When Benjamin Franklin said nothing in the world is certain except death and taxes, he obviously forgot about laundry. Laundry expert Mary Marlowe Leverette, writing for The Spruce, says the average American family does eight to 10 loads of laundry per week — more than one load every day.
Fortunately, thanks to the automatic washer and dryer, washing all those loads is a lot easier now than it was in the days of the washtub and scrub board. But given the cost of electricity, water, and detergent, it’s also a lot more expensive.
Fortunately, with just a few easy tricks, you can cut the cost of your weekly wash by half or even more. And don’t worry. None of them involve hauling your clothes to the nearest river and beating them against a rock.
Ways to Save Money on Laundry
Your best strategies for saving money on laundry depend on where and how you do your washing.
If you use a coin laundromat, what you pay per load is pretty much fixed. You can save some money by cutting the cost of the products you use, like detergent and fabric softener, but your best bet is to do laundry less often.
However, if you wash at home, your choices make a big difference. The type of washer you have, the water temperature, and how you dry your clothes all affect your bottom line.
1. Wash Fewer Loads
The No. 1 tip for cutting your laundry costs is to wash fewer loads. When you wash at home, this single strategy automatically cuts your costs on everything at once — water, electricity, detergent, and heat for drying. It also saves wear and tear on your washer. And it’s one of the few strategies that also works at the laundromat.
There are two primary ways to reduce the number of loads you do. The first is to wash full loads as much as possible. That’s particularly crucial for laundromat users. At home, you can save some water and energy when doing a small load by choosing a lower water setting. But at the coin laundry, you pay just as much for a small load as for a large one.
To keep your costs down, save your laundry for a week or more and do it all in one large load. If you just don’t have enough clothes to wait that long for laundry day, try sharing a load with a friend or neighbor.
The other way to cut the number of loads is to wear your clothes more than once between washings. According to the American Cleaning Institute, you only need to wash some items, such as T-shirts and underwear, after every use. You can wear others, such as jeans or dress shirts, several times before laundering. You can use bath towels three to five times before washing, and bedsheets can stay on the bed for up to two weeks.
How much you save with this tip depends on what you’re paying now for laundry. If you’re an apartment dweller in New York City, you could pay as much as $3.50 to wash a load of laundry and around $1 to dry it, according to Culture Trip. Thus, cutting back from two loads of laundry per week to one would save you $4.50 per week — over $230 per year.
But even if you wash your clothes at home, doing fewer loads is still a money-saver. According to ClearlyEnergy, the average cost of a home-washed load ranges from $0.24 to $1.08. That means your yearly savings for cutting out one load per week would be $12.48 to $56.16.
As a bonus, washing your clothes less often also helps them last longer. So you can cut your annual budget for new clothes too.
2. Use Cold Water
About 80% of the energy a washer uses is for heating the water, according to ClearlyEnergy. Thus, one of the quickest ways to cut your laundry cost is to wash clothes in cold water as often as possible.
Don’t worry that cold water won’t get your clothes clean enough. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), only oily stains really require hot water to remove them. Consumer Reports also recommends using hot water plus bleach for cloth diapers and the germ-laden sheets and towels of a sick family member. For everything else, warm or cold water does a perfectly adequate job.
You don’t necessarily need a special cold-water detergent to get your clothes clean on the cold setting. According to Consumer Reports, modern detergents are actually better at removing dirt and stains in low temperatures than higher ones.
3. Change Your Detergent
The best laundry detergents aren’t always the most expensive. In a 2021 comparison test by Good Housekeeping, the top performer was Persil, which costs around a quarter per load. However, the store brand from Costco did almost as well on most stains for just $0.12 per load.
For a family that does eight loads of laundry each week, switching from Persil to the Costco brand would save over $115 per year. That’s more than enough to make a Costco membership worth the cost.
Some frugal-living bloggers suggest making your own laundry detergent as a way to save money. Homemade detergents usually contain a mix of soap, borax, and washing soda. HouseLogic tested three DIY recipes costing $0.06 to $0.10 per load and found that all of them got clothes clean. They even did a better job on mustard stains than a commercial detergent.
However, homemade laundry detergents can cause problems for users who have hard water. According to detergent maker Dropps, these products can react with minerals in the water, leaving residue on your clothes. They can also leave buildup on the washing machine itself, leading to mold and mildew growth.
Also, making your own detergent takes time. If you spend half an hour mixing a 50-load batch, and you save $0.05 per load by using it instead of the Costco brand, then your total savings is $2.50 for half an hour of work. That works out to only $5 per hour, significantly less than minimum wage.
A quicker way to save on laundry detergent is to look for sales and coupons. For example, at stores in my area, liquid detergent sometimes goes on sale for $1.99 for a 33-load bottle — just over $0.06 per load. Adding a $0.50 coupon cuts the price to $1.49, less than $0.05 per load. You can also frequently find savings on detergent through the Ibotta app.
