Coffee heat rising

We don’t need no steenking laundry detergent…

Frugal Scholar, who must read everything of value on the entire Internet, stumbled upon an amazing remark in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal. In one article, Seventh Generation founder Jeffrey Hollender remarks that it’s surprising most people use laundry detergent at all: “You don’t even need soap to wash most loads,” he says. The truth is, it’s the action of the agitator, not the chemicals, that gets most clothes clean.

Uhmmm… Say what, my Captain of Industry?

Most of us have figured out that we need only a fraction of the amount we were brought up to pour into the washer, partly because newer detergents are far more efficient and partly because you don’t really need even the recommended amount. But…no detergent at all?

Well, of course, the gantlet was down.

Straightaway to the garage, stately home of the washer and dryer! Mustering all my nerve, I laundered two small loads with zero detergent, one of whites and one of coloreds. The whites load included a few pieces of underwear; the colored, a shirt I’d worn for a day of gardening.

The result? Pretty interesting.

Everything came out looking clean. Minor stains that I thought would come through unscathed actually washed out. This pair of fluffy cotton socks, which I wear around the house and patio as slippers, was pretty grimy when I put them in the washer. They came out looking exactly the same as they do when they’re washed with detergent.

These socks, which are three or four years old, always have a little gray on the bottom—no amount of detergent or bleach gets it out. If anything, they actually look a little better than the last time I ran them through the washer.

Peeking into the machine during the “wash” cycle, I found the water looked exactly as dirty as it does when I’ve added detergent, only without the suds:

The “rinse” cycle ran clear as tapwater.

The Sniff Test: By and large, all of the freshly washed clothing came out with an odor: it smelled of clean water! Because I didn’t want to heat-set any residual stains into the whites, I line-dried those; the coloreds went into the dryer. When fully dry, most of the pieces were fresh-smelling and free of either body odor or yukky commercial factory perfume. I use a perfume-free detergent, anyway, so there was no way the clothes would have retained any scent from previous launderings.

A couple of pairs of undies retained a very slight odor. I ran one of these through again with the colored clothing, and after a second drubbing in the washer, it came out completely odor-free.

Isn’t that something!

Conclusion: Because I’m not willing to consume the amount of water needed to run my underwear through the wash twice each week, I would put a small amount of detergent in with those. But apparently most outer clothes that have not absorbed much B.O. and that are not excessively dirty can indeed be washed in plain, clean water, without benefit of factory chemicals.

70 thoughts on “We don’t need no steenking laundry detergent…”

  1. well i use sa8 bio quest detergent an amway product and i will never stop it is cheap and it gets all stains out including blood, grass, grease, makeup, lipstick ect. its the best on the market, and also if you notice your whites are turning gray its from the clay that is in store bought laundry detergent that is used as a water softener the main ingredient that is a clay that is in most store bout detergents is called zeolite and there is other clay in other brands as well but if you use sa8 your clothes will look fantastic i love it i get mine threw an amway distributor and you can return it and get your $ back if u dont like it so give it a look.

  2. I hate this article I am pretty sure this is the article my Husband read and now we are arguing weather or not to use the detergent

  3. @ allie: LOL! Sorry to have been the source of marital discord. Tell him that Funny still uses detergent, albeit in much smaller amounts than before.

    I don’t advocate going completely without detergent. But I do think we can get away with using less than the manufacturers recommend…which, if you take a close look at the almost invisible markings on the cap of a liquid detergent, ain’t much!

  4. Was surprised to hear from a couple of sources that a half cup of white vinegar works very well to get clothes clean instead of laundry soap, for people that have sensitive skin——-this was recommended by a dermatologist.

    • @ Lenabean: I don’t know how well this would work to clean dirt and odors out of clothing. However, it does help a lot to get detergent out of clothing. Add a cup in the rinse cycle. Or for those with sensitive skin who want to use a detergent anyway, use LOTS less detergent & then run each load through a second time, adding a cup or two of vinegar at the start of the wash cycle on the second go-through.

      Pouring about a cup of vinegar into the dishwasher when you turn it on will eliminate water spots on your glasses and keep build-up off a stainless-steel interior.

  5. I often save a lot of money by skipping the washer altogether. Where I live we are not allowed to keep personal washers/dryers, instead we use an outdated, unmaintained community laundromat. They charge $2.00 per load for washers, but I average $1.00 per load for drying a just washed load. Occasionally I will have a load of outer clothes only slightly rumpled from a couple days of wearing. I rarely wear outer clothes only once (I try for at least 3 wearings) before washing as this saves wear and tear. These slightly rumpled clothes go in to the dryer for about 15 minutes with a wet (not sopping, but not completely wrung out) hand towel. This costs me fifty cents, vs. three dollars for the same size load, not to mention the cost of soap! And my clothes smell fresh and are rumple free! I suppose I am fortunate that the climate here is pretty comfortable and I only perspire heavily in the summer, or during vigorous physical activity. Occasionally I will hand wash small items in the sink to avoid the cost of a full washer load as well. Haven’t as of yet figured out how to do the towels or bedding without those money hungry washers, but I got this idea involving an industrial size hand crank lettuce spinner to wring out heavier items…and I like that shower idea, but we’ll see if I can manage not to trip on myself trying that one! As for folks washing theirs by hand of whether of neccessity or frugality/ideology: please be careful of wrist injury from wringing out clothes! Folks who work with computers, or in factories know that carpel tunnel and tendonitis are no joke. There is a very good reason why our formothers would happily pay washerwomen if they had the means, and it is also why there are more patents for washing machines than almost any other type of machine in history! Not only can it be wrist grinding, wet, and messy, it can also be a downright back breaking job, depending on your tools and accessibility to water. That’s why I do my handwashing in my waist high, blessedly modern kitchen sink.

    • @ Jody: That’s an amazing story. Where do you live that the dryer charges by the weight of the load? Last time I was in a laundromat (many moons ago!) it was a flat rate for everything, both in the U.S. and in England.

  6. I have discovered that if I take a baby wipe and rip it into a few pieces, then add a drop or two of peppermint oil to each piece and throw them into the dryer, My clothes always smell fresh and clean, even if I have forgotten and left my clothes in the washer for a couple of days.

    • @ anglei: Now that’s an interesting idea!

      Along the same lines, I also discovered, by pure serendipity, that damp hand wipes will dust pet hair off your clothes in an instant!

      I keep a package of hand wipes in the car, especially during cold and flu season. Probably wouldn’t try this with baby wipes, because they sometimes have a little lotion in them to keep from drying out Baby’s skin too much.

  7. I just buy at a dollar store, you can usually get a 64 oz jug for $1.
    The trick I use is to only use a half cap and let the laundry sit and soak overnight or longer. This give the soap more time to work. So I pay around.008 cents per load.

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