Frugality is often unglamorous and repetitive. It's thrilling to save hundreds of dollars in one fell swoop with big purchases, such as a car or a chest freezer. The more difficult struggle is to maintain frugal practices in our everyday lives, saving small amounts of money here and there. Though these little efforts and little savings aren't often immediately apparent in our pocketbooks, the cumulative effect overtime can make a huge difference to an annual household budget.
So today I want to focus on the laundry room. I've been doing a lot of laundry lately, and it occurred to me that it might be useful to discuss the several ways I save money when doing this chore. We're fortunate to have a laundry room in the first place, though it's not large by any means. I've heard of many areas where hanging laundry up to dry outside is either expressly forbidden by evil Home Owners' Associations (HOA), or subtly discouraged by neighbors who think a laundry line lowers property values, or else just looked down upon as "trashy." While I think all of these attitudes are ridiculous, I also know there's a very easy alternative: hang your laundry up to dry inside.
First I should mention that a frugal approach to laundry (as with so many other things) requires a little bit more attention, effort, and planning. Since I air dry all my laundry inside the house, I can really only manage one load of laundry per day. We simply don't have the room to air dry more than one load at a time, and it takes at least 12 hours for a load to dry. So it's best if I stay on top of this chore. If a whole lot of laundry somehow piles up, it takes several days to work through it.
Here's what my laundry room looks like:
You can see that there are rubber-coated wire racks on one side, above the washer and dryer. And on the other side I've strung up two short laundry lines, one above the other. At the far end of the room, there's a small gap between the edge of the dryer and the wall, with the shelving overhanging the gap. These wire racks, and laundry lines, along with one folding wooden laundry rack, are where I dry all my laundry. There's a window in the room which I keep open during the summer, but the laundry dries just fine in the winter time too. You may notice that there's a button down shirt hanging in the gap between the wall and the dryer. That fortuitous gap makes it easy to just dry the shirt and then either hang it up or take it to be ironed.
I do use the dryer with each load of laundry, but only when the laundry has fully air dried. I put a load or two at a time in the dryer and run it on the unheated "air fluff" cycle for about 10 minutes. This uses very, very little electricity, and all my laundry gets nicely softened. No scratchy, stiff towels for us! You can see the blue dryer ball on top of the machine. I use this to help soften the laundry during the summer. In winter I will use a fabric softener sheet to control static electricity. These can be used several times each before they are depleted. I calculate that air drying my laundry saves me about 75 cents per load.
Another way I save money in the laundry room is with homemade laundry detergent. Trent at The Simple Dollar has a great tutorial on making your own detergent. It's easy and fun in a science experiment sort of way, and it saves me about $45 per year. Kids would really get a kick out of mixing up a big bucket of this gelatinous slime. Making laundry detergent is especially cheap for us because we get the main ingredient - bar soap - for free. My husband travels very frequently for work and often stays in hotels. He's always bringing home bars of bath soap and little bottles of shampoo. I take a few of these bars and mix up a batch of laundry detergent a couple times per year. I choose unscented bars and then add some essential oils I have on hand for making solid perfumes. So I can decide what our laundry detergent smells like. Usually I choose lavender, but I've also enjoyed a blend of lemongrass and grapefruit.
One blunder I should confess to in the laundry room is that I paid good money for those laundry lines you see on the left side of the room. This was a newbie frugalite error. While the motivation to air dry my laundry was a good one, I wasn't yet in the creative, do-it-yourself-for-less frame of mind that I now inhabit as my natural medium. I paid at least $15 for those two lines, and possibly as much as $20; I really can't say for sure. I reasoned at the time that the savings in electricity would quickly pay for the purchase, and that is correct. I'm sure by now I have recouped the cost of the purchase. But I would never do the same thing today. Instead, I'd just go to the hardware store and buy four sturdy hooks that can screw into wood. Along with a few feet of zip cord the hooks would have done the same job and cost only a few dollars at most. It's true that the fancy store-bought laundry lines can retract into the base units, but I never retract them anyway. Lesson learned: always consider if there's a better and cheaper way to pursue a frugal practice.
You probably can't distinguish the clothespins I use on the wire racks, but they're the old-fashioned wooden kind. These are worthwhile purchases. Under no circumstances should you buy the cheap plastic kind of clothespins. They break easily, turning into junk in a matter of months. The wooden pins will last a lifetime.
Hanging up a load of laundry may sound like a chore, and I'll admit that it takes a little bit more time than moving laundry from the washer to the dryer. But not by much. Because I hang my laundry up right in the laundry room itself, it only takes me about five minutes. It would take longer if I were hanging it up outside. Putting wet laundry into the dryer probably takes the better part of a minute, so the difference in time is only about 4 or 5 minutes, using my method. If I save 75 cents in 5 minutes, that translates into an hourly wage of $9 per hour, tax free. It's not the best hourly wage, but it's not bad. Another way to look at it is that I save about $2.25 per week (doing an average of three loads per week). That's a $117 savings per year, and I only do laundry for one and a half adults. (My husband does some laundry on the road when he travels.) If electricity prices go up - and that's likely - the air drying method remains essentially free.
Another bonus of hanging laundry up to dry is that as I handle each separate item, I notice if there's a stain on a piece of clothing that hasn't come out in the wash. If I were to throw it all in the dryer, not only would I likely miss the stain, but the heat of the dryer would also set some kinds of stains, making them much more difficult to get out later.
I'll close with a frugal laundry room option that I haven't yet tried. I read about it over at Homegrown Evolution. The urban couple writing that blog points out that dryer lint can be used, along with cardboard egg cartons and candle stubs, to make fire-starters. Good for campers and survivalists!