Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Frugal Washing and Cleaning

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

This post is for my mum who has been asking me to write this. :)

When people ask me how I can afford to buy ethically (ie fairtrade and/or organic certified items), the answer is simple. I save in a lot of other areas. One of the biggest areas that I save on are the stuff I buy (or not buy) for washing and cleaning - washing clothes, washing dishes etc etc. Firstly, let me go into how I get my stuff clean....

1. Does it need a wash?

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but the way I see it, if I sweated on it, got dirt on it, got grease on it, then I wash it.... and if I didn't, then I don't wash it. Usually this means that I can get at least two wears out of an outfit before I need to wash it.

Sometimes I think we get obsessed with the 'cleanliness' factor and we end up washing clean clothes/items (and using up water needlessly).

2. Do you need to wash it with soap/detergent? Will water do?

Stuff gets clean when all the grease and dirt is lifted from it. So when you think about it, cleaning can be done not just through chemicals etc but also through anything that would lift the grease and dirt. Usually, dirt can be lifted if you use enough force. Grease and oil are harder to lift but force and a bit of warmth can usually lift it. Sometimes certain fibres/fabrics can help but I find that usually it doesn't really matter as much as force and warmth.

In many many cases, warm/tap water and a little bit of force is enough to clean most things like bench tops, tables, chairs etc. I have extended this to some of my clothes as well. If clothes are only very lightly soiled then I find that the force of the water and the spinning of my clothes as it turns in my washing machine are enough to clean it.

3. How much soap/detergent?

So once I've established that force is not enough to lift grease and dirt, then you need some sort of lifting agent. I find that almost all standard detergents/soaps out there recommend much much more than what you actually need. I use about 1/3 of the recommended amount of soap or detergent.... why? Because while warmth and force may not be as effective, they're *still* the primary way of getting stuff clean - the soap or detergent is just a "booster" if you like.

Further, its not like there would be a LOT of grease and dirt on everything (most of the time)... and even if there was then you'd have more success soaking that one item in something (more on soaking later).

Using too much soap and detergent is also quite harsh on your stuff - especially on stuff that uses absorbent materials. Using too much will mean that the stuff will end up accumulating soap/detergent residue in the fibres. You will know that you are using too much detergent if your old towels start becoming very stiff and developing a "smell" no matter how often you wash it.

My mum had a towel she was ready to throw out because it was scratchy and had that strange smell. So I washed the towel in just water (with other very lightly soiled clothes) and now its softer and doesn't smell.

So go very very lightly on the soap and detergent! It will help not only your pocket but also the environment.

On my personal blog, I have also listed alternatives to standard soap and detergent that are available in Australia and specifically, the region I have come to term as the ONC (Our Nation's Capital). But for those who are not in the ONC, I would love to hear of alternative products available in your area!


silversewer said...

I have used a mix of the cheapest washing powder I can find and soda crystals to wash clothes for years.Mix 1 bag of soda crystals with 1Kg of washing powder. I use a half cup scoop to each load of washing and white vinegar in the final rinse drawer to kill any soap residue that might be left behind after rinsing.

When I am cleaning I use a damp microfibre cloth to dust, all the dust is collected on the cloth and not spread into the air, and then polish off with a dry cloth. I have pine furniture and only use a beeswax polish on it once a year.

Windows cleaned with a spray bottle, half water, half white vinegar, spray on, wipe off and polish, job done.

I do not have a dish washer, so, after serving a meal, I fill the washing bowl, half full iwth very hot water and a tiny amount of washing up liquid, as the plates come through from the table they go into the the time we have finished the meal the water is cool enough to ut my hands in, and the plates just need a quick swish with a cloth. I drain the pots on the draining board, so not dry them with a dish towel. Any tins that have been used for meat etc I run a little hot water in when they are empty, by the time I come to wash them after all the dishes,glass etc has been done its quite easy to just use a pan brush to get rid of any stubbon bits adhering to the pan.

Mrs. Trixi said...

I came over via Eyes of Wonder and am so glad I did. I make my own laundry detergent using borax, washing soda and ivory soap. I use very little and it lasts a long time.

KPiep said...

We've also saved a bundle since switching to alternative cleaners. We use the same mix as Mrs. Trixi for our clothes, and try to line dry as much as we can. (Outdoor lines aren't allowed in our neighborhood, though, so we use the bannister.) WE've also switched to using vinigar for almost everything else, and it's amazing to find what a great job it does.

Part of our switch was triggered by the fact that I was starting to have a reaction to chemical cleaners in my lungs. I can't stand going down the cleaning aisle at the store anymore!

annette said...

KP, it just amazes me when I hear of places where outside clothes lines are prohibited. Makes me wonder about the world we live in!

I clean with baking soda, water, vinegar; only wash clothes when they need it; make my own detergent with borax, washing soda and some grated soap ( Save lots of money, save wear/tear and keep allergies to a minimum!

Matriarchy said...

I have a stockpile of commercial laundry detergent I am slowly working through, and lots of materials stored to make more to refill the bottles - borax, washing soda, Fels Naptha soap. I might try tallow soap one day.

But it's dish detergent I need now. Can someone link me to a dish soap recipe?

Posh And Trendy said...

I agree that people tend to wash clothing way too often. If wear a pair of jeans for only a short time then I fold them and lay them up for the next trip out. I grew up in a very frugal home where clothing not only had to last but wash day was a chore because you had to haul water up from the well and heat it on a stove.
I also think people take way too many baths and showers. I realize some people have oily hair and need wash it more often but I don't have that problem and limit my showers to every other day. On off shower days your face, hands and under arms can be washed with a face cloth.

