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Use Less Soap and Detergent in the Washing Machine

This article was written by in Featured, Frugality. 20 comments.

Doing laundry is one of those chores that’s rather easy, but I find myself avoiding it as much as possible. As a result, I end up doing large loads every seven to ten days. Even for these full loads of clothing, I usually only fill the detergent cup about half way. Even at that point, I may be using too much soap, wasting money, and decreasing the life of my washing machine.

I have noticed that the texture of my clothing, towels, and linens changes considerably even after just a few washes. I don’t use dryer sheets, so I am certain that is not the problem. My new plan after reading an article in the New York Times (linked below) is to use as little detergent as possible. It can’t hurt to start with a small amount of soap and increase only if necessary.

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As suggested in the article, I took one of my towels that has not been used since being washed, and placed it in the washing machine without any detergent. After running the machine for five minutes, it was full of suds. I used so much detergent that it was still embedded in the fabric after normal rinsing and drying. This is not normal. I’ll probably need to run my towels through several times without new soap just to remove all that is still on the fabric.

I may have to run my towels through the washing machine as many as eight times before all the leftover soap comes out. While that’s not a good idea for saving money on electricity, I’ve learned a lesson. Even though I thought I was making a smart choice by filling the detergent cup only halfway, the soap stays with the material.

How much detergent do you use?

Photo: mccheek, nateOne
New York Times

Updated October 15, 2015 and originally published March 17, 2010.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Being cheap, I always used about 1/4 of the amount of soap recommended to wash any size load. I honestly don’t know if this is too much or little. The clothes come out clean though.

I will have to try the towel trick and see if I get any suds. Probably could just soak a towel in a bucket of water instead of running the washing machine for the first test (thus avoid wasting power, water, wear & tear etc.).

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avatar 2 Anonymous

I think part of the problem is that people tend to cram their machines as full as possible. When you’ve got too many clothes, the clothes don’t get agitated as much, so people add more soap. More clothes also means that things don’t get rinsed as well.

I use less soap, and put in less clothing.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

Also, the caps on the detergent tend to be larger than the amount you’re instructed to use for even the largest load, I think they’re intentionally misleading to encourage overuse (For example, instructions will say, for a large load fill to line 3 and line 3 will be 2/3 of the way up the side of the cap). I’ve taken to drizzling in as little soap as I can. Mostly because I’m too cheap to pay for more soap, but so long as I don’t notice a change in the results, I figure no harm done.

On a side note, do you suppose that there’s more soap being left in the clothes now that all the detergents seem to be ultra concentrated?

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avatar 4 Anonymous

I used to use less than the recommended amount when I used powdered detergent as well and my clothes seemed to be as clean as everyone else’s. I now use those laundry sheets and some ammonia instead of bleach and that seems to work well.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

I tried cutting back on the detergent to the point that I saw it made a difference and didn’t seem to clean as well. What I found works well for my HE machine is about 1 Tbsp of detergent for a large load – WAY less than they recommend. That amount both cleans the clothes well and doesn’t leave any soapy residue clinging to the machine.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

Actually, the suds might not have come from your towel. There’s a significant degree of detergent build-up inside most people’s washing machines. Try this: Fill your washing machine with very hot water and run a full wash cycle. You will likely see a TON of suds. You can add a cup of vinegar to the water to help lift off soap, mineral deposits, etc. It’s absolutely shocking.

I learned this when I was using cloth diapers, and took to using detergent without a lot of additives, using less detergent, and regularly cleaning my washing machine.

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avatar 7 Luke Landes

That’s a good point, thanks for bringing it up! I’ll give that a try tonight.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

I use 1-2 Tbsp for my front-loader. Plus a quarter cup of borax. Way less than is called for on the detergent jugs. It works great.

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avatar 9 Anonymous

I use around 2Tbs Biokleen liquid detergent in my top loader, plus I fill the liquid softener dispenser with white vinegar for the softening effect and to clear off any residual detergent. Works well and my clothes seem to last longer than expected.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

Out of the blue I developed a sensitivity to freshly laundered T-shirts after using liquid, with a nagging itch a couple years back. I started to add just 1/3 to 1/2 of name brand liquid soap and itching went away. Clothes come out just as clean. So in solving a problem – I saved money.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

I make my own homemade laundry detergent from maple syrup and Crisco. I can’t remember if I got that recipe from Trent at the Simple Dollar or Matt at Debt Free Adventure, but no matter – I’m saving tons of money now!

Although my clothes do smell like pancakes.


Len Penzo dot Com

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avatar 12 Anonymous

Our front-loader (Miele) recommends two tablespoons of powdered detergent. The Costco-sized box of Tide lasts almost a year! It is remarkable how usage-based behaviors can increase or decrease your cost of living, and how you can economize without missing a thing. CFL bulbs also are a great example. We use 20% or so less electricity just by changing to them vs. incandescent. Programming your programmable thermostat, about a 20-minute job, can save you 15% or more on heat, about 10% on A/C, without changes to your in-residence comfort. There is a lot of low-hanging fruit in the frugality game! Great article.

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avatar 13 Anonymous

If you have a front load washing machine, use only HE detergent. This washer produces a lot of suds if you only use regular detergent. If you use regular detergent for your front load washer, use smaller amount of it so it will not produce a lot of suds. If you have overused detergent, run an extra rinse cycle and add a cup of white vinegar after the cleaning cycle. This will help dissolve excess detergent.

