Thursday, June 19, 2008

How to Save a Bundle in the Laundry Room

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!


Anonymous said...

Kate, on your clothesline along the wall, about how many inches is it away from the wall? It looks like two or three. I'd like to string a line along the fence in our side yard but don't have much room if I want to avoid drips from the roof of the house.

Kate said...

Jeri, the top line is about 4" from the wall, the lower line about 5.5". I didn't think about offsetting them until the top one was already done. If I were doing it over, I'd try for a little more. My spacing was pretty limited by the room itself though, and I wouldn't want them too close to the wall.

Anonymous said...

What a nice laundry room, you should be very proud.

I would like to also mention that the clothes drying on the line in the room also add much needed moisture into the air as they dry. The heat in the house will feel warmer when the air has a bit of moisture in it.

I think those retractable lines are well worth the $, you may some day need to retract them...

Forget Better Homes & Gardens with their fancy kitchens and living rooms the laundry and pantry are my favorites to check out, great job and thanks for sharing it.


Kate said...

Thanks, Karyn. Your comment makes me think that maybe I should do a post on my cobbled together kitchen "pantry." Maybe I'll work on that.

Thanks for stopping by.


Jennifer said...

I'm enjoying your blog. Found the link on Sharon Astyk's site.

I just want to say that the best thing about sun dried laundry is the smell. I love that smell! Many laundry products try to reproduce it with chemicals but to get the real thing just use a clothesline!

One thing that helps with the stiffness that clothes sometimes get when dried outside, is a cup of vinegar added to the rinse cycle.


Faye @ said...

I'm glad to see more and more people turning to air drying for their clothes. It truly is very easy to do, and from growing up and helping my mom air dry clothes, and now that I'm a mom myself, I find the fabrics last so much longer. The colors stay true, silk screens don't crack and peel off, and especially those fabrics with stretch, will hold up longer.

We're on the last leg of potty training, but my daughter has been a cloth diaper baby (and now a cloth training pant toddler). Line drying the diapers has greatly helped them last longer, too. Even something as thick as a cloth diaper will dry within a day. (More info on cloth diapering available on my blog).

Thanks for your great article, and all these helpful hints :)

Faye @

Juli said...

I have outside lines but I also dry inside, delicates and in winter. Most things dry pretty quickly but I purchased a tiny fan a few years ago to quicken drying for when it's very humid or the items are heavy or will be needed sooner.

Great blog ! I'm glad I happened onto it this morning :)

Kate said...

Thanks for stopping by, Juli!

Peggy said...

Kate, just curious; why don't you hang your clothes outside during the warmer months?

Kate said...

Peggy, two reasons, both of which boil down to laziness. I don't have a line set up outside. And the lines I have indoors are right in the laundry room. I only have pull the clothes out of the machine, and turn around to hang them up. It's a narrow room, so everything is close at hand.

But I know many people rhapsodize about clothes dried in the sun and wind, and I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone who craves that. Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I just discovered Soap Nuts. They are amazing! I was very sceptical at first, but after calculating the cost at 11cents per load it was worth a try. I ordered the small trial size, and fell madly in love. They naturally clean even the worst laundry (cloth diapers!!) and you never need to worry about fabric softner again. They are completey natural, they literally grow on trees! I line dry my laundry, and have noticed that the need for an additional "fluff" in the dryer is gone.
WOW! You can buy these at My total laundry cost for 2008 was $34.32 for the whole year!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add something I do to save money on laundry and that's to save my cold water. I keep a bucket in the kitchen and one in each of the two bathrooms. While waiting for the water to get hot, I save the water in these buckets. I then use that water, along with the water from our basement dehumidifier, to do our laundry. I've cut our water bill from $60/month to less than $40/month.

Thanks for sharing your laundry room with us!

Kate said...

Anon, not sure if you're one person commenting twice, or two different people. I'll check out the soap nuts, but I suspect my homemade detergent will end up being cheaper since I use hotel room soap as the base. My husband picks these up on reimbursed work travel.

As for saving water to fill the washing machine that's a great idea. I have to confess that water conservation is now at the bottom of my list since we live in a water rich area and get water nearly free from our own private well. But it's still an excellent suggestion, especially for those with metered water. So thanks!

Anonymous said...

A good source for scavenged clotheslines is broken and irreparable electrical equipment. Electric cords make great clotheslines; they are strong, virtually indestructible and the plastic surfaces protect clothes. My clothesline is made from the retractable cord on an old vacuum cleaner and after over six years outside, it is showing no sign of wear.

Kate said...

Anon, that's a great tip. Thanks for sharing it here.

susan said so said...

I LOVE my homemade laundry soap (a variation on the link you posted) and prefer it over the store bought for so many reasons: cost, ingredients, personalized fragrance, basically no packaging to recycle, and it's fun to make, and works really well.

I dry most of my clothes on hangers in the basement laundry area; one of the things I'm most looking forward to when we get our country home is having a proper clothesline again.

I spent 2 weeks in Scotland over the summer, and being a dedicated carry-on only traveler, I did laundry several times. The hostels where we stayed had clotheslines and/or a "drying room:" a large room with racks, lines, etc, and usually several radiators going. Lovely, cozy, convenient, free!


secret word: ofush

Kate said...

Susan, you sound like an experienced traveler. In my traveling days I had some special underwear that was made of some really lightweight and fast-drying material. I could travel indefinitely with just two pairs because I could wash a pair in the evening and have them dry by the next morning, guaranteed. I found it pretty hard not to fall in love with Scotland when I was there too.

Dani said...


Read your laundry blog with interest - here in South Africa we don't use dryers as much as people in America do - we tend to rely on the sun to dry our clothes :-)

However, we do get cold and / or rainy days, and for those days I conceived, and my husband rigged up, our own "drying room" - pic and details can be found at:

You could always try and sling a wooden or metal rod (i.e. long towel rail) across your room and then hang your clothes on hangers - as long as you have space in between each hanger the air can get to the item and it will dry. They also dry without the peg marks :-)

This system really works superbly!