Hack Your Laundry

Our super specialized drying rack for small items.

Our super specialized drying rack for small items.

I’ve had what might be the single strangest physiological experience tonight this morning. Holy crap, it’s sunrise in an hour? See, I didn’t get tired. At all. Maybe a tiny bit groggy at 4AM, but I’ve simply been working away all night. Some of it here, at the PC. A lot of it continuing our very thorough personal inventory. The goblin lair is undergoing massive reorganization, streamlining, and all-in-all TLC. A lot of cool projects will get featured, but first I have to get things organized. The Alchemist is a pro at it, and I consider myself lucky to have been her apprentice for the past 11 years.


Originally I was going to put off laundry until tomorrow today, but I figured: what the heck, I’m up? Which reminded me I have yet to share how to hack your laundry. This isn’t earth-shattering advice, but it is wisdom I’ve collected from a few sources, as well as experimentation I’ve done on my own. It will save you close to $4,000 in a single decade, AND get you better results to boot.

Ditch the clothes dryer. I would never have thought about line drying until MMM illustrated just how ridiculous power hungry those beasts are. An electric dryer uses 5,000 Watts of energy. Depending on the relative price of gas to electricity in your area (see this handy calculator), a gas dryer is more efficient, but not enough to justify actually using such an energy hog. At 45 min per load on average, thats 4kWh every single load (in my area, it works out to $0.55). We do roughly 8 loads of laundry a week, so that’s $4.40 a week, $228.8 a year. Over 10 years, with compounding, it’s $3,382.48. Electricity rates in my area are a little higher than average at $0.14/kWh, but even if you’re in a cheap power area, that’s still an alarming amount of money in the long term.

What I was really concerned about going in was the qualitative aspect. I knew it would save me money, but would it require a lot of hassle like ironing or taking things outdoors to dry? As it turns out, on laundry day #3 (roughly 10 loads in) since the dryer was put in the corner… not really. It does take a few extra minutes to hang everything up, and we benefited from a rather comprehensive set of lines strung all over our utility room by the previous owner, but it costs next to nothing to set your house up for line drying indoors. An unexpected bonus now that cold weather is coming is that the house has a much higher than normal humidity, helping my indoor allergies out dramatically. Even better, I have to date discovered only two pieces of clothing in our COMBINED wardrobe that require a brief 10 minute stint in the dryer to snap wrinkles out (I hate ironing with a passion). Once I have everything hung, I take a cheap box fan, tilt it on an angle and run it – pushing the air across the room towards the furnace, where I run the blower and get “free” humidification spread throughout our modest 728 sqft abode.

There is precisely ONE detergent you should buy: Tide Free & Gentle. I don’t care what CR says, what labs say, it’s the best. It does a fantastic job of pulling stains out, whether in warm or cold water, and most importantly: it’s super nice on your skin, and doesn’t stink up the air with awful fragrance. I am super sensitive to fragrance, to the point where if I wash clothes with regular detergent on vacation (next summer I am PACKING my detergent in a small bottle) I will get itchy and my sinuses will fill up. Even if YOU are not sensitive, do you really want to smell like cheap drugstore cologne? If you’re a sloppy eater, do a lot of grungy work, or have kids, pick up a bottle of plain Shout (again, the ONLY stain remover worth its salt) to give stain fighting an extra oomph, but I’m continually surprised by how many bad stains come out without even supplementing the Tide.

Don’t fund the detergent company’s profit margin. If you live in an area with INCREDIBLY hard water and your softener is BROKEN, skip this tip. Everyone else, keep reading. Detergent measuring markers are set for the absolute worst water (and thus HIGHEST) detergent consumption possible. I eyeball 1/3 of the area BELOW the “1” mark. One day I’ll get really anal and start weighing the liquid by gram. I could probably get detergent usage with just as nice of results at 10% of the “minimum” load, especially on warm loads, and that’s with the dryer FILLED to the brim. That’s probably 1/6th of the amount you are using currently (until i heard about that fact, I tended to fill the cup either all the way, or at least to the #2 line). I have never had issues getting stains out unless it sat for days and days, or I missed it when sorting and didn’t hit it with Shout. The net effect? My laundry is perfectly clean; in fact, it’s CLEANER than yours is, because adding too much detergent causes it to build up on the clothes, making them feel greasy and just…gross. I haven’t had to buy Tide since tracking groceries with a spreadsheet, but my mental math suggests a $13 bottle (the largest before you get to the annoying and terribly imprecise gravity fed pour valves) lasts about six months. Now that the kids are older, a single bottle of Shout lasts at least that long. So about $30 in detergent for an ENTIRE YEAR. (Add a couple dollars for the cleaning supplies needed below, for the actual washer.)

Clean your washer once a year. If you’ve been washing your laundry with too much detergent, DO THIS RIGHT NOW. It’s really easy.

  1. Go to the store and get a gallon of bleach and a gallon of vinegar.
  2. Pour the ENTIRE gallon of bleach into the washing machine. Set the load level to full, and run a cycle full hot.
  3. Pour the ENTIRE gallon of vinegar into the washing machine. Set the load level to full, and run a cycle full hot.
  4. Set the load level to full, and run a cycle full hot with nothing else in it. Presto chango, your washing machine is brand new! This method flushes out all the soap scum that builds up between the inner and outer tubs. It will also take care of any musty odors. A local appliance repair shop told me that nearly 50% of all washer repairs arise from not cleaning up the scum.

Don’t Read Care Labels. I used to spend nearly an hour every week sorting laundry. Ugh. Here’s my approach, and I’ve yet to ruin or shrink anything in years of housekeeping: sturdy cottons, particularly socks and underwear, get washed warm under the delicate cycle. Cottons that I want to last as long as possible (graphic tees, etc) and poly blend fabrics all get washed cold delicate. Towels get washed full hot and on the heaviest agitation, and I use my washer’s “extra rinse” cycle to wring as much cleaning chemical residue as I can out. See, isn’t that simple?

What, you have dry clean only garments? Try washing them cold, delicate. If you ruin them, well, a couple month’s worth of dry cleaning bills pays for a replacement. And now you know that the ONLY time you read care labels is at the store.

Leave the washer OPEN when done, especially if it’s a top load to avoid odors. And, really, you shouldn’t be buying overcomplicated appliances. Remember that appliance failure increases EXPONENTIALLY with its intelligence feature complexity. If you have a fancypants “High Efficiency” washer, SELL IT NOW BEFORE IT BREAKS. The used value alone (because people believe the Marketing Machine that these super expensive machine will “save them money, hah!”) will pay for a proper washing machine like this one. The Goblin Chief has abused the hell out of an older version of this for years and have yet to experience so much as a hiccup. If a problem does arise, since it’s as dumb as can be, I’m pretty confident I could tear it down and fix it myself.


2 Comments on “Hack Your Laundry”

  1. gero1369 says:

    I’ll have to try the cleaning method that you have outlined. It’s worth a shot. I have a decently fancy pants washer, but we don’t abuse it much and we got it off of craigslist, so we at least got a ‘good deal’.

  2. mrs TIP says:

    maybe i’ll give Tide Free & Gentle a shot. i HATE laundry detergent fragrances, so much so that I can’t even walk down laundry aisles. for a while i was making my own laundry detergent, and lately i’ve been using the all natural powders like Nellie’s and Charlie’s. but we’ve definitely had trouble with fading whites and stains not coming out. (i have a toddler and 5 month old.) and i’ve definitely been spending too much on detergents.

    great article!

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