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avatar 14 Anonymous

WOW…I usually fill the cap of my detergent bottle. I’ve learned more suds doesn’t necessarily mean cleaner clothes. This will save me a lot of money on detergent alone!

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avatar 15 Anonymous

If you think your situation with soap in clothing/towels is bad…….and you are using a top loading washing machine – I have a front loader and use exactly “one dollop” of detergent and still have run the machine to rid the soap residue at least two times per complete cycle. This is ridiculous! I have filled the wash cycle up with several gallons of water to eliminate the problem, and still, this does not resolve the situation. I have come to the conclusion that the old fashion washing machine is the way to go. I have used a tremendous amount of water and electricity with running this “so called” energy efficient machine daily.. Not only that, I have been told that I should buy tablets to run in the front loader monthly to remove the stench! What in the world is this all about?

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avatar 16 Anonymous

well, ive noticed a lot of soap comng out of my towels even after washing them several times in plain water. for instance, I did a load very early this morning. I started out washing them with half cup soap (the cup the liquid soap comes with.) I came down about ten mins before the washer stopped and saw soap in the window. I suspected they didnt rinse because of some of the soap in the window plus this soap build up has happened before. Then I washed them for 47 mins in plain warm/cold wash. Still I see soap in them as they wash. So now they are on their 3rd wash (this time 120 mins) as I watched them wash for the first ten mins STILL SOAP. I am using a front loader HE machine with HE detergent. I still have other towel loads to do as well. ( I didnt fill up the washer that heavy with towels) I feel overwhelmed,because I still have other clothes and towels to launder. I remember this past summer dealing with the soapy towels, as I had seen soap residue in washer window towards the end of the wash cycle.

Will my dish towels get soap residue on my dishes when I dry them with the towels? Need I worry about that? Plus* I still have white rags to wash (the ones you clean with) and Im sure they are full of house cleaners etc. UGGG Any ideas? thanks so much…

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avatar 17 Anonymous

I have found that HE detergent, or detergent that is safe for all machines including HE machines, does not seem to rinse out. I used tiny amounts in the pre wash and 5 cycles later there are still suds. I hate HE detergent or more specifically, detergent that is safe for all machines (since I don’t even use an HE machine). It seems to be low sudsing but the low sudsing never ends. It must use some odd chemical process for it to be like this. Also I find if you over do it – meaning using just a low amount, it’s easy to develop the itches. I now avoid anything that is safe for an HE machine and avoid the HE symbol like that plague. Tide free and gentle makes two versions, an HE and non He (no good for HE machines) and I stick with non HE.

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avatar 18 Anonymous

This is Tomsey again. I wanted to follow up on something. I generally now do try to avoid HE detergent since I don’t use that type of machine and it is of no value to me. But I also recently discovered that using small amounts of regular detergent, smaller than what the detergent bottle says, which is recommended by many places online, also seemed to cause a lot of what appeared to suds after the rinse cycles. I tried different soaps (Wisk, Tide, Gain, Era etc) and same result. I also discovered my clothes were not coming out very clean.

So, I ran into a site that talks about suds and the way detergent behaves in water. The topic was mainly focused on diapers but still seemed applicable. That site recommends to use the suggested amount on the bottle cap and not to use less detergent. Using less can cause the dirt to not properly release and stay out of the clothes. So fill to the 1 line for small load, 2 for medium etc. I was using much less than this. The site also stated that often there will be sudsy looking bubbles that are not actually soap but just a chemical affect on the water. You will know if there is too much soap by touching and feeling it out of the washer. They recommend not obsessing and watching it.

So, I decided to try this out and put the “right” amount of detergent in my next load, which was probably 3 times what I usually put and to my shock I did not see much suds or bubble near the end of the rinse cycle like when using much less. A bigger shock was that my clothes looked much better, brighter and cleaner and even folded better, oddly. So based on this I’m taking the advice to use less or way less than the recommended amount of detergent which is something I did for a few years and forgetting it and instead will stick to the instructions on the bottle (and not less or more). My clothes look much better and strangely I’m not seeing the suds issue.

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avatar 19 Anonymous

I freakin hate laundry detergent. one little drop Is all you need otherwise you will be rinsing your clothes all day long. why do they make it to where it wont rinse out of clothes? my clothes stink after they come out of the dryer because of too much soap and I barely use any even if I only put a few things in the washer. I have a large top loader. I quit using fabric softener and use vinegar. a lot of times a cant get soap out unless I use hot water. my clothes get ruined and faded. I use all free and clear but ive tried others and they do the same thing. I hate doing laundry because of the problem of the detergent sticking to clothes and not washing out. laundry should not be this difficult.

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avatar 20 Anonymous

I have learned over the last decade or so of using HE machines that they require much less detergent than what detergent manufacturers recommend. I was told this by my appliance service technician. He recommended about a tablespoon of detergent for a medium load of clothes. It makes sense though. The washing machine industry moved forward to become more energy efficient by using less water and electricity to clean your clothes, which in turn requires a lot less detergent. Detergent manufacturers probably weren’t excited about telling the public that they need to use less detergent, therefore they keep using measurements on thier caps that are much more than they should be.

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