Beyond ring-around-the-collar

By Mir
June 11, 2006
Category Product Talk

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.

Stupid 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.


  1. I think Hefty Bag fashions can be the next big trend. Do you use dryer sheets on your kids clothing too? I have a couple with excema and thought the fabric softeners would aggravate it. Is there a certain brand that is better for sensitive skin?

  2. I love this post, because I am one of those Crackhead Laundry Women (yes, really!).

    I also use the Dryel, which is fantastic, but the smell gets me, so I spray everything with Febreeze at the very end.

    (Also? I like to iron. I find it soothing. Because I’m weird that way.)

  3. Here’s my laundry secret:

    1. Buy Arm & Hammer detergent – liquid or powder. It’s always the best value (effectiveness vs. cost).

    2. Every night, throw everyone’s clothes in the washer with zero regard to color. Wash in warm. Color’s won’t fade unless there’s a brand new garment in the batch. In that case, see #4.

    3. When you wake up in the morning, take laundry that’s in the dryer out – toss it on your bed or your couch. Take the laundry that’s in the washer and put it in the dryer. Turn dryer on.

    4. One day a week, if needed, toss all NEW clothing items into washer and wash. If no new clothing items exist in household, disregard.

    5. When you get home at night or before you go to bed, fold clothes that you previously tossed on your bed or couch. Have a laundry basket for each person of the household and put their folded laundry in said basket. At some point, have household member put their laundry away. OR just choose daily clothing out of laundry basket, thereby eliminating the need for putting laundry away at all.

    Of course, none of this eliminates the kinky laundry sex your laundry has while you are away at work.

  4. Yeah! More Mir! love it

  5. I have 4 kids so I am always have lots of laundry. I wash every other day and we only have a basket and a hamper full then so I have it all finished by 2 in the sfternoon. As for detergent I buy at Sam’s or the Wally World. I do not stick to one brand I but what is on sale and have a coupon for.

  6. I am reforming myself. I have been a laundry hater from day one but yet love clean and beautiful clothes. I generally buy whatever is on sale or at the warehouse. Got to love the sales.
    Based on my budget for a month we now for a family of four have it down almost to a science….$300 a month for groceries including everything. One time a year I allow myself an extra $175 when I see a good sale. Laundry detergent use to break my budget. Not anymore.
    Love this!

  7. Oh and Busymom informed us that we were suppose to tell you you’re pretty and she worships the ground you walk on…and let’s see what else I can make up. (besides the pretty part)

  8. You would be proud of me because I have four bottle of laundry detergent in my closet.

  9. Wow, you made laundry seem interesting. I almost want to run right out to the garage and start a load.

    My husband does the laundry in this house, for two reasons. One is that I hate laundry with a white hot heat and two is that he’s good at it and doesn’t mind doing it.

    Thanks for the tips, Mir. I like your new place. It’s green!

  10. I actually like doing laundry for my family of nine now that I have a new front loader washer/dryer but the inside of the washer STINKS! I use the HE detergent they recommend and leave the door open when I’m not using it but it still smells icky….any suggestions on where the smell is coming from and how to get rid of it?

  11. Steph, this isn’t a money thing so I don’t claim any knowledge, but I’m guessing there’s some mildew between the drum and the casing. I’d try running a cycle of just water and bleach to see if that helps. Good luck!

  12. Ugh, laundry. I HATE it!!! Thanks for the tips. I already use many of them. Nice to know I’m not alone! LOL

  13. I loooooooooove doing laundry. After living in Europe and having the world’s slowest machine (90 minutes for a tiny load) and no dryer and a mold and humidity problem in the apartment that made it impossible to line dry and forced me to lug wet laundry 5 flights down a spiral staircase and several blocks down the street to the laundrymat only to come home with it smelling like our local homeless guy, how could I NOT love having a big, fat, american washer and dryer?

    Anyway, just wanted to chime in and say that I am a fragrance sensitive, sensitive skin, earth hugging freak. I use a scentless, biodegradable, all natural ingredient detergent which isn’t cheap, but damn, is it effective! This allows me to use about a third of what they tell you to use. And now baby’s clothes are just tossed in with mine.

    What do you think of that detergent that’s supposed to protect dark colors? My husband only wears black so I have used it but have no idea if it really works.