Holly said...

I enjoyed this post. I've always changed out of my "good clothes" as soon as I get home from work (or when I was younger, school) and find that I almost always get 2 or 3 wearings before a wash is needed.

I have a suggestion for Matriarchy: try using an old-fashioned bar soap for dishes. I keep a half-bar of Octagon Soap by the sink. When I'm ready to wash, I just rub my scrubbie over the bar until I have a good lather and go to work. When the lather runs out, scrub up again. It is easier to rinse off than the liquid detergents and the bar lasts a long time if you keep it dry between uses.

Alternatively, you can dilute Dr. Bronner's liquid soap and use it for dishes.

Thimbleina said...

I use that smell or dirt test and often just iron things and hang them back in the wardrobe it is amazing how much washing it can save you doing

angela said...

You are so right. I often get a couple of wears out of my cloths. The trick is to convince teenage kids. They wear something for 10 minutes and then the throw it in the wash. After its been on the floor for two days!. Heres a tip for those living with mechanics. Add a little eucolyptise oil into the wash water and it gets rid off that grease smell.

Rhonda Jean said...

Hi Eilleen! Great post and a good reminder to all of us to be stingy with the detergents. I often clean the stove and bench tops with plain water, if I need extra, I use my homemade soap. It works every time. Sometimes I need to leave the water sit for 30 minutes or so to loosen gunk, but mainly it's just a wipe and dry job. I also firmly believe in wiping benches dry.

jacqui jones said...

interesting post
long been a person that also doesnt follow the recommended dosage on things
and have just started cleaning with bicard and vingear for most things and daily water and power

Kez said...

Like Holly, we grew up changing from good clothes to 'around-the-yard' clothes when we got home from somewhere - a habit I still do today. It seems to be a habit that not a lot of people have anymore though.

daisymum7 said...

If anyone has mechanics in the house (I have 6 sons remember) the very best thing for getting grease and oil (even deisel )out of clothes is to soak them in a bucket of hot water with a tablespoon of dishwasher powder added to it.
After 24 hours drain off the water (INTO THE YARD SOMEWHERE NOT DOWN THE DRAIN - MAKES A GREAT WEED KILLER!particularly for lantana) then refill and add half a scoop of powder. After another day rinse out with a garden hose and wash normally.

I don't own a dishwasher anymore- we got rid of it two years ago - but loads of my friends have them (I am the resident "hippy" of the gang) so I borrow a scoop or two to keep for this job.

Can you imagine what the stuff must do to your insides if it is left on the plates?????

As for one wear teenagers just spritz the clothes with lemon or lavendar water and refold them for them to put away.


dragonsue said...

A post after my own heart.
Thanks for the dishwashing tip, I have been hunting for something, as the shop detergents strip my skin off!

Jandra said...

I've been following this blog and reading it with interest. Some good tips here!

Daisymum said:
Can you imagine what the stuff must do to your insides if it is left on the plates?????

I figure that dishwasher powder does much the same to the leftover food as my insides do to the comsumed foods: disolve it and break it down with enzymes.
Remember that if you stick your finger in your stomach (I know, anatomically speaking not likely :-), your own insides will strip your finger to the bone in no time at all.

Wouldn't recommend eating dishwasher powder and I'm not saying we shouldn't be looking for more sustainable alternatives, though. But personally I don't worry about eating from dishes washed in the dishwasher.

Linda said...

A very simple tip on saving money on washing powder, but no one seems to mention it:


I buy the biggest box I can find (good quality powder) and decant it into two large airtight plastic tubs - and then use much less than the recommended amount, as mentioned before. Lasts me months and months, and compared to the smaller packets or, heaven forbid, those capsules, is far, far cheaper.

Lisa-Michigan said...

From the time I was 10 years old we didn't have a washer/dryer for clothes as we had to go to the laundromat weekly. We had horses so I had a set of afterschool clothes that even if they had dirt or horsehair on them they had to be reworn. So what? My clothes that I wear to work now, if I'm not sweating in them then they get worn at least 2 more times. I make my own laundry soap now with ivory soap, borax and washing soda and vinegar in a downy ball. Love it!
My sweaters might get washed twice in a winter. I'll hang them outside or throw them in the dryer on air dry to fluff them so don't you know that I still have a couple sweaters that I wear from 1992.

april said...

april holder Albany W.A.said...
there are 800 odd carcinogenics in the products that we use in our homes on adaily basis, cleaning, personal use etc. I was introduced to "Melaleuca" products by a friend. We order, ourselves, from a wharehouse, the products are posted to us. Melaleuca uses only natural alternatives, combining them in unique ways for maximum benefit and economy. Check out on

Ashli Norton said...

UNFORTUNATELY, what the general public has been taught to be 'clean' makes the manufactures include enzymes.

Everyone has forgotten that people just used hot water, a bucket, homemade soap, and ALOT of elbow grease to get the job done before.

The thing is though, that since the push towards using cold instead of hot water, my reading has shown the reasoning behind the use of enzymes in commercial products. As for me, if a stain is not lifted, its just not lifted, or it needs to soak more.

If we were eating and using more water soluble things i.e. soaps, perfumes, deodorant, foods, etc. There would be little to no need for detergent anyway.

Albert said...

Thanks Eileen for sharing your ideas and opinions on frugal washing and cleaning. I appreciate your way of doing the work. I have a pine wardrobe which requires cleaning. Thank you for the tips. I'll try it.