Saving money, a penny at a time! You can read part 1 here.
Now, we’ve established that energy costs are a big ongoing expense in the laundry room, and figured out how much it costs to dry clothes. Let’s address the washing machine!
It’s more difficult to do a breakdown of costs, because unlike dryers, washing machines vary greatly in size, energy consumption, water use, and so on.
An easy way to save money washing clothes, though, is to make it more energy efficient. It’s estimated that 90% of the energy used to wash clothes is consumed just to heat the water.
Make sure you select the correct load size, don’t put too many clothes in (they have to have room to agitate), and use cold water.
Cold water??? But what about germs? Stains? How are you going to get all that dirt out of the kid’s pants?
Yes, you can wash in cold water, and it will also save you money on your clothing expenses – hot water wears clothes out faster and can cause fading.
What about germs?
Unless you have a washing machine with a special sanitizing cycle, the water will not get hot enough to kill any germs. Pediatricians recommend parents set their hot water tank at 120 degrees; most won’t even go above 160, anyway. This is not hot enough to kill all of the nasties that might be lurking on underwear, socks, or dishcloths. Many germs actually thrive at temperatures around 120-140 degrees, and it takes boiling water to kill them.
When we moved into our current house, the hot water tank was set at a whopping 160 degrees. All of the faucets upstairs had to be replaced because the water was hot enough to melt the plastic parts inside! Higher isn’t better, and hotter water is very dangerous for children, causing scalds in seconds.
Bleach, drying in an electric dryer, or drying in direct sun will all sanitize clothing, instead. (Dryers may not get hot enough to kill e. coli, so if this is a concern in your family, use chlorine bleach or follow your doctor’s recommendations.)
What about dirt?
The key to getting clothes clean when washing in cold water is time. Let the clothes soak! Fill your machine with cold water, laundry detergent, and clothes, (adding borax if you wish), let it agitate for a few moments, then turn the washer off and let it sit. Soaking in soapy water will dissolve the dirt and you won’t have to worry about fading your darks, either.
If you use powdered detergent, you may want to add it before the water so it will dissolve.
Alternately, you could have a soaking pail (5 gallon bucket, empty trashcan, etc.) set aside to soak really grimy clothes, such as sports uniforms. Be very careful with buckets of water if you have young children and never let them near a bucket of water unsupervised! When you are ready to wash after several hours of soaking, just dump the whole thing into the washer and run the cycle.
Several hours? Who has time for that?
It sounds like laundry will drag on all day if you do that, but really, you don’t have to do anything or even be present while the clothes sit in the washer. In my home, we do about 2 loads of clothes per day. I usually put in a load before bed, then let it soak all night. Our laundry room is on the second floor, so before I go downstairs, I pull the knob to get it going again. When that load is ready to be dried, I’ll add another one and let it soak all morning, then run it when I go upstairs for afternoon nap.
Most families don’t need to do so many loads per week, and could probably just let it soak overnight. I also don’t soak every load. Towels I usually just run through the wash (they don’t have a lot of dirt and grime on them), blankets that may have been hit by a bedwetter, and so one don’t need to be soaked to remove stains.