  14. Kate: I’ve never tried the darks-only detergent. I only wash colors in cold so fading isn’t an issue I’ve noticed. Interesting marketing angle for them, though.

  15. The two detergents, expensive for cleaning power and cheap for the pretty smell – is BRILLIANT. (I have three kids, five steps. I do laundry Every. Single. Day.) Brilliant. Thank you.

  16. Well, aren’t you pretty! And a laundry goddess, too. Who knew? 😉

  17. Sears sells giant tubs of powdered detergent. $20-$25, and lasts my family of four for months.

  18. I am all about the two detergents! I’ve discovered All Small & Mighty which I l-o-v-e and I can usually find cheap. I don’t even have to pre-treat unless my two toddlers have a particurally creative day or its spagetti night.
    Love your blog! Great tips on how to be frugal without being cheap.

  19. I just started with Charlie’s Soap and I love, love, love it! The clothes come out clean, smelling like, well, wet clothes. Not detergent.
    As for fabric softner alternatives, I recommend white vinegar in the rinse cycle. Again, no chemicals and doesn’t make your clothes smell like vinegar either.

  20. really, just paint a big ol target on their backsides and all the kids at school will be jealous

    and can you really use half the ampount of soap?

    ps im gonna follow the noname brand laundry soap for sheets and towles suggestion AS WELL as book mark your site… may I stick you in my links????

  21. Shout out to Susan…want to come to my house? You can have your own room and consider it a spa experience! I’ll give you all the “calm inducing ironing” you can handle, and won’t even charge you for it! I HATE to iron. If it can’t be worn fresh from the dryer, forget it.

    I hate to vaccuum, too. (Kind of like dragging a dead pig on a rope through the house…) But I find doing dishes and cleaning bathrooms to be both therapeutic and kind of fun. Anyone want to trade chores? If we match our dislikes just right, we’ll have two mighty clean houses, and two much happier people…

  22. Chris sent me over. 🙂 Nice to meet you.
    I found that using half a dryer sheet is sufficient ~ so I rip mine in half before tossing them in.

  23. Caroline, I’ll trade with ya! I’ll iron and vacuum and you can have the dishes and bathrooms. I’ll throw in dusting if you’ll wash the windows a couple times a year!

  24. I LOVE doing laundry! It’s what I do when I need to find control in my life. (now cleaning bathrooms??? Not so much).
    And whenever it’s not actively precipitating, I hang my laundry out to dry. (oh, the smell).

    One really important thing to note when using liquids laundry detergent: the “regular size load” measure is usually 1/2 a cap. Use a whole cap, and you’re just wasting it.

  25. I gotta do a shout out to Dreft. Hypo-allergenic, fragrance-free, and it gets poop stains out of toddler underwear.

    And if you buy it in the honkin’ big mack-truck size from Cost-co, it’s not too terribly expensive. Especially since it means you don’t have to wash things twice to get the stains out.

  26. I also tear my dryer sheets in 1/2 or 1/3’ds. I have a front loader and have dealt with the mildew smell. Wash a load of rags or something you don’t care about on sanitize with bleach to start. Next, NEVER, EVER leave the machine empty with the door closed. I leave mine ajar about an inch or two. Voila, no stinky. I hate laundry too, so we do the traditional ‘wash on Monday’ and we wash it ALL until it’s done. I may throw a few towel or sheet loads in later in the week, but not if I can help it!

  27. Vinegar is another chepa miracle. My husband is a personal trainer and marathon runner and his laundry STINKS!!!! Vinegar gets out the sweaty sour smell and yellow arm pit stains AND it is a natural fabric softener!
    LOVE IT!

  28. Great tips..I was hoping you’d also talk about fabric softner…any tips on that? I seem to be a scent whore, and use 2-3 caps full of the stuff…I’m most certain I’m just washing money away, so any ideas on how to get the great smell, without using so much?

  29. When the old washer gave up the ghost (at a most inconvenient time, of course) I opted to replace it with one without a center post. What a difference! I can wash twice as much in one load. Even better, I wash wool sweaters, silks, and other things I used to hand wash or dry clean on the “hand wash” cycle. I, too, am a happy ironer, having long ago discovered that this is a guilt-free time for my mind to wander far and wide and when it comes back, I have actually accomplished something.