4. Use Less Detergent
Another way to cut your detergent cost is to use less. According to another of Leverette’s articles on The Spruce, the amount of detergent you need could be much less than the amount marked by the fill line on the cap or scoop. The amount you need depends on your detergent type, washer type, and water.
If you have standard water, you need about two tablespoons of 2X concentration liquid or one-third to one-half a cup of powder to clean a standard load (12 to 15 pounds). You can use half as much if the concentration of the detergent is 4X and one-fifth as much if it’s 10X.
If you have softened water, you should cut all these amounts still more. Use about one and a half tablespoons of 2X detergent and less for more concentrated liquids. On the other hand, you should increase the amount by about 25% for untreated hard water.
With a high-efficiency washer, you need even less detergent. It takes only two teaspoons of 2X liquid (one and a half teaspoons in softened water) to clean a standard load. With powdered detergent, use two tablespoons. You can use a marker to indicate the correct volume on the detergent bottle cap so it’s easy to measure.
And in some cases, you can get laundry clean without using any detergent at all. When The Straight Dope ran a test in 1997 to see whether detergent-free laundry balls were effective, they found that clothes washed with plain water got just as clean as those washed with Tide.
Using more detergent than you need is more than just a waste of soap. For one thing, according to Consumer Reports, it can trigger the washer to use an extra rinse cycle, wasting water.
Excess detergent can also harm your clothes or your washer. It can leave a residue on your clothes, making them feel soapy, sticky, scratchy, or stiff. Clothes may look dull or grayish. And buildup on the washer can lead to must or mildew, just as with homemade detergents.
So if your clothes or washer show any of these symptoms, use less detergent. Cutting your detergent use by half can cut the cost of the top-rated Persil detergent from $0.40 per load to $0.20. At eight loads per week, that’s a savings of $83.20 per year.
5. Skip the Fabric Softener
Another laundry product that can cause problems with your clothes is fabric softener. According to another Spruce article by Leverette, both liquid fabric softeners and dryer sheets work by adding a lubricating coating to fabric that makes it feel softer on your skin. But if you use too much, it can leave stains on your clothes.
In fact, according to Martha Stewart, you shouldn’t wash some clothes with a fabric softener at all. Using it can reduce the absorbency of towels and the moisture-wicking properties of workout clothes.
To soften clothes without buildup, try distilled white vinegar instead. Just pour half a cup into the fabric softener dispenser or add it by hand during the rinse cycle.
Vinegar doesn’t harm fabric and leaves no odor behind. In fact, it can actually help remove odors from laundry and brighten both white and colored clothes. And at less than $2 per gallon, it’s cheaper than commercial fabric softeners.
If you’ve been relying on dryer sheets to eliminate static cling, there are chemical-free solutions for that too. One alternative is wool dryer balls. According to Real Simple, they reduce static and wrinkling and help keep clothes separated as they dry. That can cut drying time by 10% to 25%.
A set of wool dryer balls costs around $6 and lasts for about 1,000 loads of laundry. That works out to $0.006 per load compared to around $0.02 per load for Bounce dryer sheets. To save even more, you can make your own dryer balls from leftover woolen yarn.
An even cheaper fix for static cling is a ball of aluminum foil. According to CNET, the foil balls help discharge static electricity in the dryer and can also cut drying time. Three balls of foil cost around $0.15 and last for months. However, they won’t soften clothes like a dryer sheet.
6. Upgrade Your Washer
Modern high-efficiency washers bearing the Energy Star logo are much more efficient than old-fashioned top-loaders. These energy-efficient machines use less water and electricity and spin more water out of clothes, so they spend less time in the dryer.
ClearlyEnergy crunched the numbers to see how much upgrading your old top-loader could save you on both washing and drying. It found doing 392 loads of laundry per year in a standard top-loader costs $210. That includes $103 for water, $37 for electricity to run the washer, and $70 to run the dryer.
Switching to an Energy Star top-loader cuts all these costs by a lot. It uses only $55 worth of water, $17 for electricity, and $46 for drying for a total of $118. A front-loading Energy Star washer costs even less to run: $42 for water, $14 for electricity, and $41 for drying, or $97 total. That’s a savings of over $110 per year.
Unfortunately, to cash in on this yearly savings, you have to spend a big chunk of change upfront. The best-reviewed front-loading washer at Good Housekeeping is a GE priced at around $1,080, which means it would take nearly 10 years to pay for itself in lower energy bills. (People who wash more loads or always use hot water could see a faster payoff.)
However, if your old washing machine has just died and you’re shopping for a new one, it makes sense to choose an Energy Star model. According to Consumer Reports, the cheapest washers on the market cost around $400, $680 less than the top-rated GE model. But the GE’s lower energy costs would make up the price difference in roughly six years.
If you switch to a high-efficiency washer, use a detergent designed to work with it. According to Whirlpool, these machines require high-efficiency detergent that produces fewer suds and disperses quickly, making it effective with less water. To find these detergents in the store, look for the lowercase letters “he” in a circle on the label.
