’s which affected her breathing. And I’ve never used biological powders because Steph had bad reactions to them [she even ended up in hospital after wearing a top washed in Ariel by a friend] I am not sure about all the chemicals they are using these days, even if they are supposed to be brilliant.

Anybody out there got any good laundry money-saving tips? And  don’t forget to check the other thrifters listed on the sidebar above


  1. I do all of the above, but I also mix my wash powder with soda crystals. It makes the powder go a lot further, reduces the cost of each wash and keeps the washing and the machine sparkly clean.

  2. The lab I used to work for did some research work for the company who make vanish! They were looking at new biological agents that might be added to future products to make the vanish more efficient at getting rid of blackcurrant or tea stains. Apparently they use university labs quite often as a small amount of funding (though enough to pay one of my colleagues for 6 months) gets them access to university expertise - apparently a different bunch of brains to the ones they have in their own R&D facilities.

    I don't think I've had any real laundry disasters, but at the moment it's very difficult to get everything dry, juggling working, studying and wet weekends is tricky!

  3. I have never had a tumble dryer, which I think has saved me a lot of money! The best stain remover for any sort of grease or oil based stain is washing up liquid - a tiny blob goes a long way (eg tomato sauce, salad dressing, workshop oil, also good on grass stains). I worked with a chap from Procter & Gamble when I was in advertising and learned an awful lot about the tosh that they recommend! You can use half the amount of washing powder etc that is recommended on the box; fabric conditioner is unnecessary and attracts dirt to clothes. You can always put a slosh of vinegar with a drop or two of your favourite essential oil in the rinse drawer when you wash sheets and towels (I only bother with B&B sheets and towels so they are lavender scented).
    It is the agitation that really gets clothes clean (think of those women stomping), so you are right, don't overfill your machine - the soap is really for stains so the more you spot treat stains before washing, the less powder you need to use, and the less likely they are to set. A soak in cold water will go a long way towards dissipating most stains.

    Pomona x

  4. So much here! I'm currently using ecological washing powder, but struggling with the doses - I used to use those capsules and I think at least they do give you a set amount. I have a very green friend who used to work on washing machine efficiency, and she told me nearly everyone underloads their machine. I've experimented and what she told me works for my machine - if I can put my hand in on the top of the pile of dry washing then it isn't packed too tight. But I suspect that varies frm machine to machine, so, as you say, getting to know your own is essential. I find the 'half load' button very efficient on the rare occasions I only need to was a little bit at a time (say the dog's blanket, for example).

    I have LOVED your Bletchley Park posts - what an amazing day for you! Sorry I didn't comment but I kept waiting for an intelligent comment to pop into my head and it never did.

  5. Washing up liquid gets rid of loads of stains before the item goes into the washing machine (test it on a bit that won't show first).

    I never use fabric conditioner either.

    I do like scented ironing water - I put one inch of the vaporesse stuff in one of the empty bottles I have saved and top it up with tap water. The scent is strong enough to still be there even when so diluted. I've made my own scented waters but you have to take care as home-made can actually stain your clothes.

    I stopped using washing powder when the plumber told me the cause of the blocked drain (and huge bill) was the filler in the washing powder. Apparently only some of the powder is cleaner and some is a "filler" like a carrier for the soap powder but as it bulks up in the water it can actually block pipes etc. I had had blocked pipes several times previously so I switched to liquid and have had no trouble since. I wondered if it were true but other friends have had same trouble. ??

  6. I loved the Persil ad! BUT did you notice that there was a gollywog there....oh dear, political correctness??
    I think you should bring your washing here and join the lady who, every Monday, wheels a barrow down the lane to the communal lavoir, and does her washing there. No cost, very frugal!

  7. Thanks for the salad spinner idea! That's neat.

    My mom just had her septic system redone. The plumber cautioned her strongly against using powdered laundry detergents; they don't dissolve completely and cause build-up in the lines (particularly at joints and turns) that eventually constricts and plugs up the pipes. He suggested using only liquids.

    I have tried both the homemade detergents as well as the bio detergents and had no success with them. Left clothes dingy and dull. The best deal for me has been the HE 3X "all" liquid; a large bottle lasts for months. I just use as little as I can as long as the clothes get clean. Sometimes name-brands actually work better! I have a Tide bottle that allows me to pour the drippings back in the bottle and refill it with the "all," so it's good to the last drop. No wasted detergent in the measuring cap.

  8. lots of very good advice although ive found training your husband to do it is the most effective time saver

  9. I had to laugh at the Jane and the marauding bears comment, thought that was funny!! Only the hardiest of people hang their laundry out here during the months of November through to April, as those minus 30 oC temps in January and February freeze your fingers off!!

    I have a fabric softener recipe on my blog that I use all the time. 1 cup baking/bicarb soda, 1 cup white vinegar, a couple cups of water and a few drops of essential oil, but only if you want.

    Mix together and voila fabric softener that doesn't clog up your towels.

    Gill in Canada

  10. The marauding bears are currently leaving their little (large) presents all along the driveway!
    I use a homemade laundry powder, and it is fine in my HE machine. No fabric conditioner for me though, just white vinegar which helps clean the pipes of any cruddy bits.
    Jane x

  11. I never use the recommended dosage of washing powder i always use less and i always use fabric softner though. Will try a load without and go from there

  12. I have some washer balls - they are okay for light washing and I rarely use them. In an ideal world I would use them all the time but in an ideal world they would clean properly!

  13. We have very soft water so I only use half the recommended quantity of washing liquid. I only use fabric softener when washing work trousers which are mostly polyester. I also use those little plastic dolly balls in each wash and they seem to help with the cleaning - maybe because they help create more agitation. Like some other bloggers, I only wash clothes when they are dirty and I always fill the machine - can't remember the last time I did a half load because it was so many years ago.

  14. Have you tried Soap Nuts?
    A natural product and cleans the washing. No irritants for sensitive skin. Grandson couln't sleep with excema, switched to Soap nuts . Legs healed and no return unless he sleeps somewhere washing powder is used.
    You can use them insmall bag provided( cool washes you can use them more than once) or like I do make a liquid by soaking in boiling water. Can be used for other cleans too


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