    Great idea to have this, Mir. I got here via Kiwords.

  30. For all you women with a nice rack–you know the food stains that always land on your shirt–right between the boobs??? Dawn dishwashing detergent, the blue variety. I only say the blue stuff because that’s all I’ve ever used. I keep a bottle in my laundry room just for that.

    Put a few drops on a stain and rub in just a bit. This will even get old grease stains out of that polo shirt with a stain from last summer! Mixed results on spaghetti stains, but if it doesn’t work the first time, treat again. What do you have to loose?

  31. Another vote here for Arm & Hammer – I love the scents, and it works better than anything else I’ve tried. For the baby, I use Target Baby – again, great smell, and cheaper than Dreft, etc.
    We recently switched to unscented Target brand fabric softener sheets – very economical. Love the new site Mir. It’s pretty, just like you. 🙂

  32. MamaPajama is right about keeping dishwashing liquid in the laundry room. I also keep inexpensive hair spray in my laundry area. It takes out non-greasy stains. It’s awesome on ink stains.

  33. MandaCakes…YOU’RE ON! I’ll do all your dishes and bathrooms, you do all my ironing and vaccuuming and dusting. Windows? No problem. I like doing windows. And I’ll even polish the silver! maid service for us both!

    Now the commuting problem. You do know I live in Japan, right? That won’t be a problem, right? Just send that Lear jet over!

  34. Oh how I hate laundry! Hate hate hate it! There is a load waiting to be dried right now. (If energy is expensive, don’t use a dryer. just saying).

    What I wanted to say is to the person way up there with the stink from the washer. Check the filter! There is a little flap somewhere on the machine where you can unscrew and pull out something that is propably extremly gross! Laundry detergent makes rotting slime, just be prepared for that.
    Rinse that off and the stink should be gone.

  35. I actually like laundry. It’s immediate gratification for me. Of course, I also hate laundry, since I end up doing a minimum of three loads, every single day.

    In the summer I hang it outside to dry. Once the major pollen season is over, that is. Nothing says I love you like not having to wear clothes coated with stuff to which you are allergic.

    My kids have eczema, too, Chris. We use one or two brands of detergent and I had to experiment with fabric softener. We can use any Downy brand and any Gain brand. There are a couple of stores in this area, too, that care scent free fabric softeners, which work well and didn’t cause any reaction in my kids.

    This was a great idea, Mir!

  36. Love, love, love the vinegar as fabric softener. Seriously, I think we all have lots of retained detergent in our clothes (your advice of using half is perfect) and vinegar has made everything I have soooooo soft. And it’s cheap!

    Also– nothing, and I repeat nothing, gets stains out like Oxy-Clean. A big container (from the warehouse store or wherever) lasts forever and it seriously gets out everything. Chocolate, red wine, baby poop and spit up, everything.

    Love the new site!

  37. I like the idea of using vinegar as a fabric softener. How much do you use for a large load?

  38. My tips aren’t exactly budget-minded, but they save me from some laundry hassles. I use a Color Catcher (but, I use one through several loads of laundry, not just one load) because I’ve accidentally thrown new clothes in with old or a red washcloth in with the whites a few too many times. Those “catchers” have saved me many a times!
    My dryer is much slower than my washer. So I always put the wet clothes on an extra spin cycle while I’m pulling out the clothes from the dryer. The extra spinning helps them dry quicker.

  39. Murray! How could I have forgotten to mention the Shout Color Catchers?? LOVE THOSE.

  40. I just washed a new pair of RED capris with a load of permanent press. I now have pink everything. After two extra washings, it’s still there. HELP.

  41. With the morning sickness I’m (still) going through (only 5 more weeks til bubs!), I’m hypersensitive to smells. I hate hate hate the smell of our detergent, yet cannot change as hubs and I have sensitive skin and it’s all we can use. I use 1/4 cup of vinegar in the final rinse, but it still doesn’t get out the smell of the detergent. Now we’re adding about 4 drops of essential oil to the vinegar, and the laundry comes out very gently scented of the oil. Makes such a difference!!! And when bubs comes, we’ll add some tea tree oil to his diaper and clothing rinse (cause hell, if *we* have sensitive skin…).

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