Personal Finance

Cost-saving Strategies for the Laundry Room

Whether you own your own machines, have free access to them or shove quarters into slots on a regular basis, laundry represents a consistent expense for pretty much everyone. In fact, the average household does 400 loads of it per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. With that said, the seemingly small cost of cleaning your clothes can pile up as fast as the hamper. From the clothing you buy to the supplies and methods you use to clean them, here are some ValuePenguin-researched strategies to cut down the price of washing and drying.

Whether you own your own machines, have free access to them or shove quarters into slots on a regular basis, laundry represents a consistent expense for pretty much everyone. In fact, the average household does 400 loads of it per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. With that said, the seemingly small cost of cleaning your clothes can pile up as fast as the hampers. From the clothing you buy to the supplies and methods you use to clean them, here are some ValuePenguin researched strategies that even the most educated in America may not be aware of. Read on, and you could experience some fast savings on the price of washing and drying.

The Clothing

Let's start with what you own and what you buy. First of all, re-wearing clothes after one or two wears can slow down the demand for a wash. T-shirts and underwear notwithstanding, your jeans, sweatshirts and such can probably be re-worn before being tossed into the dirty pile. It's recommended to have task-specific clothing to limit what you use and how you use it: A pair of jeans on its third or fourth wear, for example, can become your work-around-the-yard uniform. With this strategy in place, it's worth noting that washing clothes less often lengthens their life, meaning you won't have to buy new clothes as often.

As for adding onto your wardrobe, try avoiding too many clothes that are dry-clean only or will need ironing to smooth out wrinkles. (If you do need to iron, add a layer of aluminum foil under your ironing board cover to hold the heat longer and allow you to iron at a lower temperature.) Buying clothing that partly comprises synthetic fabric could be a solution. But, before you buy a new article of clothing, ensure that it serves a purpose that none of your current clothing can fulfill. Otherwise, you'll be doing laundry too often, lest you make a career of it.

The Supplies

Many savings can be had here as well. Let's divide this into the two steps of laundering: the wash and the dry. As for the former, perhaps the most money is wasted on detergent. Either you're paying too much for it or you're using too much of it. To get it cheap, buy it in bulk; buy the lowest-priced product; and buy it after seeking out common coupons. (It's often suggested that you can make your own detergent after making a quick trip to the grocery store, but it's up to you whether the scant savings are worth the amount of time you'll spend on the home-ec project. It will be for some people, and it won't for others.) Also worth analyzing: How much detergent you use. You could save $80 or more annually by cutting the amount of detergent in half. In fact, cold water is all you need to clean clothes in some cases, particularly if none of your clothing is caked with dirt or stained.

OK, your wash cycle has ended and you're ready to dry. Ask yourself: Do you really need a fabric softener and/or dryer sheets? Even if the answer is yes, stop buying them. Develop a home remedy -- some vinegar acts as a softener, and a tennis ball can increase drying efficiency -- instead. Oh, and it almost goes without saying, but empty out the dryer's lint-collecting filter before every new load.

The Method

Your clothes are dirty? Check. You have your laundering supplies? Check. Time to discuss the most cost-effective methods of washing them. These can vary, depending on whether you own your own machines or not. Let's first address the former crowd. If you own your washer and dryer, wash everything with cold water (except, perhaps, your soiled sheets and dirty towels, for which hot water can be a bacteria-killer) and do so during your utility company's off-peak hours. (Don't know when those hours are? Call up to find out.) Also, make sure to only wash full (but not too-full) loads and use shorter washing cycles. For those of us who don't have our own machines, remember to price-check different laundromats (whether you're dropping off or doing the laundry yourself), as prices vary. That's all for the wash -- what about the drying?

Regardless of whether you're using your own machine or someone else's, consider not using a machine at all. A simple clothesline and the summer air can dry your laundry in no time (OK, some time). If climate or space prohibits this alternative, consider some tips for machine usage. First, make sure to sort and shake or unwind your wet clothing when grabbing it out of the washer. Pairing similar fabrics and making sure the heat can access every corner of them will dry the whole load faster. Once it's in the dryer, make sure to avoid over-drying, which costs money and time. Also, if possible, use a machine that has just been used; it will retain its heat, saving energy and time. Lastly, use -- or save up to buy -- an Energy Star-certified dryer. Ideally, it won't have slots for quarters.

Andrew Pentis

Andrew is a former Associate Editor at ValuePenguin. He focused on an array of personal finance topics, from money management to career development.