How cliche and stupid is it for women to sit around and talk about laundry? I know. I feel dirty, even now, bringing it up. But part of the reason we tend to talk about it is because if we have children, we have laundry. No, wait: We have LAUNDRY. We have laundry spilling out of our hampers and weaving a maze throughout the house and hanging from the furniture and no matter how often you do laundry, you still always have laundry.
I’ve heard women who say that they find laundry relaxing, and in the spirit of acceptance and tolerance I’d like to suggest that they are on CRACK. And they have clearly never snipped the tags off of a new outfit in the morning and sent it to school on an angel-faced cherub who arrived home after body-surfing through grass and mud, not to mention what will later only be referred to in hushed tones as “the ketchup incident.”
So. How do you get the laundry clean without becoming a slave to the most expensive detergents on the market?
There are tons of books and sites out there that will be only too happy to explain to you how you can brew up your own detergent in the comfort of your own home out of nothing more complicated than root beer, orange peels and turpentine. Your homemade laundry soap is kind to animals, good for the environment, comfortable enough in its femininity to forego shaving, and cost pennies to produce!
I’m not going to say you shouldn’t do that; if it floats your boat, enjoy. I’m sure the resultant product is great. But I don’t have that kind of patience (or time), so that option is not for me.
No, I like industrial detergents that come in large, brightly-colored jugs and make a faint sizzling sound when they hit grass stains. I also like dryer sheets, because it makes me sad when all of the clothes congeal into a giant electron ball inside the dryer. Bottom line? I’m particular about the laundry and the products I use to do it.
However, we all know that 1) using the most expensive anything or 2) paying full price is just not my style. So I had to figure out a way to do the laundry the way I want to, without spending what felt like an unnecessary amount of money.
Disclaimer: None of the following tips will actually make the laundry any less of a time-sucking annoyance.
- Promise me right here, right now, that you will never ever ever run out of laundry detergent. Always have at least one full container in reserve, or you risk having a “laundry emergency” where you have to (*gasp*) pay full price.
- Do you clip coupons? Great! Clip ’em and use them. Can’t be bothered to clip coupons? Okay. If you don’t clip coupons, that’s fine, but you have to pay attention to when your chosen brand goes on sale. And then, of course, only buy it on sale.
- Speaking of sales… are you buying your detergent at the grocery store? It’s almost always going to be more expensive there (very deep discounts may be advertised occasionally, but as the regular price will tend to be higher, you have to pay attention to whether it’s really a deal or not). A warehouse club (if you belong to one; I don’t) is a better option, as is the sort of store that ends in -mart or uses a bullseye for a trademark. Ahem.
- If your favorite detergent is selected on the basis of its stain-fighting ability (and really, what else is there?), also buy a cheaper detergent (on sale, with coupons, whatever) on a regular basis. Buy the secondary detergent based on scent (unless you have allergy issues, in which case everything you’re buying should be scent-free). Use the more expensive, stain-lifting detergent on clothing. Use the yummy-smelling, less-potent detergent on your sheets and towels, which won’t be soiled the way kids’ clothing tends to be, unless something is going on at your house that I really don’t want to know about. (Worried about your linens being soft? Supplement with fabric softener or dryer sheets.)
- Like bleach? Don’t buy a detergent that touts “with bleach.” They’re more expensive (and sometimes in sneaky ways, like they cost the same but are fewer loads per container than the regular kind), and bleach is plenty cheap to buy separately.
- When you find it on clearance—and you will, because a scent or a bottle size/shape will be phased out to make way for something else—BUY IT. If the price is really good, buy all you can afford and have room to store. Detergent doesn’t go bad, and unless you move to a nudist colony, you’ll end up using it.
- Whatever amount the container claims you need? Use half (unless you have extremely hard water, in which case you’ll want to stay closer to three-fourths). Don’t believe that’ll work? Test it yourself with two comparable loads of laundry. If you’re using the right cycle length on your washer (got kids with grimy clothes? you want the longest cycle; the end), you really can get away with half the soap. This applies to mainstream commercial products—something like Charlie’s Laundry Soap already recommends a reduced amount.
- … which brings us to the newer laundry products which advertise great results with smaller quantities. Try ’em. Some of them are quite good.
And a quick word about dry cleaning—despite the thoroughly obnoxious and chirpy streaming audio on their website, I have been very pleased with Dryel for dry-clean-only items. You can grab a printable coupon off of there if your eardrums don’t bleed too badly when you click through to get it.
Of course, despite even the most frugal habits and best intentions, laundry can remain a significant expense (not to mention the black hole into which every mother’s time mysteriously disappears). Which is why I’ve decided to start outfitting my kids in Hefty bags. I’ll letcha know how that goes.