7. Cut Drying Time
There’s no point in continuing to run your dryer after the clothes are dry. It wastes energy and can damage clothing and cause shrinkage, according to Better Homes & Gardens.
To avoid overdrying, don’t use the timed cycle on your clothes dryer. Most dryers have a moisture sensor to detect when clothes are dry and shut the machine off automatically.
To make the best use of the moisture sensor, separate your clothes. Wash and dry heavy fabrics, such as blue jeans and towels, in a separate load from lightweight shirts and underwear. That lets each type of fabric dry at its own rate and reduces wear and tear on clothing.
Another thing that can hamper your dryer’s moisture sensor is buildup from dryer sheets. Consumer Reports recommends rubbing the sensors with rubbing alcohol every few months to remove residue if you use them. Check your dryer’s manual to see where the sensor is.
Another way to keep your dryer working efficiently is to clean the lint filter. When it’s clogged, air can’t flow freely and clothes take longer to dry. Just pull the filter out and peel off the accumulated lint after each load you dry.
And check the dryer vent every few months to ensure there’s no lint blocking it. Keeping a clean vent saves energy and helps prevent fires. Just unplug the dryer, pull it out from the wall, and disconnect the vent. Use the crevice attachment on your vacuum cleaner to remove any accumulated lint.
8. Try Line-Drying
You can save even more money by skipping the dryer completely and drying clothes on a clothesline or drying rack. According to The Spruce, drying a single load of laundry in an electric dryer costs about $0.45. (If you use a gas dryer, the cost is probably lower.) If you wash eight loads per week, switching to line-drying could save you about $187 per year.
Using an outdoor clothesline makes you dependent on the weather. You can’t hang-dry your clothes outdoors if it’s raining or if it’s so cold the wet clothes would freeze. But even if you can only line-dry half your laundry loads, that’s still a savings of about $94 per year. And if you have room for a large indoor drying rack, you can air-dry clothes all year long.
Another downside of line-drying is the extra time it takes. When I line-dry my clothes in the summertime, it takes me about 25 minutes to hang them on the line, plus another five minutes to take them down when they’re dry. That’s half an hour of my time to save less than $0.45 for using my gas dryer. If hanging my laundry were a job, it would pay me less than $0.90 per hour.
To me, the extra time I spend on line-drying is worth it because I enjoy the fresh air and activity. But I also do only one or two loads of laundry each week. If I washed eight to 10 loads per week like the average American family, it would take me over four hours each week to hang them all.
On the plus side, air-drying your laundry is easier on your clothes. Think about it: All that lint you remove from your dryer screen is bits of the fabric worn off by the tumbling action of the dryer. So line-drying also helps you save money on your wardrobe by extending the life of your clothes. Additionally, it reduces wrinkling, prevents static cling, and gives clothes a clean, fresh smell.
However, using an outdoor clothesline also allows dust and pollen to accumulate on your clothes as they hang dry. Fortunately, it’s easy to remove them. Just run the line-dried garments through the dryer for five minutes without heat. The lint trap catches all the dust, and the brief tumbling doesn’t cause too much damage to the fabric.
9. Wash at the Right Time
You can also cut your laundry costs by finding out whether your utility has time-of-use pricing. That means the company charges more per kilowatt-hour (kWh) during peak hours, when the demand is highest. That encourages customers to shift their power use to low-demand periods, reducing the strain on the electric grid.
For instance, Orange & Rockland Utilities has a summertime plan with three different periods. Customers pay around $0.32 per kWh during peak hours between 12pm and 7pm on weekdays. During “shoulder peak” hours from 10am to 12pm and 7pm to 9pm, they pay $0.11 per kWh. And during the nights and weekends, they pay just $0.02 per kWh.
Customers of this utility can save money by doing their laundry on weekends or between 9pm and 10am on weekdays. Based on ClearlyEnergy’s estimates for the amount of electricity required per load of laundry, a user with a standard-efficiency washer would pay around $321 per year doing laundry during peak hours. Switching to nights and weekends would cut that cost to about $21 — a $300 savings.
The more of these laundry tips you use, the more money you can save in the laundry room. However, the single strategy that offers the biggest bang for your buck is to do fewer loads. Reducing the average family’s eight loads of laundry per week to four would cut their laundry costs in half instantly and save time as well.
The next-best tip is probably washing clothes in cold water. It cuts energy use by 80% instantly, doesn’t take any extra time, and doesn’t involve any sacrifice of cleanliness. And since many coin-operated laundries charge less for loads washed in cold water, it’s a tip that can work for laundromat users too.
As a bonus, most of these money-saving tips are good for the environment as well. Strategies like doing fewer loads, using cold water, using an Energy Star washer, and line-drying save energy and help reduce your carbon footprint. So you can feel good about living green while keeping a little more green in your wallet at the same time.